The folks at Beer Advocate Magazine were nice enough to hire me to write a piece on Indy's craft brew scene. After seemingly months of in-depth research -- I had to revisit several places time and time again -- I finally was able to come up with a list of my favorite spots.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Posted by Robert Annis at 1:51 PM
Monday, September 30, 2013
For years, my mom tried to get me to come to the beach with her. I finally made it this week.
Located on the coast of North Carolina, Topsail got its name from the pirate ships the anchored just far enough off the coast that you could just see the tops of the ships’ sails. Years later, it gained infamy again, this time as a post-World War II testing ground for top-secret military rockets. In 1948, the government deserted the island, selling the land to the public.
Topsail was a sleepy fishing village in the early 1960s when Vera and Jesse Arnold, my mom’s aunt and uncle, plunked down $500 for a trailer-sized lot near the ocean. Over the next 50 years, the island became my extended family’s respite from the stresses of work and real life. “There’s nothing fancy” about the beach bragged my Aunt Teresa, and not much to do save for fish, swim and drink – luckily the three needed ingredients for relaxation.
Not as popular as other Tarheel beaches like the Outer Banks and the Wrightsville Beach, the area remains a more blue-collar destination. It has its share of expensive beachfront homes, but beyond them lies more affordable housing for the 5,000 or so residents who live on the island full time. Topsail remains a working fishermen’s hub, with the shrimp boats selling their freshly caught wares on the pier nearby in Sneads Ferry.
What doesn’t get sold to the public, often makes its way into the Riverview Café, which serves some of the freshest seafood in the state, judging by the number of stray cats lounging around the front entrance. On our second night on the beach, we piled into the restaurant, gorging ourselves on clams, shrimp and fish that had been in the ocean just hours before.
Teresa owns a trailer about two miles from the beach, but with a half-dozen or so family members making the trip this time, we decided to chip in for a larger, beachfront property. I’d barely set my bags down when Teresa corrected me about the island’s pronunciation.
“It’s actually pronounced Top-sul by all the locals (and long-time visitors),” Teresa said. “It’s easy to tell who’s not from around here” just by hearing them pronounce the town’s name.
Driving up Highway 210 over the bridge and onto the island, visitors pass the requisite cheesy T-shirt stores, karaoke bars and fudge shops. Vinyl-clad homes rise up from the gray sand on stilts, lining the beach as far as the eye can see in both directions.
Teresa points out where the Scotch Bonnet Pier used to stand before hurricanes washed it and several other warfs away years ago. There’s a reluctance to rebuild the piers, with weather forecasts predicting increasingly stronger storms in the coming years. Residents and visitors alike know the beach’s days are numbered.
My mom had moved away from North Carolina and weekends at Topsail years before, following my grandfather to Air Force bases in Mississippi and Indiana. It was in the latter, landlocked state where she would meet my dad and get married, bringing two kids into a mostly beach-less existence. I made it to Topsail once on a family vacation while I was still in elementary school. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much; my memories are less of a snapshot and more of a rough, hand-drawn sketch.
After her divorce, mom moved back to North Carolina to be closer to Teresa and the rest of her family. Just like in her youth, the beach became a near weekly custom. During our weekly phone conversations, she spoke of her last adventure at the beach – collecting seashells with the kids, fishing with my Uncle Steve or just wading around in the ocean. While she didn’t have much money, she was always sure to bring something – a freshly baked cake, some lighthouse art she found at a thrift shop – to earn her keep.
The few times my wife and I visited her in North Carolina, mom would not-so-casually mention that we should head to the beach, but I always refused, preferring not to add a couple of extra hours to our cumulative driving time.
One cold January morning, I got the call I’d been dreading for years. Mom’s final days were in the intensive care ward of a Raleigh hospital, hooked up to multiple machines, drifting in and out of consciousness.
Now that she’s gone, I’ll never be able to experience her favorite place through her eyes, to see her in her element, truly happy. I’ll always regret that.
Just before high tide, we gathered on the beach. My sister etched our mother’s name in the gray sand, each of us taking turns spreading her ashes in the indentations as the tides inched closer and closer. Surrounded by family, she was soon enveloped by the waves, becoming a part of the ocean she loved.
Posted by Robert Annis at 5:39 PM
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Friday, September 20, 2013
I may be becoming PopularMechanics.com's resident bike expert. Read my tips for keeping your steed in tip-top condition here.
Posted by Robert Annis at 2:16 PM
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Reading all the Vuelta a Espana coverage this month made me think back about my own grand tour adventure from earlier this year. Riding the Tour de France route is the ultimate dream for many cycling enthusiasts, and I was lucky enough to be able to do just that for a week this July. In case you missed it, here are links to all the blogs I wrote for Gadling about my experience.
http://www.gadling.com/2013/07/09/tour-de-france-free-souvenirs/ (My personal favorite)
http://www.gadling.com/2013/07/09/tour-de-france-free-souvenirs/ (My personal favorite)
Posted by Robert Annis at 1:51 PM
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Here's another article I wrote for that same defunct website. It's interesting to reread this two years later as I'm struggling with both my weight and my racing. The hopeful, slightly cocky tone is a far cry from my mental state right now, but I'm determined to recapture it before next season.
