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The thoughts of writer John Rezell, who will write about anything, anytime, anywhere. So pay attention.

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Review: Osprey Aether 70 Backpack

Posted by johnnieraz on July 29, 2017 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

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My review of the Osprey Aether 70 Backpack

Review: Amphipod

Posted by johnnieraz on July 22, 2017 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)


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My review of Amphipod hyrdation choices.

Finding the Middle Fork Trail

Posted by johnnieraz on July 15, 2017 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

Here's my video [also on outdoorsnw.com] to show how to find the Middle Fork Trail and a great place to start an out-and-back.

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Middle Fork Trail in Oakridge: One of My Favorites

Posted by johnnieraz on July 8, 2017 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

The Middle Fork Trail outside of Oakridge, Oregon is one of my all-time favorite rides.

Check out this videos of the section beginning at Indigo Springs:

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Drift Creek Falls a Worthy Stop

Posted by johnnieraz on June 24, 2017 at 2:20 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

    There are a lot of great hikes along the Oregon Coast, and Drift Creek Falls outside of Lincoln City is one of my all-time favorites.

    https://www.outdoorsnw.com/2017/05/razs-picks-drift-creek-falls-top-to-bottom/" target="_blank">You can read my story on the ONWard blog on OutdoorsNW.com

Cape Lookout Sunset Hike

Posted by johnnieraz on June 17, 2017 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     Eventhough the marine layer didn't fully cooperate, hiking down to the beach at Cape Lookout State Park on the Oregon Coast for sunset provbed to be an enjoyable adventure. You can https://www.outdoorsnw.com/2017/06/raz-picks-sundown-at-cape-lookout/" target="_blank">read my story in the ONWard blog on OutdoorsNW.com

Sightseeing on the Oregon Coast

Posted by johnnieraz on June 14, 2017 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

    By John Rezell

    Ever wonder what happens to Lagerhead from Wisconsin when he travels a famous Oregon Craft Brew Ale Trail?

    You can https://www.outdoorsnw.com/2017/06/smooth-sailing-to-find-rugged-coast-beer/" target="_blank">read my story in the ONWard blog on OutdoorsNW.com

     https://www.outdoorsnw.com/2017/05/sightseeing-on-oregons-north-coast-beer-trail/" target="_blank">You can view my slideshow here

The Most Amazing Thing ...

Posted by johnnieraz on May 21, 2017 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Wild flowers bloom on the Glacier View trail outside

Wenatchee, Washington. Photo by John Rezell

By John Rezell

From the Glacier Trail

     The views of wild flowers flowing up and down the rolling hills as they seemingly come alive, reaching up to majestic peaks sometimes bathed in sun but more often smothered by storm clouds, proves as breathtaking as the task of pedalling a mountain bike along this magnificent singletrack.

     For the past two hours I've been chugging up climbs, jetting down hills, stopping repeatedly to start or stop my GoPro, and snapping countless photos. Although this should be a physically demanding workout, I feel as though I'm floating in a wonderful dream, tireless, feasting on nature's pure beauty.

     I've come to this stretch of the Cascade Loop in Washington state on assignment, to write about this invigorating place for my magazine, OutdoorsNW.

     I grudgingly accept that it's time to head back when the wind whistles across the rolling hills and blasts me with a tremendous gust that nearly shoves me off the singletrack, and hail pecks away hitting my helmet and sunglasses.

    Even this nasty side of Mother Nature pumps me up, and I soar down the face of the mountainside beaming inside and out.

    Typically a song will pop into my head as I find a way to capture the entire experience.

    I literally laugh outloud as I hear Steve Martin strumming his banjo and reciting no truer words for my life:

    "But the most amazing thing to me is,

     I get paid for doing this ..."

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10 Years Ago: Birth of an Adventure

Posted by johnnieraz on May 18, 2017 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

PHOTO: Our summer home for 85 days and 8,000 miles in 2005.

By John Rezell

     When folks learn about our amazing adventure of the summer of 2005 that is chronicled in my book "You Can't Cook a Dead Crab and Eat It" they often ask exactly how one arrives at the decision to take such a grand leap of faith. This excerpt helps explain. Also, I just live an interesting life.

BEGIN EXCERPT

CHAPTER THREE

Birth of an adventure

(A few weeks after our trip to Georgia)

     Today is the birthday of our latest adventure. In the next three weeks we will sell as much of our Earthly belongings as possible via that American standard — the Moving Sale/Garage Sale. We'll pack leftovers into storage, close on the sale of our house, and head out on the road in search of our future.

     That's right, Debbie and I are packing up Sierra and Taylor, and heading off for a summer of exploration throughout the Western U.S. in search of the place we plan to call home.

     I'm sure you note a change in my tone. You're no doubt wondering just exactly how we got to this point, this point of knowing, without question, it's time to roll. I mean, the signs have been coming and going for a while now. How do you know when you know? The answer is that you just do. I know it's time to move on from this mess as surely as I knew it was time to get into it. That was just a little more than four years ago, when we rolled out of Loveland, CO, in our Ford Explorer with everything we owned packed in storage and a 4-year-old and 2-year-old in the backseat.

     Debbie looks at me and says, "You know, most women wouldn't allow something like this to ever happen."

     I say, "What? Driving out of town homeless and jobless with two young children in the backseat?"

     We hedged our bet that time. We just sold our house in Colorado for a nifty profit, thanks to a nutty home market. I had been a 2000 dotcom casualty, but after three months of searching for work while collecting unemployment, we were driving out for a job interview that I knew, instinctively, I had in my back pocket.

     I knew it from the moment I applied for the job. After sending my resume and cover letter via email, I went, of course, for a bike ride, came home, and said, "We're either moving to Knoxville or Birmingham. I'm not sure yet which one because I applied for both jobs at the same time."

     The next day I get the call from Knoxville. Ironically, my resume in Birmingham went to a woman who previously held the position I would take in Knoxville. If this all sounds strange and bizarre, well, you know it's all part of my world. The world that we put on hold for a while. Tennessee became elevator music; a trance to pass the time. To prepare a foundation for the girls. To get ready for this, the time, once again, to rock n' roll.

     Before I go any further, let me point something out I should have 'fessed up to long ago. I'm Gemini. Say what you will about Astrology and whatnot, but this much I know is true. I'll be cruising along through life as I know it, as I live it, and then, BOOM!

     Suddenly something comes rambling out of my yapper that even causes me a moment of pause. That there little tidbit about moving to Knoxville is a prime example. Understand that I had been unemployed more than three months at the time, and had applied for countless jobs (okay, not countless. It was more than 300, since Colorado unemployment forced me to keep track). As Debbie walked away after hearing my Knoxville prognostication, I scratched my head — literally — and wondered where in the hell that came from.

     But, I digress. (BID)

     Knoxville became a pit stop for us. We pulled in, changed drivers, milked every drop of fuel from that tank, and realized it's time to go. I mean really time to go. Things started to happen.

     See, we have been trying to sell our house "For Sale By Owner" for about two years. Well, trying might be too strong of a word for a lazy ass such as myself. We had a sign out front and at the end of the road for about two years.

     Every time Debbie got antsy and said that we should get a realtor, I balked. I said it wasn't time.

     One time when she pushed back harder, I snapped: "When the time comes for us to sell," I said, that mystery voice at the helm and most of my conscious essence listening in deep anticipation of what we would hear next, "we'll get a realtor and sell it. Just like that."

     I didn't actually snap my fingers. I'm not one of those guys. But you catch my drift.

     After near misses on job opportunities in the previous few months that would have moved us on in life — one for Debbie in Memphis, and one for me back in our native Wisconsin — we got a realtor. A budget realtor. All I will say at this point about that is that you get what you pay for.

     The day we officially went on the market, my horoscope went something like this:

     From the time you wake up this morning, every bit of your energy will be focused on a very particular objective: making a fantasy become a reality. The good news is that you stand every chance of doing just that.

