To Grind or Not to Grind: Gravel Riding & Racing in Saskatchewan.

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Master men’s lead group coming out of a tight corner.

A number of people have asked me over the last couple of years why I don’t participate in gravel riding and racing. My standard answer is that I do not own a gravel bike and already have too many bikes in the stable. If an individual presses me a little harder, I will tell them that the agricultural dust and chemicals carried by the perpetually blowing winds in Southern Saskatchewan are some of my asthma triggers, especially during aerobic exercise. Both of the aforementioned are honest answers, the latter being one of the primary reasons why I chose not to grain farm with my dad on a permanent basis so many years ago.

The need to breathe is a primal instinct for survival ūüôā

As some of you may know from earlier posts, I had been away from Club cycling for some time before I decided to sign up with Regina Cycling Club (RCC), historically a road racing club in Regina, Saskatchewan. The club was founded by individuals I consider to be friends, although they are closer to my dad’s age than mine. I have met, and continue to meet awesome people through RCC and other cycling clubs locally and elsewhere.

Times have changed, and now gravel riding and racing is a significant part of the club and racing schedule. What I did not realize, until this year, is that there appears to be a bit of tension between traditional road riders and gravel riders in terms of agenda, events, and “air time” within the public discourse on FaceBook (FB).

As for me, I do not want to see the club (RCC) drift too far from its original purpose of being a traditional road racing club with well-organized road races, criteriums, and time trials. Please don’t get all up-in-arms over my personal preference(s) – I am just being honest here. Some of the older riders inside the club have mentioned to me that they do not like the direction we are heading with the heavy emphasis on gravel racing, cyclocross, fat biking, and just about everything else besides road racing. I tend to agree with them and have spoken freely in public forums about it. Nevertheless, a new generation and a few old-timers love gravel riding and racing and are quite vocal about it on the FB public forum also.

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Elite men’s criterium chase group.

To each his/her own. Live and let live? I am getting too old (or too wise) to get involved in the internal squabbles and small-time politics of non-profit clubs, let alone the provincial cycling association.

I must say, though, that I was disappointed in the small turnout to both the Provincial 15km and 40km TT’s and the Criteriums, especially the Elite men’s criterium this year – 4 riders showed up to the starting line. There were no women who entered the criterium races. The Master-aged riders put on a good show though! Sign of the times? I do not know.

Is road racing (in all its disciplines) dying a slow and painful death in Saskatchewan?

Based on a recent conversation with a provincial cycling official, and personal observation, I am beginning to believe that the very principle of volunteerism is dying in our cycling clubs. In other words, it is getting increasingly difficult to secure volunteers for events.

The old guard is still doing the lion’s share of the work and complain of having no one to pass the baton too.

I get that…I really do. I am still being nagged from time to time to volunteer and be involved in the local church that I attend. That church I am referring to is composed of predominantly the Gen-X and Millennial generations. My response is always the same. I have volunteered in various capacities in the church, service clubs, school groups, and sport clubs for over four decades…

…It is time for a younger generation to take the baton and run with it.

Today it seems that local cyclists are more interested in the social aspects and group dynamics of women-specific or age-group clubs and novel venues such as gravel riding/racing than the highly structured sport of road racing (i.e., officials, clearly defined rules and governance). Are the specific disciplines within road racing too hard? Do individuals loath being humiliated and dropped by a raging peloton cruising at 45km+ per hour? My experiences earlier this year was certainly a mixed bag, but I honestly loved every minute of it, whether being out front desperately trying to stay ahead of the scratch group or being dropped unceremoniously from the pack and having to ride solo all the way home.

God knows I want to be back racing with all my heart, but my body, so far, is refusing to cooperate. Patience young Jedi…

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Spring training before the ice is melted on the lake. Photographed in Wascana Park, Regina, Saskatchewan © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

A hundred kilometres of gravel racing in 30C+ heat is no walk in the park either, yet events like this tend to draw a larger crowd and more female participants. This reminds me of the early days of mountain bike riding/racing, of which my generation essentially invented and participated heavily in. Eventually, the wild off-road antics of mountain biking became organized and regulated, partly due to opposition from equestrian riders, hikers, and environmentalists, and partly because of the process of natural evolution, i.e., evolving from a fringe sport to being recognized as a viable Olympic sport.

Only time will tell if gravel riding/racing, which is predominantly a North American phenomenon, will develop and evolve into something more universal like mountain biking did. According to a recent conversation with an employee of a local bike shop, the sale of mountain bikes and city bikes are still the bread and butter of their existence alongside repair services.

