Strawberry fields forever

April 20, 2014 § 29 Comments

The night had started off slowly. I was sitting next to a couple of dudes at the bar and they were discussing beer. “I like the slightly fruity finish, almost strawberryish,” one said of his light-colored ale.

“Yeah. And it’s amazing the way it starts with a full nose, almost chocolatey, then transforms into something airy and almost, like you said, a fruity aromatic.”

I looked at my 32-oz. glass of suds. “Are you guys talking about beer or edible underwear?” I asked.

They laughed nervously. “Ha, ha. Good one. What are you drinking?”

“Racer 5.”

“Oh, that’s a good beer,” approved Fruity Finish.

“Yes, very workmanlike, solid,” added Chocolatey Nose. “For sure it’s a biggie and has those strong citrus notes. Kind of muted compared to others but still lots of orange rind and piney notes. It’s a big beer, for sure.”

“It is?” I asked, wondering if they were talking about the big mug.

“Oh, yes,” chimed in Fruity Finish. “I’d add that, you know, it’s a well-balanced bitey IPA, right?” He eyed my giant mug. “You’ll get a better nose from a tulip glass, it’ll let the smell travel and pull out the high notes on that classic mix of piney, mango, citrus, resin, dankness. There’s enough bitterness, nicely mixes with the fruity, citrusy, fresh finish.”

I looked at them as if they were trying take upskirt photos of my wife. “You think so?” I asked.

Fruity Finish and Chocolatey Nose nodded. “How would you describe it?” asked Chocolately Nose.

I took another swallow from the giant mug as the bitter liquid charged down my throat. I savored it for a moment. “Hmmm,” I said. “Tastes like ass.”

The two connoisseurs winced. “Ass?”

“Yep,” I said, taking another swig. “A big old nasty swallow of ass. And that’s what beer’s supposed to taste like, by the way.”

They didn’t know what to say, so I continued. “Beer is one of the nastiest things ever invented, worse than kimchi. It’s rotted inedible offal stewed in a pot and left in a bucket to rot some more. If it doesn’t taste like shit you’re doing it wrong.”

Fruity Nose protested. “Good craft beer …”

“Fuck good craft beer. Beer tastes foul when you start and gets fouler with each successive swallow. That’s why by your tenth beer you’re cross-eyed trying to choke the shit down. That’s why men drink it after a long day digging ditches or clear cutting virgin old growth. If you’re going to fructify and chocolatify it, might as well soak a pair of flavored edible panties in ethanol and eat that.”

Convo saver

The two experts politely turned away, which was perfect timing because up came the Godfather. He sat down at the bar next to me and ordered a beer. Like a man, he pointed to my glass and said to the bartender, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Like a man, he didn’t bother to ask what it was, he just assumed that it was strong and bitter and there was a lot of it.

“How’d you get into cycling, Godfather?” I asked him.

The barkeep plopped the huge cold mug in front of him and he paused to take a deep, manly draft after we clinked the shit out of those 12-lb. mugs. “Fatty tuna,” he said.

I thought about that for a second, hoping like hell he wasn’t about to pronounce that there was a finishing note of raw fish. “Not saying I’m drunk, Godfather, but you’re gonna have to help me out with that one.”

“Fatty tuna,” he repeated. “And strawberries.” Then, like a man, he sucked down a full quarter of his glass and dissected it the only way any man worth his salt would ever evaluate a beer. “That shit is good,” he said.

“Damn straight,” I said, adding the only man-approved comment to another man’s approval of a cold beer. “But I’m still not understanding the berries and tuna thing and what it has to do with bikes.”

Godfather lives up on top of the Hill and runs the global energy consulting arm of IBM. He is always nicely dressed and seems like the perfect product of Southern California suburbia. But he isn’t. “You know, I grew up in Pedro,” he said, referring to San Pedro, the impoverished little armpit at the southernmost tail of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. “We were fishermen, and our family had fished the peninsula since they emigrated from a little village in Sicily in the early 1900′s. All of Pedro was fishermen, mostly Italians and Portuguese, and Croats, too.”