     Just one week after watching Lance Armstrong in Georgia and igniting my inner fuse, we had our first showing. A couple of former San Diego police officers. That's strange enough, to find someone from heavenly San Diego in the boonies of East Tennessee. A little more bizarre when you know that we lived outside San Diego, in Carlsbad, for 10 years before heading to Colorado.

      (How'd we get out to Carlsbad? All together now: Quit our jobs and drove out with our belongings in storage — homeless and jobless. The only difference back then was no kids in the backseat. As I recall, it was a cooler full of beer.)

     BID.

     There isn't anything too different about their viewing, aside for one thing. They ask to see if their car fits into the garage. That sounds serious to me. A realtor once told me if the woman can tell you where she'll put her Christmas tree, your house is sold. I suppose a car is like a Christmas tree for a cop, no?

     So I pull our '95 Mustang out of the garage and park it on the side.

     The Mustang is like everything else in my life. A story in itself. My mother bought it for herself on her 70th birthday back in '95. She always wanted a Mustang. She's Gemini, too. You can't keep the four of us from our appointed rounds.

     She barely drove it, not that it matters. She got her satisfaction from it through the looks on people's faces when she'd tell them proudly that she bought herself a red Mustang for her 70th birthday.

     It spent most of its life in the garage, protected from the ice, snow and salt of Wisconsin winters. She finally sold it to me last year in mint condition with just 19,000 miles on it shortly after I had totaled Debbie's favorite car, her beloved Honda Accord, while delivering newspapers on a rainy morning. That’s another story in itself for later.

      The Mustang now has 31,000 miles. It's a great car. A real looker. Bright red. Mint. Debbie drives it to work. She fell in love with it in a heartbeat, having driven a ‘69 Mustang fastback in college. I sneak the Mustang out for long drives on Saturdays. Instead of going to the grocery store five minutes away, I head to one 35 miles away. Takes me about 20 minutes. Nice cassette stereo, too. Yeah, I said cassette.

      After the cops couple leave, I go out to put the Mustang back in the garage. With morning rain sprinkling down, I figure it's as good of time as any to put out the signs for our open house on Sunday, this being late Saturday morning. Hey, I guess we ARE finally really trying to sell the house.

      I slowly approach a very sharp corner not far from our house, attempting to determine the safest place for me to stop and put up the sign. Then I see a flash.

     It's a VW Rabbit heading for the corner — and thus, toward me — much too fast for dry conditions. With the slick pavement, well, time would tell how bad this will be.

     The last time I saw someone head into a 90-degree turn that fast was back in college, outside Whitewater, WI. Two farm boys in an ol' water truck so full that it was sloshing out the top as they bounced down the highway. I was coming from the other direction with my 35mm camera — telephoto lens and all — sitting on the seat next to me. I knew immediately they wouldn't make it. I reached for the camera.

      I cradled it in my hands as I watched the truck flip and tumble a few times. I was just finishing journalism school — actually spending summer school as editor of the student newspaper so I could graduate on time and get on with my career, certain I was ready for the big time.

      I realized at that moment I was a reporter at heart, a photographer in my wildest dreams, since I watched the crash with my mouth hanging open like a dolt. I missed a great shot, or rather, series of shots, since I did have the motor-drive on and ready to roll.

      Instead, all I have are the fond memories of pulling the groggy driver and his buddy from the smoking wreckage before it burst into flames. Okay, it didn't burst into flames like you see on TV or in the movies. But it did go up in smoke and we had a nice fire raging by the time the volunteer fire department arrived. I never did get my car blanket back. I didn't have the heart to take it from that shivering kid with the faraway eyes.

     BID.

     Back to the Rabbit. I immediately begin braking the Mustang, muttering expletives to go along with the words, "No, no, NOOOOO! That @#$#$^# isn't going to make the [email protected]$^$#*%^ TURN!"

     I'm correct.

      As I slow to a near stop, I enjoy a slow-motion treat of watching two eyes the size of ostrich eggs as he spins his steering wheel frantically attempting to regain control. He doesn't regain control. He swerves out and a collision with his driver's side rear appears imminent. Then he over corrects in a greater panic, and spins completely around — smacking my front end with his passenger side door.

      The door folds in like a beer can on my college roommate Bergie's forehead. It takes most of the impact. For a moment — a very brief moment — I think, "Hey, that wasn't too bad ..." Then the airbags blow. If you've never had the pleasure, well, hope you never do. I'd rather tangle with a hornet's nest. I get airbag burns on the arms and chest.

     In the end, here's what you need to know: He's 16. He gets his license Thursday. He gets his car Friday. He totals our Mustang on Saturday. A few hours later, the cops from San Diego call to make an offer on our house. The stars begin aligning.

     The nester in Debbie immediately starts thinking about renting a house for the summer or buying land cheap — all sorts of temporary possibilities that avoid the hippo farting in our Jacuzzi. We don't fit in here, living in Tennessee. This isn't us.

      "Hey," I say, remembering that the biggest obstacle of packing everything into storage on our move from Colorado to Tennessee was squeezing her Honda into our 10x20, "how often do you sell your house, liquidate your spare vehicle and face the onset of summer vacation?"

      Bite your tongue on your maturity smack. I've come a long way, baby. At least I didn't just scream, "Tramps like us, Baby we were born to run!" which, by the way, is what we sang to when we bolted for California, toasting with two glasses of champagne. That, and, saying, "I know pretty little place down San Diego way, where they play guitars all night and all day..."

      I didn't quote any lyrics this time, but Debbie got the message. She jumped onboard immediately, without hesitation. So, here I sit on May 18th, 2005, watching the local hillbillies dig through our treasures at another day in our endless Moving Sale. Do you know how depressing it is to see Tennessee trailer folk thumb their noses at your stuff?

      BID

     This always has been an important date for my family, May 18. My father, Reinold — aka Reiny or Rein-babe — was born on this date in 1918 in Milwaukee, WI. On his 27th birthday, he married Doris Jane Killian — otherwise known as Jane or Janeybelle.

      For those into numbers, you should probably know that Jane's birthday is June 18. That is 1925, to be exact. On her 57th birthday, I married Debbie Krueger. We wanted to follow their lead and be married on my birthday, June 11. But we couldn't get the blood tests done in time. One of the hurdles of eloping. So we got hitched in front of a judge in Galena, IL, a week later, on June 18.

     That's right, we eloped. We had Friday night for a honeymoon since I had to work Saturday night at the newspaper in Dubuque, IA. So we drove the orange Datsun B210 along the Mississippi River up to LaCrosse, WI. We had dinner at Taco Bell after being chased by some yokels all around town at terrifying speeds — at least terrifying given the amount of Reunite Lambrusco pumping through our veins. By the time I ditched them, real restaurants were closed. That was fine since, well, we had spent two weeks at the end of May in Arizona, when I burned up my vacation for the year, eating at nice places and enjoying a wonderful time together. That was my graduation present to Debbie. An unknowing advance on her honeymoon.

      Her parents didn't approve, of course, of us traveling together unwed and all, which, of course, prompted the elopement. Debbie had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and didn't have a job immediately lined up, so she moved back home. They pulled the antiquated, "Under my roof" crap. Boom. She came to Dubuque, IA, to live with me. We were on the move.

     I guess this union is based on blowing with the wind. Doing things our way, that is, you know, honeymoon first, marriage second. Making our own rules.

     BID

      Back to the significance of May 18th, 2005. Today we bought a Starcraft 1707 popup camper. That's a whopping 10 feet of trailer when folded. So I'll consider this not only the birthday of the trailer, but that of our adventure. Good thing, too. Reiny would have been 87 today. He loved camping.

      The camper, of course, was paid for with the insurance settlement money from the Mustang. I intend to bolt the silver pony from the grill of the Mustang to the trailer. Sierra suggested, since we're buying it on Reiny's birthday, that we call the trailer "Reiny."

