Friday, June 4, 2010

The wonderful world wide web

The internet is this entirely new dimension, this other world that didn't exist when I was born almost 30 years ago. Now that I think about it, it's pretty cool to be growing up (yes, I am using present tense--I still feel like I'm not *really* an adult) throughout this totally crazy revolution that has changed so many aspects of how we think about this world, or at least how we interact with the world. I remember when we got our first computer back when I was in middle school. It took forever to dial up and get online. I grew up on 65 acres on top of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi in rural Wisconsin, no neighbors in sight, so I was accustomed to things taking a long time. Driving "to town" took a good half an hour and since my mother is one of the most obsessively energy-conscious people I've ever known, we weren't allowed to take spontaneous drives into town any old time we felt like it. We had to consolidate trips. It had to be really worth it. My dad used to commute to the hospital on his bike, which was an impressive feat. I biked to my high school a couple times and that bluff was totally impossible to bike up on the way home. It took half the time of the total trip just to walk up it with my bike.

Needless to say, the internet has sped up significantly since then, which appeals to my personality. As zen as it sounds to give up all ties to technology, I just can't. My mind and life move too fast and the internet is just too useful. Thirty years ago, when this bike was built, I wouldn't have had the help of the internet to put all the pieces together and track down the people who have helped me make this project a reality. It would have taken a long, long time.

The first step was figuring out if it was even possible. Would anyone even consider such a major overhaul of a bike when it would be cheaper to just buy a new one? Luckily, my LBS owner totally appreciated my pie in the sky idea and put me in touch with a shop in NYC that would probably consider the job. When I contacted them, they said they'd have to see the bike first, but yes, it was possible. Well...the bike is in Wisconsin, I explained. Would a photo suffice? Radio silence. In my typical impatience for an answer, I started thinking, it would probably be a lot cheaper to get this job done back home in Wisco. Had to be, right? I mean, the bike is already there. It has to be shipped here anyway at some point, so why not get the work done first? So, I got online and started googling "Wisconsin framebuilder", etc. After a few "won't do it" with a hint of "you're crazy" responses, I found a guy at this legendary shop in Madison that agreed to take on the job. I remember this shop vividly from my time in Madison for grad school, and even when I visited Madison as kid. It felt somehow serendipitous to have the bike worked on there. After all, it was born in Madison's backyard, so to speak. The shop owner's only question was who had made the frame because he wasn't aware of any standard models that were so large.

I should back up for second. This is the problem with recounting a tale that is now months old--I am inevitably going to forget the order of events a few times, so bear with me. I could edit and make it all neat and orderly, but where's the fun in that? You're probably wondering why I didn't just call up the original framebuilder and have him modify the bike, right? Well, I didn't know who it was. My dad couldn't remember his name. It was thirty years ago! My dad has a razor sharp memory, hence his great stories--ask my friend Heather about when he said he remembered Vermont back before the roads were paved--but he couldn't remember the framebuilder's name. I said, didn't you write it down anywhere? Would any of your old bike buddies know it? Nope. No such luck.

About a week later, I see my cell phone light up at work. It's my dad. My parents very rarely call me at work, so of course I thought something was wrong and I picked up right away. He found the name! On the bike. The framebuilder's name was on the bike. Naturally. So, the guy's name was Nolan. I immediately googled "Nolan, Trek" and found this on

Dick Nolan is the guy on the right with the awesome beard. He was Trek's first engineer back when Trek was operating out of a barn in Waterloo, WI. The other guy, Mike Appel, was one of Trek's first brazers. Appel left Trek for a while to build his own bikes--there are still a few floating around out there--but word is he's now back at Trek working as a custom painter. Check out all the frames lined up behind them. Pretty sweet.

So what happened to Nolan? No clue. He seems to have vanished into thin air. I've run across a few folks who knew him back in the day, but no one has heard from him since the early '80s. I even found a guy who is good friends with Mike Appel, who checked with him, but Appel hasn't the foggiest idea, either. Even the guy at the shop in Madison who took on my rebuild knew him! Nothing.

The mystery of the framebuilder's identity was solved but the puzzle was so captivating that I was even more hell bent on getting this job done, which was not easy to do, being 900 miles away. Fortunately, I have an extremely generous brother who also happens to love bikes. He said he would drive the bike the 2.5 hours down to Madison to drop it at the shop when he and his wife took a roadtrip there in the spring. Whoo hoo!

And so the project began for real.

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