Our author approaches a dusty, soot-covered blog, takes a deep breath, blows away the superficial layer of debris, and with a broad, sweeping motion, clears the remaining dust from his beloved blog...
...cough, cough... ...sneeze... ...cough...
Ahh. There we go. Holy cats, people - I have been quite neglectful of my blog. Can you believe it's been nearly a month since the last entry? Wow. What's the excuse?
None, really - yeah, I've been a little busy, but I've mostly been lazy with respect to paying attention to the computer. I've barely been checking my home e-mail, let alone thinking of witty and interesting blog entries. :-)
So... you may recall from a previous entry that my boss and friend Steve had put together a team to participate in the LiveStrong Austin Challenge. He did an amazing job of building an excellent team, and together, our team raised more than $9,000 for the event. That number put us in the top 35 teams in terms of money raised for the event!
Each of us ponied-up the money to book our own hotel rooms, fly to Austin, and participate in the Challenge. With 20 people on our team, this was quite a commitment, and a testament to Steve's charismatic style - he was able to recruit 20 truly excellent people and get them to train, fundraise, and travel for the event. Kudos to everyone!
With the money raised, our flights and hotels booked, and our legs conditioned, there was only one thing remaining - participating in the actual event. The Livestrong organization sponsors 13 challenge events, from 5K races to bike rides to marathons to ski events; they're held at various cities around the country. Steve targeted the October 15th Austin event, as it was his wife's goal to participate in this challenge before she passed. We raced the event in her honor.
Steve, his mom (Judy), his daughter (Claire), his son (Will), and I drove to Milwaukee on Thursday night so that we could catch a semi-decent night's sleep prior to flying to Austin early on Friday morning. We booked rooms at the lovely Super 8 near the airport and hunkered-in for the evening.
I'm not much for hotels... They feel dirty to me, I worry about bedbugs, I can hear all of the activity taking place in adjacent rooms, and I don't generally sleep well because I'm afraid I'll oversleep and miss a flight/meeting/commitment. And Thursday night was no different... I was in my room by 8:30pm, wiped-down the entire room with Lysol wipes, scoured the bed for bugs, and proceeded to lie wide awake until 3:45am.
The alarm went off at 4:30am, so I scored a solid 45 minutes of "sleep." Ahhh.
We made our way to the airport, where we met Dan (Steve's trainer and friend) before heading to our departure gate. We flew to Kansas City, where we picked-up Steve's mother-in-law (Jeanette) and her two friends (Lea and Ariel). The nine of us boarded a flight in KC and flew to Austin, where we landed at around 11:30am.
We picked-up rental cars (a Dodge Grand Caravan and a Chevrolet Traverse) and then set about finding a lunch spot. We were all starving, as none of us had eaten since well before sunrise. Unfortunately, there was a slight miscommunication, and one group went to the hotel, while Steve, Judy, Claire, Will and I went to Whole Foods for lunch.
The Austin Whole Foods is amazing - it's massive, and it has a ton of unique food offerings, all of which are made to order. I opted for my old-time favorite, grilled chicken tacos on corn tortillas:
With our bellies full, we made our way back to the hotel. We checked-in, and then walked down to the LiveStrong village. The LiveStrong village served as "ground zero" for the Challenge weekend.
We picked-up our race packets, and here's where the story gets really interesting. :-)
The LiveStrong Challenge weekend consists of two primary events - a 5K run/walk on Saturday, and an optional bike ride on Sunday. The bike ride offered 4 distances: 20-mile, 45-mile, 65-mile, and 90-mile options. To participate in the bike ride, you had to pay an additional entry fee ($125) and raise at least $250 for the event. You also had to supply your own bike.
If you were able to meet those criteria, you were afforded the opportunity to ride with Lance Armstrong, provided you were up for the 45-, 65-, or 90-mile routes (the 20-mile ride took a different route from the longer rides).
I paid the entry fee and raised enough money (I think my total raised was about $1875, thanks to the MidTown Pub fundraiser event), but at the last minute, decided to not pack and fly any of my bikes down for fear of having them damaged in transit. It was a bit of a let-down, but I really didn't want to have anything get damaged by either the TSA or the airline.