“Pedro?” I asked, incredulously. “You mean the place that’s now crawling with gangs and drunk longshoremen and street people who live in shopping carts?”

“The same,” he said. “We had three boats, the biggest was the Giuseppe, a hundred-footer. When I got big enough to work the boat, I was seven, they took me on my first run. We left in the wee hours and sailed up by Abalone Cove, shining lights on the surface to bring up the squid. Once we had a full load of squid, we sailed farther out to the bait barge and cashed in our bait for money that we used to fuel up the Giuseppe and the chaser boat.”

“What’s a chaser boat?”

“We had a little motorboat hanging on the back of the Giuseppe, my dad ran that.”

I tried to envision all of this happening right here on the coast of Southern California in the late 1960′s, a family fishing operation off a peninsula that’s now slathered in tract housing, faux Mediterranean designs, and filled with people whose only conception of beer is fruity finishes and chocolatey noses.

“I bet your old man liked beer,” I said.

“Damn straight he did. But we were a big Italian family, so he loved wine, too. Anyway, we fueled up the boat and headed out because we knew the tuna were running up from Baja, and if we could land a decent catch we’d be able to keep a roof over our heads for the next three months or so. It was a big deal. Grandpa climbed up into the crow’s nest and started scanning the water for dolphin fins because the tuna ran beneath the dolphin schools. Sure enough, he spotted ‘em. He had eyes like a hawk, just like the whalers back in the day.

“He shouted down to dad, and we rolled the chaser boat into the water, and dad cranked the motor and set out after those tuna with grandpa coming up under a full head of steam. Dad got to the school, and started to turn it with the chaser boat, bringing the dolphins back to the Giuseppe, where we had the nets. It was exciting stuff, yelling and the crew doing everything just exactly at the right time and then bam, those nets were filled with tuna and all hell broke loose. We wound up with three tons of tuna that run.”

“So what does that have to do with cycling and strawberries?” I’d managed to hang onto that thread despite the boat chase and the tuna catch and the squid and the old Italians drinking beer.

“I’d ridden my bike down to the harbor that morning at dark-thirty. Dad filleted a 30-lb. cut of fatty tuna, wrapped it in some newspaper, and put it in my basket. Now mind you, the bike and the tuna weighed almost as much as I did. ‘Go get us some berries, Gerald,’ he said. So I had to crank that big steel bicycle loaded down with fresh fish all the way up the wall on 25th Street and out PV Drive South out to what is now Trump National Golf Course. It wasn’t a golf course then, I can assure you.”

“What was it?”

“Strawberry fields. And corn fields. Paolo and Maria Pugliese farmed strawberries all along the coast along with a couple of other families.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“I am not. Where you now see multi-million dollar McMansions and a golf course there used to be strawberry fields and old Italians with sunburnt faces. It took me forever to get there, lugging that fish on that heavy bike. Remember, I was only seven. Finally I got there, and old Paolo took my fish and handed me two big wicker baskets. ‘Go pick your berries, Gerald,’ he said. So for the next two hours I bent over in the fields picking those fresh strawberries, then I rode home.”

“And that is how you got into cycling?” I asked.

Gerald finished off his beer in a one long manly pull. “Yes,” he said. “It is.”

END

If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.

———————————

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Last rites and such: final BWR advisement

April 18, 2014 § 26 Comments

The big day for the 3rd SPY Belgian Waffle Ride is almost upon us. I did a final recon ride on Tuesday with MMX, who is not used to waiting for slow people, but since he was stuck with me for the balance of the day he ended up having to do a lot of waiting. Usually by the time I crested a climb he would be answering work emails or putting the finishing touches on a complex annual report, but at one point in the ride he got so far ahead that when I passed him he was sound asleep underneath a shade tree. I’ve now done the entire course, and he’s slept through most of it, and I can confirm that it’s doable. Sort of. Here are some details that I hope you will find useful if you’re lining up simply to enjoy the day and be able to brag that you finished. If you’re racing it, or trying to win one of the jerseys, dog help you. I can’t.

