Sunday, July 06, 2008

Story - Training to Green Day

I used to own a bike shop. "Own" is a relative term - it simply meant I was in debt to the landlord and my vendors. I happened to be the customer facing part of the equation, but the reality was that the majority of my income went to my landlord, and a big chunk of the rest of it went to my vendors.

I worked long hours, willingly for a couple years, optimistic to a fault. I always wanted to ride, but as the years went by it seemed increasingly difficult to motivate to go hard. As a result I really liked it when I could motivate myself to actually ride hard. I considered that a "good day" on the bike.

I resorted to using tricks to try and motivate myself. I'd drink a big coffee or Coke, put on a racing kit (at that time, for training, it meant my full Mapei kit - shorts, jersey, cap, and a pair of socks even - or maybe my team kit), and, if I was riding indoors, listen to music.

Loud music.

The large shop space lended itself perfectly to setting up four (one pair from college 10 years ago, one pair donated to me) speakers in the corners, two up front on either side of the wide, windowed front, and two in the back, stuck in the corners of the display walls. A Radio Shack a hundred yards down the street supplied coils of speaker wire to let me hook everything up. A solid reliable receiver/amplifier from college (again, 10 years old) supplied the push. And my only CD player, a portable one I go for $49.99, played music through a cassette tape adapter (included with the CD player, as was the cigarette lighter adapter and the AC adapter).

Low buck but it worked.

At that time I listened to a variety of music, but in my not-vast collection of CDs, two stood out. They were those of Green Day and Pulp Fiction. I'd put one in the CD player, crank the volume, and ride.

When I say "crank the volume", it'd usually be a notch or two below max, but on the good days, the days I felt awesome, it'd go to the max, clicking the volume bar while instinctively wincing from the volume of the music. But once I got going, the volume didn't seem too bad, and the fact that the bass was churning my insides made me feel like I was at a concert or a club. Then, as I started riding, I'd start dreaming about the time that I could afford a better amp, new speakers, and more CDs, all while I dreamed about bridging up to a break at New Britain.

(Cue a 54x12 sprint, out of the saddle, rocking the trainer for all I'm worth).

I remember one winter evening on the trainer. Outside it was cold and dark, the windows covered in frost and condensation. I was listening to Pulp Fiction, playing the Zed's Dead bit over and over. I was doing some kind of interval workout (I don't remember the details) but I definitely listened to it a dozen or so times. It was late, maybe 1 AM, and I left most of the lights off, training in the shadow of the big screen TV we lucked into and used at the shop. I'd play tapes of the races while I trained, I do it even now (but now my videos play on a 5" mini DVD player).

I remember hitting the "Previous" button and soft pedaled, waiting for the dialog to finish. Someone was walking past the store as Bruce Willis and his girlfriend were talking.

"Whose motorcycle is this?"
"It's a chopper, baby."
"Whose chopper is this?"
"It's Zed's."
"Who's Zed?"
"Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead."

Bruce Willis then starts up the Harley type chopper.

The person outside happened to be walking outside just past my front right speaker when Bruce hit the throttle on the motorcycle.

The pedestrian jumped like the motorcycle was about to hit him, the whole jump up, one leg brought up to "shield" his body, both arms in front of his face, head turned, everything.

I laughed and started pedaling, the steady sounds of the Centurions (?) streaming through my body.

My late night training did well for me. I raced well, I enjoyed living the bike life. It all went south at some point though. One incident in particular seemed to symbolize this "point".

I was training, once again, to loud music, this time Green Day. There were some short songs, hard beat for a minute, perfect for doing intervals. I was in the middle of a good workout, about two hours into a very intense trainer workout. I had on the 1996 Ghent Wevelgem tape, the one where Abdujaporov's team chases for 40 kilometers (!), the break never more than 20-odd seconds ahead (!!), and finally, with other teams' help, it came back together inside the last two kilometers (!!!).

Okay, I say all that but I stopped watching the video during the session, focusing all my energy on my body, on my legs. I felt tons of power, gobs of speed. My legs were singing, the space echoing with noise, bass thumping my insides, the mental energy flowing.

I was buried in effort when suddenly I could hear blood rushing through my head. Something was wrong.

I stopped pedaling. Looked up. I couldn't figure it out. Then I realized.

No music.

Lights were on though, so no power outage. Maybe the receiver tripped a breaker?

I realized I could smell some plastic-y stuff burning and checked my trainer. A rubbing piece of plastic would have caused a smell like that. Looked down. Trainer was good. So was the bike. I realized that I could see some haze hanging over the receiver, but it could have been my blurred vision from all my efforts. I hopped off the bike and awkwardly ran over to the receiver. Smoke rose from the vents, definitely not blurry vision. I looked in and I saw what looked like a whole bunch of melted, burning electrical things covered in what looked like maple syrup.

In an instant I remembered buying this receiver, Berlin Turnpike, Tokyo Joe's, boiling hot day in the summer, first purchase ever with a new credit card, along with the speakers in the front corners of the store. Did I need Dolby? Did I need more inputs, more outputs? How many watts per channel? And the speakers - liquid cooled midrange speakers meant, allegedly, that I could crank the power. Removable covers to show off the speakers, and a little plate with a chart of something (response?), making the speakers look all that more high tech. I put it in at home, then school, and then, when I had the shop, I put in at the shop. The last bit is significant because it mean I was committing to spending more time there than at home.

And now, sadly, the receiver perished.

I guess it was like I was doing the flashback for the receiver, the "life flashes before your eyes" thing.

Disheartened, I got back on the bike to try and keep going, but the moment was gone. I couldn't motivate.

And though I'd get a receiver from a friend for $10 (which, incidentally, is still my receiver 10 years later), something else must have happened around that time, something else evaporated along with the little circuit board inside the receiver. It took another year or so but eventually, after some radical machinations to try and keep things going, the shop lights turned off and the doors locked forever.

All in all it was a good thing. I wouldn't have traded the shop life for a different one, but at the same time there's no way I'd return to it either, not in any financially vested way. But I did come away with one thing.

Every time I hear "Zed's Dead" I can't help but see the frosted over windows, the blue metal frames, the Exit sign over the doorway, and the blurry bundled up guy jumping for his life.

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