Monday, September 30, 2013

The Witching Hour

Well, we've finally made it: my last morning in America, and my last post on this blog before I head over. Next time I check in, I'll be a bonafide full time resident of the United Kingdom! How surreal is that??

The last week has been an emotional one, and rather than try to parse through it all now, I leave you all with some of the wonderful photos Pa took of me and Ringo yesterday. It was an absolutely perfect fall New England day, crisp and bright, and I couldn't have been happier to spend it in the company of the people and animals I love so much.










Gosh, it's so hard to say goodbye, even when the next chapter is so bright and exciting. Fortunately I have a nice busy day today to keep me from getting too mopey, and then I'm off! See you all on the other side :)

(Also, my cat. I can't even.)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Happenings

First off, thank you for all your wonderful comments on my last two posts. I spent a long time this afternoon trying to figure out how to do replies to individual comments and blogger decided to not allow me to do that, so please accept my heartfelt thanks here instead. I'm so lucky to have all of your love and support :)

Anyway, here's a brief update of what's been going on post-NEDA and in the last countdown before THE BIG DEPARTURE. Ringo and I have been doing a lot of:

 (Chilling)

 (Hacking)

 (Communing with Kitty)

Ky and his new rider went to their first event together:



And won!! They seemed so happy together; I'm thrilled. 

And last but not least, Kiki has been ticking along, doing stuff like this:


That'll do, Piggy. That'll do.

In other news, one week until D Day!! Getting very nervous, and very excited. Mostly excited. (But a little nervous too.)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

NEDA Fall Festival: Reflecting on the Journey

So I apologize in advance if this post is rambling, but I'm still completely in a cloud nine haze. I would rate this weekend as one of the two biggest highlights of my entire equestrian career (along with coming 4th with Dually at the Galway long format CCI* and winning the junior national team championship in 2008), and I can honestly say that it came completely out of left field.

Before I go diving off I'm going to jump briefly to the end. Here is a video of our test (in case you don't make it to the bottom of this doozy of a post, for which I would not blame you):


What an amazing horse!!!

But, back to the show. Driving onto the show grounds on Thursday afternoon, I had just one quantitative goal: I'd like to ribbon in both of my classes. (I had plenty of other qualitative goals along the lines of 'don't ride like a sod,' but those are pretty standard for any horse show.) Since there were only five entrants in my warm up class on Thursday evening, I was fairly certain I was going to get some silk there, but I was honestly unsure of whether I could sneak into the top 8 in my PSG championship class. I knew that I was going to be up against some mega fancy horses and much more experienced riders, the judging was going to be difficult, and that the standard of competition was going to be very high. I was just hoping I could hang on to the tail end of the crowd.

But then, the pieces started falling into place.

I was glad to have gone to Saugerties in August, because even though the grounds were as massive and bustling as ever, I was already confident that Ringo and I could navigate this three-ring-circus of a show without getting tense. Sure enough, Ringo was completely unfazed by the activity swirling around him, and if anything seemed even calmer this time around than he had in August. He got a little wound up on one hand walk when a stallion came trotting right up behind him, and that was it. Other than that, he was as calm and happy as I've ever seen him at a show.

(All settled in, with Dually's Galway junior national team championship blanket decorating Ringo's door)

After a few hours of rest after settling in, I hopped on for my warm up test: a 4-3 open class. I'd never ridden 4-3 in a competition before but had run through it with Kim on Tuesday and actually really liked it. It's a complicated little test with a lot of bend changes and sort of non-intuitive choreography, but for a horse like Ringo it was perfect as it kept him from anticipating and all the bending gave me tons of opportunities to keep him supple over his topline.

I was really pleased with our test, apart from completely blowing the 4s when Ringo anticipated, did the first change without me, and then I scrambled somewhat ineffectively to keep up. We ended up with a 61.7% which wasn't a huge score, but the judge was obviously being conservative as we managed 2nd place and 1st AA against a group of competitors who I learned later were all in the 4th level championship class later that weekend. So no slouch of a crowd!

That night Kim and I went out for dinner, and I had a really good time getting to talk with her about non-horsey things. I've been so lucky to have found a mentor like Kim (pretty much by accident, as I started riding with her pretty much on a whim because she held weekly lessons so close to my house). Between her and my Stanford Dressage Team coach Rachel, I've learned more in the past few years than I ever would have thought imaginable. Let's not forget that before I met Rachel I absolutely despised dressage!! And, more crucially, thought that I was doomed to suck at it.

