As most of the country gets ready to engage in the national past time of consuming bucketfuls of cheese puffs while screaming at a giant flat-screen TV, I am reminded of how much I have...grown.
For the more cultured, mark your calendars. Even if you remember every detail of this stage, can you really resist an excuse to cheer Lance to yet another decisive victory?
Not that I wouldn't stuff my face full of greasy wings, limp celery sticks with ranch dressing, piles of tepid pizza, and kegs of cheap but cold beer if given an excuse to do so. But then I'd have to compensate for that weight gain on my steel frame by not ever carrying water bottles. Which normally wouldn't be a problem, because I have a personal cadre of domestiques, but sometimes you just want the option of riding your bike alone, you know?
Anyway, because jerseys should be close-fitting and because I wish my shoulders were narrower to reduce wind drag, I'm kind of excited that, on Friday night, Mike and a bunch of guys with ampersands between their names are holding a screening of supposedly one of the best stages of the 2010 Giro. According to inside sources, many dudes who look like they can fit their entire body into the pant leg of your average NFLer will be in attendance!
I DIDN'T THINK SO.
Friday, Feb 4 @7pm at:
The Glass Shop 766 Classon Ave Brooklyn
[And yes, I was totally kidding about Lance.]
For the more cultured, mark your calendars. Even if you remember every detail of this stage, can you really resist an excuse to cheer Lance to yet another decisive victory?
Three more weeks and that feeling that I’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell when it comes to passing the bar is becoming more and more of an actual reality. And with this heat, “walking through Hell” isn’t so much of a simile anymore.
“Don’t lose your marbles,” Mike joked a few weeks back when I called him, sobbing and mostly hysterical.
“Marbles? I’ve only got one left,” I miserably told him.
I’ve been clutching onto that one last one; alternatively gripping onto it and misplacing it. And with the oppressive heat, it’s starting to feel less like a marble and more like the proverbial snowball, melting and dripping through my fingers. On a sauna-like, cramped bus headed back to Boston yesterday, I mentally cupped that snowball in my hands and wished it was back somewhere cooler and infinitely more comforting, where I could glue back the pieces of my sanity and iron out the wrinkles etching themselves between my brows.
Somewhere like the Rapha Cycle Club.
I know the last time I posted, it was about the same pop-up shop, and that double-dipping isn’t socially acceptable, even on the Internet [although, let’s face it, we all do it when no one’s looking]. But this time it was done and officially open on Saturday as the first stage of the Tour took off. And given that this past weekend was the last time I was permitted to laugh or otherwise crack a smile until after the bar, I took full advantage and headed down to NYC, Rapha, and a boyfriend.
And you know what? It was worth it. It really was. To be honest, I had my initial doubts and slight trepidations. Boyfriend managing the store aside, I’ve gotten shit for the Rapha-related things I’ve done; the smirks and comments on whether I really paid $70 for a silk scarf with cogs on it, the accusation that just liking expensive stuff meant that I didn't like to ride so much as look like I did, or that Rapha Scarf Friday prevented people from actually taking me seriously. The affiliation with Rapha suddenly became a lot more frustrating than I had ever expected, and came with baggage that, when I started this whole cycling thing, I never knew existed. Confused and embarrassed, in a way I blamed Rapha for leading me into this mess in the first place.
But haters are everywhere, and walking into the completed space, the Rapha Cycle Club is a lot more inviting than I expected, and completely devoid of the pretentiousness that people love to assume and hate in Rapha. There’s a long 30ft long wooden table flanked by jerseys and huge flat screen TVs on one side and a coffee bar run by Third Rail Coffee [serving Stumptown coffee in customized Rapha espresso cups and Blue Sky pasteries] on the other. Men’s jerseys and the women’s line flank the giant broom wagon sitting in the back of the space which doubles as a fitting room, but is also just fun to climb inside. A rotating gallery space is off to the left of the broom wagon and the limited edition t-shirts hang right next to the women’s jerseys and shorts.
Books, magazines, and newspapers are free to peruse and wi-fi means that laptops are in attendance. The floor to ceiling front windows provide ample opportunity to soak up your RDA of Vitamin D as well. A chalkboard up front has the Tour schedule as well as a race report written up by Mike of the previous stage [well worth the read and what will become, I’m sure, my primary source of info for what’s going on in this year’s Tour], and appropriately printed up on yellow paper. And because this is a shop for cyclists, there’s some awesome bike parking as well.
