Tour de Shitstorm

February 12, 2012 § 4 Comments

“I’ve got a spare seat on my plane if you’d like to join me for the Tour de Palm Springs Century this weekend,” read Wehrlissimo’s email.

What could possibly go wrong?

“Fuckin’-A!” I replied, still not sure, even after all these years, what the difference was between, say, a fuckin-A and a fuckin-B, or a fuckin-C for that matter. The chance to do a century ride after my recent beatdowns at Boulevard and Red Trolley would be a significant ego-building opportunity, where I could whizz by lumbering freddies and feel fast, superior, and successful. No matter that “I won the century ride” has all the street cred of “I got laid last night…by my wife.”

The last time I had flown a private plane was when I did the hop from Geraldton, in West Australia, over to the Abrolhos Islands to see a colony of Brown Noddies and to get a picture of a nesting Red-tailed Tropicbird.

It was a red two-seater crop duster with pontoons. The pilot was 80 years old and coughed the entire way like he was going to die as he smoked no-filters and spit bloody phlegm out the window. The noise had been deafening, and the water landing horrible beyond belief.

I, Triple, Polly, FTR DS, and Wehrlissimo stood on the tarmac in the dark as Levi loaded our bikes into the King Air Turboprop radmoplane. This was traveling in style. Rather than driving across the desert for two hours and then fighting four hours back through LA traffic we’d be landing in Palm Springs in thirty minutes and home by three in the afternoon.

I tried to remind myself of all these advantages as Levi turned back to us and said, “We’re going to have dip down pretty aggressively once we cross the mountains in order to hit the landing strip, as it’s just on the other side. There might be some turbulence.”

A few moments later the airplane was pointed straight down. We could see the quickly approaching ground through the windshield, and the only thing to make the picture perfect would have been a couple of gunsights through which we could have strafed the airport or the ten zillion wind turbines that littered the valley. “Just like a roller coaster,” I thought. “With no rails.”

I glanced over at Triple. His thighs were held tightly together, as if he were trying to keep something from sneaking out. At that moment we hit “some turbulence.” The entire aircraft shuddered as if it had been hit with a giant club and we plunged, hit another pocket, shuddered again, and a warning light went off with a shrill beep.

I looked at Polly, whose teeth were clenched, not even pretending to be cool. FTR DS had been okay until his engineer’s hearing had picked up the sound of the warning beep. Now he looked scared, too. I took a final glance at Triple, and could only think, “I’m glad I’m not the chamois in his shorts.”

Welcome to Hell

The game plan had been to hook up with UbeRfRed and his Long Beach Freddies, administer a thorough Southbay SPY Blue beatdown to the denizens of Cadmium City, USA, grab lunch, and jet back home. UbeRfRed had other plans.

The moment our group of twenty-six hit the edge of town it became clear why the city of Palm Springs was developed as one of the first wind farms in California: Wind turbines require winds of up to 35 miles per hour in order to achieve the optimum efficiency and profitability. As the route along North Indian Canyon Rd. left the city and exposed us to the full crosswind that was powering the wind farm, mayhem ensued.

We’d started about 7:30, and the road was clotted with thousands and thousands of freddies. So far, no problem. The 30 mph crosswind, however, was literally blowing people off the road. Every couple of hundred yards there would be bicycles lying in a huge tangle, with hapless freddies pulling and pushing and tugging and lugging on their $5,000 bikes that were now part of a giant parts bazaar.

UbeRfRed gassed it, and we clawed onto his wheel as we zoomed by the endless line of flailing freddies. Since the crosswind was so strong we had to echelon across the entire road. This meant that with each clump of freddies that we overook, UbeRfRed would roar, “Riders!”, but the freddies wouldn’t hear until we were right on their asses. Many of them, cleverly riding deep dish wheels, would jerk to the right, the wind would catch their wheels, and they’d go sailing off the road.