When I first started riding with Rachel I was 21 years old and didn't know how to sit the trot. I had survived through a childhood of eventing by repeating a mantra of 'just think about cross-country, just think about cross-country...' to myself every time I was forced into a dressage arena, and I had the mediocre scores to show for it. I had just come from a string of abusive trainers, the last of whom ended our time together by locking me in a tack room and spending a half hour going through point by point what a rubbish awful rider I was, and how I ruined horses and was doomed to fail. I had Ringo, who at the time I could barely control, let alone ride properly. I was neurotic, depressed, and undeniably a pretty awful person to be around a good deal of the time. I was completely crushed in my self confidence and seriously considered giving up competing ever again.

But Rachel, in that magic way of hers, slowly brought me back from the brink. She showed me that I had abilities I'd never even dreamed of possessing, and gave me confidence that I never thought I'd see again. Suddenly, showing was actually fun. Through IDA, Rachel, and my favorite clinician Brian Sabo I slowly realized that in fact I was NOT a doomed-to-fail horse-ruiner (which I had heard often enough to really start to believe), but that I could often make horses go really well, even with very little prep time. And that, wouldn't you know it, dressage--the discipline that was always the boring afterthought of my youth--was actually a discipline for which I was naturally disposed to and enjoyed. It was cosmic.

(Struttin' with Stanley, something I never thought I'd be able to do)

When I left California I was imbued with all-new levels of confidence thanks to Rachel, but I knew that confidence was fragile. Add another bad trainer into the mix, and I knew I would crack again.

But I needn't have worried. Kim has always been so positive and helpful, and with her guidance I was able to take the building blocks Rachel gave me and use them to build and actual competitive partnership between me and Ringo. I still have to pinch myself that two years ago we were just moving up to 2nd level. I would never have dreamed it possible. It's an amazing testament to these trainers' abilities, and of course to the abilities and talents of my incredible horse.

So with all those thankful thoughts bouncing around my head, I settled down for my last night at a horse show for what might be a long time. The next morning came early, as I had to be on by 8am, and I was treated to the most amazing moonfall/sunrise that I've seen in a long time. I took Ringo on a long hand walk, and spent some time reflecting on what an amazing, singular animal he is, and how lucky I've been to have him in my life. I can't believe that the journey is over after four wonderful years.





(Needless to say, there were a lot of tears on this hand walk.)

Morning cry complete, I worked really hard to put my emotions aside for the rest of the morning so I could get down to the business of riding. I was really pleased with myself because I actually managed to do it; I maintained a level of clam focus that I've rarely been able to achieve, where I was in touch with the outside world juuuuuust enough not to run anyone down in warm up, but otherwise was completely dedicated in mind and body to riding the absolute best that I could. Ringo was amazing and completely stepped up to the plate, being as soft, supple, and powerful as he's ever been.

We had the best test I've ever had at this level. Save for one buck in the 4s (that movement strikes again!), it was easily the cleanest PSG test I've ever done, and I was able to bring a level of balance, confidence, and power to it that I've never been brave enough to try for in the past. Leaving the ring I knew I'd done as well as I could do, and was just hoping that it would be good enough for the top eight.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I went up to see the initial scores and saw this:


That's my name at the top!!! And it stayed at the top all the way until the second to last rider in the class, who nipped me by less than a point. Unbelievable. It's a pretty rare moment for me to think a test goes well and then actually get it rewarded as such, especially on such a big stage. It was a numb, overwhelming feeling.

We got a pretty neck ribbon, a saddle pad, and cash (in dressage??! a miracle!!), and got to take a hair-raising tour of honor kitted out in our finest. I don't really have words to describe what I was feeling besides an avalanche of thankfulness and joy. I'm so sad that my time with Ringo is drawing to a close, but couldn't think of a better note to end on. What a horse. What an amazing, amazing horse.


 (Oof. Being this amazing is exhausting.)

 (Me, looking a little psychotic. classic.)


My only slight twinge of sadness was that the weird non-weekend nature of the show meant that my parents weren't able to come out and watch. They have always been absolutely above and beyond in their support from the very beginning of my riding career, and this incredible journey would have never even started if not for them.