I mentioned that Steve is charismatic and resourceful... It turns out that he was contacted just prior to our event by the CEO of LiveStrong.
The CEO (Doug) mentioned that he (Doug) was looking forward to meeting Steve and his family and asked if there was anything he could do to help us out. Steve casually mentioned that I wasn't going to ride as I didn't want to travel with my bike. Doug said he would try to find a bike for me to use.
A day before we were due to arrive in Austin, Doug told Steve that he found a bike for me to use; all I had to do was walk over to Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop and tell them that there was a bike waiting for me to use for the Challenge. Please note that Mellow Johnny's is Lance Armstrong's bike shop, and nearly everyone that works at the shop is involved in one way or another with Team Radio Shack/Trek/Lance Armstrong.
So imagine my shock when I walked into Mellow Johnny's and said, "Hi, I'm here to pick up a bike for the Challenge," and their response was, "We don't have a bike listed for you here."
Again... no big deal. I figured it wasn't meant to be, and I would enjoy the weekend no matter what. As I browsed around the shop looking at t-shirts, jerseys, and cool gadgets, the head mechanic for the shop came up and asked if I was "Doug's friend, Steve." I said that I was. He said, "We have a bike for you - it's in our VIP vault and it will be up here in a minute."
I wasn't sure what that meant, but anytime someone uses the words "VIP" and "vault," you know it's going to be good. And sure enough, within 5-10 minutes, a bike was presented to me by one of the mechanics.
That, my friends, is a 2011 Trek Madone 6.9 that belongs to Andreas Kloden. Andreas rode THIS ACTUAL BIKE in the 2011 Tour de France. No lie.
I became light-headed and faint; I was going to be riding a hand-built, custom-spec'd, uber-bike that was used in the Tour de France by a pro-rider for Team Trek. Holy cats - Steve, you are THE MAN. I pinched myself about 300 times as the mechanics did their best to set-up the bike to my needs. Here it is on the work stand as one of the mechanics swaps out the stem for a slightly shorter one:
I chatted with the mechanic as he worked on the bike, and asked him, "Is this seriously Kloden's bike? I mean, it's a replica, right? Not the actual Tour bike - it can't be."
The mechanic said, "I was on the 2011 Tour team; I did support and set-up for the team this year, and I can tell you that I worked on this very bike for the entire Tour. It is the real deal - it's Klodie's bike - chips, scars, and all."
"Any idea what this bike is worth?" I asked.
"In tour form, with aero wheels and carbon bars, probably around $20,000. As it sits now? Probably around $15,000, give or take. Did you need aero wheels?"
"No, I think I'll be OK with these," I said, my mouth dry. This bike cost more than my car, and it weighed half of what a bag of kitty litter does... in full race form, it tips the scales at 14-pounds. My Cervelo R3, for comparison, weighs-in at 16-pounds. A 2-lb difference is huge when it comes to biking - it's nearly impossible to shed 2-lbs from a race bike... I can't imagine what tricks and goodies Kloden's bike featured.
After about 20 minutes, the bike was "ready" for me. I wasn't picky - they offered to do a proper fitting, but I was so floored with the scenario that I said everything would be fine as was. Beaming from ear-to-ear, I met-up with Steve and we walked back to the hotel.
Once back at the hotel, I took a few more photos of the ride - here you can see Kloden's name affixed to the frame:
And here's one more side-view of it. What an amazing marvel of engineering and fabrication - pure carbon fiber with the best-of-the-best components. Wow.
I took the bike up to my room, salivated over it for a few more minutes, and then laced-up my running shoes and went for a pre-dinner run. It was so great to be back in familiar territory - I ran just over 6-miles on some of the world's greatest running trails compliments of Barton Springs Trail. This is where I spent every single morning while I lived in Austin; 6 miles each morning alongside the gorgeous Lady Bird Lake. The miles flew by, and before I knew it, it was time for dinner.
Our group assembled in the lobby, and we walked down to an awesome little Tex-Mex restaurant, where we enjoyed a wide variety of Austin specialities. From table-made guacamole to street tacos to enchiladas, we feasted like kings and queens. Steve generously picked-up the tab for our entire group - I can't imagine what it cost, but thank you again. The sun was fully set, and most of us went back to the hotel to get some sleep.
