Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fall is Coming

I felt autumn in the air on my latest ride...

Now you may be saying, “but those photos don’t look any different than other photos he’s posted this summer". Well, you're right! And although it was cool outside (60 degrees), I've written about earlier summer rides that were even colder.

So why was it that on this particular summer morning, all I could think about was fall?

Because here in New England, autumn isn't just a season, it's a phenomenon. It arrives in New England like a giant wave, barreling down from the forests of Maine to the lighthouse-dotted beaches of Connecticut in great swells of color. Our village greens, rocky shores, and rolling hills are all magically illuminated day-after-day by those impossibly bright leaves.

We talk about fall coming; we anticipate it. But most of all, we feel it. A brisk chill in the air is full of meaning as August fades into September.

I personally like the slightly post-peak foliage, just as the brightest yellows and reds turn to deep maroons and browns. It’s Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville kind of scenery (both New Englanders). Each turn in the road reveals something special, bringing everything closer together and more intimate.

Soon afterwards, freezing winds from the north will replace the fall colors, and the fishing boats will come in from the sea for the last time this season. But before then, there's some great bike riding to do...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Colors of the Peloton

As the Tour de France fades into memory, it's the simple images that remain -- like the beautiful colors of the peloton...

Painting this watercolor, I imagined all the sounds the peloton makes as it races by: the chains slipping through the gear cogs, tires humming on the road, and the air being pushed out of the way. With that kind of soundtrack in the background, the colors of the jerseys, bicycles, and helmets must seem to leap off the pavement...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bicycle Art

Got an old bike in your garage? Don't throw it out ... turn it into lawn art!

I've been riding by this for weeks and finally decided I just had to take a photo.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New England Views

This past Saturday, I wrote about the two-hour ride I took that morning -- how great it felt to simply be on the bike ... climbing hills, making smooth descents, and feeling the road speed away beneath my tires. On my shorter rides since then though, it's been all about the view...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Breakaway

The solo breakaway. It's one of the most magical moments in professional cycling. One rider, out in front -- five, ten, maybe twenty minutes ahead of the peloton (the main pack of riders). As I painted this watercolor...

... I imagined we're near the end of a Tour de France stage, and the peloton is angry. They know they let this lone rider get too far ahead; now they're in an all-out pursuit. They're 180 riders working as one, cutting through the wind in a ruthless, tireless state of perpetual motion. But you can't see the peloton in my painting, and that's intentional. The solo rider and the cheering crowd can't see it either. They merely sense it, like an ominous locomotive barreling forward just beyond the horizon.

There's only one word to describe the peloton in this situation: inevitable.

Can our solo rider beat inevitability? Can he reach the finish line before 180 riders swallow him back into the fold? It's five kilometers to the finish. His lead over the peloton has been reduced from ten minutes to a mere forty-three seconds. It's tight. Achingly, pull-every-last-ounce-of-energy-out-of-your-demolished-legs tight.

The crowd lining the street has been listening to the race on radio all day. They know what's happening. A murmur begins to circulate as they hear the helicopters buzz overhead. The official cars and motorcycles approach and the crowd shuffles in anticipation, craning their necks to see. Through the vehicles they spot an empty patch of road, and then there ... there he is! The solo breakaway!

Those fans may have had a hundred favorite riders at the beginning of the stage; but now they all come together behind one. They sense the desperation in his eyes. They feel his pain, his epic struggle. If they could pull the air aside and let him slip away to victory, they would. But instead they call out his name, wave flags, and yell the word that encapsulates all that is the Tour de France: Allez!

Until today, our solo rider had been surrounded by fellow cyclists and teammates during the race. He was the guy riding back to his team car to pick up water bottles. He was the one battling the wind at the peloton's head to protect his team leader. In cycle-speak, he's a domestique. But not today. Today his team is somewhere back there. He knows they're rooting for him and trying to reign in the assault. But there's not much they can do.

Life is complex ... but not now. There's the cheering crowd, the clock, the pursuers, and the finish line. For the next five kilometers, nothing else matters.

