Jul 26, 2009

Merlin’s Criterium

Merlin Tour de CriteriumMerlin likes bikes. They go fast. Almost as fast as a sprinting Merlin across the park. Merlin also enjoys the Tour de France three week TV couch potato encampment. After weeks of virtual cyclists, we took a stretch break to cheer a real bike race, the annual San Rafael Criterium.Paw Push

The Saturday event draws 700 cyclists for a series of races around a downtown loop. Merlin enjoys a front curb view. His ears blow back as the race accelerates. Marin mountain biked cops smile over their radar guns as the front cyclists break the posted speed limit. Merlin approves of supporters who dispense promotional treats to the crowd. The best sponsor is a dog company who’s Merlin Declines Cowbellpaw print logo encourages a women’s team with a pat on their rumps. He’s not too sure about the cowbell mania. He prefers cowbells on cows, or cats.

The 1K Criterium course circles three city blocks. The first hay baled turn is from Fourth Street uphill onto D AWD Bikes(as in Dog), right in front of Merlin’s chauffeur’s studio in Art Works Downtown. Our summer intern, Ryan Derham, joined us to learn sports photography. Fast shutter speeds freeze the action and slow shutter speeds create artistic blur. Photo opportunities whiz past every few minutes as the racers flash by our spot. Ryan's CriteriumRyan posted some photos on her internship blog. Go see!

There’s a break before the final pro races for the thrilling Kids Course Ride. Under-5's pedal, crawl, and are pushed two blocks, before the most serious racers of the day step up- the 5-12 year olds. Excitable parents are barred from the street as the kids stare down the first lap. BikemobileThey erupt from the starting gate and never look back. Merlin’s favorites are the pink girls with pink bikes, pink helmets, pink shoes, and flying pink ribbons, and the lone batman. They blur past Art Works Downtown, marshaled by pro riders on their own speed machines. All required fast shutter speeds as they zipped around the course. Official results on USA Cycling.

Last February, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, and the Astana TeamCriterium Finish rode in the 2009 Amgen Tour of California cycling right by Merlin in Marin and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Phil and Paul commentated as spring rain pelted the racers. For the third year, Levi was first. Everyone won.

Merlin Bike SwishOf course, big name cyclists missed San Rafael this month for Paris. But next spring the Tour will return to California and Merlin will be there to bark them through Marin and onto the Golden Gate Bridge.
Ride on!
Cyclists, Tour de France: 2,174 miles
Cyclists, Tour of California 2009: 781 miles
Cyclists, San Rafael Criterium: 225 miles
Merlin, 8 mile loop

Jul 6, 2009

Bird Puppies Tour de France

Merlin Tour de France SunflowersMerlin’s mourning doves have returned to Chez Merlin. Last spring they landed in the trellis against the backyard window, dropped a few sticks and called it a nest. Merlin watched with great interest as they strutted about his patio, helping themselves to his backyard water dish. Doves do coo, and loudly. They also make a wonderful cooy fluttering wing whistle when they take flight. Merlin, being a herder not a hunter, invented a game where he makes a quick huff at them, sending them skyward. When informed there would be baby bird puppies, he sat down to wait. Puppies are to be tolerated because they are young, vulnerable, clumsy, and don’t know any better yet. We tolerate their milk teeth nipping our ears. So Merlin switched channels to Bird TV, watching without interference.

Specialized WheelsJuly is Tour de France month at Merlin’s house. We watch the three week epic bicycle Race of Truth, time shifted from its 5 am start. It’s a chess game of individual athletes and team tactics. TV crews on motorcycles whiz through the French countryside as helicopters sweep overhead sending dazzling images from Provence hill towns through the Alps and Pyrenees to the finish in Paris on the Champs-Élysées. We note places to visit. The early live version features the nonpareil team of Phil Liggett, the Voice of Cycling, and Paul Sherwen, who’s British accented knowledge, wit, and commentary are legendary. Plus, they pronounce everything properly. They put us right in the chase car and after 3 or 4 hours of strategy, breakaways, catches, and sprints, we’re bouncing up and down on the couch cheering, allez, allez, allez!

Merlin Bird PuppiesThe doves laid two white eggs when we sat down to begin the Tour last July. Dove dad sits from morning to afternoon, mom evening and night. The devoted pair watching us watching the Tour, probably thinking we were sitting on our nest- couch potato eggs. Some time in the Pyrenees the eggs hatched and tiny heads peeked up waving for food. The dove parents took turns feeding them as they grew through the Camargue.

Merlin Bird PupOne night, Merlin barked around 3 am. A dark lump on the patio flashlit revealed a bird puppy chick, not moving but alive. Merlin dog dad, Martin, was roused and tasked to return it to the nest. As the bird puppy was plopped back on the bed of sticks, mom fluttered off. Doves need sunlight to navigate and we feared both chicks would now freeze. Mom couldn’t find the nest in the dark and left. Dispirited, we went back to bed with a plea to Saint Francis of Assisi, protector of animals. By the time the cyclists were back on the road at 5:30 am, the doves had returned and all was well. Over the next few weeks the chicks strengthened their wings, flapping bravely through the Alps.

Merlin Water Dish Bird Bath One morning the nest was empty. Merlin walked slowly to the edge of the patio where the two bird puppies were settled under a bush. Bird brains! We set out water and birdseed as they waited for dove room service. They hung around a few more weeks, well past Paris.

We were delighted when the dove parents and grown bird puppies returned this spring. The trellis is gone, puzzling them. Surely this is Chez Merlin, home of plenty of fresh water, bird seed tree, giant cyclops guardian (telephoto lens), nighttime bird return service. Dog dad Martin customized a wooden box from the garage and nailed it below the window. No bird puppies would fall out of this nest! The doves inspected and claimed the box and a Merlin Art Works Wheelssingle chick was up and away before the equinox. Not to leave us alone on our couch nest, a second clutch was started and two chicks bobbed along with the Tour de France theme music this week. They’ll watch us watch Lance Armstrong return to the Tour. As strategies and dramas unfold, we cheer human excellence and endurance across nationalities.
Live strong. Viva la Tour.

Cyclists, Tour de France 2008: 2,174 miles
Bird Puppies: 8 feet