When I got home my dad met me out in the driveway and hugged me (a big deal in my low-physical-contact family), and then I turned Ringo out for the night with his goon buddies and took a moment to reflect on the journey on more time.





Thank you. You all know who you are.

Friday, September 20, 2013

YOU GUYS YOU GUYS YOU GUYS


!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm still reeling; Ringo was absolutely beyond amazing perfect and our performance exceeded my expectations by an astronomical amount. Ringo and I scored a personal best score at PSG and came second in a massive championship class against some seriously fancy horses. I can't even.

Full update to follow tomorrow (with a video of our test!), but in the meantime: !!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Dream Deferred, For Now

Well, we're two weeks out from Go Time, and the hard moments of saying goodbye have begun. This weekend was my last event, at one of my all-time favorite places: GMHA. At the September event, there's something subtly magical about the crisp brightness of autumn mornings in the green mountains, and I felt very lucky to get to experience it one more time before I left.


Ky was, in a word, perfect. It was the first event I took him to where he felt really settled and mature in all three phases and in his stall back at the barns as well. In the dressage he drew many compliments on how good he's looking at the moment, and I was really thrilled with how great he felt. It was disappointing to just get a 35.5 and end up mid-pack, but oh well. I know how far he's come in the past year, and I was absolutely chuffed with him.

(Ky struttin' in XC warmup; note the small children pointing in awe in the background)

It was a pretty short turnaround to show jumping, and when I got there I found out my ring was running around 10 minutes ahead. The warmup was looking pretty chaotic, so I made a snap decision to just get in, jump the bare minimum number of jumps needed to feel ready, and get in the ring as quickly as possible to minimize the stress. I revved Ky up, reminded myself to keep riding forward without chasing, popped a few fences, and headed over.


And it was our best round we've ever had! Actually, it was one of the best show jumping rounds I've had in years. Like, maybe since the Dually days. It was the first one I can remember in a loooong time where I was able to keep a really even and balanced canter all the way around, make every turn like I'd planned, and hit every distance. It was an awesome, awesome feeling. What a good boy!!!

(What a good boy, indeed!)

The next morning we suited up for what might be my last cross country run in a long time. It was hard not to get a little sad. Eventing has been a fundamental part of my child and early adulthood, and it's followed me from New England to South Carolina to California and back again. I've had my ups and downs with the sport, but there's a wonderful quality to it that has kept me coming back to it even when I've been at my absolute lowest. Some of my greatest achievements have happened in eventing, and some of the happiest moments of my life have occurred in the orbit of this bizarre, close-knit little world.

(Moment of nostalgia: me and Dually at this same event 6 years ago, my first show back after breaking my neck and one of the most nerve-wracking events I've ever been to. Dually was so perfect and took such amazing care of me)

So with all that nostalgia in mind, I'd like to say I had the same sort of round I had in the show jumping, where everything magically melted into place and reminded me of all the hours and miles I've put into becoming the best eventer I can be over the years. Of course, that didn't happen, and I ended up riding like a bit of a twit early on in the course and only found my rhythm around fence 8 or 9.





But, find our rhythm we did, and on the last gallop home I managed to have a brief smile about the wonderful journey I've been lucky enough to go on for the past decade. Ky jumped fabulously and flew around, finishing feeling fresh and happy. I was a little silly and let us go on a bit too much at the end so we wound up with two speed penalties, but we still came home with a pretty purple ribbon so I can't complain.



Now the second goodbye begins, as Ky leaves for his new home with his lessor starting on Wednesday. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't very, very sad about it, even though I know that he'll be happy and well cared for and I'm excited for his new lessor to have a blast with him. I just love him so much and this past year has been so special; after waiting for 14 years, I finally got to call him my own for 12 amazing months. I wish it didn't have to end.


The great news, though, is that he'll be close by and I'll be able to visit him very easily on my holidays. Even better, I can look forward to having him in my greedy little clutches again in two years' time, as we've arranged a lease rather than a sale. So this may be the end of the dream, but only for now.




(Me, my beloved beast, and some pretty gnarly hair)


In the meantime I can't get too weepy, as Ringo and I still have one show left, and it's a big one to boot: the PSG Championships at NEDA Fall! We have one last lesson tomorrow before we leave on Wednesday afternoon. Wish up luck!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

IT'S GO TIME


...well, in 18 days.

