If it is true that the greatest truths of our lives are revealed during times of adversity, then Joe Parkin knows a good deal more truth than I do. As cyclists, most of us have come to believe that suffering is a pursuit in which we learn as much about ourselves as we do the world around us. Those truths are relative, changing from rider to rider, making each new revelation a private affair.
What sustained Joe as a bike racer, feeding him hope enough to keep his mind open to possibility and believing that each new race was something other than a foregone conclusion is the book’s great mystery. And mystery it stays, teasing us through each page turned. What drives his belief that a big win is still possible that his career trajectory might still arc upward hardly matters; what buoyed him might not work for you or me.
It is his hope that makes this book so fascinating. Because his name didn’t become household, even bike-race-household in the way that John Tomac’s name did, you know at the outset that his story will end in something other than triumph.
Many of his performances are easy to identify with: the unexpectedly good form, the unexplainable misery, the occasional on-cue delivery, the unsurprising detonation. Most riders would tire of the needle-in-a-haystack hunt, yet Joe perseveres.
I may have looked forward to this book even more than most who read A Dog in a Hat. I met Joe in 1995 when he was with Diamond Back Racing racing cyclocross in New England. I’d do the C race and then split my time between offering neutral support (with ace wrench Merlyn Townley) and shooting the A race.
One of my favorite images I ever shot of cyclocross was of Joe at the UMASS ‘cross race that year. His bike was on his shoulder as his motion was highlighted by a blur of trees behind him, and while he wasn’t winning (that was Frankie McCormack with brother Mark in tow), Joe was hauling ass.
That winter I covered the snowy ‘cross nationals at Leicester, Mass., for VeloNews and wound up playing a role in getting Joe and teammate Gunnar Shogren reinstated following their relegations from eighth and ninth to the last two places for their method of bike change in the pits. I pointed folks at USA Cycling to videotape showing that most of the riders in the top-10 had used the same technique of dropping their bike on entering the pits and picking up a fresh one at the exit, giving them a few steps relieved of the weight of their bikes. Joe and Gunnar had been unfairly singled out. I’m not sure Joe was aware of it, but I was in contact with DBR team manager Keith Ketterer as the events wound to their satisfying conclusion.
My recollection of that fall and winter was that Joe was unfailingly nice. He was humble, prepared and knowledgeable. The only thing he seemed to lack was that big win, the one that makes people just nod nonchalantly with an ‘I saw that coming’ air. Seeing that fall through his eyes shows just what reserves of hope he possessed.
My favorite moment in the book was his description of the confidence that comes with form. Joe writes:
A rider in form can comfortably ride just about any bike. The seat position can be wrong, the handlebars can be too small—it really doesn’t matter. A rider in form simply gets on and goes because the feeling of form—the perfect combination of physical and emotional fitness—creates an almost euphoric state in which pain and suffering of racing a bike become life-giving, and equipment hindrances cease to even register. A rider in form can crash, get up, and chase for as long as it takes, while one without form will never progress beyond staring at the torn handlebar tape.
In keeping with the humility that marks both A Dog in a Hat and Come and Gone, he closes his career by writing, “Only champion bike racers get to retire. The rest of us just quit.”
It’s a passage that is at once hilarious (I’ve known far too many amateur racers who “retired”) and unspeakably sad because it is the sunset of a dream. That sadness lingers, at least it has with me. Here we have a decent, hard-working guy, a guy who dared to look within. He simply ran out of opportunities before he ran out of hope. The world usually beats the hope from us before we run out of opportunity. It’s enough to make your heart ache.
In shooting industry folk for my last post, I shot so many images, I couldn’t fit them all into a single post, so I’ve decided to do another and do so knowing that I will have omitted some terrific people. They are what, for me, make the trip to Vegas something I look forward to each year.
Above is Ted Costantino, the founding editor of Bicycle Guide. It was his guidance of the magazine that inspired in me a desire to write about cycling; his editors were good enough to light aspiration in me. All of the magazines showed me that being a bike magazine editor was cool, but BG made me want to write about cycling with real literary flair. Today Ted is the publisher of Velo Press and I periodically send him book proposals. I’ve wanted to work for this guy since the 1980s; I’ll find a way to do it some day.
Carson Stanwood taught me the value of a good PR guy. Part comic, part encyclopedia, part hale goodfellow and part dedicated rider, Carson is one of those guys who just gets it. He’s never pitched me on something as unnecessary as a hernia; his accounts have always been an A-list of companies I can’t know too much about. In 1997 he gave me a T-shirt commemorating Interbike with the slogan, “Help, I’m talking and I can’t shut up!” It’s still in rotation.
Chris King’s head of marketing, Chris Distefano (left) and co-worker Abby (whose last name I didn’t get, at right), caught here doing the hangover ride to Lake Mead and back. If there’s a magnetic north pole to cool somewhere in the universe, Chris is there with a bike sporting a product you’re dying to ride.
I began reading Richard Cunningham’s work at Mountain Bike Action before I ever scored a byline. I’ve long envied his creativity in frame design and prose; a combination you won’t find in too many places.
Brad Roe, right, is the editor for Road Bike Action and the man who invited me to contribute to their editorial efforts. Jonathan Edwards, left, is a doctor and one of the contributing editors to the magazine. Brad has overseen the magazine’s evolution from being written by a single editor to one that brings readers a number of voices. He’s receptive to new ideas and has a light touch as an editor; it’s a killer combination.