     Hmmm. Maybe Mustang Reiny!

      If that isn't enough for one day, Debbie also gave her notice at WATE-TV, where she's a commercial producer. There's no turning back now. Full steam ahead.

END EXCERPT

A Day that Changed Me

Posted by johnnieraz on April 30, 2017 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     You could title this entry You Can't Rewrite History. The fact that history can't be changed is the reason I wrote my book "Taken for a Ride: Chasing a Young Lance Armstrong."

     Oh, I know a lot of people would love to change history. That's why it is not surprising to me that my book on Lance is the least popular of my three, although in many ways I believe it is the most entertining of the three.

    People have a hard time forgiving. Sometimes an even more difficult time remembering.

    Not me. I remember.

    It was on April 30, 1995, that Lance performed some cycling magic before my eyes in the Tour DuPont on the Stage 4 race to Blacksburg, Virginia, finishing with an amazing solo breakaway before a throng of thousands on the Virginia Tech campus.

     On that day, three years of hard good old fashion journalistic work to get to know Lance and cover his story paid off as he delivered an amazing ride. He followed that by treating me to quotes he did not share with anyone else. For the rest of my days as a journalist, I never let up or took a day off — knowing that you never know when all your effort will pay off.

     Here is an excerpt from "Taken for a Ride: Chasing a Young Lance Armstrong" about that day, that ride. But you have to buy the book to get those quotes that I never shared before.

BEGIN EXCERPT

    For me, riding in the press van or one of the team cars for the stage was a no-brainer. There is no other way to really know what goes on out there on the road. Driving six hours at 20-30 mph you get a true understanding of what the cyclists endure. You know how hot or cold, or rainy and slick the roads are. You know where there is wind. You feel how steep and long each climb is, and how tricky the descents. Every now and then, you get to witness something — like the 1993 Raul Alcala v. Lance battle up Beech Mountain — that will stay with you forever. That happened again as I stood in the middle of the chaos known as Virginia Tech University savoring Lance put the finishing touches on what, for me, will be remembered as one of the greatest moments in racing on American soil.

    What I’ve always loved about sports is that on any given day, someone seems to rise above — to find an inner strength the others cannot tap into on this particular occasion. Lance seems capable of capitalizing more than others as if it were the only fuel to feed his burning soul. It's one thing to watch his magic on a television. It's another to see it — and feel it — in person. Just ask the thousands who swarmed the campus of Virginia Tech that day. They watched on the big screen the end to a story. I got to see the birth of the story in person — that amazing moment on Mountain Lake during Stage 4 of DuPont.

    It had already been a legendary stage, one that Euro-tested riders like Ron Kiefel and Jeff Pierce pegged as the toughest single day of racing on U.S. soil since the days of the Coors Classic, if not the toughest in history. Period. It was a brutal course that the peloton raced hard, from the opening gun. 141 miles. Five major climbs. 8,000 feet of elevation gain. Names like Durand, Bortolami, Jaskula, Bauer, Yates and Armstrong were stoking the fire in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Carolina. Riders were left behind like carnage on nearby Civil War battlefields. As our press van climbed the summit of Mountain Lake, only a handful of powerful survivors remained in contention.

    With a slight drizzle wetting the windshield, it was critical to get the press van over the summit ahead of the breakaway — no telling how slick the descent might be. The climb, it appeared, continued on forever as Lance, teammate Andrea Peron, defending DuPont champion Ekimov and a few others continued hammering each other. Someone would force the pace for a few pedal strokes, and all would match. It’s like watching a small school of fish or a small flock of birds attempting to stick together.

    At moments like this, the press van must attack at 1K to the peak to make sure we get down the mountain without having the racers fly down the mountain and catch us. We knew if we ever allowed that to happen at DuPont, the press van would be dispatched to the back of the peloton for the rest of the stage, and with riders stretched out for miles, no telling how far that would set us back. So we only pushed the limits on so far. Absorbed in watching the battle behind as they toyed with each other up the demanding climb, we thought for certain we had missed the 1K sign. The climb went on and on and on. The fog intensified the dreamlike images. The tension mounted, for the racers, and the reporters in the press van. We knew something had to give. At least we hoped something would, and that they wouldn’t ride in as a group that neutralized each other all day. As much as we wanted to see the fight, if we got caught too close to the riders on the descent, we'd be pulled aside for the day and would never make it to the finish ahead of them.

    I sat in the back seat of the van with small binoculars, relaying information to our group. The binoculars really weren't much help looking through the rain drops on the window, and I eventually put them down. We were staying far enough ahead to stay out of the fray. Besides, by this point in my career covering racing, I didn’t need to see numbers to know who was who. I could tell by the way they handled their bikes.

    Don’t ever ask me to explain the nuances; I doubt I could. It’s more instinctive and intuitive. I knew who was who from a frightening distance. On such a steep climb it would be impossible for them to catch us quickly as we continued our ascent, so we had a little wiggle room. As I watched the small group keeping close watch on each other, the debate raged about the 1K sign. Did we pass it? Are we screwed? Our driver Tim Miller had gotten into the practice of pushing the limits on this tour, bowing to our constant pressure knowing that he might be forced to give up this plum assignment to drive a cargo truck at the end of the line if we push him too far. We continually recalled Steve Penny's epic Beech Mountain move as the gold standard for the press van driving, allowing us to see the Lance v. Raul battle. We even promised to pay any fines Tim might get from race officials and, looking around the van, I knew that expense would come out of my pocket.

    The atmosphere in the press van felt electric. We had played this cat and mouse game on every climb of the race, for more than five hours. Now, with the miles ticking down toward the stage's moment of truth like a time bomb, the tension leaped a level or two. Now you could see the rider’s breath puffing out in the cold. Add the drizzle, and it was enough to make your hair stand on end.

    "One more look, then we gotta go," Tim finally announced, his voice thick with anxiety. I turned for a final peek. The group was breaking up again. Now it's down to four. Hang on just a second for me to identify the survivors. Now three. Peron, Ekimov and Lance have a gap.

    "We gotta go!" Tim shouted.

    I could sense the countdown nearing blastoff. I didn't know if it was our clock, or the riders'. I begged. Hang on just ... a ... little ... longer ...

    BOOM! Already climbing out of his saddle, Lance swung out from the others with a lightning quick move and attacked. Ekimov didn't respond immediately. Peron sat on Ekimov's wheel, and Lance bolted up the hill alone.

     Tim put the pedal to the metal. We raced down the mountain for what seemed an eternity. On a descent the information on Tour Radio becomes sparse. The officials can't keep close tabs because of the speed, and the reception in the mountains gets spotty. It's the same for the TV reception. The satellite feed back to the finish line usually gets lost in the mountains. Although there had been no word on race radio that Armstrong had attacked, we knew he did. We saw it. The day before the crucial Roanoke Mountain Time Trial, and Lance threw down the gauntlet. My hands were shaking as I wrote my notes — as if there were any question as to whether or not the scene would be imprinted in my memory forever. I close my eyes today and still see it in HD.

     When we zipped into town we found the streets lined with fans a long, long way from the finish. Generally in a city this size, there might be a handful of folks here and there. A steady line of people created a tunnel. At least twice as many as we saw last year. When we got to campus, it was a fricking zoo. Typically we’d hop out of the press van and rush to the press area at the finish line, where we’d watch the finish on a TV monitor with the other journalists. We couldn’t hang there. We had to soak in the ambience. Feel the buzz. Skip Woods and I got out of the press van and disappeared into the crowd, with others wondering where we were heading.

     We plunged ourselves into the heart of the madness, our mouths literally hanging open and hair standing on our arms. We know because we paused and, without saying a word, showed each other our goose bumps. We stood watching Lance on the huge television screen as he weaved through the streets of Blacksburg alone, the crowd buzzing. The hill across from the finish line looked like ants attacking a picnic, swarms of bodies sprinting toward the screen for a better view of history in the making. This wasn’t like any other stage we’d ever witnessed. It was especially gratifying for Skip, who’s a Virginia Tech alumni.