  1. Despite its rugged profile and challenging route, this, the toughest edition yet of the BWR, is completely doable. But you have to avoid going out hard, and you have to avoid pushing it on the climbs, and then, once you hit the midway point, you have to really start saving energy. A good rule of thumb that you can use throughout the ride is to ask yourself, “Am I pushing myself?” If the answer is “Yes,” then throttle back, although by then it’s probably too late.
  2. If you keep a steady, never-uncomfortable pace, you can expect this to take 8.5 – 9.5 hours. The beer may be gone by the time you finish, and the award ceremony which is scheduled for 5:30 will certainly have concluded, but it will have been worth it because the alternative is a catastrophic collapse somewhere around Black Canyon and perhaps a search-and-rescue party as well. More about that below.
  3. You won’t have a good idea of how you’re feeling until you summit Black Canyon. It’s a 3-mile dirt climb followed by a 2- or 3-mile dirt descent followed by a 1- or 2-mile dirt climb up to Sutherland Dam followed by another two miles or so of climbing on an asphalt road. This road really is a mother. If you’re in the pack fill category along with me, don’t dare push it up this thing, because even though it’s long and hard, it only marks the halfway point in the ride.
  4. The worst has been saved for last. After Black Canyon there’s a long easy descent all the way to the Bandyweg sand section. Bandyweg is about five miles long and saps the hell out of you. It’s not technical, just soft enough and narrow enough to keep draining away your precious bodily fluids. Once off the Bandyweg trail you have to climb Bandy Canyon, which is not long or very steep, but at this point in the ride everything feels harder, steeper, tougher.
  5. The final run-in is where you will have to fire off everything you’ve been hoarding the entire day. You’ll do the Mule Trail in reverse, you’ll climb the Rock Garden in reverse, you’ll climb up out of Lake Hodges, you’ll climb dirt Questhaven, you’ll climb San Elijo, and you’ll really, really, really climb Double Peak with its 20% pitches up to the top of North County San Diego. Putting this much dirt and elevation in the final 30 miles will be the test of whether you husbanded your awesome sauce or squandered it early on, say, in the first 5 miles out along PCH.
  6. For my final practice run I again set out with three PB&J halves on dense wheat bread. Barbie food won’t get you through this ride. Bring something substantial — ham hocks, for example. Eat steadily and stay hydrated. Chances are it will be hot on the 27th and you don’t want to run out of water halfway up Black Canyon. Another Black Canyon note: TURN RIGHT AT THE BRIDGE. If you bear to the left you will be lost forever in the scorching, desolate hills on a dirt track that goes all the way to Zihuatanejo, or to Saskatchewan. Likewise for Bandyweg, watch for the left turn back up onto the main road or you will descend off into an endless network of dirt horse trails that are patrolled by hungry cougars. Not the lipstick-wearing kind, either.
  7. Lots of people have asked about tires, and my final setup will be on 28mm Continental touring tires at about 80psi. These performed beautifully. The were thick enough and had enough tread on the sides to grip the sand, and they had a smooth enough center so that it didn’t feel like I was riding on tank tread. There’s no question that a road bike can handle this route, and a sturdy 25mm tire will probably work fine. Where my ‘cross bike made the difference was comfort.
  8. Celebrate the night before, but don’t over celebrate … unless you want to have a really, really interesting day.

END

If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.

———————————

Your subscription to the blog will help me be even more heroic on the BWR because, peanut butter! Plus, everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. I’ll be glad you did.

If the (bathroom) walls had ears, and sometimes they do

April 16, 2014 § 30 Comments

We used to joke that his feet didn’t touch the floor until he was four years old. Friends have wondered where his happiness and smile came from, and most have traced it to his mother, but I put it squarely on the shoulders of his Japanese grandma, because that’s where he was raised.

The day he came home from the hospital she fashioned a kind of sling that fit underneath a loose quilted jacket, and she bound him to it, with his tiny head peeking out from above her shoulder. His consciousness developed between long and loving sessions at his mother’s overflowing breasts, followed by sleep, a diaper change, and an awakening world seen from the back of his grandmother. His first conversations were with her.