Ben Delaney, at left, and Sean Watkins, right, are both very fast Cat. 1 racers. As it happens, they are both employed by Competitor Group, where Ben is the editor of VeloNews and Sean helps to oversee advertising sales for the entire group of magazines (which also includes Inside Triathlon and Triathlete). I met Ben when he was a staff editor for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News and he later freelanced for me at Asphalt. He’s everything you’d want in a contributor: good, easy going and on-time. I imagine he’s even better as a boss. Before joining the staff of Triathlete, Sean was an ad sales guy for Winning, Bicycle Guide and Triathlete when they were owned by another publisher, and he’s been fast for, well, he was a member of the Skittles team and called Lance Armstrong teammate.
Steve Frothingham is another former Bicycle Retailer guy who now works for VeloNews as their online editor. I contribute from time to time and Steve’s an easy guy to work with. In between his Bicycle Retailer days and joining VeloNews, Steve got a masters’ in journalism and spent some serious time in the trenches working for the Associated Press.
I got to know “A Dog in a Hat” author Joe Parkin in the fall of ’95 when he was racing for Diamond Back and he and teammie Gunnar Shogren spent the season racing ‘cross in New England. I already knew who he was from his days as a roadie in Europe and racing domestically for Coors Light. When I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide, I stayed in touch with Joe and he always had a ready quote for me. My trip to Interbike is incomplete without saying hi, and it’s nice to see his book has met with such success. He’s promised to carve out some time to contribute to Red Kite Prayer.
Matt Pacocha impressed the folks at VeloNews well enough to make the leap from pro mountain bike racer and freelancer to staff technical writer. It’s a good thing, too. He’s still super-fast and writes some very clear prose.
Dominique Rollin, left, of the Cervelo Test Team made the jump from domestic racing to Europe and did quite well in his first year. Len Pettyjohn, right, is the former director of Coors Light and is with a new venture now, called Centurion Cycling. Len will be producing a series of Gran Fondo rides in ’10 that will be both epic and fun. I’ve been quoting him in articles for more than 10 years.
Dave Letteiri once interviewed me for a position as a mechanic for the Chevrolet/L.A. Sheriffs cycling team. Most of the interview focused on my ability to keep cool if I was being yelled at by an amped-up rider. Since then, Dave’s career has been devoted to Fastrack Bicycles in Santa Barbara where he is an integral part of the cycling scene. His shop looks a bit like a bomb went off, but has some priceless cycling memorabilia that makes it a must-visit for anyone passing through the town.
Derin and Kurt Stockton ought to be legendary for their exploits. Kurt is a former US Pro champion (1990) and Derin raced in Europe for Tulip, among other teams. When I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide, Derin was a contributing editor and did some extraordinary work. Since then he has raced pro downhill and these days is a strength and conditioning coach for pro motocrossers in Temecula, Calif. Kurt has stayed close to the road world and has managed several teams and has plans to announce something new in the near future.
Jim Stevenson is from my neck of the woods, but got out of the South before I did. The number of mutual friends we have in Tennessee and Missisippi are enough to make you think we are fraternity brothers, and in a way I guess we are. Since his departure he has worked for Centurion/Diamondback, GT, Felt and now Bianchi, where he is national sales manager. If there is one guy’s brain in the industry I’d love to download, he’d be at the top of the list.
Nic Sims is Specialized’s media relations guy for the bike industry. You’ve probably seen him on Versus talking up the latest in Specialized technologies. He’s witty, passionate and has the energy of a five year old on Red Bull. He was one of the first guys I talked to in the industry to really understand the power of blogs as a new form of media.
Josh Rebol is one of the instructors for Specialized’s SBCU. Prior to joining Specialized, he was was at Hazard’s in Santa Barbara where all he did fits all day, every day. When I have a question about fit, he’s one of the first guys I go to.
That’s Robin Thurston, one of the biggest-picture thinkers I’ve encountered in the bike industry. He’s the visionary behind Map My Ride. His business acumen is formidable and he paid serious dues racing in Europe before thinking about how GPS could change our interaction with our world. This guy is one to watch.
Assos’ Larry Kohn and Kim Schramer. They are bringing Assos the level of recognition the line deserves and are among a short list of lines that have really seen the value in the bicycle studio concept. Larry was a big fan of Belgium Knee Warmers and stepped up right away to support Red Kite Prayer.
Of all the cycling clothing companies to see the value of offering both custom clothing to teams and a collection for those who want something fresh looking without the crush of manufacturers’ logos that some team jerseys are, I don’t think anyone has done a better job of it than Gary Vasconi and the crew at Capo Forma. Gary eats, drinks and sleeps the roadie life and gets it like only a true roadie can.
Brian Worthy is the U.S. representative for one of the world’s best custom clothing lines: Vermarc. The Belgian line sponsors one team: Quick Step. However, if you look around a bit, you’ll see a lot of PROs wearing their stuff—their teams just buy it. Why? It’s that good.
Michael Foley and Ken DeCesari are two of the men behind the incredible growth of Sock Guy. Foley was the man behind the launch of Bike magazine and was with Bicycle Guide before that. He’s well-connected and seems always to know what’s happening even before it has happened. I’ve learned loads from that guy.
J.P. Partland is an old friend who has contributed to every magazine I’ve worked for in the industry. These days, one of his primary gigs is writing the incredible detailed copy for the Competitive Cyclist site, along with honch Brendan Quirk. He lives in New York City and can be found at the races most weekends in the PRO/1/2 field.
Chad Nordwall is the man behind Above Category bicycle studio in Mill Valley, Calif., which is probably the only community in America to sport two incredible bicycle studios (the other being Studio Velo). Above Category is likely to become an object lesson in how to present cycling in a more professional manner and the competition between the two shops will make each even better.
My apologies to the dozens of other friends I didn’t see or just plain forgot to shoot when I saw you on the floor.