Gear Change Up

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Queen's Birthday: Holland's Respose to Class and Charter Day

Me: I didn't even know you all were still under a monarchy.
Housemate #1: We aren't, really.
Me: old is she?
Housemate #1: Um, I don't actually know.
Housemate #2: You know, I think her birthday is really in January...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Te Huur

Your FREE English-Dutch translation from!

Te Huur: To Rent


(in Groningen VVV (tourist office))
"Hi, I was wondering if you could help me with some information."
"Vat do you need to know?"
"Well, I'm a student staying in Groningen for a while and I was wondering if you knew of places to look for a room to rent."
"No! You maast ask the organization which you came with."
"Well, see, I'm not really associated with the university, I just need a place to stay."
"Zhere are no places to stay. All over Groningen there are tons of foreign and university students."
"How did they get housing?"
"Zhey know somebody."
"So there are no listings, no classified adds, no..."
"Zhis is the tourist office, I only know about museums."
"Yeah, didn't that one art museum almost flood and y'all almost lost millions of dollars in priceless pieces?"
"Zhat vas not our fault! Ve told them not to build below the canal, zhey do not listen!"


(on the phone)

"Hi, I found your posting online for a room to rent."
"Oh yees, ve are looking for another tenant. You are American? Vhat is your purpose in Groningen?"
"I'm a student."
"Ah, goot! And how long to you want zee for?"
"I'm thinking about eight weeks to around two mo..."
"Zat is too short!! Too short!! I am sorry, zis vill not work out I need someone at least three months otherwise its too many changes goodbye."

Yeah, that was all one sentence.


(at hostel reception)
"Hey, I have a random question for you guys."
" you know of places to look for renting a room?"
Silence, followed by whisperings in Dutch and confused looks.
More silence.


(on the street with random university students)

"Hey, I was wondering if you guys knew of places to look to rent a room."
Silence, followed by whispering in dutch. Dutch people always whisper around me. Go on, speak up y'all, I have not a clue what you say.
I go on, "Maybe postings at the university or something?"
One student: "No."
Other student: "No."
"Ah, guys got any rooms avaliable?"
"Any friends with rooms avaliable?"
"Any idea where to look?"
"Want to wish me luck?"


(walking around aimlessly on the street)

Dutch person: "Are you looking for sometheeng in particular?"
Me: "Yes."
"Vhat are you looking for?"
"Vhat sign?"
"Te Huur."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Nobody likes you when you're 23...

"No one should take themselves so seriously,
With many years ahead to fall in line,
Why would you wish that on me?
I never want to act my age.
What's my age again?"

Monday, April 24, 2006


Three Nights in Belgium and the Tough Guys Tumble. Or would have tumbled had they tried to mess with us.

Belgium. The land of Eddie Merckx.

Where the waffles are fresh, the streets are cobbled, you can nevigate a river all the way to Turkey, and all your a's turn into q's when you type. Also, the land where the bus station will be shut down and turned into the warmup area for cyclists.

This was not your ordinary bike race. Liege Bastogne-Liege is the oldest cycling classic; and the first true test for the climbers in early season cycling. One day, 25 teams, 250 riders, 262 kilometers, and five americans united under the 100 Meters To Go sign and a chicken flag.

Upon arriving in Belgium, I set off on a quest to speak french; which quickly turned into an escapade of just-try-not-to-speak-spanish-to-everyone-because-otherwise-they'll-speak-it-back-to-you-and-then-you're-REALLY-screwed. Friday I checked into my hostel and quickly met a new friend named Tim; another american traveling for the bike race. Together we set off toward town and split up to find out the most information avaliable on the race...which was not a ton. Tourist information turned out to be tourist lack of information, which did no one any good because it just set us off harassing random officials.

And people who looked official.

I came back that night to meet my two roomates; the smallest Japanese girls with the biggest obsession for cycling I have ever seen. Immediately I was presented with pictures taken of Discovery Channel from the races they had already been to this season, and the entire history of ever single lead rider. Impressive. They also told me the exact schedule of the presentation, and where I should stand for pictures, and that they were going to the race at 6 AM because they were small and needed a spot up front.