As the solo rider passes -- woosh -- all the fans simultaneously look down at their watches, counting the seconds of eerie silence before the arrival of the chasing Empire. And as each second ticks away, they gain hope. Hope that in spite of everything, sometimes the scrappy guy no one ever believed in wins. Hope that those who bravely strike out on their own can achieve something unimaginably great. Hope that inevitability is not so inevitable after all. Hope that anything is possible.

In that moment, the fans, the solo rider, and the peloton all feel the same thing. Wonderfully, sensationally ... alive.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Up and Over the Hills

What a great bike ride this morning! I headed out the door at 6:15 a.m., met by sunny skies and a crisp 50-degree temperature. Light windbreaker weather -- my favorite.

I rode up and over the Blue Hills, just south of Boston...

... through the quaint town of Milton, with its neat town green ...

...and back home in two incredible hours of cycling. While the scenery was beautiful, it was the way I felt on the bike that made this morning so special. Each hill felt easier than the last, as if every climb brought me more in tune with my machine and surroundings. And when I leaned low into my handlebars on the descents, the air simply glided over me in a speedy, awesome swoosh!

The road through the Blue Hill Reservation is only open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., which is too late pre-work rides. But I thought about those hills all week -- especially Thursday morning when I was stuck standing in a crowded subway car for 90 minutes, waiting for a broken-down train to be removed from the tracks ahead. I just kept thinking of reaching the summit of Chickataubut Hill...

... and enjoying the view ...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lance Armstrong in Monaco

I just finished painting this watercolor of an image recurring in my mind since the Tour de France ended: Lance Armstrong riding in the opening time trial, careening around a curve in the hills above Monaco. It was a great moment. His ride captured the perfect fluidity of bike riding -- so smooth and controlled, but fast ... really fast.

To be honest, I'm not sure my watercolor represents an exact scene from that stage. I simply painted it from memory of the television broadcast on Versus. I suppose I could have gone back to my video recording to check it -- but it was more fun simply letting my imagination fill in the memory gaps. I sketched the outline of the painting in a notebook while riding the subway home from work.

So if the cliff is a little steeper than it truly was, or the abstract view of Monte Carlo a bit too dramatic ... well, I hope Lance will forgive me!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Colors of Mont Ventoux

Mont Ventoux ... I'm fascinated by this ghostly mountain in Provence. After watching the Tour de France race to the summit in Stage 20, I thought I'd get to know it better by painting a watercolor...

The most difficult part was the color ... or more specifically, Ventoux's lack of color. Using images from the Versus television broadcast as a guide, I used up almost all my white paint washing out areas where my colors became to bright, drawing too much attention to themselves. Mont Ventoux sits in one of the most colorful regions of France, but its bleak summit is the antithesis of color. That's what makes it so magnificent.

When I removed too much color though, that made it feel cold, which isn't right either. Ventoux's colorless summit isn't the same as snow, which simply reflects light. Ventoux's peak seems to absorb all the colors of Provence, pulling them into itself and then scouring them clean with its gale-force winds, leaving you with nothing but memories of greener pastures down below.

It must be a fantastically miserable place to ride a bike. The mountain cast an ominous shadow over all of Stage 20, looming in full view of the riders well before they began their ascent. The climb itself was thrilling, but I found myself enjoying those hours of lead-up through Provence just as much. Mont Ventoux's barren summit seemed to intensify the beauty of the Provencal countryside at its feet.

Maybe one can never really get to know the mystical Mont Ventoux. But it's wonderful to try...

Back on the Bicycle

I'm back into my bicycling schedule now, after having traveled for work for about a week. Not riding for three days or so doesn't seem to affect my riding ability much. But after a week, I can definitely feel a difference in my legs when I attempt the big hills.

So, it was cool coastal rides for me at the end of this past week, and now I'll ease back into hillier rides over the next few days. Kind of nice, actually...

I think the neighborhood egrets were holding a convention Saturday morning...