But, in getting my visa back, all that remains is actually getting my sorry self to England in one piece in just under three weeks' time.

IT'S HAPPENING. THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Getting to Learn from a Legend

These past 48 hours have been quite a roller coaster. A brief summary:

High: MY VISA HAS BEEN ISSUED!!! That means there's only one hurdle left to starting my English adventure which is... getting there! Wahoo!! Well, actually I have to get my visa back to me first, which is a little nerve-wracking as I had to include a self-addressed stamped envelope for them to send it back to me with, and I'm worried that I messed up somehow and it's going to get lost in the mail and I'll never see it again. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime: WAHOO!!!!! IT'S HAPPENING.


Low: I had my first tumble off my new bike :( It was a stupid situation where I was riding with my father and brother and they were setting a blistering (for me) pace and were leading me on a ride where I didn't really know where we were going--at one point we got to an intersection and my brother went left and my dad went right... and then at the last minute did a very tight U-turn and looped back to join my brother. I had gone right but was surprised by my dad's move, so by the time I went to follow him the turn I had to make was even tighter and I ended up not being able to make it, going onto the sandy shoulder, slipping out, and tipping over into the road. Ouch. Fortunately I'm ok besides some bruises on my leg and a big fat goose egg on my elbow, but it was a bit of a bummer. Lesson learned: know your route, have a plan of attack at the intersections, and stick with it, even when you're tired.


High: I GOT TO RIDE WITH LENDON GRAY!! And it actually went really well!! And I didn't even cry :) SUCCESS. 

The first thing Lendon had me do was tell her what I was good at. Umm... crickets. She laughed when I said I didn't know, as apparently that's a pretty classic reaction, but then pushed me for an answer. The truth is that I think most things in my test are pretty uniformly OK, with a few glaring rough spots--there really aren't a ton of things that we're really, really good at. Feeling the pressure to say someting, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind: my lateral work at the trot. ... ... Did I actually just say that???! What??! My half-passes suck!! 

I knew what was coming next: since it was my "biggest strength," Lendon told me to get started with that. And, unsurprisingly, it wasn't great. It was OK, but... not something worthy of a strength. Lendon gave me advice very similar to Kim's, which is to really focus on increasing the bend. Eventually it improved, but I was still a little mortified that this was something I'd said I was good at:


Lendon also immediately commented on my flappy lower leg, which I was quietly expecting. She asked me to fix it, and I knew that this was going to be a make-it-or-break it moment in the lesson. Make it happen and hopefully I'd make a neutral or positive impression. Fail to make some sort of visible change, and it would be bad. So, even though it was MASSIVELY difficult, I put everything I had into following her advice. And I must say, the change was visible! 


Happy that she had tortured me enough, Lendon allowed me to move on to the canter. Phew! At least I'd done one thing right! After feeling like I'd sort of failed in the half-pass, I was really happy that I could actually do what she wanted with my position. 

Lendon had by now cottoned on to my bend issues in the half pass, so we basically did the same exercises at the canter. Fortunately, I had by this point figured out what I was being asked to do so, beside having to really work to get an appropriate level of collection in the canter, it went a little faster than the trot:


Then, it was on to the zig-zag. This is actually something I usually score pretty well on in the tests, so it was a little horrifying to do it really poorly several times in a row with Lendon watching. Gahh!!! I think because Lendon was asking for more in the half-pass, I was getting to the change and second half-pass more underpowered than usual, so that my trip back to the rail was consistently disorganized and wonky. Rough. But the last time, I finally at least fixed the wonkiness halfway through, even if I didn't get it right from the beginning, which was deemed an acceptable improvement for the moment: 


After that, it was on to the changes. The first couple of times, Lendon just wanted me to do three separate changes on the diagonal with no count -- it was surprisingly difficult! Lendon figured out our problems with the changes pretty quickly, which is that Ringo tries to take over and I sort of panic and get tight and encourage him to be tense. The three separate changes were really useful to us as an exercise, as they both required me to stay cool and calm and forced me to keep Ringo's canter under control between the changes. 

After conquering the three singles, Lendon let us do a line of 4s, and then a line of 3s: 


In the fours I messed up the very last one which, as Lendon correctly assessed, was because I got close to the end of the line and panicked. Whoops! Again, she stressed on me that my job was to be relaxed and keep encouraging Ringo to keep his neck long and stay relaxed. 

