Near and Fargo: New Mexico Dawn Patrol 20140902

“I hope I run into the bear on a downhill,” I thought as I rounded the blind corner in a tuck and in the drops. The trash cans along the road had been turned over, sorted through and consumed. Bear country. At 30mph I might just glide by, but in the steep sections I was moving so slowly I could see the individual knobbies on my front tire.

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Maybe my flashing headlight would lull Mr. Bear into a trance and allow my passage without complaint. Or send he or she off into the brush at warp speed. As it turned out, no bear. Not today. Perhaps they too were hungover after the holiday weekend, food drunk on sloppy campsite dweller trash. Up early today, before the sun, an extra thermal layer to protect my fragile, shrinking body. Nobody on the road. The sun rimming the Sangres.
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Although I ride with others, for the most part, riding is a solitary pursuit. I like being alone, on my own, and at the mercy of the environment. I daydream, visualize and talk to myself. When I my legs burn and feel tired I pedal harder, just to see what happens and if I can recover. I’ve ridden this route many times. It’s somewhere between 23 and 27 miles but the GPS always cuts out and says “Sorry, not really sure how far you went.”
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That’s okay. It’s just an idea more than a challenge. It’s simply about being out. Long rolling downhills, steep uphills and the shadow cast as the sun peaks the mountains and lights up the path in a vibrant yellow swath. I watch my own form, and that of the bike, as they roams the rock, dirt and high desert scrub. Coasting and looking. Waiting for what lives around the bend.

Dope Sick

I wanted to offer my opinion on a few things. WARNING: THIS IS NOT A PHOTOGRAPHY POST

After hearing interviews in regard to the recent Lance Armstrong announcement all I’ve got to say is, there HAS to be a better way. How these organizations could miss “the most sophisticated performance enhancing drug operation in history” does not speak highly of their competency, and then to have these same organizations come back and act as if this was all routine and we shouldn’t possibly doubt anything they NOW have to say is simply pathetic? And then to see the riders who will inherit the vacant titles are all former dope cheats or were tied to doping investigations makes it even MORE pathetic, but I don’t think any of these groups really care. The ONE guy they wanted more than anyone else, by a longshot, is finally under their knife. Great use of taxpayer dollars. Good grief.

But let me get to my points.

First, I don’t care if athletes dope. I really don’t. Every major sport I’ve watched in my adult life has doped athletes. Football, baseball, basketball, tennis, soccer, cycling and let us not forget our beloved Olympics where by the way the rider who just won gold in cycling road race is a former doping offender. Again, NICE work anti-doping agencies.

Brace yourself because I’m loading up the haymaker of haymakers here…..doping is GOOD for cycling. Let’s face it, doped cyclists are really fast and make for great events and great television. Triple digit solo breakaways, never ending mountain attacks and wattage pushed beyond human capabilities all add together to create a drama that spikes the global cycling population like a hit from a crack pipe. But there is more. The people who already love cycling are gonna watch no matter what, but ultimately what guys like Lance did was light a fire under the global population with regard to the bicycle itself. When the tour was on and Lance was winning the roads were packed with people on bikes. The hardcore roadies were there to begin with but suddenly we had legions of people who would have probably NEVER decided to ride had it not been for doped cycling. You magnify this by number of people on bikes, gasoline saved, healthier population, less medical needs, etc and I can’t imagine why this isn’t good for our culture and the future of the bicycle.

Americans are defiant in their obsession with fossil fuels. We burn far more than our share, and when faced with rising gas prices and global warning respond by making these things political issues and declaring it our right to drive whatever size vehicle we want. The bicycle has never really caught on to the degree it has in many other places in the world, like those without subsidized gasoline, and this has always been a mystery to me. I don’t know many people who don’t like riding, although my mother and sister could be in this category, but for the most part people seem to associate the bicycle with positive thoughts of their childhood, freedom, etc.

Whatever gets more human beings on bicycles is a good thing, regardless of whether or not it fractures a VERY commercial endeavor we deem as being professional. You could argue professional cycling isn’t professional at all. Riders cheat. Teams cheat. Governments cheat by clearing THEIR athletes and the governing bodies, as we all know now are NOT in control of even the most basic of their responsibilities(in my opinion).