Being a massive individual, I wished them luck.

Saturday was spent at the Presentation ceremony, which is cycling's response to the pep rally. I don't know. It was all in french, all 250 riders were announced, and at one point the band was playing "I Will Survive." The most ilportant part of the presentation is the vast collection of what Tim calls swag...random free stuff you recieve from race sponsors. While points are awarded for quality, quantity is what you are going for. Back at the hostel, I met Jane, a fellow Coloradan, and my new roomate and race companion. Jane, Tim, and I proceeded to come up with a plan for the next day. At several points it included us stealing cars, bribing team drivers, and undoubtedly ending up in the middle of Belgium with no hope of getting back, but hey we had each other. We ended up deciding to focus on the start in Liege, and then head toward the jumbotron and the sprint finish.

Sunday. Race day. Beautiful day. Jane, Tim, and I grabbed breakfast at the hostel (breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and when it's free it the mostest important meal of the day). We set off to Saint Lambert, where the pros were already out. Not the riders, but the people who know where exqctly to stand, and have no qualms about being there at all hours of a Sunday morning. Big change from Spain. But the sun was out, the wind was calm, and the street was packed with fans and officials and police.

Jane, Tim, and I watched the team buses pull in. Discovery Channel was first to arrive and pulled into the corner away from everyone else to warm up by themselves. And then from dowjn the street, with reggae blasting and swag cars trailing, the course car pulled to the start with team bus after team bus following. They filled the plaza, they filled the bus station, 25 teams taking over central Liege. All 250 riders were then announced again; in case we forgot that it was a bike race.

We didn't.

But whatever.

Then it was time to race. In cycling this means almost time to stop walking around like we're the greatest ever. But first, the pretend start. Or, the ceremonial start, as they prefer. Where the riders leisurely start (or leisurely catch up, if they missed the start), and pedal until they get out of town.

And then...foot to the pedal and pedal to the metal.

Which we actually didn't see. A bike race is impossible to watch in real life; it's not like cros-country where you can run to different stages of the race to cheer riders on. Instead you go eat a bunch of fried food and drink beer, and hope there are some riders left when you make your way for the finish that will occur six hours later. So first we headed to the Sunday Liege market; two kilometers of crepes, waffles, frites, random junk, and the biggest rabbit ever seen. Also a gigantic chicken. The three of us people watched, grabbed some lunch, and ate along the river before taking off on the next adventure.

Which was leaving the Thanksgiving rabbit to its own devices and jumping on a bus to the town of Ans to watch the finish. We staked our claim on the starboard side of the race right under the 100 meter sign. The captains of swag raised their yellow flag with the red chicken, and hung their free grocery store hats from the sign and watched the race on the jumbotron. We were joined by Sandi and Chris, a couple from St. Louis that we met that morning, and proceeded to wait.

And wait some more.

The riders pass in about a second, but it takes a while to get to that second. So you wait and watch them on the screen. Time goes by, and the crowd grows. Time goes by and more flags (of actual countries (except the basques (and the flemish))) appear. Time goes on and all of a sudden, the course car blasting its horn and reggae music comes by with the sponsor cars and more swag. Time keeps going and you have more cars...cops, organizers, team cars, each car that comes is going faster and faster and you know the racers are approaching. Motorcycles come...more cops, TV cameras, race officials. And then...overhead, you hear the thumping of the helecoptor. Not just any helocoptor. The helecoptor. The one that is showing that race you usually watch on your couch.

Then, 15 guys going 50 kilometers an hour after 261.8 miles zoom around the corner and give it all till the finish. And it's the Liberty Seguros it's CSC.....AAAAAH! The finish!