Dan (Steve's trainer and friend) and I went carousing around the town for a bit - we had a drink at a roof-top bar, and then wandered down 6th Street, watching people and listening to bands along the way. At around midnight we decided to call it an evening - the race would start at 8:00am, and neither of us had slept more than an hour the night before.
Race morning came, and our team quickly took control of the hotel lobby.
Our plan was to meet in the lobby by 7:15, at which point we would make the short walk to the starting line as a group. The event organizers requested that we all be ready to go by 7:45am - the race would start at 8:00am from the 1st Street bridge.
Claire, Steve's daughter, was up-and-at-em - here she is in her team shirt with race number proudly affixed:
And here are Lea and Ariel (with Wendy in the background) getting ready to make their way to the starting line. We all looked pretty good, considering it was 7:15 am and most of us were operating on little sleep.
Someone had a great idea to ask the hotel staff to take a picture of our group; I'm glad they did, because this is the only picture I could find of our entire team. We're all in our team t-shirts and ready to run (or walk):
Our team made its way to the starting line; the weather was phenomenal. Here you can see the sun just rising over Lady Bird Lake. Any questions as to why I so enjoyed running in this area?
We arrived in perfect time; the organizers were sharing details about the race, thanking sponsors, and providing information about the event. There were more than 2500 runners and walkers, all of whom raised more than $2.3 million for the event.
Steve, Dan, and I posed for a pre-race photo - you can see the Four Seasons behind us, and you can see my "new look" - yep, that's a full-fledged beard on my mug.
I started growing the beard on a whim, and then decided that I would stick with it until I had a full Brian Wilson beard (from the San Francisco Giants)... for those not familiar with Brian Wilson, he's a reliever for the Giants. He helped them win the 2010 World Series, but he's best known for his crazy beard and antics. Here he is at the 2011 ESPY awards:
And here he is, on the mound during a game:
Truth be told, I hate the beard. It's bothersome, it makes my face look fat (although that may have more to do with my steady diet of donuts, cookies, and other bad foods), and it's just plain ugly. But, I'm sticking with it until at least Halloween... we'll see what happens from there. Back to the race...
At 8:00am, they sung the national anthem, and after shedding a few tears (it was a moving moment - remembering why we were there, what we were doing, and all of those who have battled with, lost to, and/or continue to battle cancer), I snapped two last pre-race photos. You can see the number of folks that were in attendance:
Seconds after snapping the photos, we were off.
The race wasn't "staged" by pace, so we had to navigate our way through the crowds of people in an effort to find some open running room. For the first 5-6 minutes, we struggled to average a 12-minute mile; there was a lot of stopping/starting/weaving as we weaved in-and-out of people. We also ran into Doug (the CEO of Livestrong) and talked to him for a minute or two. I thanked him profusely for his help with the bike...
And then we were truly off-and-running. I snapped a photo as we ran our way up Congress Avenue:
And someone in our group took this awesome photo "down" Congress - I'm not sure who took the photo, but it turned out really great (it may have been Wendy?). You can see the runners and the capital of Texas in the background. With the morning light, it's a really cool photo:
Steve, Dan, and I ran our way to the finish line with a finishing time of 27-minutes on the dot. Factor in the 5-6 minutes we lost during the beginning, and our pace was very respectable. It was Steve's first 5K, and any sub-30 minute time is truly impressive. After crossing the finish line, we turned around and ran the course backward in an attempt to find the rest of our team.
We found the crew and joined them for a return to the finish line. Here's Steve's mom (Judy), his niece (McKenzie), and his sister-in-law (Julie):
Julie and McKenzie ran the race as well - they finished in 25-minutes, which is totally awesome. They also ran back to find the group, and I happened to snap this picture as they were returning to the finish with our group. Great race, you two!
With about half-a-mile to the finish, Claire decided she wanted Steve to put her on his shoulders and run to the finish. Steve hoisted her onto his shoulders and with some help from Martha (a friend of Steve's family), Steve, Claire, Will, and Martha all made a speedy b-line to the finish:
Here's Steve and his kids after the race:
What a great event. Everyone did a wonderful job of finishing the race; we were slightly hungry, so we decided to make our way back to the LiveStrong village with the hope of scoring some breakfast grub.