Someone asked me the other day about photography and business and my current standing. I told them I no longer described or introduced myself as a photographer, and were it not for my current job I would be working full time to try and address some of these issues with the bicycle in American culture. People have tried, and others are trying as we speak, but I don’t think the nut has been cracked as of yet. How great would it be to crack it? How great would it be to see our cities resembling those elsewhere in the world where significant percentages of the population use the bicycle as their primary means of transportation? How great would it be to depoliticize something as harmless as the bicycle?

Did Lance cheat? Don’t know. Don’t care. The guys he was racing with and against surely did and I have to say I was RIVETED. I still think the greatest single ride I’ve ever seen was the Floyd Landis solo attack in the 2006 tour. Dope, no dope, it was INCREDIBLE. How many bicycles did that ONE ride sell?

Maybe you could perceive my view as radical, ridiculous or dangerous, but I’m trying to look beyond the petty politics, vendettas and disarray of what this story has become and look at a larger far more important issue. Creating a scenario where the bicycle becomes more of a part of global culture is worth pursuing. This pursuit begins with awareness. Looking at countries like India and China where demands for fossil fuels are on the rise we see a need to change this before it gets more out of hand. I can stand on the beach in Southern California and see smog from China. This is real people and it’s happening now. Why not do what we can do change this?

This melodrama with anti-doping officials doesn’t help, especially when you consider they are going after “old news” and events of more than a decade ago. The public seems suspicious and weary, to say the least, and what we can’t afford is for the global population to see or hear a story about bikes and think “Ugh, here we go again.”

I’m glad Lance decided not to fight the fight, and if this makes him guilty then so be it. Anything that gets this story out of the news and take the spotlight away from “anti-doping” officials is a good thing. Let’s move on, and more importantly, let’s go ride.

Man Vs Mountain

Roadside grave marking the beginning of my ride.

I love riding my bicycle. Am I great at it? No, not really. So when I set out to ride the road to the Santa Fe ski basin I was somewhat nervous. I’d been living, on and off, in Santa Fe for several years, but had mostly kept to riding dirt while in the area. I’d ridden from Aspen Vista to the television towers, a ride that tops out at about 12,000 feet, but I had never ridden from downtown Santa Fe to the top. I’d heard about this ride for years because my brother, who just completed his first Ironman Triathlon, had been mentioning it for years. I sent him an email to talk trash about my upcoming battle with the mountain.
“Oh ya, the ski basin,” my brother said, “That is one of my favorite rides.” Just hearing him say this was what began to get me worried. You see my brother is the kind of guy that needs translation. I’ll ask something like, “Hey, where are we riding today?” “How long?” “Is it flat?”
He will answer something along the lines of “Oh, it’s only 30 miles, mostly flat, a tail wind in both directions and there are plenty of ice cold water stops along the way, and a river we can swim in if we need to.”
Thirty miles into the all uphill crossing of a wasteland, with a headwind, I will realize just how misleading his description was. Believe it or not it took me years of the occasional ride with him to figure this out. At one point I was caught in the middle of the Texas Hill County in major trouble, so fatigued my only goal was not passing out and swerving into the path of a lifted monster truck. Reaching my breaking point I found myself at a roadside honky-tonk begging them for saltines and sugar water. They looked at me with ZERO pity, but I did manage to eat an entire basket of crackers. My brother, who hadn’t eaten anything the entire day, sipped a coke and said, “You’re fine, let’s go.”


The road to the basin, fifteen miles up and fifteen down.

So as the sun crept above the horizon line I began the pathetically slow assault. Making the first turn and staring up at the mountain the only sound you could hear was my derailer, “click, click, click, click, click” as I flat out surrendered right from the start.
“You left your racks on?” “What, are you an idiot?” one friend asked. Ya, I did. I left them on. Look, this bike, a Trek 520, steel touring bike, nicknamed “The Belafonte” is heavy to begin with. At the speeds I was going, having the racks on was really going to make little difference. And I’m lazy. Did I mention that? In addition to the rack I had two bottles of Heed, one Camelback filled with water, four Gu shots, one powerbar and these packs of those chewy things that at certain times actually taste good. I really didn’t know what I was going to need so I “loaded for bear,” as my dad would have said.