And then you run to the presentation area so you can a) see the ceremony, and b) figure out who actually won. More trophies, more congratulations to all, and then the race is over, and already almost broken down by the time we say our goodbyes to Sandi and Chris and head back for the bus...but not without a couple more pens and some signs. Swag for swag's sake. Fitting ending to an awesome weekend.

Watching a cycling race takes extreme patience and appreciation of anticipation for the moment. Because it really is a lot of time invested for only one moment. A lot of pressure on that moment.

"So what's the appeal?" asks the American sports fan.

The appeal is that is ridiculously fun when you have great company to share it with.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The road bends, the song ends...

After the last ride, on the last day, the cyclist must unclip, pack up her gear, and gingerly break down the bike. And for a second, the bike must be transformed from friend, traveling buddy, training companion, to enemy. The cyclist must leave the mindset of cyclist and look at the bike with annoyance, with disgust, with hatred. And the cyclist must think to herself, "Self, if I was an airline, where would I find weakpoints so that I could to destroy this fine piece of machinery and laugh cruelly at it´s owner?"

Then the cyclist must transform back, from airline baggage crusher, to super DHL man...and use all the tape and packing materials necessary to fight, fight, fight to the death against the evil airlines.

And then all the cyclist can do is tape up the box, zip in into the bag, and hope. And pray. For there will be a day when the cyclist will again open up that box.

If you´ve never had the experience of opening up a bike box after you´ve flown with your bike, it´s a gut-wreneching, stressful experience. You´re never sure what you´re going to end up with. It´s kind of like Christmas. Only horrible.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Woah...we´re halfway there!

A year of travel is kind of like a really long loop bike ride. On the ride, when you head out, you´re either feeling great or crappy. If you´re feeling great, then awesome, it´s an adventure. If you´re feeling crappy, then it´s a struggle. every pedal stroke is taking you farther from home. But then when you hit the halfway point, everything changes. Now every pedal stroke takes you closer to home; closer to your goal.

Kinda the same with traveling. But at six months, let´s take stock....

The project:
It took a really long time for me to figure out what exactly it was that I was doing. If you´ve ever read what I actually proposed to do, and compared that know...real life; what was actually possible and what I´ve actually done, then it´s a good laugh. The good news is that my project is cycling. The places that I´ve gone to, I can step out my door in the morning, throw a rock, and hit a person, a bike, or a person on a bike. So my place choices were good. That´s good news. They were good for weather, they were good for geography, but mostly they were awesome for their diversity in people. Different races, sexes, ethnicities, nationalities, income levels, social statuses. All riding; riding for pleasure, riding to get somewhere, riding to get somewhere before everyone else. People ride bikes everywhere. And they may not understand what you´re doing, they may not believe what you´re doing, or they may believe what you´re doing and scoff that of course, only Americans would give out large sums of money for something like that. But they ride. And they talk. And if you get them going they talk a lot.

A worldwide culture of the bike? For a while there I thought no possible way, it´s too different. But now I have a small inkling. Maybe. A common outlook, a common way of seeing life, it´s hardships, and it´s circumstances, and how you deal with those hardships and circumstances at hand. So, we´ll just have to see. Haha, means you can´t tune out till the end.

Pluggin. First off, I must say right off that this is only because of great help I´ve recieved and will recieve from awesome people. It has and will continue to enhance my trip and my project so much, and someday there may be a way I can repay all who have helped me along. You know who you are, and I am forever greatful.

But also, this is because for the first time in my life I´ve had to live on a budget. Where I´ve had to make choices about what I want to do, and know that if I want to spend a decent amount of money, I better have good reason. This was especially hard in New Zealand, where I wanted to do, well, everything, but I did not have the means to do so if I wanted to come close to traveling for an actual year. But you make choices. And then when you get something you learn to really appreciate it. Like today. I bought a new T-shirt. It´s a new shirt! Different from the other two! Immediately it gets put on varsity status, and will become my formal t-shirt.