Each child is loved differently no matter what you tell yourself, and he was loved by his grandmother as the first son, a tradition baked in the kiln of prehistory, a man who she would serve in a long line of men including her father, her own younger brother who was the eldest son, an arranged husband, the father-in-law with whom she lived for decades and cared for in his floor-ridden, gradual, cancerous demise, the unpalatable brothers of the arranged husband, and of course the husband of her only daughter. That would be me.

The tiny one bound up on her back and carried to the market, to the butcher, and to the fish shop as she pedaled her old red mamachari, however, was different from the other males in her life because him she served without complaint, him she carried on her back with the quiet confidence that although she had never had a son she now had him.

So many times I would hear them talking, him marshaling the first thoughts into words, her listening to the infinite warble on her back with endless patience as she cooked or cleaned and then answered, sometimes just as lengthy, a call-and-response from the fields of time.

The new century

Last Saturday I was returning from a memorial ride for Eli Ritchbourg, a young father who had died of an aneurysm. I had run out of water and decided to refill at the toilets in Santa Monica. The big, clean, spacious stalls are more like small apartments than public toilets, and are much prized by the homeless for that very reason. As I pedaled up I noticed a Middle Eastern grandmother, her head covered in a dark scarf and her body wrapped in a dark, loose-fitting dress that covered the tops of her shoes.

She was holding the hand of her grandson, who looked like he was somewhere between two and three. She had slowed her pace to match his, and he had that funny hitched walk of a kid with a diaper full-to-busting with the overflow of digestion. He was talking, perhaps in Arabic, and it was a lengthy little speech indeed. His grandmother said nothing, but she listened attentively as they headed for the toilets.

In their path was a group of three or four Santa Monica moms, each with a Mercedes-Benz’s worth of kiddy stroller, and each stroller hung with bags, toys, juice carriers, and oversized cup-holders for the the venti triple shot soy mocha latte. The Arab woman carried nothing but a nondescript canvas bag. Where the old grandmother listened, the young mothers snapped and carped and nagged at their children: “Vicent! VINCENT!” along with my favorite verbal torture as a child, “Suzy! Share! I told you to SHARE!”

The children brawled and bawled back, a staccato exchange of brats and their brat-minders, of angry parents and whiny children. The mothers had lovely skimpy outfits that revealed just enough to be sexy and not quite enough to be tawdry, and their hair was pulled back in that casual babysitting mode that takes a solid hour of careful work and makeup to achieve.

The Old World crossed the path of the New World and each was aware of the other. One mother raised an eyebrow, and it spelled out contempt, before she quickly resumed scolding her child for unreasonably wanting to shove a fistful of sand down the other child’s throat.

The stall next door

I pushed my bike into a stall and locked the door. As I zipped up my jersey I realized that the old woman and her grandson were in the stall next to mine; the stalls were completely separate compartments whose walls reach to the ground on all sides. The tops of the stalls opened up about seven feet above the ground so there was circulation of the cool ocean breeze, and what was said next door was perfectly audible.

I paused to listen as the little boy continued speaking, unhurriedly, to his grandmother. After a while he stopped. His question or his story, the one that had been going on since they crossed the open space outside, had ended with nary an interruption by his grandmother. Now it was her turn, and she answered with the same patient, loving tone that I had heard so many years ago in Japan.

What had he been saying? Was he telling her about whales, or about the dead fish he’s seen washed up on the shore, or had he been asking her where the ocean came from, or why the sky was blue?

And what was she answering? Was she telling him about the first time she had been to the sea, or about her grandfather who used to cross the ocean’s desert in a caravan of camels, or about whales and fish and why they couldn’t walk but had to live in the water?

Whatever she was saying, it was patient and long, and it drowned out the cacophony of scolds and whines and sharp rebukes from outside.

I thought about another little boy, my eldest son, who long ago would listen to just such an explanation and then, on the back of his Japanese grandmother, would launch off into another eternal question as she pedaled the bike to the tea shop. Something of the happiness that she had given to him, she now gave to me through this brief eavesdropping, and it powered me in its own way as I rode joyfully home.

END

If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.

