Saturday, July 24, 2010

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Groom

Haircuts are somewhat of a stress-inducing event. When in a foreign country with a foreign language, however, they're nothing short of an adventure.

To make things even better, I've started going to this middle eastern barbershop down the street. Its convenient, inexpensive, and gives great fodder for stories. They are two things you can be certain of when leaving this place: 1. you hair is going to be well-shorter than initially planned, looking slick enough for a nightclub in Istanbul, and 2. in about two-weeks time your hair will be looking fantastic.

The process is quite simple for a guy to get a haircut in the US. You drive over to the local Boricks and the conversation goes something like this:
"Hello. How do you want it?"
"Um, An inch and 3 quarters on the top with a 4 on the sides - blended."
Voila. That's about it. Then you just white-knuckle the chair hoping that the framed cosmetology license on the wall dates longer than two weeks.

Here however, when my blond locks start resembling a dirty mop, I know the time has come for "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Groom". Walking down the block I start converting the conventional measures into the metric system, and start racking my brain for the French translation of the words "trimmer" and "blended". Walking through the door into the small room you're greeted with the dancing melodies of strange middle-eastern pop music playing from a cell phone in the corner. The guy at the chair peers at you inquisitively as if you lost your way before showing you to an open seat. The usual cape is thrown on and then he asks, "Alors? This is when the fun starts. As soon as you ask for 4 centimeters of length on the top, the Turkish guy immediately stops you and starts arguing that that isn't possible - it's way too long for a proper haircut. What then follows makes you feel like you found yourself in a Turkish market haggling over the price of lamb. I pull out my thumb and index finger in an attempt to physically show what length I want. We frustratedly go back and forth until, eventually, we settle on a something seriously shorter than I planned. For the sides, I do my best to show that I don't want a weight line but a blended length between the bottom and top. When the trimmer comes out, I beg for certain blade length number, but apparently the trimmer companies renumber all their blades every 2 months, because he looks at me as if to say, "would you like a fries to go with your ignorance!" Then once these agreements have been made the process can begin. As the trimmer is pulled out to work on the back, there are immediately problems. Apparently, my neckline is too "V"-shaped for his liking and thus requires a full-blown intervention. "Il faut de-grrrrrr-aaaadey"! He says over and over again in his thick accent. At certain points you don't know if he's speaking French to you or Arabic to his colleague. Before you know it you have mirrors pulled in to show you how terrible the current situation is and how difficult his work will be. The next thing you know the trimmer is getting loaded and unloaded with an array of clips like an AK47 in the midst of battle. Your pulse begins to increase and a bead of sweet rolls down your forehead as it looks like he is giving you the Turkish version of a military "High and Tight". Just as your nail marks start to disappear from the chair arms, you see him loading a fresh razor blade into the old-fashioned strop. I've seen enough mafia movies to be uneasy when I find a razor blade near my neck. Thus at this point I'm forcing myself to breath in a normal fashion, while bordering on hyperventilating. However, I'm shocked how these guys are masters with a razor. Their attention to detail is unbelievable. They're so meticulous that you wouldn't be surprised if they pulled out a protractor to make sure the angles are really 90 degrees square. Heaven forbid if your sideburns were a sloppy 88! Apparently that would surely eliminate the possibility of a second date in Istanbul. Somewhere along the line he'll starting singing along to the strange music, digging deep into the hair gel canister. After a good gel-slathering and some final frightening flashes of the razor blade, you're looking and smelling slicker that Turhan Bey at a Hollywood premier.

Feeling somewhat like I cheated death again, I tip well and head home to wash out the hair gel and asses how long it will be until it grows out.

"Give it two weeks...maybe 12 days this time..." and I hang the fedora and whip back on the hook.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Hell of the North


Those are hallowed words in the world of cycling. I understand that probably few of my readers know, or even care to know about the professional racing scene. But I hope, in some regard, that this blog gives a peak into the sometimes bizarre and often misunderstood world of competitive cycling.
First off, "What grand thing could possibly come out of nothern France and Belgium in early Spring?" Other than the Chunnel (The English Channel tunnel) and waffles, 99% of the population would be hard-pressed to respond differently if at all. To get back to the question, quite simply, the two greatest bike races in the world. Why? The calendar of the highest level of professional cycling is broken into 8 pillars. 3 grand tours (three-week-long stage races) and 5 single day classics. Of the grand tours, Le Tour de France takes the cake. On the classic's side, Paris-Roubaix is generally the most highly esteemed with the Tour of Flanders just a quick step behind (I can hear the Belgians guffawing already at that statement). And it just so happens that I live in the breadbasket of all three, with two of them on back to back weekends! Oohh la chance!