     You could hear in the distance he was getting closer, just by the roar. When Lance arrived on campus, the din was deafening — the kind of sound you only hear inside a stadium or arena. This was outdoors, and not even closed in by high-rises. The sound felt thick. It was U.S. cycling's true Christening. Skip and I sprinted to toward the finish, running on past it, to catch Lance still on his bike. We were about 200 yards beyond when we looked back and savored the view as Lance saluted the fans gliding across the line. He continued on and on and on, rolling past us. Far past the end of the tunnel of fans and safety fence lining the road. He kept going, farther than I’ve ever seen him. We ran and ran.

    Lance rolled into a parking lot behind a typical college-like building, away from the throng. You could still hear the roar back behind us. It would be two minutes before another rider would finish, yet the cheers never faded. I bolted ahead, and caught up with Lance all alone — only because Skip refused to give up smoking. I left him behind after about 400 yards, gasping for air. There I was, in the spot I live for, alone, with someone who just did something absolutely stunning. I watched as it slowly began to sink in, his head nodding and occasionally shaking, like a Kentucky Derby winner slowing to a trot as it heads to the Winner’s Circle.

     I stopped and just stood there, not pushing my luck. He circled around the parking lot a bit, as if he understood the impact for me, an American-based journalist, seeing what is probably daily fare in Europe. It was as if he wanted to reward me as well as establish the magnitude of the moment. He never stopped, instead slowing to a crawl so I could quick step next to him.

    Dude, that was amazing, I said, completely caught up in the moment and throwing my cloak of objectivity into the air. This precious moment was ours. We slowly headed back toward the roar, in no hurry whatsoever. I just paused, giving him the opportunity to soak it in before I go for the gold. I said, this place has been going nuts for the past 15 minutes just waiting for you to get here. I've never seen anything like this for a bike racer in America. It's like you're a rock star or something.

    He cracked a grin of satisfaction like I've never seen from him. Total contentment. Peaceful. Tranquil. A connection materialized here that Lance had been searching for — yearning for — but never really certain it could become a reality in America. He loved his fans back in Austin because they understood what he endures to rise to this level. They understand his pain. Finally, he found new converts.

    It was just a year ago on this same stage that the clever Russian Ekimov pulled one over on the eager young pup. Lance could argue that one to his grave and never admit the embarrassment that Ekimov delivered that day. When Chuirato attacked out of that small group out front a year ago, Lance hesitated. Ekimov called Lance’s bluff. It infuriated Lance, whose idea of mind games is to crank up the pace until you surrender. Instead of unleashing his fury down the road with a counterattack, Lance blew it. Chuirato rolled into a somewhat rousing reception from the Va Tech faithful as stage winner. Lance rolled in with Ekimov. When Lance saw the party that he missed out on, it burned him up inside even more.

    On this day, Lance looked down the long finish line to a pack of reporters and cameras waiting about 300 yards away, and he slowed to a stop for me. Just the two of us.

   What does this mean to you? I asked him.

END EXCERPT

    I must share the adding-a-cherry-on-top moment. I made it my goal always to be the first running at Lance's side to get a quote when he raced in the U.S. At DuPont, by contract, that opportunity was supposed to be given to ESPN. Davis Phinney was the post-race reporter with that responsibility. So I respected Davis, and always made sure I got out of his way when he arrived so he could have exclusive time. Still, I made sure I was there first.

    As Lance and I slowly moved back toward the finish line, Davis ran up with the ESPN camera crew. Davis knows all about  — winning. He is the winningest bike racer in U.S. history. Davis stopped for a moment as his cameramen raced to Lance. Davis looked at me and said, "Just once I'd like to get to him first."

    The experience of that day carried me for the rest of my journalism career. Any time I felt a pinch lazy and figured I’ could just use cruise control, and sit the press conference for quotes, I remembered that day. Every time I hustled to get an interview, it provided the opportunity to show all the other journalists why I do what I do. I do it, because it is who I am. I want the story. The whole story. I want to win the day.



The Lucky Ones

Posted by johnnieraz on April 7, 2017 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

EDITOR'S NOTE: In my role as editor of OutdoorsNW magazine and OutdoorsNW.com I will be blogging on our new website when it is launched in the next few weeks rather than posting here. Our blog will be called ONWard, and will chronicle adventures beyond what appears in the print editions. As this blog goes on hiatus, I felt this would be a proper post to stand the test of time.


By John Rezell

     The true beauty of this symphony we call life doesn't emanate from its divine score, but rather the creativity and genius of the individual members of the orchestra, who burst out in ad lib solos that carry our collective spirits to soar far higher than we could have imagined alone.

     This week America's Cycling Philharmonic lost its conductor, Steve Tilford, who set the tone and influenced literally thousands by living on his own terms until the moment he left our stage.

     The paceline of tributes online strings out from coast-to-coast — an unending barrage of heartfelt confessions — one after another after another after another, not unlike Steve's penchant to attack relentlessly and never let anyone rest on your laurels, least we forget the reason we came in the first place.

     We've seen celebrities in other fields who have moved masses pass on. Their tributes more often than not relegated to the brief, one-line cliches that allow us to quickly move on.

     What transpired over the course of the past few days has been nothing less than members of our tribe bearing — no, wringing out — their hearts and souls. Cries from deep inside ourselves. Places Steve found a way to touch.

     As I embraced each post, each sentence, each word, I was reminded how lucky I am to have been invited into this family bonded by our love of the wind rushing through our hair and our blood feverishly pumping through our veins as we cherish our freedom to chart our own course, to write our own song.

     Ask any of us the most successful riders ever to mount a bicycle, and the names will fill a familiar list, no doubt divided by discipline or specialty. Ask who the most influential person ever to mount a bicycle and, be you a roadie, an off-roader, a 'crosser or even a trackie, that very well could be a list of one. One who will be missed in our hearts as much as in our peloton.

     Each night I hop into bed incredibly thankful for the amazing life I've had the pleasure to enjoy. I wonder how I've managed to keep my wheels grounded and stay my course. It would be so easy to take full credit that "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul," but I know better.

     There's an old video online about Steve, and his brother Kris attempts to describe him in one word. The best he can do is explain that Steve is so many things, yet the sum of all of those is greater than the parts. It's magic, Kris said.

     I, too, am the sum of all those parts of my life that have connected me with humbling individuals who have touched me. So many of those incredible individuals make cycling a community like no other. I've been blessed to be touched by all of you. And Steve Tilford forever stands atop my podium representing the best of all of us.

     Magic, indeed.

     My book "A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul" is a tribute to the many individuals who allowed me into their lives and my opportunity to share their stories in what I consider the Golden Age of American cycling, 1989-1996.

    

    

    

Future Plans for My Blog

Posted by johnnieraz on March 25, 2017 at 2:25 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

      I've started my new journey this week as editor of OutdoorsNW magazine. It might sounds a bit more glamous than it really is, but then again, that's my life.

 

      Although I will be primarily working from my home in Oregon, I have to travel up to Seattle for training and production. That means a 4-5 hour drive, depending on when I embark. For my first two days of training, that was a 4:45 a.m. departure. No, it's not a daily commute. I spend the night in Seattle.

 

      I'm still sorting out what I plan to do with my writing and my blog here, since, for the first time since 2008 my job and my passion are aligned. As soon as I have that figured out, I'll let you know.


Change in the Air

Posted by johnnieraz on March 18, 2017 at 5:40 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     Even without a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds, the warmth of the breeze rising above 60 degree signals spring is on its way, although the very recent memories of snowy mornings sends conflicting messages.

     Funny how my outlook on weather has evolved over the years. Rain in my childhood days in Wisconsin pretty much meant hunkering down inside and saving energy for sunny days that would quickly reappear. When the sun broke out, Katy bar the door! It was time to act.