Terpstra stripped of 2014 Paris – Roubaix win

April 14, 2014 § 27 Comments

Less than 24 hours after soloing to victory out of an elite group of the world’s best cobblestone specialists, 2014 Paris – Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra (HOL, OmegaPharma – Quickstep) was stripped of his victory by race organizer ASO Sports. At a hastily convened press conference in Paris, ASO president Antoine de Saint-Exupéry issued the following press release, which is reproduced below:

ASO regrets to inform M. Niki Terpstra that he has received a disqualification in the 2014 edition of Paris – Roubaix 2014 because of his unpopularity, or to be more precise, because no one knows exactly who he is. By finishing ahead of MM. Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, M. Terpstra has taken away an important marketing and sales opportunity for global cycling and ASO, which has been poised for several months now to profit handsomely from the victory of either M. Cancellara or M. Boonen at Paris – Roubaix. M. Terpstra will be allowed to race the 2015 edition of the race, but only if he agrees to finish no higher than second. The official winner of the 2014 edition of the race is hereby designated as M. Fabian Cancellara, the third place finisher. This now places M. Cancellara in the ranks of the greatest riders ever, with four Roubaix victories to his name, and promises an incredible showdown in 2015 between him and M. Boonen to see which one will be the first ever rider to win this monument five times in his career.

Terpstra stunned

Terpstra was stunned to learn that he had already been stripped of his victory, and he immediately broke down. “It is true my first name is that of a girl and my last name sounds like a kind of turtle, and it is true that few people know who I am, and worse, that I am Dutch, but I won Paris – Roubaix honestly. How can they take it away just like that?”

Other riders were sympathetic, but understanding of the difficult position in which ASO was placed with Terpstra’s win. Second place finisher John Degengolb agreed that “It’s a shame to strip him of the win, but it’s even more of a shame for a great race like this to be won by a nobody with a girl’s name. Would the NBA tolerate a championship by the Rockets or the Bucks? Of course not. It’s bad business.”

Tom Boonen concurred. “Either I or Fabian should have won today, everyone said so, including me and Fabian, so it’s only fair that Niki got DQ’d. You have to remember that unlike the premier European soccer leagues, in cycling we don’t have refs who can make sure that the fix is in. Niki had the ride of his life, but with Fabian being declared the winner it really sets up a more dynamic spring classics season for 2015.”

CAS appeal possible

Although Terpstra has promised to appeal his disqualification to CAS, a long line of precedent suggests that a successful appeal is unlikely. According to attorney Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “ASO will be able to prove without question that no one has any idea who Terpstra is. He’s less than unknown. He’s a mote of irrelevance in a niche sport within a micro-fissure of anonymity.”

Others are less sure. According to one sports lawyer, Terpstra may have a chance on appeal. “While it’s true that famous races in general must be won by famous racers, there are exceptions such as Van Summeren’s win in 2011, Guesdon’s in 1997, and the forgettable Servais Knaven in 2001. If these non-entitites can have their names engraved at the velodrome in Roubaix, why not Terpstra as well?”

The answer appears to lie in the historic clash between Boonen and Cancellara, according to Rousseau. “If this were a normal year it would perhaps be acceptable to throw a bone to a nobody. But this year is far from normal. We must ensure that the results comport with the marketing opportunities.”

END

If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.

 

 

The things we teach

April 12, 2014 § 19 Comments

Many years ago we lived in a one-room home. The whole interior was a little more than ten tatami mats, or about 178 square feet. That probably sounds small until I tell you that six of us lived there, including one squalling infant. We were building a house on the other side of Utsunomiya, and my wife’s grandfather had allowed us to stay in one of his rental units until the house was finished. Our furnishings consisted of a small TV and low table. We lived there for eight months, but I don’t remember ever being cramped.

What I remember is the morning ride to kindergarten.

I had the biggest Bridgestone commuter bike that they sold at the local bike shop, a 55cm monster that, even with the seat jacked all the way up, was much too small. It had fenders, 30mm all-beef commuting tires, and a kickstand, but the piece of resistance was the add-on that they installed at the time of purchase: a kiddy seat.