Surrounded by cool gear, and unable to resist, despite knowing full well I couldn't possibly afford it, I tried on the red Stowaway jacket in a size 10...and found that I somehow fit into a size 8 [the XXS]...!!! Other than fueling my vanity and making my weekend, it was awesome to know that even the smallest size allowed for slightly bigger hips. The jacket didn't clutch and cling to my hips like others do, silently implying that my butt is a lot bigger than it should be given my waist size. Admiring how it looked in the mirror, I mentally thanked Rapha for not judging.
But this is Rapha, a company from which we expect all the great little, meticulous details that other companies get points for. The space was going to look great; I knew that without even seeing the floor plan. I was hoping, though, perhaps selfishly given my own experience, that the Cycle Club wouldn’t be another reason why I should be that much more self-conscious about having done the things I have with a few scarves and a neck warmer [it was all G-rated, I swear]. And simply put, it was. For the first time since I started making friends who thrive on competition, I felt excited about being into bicycles, even if I still can’t do jack shit on one. I didn’t feel so out of place as I thought I would, and I even went back to hang out for longer than I really should have, every day I was in NYC.
I left there yesterday morning with a bidon, a bonk bag, one of the white limited edition scarves [thanks, Slate!], and even some new friends, sad to leave but the terror of the bar dragging my feet back to Boston.
“I’ll be back in August,” I promised.
“August?! Come back next week!” Cassidy said.
“I wish I could,” I said. And I really, really meant it.
[More pictures here...and make sure to follow them on twitter!]
People were out in lawn chairs, grills and coolers set out along with friends and lovers as the bus lurched and chugged past Pelham Bay Park; and as I looked out the window, I thought it almost odd that, for possibly the first time in my life, I am looking forward to the end of summer.
Odd because for any cyclist, the summer is definitive of, well, cycling. The more competitive time it just right, to peak at whatever optimal time they’ve chosen, the more laid-back take advantage of the long daylight hours to ride until 9pm, and everyone spends July - my birth month, coincidentally - talking, watching, and obsessing over the Tour. Everything buzzes during the summer - on and off the bike - and doped up on Vitamin D, able to ride without multiple layers and/or beards, everyone seems that much happier.
But I’m still looking forward to the end of it all. Because I’m going to miss it.
Yeah, I know, there will be other Tours. There will be other summers spent watching recorded stages on various couches, shrieking at the screen or asking incessant questions about the racers. There will be summers where I can build up miles and hours spent in the saddle and go on lazy, random, evening rides. Yeah, summer’s still going to come around once this one’s done, I know. But there is something I’m going to miss, and even the fear fueled by a test meant to kick my ass and put my brain through a blender for three days isn’t doing anything for the disappointment I’ve been feeling about this one.
I’m referring, of course, to the NYC Rapha Cycle Club.
A pop-up shop meant to open [officially] on July 3rd, with an invite-only party on the 1st, it’s been talked about since what feels like forever ago. And with the official press release email going out last Wednesday, I felt justified in visiting the new space on Bowery this past weekend on a long overdue trip to NYC.
Not that I asked Rapha if I could visit the space, or go inside, or talk to the [super nice] guys that are working on getting it ready. Neither did I really have authorization to do any of the above from Portland. But maybe implied permission isn’t so much of a stretch when your boyfriend happens to be the newly hired Manager of the Rapha Cycle Club.
I remember this time last summer, talking about bikes and design and everything else in a small apartment on the Lower East Side. Mike jokingly said that we should ask Jeremy how to land his job, “but in New York.” I think I said that I’d fight him for it. Fast forward a year, and Mike seems to have managed - albeit temporarily - just that. Since the beginning of the month, he’s been telling me about the new space, what it’s going to look like, and even the potential list of scheduled events. And in between Contracts and Criminal Law, I wished I could be there.
Not that I’m going to miss it all [the pop-up shop is open through September]. But the party I somehow managed to officially get invited to, and the month of July is time that I’ve resigned myself to miss. Given that books have mostly replaced bikes by this point [other than my commute, I’ve gone on one measly hour-long ride in the past three weeks], I’m almost too busy to be disappointed. Or at least that’s what Mike’s been telling me, in a sweetly considerate attempt to divert my focus from all the awesome stuff he’s currently putting together with the rest of the Rapha crew. But that doesn’t mean all this stuff isn’t going to happen. It is. But hey, what can I do, right?