As long as there’ve been bikes, there’ve been people who wanted to race them. There are few things more exciting than going pedal-to-pedal against an opponent or 10, throwing your bike across the line to take the victory.
You might love to sprint against your friends for the next road sign, but do you really want to take that next step – getting a USA Cycing racing license?
I started riding regularly when I was in my early 30s. For years, I competed as an overweight, back-of-the-pack triathlete, until I decided to drop the running and swimming and stick to the one aspect of triathlon I loved – the cycling. At the time, I wasn’t thinking of racing; I was content to do centuries and group rides and just hang out with my friends as we pedaled the back roads of Indiana.
I’d done endurance events with Team in Training for years, so training for a century ride with the group was a natural occurrence. But a funny thing happened; I started spending more and more time at the front of the paceline. Before I realized it, the other riders stopped trying to come to the front. Being able to hold my wheel was seen as a badge of honor.
It was my two TNT coaches who suggested I start racing. Curious to test myself, I began hitting the Thursday evening Nebo Ridge shop ride, one of the nation’s largest weekly group rides. With multiple groups determined by speed, I was able to learn from each group’s leaders and quickly improve and move up to the next level. By the end of the summer, I was entrenched in the fast “B” group; I tried moving up to the “A” group of racers above it, but would get shot out the back by the 36-mile ride’s midpoint.
I knew I wanted to race, but it was obvious I wasn’t quick enough to hang with the racers. It was at that point I had to determine how committed I was to my new obsession. When I decided to get serious about racing, I also had to get serious about my weight. I was carrying about 200 pounds on my 5-foot, 10-inch frame, a far cry from the svelte bodies you see in the pro peleton.
The following January, I signed up for an off-season conditioning class at Nebo Ridge and refined my eating habits. Doing indoor spin classes five times a week and limiting myself to about 1,200 calories a day enabled me to lose more than 30 pounds by the start of the Team Nebo Ridge training camp. Hills I might have had to walk up a year earlier, I was practically flying over thanks to my leaner body. The high-intensity trainer workouts definitely added to my finishing kick as we sprinted toward various signs and landmarks.
But getting race-fit and actually racing are two separate beasts. Road racing is incredibly dangerous; just look at the first week of last year’s Tour de France for proof. You’re riding wheel to wheel and shoulder to shoulder with a host of other riders, all with the same goal as you: to cross the finish line first.
Although no rider will intentionally try to hurt an opponent or cause a crash, crashes do happen. I lost a huge chunk of my road season last year during a Wednesday evening training crit; a less experienced rider didn’t hold his line and drifted into another rider, sparking a massive crash. I flipped over my handlebars, coming down hard on my ribs and hip. Although my bike and bones remained intact, other riders weren’t so lucky. One of my teammates’ cracked a frame, and another rider broke his hand. The next week, another crash took out another teammate; he was sent to the hospital with a broken femur. He couldn’t walk without crutches for months.
If you’re nervous about riding in close quarters with a group, don’t sign up for a crit or a road race, where pack racing is the norm. Try a local time trial or cyclocross race, where you’re either riding alone or are more separated.
After doing your first few races, you’re going to be faced with your another serious dilemma: how serious are you about racing? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with racing just for fun. Plenty of racers with busy careers and family lives eschew any kind of formal training and prefer to just throw their leg over the center tube for a fun weekend crit. But you must adjust your expectations accordingly. Unless he’s some kind of cycling savant, your average, untrained cyclist isn’t going to be competing for victory, but merely for bragging rights against friends and adversaries.
If you’re going to get serious about racing, be prepared to shell out some dough. Training Peaks and Active.com offer affordable boilerplate training plans on their websites. But if you’re willing to spend the extra money – up to $200 a month – a personal coach might be the way to go. You can find a great database of USA Cycling-certified coaches at http://www.usacycling.org/coaches/search.php – but be sure to interview prospective coaches before you agree to hire them. Make sure you’re on the same page and are willing to put the hours of training it will take to better your cycling and make the expense worthwhile.
If you’re hiring a coach, what’s a few dollars more? A power meter is going to give you the most accurate, reliable data about your cycling. It will show you how much effort you’re putting into the pedals and give you an incentive when you compare your numbers to teammates and other racers. I began using a Powertap G3 training wheelset earlier this season, and it’s caused me to work harder than I ever thought possible. As you study the data, you can tell exactly how much – or how little – you’ve progressed. It’ll also help you mete out your effort during training rides and races.
I’ve spent thousands of dollars and training hours trying to become a better racer. I’ve traveled to races in other states only to finish in the back half, I’ve suffered injuries, I’ve missed countless dinners with friends and family … all to race my bike. So why do it?
I had a blast riding against my buddies during cross season and partaking in countless beer hand-ups. I’ve rode with all-out abandon for miles and just as I think I’ve reached my limit, we turn into the final corner and I’m out of my saddle and sprinting with every last bit of energy I have. One of the biggest thrills I had last year came during a criterium just two miles from my house. On a lark, I contested a $1 prime a few laps in and ended up staying in front for the rest of the race. My lungs burned and my legs ached as I hammered through the turns, trying to maintain or even stretch my lead, eventually crossing the finish line 30 seconds ahead of the field after leading 19 of 21 laps.