This is not a look of fear. Panic is a better description.

I had driven this route many times in the past, both in summer and winter and oddly enough had never really paid attention to the actual road. I cursed myself for not really knowing how hard to go or how easy. My brother had said, “Ya, you’ll probably be at eight or ten miles per hour on the way up, and four times that on the way down.” I immediately cut his prediction in half and felt okay if I could sustain that. And in case your wondering what my training regime was, well, it was elite. The prior week I was in Panama, working on a documentary project, drinking beer and staying out really late.


Taking a little break at Aspen Vista.

I have to say, the day was beautiful and the road was quiet. I was virtually alone and never saw another rider the entire way up. The start of the road was steep and I became well acquainted with my lowest gear, a ring I’d never experienced before. I began to wonder what would happen if I tried to ride a road like this with my bike fully loaded. I made a mental note, “Before touring, change gearing.” After about an hour I began to feel pretty darn good. I ran scenarios through my mind, things like standing up and attacking the last mile or perhaps a crowd of tourists at the top cheering me on and asking me to sign the foreheads of their babies. Then I would look ahead and see switchbacks of significant grade and would tell myself, “Don’t look, just look at the ground right in front of the bike.” For those of you non-cyclists you might be wondering, “Why are you doing this, it sounds like Hell,” and that is a good question. It really is fun, and challenging and in the brief moments between panic and insecurity I did look around and enjoy the scenery. At Aspen Vista I stopped, ate some Gu, drank some Heed posed in the parking lot like I knew what I was doing, acting like I was making some critical bike adjustments and then made my attack on the summit.


Looking overly confident at the top.

It wasn’t long before I knew I was going to make it, and not only make it, but kinda push myself, attack a little maybe. Okay, attack is a strong word. Sustain my limit maybe? Push myself? Is that better? I knew I had enough juice to go and it was at that moment I really began to enjoy the ride. My lungs burned, but that good burn of conquest, fitness and knowing the gallons of Panamanian beer were flowing through my pores. I was alone on the mountain, light cutting through the pines. It was silent but my ears were filled with the pounding of my heart and the sucking of air through my lungs. This moment was why I ride a bicycle. I’d set an uncertain goal and went looking for the answer to the question, “Can I do it?” I shifted up and stood up, changing position, bounced on the pedals imagining a fictional commentator describing my ride to a broad television audience.


Clean as a mountain spring.

And suddenly I was at the top. There were no crowds. There were no messages chalked on the highway for me to read. There was just one guy in a jumpsuit doing repairs at the ski basin. I got off the bike, looked around, heard water running and decided to take a peak. The stream was ice cold, crystal clear and was exactly what I was hoping to see. Just me and a bit of nature discovered by pushing pedals. I knew I still had the descent to endure, so I sucked down more Gu, a little more water and mentally prepared for the thrill ride in store. My total time to the top was 2:20. Stop laughing. Really, laughing isn’t helping anyone.


Beginning the descent. Eighteen going on forty-five.

Now in case you haven’t guessed by now, I’m not an “amazing descender.” As a kid I hated rollers coasters. I didn’t like speed. I drive a Prius people. A Prius. So when I thought about descending the mountain my only goal was not to hit a tree, a car, another bicycle or even an large animal at high speed. My fear of descending is based in past experience and well founded if you ask me. You see many years ago I rode a bicycle that was, let’s just say, less than a quality build. At the time I didn’t really know how bad this bicycle was. I remember looking at it and thinking, “It’s got 105’s, it’s gotta be good.” Well, this little beauty was a merlot colored death trap. At a certain speed the bike would begin to shake, shimmy, VIOLENTLY, and there was little I could do to get it back under control. I remember descending a Central Texas hill with my brother an inch from my rear wheel. At about 40 mph, my awesome bike began the mechanical bull feature it had built in and I remember hearing my brother pulling the rip cord, breaking heavily and uttering something like “Uh oh,” as he peeled off to get as far away from me as possible. I had never really had “The Belafonte” over 40mph so I wasn’t sure what I was in store for. I shot the above frame, stopped, put the camera away, took one last sip of water and said “bring it on.”