Which is one reason why, if you live in the city or make weekend trips down there, you should check it out. With a coffee bar, TVs, and a giant table to just hang out around, it’s slated to be more than just a retail shop peddling its wares for a few months. Rapha Continental riders will be there, I’m sure, as well as limited edition somethings, and if that’s not enough for you, I’ll be there in August, too.
But really, that should be more than enough. So unless you’ve got a bar exam or two to take, do me a favor [pretty, pretty please], and don’t miss July at the Rapha Cycle Club.
“You’re Japanese, you have to do it.”
It was the default nationality reasoning, which, when you happen to be Japanese, gets applied too often to activities that normal people just wouldn’t choose to engage in. Raving? Cosplay? Zentai? Yup, yup, and yup [and no, I did not do all of the above].
But this time, it actually sort of made sense. For once, it wasn’t linked to sexual perversions, a big step in and of itself when you’re talking about being Japanese. It was something that, while there might be quite a bit over overlap between the fans/spectators of uniquely Japanese fetishes and this activity, I found kind of cool. Something that would probably still elicit surprise in Japan if I ever admitted being into it, but vanilla enough to enable one to talk about it openly [loudly, even] in public.
I am, of course, talking of keirin, or track racing.
A sport that, in my home country, is more famous for its status as a betting sport and doesn’t allow women to race, I never thought that I’d end up on a track on a random Sunday in June. I saw it coming, unconsciously, maybe, acquiring a taste for bicycles, dropping bank on a track bike that consequently terrified me, and choosing to spend a winter developing some semblance of balance on the rollers. But “working towards getting to a track” and “getting on a track” are two different animals. I could waste endless hours on the rollers and never touch a banked velodrome.
But cursed with the kind of friends who think that I could “do well” in certain activities that involve physical exertion and a bicycle [never mind if their logic is rooted in my unchosen ethnicity], “riding my track bike around” just wasn’t cutting it. Mike insisted I get on a track. Jared kept asking me when I was going to show up to Kissena. DS was included in plans to accompany me to Kissena one day in sunglasses, mustaches, and matching tracksuits with “SHIMURA” emblazoned on the back, a rising sun beneath it.
With two single-speeds - one a legit track bike - absurd costumes aside, it seemed like a good plan. So when Jared told me about Kissena’s Women’s Track Clincs, I poked around their website, and just in time, signed up for the last 3 hour clinic last Sunday. I BikeReg’d for my first ever event, felt sort of cool because of it, and then proceeded to spend most of Sunday morning repeatedly telling Mike how nervous I was while he got ready to ride in the support car and otherwise do really cool stuff with DS for the Danish team in the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championships [yes, I was uber jealous]. He told me I would be fine, that DS said I would kill it, gave me a kiss, and left, leaving me weakly pointing at my bike, on the verge of pooping my pants, yet again.
A few hours later, I was sitting in the middle of the first track I’ve ever been to, watching as experienced riders switched out cogs and chainrings, sprinted, and circled. A few minutes later, Joe - the main instructor and organizer - showed up with loaner bikes, and more clinic particpants filtered in. In all, about 10 women showed up, ranging from 10yrs old to 40. All were experienced in racing in some capacity, and I was thoroughly intimidated.
We first rode around the track, getting used to the banked corners, and learning how to use gravity to launch into a 200m sprint, where to stay on the track and how to pass others. After a drink of water and a few minutes of rest, we were then put in a giant pace line.
And that’s about the time when I started to get my ass handed to me. Mostly by a handful of tweens.
Due to my nonexistent pace line skills, and riding behind the probably 8yr old brother of one of the younger girls, I managed to get dropped, then linger in no man’s land for about FOUR FUCKING LAPS. Struggling to pull the rest of the line back to the front, I didn’t so much blow up as slowly putter out from pushing against the wind for what seemed like forever. I heard Jared’s voice in my head - “hey, at most, I’ll only be 399m ahead of you” - and then the wind gusted again.