Or my power bar. I´ve learned a lot about cycling when I´m no longer under the sponsorship of team mom and dad. I don´t eat power bars anymore. I´d love to...or at least I´d love to as much as anyone would love to eat a power bar. But it´s hard to justify buying one when I can get three boxes of muesli bars for the same price, and they work almost as well. It´s lessons like these that have really made me learn what I really really need in life. And a lot of things I thought I did, I don´t.

Ah, but I do have one power bar. My mom gave it to me before she and my dad jumped on a plane out of Auckland. I haven´t been able to bring myself to eat it. I keep saying I will when I have something really important I´m riding for, like a couple triathlons I´m looking at in Groningen, or a bike race or something. And I have a lifesize picture of it making me really sick because I haven´t eaten them in so long. But mostly, I haven´t eaten it because my mom gave it to me. It´s from my mom. So I kind of want to hang on to it.

I know. I think it´s weird too. But you do learn to appreciate your parents too. And sometimes you even miss them.


Eeek! For a year in which you have endless hours of self-reflection, you sure don´t spend a lot of time looking in a mirror. Lots of times that´s because you don´t have one. But when I catch a I am as good looking as ever. Of course. But things have changed. While I still have no question on my ability to kick ass and take names, damn. Six months of cycling have left me somewhat gaunt. I feel strong on the hills, and I´m riding as good as ever, but I´m thinking I need to add a baguette a day to the fueling process or something before we have a big problem.

I definitely need to lift some weights.

Not to mention I´m pretty tired. Everything is an effort.

Red Bull: Not the can. A red T-shirt with a bull. Ole! The newest addition to the T-Shirts, Red Bull will immediately assume Formal T-shirt status, and will only be worn for going on and the best occasions.
SEA189: Kinda stretched out, downgraded to work T-shirt
The Oar: Holding steady, but has had to fill two positions since HamTrek gave out, both evening and formal T. Will take on status of evening t-shirt now that Red Bull has been added to the rotation. Also used in travel purposes.
Blue HamTrek: This was the saddest loss of all. It had been fighting a hole in the sleeve since October, and was pulling through great, but Spain became too much. The hole went through, and now HamTrek cleans my chain.

Man, that was such a good shirt.

Because I´m almost out of time...people ask how I am. I´m happy, sad, lonely, really focused, working hard, and having a blast. All at the same time. Never in my life have I had to go through so many intense emotions every single day. Something that´s not easy, but you don´t regret it either.

Friday, April 07, 2006

¨Do you think this means we have to leave?¨

I can see why Europeans may think of themselves as more intellectual than Americans.

For instance, let´s look at the Fire Drill. In the US, it will happen at 2 o´clock in the morning. You´ll be sound asleep, and all of a sudden it´s, BEEEEEP BEEEEEEP BEEEEEEP and so on. You jump out of bed, look for anything to throw on as you run out barefoot into the -10 weather screaming, ¨My ears! My ears! For the love of God my ears!¨

Building evacuated...check.

In Spain? Different. While cooking lunch you may notice a repetitive noise coming from the hallway. You´ll open the door to find your hallmates gathered, some leaning in a doorway, others sitting on the floor. You approach and become a part of a very spirited and in depth debate on whether you´re actually in danger, and if so, should you leave the building. A group conclusion of nap time is reached.

Building, no.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Spanish Culinary Lesson #3 (Numero Tres)

All Spanish food can really be divided up into three categories...

1. Paella.

Arguably Spain´s most famous dish, paella is... far as I can tell...

...cooked food.

There are are about a 794 different ways to make paella. It starts with a seafood. Or a meat. Or a chicken. Doesn´t matter. It is then cooked with vegetables. Like onions. Or peppers. Or tomatoes. Or all of them, or none of them. Whatever. Then rice. In all reality, I could just take whatever ingredients I have on hand, cook them in olive oil and saffron, serve it to you and call it paella. I may have a tough time arguing that it was paella, but trust me. You would have an even harder time arguing that it was not paella.