The photo I too while trying to readjust my spine.

The top portion of the road was steep and filled with switchbacks. The sun was higher now but the road was still a mix of bright sun and deep shadow. I glanced down from time to time, 20 mph, 30 mph, 40 mph. The bike was rock solid and I knew I could go faster. I still hadn’t seen another rider and there were few cars on the road. About .22764536354347 seconds after I thought, “I can go faster,” I hit a pothole hidden in the shade in the middle of a switchback. The good news, I didn’t crash. The bad news, I literally felt my spine move about an inch to the right. Everything hurt. My hands, my arms, shoulders, spine, right knee, neck, and yes, the one part of my “undercarriage” that happened to be resting slightly above the saddle. I cursed the New Mexico Department of Transportation and their road crews. I thought for sure the bike would be broken in some way. I had to be going at least forty when I hit the hole. A broken spoke? A bent rim? Something? Anything? I swung over to the side of the road and looked up at the aspen covered in carvings. I inspected the bike, found nothing out of whack and once again aimed downhill. It was a blast. Because I had just slowly ridden the route I knew far more about the road than ever before and I knew that halfway down there was as long section where I could really just let it go. I passed an RV camper, a guy having a smoke and a coke, watching his dog pee and I momentarily froze him as I whizzed by like a floundering Russian satellite. The bottom section of the route is a perfect combination of grade, curve and shoulder and I found myself beaming as I leaned from side to side in the perfect place of not having to pedal and not having to hit the brakes.
And then I was back in downtown Santa Fe, salt crusted on my shorts, my bottles empty, my legs slightly spent and eyes wild with excitement.

So as I sit here back in Southern California my mind keeps thinking of that road to the ski basin. I’m heading back New Mexico way in the near future, and come or shine, I’ll be back on the mountain.

Story Behind the Photos: Kman Does Texas BMX


The infamous Kman, not happy at having to stand still for this picture.

I did what I thought I was supposed to do. Yes, after all these years, I still do this.

My nephew, the infamous Kman, races BMX. In fact, he is a total badass with a room full of trophies to show off his 65-pound prowess.

So I go to visit the family and find out I’ve landed on race night.

I have options.

I think to myself, “This is racing action, I’ve got to get that peak moment, I need a motor drive, long lens, etc,” so I grab the digital body and long lens and toss it in the truck.

And then, more out of reflex than anything else, I toss in the Blad.

The track is easy. A small place, and being Texas people are relaxed.

“Hey, my nephew is racing, can I stand in the middle of the track?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

And with a smoking gun the races begin.

I’m hammering away, motor drive humming, mirror clanging up and down. But I’m distracted. Not by something around me, but by something inside me.

“What am I going to do with these images?”
I begin to ask.

“Do I really want to sit down and edit through all these motor sequences.”

“Ugh.”

“Why am I doing this?”

“Do I really want to archive these, label these, tag these, etc,etc?”

“Ugh.”

Don’t laugh, this is how my troubled mind works.

I began scrolling through the images on the camera, something I HATE doing. I know hate is a strong word, but it fits here. I DETEST looking at images right after. I think it completely KILLS the idea of being a photographer, BUT I CAN’T STOP MYSELF.

I’m like a total crack monkey with the preview window. I can’t stop. If I turn it off, I just turn it right back on. Hopeless.

I suddenly realized, with slight sadness, I had no interest in even looking at the images I was making. The images didnt’ feel like they were mine.

There were a dozen parents in the same area, all with similar gear, banging away. They probably had the exact same stuff, only of their mini-warriors. And I think there was even the dude that shoots every kid and uploads every single image online so that the one parent without their camera can buy a print.

“Well, I know my brother will like these, or my mom,” I said to myself, making excuses for the images, while I took a quick peak at the refreshment stand wondering what delicious treats they had hidden behind the counter.

I packed up the gear and headed for the car.

Right before burning dust in the parking lot I saw the Blad.

I loaded the relic and grabbed my dreaded tripod. Yes, my tripod, and headed out into the world I had just retreated from.