The pace line broke apart, we drank by-then hot water, and rested before doing individual sprints, lead-out sprints, telephone pole jumps and power bursts, concluding with mock races. By the individual sprints, my legs were pretty much done. Of course, I apparently still had to go around and around the track, attempting to muster up some semblance of speed, while the wind treated us to billows of yellow sand from the baseball diamond adjacent to the track. By the time we were through, my jersey was marked by chain grease [from flipping my wheel] and patches of brownish-yellow sweat where I had wiped the sandy sweat from my chin. My glutes hurt and the sheer thought of climbing up 5 flights of stairs to Mike’s apartment with a bike over my shoulder - much less the ride back from 42nd St - made my head swirl.
I made it, though [an almond butter sandwich helped]. Brakeless, even. I had pulled out the cable in my front brake once I had arrived at the track and failed to put it back in properly. To be honest, I was a little disappointed in myself when I left; even though my riding has recently been limited to my commute, I expected to be a little stronger. I didn’t notice until halfway to the Main St 7 stop that riding brakeless was sort of coming naturally, and that I was totally okay with it.
Rain hit me around 27th St, but feeling bad about pulling out Mike’s Rapha Stowaway with my disgusting hands, I considered it a free shower and toughed it out. I made it up those stairs, jumped into the most awesome shower in recent memory, tried to study for the bar and ended up passing out in my underwear instead.
I woke up to stories and pictures of the Philly race, indulged in a delicious brownie made by Mike’s mom, and passed out yet again, dreaming of turning left at Kissena.
It was Saturday, and tummy full of breakfast eaten with the family, we were killing time before the planned IKEA run.
“You have another thing in common with Pantani,” I was informed, “you both love karaoke.” Then, “...Oh my God.”
From Mike’s new iPad came the streaming sounds of an Italian song. He had found a gem of a Youtube video, from 1996, when Pantani, injured from a tangle with a car and told he might never walk - much less ride - again, sung the Giro theme.
We played it at least three times in a row while Pantani transported us to whole other world of awesome. And between the first and second time, I commented that that video made my weekend, that it was even better than my graduation.
Because on Friday, I officially became an Esquire. Or at least an almost-Esquire [I think I’m allowed to at least put the J.D. after my name]. I had rolled out of bed, put on mascara, squeezed into a dress, ran to a bus in heels, and wore a polyester gown for two hours in the heat to pick up an impressive[ly big] piece of paper. And to be honest, it was sort of anticlimactic. We lined up alphabetically, walked, listened to speeches, and, well, graduated. And like that weirdly surreal feeling of stagnancy I felt after I finished all my exams, I didn’t quite believe it had happened.
Instead, I’ve felt a lingering disappointment. Like Pavlov's dog, I’d waited too long for this day for it possibly measure up to my expectations of freedom, universal love, and world peace. After three years, I'd even managed to get tired of salivating.
Maybe it’s the impending bar exam and the fact that I have about 10 weeks to memorize 20+ subjects condensed into three consecutive 8 hour days of testing, and the knowledge that I’ll be missing most of this summer. The Tour, my bikes, even my sanity are preparing to hide away, replaced by sheer terror and parental expectations to pass what a friend endearingly called “the most important test of our lives.” I am fucking terrified.
But my panicked moments of nausea-inducing fits of bar-related anxiety aside, my graduation was less than exciting. Not that I expected it to be; I had grumbled that I didn’t even want to go, that if my family hadn’t insisted on flying in, I wouldn’t go. Memories of the past three years are, at least as they relate to law school, marked by mental breakdowns, therapy, and acne.
All of which led me to believe - in part because it was easier that way - that none of it really mattered. I had clung to that belief because otherwise it felt like I had failed at something significant enough to measure my worth. And crazy as I am, even I didn’t want to believe that. So in the middle of winter I had purchased a bicycle. I stayed in school, made some new friends who preferred to live on two wheels, and found a man who, when I told him that I wanted the past three years of my life back, told me he could give me back one. I was skeptical, but I think he just may have.
After the ceremony on Friday, still in my unflattering gown, I had squeezed past classmates scouring the audience for their families, past proud parents taking pictures, to touch Matt on the arm. In our silly caps, we gave each other big smiles, and hugged tight. Because I had found him, too.
And unlike grades, transcripts, and classes, that mattered. That was really, really worth it.