So what makes Paris-Roubaix so great? It doesn't have any iconic climbs like the Tour of Flanders. In fact, it is completely flat! So why is this the toughest test to both man and machine in the world? One word - pavé. French for "cobblestones", this course serves up the gnarliest chunks of rock - which when laid together barely give semblance to the term "road"- the world over. Yep, 50 kilometers (30 miles) of these little bastards (pardon my French) dot the course that runs from Compiegne to Roubaix - 260 km in total (160 miles). And to add to the suffering, the early spring weather in this part of the world is less than accommodating. 40 degree (F) temperatures, rain, and mud are the norm. It the only professional race where lightweight, high tech racing bikes bread to fly are severely bogged down with tank-like reinforcements to simply stay in one piece for the race's duration - and even then, these steeds have been known to break apart and fall away beneath the riders during the race. Crashes and tire punctures come quick and often. It is a race where the racing tactics are simple and there are no fluke winners. Quite frankly, the strongest man WILL win. It has been this way since 1896, and for these reasons it has deserving garnered the title "Hell of the North". You either love it or hate it.

So why, again, am I telling you this. Well, because this Sunday I'm hoping on my bike in a quest to see if I have what it takes to take on the Queen of the Classics in all her splendor. The weather forecasts for Sunday have just changed - they're now calling for thunderstorms, and I'm admittedly a bit nervous. For one, I've never attempted anything close to that distance and two...well you got to see the cobbles to believe them! Why these roads where ever created is simply beyond me.

I was blessed enough to be in attendance to the 2010 edition of this professional race at the most famous section of pavé - La Trouée d'Arenberg. The following are some of the videos I took. Enjoy!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Keep the kids on a leash...

The weather today was absolutely fantastic, and on whim, Jean-Daniel and his sister decided now was the time to go to the beach (the English Channel). Well for me, I had either the choice of a strenuous day of training in the bike saddle getting ready for some upcoming races, or a relaxing picnic and a stroll along the beach - it wasn't a touch decision.

So off we went... Jean-Daniel decided we didn't need the GPS and would go by "feeling"...well, we arrived later than planned, but nevertheless the village of Tréport was worth the trip! Snacking on fresh bread, wonderful (aka. "smelly") cheeses, and other simple French delicacies, we sat perched atop the white Normandy cliffs overlooking the blue waters of "La Manche" (the "sleeve" in French) - the cliff's edge a mere 10 feet away. And there we picnicked, soaking in the sun, the food, and of course the breathtaking view. Only in France can you picnic tranquilly, one misstep away from your death...I know of nowhere else where the rules were made to be broken quite like here in France - I find it refreshing.

The town itself was pretty cool too - a more commercialized than most French villages, but rather untouched in comparisoon to the American standard.

Definitely a cool afternoon to remember.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Now that's a good handle on history!

While on a mountain bike ride today, one of the riders asked me, "James Skyrme, isn't that the name of an old pirate? Didn't he sail with Black Bart?"

I've never had anyone in my 22 years in the US ask me this question. Yet this isn't the first time its happened here in France.

The French are a force when it comes to history!
This article gives reference a few times to this historical figure sharing my autograph.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hockey First - Hosital Second

The final hockey match of the 2009-2010 season was today against Fontenay Sous-Bois. The last encounter with Fontenay resulted in 3 goals and 5 points next to my name on the score sheet, and needless to say, I was ready for the last lacing-up of the skates for the year. However, I would have a moment to forget before getting to actually lace up those skates.

While sizing-in my stick before the match, trying to remove a pesky section of tape with scissors, my hand slipped and I quite effectively inserted the scissors into my hand...Sometimes I'm not the brightest crayon in the box... Anyways, I managed to get the bleeding calmed to a minimum and jimmy-rigged a Kleenex and hockey tape bandage. Well, the classic hockey mantra of "it's merely a flesh-wound" pervaded and I decided to play through it anyways. Well, some time later I found that not only had the subsequent slap shots opened up the wound, but I had bled through the bandage and also my hockey glove - not exactly the most anti-bacterial environment. In the locker room following the game, even my teammates recommended a medical visit. In short, that's when you really know you're in trouble - hockey players giving you the "Dude, get that looked at!" medical advice.

So I showered and headed to the local emergency room where they stitched me back up and got me on my way in under 40 minutes.

Keeping life interesting...

Finally a Top Ten!!

Fighting off rain and overpowering wind gust for 60 km (with 13 hills and 13 hair-raising descents), I was able to finally land my first top ten placing in European bike racing!


Look under the 3rd category - although they really screwed up the name this time "James Serin"...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tyler Ferrar takes stage 2 of the Giro!

You gotta root for a guy who is as friendly and down-to-earth as Tyler is...