It’s totally worth it.
Posted by Robert Annis at 9:55 AM
Friday, September 13, 2013
I originally wrote the piece a couple of years ago for a now-defunct blog. I thought it might be fun to dust it off as newly exclusive content for my blog.
Unless you’re lucky enough to be living somewhere in a tropical climate (or just love pedaling your trainer), chances are at some point in the year, you’re going to be riding in the cold.
The right winter-riding gear can mean the difference between a productive four-hour base-building session and a 20-minute ride that ended prematurely with you shivering under a space blanket in a rural convenience store. Here are some tips that will help you keep riding through spring.
Know your internal thermometer. I tend to get cold fairly easily, so I wear one or two more layers than my wife, who can ride in 30-degree weather in shorts and a long-sleeve jersey. Call it reverse chivalry; there’ve been times when she’s doffed her jacket after 30 minutes of moderate riding to give to me, shivering at the back of the pack.
When the weather turns colder, a good jacket is a must. This season I’ve been wearing Sugoi’s RPM jacket, that offers great protection against the rain and wind. The inside of the jacket is covered with a silver laminate that reflects heat back in, but you have to be generating heat – moving, not just standing around – for it to work effectively.
My hands tend to stay cold longer than the rest of my body. I own a pair of neoprene Castelli gloves that I love – the padding’s perfect, and they’re the most comfortable gloves I’ve ever worn – but they’re only good for very specific conditions: windy days with a slight chill. If it’s colder than 35 degrees, they take forever to warm up. I’ve worn them for two-to-three hour rides, and only during the last hour could I squeeze the brake levers. My friend Jay Hardcastle swears Pearl Izumi Lobster mitts kept his claws toasty warm even when the temperatures fell to the mid-teens. I’ve used a similar pair of Novara Stratos gloves in below-freezing weather and managed to stave off frostbite.
Another trick to keep your hands warm, according to superfast Speedway Wheelmen racer Sarah Fredrickson? Wear a pair of latex gloves under your full-fingered riding gloves. Your hands will be a little clammy when the ride’s over, but at least they’ll stay warm.
In the early spring and late fall, arm and knee warmers are essential. As the weather warms up, simply slide them down your arms or legs. No stopping required! SmartWool makes a great set, as well as Sugoi and several other manufacturers.
Build your base. The proper base-layer is the foundation for staying comfortable on a ride, so you want to build a collection with various weights and attributes. Former national cross-country champion Rebecca Zink swears by Smartwool base layers.
“They're soft, comfy, warm, don't get stinky, not bulky,” Zink said. “I really don't want to wear anything else.”
On breezy days, I’m partial to Peal Izumi’s Barrier long-sleeve baselayer featuring a windproof front panel that helps keep my core toasty. Sugoi’s zippered mid-weight baselayer is also a keeper.
Warming your poles. There’ve been times in the past when I’ve piled on multiple layers of clothes, only to forget to worry about my feet and head. Needless to say, those rides have been too short and too cold.
A lightweight Smartwool Headliner or similar wicking hat underneath your helmet is a must. I have at three of varying thickness I regularly use in cold weather, as well as a balaclava I use primarily for skiing.
Another quick and cheap tip: The next time you stay at a hotel, take a shower cap or two with you. If there’s an unexpected rain or snow shower, just pop the shower cap over your helmet to keep everything dry.
I’ve probably bought close to $100 of Smartwool socks over the years because they’re so comfortable and they do a good job of keeping my feet warm in cool temperatures. But when the mercury drops below 40-degrees, it’s time for the Sugoi Resistor booties. They’ve done a great job of keeping my feet warm and dry this cyclocross season, even though they’re not built for that kind of abuse. The bottoms of the bootie are fairly thrashed, and the sides have a few tears, but it’s nothing a little duct tape can’t fix.
Plan ahead. On a casual or base-building ride, I try to err a bit on the warmer side. I know I’m not going to be generating much heat internally, so I add warmer, thicker layers under my jacket.
But, if I’m racing, all bets are off. The next time you’re at a cyclocross race, make your way to the start line. Somewhere between the 30-second warning and the start whistle, bundled-up racers shed more clothes than a plus-size strip club. If you plan to go for a fast or high-intensity workout, be prepared to be cold in the first 5 or 10 minutes of your ride; you’ll warm up before you know it. If you start out toasty, you’re going to be burnt by the end of your workout.
Most importantly, if you’re heading out for a long-distance ride, stash extra baselayers, gloves and socks in a watertight bag in a small backpack or Camelbak. Getting soaked to the bone 30 miles from your car can quickly become a life-or-death situation.
With the proper gear and planning, you’ll be racking up hundreds of training miles while your peers and competitors are watching Top Chef on their couches. You’ll know who they are when they ask, “How did you get so fast?” when spring rolls around again. It’s up to you how you want to answer.
Posted by Robert Annis at 9:38 AM