Recently, an individual asked a question on FB as to whether there were any paved roads to ride on anymore? I was not sure if his inquiry was tongue-in-cheek or was sincere. No one responded, but I did take the time to write out a response (which I decided NOT to post on FB) that I will share with you here:

I will try to answer your question straight up. There are still lots of rideable paved road routes in and around Regina. The Regina Bypass Project has created a lot of obstacles for road riders to get out of the city somewhat safely. As you probably know, a significantly increased population has led to increased traffic on our major highways, but most of the shoulders are wide and doable. I use ear plugs in high traffic areas on the highway, i.e. one can still hear traffic adequately but much of the high frequency noise and the wind is drowned out. Bright clothing and a powerful rear flashing taillight help out with visibility to traffic.

Others here have mentioned that some of the traditional road routes have been wrecked by chip seal paving and the removal of paved road shoulders completely. It kind of reminds me of riding in some of the rural areas of Scandinavia, Great Britain and Europe now, as we no longer have the privilege of adequate paved shoulders on some of our historical road riding routes.

Although I personally no longer ride gravel or off-road (since the late 1990‚Äôs), I can appreciate why others do. Yes, I know it is hard to believe that some of us road gravel back then ūüôā I do know that others in our club (RCC) enjoy the opportunity of discovering new routes, landscapes, and the challenging hills of gravel riding, not to mention less traffic and a much quieter environment. As with road riding, there are pluses and minuses to gravel riding/racing also. Relentless heat, dust, bugs, washboard or freshly graded and loose road¬†surfaces, flying stones from trucks and other farm machinery, no place to restock on water and food, vicious dogs, and shotgun wielding property owners ūüėČ

In the final analysis, cycling is cycling, and I trust that each person involved in our club or the many other cycling clubs in Regina are enjoying the challenges and the sense of community that comes from participating in sport with others of like mind. Cheers!

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Life on the farm never did me any harm…

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Some retired old vehicles on the family farm including a relatively rare 1968 Mustang convertible. I learned to drive at a young age (14) in the old blue Ford half-ton on the right. It had a three speed manual shifter on the steering column and no power steering (affectionately referred to as armstrong steering).

My grandfather had considerable influence on my life as a boy. When my dad was gone for several summers finishing his degree in Education, my grandfather recognized that I missed my dad. He realized that I continued to need a father figure in my life and he stepped up to the plate. He often took me fishing on the lake near our farm. Just me, my grandpa, a little boat, some fishing gear, lunch, and the whole day to fish. It was there, on that relatively exquisite lake that I learned to fish Рsomething that has stayed with me my entire adult life. I even passed down my love for fishing to my own children and grandchildren.

My grandpa was not an overly patient man and was known to lose his temper from time to time. Sometimes, during the pressure cooker of harvest time, the air would be blue from all the cussing and swearing going on when machinery broke down. He was a typical German-Canadian who ate too much sausage, drank too much whiskey, and worked too hard. He was also a very talented carpenter who could build whatever he imagined from just a few scraps of lumber. He was frugal by nature and could rightfully be described as the original MacGyver as he could fix just about anything with wire, duct tape, and a pocketful of nuts and bolts.

Grandpa had many wise sayings about life. These words of wisdom were not necessarily original, but they were certainly rooted in his life experience.

He basically started life in Canada with relatively nothing. By the time he passed away in his late 90’s he had accumulated significant wealth through farming and other outside business interests. He and my grandmother lived very modestly their entire lives, the only exception was their annual extended¬†winter vacations to Arizona. I suppose one could consider them as true snowbirds.

My grandfather was a faithful Catholic and attended Mass nearly every Sunday. He retired in his late 70’s and somewhere along the line he took up the sport of golf. I spent many great afternoons with my grandpa hacking away at a golf ball with a number 3¬†iron and hunting in the bush for extra golf balls – only to slice¬†them back into the trees¬†on the next hole. Even though he was legally blind, he was still golfing at age 90. He¬†just depended on his old cronies to point him in the right direction and away he went. Hunting for a golf ball that was sliced into the bush was no longer an option.

Besides, those old farts¬†would only get lost and never be found ūüôā

Eventually my grandfather was committed to a nursing home. As far as I know he was healthy, except for his blindness. About a year before he died, I took my three young girls to visit¬†their great grandfather. He was delighted to visit with¬†them once more. It wasn’t long before our littlest one was crawling all over him and feeling how smooth and soft his¬†face was. That alone was¬†quite remarkable as my grandpa used to have a deeply etched and tanned¬†complexion that looked and probably felt like leather. This was something that he had acquired from the many years of working¬†on an old red McCormick tractor without a cab (nicknamed Gorkie), fishing on open waters, and winters in sunny Arizona.