Finally, it was on to the pirouettes. First, she had me see what I could do:


Just like the half-pass, Lendon's assessment of my pirouettes were that they lacked sufficient bend. So, she had me do an exercise where I overbent him on a circle before I went into the pirouette, then thought of almost leg yielding him into the pirouette, and then leg yielding out of it. It was really hard!! But the difference was there when I started to do it right:


It was the sort of exercise where I didn't master it in the lesson, but I'm really excited to go home and perfect it over the next few weeks. That was the takeaway from the lesson as a whole: Lendon didn't make me repeat an exercise ad nauseum until I got it perfect, but made me repeat it just long enough until I knew where it was supposed to go, and then left the rest to to homework. This is probably my favorite approach with a clinician, as I looove homework and love feeling like I've touched on a lot of different things. 

Overall, I loved Lendon's teaching style and wish I could ride with her again! Unfortunately this is definitely it for now, and chances are low that I'm going to be good enough to make it worthwhile to ride with her again in two years when I come off my hiatus (for a while, anyway!). A few of my favorite nuggets of advice:

  • The reins should dictate the activity of the hind legs, NOT the length of the neck. You should be able to pull on the reins and still have the neck get longer if you want, not automatically get shorter. I have to work on this a lot. 

  • You should feel like your calves are lightly brushing against the hair of the horse's barrel all the time: not vice-gripping, not slapping intermittently, just quietly resting and waiting for action. If your horse needs constantly banging legs to keep him forward... then he isn't really forward. 

  • Just like in jumping, it's all about the quality of the canter: EVERYTHING. Get the canter and the half-passes, changes, and pirouettes will come. All the movements are incidental beyond the basics. 

I was so pleased with Ringo and so, so thankful for the opportunity to get to ride with such a legend of US Dressage. Good boy, Ray!!

(Also as an addendum, I got back on my bike and had a great ride yesterday: I was tired and sore from the exertions of my crash, but felt good, regained confidence, and had a wonderful time. We're still cooking with gas, baby!)

(Plus, my cat is adorable. Life is good.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

In Need of Some Vitamin D

I admit, ever since the first of the month rolled around, I've been in a bit of a funk. There were a lot of reasons: the weather was icky, the flies and bugs have been atrocious, two of our boarders recently went back to school meaning that we've had to take over their chores, and a few more (very minor) bumps in the road on the getting-to-England front made life a little more stressful than usual. 

(Okay the weather hasn't been THAT bad, but the humidity has been unbelievable and the bugs demonic. Still unpleasant.)

But more than that, it was something more intangible. September has always meant going back to school time, and for the moment I'm stuck in a weird limbo: preparing on the one hand to go back to school, but not for another complete month, and in the meantime trying to juggle what feels like a million different tasks that I have to complete in an increasingly finite amount of time.

So, I've been feeling a bit blah, and my first few rides of the month did very little to assuage those those feelings. Ringo was feeling a little stiff, I was feeling a little stiff and tight and mentally absent (all normal for when I'm stressed out), and we just weren't clicking. I packed up to my dressage lesson this Tuesday in a very flat frame of mind, contemplating whether I should just bag my last two shows of the year altogether and ride out this month with as little pressure on myself as possible.

(Definitely have been lacking the Saugerties sparkle of late...)

Wouldn't you know it, though, that the minute I got started with Kim and she convinced me to actually sit down, focus, and ride, suddenly everything started falling into place. I gradually regained that feeling of effortless fluidity that I love so much about dressage when it's going right: of just cruising along on a horse that is in front of the leg, supple, and tuned to every tiniest whim of my aids. It was like Kim had given me a big dose of Vitamin D, where D stands for DRESSAGE-ASS-KICKALICIOUS. It was amazing.

(Kim is amazing.)

We actually worked on some pretty fancy stuff, too (though I unfortunately have no visual evidence of said fanciness as Pa was busy). We did some real half-steps instead of the maybe-sorta-half-steps that we've been building into our workouts over the last few weeks, complete with Kim following us on the ground with a whip to (very lightly and gently, especially given Ringo's general dislike of whips) encourage him to get more active behind as I asked him to get more collected. He was so good!! Kim thinks that someday, if I were to keep going with him and not be leaving for pesky grad school, his piaffe would be amazing, as he has a real natural talent for it. If only...