Fredfest 2012

By mile three there were long lines of riders who’d simply given up, turned around, and headed back to Palm Springs. For us, there would be no quitting, as the Long Beach Freddies’ favorite epithet is to shout “You’re weak!” whenever someone quits, gets dropped, gets passed, turns around, swings off the front, takes a drink, stops to pee, or sucks his thumb, or cries for his mommy.

A confederacy of dunces

The whole idea of having 12,000 idiots on bicycles in a venue that it designated as “ideal for a wind farm” could not have happened by coincidence. Rather, it took the conspiracy of core stakeholders to come up with something this awful.

President of the local hospital: “Let’s do something that will fill the beds! February’s a slow month; we won’t really be rocking until Coachella in April.”

Coalition of local bike shops: “Let’s do something that will require 5,000 people to have to completely replace their bikes.”

President of the Chamber of Commerce: “We can showcase the beauty of the desert by routing the ride through all 427 stoplights and through each of the 19 bedroom communities.”

Bill Snooker, Owner, Bill & Snooker Used Auto Emporiums: “Make sure the route takes ‘em by my fourteen lots. Never know when some idiot’ll throw in the towel and want to drive home.”

Crazy Sam Throckmorton, Desert Survival Adventures, Inc.: “Put 12,000 city slickers on bikes on pothole-filled, thorn-littered, gravel-strewn desert roadways a thousand miles from nowhere, watch ‘em flat and wander off into the scrub and ocotillo looking for water, then do emergency rescues and charge $859 a head. Works ever’ time!”

Freddy Freeloader, 2012 president-elect, Palm Springs Friendly Riders’ Club: “It’ll be just like Solvang!”

It really isn’t anything at all like Solvang

After five miles of battering along in a full echelon as the howling crosswind sprayed sand and grit into our eyes and noses and teeth, with freddies flying off the road and smashing into each other, and with UbeRfRed and FTR DS drilling the pace the whole way, we turned left directly into the wind. Never in my life have I been so happy to have a headwind. For one, it meant no more leaning at a 30-degree angle to keep from being blown over. For another, it meant true shelter, not the misery of a partial draft echelon.

This respite only lasted a couple of miles before we turned right again and back into the crosswind. UbeRfRed now really hit the gas, exploding the remnants of his flailing Long Beach soulmates. I hadn’t bothered to look at the course map and had no idea how long the hell was going to last. For all I knew, it would be fifty miles out into this sandstorm and fifty miles back. My resolve began to fade and defeatism set in as the line of quitters and the clumps of the crashed flashed by.

After a mere 1.5 more miles of crosswind hell, the road turned right into a tailwind. I couldn’t believe it. UbeRfRed, after flagellating us mercilessly for the first twelve miles, held up his hand. “Let’s regroup!” he said.

I looked at FTR DS. He looked at me. We both thought the same thing: “He’s weak.”

I love you, that’s why I hate you

The next sixty miles went by quickly, a combination of straight tailwind and tail-crosswind. UbeRfRed would hammer until he’d dropped all of his best friends, and then make us stop so that they could all catch up and he could catch his breath. Repeat. By mile seventy we were well into the bowels of the poorly marked, suburban, stoplight-filled portion of the course.

At the final rest stop one of the Long Beach Freddies regaled me with the heart attack he’d had while cycling a few months back. “Yeah, I was with the guys and just keeled over.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Heart attack. Piece of plaque came off an arterial wall and chugged into the heart. Everybody has plaque on their arteries. Mine just lodged in a bad place.”

“Yeah…right,” I said, eyeing his beer belly. “Is that what the doctor said?”

“Yeah. Said everybody has it.”

“Did he graduate from a medical school in the Caribbean by any chance? Last name Sojka?”

Freddie looked at me funny. “No. But the good thing about it was, the guys were there for me.”


“Hell yeah. They waited until I’d stabilized in the ICU before they all came in and told me I was weak.”

“Well, at least you’re back on the bike,” I said, trying to make a positive out of a quadruple negative.

“Yep. I took a long time off the bike to recover, it being a heart attack and me almost dying and everything.”

“That’s good. How long were you off?”

“Sixty days.”

