Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Apprentice Surpasses Master

It starts with an idea, a talk, a desire to understand bikes on a deeper level. It ends with shedding the tennis shoes, making the break, dropping the master. I am talking about the cycle that long time riders experience when bringing new riders into the sport. There is a complicated formula that, once all factors are plugged in and the equation is done in longhand, the expected answer favors protégé. (photo right, Carhart in tennis shoes on cross bike at Ipswitch in December.)

Perhaps this is best conveyed by illustration. Mike Carhart joined us for a Wednesday ride this past November. I saw the new face through my night light as we left Conte’s Norfolk at 6pm, and I thought he was a friend of Mike Park. Park thought I knew him, so we both made silent assumptions the other would look after him. Carhart dropped from the main group but stayed ahead of the chasing group. Caught in this 'tweener status, he missed a turn on the route out to Ipswich. We did not notice his absence at our Ipswitch regroup, and it wasn’t until our return ride to Conte’s 40 minutes later that I counted bodies and said to Park,

Where is your friend?
What friend?
Oh shoot, we lost one.

We figured he wouldn't return and that the story would circulate back to us via nicer riders he would find. However, Carhart did return the following week. Anyone who shows back up after such rude treatment has passed the first test of cycling grit—can you handle getting dropped, left, forgotten because it will happen at some point, often multiple points if you are really riding with those who challenge you. (photo right, Carhart's road computer after it surpassed 1000 mile point.)

He passed his second test when he had 2 "firsts" on a 20 degree day in January: first time with clipless pedals AND first time doing a cyclocross race. When he said he survived 3 high speed falls on the frozen tundra, I knew then the equation was tipping in favor of Carhart being faster than me well before the spring thaw. Indeed, he has been logging some good miles, has completed 9 cat 5 races and of course is now faster than I am. (I know the term "faster" is relative and situational, but I mean that in most situations, I will be behind him. I also mean that his skills are worthy of his speed.)

He is going to be in Germany for 15 months beginning in August, and he has plans to research bicycling history as it relates to geology as a hobby while there (think Mont Ventoux). Clearly, he loves the sport, and he gave me the greatest of compliments when he said that I taught him a lot. I stiffened when he said that because I am known for running my mouth too much and was afraid of what story would be connected to my “teaching” him. He said he learned mostly by watching me, by example, much to my relief and gratitude.

Of late, his wife Elizabeth Hoag-Carhart has taken to my wheel and here the cycle begins again. I have been doing this long enough to know that by the time she returns from Germany, she will be ripping off my legs. She has handling skills beyond beginner level, her untrained cardio appears to be well above-average, mixed with long femurs and competitive mindset. No matter how much I factor into the equation my years of experience, number of mountain passes, miles logged, the answer to X will favor her. Nature surpasses nurture, apprentice surpasses master.

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