I was deeply saddened when my grandfather died at age 98. After all, he was the patriarch of our family. His four sons had sons and daughters – my generation. We in turn, had children and so forth. I have never really summed up how many relatives I have that originated from the family patriarch, but I suspect we could fill a small town all by ourselves ūüôā

English: A Living Language

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The English language continues to change and adapt to modern culture. This particular Celtic lyric would mean something very different to my Grandmother’s generation than it would to a much younger generation today.
A wise old English teacher once said to me,
“Choose your words wisely, be simple and succint. A generation or two from now, your readership may not understand you…”
 
Mr. Yeats’s Celtic lyric
We who are old, old and gay,
O, so old;
Thousands of years, thousands of years,
If all were told!

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A Safe Place

San Juan
A facsimile of a Sixteenth Century statue of Mary, mother of Jesus.

I have had the opportunity to attend a Christian church over the last few years that is composed of predominantly young adults often labelled as Millennials. People my age (middle of the spectrum) probably represent less than 5 percent of the congregation. Sometimes, that makes me feel old and out-of-touch with the Millennial specific cultural norms. Yet, regardless of generational and cultural differences, I think it is important to listen to the younger generation Рtruly listen. When different generations collide together without some intrinsic principles of tolerance and respect for one another, polarization and division is often the end result. One of the underlying principles of our young and rather exuberant church community can be summarized as follows:

We will be known for what we are FOR rather than what we are AGAINST.

Essentially, what that means to me is that we will be known as people who love God and love each other rather than what we oppose. Pretty simple stuff, yet for each one of us, it necessitates a trial and error PROCESS of living out our faith from day-to-day.

It would be an injustice to claim that rather imperfect people, from widely different age-groups, and equally variable social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds, can mesh together flawlessly at all times. Living under the banner of love for God and love for each other is merely the beginning of a life-long journey for most. If one expects everyone to be in perfect harmony right at the onset, and requires that relationships work like clockwork Рthey will be end up being disappointed.

True love for others cannot be scripted. All relationships take time to grow and develop to fruition. Our love for God is but a faint reflection of his boundless love for us, and is demonstrated by our love for one another.

Someone once said that life is where the rubber meets the road. As a road cyclist, I can understand that metaphor quite well. A bicycle tire is pumped up to a considerably high pressure, three times that of an automobile tire. The contact patch of the bike tire on the pavement is actually quite small [about one square inch (2.54 cm squared) in a rather elongated pattern], and yet we still experience the effects of friction and resistance that slightly impedes our forward progress. The rougher the road surface, the greater the resistance. Loving God and loving others is like that Рthere always seems to be a little friction and resistance going on, but we are still moving forward. Somewhere along our journey together we hit a rough patch, and things get much more difficult.

May I suggest that this is where mutual¬†acceptance and forgiveness comes in to play. We all make mistakes and sometimes we really mess things up. As a result of this, it¬†is quite natural for human beings¬†to desire¬†a safe place where we can be loved, accepted, and forgiven for our¬†inherent faults, character weaknesses, tendency towards selfishness, and so forth. The theologically educated will notice that I did not immediately use the word SIN. The¬†Greek¬†word hamartia,¬†translated into the English word¬†“sin”, essentially means to miss the mark (as in archery) and/or to intentionally miss the mark or standard that God intended for us.

Historically, I think that the concept of a family unit was intended to fulfill that need for a safe place in the context of a larger society. Unfortunately, for many of us in North American society, that ideal did not necessarily work out so well. The seemingly endless cycle of broken relationships and high rates of divorce has deeply affected generation upon generation of young people and adults alike. For better or for worse, this is our story.

Millennials understand the concept of a SAFE PLACE. They practically invented the idea on our university campuses throughout North America. The difference, however, between a predominantly secular humanist notion of a safe place and a Christian concept of a safe place is literally worlds apart. The former emphasizes shutting out even the abstraction of a personal God and any person(s) who holds to a worldview that contradicts their own, the latter is far more inclusive and tolerant of opposing ideas and welcomes God, as we understand him, into the conversation.

How do I know that? By my own life experience. I want to be loved, accepted, and forgiven like anyone else. To be respected as a person who has inherent value as a human being is something we all want.

As for me,¬†I have chosen to¬†hang out¬†with a bunch of Millennials that have often been the brunt of a whole lot of stereotyping and criticism by my generation.¬†I feel that I am an¬†ordinary person living in an extraordinary time in human history. ¬†Our little church community¬†is just a minuscule part of something much bigger than all of us.¬†It’s an honour¬†to experience that¬†together.

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