     After spending a few years post college in the same midwestern pattern, the winters seemed to increase in their intensity. I remember the icy winter of '84-'85 as the breaking point, with many days in Dubuque barely reaching zero. We had enough.

    We bolted for Southern California and again, the weather perspective changed. After an exhausting month or so of beautiful mild days — the days that in the Midwest you make sure you take advantage of by getting out and doing something — I found the ability to chill even when it's awesome outside.

     Life in Colorado and Tennessee was shaped around the nearly daily afternoon thunderstorms that would sweep through. The intensity of those storms seemed to increase each year, too.

     Finally, in Oregon we embraced the spirit that, well, it doesn't matter much what the forecast is. If we plan to do something, we do it. I've ridden my bike completely soaked to the bone with a wild, crazy smile beaming across my face. I've hiked up a mountain in pouring rain, loving every moment. And I've enjoyed countless beautiful days, too.

     Late winter means it's time to get some fitness, so no matter what the weather, I have to get out. I mix a lot of biking and hiking together so I'm ready for anything when spring really blooms.

     Rolling through the vineyards of bare vines and a field of dead sunflowers remind me that winter still has a strong foothold, but a bright yellow daffodil popping free on the edge of the road screams that it won't last for long. Soon these hills will explode in all their splendor.

The Magic Continues

Posted by johnnieraz on March 11, 2017 at 2:10 AM Comments comments (2)



By John Rezell

     I can't say that I've ever really pondered the meaning of life, something you seldom hear from a writer.

     Instead, I devote my energy to living life to the fullest. To writing my own story.

     That means all of life — the good times, and the not so good times.

     I frame my life in those terms because, frankly, I can't complain.

     My life has some magical quality to it that I will never be able to explain.

     Fortuitous events have swept me away to amazing experiences time and time again.

     My three memoirs weave so many mindboggling tales that leave one wondering at what specific point did I cash in my artistic license and leave the truth behind for a moment or two in hopes of enhancing the story.

      That's what makes this journey so fantastic. I haven't had to venture from the truth. It's all real. Every last detail.

      If you read my books you must certainly wonder — as I do each day — at what point I will have depleted my good fortune account and begin to endure the mundane life so many others feel they are muddled and trapped in.

      The answer for me, my friends, is not quite yet.

      Just 14 months ago I got laid off from my job as marketing director for Bike Friday. It wasn't just any job. It was a job that took me more than two years to land. Yes, two years of unemployment as a result of the Great Recession. Two years of waking up each day, searching, then applying for any job I could find. Two years of rejection on a daily basis.

      You might wonder how I could categorize two years of that as "not so good times" rather than bad times. Somehow I woke up each morning with a full and complete understanding that life could be worse. My wife and daughters were healthy. I was healthy. Although there was a stint in there when my wife was also unemployed, we got by. We endured. We lived.

      Getting laid off from Bike Friday and marketing, however, rekindled my dream. In all honesty, I left behind my journalism career at its zenith, shortly after being editor of VeloNews and working for an Internet startup at the height of the dotcom boom. What followed were the best years of my life, enjoying a stint as stay-at-home Dad. Oh, I delivered newspapers for a spell, worked as a substitute teacher for a year, wrote a weekly outdoor column while working part-time for a newspaper. I had jobs, but my career pretty much stalled years ago.

      Through it all I carried a vision of how I would bring together the essence of the print world I learned through newspapers and magazines with the online world I learned through website gigs. I yearned for another chance to run a media property and pick up where I left off years ago. That opportunity came last June.

      For the past eight months I've savored the chance to be back at the helm of a magazine. I planned and plotted a course for the future. And just as I was about to unleash it, the magic stirs again.

      Completely out of the blue, the ultimate canvas to combine my journalistic experience with my personal passion — my endless love of nature and the outdoors — dropped into my world.

      This week I'll end my time as editor of SportsEvents magazine, and begin my time as editor of OutdoorsNW. That either of these challenges have been part of my life is nothing short of amazing in my mind.

      A new adventure begins.

    



If You Give a Writer A Pencil

Posted by johnnieraz on March 4, 2017 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (0)

EDITOR'S NOTE: When I created Raz's Velo-o-Rama, my first website, in 1994 as a creative display of my work covering bicycle racing in America as a freelancer, the thought of being able to have complete control publishing of my work became an addiction and an obsession. As technology advanced I rode the wave through cyberspace in various capacities always motivated to create rather than cash in. As I celebrate the 2nd anniversary of self-publishing my three ebooks I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and look at some of the ideas that flowed from my muse. This first is my tribute to the classic children's book "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" and its line of stories, which I planned to use as the introduction to a website called The Brain of Raz.

By Raz

     If you give a writer a pencil, chances are, he'll want a piece of paper.

     So you'll strap on your helmet and hop on your bike to go along with the writer to the office supply store .

     But once you're on the bike path, the writer will want to explore. Because that's what writers do. It's called creative procrastination.

     You'll be riding along the bike path and probably see a pack of bike riders racing very, very fast.

     And the writer will try to keep up with them, just to see if he can.

     So you'll ride your bike as hard as you can for as long as you can.

     When the bike racers slowly turn into tiny dots on the horizon, then disappear, the writer will say that's for the best. It's a better story now.

     That's when you'll realize you don't know where you are, and that you should have brought a map, if not a survival knife and flint.

     You'll be scared, but the writer will smile with glee. And he'll say, remember, what doesn't kill you ...

     ... makes you stronger, you'll answer proudly. But he'll crinkle his nose and say, Heck, no, what doesn't kill you makes a great story! CHA-CHING!

     And if you haven't realized it already, you understand why writers are lonely people without a lot of friends. At least, friends who are alive.

     You'll spend a few nights in the cold, eating wild berries and drinking rainwater as if you were on "Survivior." The writer will fill your empty nights with terrifying stories of what could happen to you, all them ending in death, as he continues to remind you that reality is stranger than fiction.

     Eventually you'll get rescued and even though you shared the frightening ordeal 50-50 with the writer, you find that really you only own 100 percent of your story, and none of the writer's.

     Of course, the writer will hire an agent, who will take 20 percent right off the top, which is fine with the writer, because if he tried to sell anything on his own he'd end up with 100 percent of nothing, just like you.

     The agent will sell the book to a marketing company, who will take 50 percent off the newly neatly trimmed top. The agent is fine with that because without the marketing company, he'd be earning 100 percent of nothing, just like you.

     The marketing company puts together the book and sells it to a publishing house, which will take 50 percent off the top simply because it can, and another 20 percent off the top for distribution costs. For some reason, the marketing company doesn't flinch at this. Probably because 100 percent of nothing is ...

     The distributor will sell the books to local stores, who will jack the price up even further, to take off their 20 percent.

     And you'll go to the bookstore for the signing on the day the book is released, and you'll fork over $39.99. But you won't mind because, of course, you know the author will only get about 50 cents of that, and he'll autograph the book, meaning someday when he rides a little too far and too fast, you'll get your money back and then some selling it on eBay, with you actually getting to keep a full 100 percent.

     Which makes you start thinking that, hey, who needs all these people in the first place?

     Why not just buy a computer, type in your story, publish an ebook and offer it to folks like yourself for, oh, maybe $5 because you really aren't concerned about getting rich, you just want to make a decent living.

     And just to show how greedy the rest of the world is, you'll use what profits you gain to start a whole knew company that focuses on children and finding ways to inspire them to create dreams for their lives, and follow them with the relentlessness of a, well, a writer.

     So you go to the office supply store to buy a computer, and as they hand you a laptop you feel like you have all the power of the world behind you to help you tell your story.

     And then, you laugh, because you think to yourself, hey, this is much, much, MUCH better than ...

     ... if you give a writer a pencil.