The kiddy seat was a wire basket contraption with two flimsy cushions, foot pegs, and leg guards to keep the passenger’s legs out of the spokes. It mounted onto the rear bike rack and had a fixed handlebar so that the kiddy could grip in the event that circumstances became rough or unstable. There was no seatbelt of any kind.

Rough and unstable circumstances

My eldest daughter was in kindergarten, and due to our temporary location I had to pedal her across town every morning, a solid 20-minute commute in heavy traffic. They say that a child’s personality is formed at birth, and whether that’s true or not, it’s definitely formed after your first trip to kindergarten in a wire basket on the back of my commuter bike.

Ours was no normal commute, either, because of the Tobu Hill. This was a very short, steep, 200m downhill that swooped under the Tobu train line and flattened out at the traffic light on Heisei Dori. The road was narrow and even had a segregated bike path, but you couldn’t get any speed on the bike path so my daughter and I always opted for the lane. Well, she never opted for anything. She just hunkered low in the basket and gripped the bars survival tight.

The beauty of that little drop was that you could get a good head of steam, and if you got lucky and hit the traffic light green or mostly yellow and there was no oncoming traffic you could take the wide slightly cambered right-hander out into a clean 4-lane road. A full-speed sprint down the hill and a lucky light meant that we could sweep through the turn at a solid 35+, the bike in full lean, the tires at the limit of their grip, and the taste of fear dry and exhilarating and bitter roiling at the back of my tongue.

My daughter never complained, never cried, and never asked me not to do it, although upon reflection she never asked me to do it, either. She wore the cutest of kindergarten outfits, Japanese cute, a cuteness that only generations skilled in the art of tiny and cute could ever produce, and part of the uniform was a hat with a drawstring. At 35mph in full lean, the drawstring wasn’t strong enough to keep the hat on her head, of course. The times I looked back at her, usually after reaching terminal velocity but before hitting the hopefully green light, she always looked the same.

She would be staring calmly ahead, tilted in the seat so that she could see around me, a faint smile on her face, with one hand holding the handlebar in a vicegrip and the other mashing her hat onto her head so that the wind didn’t carry it away. If there was fear in her eyes as she pondered the onrushing and immediate future, it never showed.

Neither of us, of course, wore a helmet.

The  great Utsunomiya World Championship Road Race

One morning we were sitting in traffic. As the light turned green and we began to move, a fancy road rider whizzed by. “Good morning!” I said, but he ignored us.

I looked back at my daughter. “That rude bastard,” I said. “Let’s catch him!”

She didn’t agree, but she didn’t disagree, either. She only peered around me to get a better look at our quarry, casually took one hand off the handlebar and clamped her palm to her hat. She knew that whatever was going to happen next it would involve high winds and turbulence.

The Bridgestone was a solid 30 pounds and Sakura was another 35 or 40, and I happened to only be wearing flip flops, so the bike wasn’t exactly quick off the line. However, once you got that giant lump of chromoly up to speed, it had momentum, and lots of it.

Packed in the middle of tight traffic I was able use the cars to draft my way up to about 30mph. Inches off the bumpers of car death I went faster and faster until my legs really started to burn and my breathing became painful and my body had to viciously sway from side to side to beat the pedals hard enough to keep up the speed. I could feel her weight shifting behind me as the bike rocked side to side.

The speed picked up and I hunkered down in the draft. Through the car’s windshield I could see the roadie up ahead as well as the car’s speedometer. We were over 35mph and the bike was starting to shimmy. My legs tore at the pedals and I was buried in the red. We approached a giant traffic intersection, and our draft was the last car that was going to make the light, which had turned yellow. The roadie had already come to a stop.

The Toyota I was drafting gunned it and got me up to forty before he pulled away. The bike was in full shimmy. Braking was not an option as I prepared to sail out into the intersection. I turned my head and stopped pedaling in preparation for the moment we’d shoot past the stopped roadie. Buzzing as close to him as I could, I said, “Good morning again!” and we rocketed by as if we’d been discharged from a Soviet work camp.

