by Derek Barnett
Derek B. here and JPC thought it was time for you to learn a little more about me since I’ve been hanging out with the troop since summer 2011. I will try to be brief, but there is much to cover as I feel blessed to have had many great experiences on two wheels, perhaps the best of which is meeting this outstanding group of people that share a genuine love of all things cycling. So with that, here is a little of my story, I hope you dig it.
Some of my earliest childhood memories involve a bike. I can still remember the day when the training wheels came off the kiddie bike. What a rush it was getting to ride up and down the street at ever increasing speeds without the annoying aero drag of those little stabilizing wheels dangling off my ride. Of course, that leads to my next memory which is a trip to the ER due to an inevitable bike crash. I do not recall the details of the crash since I was knocked unconscious from my head bouncing off the street curb. I came to in the arms of my older sister carrying me while running to the awaiting family truckster…seriously, it was a ’78 Pontiac Safari Wagon…google it…you’re welcome. Yes, it was the late ‘70s in Arkansas and that’s how we rolled. My sister’s rescue effort was a touching moment, no doubt. We weren’t big on wearing helmets back in the day, but the upside of the ordeal is that I got my first gnarly scar…a nice head gash which is still visible today. I soon recovered and continued to hone my riding skills, and before long I was riding full size BMX bikes, including some with banana seats and mag wheels. Yes, that’s how you rolled in Arkansas in the ‘80s. The boys and I were quite the terror around the neighborhood, including wheelie contests (I was Boss back in the day), jumping homemade ramps, and riding dirt.
As I reached legal driving age, however, my interest in pedal power predictably shifted to an interest in horsepower. Thus, cycling was put on hold for a few years until I was off to graduate school.
The summer before I left for The Ohio State University, I picked up a hardtail Trek mountain bike for commuting around campus, for which it worked well, especially after putting on some road slicks (see below). My interest in road cycling probably can be traced back to my advisor in grad school. He was relatively young in age, but definitely an old-school roadie at heart that rode many thousands of miles per year on a local built, custom steel frame sporting 5- or 6-speed Campy, down tube shifters, and sew‑ups. His ride was so vintage (insert yo mama style joke here) that by the time I graduated, he could only source replacement drivetrain parts from specialty shops that specialize in hoarding NOS parts.
I can recall July days in the lab, where he would repeatedly step out to get an update on the TdF via the web, especially when the riders were approaching a climb on a decisive stage or Lance was about to take the start of a TT. I initially did not really understand the fascination with Le Tour or his love of vintage bikes or tires that are glued to the rim and seem like a royal pain in the ass when you flat. However, over time I learned more about the sport and started to get it…the craftsmanship that goes into a handmade frame, the tactics that go into a successful attack, the solo effort required for a time trial, and the ability of the peloton to reel in a breakaway with 1 km to go with surgical precision (most of the time). If one could look past the dark underbelly of the sport, or accept that things in life are not perfect, one would see that the sport could be quite romantic. Anyway, I was definitely intrigued.
I was introduced to serious road cycling during this period via “the breakfast ride”, an approximately 60 mile round trip ride from campus to a breakfast spot in rural, Amish country. My advisor had invited me to join the group one Saturday, and I figured this would be easy, right? I mean I have always been a decent athlete and I have been riding all my life. So, what’s the big deal? I showed up on my trusty Trek sporting the original knobby tires (the aftermath of this ride prompted the switch to road slicks) and thought I was the bomb. I think I led the group out popping wheelies and sprinting light-to-light as we left campus. Needless to say, I barely made it to the restaurant stop, let alone home…but, I made it and I had a new respect for road cycling.
After the aforementioned switch to road slicks on my Trek, I became more serious about commuting by bike and road riding in general. I believe I did “the breakfast ride” a few more times during my time at OSU. I also refused to buy a campus parking pass for my car my last two years, choosing instead to commute everyday using my Trek, including during the Ohio winters (HTFU). Unfortunately, my commuting did have some scary moments, including getting hit by a car one night (thankfully a minor incident) and a nasty crash one morning resulting in a fractured shoulder scapula, apparently usually reserved for high speed car crashes or falls from a significant height. I narrowly avoided surgery, but got to wear a sling for 8 or 10 weeks. I don’t recommend working in a chemistry lab with one of your wings in a sling. This was my first broken bone, and like my first “gnarly scar”, it was compliments of my bike. So, in a way, I viewed it as paying my dues and getting some street cred, especially since it could have been much worse.