2. Tapas.

See Spanish Culinary Lesson #1 (Numero Uno) for the definition of tapas. But the snack of the Spanish also has a pretty wide definition. Olives and grapes are popular, but it can be as elaborate as small sandwiches, or calamari, or whatever. I´ve even seen chips advertised as tapas. Just as long as they are small.

So the next time you crack open that bag of goldfish, think of them as tapas, and think about the cultural experience you´re having.

3. Bakery.

Bakery can be divided into three sub-categories:
Sub-category #1: Bread.
Self explanitory.
Sub-category #2: "What-is-this-,-and-do-you-think-if-we-dipped-it-in-chocolate-it-would-still-taste-good-?"
This can vary from croissants, to waffles, to donuts, to random fried dough, pretzels, chocolate covered chocolate, etc. And yes, it still tastes good.
Sub-category #3: "This-could-be-covered-in-chocolate-!-But-we´re-just-not-going-to-do-that-right-now."
This encompasses everything else.

Monday, April 03, 2006



You´ll never have a friend as honest as a bike. Which is good. If any of you were as honest as my bike, we´d have already been in many a fistfight and would not be friends anymore. You can study the bike, you can ride the bike, you can train the bike, but you can never lie about your ability on the bike. You can lie on your resume, you can cheat on a test, and you can plain make shit up for almost everything else in life, but you cannot make up your ability on the bike. You are what you are, and if you try and claim more than you are, the bike will not stand for it. You just get in over your head, and when you´re dropped, it´s just you and your bike, and the bike is the last thing you want to be hanging out with when you´re dropped. Being dropped is one of the most brutally honest and brutally painful methods of social exclusion as it is. And your bike is not helping matters when it is laughing at you saying, ¨Man, you´re shit bud."

No matter how hard you work or how good you are, why is it never good enough?

Maybe it´s like Lance says. No one flys up a mountain, you just work really hard and struggle; if you´re lucky you just reach the top before everyone else.

You try and negotiate with your bike. Talk to it, push it along, work out some kind of deal. But in the end? Nothing. Bicycling Magazine once asked all it´s readers, ¨What do you say to your bicycle?" If they must know, I say to my bike, "What more could you possibly want from me?" But it doesn´t matter what you say to your bike, it´s what your bike says to you. And my bike just smiles and says, "I´m only making you better."

But never good enough. Why?

So I still get up everyday and get back on the bike. Partly out of habit, partly out of that need for a morning rush, mostly because I´m not sure what else to do. Eternal-OptimistBrit believes that one day it´s all going to come together and I´ll be flying off the front of the pack. And I´d have never even noticed when I finally got good. Realistic Brit chides my shortcomings, knowing something should be better by now but isn´t. However it will not get better by staying in bed. All good things take time and lots of hard work. Tan Brit just wants to go outside and work on improving the spandex-glove-sunglasses tan. Athlete Brit´s pride has been deeply wounded, but nevertheless falls in line with Stubborn-As-Hell Brit, who gets up every morning realizing that this is going to be Brit vs. Inadequacy, Round #677,819, and inadequacy has a good chance of winning the battle again. But that´s no excuse to not go out and give all attempting to kick ass and take names.

Because it says a lot about the war in that Brit As A Unit has yet to be K.O´d.

I don´t know when I became the all-time points leader for Moral Victories. I just sure wish they counted for something.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


The last stretch from Llagostera to Girona goes along C-65; a rather busy two lane highway with a bike lane to the right. Up ahead I see a man of African descent pedaling his way home for siesta after a morning working in the gas station about three kilometers back.

He´s on some sort of mountain bike. It´s too small for him. I´m on my carbon-fiber roadie; it was fitted to me. He creates his momentum with the heels of his foot in his workboots. My legs spin easily with my titanium shoes clipped to my pedals. He wears canvas pants and a flannel shirt, I am decked out in lycra.

He pedals slowly, tiredly. I gain on him and pass him. The instant we are even we make eye contact. And then it´s just two lone cyclists once again.

Two bikes, same road, but it coulda been a world apart.