Judging from his gape, he’d never been passed by a dude in flip flops on a bike with a kickstand hauling a kid in a basket. At forty miles an hour. I’m sure the fact that I wasn’t pedaling added to the mysterious nature of the public humiliation.

My daughter is twenty-five and she still rides a bicycle, though her smile is wider and, you know, she wears a helmet.

END

If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.

Post-traumatic jackass syndrome

April 11, 2014 § 30 Comments

If you don’t know Adam Myerson, he’s a member of the Lost Generation. These were the guys who came of age during the reign of Lance, and unlike Hincapie, Vaughters, Leipheimer, and those who have gone on to profit greatly from their misdeeds, Adam took the Nancy Reagan option. He just said “No.”

Adam and I are friends on Facebook, which is to say that since we’ve never met we’re not friends at all, at least not in the way that I grew up understanding the word. Rather, I lurk when his posts pop up on my feed and I like his approach towards cycling in particular and life in general.

Yesterday he opened up with a simple question. “Is there a medical term for the long term stress caused by being taken within an inch of your life, every day, multiple times a day, for the simple act of riding a bicycle on a public road?”

I glanced at the tail end of the comments and was surprised by the number. I was also surprised by the tenor of at least some. This was pretty much a softball question that any rider could relate to. Nothing is more ubiquitous in road riding than the constant fear of death and mutilation, and no preparation is more essential to the task of cycling than mentally girding yourself for the physical, verbal, and emotional onslaught that is the price we pay for daring to take our legal piece of the pavement.

Blame the victim

Incredibly, at least one commenter (since self-blocked and self-deleted) put the blame, or at least tried to shift it, on Adam. Surely there was something in his riding that precipitated at least some of this hostility?

All hell didn’t so much as break loose as it organized a freedom train.

And although the pro-Adamites greatly outweighed the anti-Adamites, the dialogue quickly assumed the air of a back-and-forth about who follows the rules and who’s a more law-abiding cyclist. All I could think was, “What the hell does that have to do with it?”

The price of pedaling

I know a lot of people who take great pride in their letter-perfect traffic behavior. I’m not one of them. I follow the rules when it’s to my advantage and I break them when they aren’t. I can feel the daggers when I cruise through controlled intersections, and I can hear the honks when some jackass in a giant pick-up vents at my infraction of the moment.

He can kiss my ass, because until the laws are set up to protect me, I’ll keep on surviving, thanks very much. As a reminder of how worthless you are on a bike here in SoCal, Jorge Alvarado’s killer just received the incredible sentence of 90 days in jail. We wouldn’t want to ruin that kid’s life, after all.

Nor am I on a mission to make cagers love me. The ones who accept me, accept me. The ones who hate me, hate me, and the ones who are going to mow me down because they’re texting or drunk or fiddling with the radio, well, I can’t do anything about them anyway. The only ones I care about are the crazies who want to kill me, and they’re not going to be mollified just because I put a foot down.

As Adam said, more or less, why should the price of making a mistake on a bike be death?

Post traumatic jackass syndrome

The unfortunate answer is, “Dude, that’s just how it is.”

But what’s more unfortunate is that his original question was such a good one. What do we call the mental condition of being constantly under assault or threat of assault?

I think PTJS is a good start, and although I can’t really describe its symptoms, I can describe the absence of them. Take the bike path and you’ll see what I mean. Suddenly, the cager exits your mental picture. As you pedal along the path you’re watching for peds and bikes and dogs and kids and skateboards and roller skaters and perhaps also the first thong of spring, but you’re doing it without the constant awareness of whether or not you’re about to receive a 1-ton solid steel enema.

There is a lightness to your grip on the bars and a relaxation of your shoulders and neck. You’re no longer afraid.

There. That’s the thing that riding on the road hangs around your neck no matter how good, how fast, how quick, or how experienced you are. The factor of fear, sometimes slight and sometimes screaming so loudly that you tense up enough to taste your own death, that’s the thing that you take with you when you’re wresting your legal piece of pavement from the jaws of the cagers.

The safety of the bike bath

Of course many riders eschew the beach bike bath in the South Bay because they claim it’s far more dangerous than street. They may be right.

