When I was younger, upon the urging of my mother and my teachers, I began to search my soul for a worthy profession to commit my adult years. Something meaningful, consequential, important, fancy. That’s how I found myself musing on the successes of minor celebrities in politics. Yes, If I was to become president it was not going to happen through any of the traditional channels, being born rich, going to law school, military service. Indeed, I would have to become famous, like Sonny Bono.
I took the obvious next step and halfway sort-of dedicated myself to rock n’ roll music. But In order to legitimize my candidacy, I’d need more than just celebrity, I’d need some good deeds under my belt. Since, at the time, I was a self described misanthrope, it was serendipitous that I had just read Kerouac's “The Dharma Bums” and was ready to immerse myself in a life of heavy drinking and solitude. I’d become a forest ranger and take a post in a fire lookout high up on some lonely mountain top. This would give me the credentials to take on that hole in the ozone layer, and provide me with the rugged, self sacrificing image necessary to fool those lazy, gullible, swing voters into electing me president. And just like that, my three part career plan was born.
- Forest Ranger.
Rock n’ Roll was not an instant success, so I decided to focus on being a writer while I waited for my big break. Only, learning Spanish, a somewhat unexpected requirement, was way less fun than art classes. So, with only Spanish between me and an English composition degree, I became a photographer. 10 years later, still a photographer, I found myself in the living room of highly successful motor cross racer and entrepreneur Ben Spies. We were there to do a portrait for a little profile in D Magazine about his new burger joint, Stackhouse. Ben had taken up cycling as a way to stay fit in the off season. He didn’t halfway take it up, he started a team, Elbowz Racing, got sponsors, and jerseys, and some insane equipment . My assistant and I marveled at a room in Ben’s home filled with fancy Specialized S-works bicycles. I noticed a cycling magazine on his coffee table, printed on high quality paper, with nice photos and a classy cover. I don’t remember exactly what that publication was, but I searched for it, unsuccessfully, and stumbled on Rouleur.
Rouleur is not your run of the mill bicycle magazine filled with useless reviews of every new product, how to get fast in 10 days without really trying, or controversial news about compression tights. It’s a heavy, gorgeous, book-like publication put out by Rapha, a cycling apparel company based in the UK. The stories are in depth profiles on Individual riders, tours of old world factories, reports on races in third world countries, super geeky stuff that's mostly beyond me. But the photography really got me. One photographer, Ben Ingham, really made an impression on me. Looking at his website and reading interviews of him, I learned that Ingham had also shot for Rapha’s advertising campaigns. So of course I had to look.
And that’s how it starts, doesn’t it? Just a little innocent curiosity can get you started down a path you never really wanted to go down. Ultimately, I know that I’m just a sucker for marketing, but then you just gotta know, is it really worth that much money? And hadn’t I already wasted a bunch of money on mediocre crap? I started small, with the V-neck base layer.
Rapha’s base layers are made out of 100% merino wool, and while I initially felt like they were way too expensive, I’ve found that merino wool products are all very expensive (as if that makes it ok). Why? Well, I’m not going to pretend to understand the economics of it, but, it's an amazing material that wicks moisture like nothing else, which helps regulate body temperature and keeps you dry. Ive found that, due to its anti microbial qualities, I can wear one on a ride, get all sweaty and stinky, hang it up, and come back later to find it doesn't smell terrible! It’s also extremely comfortable, and if you’re thinking itchy old sweaters from the army navy store, you're way off. Used as intended, under a cycling jersey, they feel great. I always forget that I have it on. In theory, they are supposed to enhance the natural cooling effect of sweat evaporating on your skin, although I think there must be a point when it’s just too hot and it’s not going to make any difference.
I originally bought a three pack to commute to work in, and indeed I do use them for that purpose. They are extremely snug, though not restrictive, so I generally don’t like to wear them just as T-shirts. However I make an exception on the bike, they just feel too good to ride in, and look great with a pair of jeans or trousers. They also make great undershirts. You can keep a button up at the office or in your bag and throw it on over the base layer after you arrive at your destination, and have had a chance to cool off. It is important to note, however, the cream colored one is very see-thru. All the seams have flatlock stitching, and are positioned behind your shoulders so bags or bibshorts won’t rub them against your skin. The back is also longer than an ordinary shirt for when you're on the bike. My only problem with this garment (besides cost) is it’s durability. I’m not saying it’s not well made, it’s made incredibly well. The fabric is just extremely thin, and thus, delicate. While I love cycling specific clothes that look good on or off the bike, things that facilitate movement and comfort while being active throughout the day, I hate to have something so precious that you are afraid to do anything in it. Despite my fears, after about 6 months of heavy use, they are holding up just fine.
I’ve since bought some wool boxer shorts (both Rapha and SmartWool) to wear when I’m riding, and not wearing cycling shorts, as well as some SmartWool socks. And while cotton still rules my underwear and sock drawers, this is where I really start to feel burdened by the cost of merino wool. Because now, I want all my boxers to be wool, for the rest of my life! I want all my undershirts to be merino wool! I want to wrap my firstborn in a merino swaddling cloth!
That’s when I decided to update my three step career plan. Forest ranger is out. Merino shepherd, in. I’ll cultivate an American merino wool that will knock your cotton socks off! Then all my socks and undies can be merino wool! The celebrity part could still happen, you never know. As far as step three, I’m thinking maybe sheep’s milk cheese maker.