Here's our group as we made the trek back to the village:
We arrived to the village, only to discover they didn't have any food. While there was a post-race meal, the meal was on Sunday (after the bike ride). D'OH!
We debated about where to go, and finally settled on another round of Whole Foods. I enjoyed some scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms, a small piece of pork sausage, a biscuit, and some cookies. I'm telling you, the Austin Whole Foods is simply awesome. I love that place!
Bellies full and legs well-run, we made our way back to the hotel, where thanks to another one of Steve's connections, we had plenty of ice cold beverages and snacks waiting for us. We settled-in at the hotel's pool, where we snacked and drank while watching the Badger football game and socializing with one another.
After enjoying more than our fair share of beverages (and Cheetos), we decided to head over to the infamous Allens Boots. Allens is where I purchased my very own pair of cowboy boots a few years ago - it's the Mecca of boots and western wear, and is a must-see place when in Austin.
Here's a peek inside of Allens... this is a row of boots - men's size 12. Yep, every boot in that row is size 12.
A few people bought boots; Steve bought some boots, some shirts, and cowboy hats for us. Here we are leaving Allens; I've got Will (Steve's son) with me. Yes, he got a hat but wasn't wearing it at the time of this picture:
Man, that beard is hideous. :-D
We stopped at Sugar Mama's for some cupcakes, and then made our way back to the hotel, where we prepped for dinner. I hit the trail for a quick run, hopped in the shower, and then led our group to the infamous Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Que for some traditional Texas barbeque.
The line was huge - the place was absolutely packed (I think it took us 30-45 minutes to get through the line to place our orders):
But the wait was well worth it. I had some brisket, some pork tenderloin, and a jalapeno sausage link. Yum - just look at the smoke ring on that pork!
After eating at Rudy's, we returned to the hotel, and then hit Austin's 6th Street to celebrate the events of the day. For those not familiar, 6th Street is essentially one big party - it's 10-12 blocks worth of bars and bistros, all with tons of live music. Without exaggerating, nearly every single bar has a live band, and between every bar is a small food stand, with offerings that include pizza, bbq, brats, fish-n-chips, tacos, and more.
We wandered-in to Camino el Casino, where we enjoyed a few beverages - primarily PBR and scotch (Steve's favorites). Here's part of our group raising a toast to the great weekend:
From left to right, it's: Steve, me, Dan, Tamara, and Wendy.
From Casino, we wandered down 6th Street, encountering Ferraris, Bentleys, Jaguars, Aston Martins, and a few Audi R8s along the way. Austin loves its exotic cars!
The crowds became heavier and heavier, and at 9:00pm, Austin closes 6th street to cars. Here's what the streets looked like as we made our way down to Molotov, another one of 6th Street's clubs:
I'm not sure what was more crowded and difficult to navigate - the 5K or this bar-scene-turned-street-party?
We shimmied our way into Molotov, scored a booth, and did our fair share of people watching (and commentating). Wendy and Tamara bought us a round of drinks; a kind waitress took another group photo for us. Here we are, about to call it a night - we were all tired and ready to call it an evening:
From left-to-right, it's: Dan, Julie, Steve, Tamara, Wendy, me.
Shortly after that photo, we walked the 1.2 miles back to our hotel, where I found a little friend waiting for us. Apparently our hotel had a "house dog" that served as an ambassador to the place. He was a super nice, extremely mellow yellow lab. I never caught his name, but I liked him nonetheless.
Sunday morning arrived, and I was up, dressed, and ready to roll by 6:00am. The bike ride was scheduled to start at 7:00am, but thanks to the large number of participants (4300), the event was moved (literally at the last minute) to a location about 30-miles west of Austin.
I hopped-in the van and made my way west. With about 5 miles to go until I reached the destination, traffic came to an abrupt halt. After not moving more than 200 yards in 15 minutes, I started to get nervous - it was 6:45am, and I was still at least 4.5 miles from the start of the ride. Judging from the traffic around me, I could tell that everyone was heading to the same place - the start of the ride...