After that we moved on to expanding that half-step trot into a more active and powerful collected trot, and then using that trot in our test movements. We ran through the whole trot tour in the PSG and then the whole trot tour of the I-1, which was pretty darn exciting. What an amazing beast :)


Then, it was on to the canter, and a return to the pirouettes as we didn't work on them last week. Kim had me do half pirouettes on the center line, coming down towards C and doing one then going back and doing another at A, and repeating until I could really get them a tick tighter than I've been practicing them at home. We eventually got some of the best pirouettes we've ever done in each direction (yay!! Progress!!), then called it quits for the day. I really wish I had video, because we were on fire!

Hopefully we can carry on our Vitamin D-infused performance to this Friday, when we're going to get a chance to ride with Lendon Gray (!!!!!!!) - I've been on the wait list to get into one of her clinics all year and finally got in at the last one before I leave for school. I'm probably 80% excited and 20% terrified that I'm going to make a total fool of myself in front of one of the best clinicians in the country. ONLY ONE WAY TO FIND OUT.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Meet Marcel

So as I've alluded to a few times now, I've been busily at work ever since I realized that this whole Oxford situation was actually NOT a crazed fever-dream but in fact a real event that was indeed happening (exactly four weeks from today!) to try to find a way to stay active and fill the massive crater that stopping riding is going to leave. And yes, yes, I know: England is a horsey place, and I'm sure my two years abroad will still provide as many horsey opportunities as I care to cram in. I am still packing my riding helmet and boots, just in case :)

But on a day-to-day basis, I have to come to terms with the fact that, without a horse (or two) of my own to ride every day, the structure of my life is going to change fairly dramatically. I'm used to spending several hours a day, every day, at the barn, and did so all throughout college, even when my academic workload was insane (I was one of those people that would skip parties before I would skip a day at the barn every single time). Going to the barn was a way to mentally free myself from all my stresses and worries for a few hours, to blow off some physical steam, chat with my friends about non-school things, and get myself into a good headspace so that when it was time to leave I was ready to dive into my next research project or paper.

When I was in Oxford before, it was that daily routine and stress release that I missed most: I obviously missed pretty much everything about Ringo and Kiki, but just getting to spend a few hours in their calming presence every day was what I truly craved.

So, enter the quest for replacement activities.

Last time around, taking up running again and aiming for a marathon was the way I met the needs of my long-standing adrenaline/endorphin addiction. However, I don't think I'll be doing that again this time. I enjoyed the peace and quiet of a good run through Christ Church Meadow and the burn of a great long-distance workout, and the fact that it was something I could do any time, anywhere, with very little in the way of expensive equipment. But, I was plagued with injuries and found it often found it lonely and dull.

This time, I wanted something that was as adrenaline-inducing as riding, as endorphin-producing as long distance running, and was something that I could do in a social setting with my fellow Oxford students.

So...

I bought a road bike. And named him Marcel.


Oxford has a cycling club, which appears to do weekly group rides and host social activities together in addition to more competitive things like racing in the British University League (which I'm not super interested in, especially since I'm still such a beginner that it takes me 2 solid minutes to get my feet clipped into my pedals, and I'm still at the point where I've yet to go faster on a bike than I have on a horse, which makes me think I might not be cut out as a racer).

I'm hoping it will be a way to meet some fellow students, see some beautiful English countryside, and get some much-needed extracurricular activity time. It's not riding--but what else is?--but I'm really enjoying myself so far. It's a start.

And why Marcel, you might ask? Well, my father got into cycling about a year ago and decided to name his bike after his favorite professional cyclist, Tejay van Garderen. I decided to follow the same route, so mine is somewhat ironically named after my favorite professional, Marcel Kittel, who is the fastest sprinter in professional cycling at the moment and most certainly would rather die than get caught riding my slow, solid, steel-frame bike. Oh well! He's pretty sick to watch so I'm going to take him as an inspiration, no matter how unrelated he may be to my actual cycling goals.

(We have the same gloves, too! Though mine are almost certainly the much much cheaper versions)

(He's also known for having a SICK Vanilla Ice/Dolph Lundgren/Iceman haircut. I approve.)
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