Monday, January 25, 2010

Picasso was born to paint, Armstrong to ride and Tiger Woods to…

Well, I guess the answer to that was a lot more obvious until recently.

This post is going to be very personal, so I am warning that if you continue reading, be aware. I will ultimately get around eventually to cycling, but it may take me a while.

When I moved to Seattle to be with Tracy on 1/1/2000, the only people I knew in the state of Washington were Tracy and her parents. In addition, I had just retired from the investment business (Goldman Sachs) at a pretty young age. I had never been married, and had not even lived with anyone, so I went through a lot of change all at once. I guess it was an opportunity for a person to re-invent themselves, or explore the “true meaning of (their) life.”

When I was 31 or 32, while travelling for business I picked up a book that changed my life. At the time, I was living the large life, working hard, making money, and acquiring things. I owned a 3500’ square foot house, a Porsche Turbo, Acura, and a Honda CBR 1000 sport bike motorcycle, despite the fact that I was out of town on business for three days most weeks. I paid cash for all of those vehicles, and also for a snow blower, lawn mower, pool table, Rolex and God knows what else. I was living by myself in an affluent suburb of Denver, in a house large enough that I never even saw most of it. Never much of a partier, I spent a lot of my free time being a womanizer, and living what retrospectively was a very shallow life.

About the same time that I picked up the book, my furnace failed during a cold snap while I was away on a trip. A pipe burst, and I returned to find a foot of water in the basement. I had a lot of time to read and think during the 5 weeks I spent in a hotel while my house was being repaired. During that time, I listed the house for sale, and over the next few years I sold most of the toys I had acquired.

I forget the title of this revelatory book, but it could have been called “Money is Time.” Basically, the author described a plan to liberate oneself from “things”, focus on making a living, invest wisely, and retire at a young age. In his opinion, money was only good for what it could give you (time), and not for any type of intrinsic value. The author wrote of the freedom to discover and pursue your true passion once the shackles of the job were removed. Spend your energy doing things for the Greater Good, and simply enjoying anything you like.

I changed my spending pattern, met my financial goals, and have now had just over 10 years of “freedom,” yet I still have not figured out how to make a difference on the grand scale. I have done some volunteering, but I have not discovered my “true calling,” what I was born to do. Perhaps I am more the norm that the exception. How many people are actually born with some super specialized talent that matches up with a super specialized drive or goal? How many of those actually discover it? Is Tiger Woods really the best golfer to ever walk the face of the earth, or is he just the best one that was lucky enough to be born with the right set of circumstances?

I was fortunate to be in a business during a period of strong growth, and in a profession where top achievers could make a lot of money. Rather than ponder philosophical career changes, I focused on my plan, which was to accumulate wealth and retire as young as I could.

If I could go back to the age of 17 when I entered college knowing what I know now, what would I do differently? I don’t really have any better idea of what I would focus on now than I did then. If I could go back to college graduation, what type of career or post-grad schooling would I pursue? Was there something I would rather have done, regardless of whether I could earn a good living? Uh, I don’t think I have a clue. What would I do differently if I could go back to age 30, or any other age?

I imagine that the ideal situation would be to embark in a profession that you truly love, that makes a valid contribution to society, and that pays lucratively. At some point, you would be wealthy enough to stop working, but more importantly, you would be able to make the difficult decision as to whether you wanted to stop. I imagine a few of those careers exist, but I honestly can say that I don’t think I personally have met anyone that would claim to meet all of the criteria.

There are people who may have played a sport well in high school or college, and ever since they have wondered what life would have been like if they had just had the talent or opportunity to become a successful professional athlete. Dwelling on a “dream” is often counterproductive, but is the lost dream life really a dream? Think of all of the elite level professional athletes in many different sports that seem to view their profession very much as a high pressure job, and far removed from the sport that they once learned to enjoy. Did Jan Ullrich ever look like he was really enjoying himself?

Some people feel like they were born to be a mother or father, and that the kind of job they have is secondary to the ability to support their family. I’m fine with that, but I never have had those types of feelings.