I waited in traffic for another 5-10 minutes before making an executive decision. There was no way I would make it to the start, and the idea of riding an unknown course (without a map), on an expensive bike, with 4000 other people sounded worse and worse. So, I pulled a U-turn and headed back to Austin.
I figured I would park near my old Trigger Point office and ride my familiar roads. I wouldn't be "riding with Lance," but at least I'd get to ride this amazing bike in a familiar and comfortable environment.
I parked the van, unloaded my bike and hit the roads of what is known as "Austin Hill Country." The views are amazing:
I rode the beast of a bike for a solid 40 miles, and it was awesome. The bike was so stiff, so fast, so silent, and yet so smooth. It was absolutely effortless to ride it - the shifting was seamless, and it accelerated like nothing else. I had a "loop" that I had ridden countless times on my Cervelo and knew that it would take approximately 48 minutes to complete. With the Trek, I finished it in 44 (and some change). I'm sure some of it was due to excitement, but I think a lot of it had to do with how efficient that bike was.
After the loop, I rode through some familiar neighborhoods and on some back roads. I stopped and took a picture along the way, just so that I would never forget this incredible experience:
Tour. de. France. Actual. Team. Bike. Oh. My. God.
After nearly 3-hours in the saddle, I returned back to the van and drove back to Mellow Johnny's, where I reluctantly returned the bike to its rightful owners. They removed my pedals; I thanked them again, and then went back to the hotel.
We watched the Packers beat the Rams, and then went out for dinner at Z Tejas, another Austin mainstay for upscale tex-mex cuisine. Most of our group opted for enchiladas, tacos, or burritos. I went with the daily special - sea scallops with chimichurri sauce and asparagus:
Sunday night was rather quiet; we were all quite tired from the previous night, and I was tired from my long ride. Monday morning came along, and it was time to pack and head to the airport.
Here's Judy (Steve's mom) and Claire - notice the pink cowboy boots:
Our return flights were uneventful, although they did run behind... we got delayed in KC for over an hour, and then had to take an alternate route from KC to Milwaukee because of some weather concerns. But, we landed safely. Back in Wisconsin, we stopped at Rocky Rococo's for some pizza, and then parted ways.
Back home, I unpacked my things and remembered that I scored a few goodies from the event. Because I raised more than $1,800, my goodie bag included a few extra items like this Nike LiveStrong backpack and Team LiveStrong hat:
Because Steve raised more than $4,000, he received a backpack, hat, and a LiveStrong team cycling jersey - talk about cool!
And there you have it. It was a great weekend spent for a great cause and honoring an even greater person. I truly enjoyed meeting everyone that was at the event, and I can't thank Steve, Doug, and the Mellow Johnny's people enough for the bike. I owe everyone a huge debt of gratitude!!
There's talk of making this an annual event, and that's an idea I would fully support. I can't imagine the good things we could do if we focused on this for an entire year - let's get after it!
Before I sign-off, here are a few miscellaneous photos and comments/quotes from the weekend:
Claire, in her cowboy hat (can you guess her favorite color?):
Our small group running to the finish line for a second time:
Steve and his family out on the course (shady):
Our team t-shirt design (front):
The pictures were created by Steve's nieces and nephews, all of whom ranged in age from 2 to 13. They were asked to draw pictures of a tree bending toward the sun (it represents the lyrics from Pearl Jam's song, "Present Tense"). What you see above are their drawings, and those made-up the front of our shirts.
On the back of our shirt were the lyrics to Pearl Jam's Present Tense (Jody's favorite song, and the inspiration for the team's name), along with some sponsor logos:
I did the layout/design for the t-shirts, and Steve bought them for us. Thanks again for the wonderful weekend and inspiration, Steve. I was proud to be a part of the team and would love to do it again.
And finally, some memorable quotes:
"I now regret eating an IHOP omelette for breakfast."
- Steve C., at mile 2.5 of the 5K race
"Are those flip-flops?"
- Steve L., at mile 2.75 of the 5K race as we got passed by a woman running/sprinting in true flip-flops
- Voice of Marty, who was there in spirit, but not in body.
"Hey Steve.... doin?"
- Will, Steve's 2-year old son, asking his favorite question (aka "whatchya' doing?")
- Will's follow-up question
And there you have it. Until the next entry...