A great job done by the Garmin team to get Farrar into position and a super sprint at the end enabling the fast man from Wenatchee, WA to capture the biggest win of his career in the Giro d'Italia - Chapeau Mate!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why I Race Bikes

To be honest, maybe the best part about racing two wheel machines in tight-fitting clothing is that wonderful after course bistro. After hours of fighting the wind, rain, cold, and suffering like a dog trying to maintain that fine balance between kamikaze speed and "don't kill yourself" you come home and you have a window of time where you can eat absolutely anything your little heart desires - GUILT FREE!!

Pop a top of some Belgian goodness - sure. Some cheesy chips with salsa - why not? Want chocolate but can't choose between dark and milk - go with both! Left over cake with double layer butter frosting...uh yeah, you earned it! That goat cheese pizza that been sitting in the freezer that you've been holding off on because you had a hilly race coming up - slam that! And then its dinner time!

Then you lay on the couch, watch some mindless TV and don't let yourself be bothered by anything else you have on your list of things todo. Because, even if there was a fire, your legs wouldn't get you out of the house anyways...

This may also be the reason why I don't look like your typical malnourished cyclist...and I don't win races with long climbs...but's sure fun!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stars, Stripes and Professional Athletes

The team presentation ceremony for Paris-Roubaix, held in Compiegne, was again a success this year. The festivities are literally held less than a half of mile from my doorstep with all the pro cycling teams and my favorite riders being there. This year I came loaded with my 5 foot American flag hoping to separate myself from the other cycling fanatics that swarm the ceremonies as I sought out my American heroes. I promptly waited with a small group of fans outside the American Garmin-Transitions team bus holding my 5 feet of American nationalism. This alone was quite a sight for a few European photographers who asked me to pose with my flag for a few shots. Then the doors to the bus opened and out walked the usual suspects followed by my man, Tyler Farrar. Tyler is a Wenatchee, Washington native who had a huge year in 2009 winning a stage of the Vuelta and Tirreno-Adriatico, and was 5th overall in last weekend's Tour of Flanders. Tyler, when in form, is probably one of the top 5 fastest men in the world when it comes to a sprint, and arguably the best current American rider. And apparently, my flag-carrying made an impression because coming out of the bus, he walked right over to me and shook my hand. I wished him luck for tomorrow's race and was surprised by his unbelievably warm and sincere reception as he obliged my request for a photo. I was pretty pumped! In the whole star-struck process, however, I somehow missed seeing rider Steven Cozza, another American native - and I'm not sure how I did considering that he was the only rider supporting significant facial hair, let alone a huge fu manchu. Well, after his podium performance I caught him on his way back to the team bus. "Steven Cozza!" I said in my distinctive American accent. He turned and smiled. To my surprise his first words to me were, "Hey, I remember you here from last year!" "Yep that was me, that photo went up on Facebook!" I said as I tried to get my camera out for a photo. I asked if he would mind, and I did my best to snap one off with my outstretched arm. I made briefly made some small chat asking if he was excited or nervous about the race and before long, he and his facial hair were off to the team bus. Upon reviewing the "photo" that I took, I realized in my nervousness, that I didn't change the setting from "Movie" to "Photo" on my camera. So now I have a wonderful 15 second awkward video to document our conversation and photo pose. This is why I'm an engineer and not working for ESPN or another publication. But those two moments alone made my day. Tyler and Steven both broke the professional athlete stereotype with their friendliness and sincerity - chapeau guys!

Tyler Farrar and I

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Lastest European Saga - Cobbles and a Bike

This past weekend was my attempt number two at the Tour of Flanders race course in the Flemish region of Belgium. Other than being known for their Trappist beer, mayonnaise and fries, this particular portion of Europe is known to have some of the greatest bike racing and most fanatical cycling fans the world over. And for these crazed cycling freaks, the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) is the nation's equivalent of a second Christmas in April. I wrote in depth about this event in a post from last year. Instead of using the same Jamie verbiage to describe the grandeur and difficulty of this race, I'll let Pezcycling take it away with their wonderful pictures and great commentary which help depict why I believe this race alone is more entertaining and exciting than any stage of the Tour de France (yes, I hear the gasps - primarily from all the Frenchmen I just offended).

In short, this year I got the full dose of Belgium. Last year's attempt at the course was made under a happy sun and rather clear skies. This year's event brought to life all the Belgian stereotypes: wind (lots of it), rain, mud, cold, and...pain. Let's just say that the 7 hours it took to finish the 160 km course took me to my limits as both an adventurist and a cyclist. I literally had to positive-talk myself through a 2 hour stretch where I could no longer feel my legs - except the cramps - and I couldn't stop shivering. Enjoy my suffering brought to life in the following videos:

Thoughts from the top of the Bosberg - the last categorized climb of the race course

My weary summary of the day upon arrival to my car after the finish line