George Hincapie's Paris-Roubaix Close Shave

Posted by johnnieraz on February 24, 2017 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

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At the US Postal Service training camp in 2000, George Hincapie talks about Paris-Roubaix

By John Rezell

    Listening to Lance Armstrong's podcast with former U.S. Postal Service teammates George Hincapie, Dylan Casey and Christian Vande Velde offers a refreshing twist on the typical banter concerning their racing careers, and if you have a chance, it's entertaining.

    Hearing George's historically mischievous tone reminds me of one of my favorite moments of all-time. Covering the U.S. Postal Service Training Camp for our fledgling website bike.com back in 2000, I tried to tell anyone who would listen that the Internet would soon be awash with video. As such, I conducted the interviews with video.

     When I arrived at George Hincapie's room, he was just lathering up. Always game, George agreed to let me video him while he shaved and we talked. The true pro he is, George had no problem with it. On the other hand, I had a tough time not laughing. My biggest difficulty was that I was videotaping his reflection, so he's looking into the mirror back at me. The whole perspective was weird. Just a typical day for George.

     You can read more about those golden days of American racing in my books "A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul" and "Taken for a Ride: Chasing a Young Lance Armstrong."

New Tricks From an Old Dog

Posted by johnnieraz on February 18, 2017 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)


By John Rezell

     My black lab Ridgely lies across the floor appearing to play dead, even though that is not a trick in her repertoire. She will turn 11 in June, and Debbie continually voices concerns when she sees Ridgely like this after a day out in the woods. Ridgely might be out like a light, but I'm pretty sure she's listening. And frankly, Ridgely doesn't like to be dissed like this.

     That's the only explanation I have for her most recent behavior in the woods. As soon as it's time to hit the trail, she is off like a puppy. On steroids.

     It makes perfect sense, since she has ventured into the woods with me almost from birth. She loves the woods. She gets depressed if we don't make it out there at least once a week, and makes sure to let me know.

     Ridgely, named for the street she was born on, came into our family about six months into my stint as an outdoor columnist for The Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene. We hit the woods two, three sometimes more each week.

     Once Ridgely showed the strength to hang with me on some epic hikes of three, four or more hours, I introduced her to mountain biking. That's when she showed her athletic prowess.

     Her greatest feat came when she hung with my older brother Tom and I as we rode around Waldo Lake, which was billed as a 23-mile loop but for some reason came out closer to 28 by our estimates. It was a long day with plenty of stops for her to recover and cool off in the icy waters of Waldo. At the end, however, she was right there.

     As the years have gone by, I've dialed back on how long we hike or bike. When we return home, she will pass out on the floor and eventually hobble a pinch as she puts herself to bed around 8 p.m. But the next morning, on the trail, look out world.

     I write this because we got out on the bike last week with a wonderful winter day in Oregon. Nearly 50 degrees in the Coastal Range. I'm far from summer fitness level, so it all begins with training. We got out on a gravel logging road to climb for an hour, before turning around and coasting back down.

    But as soon as we started, she bolted with an added zip in her gait. I mean, she was sprinting up the climb, over and over, after I'd call her to get back a little closer to me. Her energy ratcheted up a few levels, like I haven't seen in years. All I could think of was Ridgely's pride, and her determination to make sure Debbie knows she's listening.

     I've never been a wild man on my bike heading downhill, so I pretty much ride the brakes all the way down to keep a very reasonable pace for Ridgely. It's more like a crawl. We stop at every creek that babbles down the mountainside. She drinks and plops herself down for a rest.

    With such a perfect day, it couldn't end there. We drove to the coast, and walked a mile down the beach at Oceanside before heading back. All the way Ridgely loving the beach as she always does — although this time deciding quickly she wasn't interested in drinking any salt water.

    She plopped down in the living room and didn't move for hours. She hobbled a pinch when she put herself to bed. And this morning, well, she's ready to do it all again. Take that!


    


A cyclist is a cyclist

Posted by johnnieraz on February 11, 2017 at 2:40 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

    Whenever someone points out that cyclists come in all shapes, sizes and forms, I take a moment to reflect on it.

    Sure enough.

    There are cyclists who ride for fitness.

    Cyclists who ride for pure joy.

    Cyclists who commute.

    And, of course, cyclists who have no other wheel-powered choice in their lives than the bicycle.

    I’m reminded of that last group whenever I pass a cyclist who doesn’t have a home, yet has a bike. I think back to a time when I lived outside of San Diego. A good friend of mine was working on a project for a college class. I went out with him, video camera in hand, to interview some homeless individuals.

    You might imagine what some of their life stories sounded like. Real life tragedies. Yet, almost to a person, we heard the same sentiment. We don’t want pity, they said, but we do want acknowledgment.

     I remember Jack better than anyone. When we approached Jack, and asked if he’d talk to us, he couldn’t stop staring in disbelief. Then he wouldn’t stop talking. The most painful thing, Jack said, is being ignored. Seeing people purposely look away, least they make eye contact.

    Simple acknowledgment, Jack said, means everything.

    I’ve tried to remember that lesson. Always.

     Just after Labor Day 2008, as summer began to slip to memory, I got laid off. It would be more than two years before I gained full-time employment again.

     While still unemployed back in 2010, I ventured past one of the homeless in Eugene. He had his bicycle and bike trailer pulled beneath an underpass, with the trailer up on a rock. He’d pulled off his tire. Needed to repair a flat. And find a way to pump it up. It’s a long ride to the nearest gas station with free air, he said.

     I didn’t have a 20-inch spare on me, nor could my presta connection help his Schraeder valve. But I was, I had to admit, on my way to a bike shop. If he promised to sit tight, I’d return and help out. He said he’d wait.

     I couldn’t tell him I was headed to exchange a pair of cycling gloves that were under the tree on Christmas morning. They were nice. Really nice. They fit. But new cycling gloves, given our employment status, became a luxury item, at least in my mind.

     When I got to the shop, I exchanged the gloves. For a couple of spare tubes. And a portable pump. I gladly paid the difference.

     Upon my return, of course, he tried to make a big deal about it. He thanked me. Pointed out at least 20 other cyclists had ridden right past, and just ignored him. I was the only one to even speak to him. He felt guilty when I told him to keep the pump.

     Don’t worry about, I told him, I’d do the same for any cyclist.


A Perfect Introduction

Posted by johnnieraz on February 4, 2017 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)


Linda Brennemann with her son Benjamin on Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, 1995.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As I celebrate the 2nd anniversary of publishing, this excerpt from my book "A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul" tells how it all started, when I went to a local race at the Ziggurat in Laguna Niguel to start learning about bicycle racing in 1989.

Perfect introduction

    The secret culture of cycling lives in the local races. Pause for a moment and envision an industrial park near your house that is a virtual ghost town on most weekends. Wide, well-paved streets without traffic. My bet is that it is hardly a ghost town. It’s cycling nirvana.

    In Orange County, that place is known as the Ziggurat in Laguna Niguel. The county building looks, you guessed it, like a Ziggurat. That's where the local hotshots get together for races. It's nothing more than an adult version of a neighborhood challenge. Draw a line on the street. Line everyone up. Yell go! The magic begins.

    They have these training races in the raw once a week — usually on Tuesday nights. About every four to six weeks, a local promoter gets off his bike and grabs a clipboard. A couple of other enthusiasts park their bikes and put on officials' jackets, with real USA Cycling Federation patches. Instead of one huge free-for-all race, they meet on Saturday or Sunday. The contestants group by age and skill level. They pin numbers onto their jerseys. A real race evolves. Heck, even the wife and kids come out and run around in the sun. They have a guy who shouts into a PA system and plays loud music. Somebody shows up to sell T-shirts and jerseys. You can usually buy fresh organic bakery. They even roll in Port-a-Potties, although never enough.