Fast forward to July 2003, and I am moving to Chicago for a new job. I have a couple of weeks before I start working and, by now, I am into cycling (sans road bike) and have Tour fever big time. So, I reward myself for the new job by buying my first road bike and before long, I am exploring all things Chicago by bike, including rides on the lakefront and north on Elston to the bike path leading to the Botanical Gardens. I would ride the lakefront in the mornings during the week before work and ride to the Botanical Gardens on the weekends. I think my longest, unsupported solo ride back in the day was an 88 mile ride from Wicker Park to North Chicago. Not long after, I did the North Shore Century (my first century)…then the Harmon Hundred, the Wheeling Wheelmen, The Apple Cider, and many more century rides in the area.
Then something cool happened…I discovered group riding, more particularly, group riding on the North Shore out of Plaza del Lago. What a scene this place was on weekend mornings! The rush of riding in the pack and looking down at your computer showing 28 mph and it felt like you were barely working. Needless to say, I was hooked as evidenced by my early wake up calls on the weekend to meet the group to ride. I rode with this group for a couple of seasons and during this time also discovered some great rides out of state in TN, CO, CA, HI, and AR.
Fast forward to summer of 2007 and I am moving to Milwaukee. My riding was once again relegated to solo rides as I was still commuting to Chicago 4 days a week for work and finding time to connect with a group in Milwaukee proved difficult. My “city loop” was a 40 mile ride that included riding to the coffee shop on the lakefront. Then one weekend day, while riding the “city loop”, something truly amazing happened. I randomly met someone on the ride who would quickly become one of my closest friends, and it was him that would later tell me about this cool group of cyclists in Chicago called Spidermonkeys.
The abridged version is as follows. It was a weekend morning on the “city loop” and I was riding to breakfast. I first saw “Jim” up ahead on an open stretch of road where I would normally sprint. I thought to myself what a nice carrot to have in front of me…I can catch that guy. Sure enough, I did and as I went by he hailed me down, “Hey! Do you know the way to the ferry?” “Sure, what’s up?”, I replied. Well, it turns out Jim struck out solo at 4:30 am from the north side of Chicago on his way to Milwaukee to then catch the ferry over to Michigan for vacation with his family that next week. Jim wanted to get in a solo century before vacay. Needless to say, I was impressed and seeing how Jim was ahead of schedule, I invited him to join me for breakfast. The rest, as they say, is history.
After breakfast, I showed Jim to the ferry landing and he was on his way across Lake Michigan. Over the course of the next year, we stayed in touch, did a few rides together, and became good friends forming a friendship over all things cycling, but more importantly, over shared life experiences. Fast forward to spring of 2011 and I am moving back to Chicago during a dark period on the personal front. Jim was my biggest supporter during this time and helped me when I needed it. I will always believe that our “chance” meeting on the road that random weekend morning had nothing to do with chance. You know those impactful moments in life when special things happen and people enter your life and its course is forever changed? This was one of those moments for me and it was made possible because of riding my bicycle.
Jim knew I was looking for a cycling group in Chicago, and he told me about the “Spidermonkeys”. He had met Dean and Vanessa (Denessa or Vean ?) several years ago at the MS ride and thought they were the bee’s knees. He had also seen the group at the Easter Ride and had ridden as a guest on one or two weekend rides. He told me they were a great group and that I should look into joining. I emailed Vanessa and showed up one Saturday at Element and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since that first Saturday group ride, it has been many group rides, the MS ride, VQ, Gold Sprints, happy hours, dock parties, off-off broadway theatre, and the year end bash. I am even a “runner” now and will be doing my first marathon later this year! Who knows I might be racing before this season is over or doing triathlons. Oh yeah, don’t forget VEGAS! This year was my first year making the trip, and what a fantastic time! The riding was awesome and it was great getting to better know the group. I am already looking forward to the trip next year!!
Needless to say, I have been inspired and truly impressed with the quality of people that I have met during my short tenure with the Spidermonkeys. The support, camaraderie, and inclusive nature of the group is awesome and has been on display since my first Saturday group ride! As silly as it may sound, I feel very fortunate to have found this group of awesome people who share a genuine love for cycling (and running…and swimming…and generally having a good time). I am really looking forward to 2013 and getting to know more of the Troop. I am soo excited!!!
p.s. e-craps anyone?