I believe that Tracy was indeed born to be a professional educator. Her mother was a teacher, and Tracy says she knew what she wanted to do as a little girl. Tracy is an elementary school principal, and just received her Doctorate in Education. We both hope that her new degree will give her a lot of flexibility down the road, possibly to become a consultant or writer. It’s hard to imagine that Tracy won’t be involved with education in some way, even if it is doing pro bono consulting or volunteering in a school system. Not only is Tracy extremely good at what she does, she claims to find her work rewarding and actually enjoys it about 90% of the time. She comes as close as anyone I know to achieving the ideal of finding that talent/goal/enjoyment interface.

I spent my career in the financial services industry. Goldman Sachs, the firm I was working for when I got out of the business, is in the public eye a lot right now. It’s always been a place with strong culture, and a common thread that runs through the firm’s culture is the desire and ability to earn a lot of money. When I was there, many people I worked with really tied their entire identity to not who they were, but to what they did. Most people I knew at Goldman couldn’t even fathom what I was going to do when I walked away. But walk away I did, and I have never for a second looked back and thought I’d made a mistake. For me, Goldman was a great place to work as far as helping me meet my financial goal of retiring young, but my identity was never tied to my paycheck, or to the title on my business card. When the checks stopped coming, and I started living off of investment income, I never once missed those checks.

I like to say that younger people I ride with have age on their side, but that I have time on my side. So if money really is about time, and it is for me, then having money to free up all of my time is a wonderful thing. I spend about 30-60 minutes a week on my “job” of managing my investments, but I could leave the country for an extended period at any time, and just put things on auto-pilot.

Other than being farther from my ultimate demise, I can’t think of a reason to go back to being 20, or thirty, or any other age. I very much enjoyed some of the pieces of my past life, but I enjoy my present life so much more. Timing is everything. My health has never been better, I’m in better aerobic shape than at any time of my life, and I feel like a person much younger than my chronological age. Lack of stress and plenty of fresh air and exercise will do that for you. I have been in a committed relationship for over ten years, and I have a wonderful life.

Of course, one always must contemplate the next step. For me, the next step was becoming a professional cycling coach. Cycling is what I do, it’s my passion, and it seemed logical that I should find new ways to help others enjoy it as much as I do. I had thought of coaching as a volunteer, mostly because I likely won’t earn enough to make filling out the government paperwork worthwhile. While I was having trouble figuring out a platform to make that work, a great opportunity came my way. I became affiliated with a Seattle professional coaching company with an impeccable reputation and credentials. I was able to define my role, and focus on specific areas of the business. Hopefully, I can make a contribution to the growth of the business, as well as to the growth of my coaching clients. I won’t be saving the world like Bill Gates (and I say that with tremendous admiration for the man’s vocation), but I’ll do my part the best way I know how.

Technically, coaching is a “job”—the first one I have had in a long time! Obviously, I don’t see it that way, or I wouldn’t be doing it. I don’t know if I was born to be a cycling coach, but I do know one thing: I’m trying to be the best coach I can possibly be, and I think I’ll be smiling a lot more than when I was flying around on all of those airplanes.

Monday, January 18, 2010's not just about the bike

Our single biggest achievement of 2009 was Tracy’s graduation from the UW (hopefully for the last time). After defending her dissertation, she was awarded a Doctorate in Education. Combine this with an undergraduate degree in Psychology, a Master’s in Education, and schooling for her Principal’s Credentials, she is certainly the most educated of Educators that Tom knows. For now, she continues in her role as Principal of Phantom Lake Elementary in the Bellevue School District.

Some other great things happened for us in 2009, including:

1) Tom managed to ride his bicycle(s) 10,265 miles, and climb 555,000’, blah, blah, blah.
2) Tracy had an appendectomy in February…which was actually very good news, as the prognosis was for something worse.
3) Tom took the first steps to becoming a professional cycling coach.
4) Tracy is back into running, and is prepping for the June 2010 Seattle Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon.
5) We took some great vacations, including eight days in Whistler in July.
6) Tom made some special cycling trips, including seven days in Northern California, two trips to Chelan, and a solo “Volcano Tour” in the Rainier/Mt. St. Helens area.
7) We spent the holidays visiting Tracy’s parents in their new home in Green Valley, AZ.