    I headed to the Ziggurat for one of those races to begin my real journey into the world of cycling. That's my style. While my high school pal Bud Geracie jumped from the University of Wisconsin to The Associated Press covering the Brewers, I went grass-roots from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to a small daily newspaper in Fort Atkinson as a do-it-all sports editor (that is, write stories, take photographs and layout the pages). I worked my way up, learning the essence of my trade. The same was true with cycling. I could have just waited for a big one to taste the high life. But, that wouldn't be me.

    So I watched the races unfold with a handful of spectators. This wasn't the spoon-fed pack journalism that pro beat reporters know. There would be no official play-by-play typed up and handed to me at the end of the race so I could refer to key moments. There would be no rider bios in a media guide, to allow me to delve into background stories unless I did the digging myself. No compilation of post-game quotes to refer to. No official press conference afterward, nor a Sports Information Director or head of Media Relations to track down an athlete for an interview. Heck, there weren't even any rosters or scorecards. Just a couple hundred cyclists racing around with numbers pinned to their jerseys. When each race ended, the officials scribbled the numbers in order of finish on a sheet of paper taped to the side of a trailer.

    What there was, however, was quintessential athletics. No hype, no pomp, no circumstance. Just pure, unadulterated athletic competition.

    To be honest, there was something else that set these races apart from the weekly sprint fest. The promoter would shell out a few bucks afterward. Maybe $100 to the winner of the main event. Or new tires. Or a box of energy bars. Or new water bottles. Not enough to get rich, by any means, but enough to make someone feel appreciated. I suddenly realized I had a lot more in common with these folks than I knew. I could remember the mantra from journalism professors in college: You'll never get rich doing this. You have to do it because you love it.

     Oh, man, I was loving it. I was sitting under the warm Southern California sun, hiking around the course over and over again, studying how the riders took corners, where they attacked, where they let up. My active role in pursuit of my story was nothing new. I thought about the countless Friday nights covering high school football, when I would ply the sidelines, marching up and down, alongside the players and coaches, soaking in the reality of the event — and sometimes soaking in the rain, or even, at times, snow. My hands so numb I could barely keep my notes. My ink running together. My hands shivering. Then I'd look at my competition in the press box. Warm and cozy. Sanitized. The next morning, guess whose story captured the true essence of the game in a way no one could ever really put their finger on?

    I looked around this new world of bike racing and wondered where in the hell those "real" sports journalists would plant their fat asses, waiting for the victors to grace them with an interview. There was no such place. That, more than anything, let me know I'd found home.

Perfect timing

    The elite women were the first category of note — that is, category that I would focus on and write about — to finish their race. No one had any idea there was a reporter on hand to record the proceedings. As I'd find out over the years, even armed with such knowledge, cyclists had a tendency to disperse like cockroaches when a light flicks on when the race is over. As the women screamed across the finish line in a blur of colors, I managed to write down the top five numbers and make a photographic memory of the jersey on the winner. The search began.

    Suddenly all the jerseys looked the same. All the women looked the same — shiny helmets, great tans, dark sexy sunglasses and bouncy ponytails. Finally, my luck struck. There she was. The winner.

    I hurried over and introduced myself. She smiled with more than a hint of embarrassment at the attention. Great timing. Breathing heavily, sweat trickling down her cheeks, she drank from her water bottle.

    "Hi. I'm John Rezell, from The Orange County Register," I said, offering my hand.

    "Linda Brenneman," she said, returning the gesture.

    I began to pepper her with questions about the race. She smiled and took her time with her answers, pausing to watch me scribble in my notebook.

    Red alert!

    The moment that happens — when the interviewee becomes consumed with watching what I'm recording — her spontaneity would disappear. Time for my secret weapon.

    Over the years, my endless scribbling in the notebook became second nature. So much so, that I don't have to look at what I'm writing. So I went to stealth mode, refusing to drop my eyes to my notebook. She threw me a double-take the moment she realized she was the only one looking at the notebook now. She flashed another smile, and along with it a sparkle of respect in her eyes. She took another long drink from her water bottle, kind of sizing me up. I could tell she thought to herself, "Hmmm. He's done this before." I could read in her eyes that she had done this before, too. The feeling was mutual.

     We talked for a healthy 10-15 minutes as I milked the energy of the moment. This is what I loved about real journalism. The moment. This is when a journalist captures the essence of athletics. When an athlete's heart-rate pounds feverishly. When the endorphins and adrenaline surge throughout their finely tuned systems. This is the moment television often attempts to capture, but often fails to do so, simply because the athlete suddenly has a microphone and a camera unnaturally shoved in her face, and the reporter blabbers something that only remotely resembles a question, much less an insightful question. This is the moment that sports writers sitting in mass press conferences never see, unless they are watching the video feed as their way of "covering" an event. They're usually digging into the buffet one last time before heading down to the conference room to talk to the athlete after a cold shower.

    The interview ran its course. She caught her breath. Then I needed to get back to square one. The basics. Linda with an "i" or "y"? How do you spell Brenneman? Where do you live? How old are you? What can you tell me about your career?

    "Well," she said, her eyes laser-locked on mine as to not miss my reaction, "I'm a member of the U.S. National Team. Last year I raced in the women's Tour de France ..."

     She didn't have to be looking at my notebook to know that my pen froze. A smile crept across her face. An invitation into her world. We talked for nearly another half-hour, much of it revolving around my explanation of what I was doing at a local bike race, the necessity to become an expert, and all. Then I heard the muffled megaphone in the distance calling the Pro 1-2 men to the starting line. I got her phone number and promised to follow-up and keep tabs of her progress. She thanked me for my time. I could see from her warm smile and sparkling eyes, she meant it.

    The men's race seemed to blow past in an instant. There were so many attacks and counter attacks, breakaways and chases, bursts and lulls, that I began to run out of room in my notebook. By jotting down every little move, however neurotic, I got a firm grasp of the mechanics of a race. The magnitude of the action. A marathon comprised of countless 100-yard dashes.

    In the end, in the final sprint up a short, and not very steep incline, a dude with golden Southern California locks dancing from beneath his helmet dashed to the front and won the race. Again, I scribbled the number down. Tried to remember the jersey. I embarked on the ultimate "Where's Waldo" mission.

    It was the last race of the day. A stampede heading to the parking lots known as Southern California freeways. Then, amazingly enough, there he was.

    I rushed over. Once again ...

    "Hi, I'm John Rezell, from The Orange County Register," I said.

    "Hello, John Rezell from The Orange County Register," he said, almost mocking me. "I'm Steve Hegg."

     Without missing a beat, I jumped into a question about the final sprint. He looked at me, then glanced around to see if there were any witnesses to this bizarre scene. He shook his head for a moment, then indulged me. He spoke with passion and excitement. All along the way, he dropped in tidbits about the nuances of bicycle racing, pausing momentarily to see if I'd flinch. I didn't. I simply absorbed the energy of the moment.

    I began to realize that he feasted on that energy, my determination to let the moment run its course. His love of racing bubbled forth like champagne spilling over the edge of a glass. No container would be big enough to handle his outburst.

    He went on and on, dissecting the race, almost moment-by-moment, the way a professional golfer sits at a table and recounts his round for the fat-ass sports writers who were even too lazy to watch it on the TV monitor, much less hump around a course for a few holes and burn off some of the press-room donuts. He'd mention a move mid-race, and since I had noted it, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

     When he finished, and his heart-rate stabilized, he took a drink from his water bottle and began to pack up.

    "Thanks for coming out, John Rezell from The Orange County Register," he said, offering his hand with a sincere gesture. I could tell he, too, had been here, done this. I shook his hand and asked if he had a few extra minutes. He looked at me as if to say, "Pinch me, I'm dreaming."

    Yes, I wanted more.

    "Sure," he said, "I'm all yours, baby."

    I flipped my notebook back a few pages, to the start of the interview. He talked about the uphill sprint.

    "What exactly do you mean about an uphill sprint?" I asked. "I mean, that isn't exactly a hill, but it is an incline. Is there a difference?"