Surfer Dan was pedaling along and prepared to pass Mitzy and Bohunk on their cruiser bikes. “On your left!” he said, loud enough for them to hear but not so close as to startle them.

Mitzy moved over, as she and Bohunk were hogging the whole path, but Bohunk didn’t budge. Dan eased over to pass. “Slow down, asshole!” snarled Bohunk.

Surfer Dan is a pleasant fellow, I suppose. But he’s also a coiled pack of solid muscle, the kind of muscle you get from a lifetime of surfing big waves, and he’s a coiled pack of mental muscle, too. You don’t earn your place in the lineup just because you surf well. You earn it because you can defend it, too.

Playfully, Dan looked at Bohunk, a giant, hairy, stupid creature who oozed ill will. “Please, don’t!” Mitzi begged. This obviously wasn’t Bohunk’s first brawl on the bike path and you could tell he relished the opportunity to beat up another wimp riding around in his underwear.

Dan grinned at Bohunk and said, softly, “Wanna go?”

Bohunk lunged for the bait. “Fuckin-A, you asshole! Let’s go!”

Dan eased his rear tire to within an inch of Bohunk, ready to whack the cretin’s front wheel out from under him in case the guy was crazy enough to try and get into a fist fight over being passed on the bike path. He had no intention of cutting his knuckles on this guy’s teeth. Bohunk reached out his left leg and aimed a mighty kick at Dan’s bike, but Dan easily moved over just as the full thrust of the extended, trunk-like leg fully extended into the open air.

Bohunk lost his balance and splatted hard on his shoulder, bouncing his concrete-like head against its brethren, the asphalt of the bike bath. With a long smearing sound of skin against pavement and sand, the aggressor then fouled the rest of himself up in the still-moving chain and rear wheel.

“Have a nice day!” Dan said, smiling as he rode off.

I’m guessing that he’s not suffering from post-traumatic jackass syndrome as a result.

 

END

If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.

Race preview: Paris-Roubaix 2014

April 10, 2014 § 7 Comments

This year Paris-Roubaix promises to be the one of the best editions in years. Here’s why:

  1. With the less-than-on-form Tom Boonen failing to effectively challenge Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders, 2014 marks the first time in over a decade that there is less than a 98% chance that the race will be won by either Tommeke or Fabs. Riders, fans, and pundits alike are thrilled at the 3 – 4% chance of crowning a new winner.
  2. Following the sunny, pleasant weather of the Ronde, Paris-Roubaix promises to be another beneficiary of the global warming that seems destined to kill off the human race while, instead of hanging the Koch Brothers and Exxon from the nearest yardarm, instead basks in the warmth of a fun bicycle race. Trademark applications have already been submitted to change the race’s nickname to the “Heck of the North.”
  3. Rainy, chilly weather ruined half the pro peloton’s Belgian campaign with the sniffles and the ouchies after Milan – San Remo, so team managers are doubly pleased at the prospect of picnic weather for Paris – Roubaix, even as the ghosts of Roubaix Past roll in their graves.
  4. As with MSR and the Ronde, Paris – Roubaix 2014 promises to be another epic “strategic” battle between alcoholic, drug-addled team directors screaming instructions into earpieces while their automatons robotically follow instructions until their legs fail or their bicycles break. A PSA on race radios and how they’ve improved race safety will be given by Johan van Summeren.
  5. The finishing velodrome will not be renamed “Specialized.”
  6. American fans have a new, popular, handsome, energetic disappointment to replace the old, battered, brokedown disappointment of George Hincapie, as Taylor Phinney promises to be one of USA’s greatest potential 2nd-place finishers since Big George.
  7. A handful of up-and-coming French riders promise to bring Gaulish strength back to this legendary French race by threatening to crack the top fifty.
  8. 2014 Paris – Roubaix has introduced a brief comedy segment called the “Wiggins Hour,” where Mr. Drinkypants himself seeks to be the first TdF – PR winner since Bernard Hinault.
  9. Sep Vanmarcke believes he’s ready to beat Cancellara in a sprint finish on the velodrome in Roubaix because, unicorns.

END

If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.

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