Book Report: Come & Gone, by Joe Parkin

6:48 PM

I enjoyed his first book, A Dog in a Hat, about his early career as an American racer in Belgium, so I figured I would check out his sequel.  Parkin subtitles this one with “A True Story of Blue-Collar Bike Racing in America,” and the theme of blue-collar runs throughout the work as he describes his efforts to continue his career as a professional cyclist. 

Once again we find Joe scrambling from year to year to keep a contract, or negotiate a new one.  And again, you see how quickly the details (contracts, money, support, jobs) can dominate his attention and concern.  As a reader, I got to the point where I just wanted poor Joe to plan out his training so he could really reach his potential as a racer.  As a former runner who spent nine years under the care of coaches, I am surprised at how long it took for sport science to make it to the world of cycling.  I learned about interval and heart rate training in the mid-1980s, while Joe discovers it relatively late in his career.  I ride with cyclists on my team who still swear by the “race into shape” training plan – invariably, they race and race and race - every workout is also treated like a race - and they never make it to the end of a season without complaining of exhaustion or frustration.

Ultimately the book is a case study on how much is stacked against the professional athlete.  Given all that he has to navigate, it is surprising he was able to put together any great races, but he is able to get a flash here and there of what he is capable of.  In his 11 year career he gets to represent the United States at the World Championships in three cycling disciplines: road, cyclocross, and mountain.  He travels, he trains, he interacts with some of the greats, he gets hero cards, he gets treated like crap, he gets free bikes and kits, he scrounges for sponsors…he collects enough material for two books that were fun to read.  Unfortunately, the culmination of his career is summed up at the beginning of the epilogue: “Only champion bike racers get to retire.  The rest of us just quit.”  Which is really too bad – I can’t help but feel he deserved more than that.

Two completely unrelated side-notes that you can put down to the fact that I’m geeking out over the fact that Parkin raced in my area…

Unrelated side-note #1: he describes several of his races at the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, which was pretty damn fun to read about.  I raced the Short and Fat (15 miles) last year, and am currently waiting to hear if I get picked for the race again this year.  It’s an awesome weekend of racing, and I loved to hear his perspective on the festival. 

Unrelated side-note #2: at the end of the book he describes racing the Minnesota State Cyclocross Championship at Basset Creek Park.  He is particularly proud of the fact that he single-steps up this long staircase each lap in the course.  I’ve ridden this course, and I can say there is no way I could ever single-step those stairs.  There is one picture of me from last year struggling up the stairs toward the end of the race where I have absolute murder in my eyes – I hate and love those stairs, because while they are painful, I am able to use them to pass other riders who hate to get off the bike!

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