    Again, he looked at me in disbelief. He couldn't wait to explain. Back and forth, we went, for nearly an hour. I'd flip back to something he said — those nuances — and he'd give a detailed explanation. Not just any explanation, but a simple, honest, account in layman's terms. Breaking down cycling for anyone to understand. For a moment I was taken back to the first interview I did with a real athlete back as a senior in high school, talking to Milwaukee area Olympian Jim Ochowicz.

    I felt like the Indian in "One Flew Over The Coo-coo's Nest."

    Ahhhh, cyclists.

    Eventually I had gleaned every last ounce of information from him that I could. Again, back to the absolute basics.

    "Hegg," I said, "how do you spell that?"

    He laughed loudly. "H-E-G-G!"

     I followed with machine gun speed. Where you from? How old? What's you background?

     "Well," he said, flashing the same know-it-all-smile I had seen an hour earlier, "I won a gold medal at the LA Olympics ..."

     I froze. He erupted with laughter, firing me his trademark Gotchya look.

     "Really?" I asked.

     "Really," he said.

     The day after my story ran in the Community section, I got a postcard from Steve Hegg. He thanked me for coming out and covering cycling, but more so for taking the time to learn and understand that sport — something he had never seen from a reporter in all his years of racing a bike. He signed it, "Golden Boy."

 


Steve Hegg ambushed by autograph seekers at the Tour of China, 1995.

Philly: The Break That Stuck

Posted by johnnieraz on January 29, 2017 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

PHOTOS FROM 2000.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In honor of the passing of the great Philadelphia race please enjoy this excerpt from "A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul" that chronicles one of my favorite stories from the city of Brotherly Love, the 1994 edition.

By John Rezell

BEGIN EXCERPT

     When it came time for the USPRO Championship in Philadelphia, I felt the climax of my season rising like an ocean wave. I couldn’t wait to ride the curl. Remember, what drew me to cycling was the ability to cover it the way true journalism is supposed to be practiced. Use your wit, your connections and determination to get a story no one else has.

      From the American viewpoint, a significant story unfolded that day. Some say, in retrospect, that the North American peloton came of age that hot, muggy afternoon. You certainly will not hear that sentiment echoed by the majority of cyclists who rode up to the starting line that morning. Then again, remember that many members of that majority watched the climax of the day's events from the curb, or on television back at their hotel rooms.

     Some of those racers will swear to this very day that what happened on the streets of Benjamin Franklin square, down along the shores of the Schuylskill River, up the Wall in Manayunk and through the rolling mounds of Cherry Hill, can be explained as an aberration — a one-in-a-million long-shot. The breakaway that stuck. Big deal

     In cliche 101, somewhere in-between "On any given day," and "Take 'em one at a time," they offer a lesson for dreamers. They speak of a day when the stars align. The aftermath cliche: "If you can't get excited for this one, there's something wrong with you."

      Everyone can imagine exceptions to that rule. Still, no matter what your passion, there are times when a job is a job. When that fateful breakaway headed up the road before the completion of the very first lap — just 21 miles into the 156-mile race, one rider tagged along for one reason, and one reason alone: It was his assignment for the day. Just doing his job.

      As assignments go, it reflected his struggles. The year hadn't been kind to him. Early-season fitness proved to be nothing more than the early symptoms of overtraining. If you put the American peloton in a police lineup and had even a novice pick out the prime suspect for overtraining, she would nail it. Plain and simple. It would be the tow-headed dude bouncing around talking to everyone. His usually unflappable spirit had been worn down as thin as his form.

     Instead of riding that day to win, he mounted his bike to endure. For his team manager, selecting the task was simple. Assign him the early watch. That was the only way to know for sure he'd be in a position to help out in some way. He might respond. He felt it inside, the gnawing honesty.

      On the night before the race in Philadelphia, he stood in the lobby of the Holiday Inn chit-chatting. It was the first time my younger brother joined me in Philadelphia, and the chance to slip inside cycling's unique community struck him. Joey could see what lured me to this world. He looked like a kid in the candy store as we continually walked through the hotel, running into the cast of characters.

      That's when we ran into that maverick rider who, here at the climax of the American racing season, had been relegated to simple cowhand while the rest of his team seemed to be flying across the plains in full gallop. How did he feel on the eve of the biggest race of the year, when more than a half-million fans line the streets in the City of Brother Love hoping to pump that little bit of energy into someone and help make them American Champion? His relentless effervescent spirit seemed lost in the cloud of despair.

     "Sometimes, Rosy, you have to race when you don't want to." Hegg said to us.

     As he walked away with a slow-easy shuffle — a far cry from his usual bold trot, Joey was flabbergasted.

      “What's up with him?” Joey asked. “The biggest race of the year? What kind of attitude is that?”

     “I smiled and looked at my brother and offered brotherly words of advice:

      “Don't ever worry about Steve Hegg,” I said. “And don't ever underestimate him.”

Steve Hegg

      So when the race began, Hegg assumed his role as worker for the team. That's a far cry from spotlight, which he loves to bathe in. The early breakaway of more than 30 riders left the rest of the field in their dust. As the final 51 miles of the 156-mile race began, he decided to take his shot at glory.

      Hegg's specialty is the individual time trial, the race against the clock, where a rider just puts his head down and endures an unbelievable amount of suffering and pain. It's all out and nothing less. His success stems from his apparent huge tolerance for pain, or what most humans call pain. So he dropped his head and took off, hoping that by the time the group decided to chase him down it would be too late. A German rider from the Motorola team countered his move. Kai Hundertmarck. His last name in German means "Hundred Dollars." Role workers, he thought. Hundertmarck's job was to make sure he did not succeed in winning the race. So Hundertmarck just sat behind his back wheel, enjoying the draft. Hundertmarck stayed there for 20 miles. Eventually, the chase group caught the duo. End of story.

      Or so they thought.

      Cycling's a strange sport where there are more than 100 athletes who can win on any given day. All it takes is a little bit of fatigue, a little bit of the sniffles or just a queasy stomach to separate the winner from 50th place. As he rejoined the group he searched out his teammate for a pow-wow. That's when he heard some bad news. This wasn't a day when his teammate, Jamie Paolinetti, would be able to hammer. Paolinetti had good success in this race before. The 130 miles including nine trips up the famed Manayunk Wall, a brutally steep climb, had toasted him this time around.

    Not sure if he just cashed in his chips, Hegg searched for answers. He found it when teammate Jim Copeland rolled up alongside.

     "What I remember most is when Jim (Copeland) came along side of me and said, ‘You can win this race.’ It's impossible to explain how much that meant to me, that confidence,” Hegg said. “It made me believe in myself.”

      If not the race, at least the U.S. Championship. Just about this time, Motorola strongman Sean Yates attacked. Yates is a wily old Brit who looks like a high seas pirate with a golden loop earring glistening in the sun. Yates is usually a team worker, who spends most races setting up his teammates for a victory. Now Yates buried his head and rode the attack of his life. With the others chasing as hard as they could, no one would catch Yates.

      Meanwhile, behind Yates, the Americans in the chase group fought fiercely amongst each other. Somehow he forgot the huge effort he had left on the streets during his 19-mile attack with Hundertmarck. Somehow he forgot the pain and agony he suffered in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina a month earlier. Somehow he found a way to hold off the rest of the Americans, winning the 10th National Championship of his glorious career, but the first on the road.

     “The strategy was: if there’s an early break, you better be in it, Steve, because we don’t know if you’ll even finish the race,” Hegg said. “I’ve been racing like shit the last six weeks. I was racing for my job. It’s called survival.”

    When Hegg pulled on a stars and stripes championship jersey, he told the crowd:

     “I’ve dreamt about this, but never really thought I’d do it,” Hegg said.

     Looking at the jersey he added, “Every day, baby. I’m wearing this every day.”





 






 



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