Tom is quick to point out that he doesn’t view coaching cycling as a real “job.” Cycling is what he does, and Tom would like to help others enjoy it as much as possible. Tom is now in his 7th year of leading his weekly group ride called “Hills of the West Coast.”

Tracy continues to sharpen her gourmet cooking skills, with Tom as the chief guinea pig and beneficiary. Although the economy sucks, at least the market reversed direction after thudding to a bottom in March. We capitalized on the downturn by taking advantage of the incredible Happy Hours deals being offered in Downtown Seattle, as restaurants try to remain afloat. While the food may not be as good as Tracy's, Tom knows that Tracy needs to take an occasional break, so she doesn't tire of cooking!
In April we traveled to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Tom’s birthplace. We stayed with his brother’s family in Fox Chapel, and pretty much did the town for the five days we were there. We rode the Mt. Washington incline, and walked the entire downtown, South Side, and Oakmont areas. Hell, we even had a sandwich at Primanti’s.

We visited Tom’s elementary school, as well as his junior and senior high schools. We spent some time at South Hills Country Club, where Tom learned to play golf. It was great fun to have dinner with one of Tom’s childhood buddies, and his mother, who still lives across the street from the house that Tom grew up in.

We have lived in Downtown Seattle for over eight years. On the last day of 2009, we moved into a new 32nd floor penthouse apartment one block from Pacific Place and Nordstrom. Good thing that we have our impulses under control! On the last day of 1999, Tom moved to Seattle, so the move came on the 10 year anniversary. Here’s to hoping that the next ten years are as rewarding.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Team High Performance Cycling Powered by Cycle U Double Header Weekend

What a fabulous opening weekend for Team HPC in 2010! On the evening of Friday the 15th, Cycle U hosted an Open House and Pot Luck at their new West Seattle facility. Cycle U is now a Specialized Dealer and the shiny new bikes and gear made for a great party backdrop. Craig, Kristi, and Brad were on hand from Cycle U, and we had 40+ team members and potential team members turn out for the event. We have around 60 members on the team at present, and judging by this weekend’s enthusiasm level, I would wager that we hit 100 members before year end.

Everybody cranked up the effort on the food, and Cycle U provided the beverages. Brad described the fantastic new Specialized Bikes and Equipment Team Discount Program available to Team HPC members through Cycle U; Kristi talked about the switch to Voler kit; and David and I went over the team ride and clinic program for 2010. As a show of appreciation for Team HPC, Craig raffled off some great prizes. Only the insiders know how appropriate it was that Reg won a free Incycle Class, and David had to laugh through the pain when he won a pair of Cycle U Team bibs. Seems they had to cut some clothing off of him recently; it was nice of Cycle U to help him re-stock!

After a week of nearly constant deluge, the waves of water magically parted on Saturday morning for the first Meet the Team High Performance Cycling Ride of 2010. Dry as the skies may have been, the conditions were far from perfect. Nevertheless, nineteen determined and eager souls braved fog, 35 degree temperatures, and damp roads. Maybe the good turnout had something to do with the fact that today, January 15th, is the day the Seattle average daily high moves off of its bottom for the winter. Since sometime in December, we have been stuck at 45; the average high for today’s date is 46. The days are getting longer, the temperature is getting warmer, and it’s all looking better from here on out!

We had a nice smooth, social ride around the south end of Lake Washington, and as custom, we did a clockwise loop of Mercer Island on the way back. When I asked which of the riders needed to get straight back and skip the loop, I was met with looks of confusion; no one had even considered skipping the add-on.

We keep the pace mellow on the Meet the Team Rides, but Mercer Island, being “optional”, is always an opportunity to open it up a little bit and blow out the winter cobwebs. Besides, we re-group at the end of the loop, and it’s impossible to get lost on the way.

If today is any indication, we are going to have a great 2010 season. I hope to see you out on the road.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2009 in Review

Despite not traveling to Europe for a cycling trip as I did in both 2007 and 2008, 2009 nevertheless was a fantastic year of cycling for me. We saw the High Performance Cycling Team really take shape as a cohesive group of great cyclists and people, and many new friendships were established.