At least 10% of my mind was still thinking of the refreshment stand. I have to be honest.

Suddenly there were whispers around me.

“Honey, look at that guy with the old camera.” “What is he doing?” “Is he allowed in there?”

“Hey, dude, what the f%$# is that thing.” “Holy S%@#, haven’t seen one of those in a while.”

And suddenly I was in my own world. I could see again. I grunted and shuffled around the pit area like a deranged ape.

Things were clear. I dissected with my eyes, and then framed the pieces. A story began to build.

The kids in the pits were like ants invading an empire, merging in lines and shadow, with harsh artificial light painting their movements with razor sharp shadow. The sky was glowing.

Insects pierced the night. Colors were bright. The wind picked up. Darkness and light. Passion.

I don’t remember much of what was around me. I was “involved” let’s say. I was involved in a 6×6 space that started in my medulla oblongata and ended at the tip of an 80mm.

Clunk.

Minutes later.

Clunk.

This was MY work. My mind. My vision. My moment. This was the work I need to be doing ALL THE TIME. All supplied by following the Kman.

I thought about history. I thought about family. I thought about the light. I thought about what these pictures would mean. I thought about who would have them in 100 years. I thought about Kman and what must be going through his mind.

I was away in that place that photographers go when they are working.

And then. Clunk. It was over.

Gee, what a surprise?

Camera, film, paper, light, photography. There, just to keep this post on theme and satisfy the mob.

The Tour de France has, once again, found itself in the midst of a “doping problem.” I’m shocked. Really. Just can’t believe it.

I mean I thought after twenty seven years of doping issues that THIS would be the year of a perfectly clean tour. Okay, maybe not.

Actually, I miss the full scale doping of past years, where at least the tour had riders that rode with passion. This year, when recently asked who I thought was going to win, I suddenly got the taste of…of…nothing in my mouth. This is not to say that this year’s race is filled with bad bike riders. Not even close, these guys are gamers, and can ride a bike well beyond what the average, mortal man could ever achieve.

However, they lack panache. I don’t want a “ride the wheel of the guy in front” rider. I want someone to attack, someone that says, “I’m taking this thing, and I’m gonna stomp the rest of you in the process.”

And the doping. I actually don’t mind it that much. I think it has been an integral part of the sport for the past twenty five years, and I sure enjoyed that product, much more so than the “cleaned up” version we are seeing today. The riders are looking for an edge, and in some cases just a boost to even compete at this level. Most of these guys suffering for a month have no chance of winning, they are just looking to finish, to lend support, and many of them are using anything they can to make it through. This I understand.

What I have no patience for is the team around them, the management who continues to act as if they are in the dark about their own riders. “Gee, our rider failed an EPO test, I’m shocked.” “We are outraged.” “We want the B-sample tested.” “Excuse me, which way to the airport.”

Everyone KNOWS what is going on and they just think they won’t get caught. Pretend class ended in third grade.

What I also have no patience for is the bias shown toward certain riders from certain countries. Now the mainstream media posse seems to think this is just hype, but I think this year’s tour is a perfect example. You have riders, from Europe, who have been implicated in things like Operation Puerto who are STILL riding in the tour. Some of the European riders, and their teams and cycling bodies, are treated differently. Plain and simple.

Now we have our second Spanish rider to test positive and only now are the “powers that be” saying, “Well, I guess the Spanish didn’t get the memo.”

Come on. I think the memo was perhaps written in invisible ink. And it is not just the Spanish riders, they just happen to be the example of the moment.

My guess is that a significant portion of the riders are still doping. I think you have clean riders, who you can normally see toward the back of the pack, or blowing up in the mountain stages. I feel bad for these riders, who have dedicated their lives to this wonderful sport, only to be left riding with one arm tied behind their back. Or, being passed by a rider with three arms, which I would guess is a GREAT way to spot a doped rider.

Is there anyway that someone can stand up and yell, “Do Over?”

I do think that regardless of what is happening, this is truly one of the great sporting events in our world, and the degree is difficulty, doped or not doped, is beyond comprehension. They say that the Iditarod is the last great race on Earth, but I beg to differ.