In March, Justin Angle and I spent six days cycling in Northern California. We rode to and from San Francisco up to the Napa/Santa Rosa area, and did some interesting and very challenging riding based out of Sebastopol, which is a small town west of Santa Rosa. One of the rides we did was the 100 mile version of the Levi Leipheimer Gran Fondo. I made trips to Chelan in both June and August with Tim Shields, and we did the Chelan Century Challenge together as part of our June trip. In July, Tracy and I spent eight days in Whistler, BC, and I managed to squeeze in some serious riding amidst our days of hiking and relaxing. On September 13th, Tracy and I volunteered at the third annual High Pass Challenge, and prior to that I spent three days of cycling (278 miles/20000’ climbing) in the Rainier/St. Helen’s area.

Last, but not least, I hit the road when Tracy and I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s in Green Valley, Arizona visiting Tracy’s parents in their new home.

2009 was a year during which I did not one structured formal interval on the bike. I relied on the Hills of the West Coast group ride for a weekly dose of high intensity riding, and I spent time riding at tempo pace or doing climbs at a “hard” pace while riding on some other days. When I say I didn’t perform any specific intervals, I have to mention that I would sometimes go out with the intention of getting in 30-40 minutes of climbing at a defined intensity. For me, it’s a lot more interesting to go out and ride up climbs I like, than to pound up one climb over and over. I wasn’t too concerned about the specific length of each climb; I just kept a running tally in my head of total minutes climbing. This strategy worked well, and I believe I was almost as fit this year as in 2008, when I had the benefit of a very hard three weeks of cycling in Europe to whip me into shape. Based on my times up some of my favorite climbs, as well as how I was able to ride (compete?) on the HOWC, I think 2009 was a pretty good year for me.

Speaking of “competing”, I’ve noticed over the last several years how much more “competitive” it is out on the road. It used to be when I overtook a rider, we’d exchange a few pleasantries, and I’d be on my way. Nowadays, many riders don’t say a word, or maybe they just grunt, and then they glue themselves to your rear wheel as if you have offended them! I guess they want to “race” you to prove just how strong they are, implying that they were just “taking it real easy today” when you passed them. Regardless of whether I was trying to take it easy or not, I would often find myself in an awkward situation. Honestly, the only real competition for me is determining how today’s “me” is doing compared to the “me” of years gone by. Granted, as part of that, I do measure myself against riders I ride with frequently, and I have a few other benchmarks.

Finally, I managed to ride 10,265 miles (with 0 miles “ridden” indoors) and climb over 555,000 feet—going over 500,000’ for the third year in a row! Only 108 of my 2009 miles were ridden in the rain. Not normally quantity goal based, I did decide late in the year to hit 10K, instead of tallying my normal 9500 or so miles. At times, I found myself thinking about “having” to ride when I really didn’t feel like it, just to book some miles. That must be why a lot of people call what they do “training”, even if they don’t have a specific goal in mind. For me it’s always just riding; training is something I try to do with our cats!

I’ve made some cycling New Year’s resolutions for 2010, and none of them involve going faster. Road cycling to me is a privilege, not a right, and I am going to do my small part in making it better. For non-cyclists, I can only hope that while I view cycling as a privilege, they respect it as a legitimate form of transportation as stated by law.

Take the time to think about your own personal cycling “rants and raves”. Resolve to incorporate less of the former, and more of the latter into your riding. Let’s all pitch in to make the (cycling) world better.

I hope to see you on the road in 2010.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How Lucky We Are

Tracy’s parents have recently moved to Green Valley, Arizona, and Tracy and I spent the last week of 2009 visiting them. I managed 267 miles over 5 days of riding in Southern Arizona, and there is no doubt that I saw more of the area than most people who live years in Green Valley. Besides the entire perimeter of Tucson, I visited places such as McGee Tank, Arivaca, Amado, and Elephant Head.

The Tucson area has one of the best climbs in the country, and I rode up to the ski area on Mt. Lemmon in April of 2007. Featuring 6000’ of climbing with very consistent grades, it’s about as enjoyable a climb as you will find. Since the Lemmon road was pretty iced in, I rode a clockwise route around the periphery of the city.

As far as bike lanes and striped shoulders go, Tucson is certainly a “bicycle friendly” community. Tucson is also proof positive that a large percentage of roads with defined cycling space does not guarantee a comfortable cycling experience. I found myself on edge during my entire 55 mile ride, wired on adrenaline in an effort to stay safe, despite having a set apart space a lot of the time. On certain stretches of road, I was very focused on trying to stay alive, and that’s not a lot of fun. It seemed like quite a few of those moments occurred while I was slamming into a 20mph headwind, which only compounded the unpleasantness. Thankfully, that wind was behind me for the last eight miles of gradual downhill riding. Nevertheless, effortlessly ripping along in my “secure” road shoulder would have been a lot more fun without the high speed drone of cars whizzing by. Taking the lane was not an option--I think they would have called out the National Guard to remove me.

As with Tucson, the Green Valley area is also set up very well for riding, and with a lot less traffic. Most of the roads have provisions for cyclists; the problem is that most of the roads go nowhere, and that “nowhere” is not very interesting. It’s a pretty small town, and the roads have been built almost unilaterally to service housing developments. Where a particular development ends is where the road ends. There are an awful lot of poorly surfaced roads outside of town, and actually quite a few within town itself. Interestingly, Green Valley would be excellent for commuting…if anyone had a job. There is an actual ordinance prohibiting people younger than 55 from inhabiting most Green Valley dwellings. Workers tend to live north of GV, in the next strip mall (whoops, I mean town) called Saharita.

Last September, a 94 year old cyclist was struck and killed in Green Valley by a 78 year old motorist while riding in a bike lane. Just about everybody is ancient around GV; it’s best to keep your eyes open even more than usual. Ditto goes for Tucson, even though the population there is a lot more diverse.

Of course, there are a few roads leading out of town, and I explored every single one. Most trips are out and back, as there are no connecting roads to make a loop. It’s a nice climb up to Madera Canyon, as well as up to the Smithsonian Institute’s Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins. By far the nicest ride I did was an out and back to Arivaca, despite the fact that I rode into a strong wind for 31 miles to get there. Which brings me to the major problem, at least for me: Not only is the wind very often strong, it seems to shift direction a lot. There is frequently a major shift around 11 AM, and this means that certain rides will put you into the wind in both directions.

Couple the wind with the often straight and monotonous roads, and you have a recipe for some quite boring riding. While boring is definitely better than the craziness of Tucson, starting a climb with a 4 mile straightaway is just odd. Most of these rides are not even Type II Fun (fun that is only fun at a later time, not while you are actually doing something).

Between the poor road surfaces, the dirt and rocks scenery, and the seemingly never ending wind, I’ll take typical Seattle winter riding any day. A few days after I was home, I did a favorite loop of mine through Medina, Kirkland, Downtown Bellevue, and Enatai. Starting from home in Downtown Seattle, I can get 52 miles by cruising around the south end of Mercer Island in both directions. Conditions were just perfect: damp roads, but not raining, 45 degrees, and hardly a breath of wind. It was Sunday morning, and traffic was almost non-existent, but this route is always pretty stress free, no matter what day of the week I ride it. There is not a preponderance of bike lanes, but I never miss having them, let alone feel they are necessary for safety reasons. The ride just flows, and I hardly have to put a foot down the entire time.

We have lots of great cycling in the Pacific Northwest, and in my head I have numerous routes as good as the one described above. If I could only ride the magnificent Medina/Kirkland/Bellevue loop for the rest of my cycling days, I would be fine with that. I can’t say the same about the entire South Arizona area, let alone any one particular ride I have done there.

Seattle is an expensive place to live, more expensive than just about anywhere else in the US, including any place in Arizona. But Seattle is green, and the water...the water is everywhere! Things are alive in Seattle. To me, it seems like you get what you pay for.

Yes indeed, how lucky we are.