Realizing that I was dealing with a true madman, I got back on the bike and continued pedaling.

Anybody can pedal a bike 70 miles…

“But can they drill it for the last thirty?” That was FTR DS’s question, and UbeRfRed answered it with a simple question phrased as a whimper.

“Hey guys,” he said. “Let’s just ride two by two for the rest of the way. Okay? Okay?”

FTR DS smiled a nasty smile, then went to the front and set an, um, steady pace. Alex the Poseur sidled up alongside him to match the pull, but after a couple of minutes went rocketing off to the side in the rickety wobble of someone who is blown and not coming back.

I came to the fore and was joined by Long Beach Freddy Rick. He had done the entire ride in booties, a skinsuit and full TT rig, which included Speed Racer-style bottle ejectors that caused his $40 insulated water bottles to fly out of the saddle-mounted holders and into the spokes of whomever was on his wheel. Showing the most grit of all the LBF’s with the exception of Heart Attack, who we fully expected to die at any moment, Rick matched the pace for a solid five miles.

Ultimately his head drooped, his fanny pooped, and he did the wobble-and-fade back to the ignominy of the rear wheelsuck with UbeRfRed and the Cadmium Crew. With eighteen miles to go, FTR DS came up and joined me. It was as nasty and unpleasant a finish as I can recall, with countless stoplights, and so many wrong turns that we were eventually stuck on the truck-car-senile-retiree highway to hell that is the 111.

So long, it’s been good to know ya

Wehrlissimo had reserved a spot for us at PS Wine, and we rolled up to sandwiches, water, chips, and lots of wine. As each group of finishers passed us by, from their perch on the sidewalk the LBF’s shouted “You’re weak!” to the broken, salt-encrusted, beaten down tourists.

My foot doesn’t reach the pedal-thingy!!

Suddenly one of the LBF’s commanded, “Everyone! Stick your finger in your left ear!” Too drunk, frightened, tired, or confused to object, we all did as we were told. “Remove fingers!” We did. “Inspect fingers!” We looked at our fingertips, which were coated with a 1/8 inch layer of sand and grit stuck together with earwax. This, then, was our souvenir from Palm Springs, finer than any blue and yellow jersey designed by a middle schooler who “wanted to be an artist.”

We said our goodbyes, and Levi the Pilot proved again that he was the real man among men. He’d not only flown the plane and ridden a hundred hard miles, but he’d abstained from so much as a sip of alcohol and looked like he’d hardly exerted himself.

Back on the tarmac in LA, we deplaned and said our goodbyes. I thanked Wehrlissimo for his incredible generosity, and offered him $15 to help pay for gas. “Thanks,” he said, refusing my generous offer.

“So how much does a tank of airplane fuel cost for one of these, anyway?” I asked.

“About $513.”

The other guys thanked him, too. He laughed. “All this stuff,” he said, waving at the airplane and hangar, “isn’t really worth anything if you can’t share it with your friends.”

The dude on the bike

February 7, 2012 § 4 Comments

The sun did not shine. It was too wet to ride.
So we sat in the house. And we felt like we’d died.

I sat there with Sally, we sat there we two.
And I said, “How I’d love to go biking with you!”

Too wet to go out and too cold to pedal.
So we sat there forlorn. Like Hansel and Gretel.

We stared at our bikes and thought Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!
And we did not like it. No time trial or crit.

And then something went WHAM!
And we both said, “Goddamn!”

We looked! Then we saw him roll in with a flex!
All filthy and gnarly! Big, bad MMX!
And he said to us, “What? Are your bikes total wrecks?

“I know it is wet. And the roads are all rough.
“But we can find out who’s the wimp and who’s tough!”

“My Ride, Belgian Waffles, we’ll do,” said the dude.
“And if you’re a Fred you’ll be totally screwed.”

“A lot of good roads. I will show them to you.
“There’s only one catch!” And he looked at us two.

Then Sally and I we both looked kind of dumb.
Our wheelsucking style was what we called “fun.”

But our goat said, “No! No! Make that dude go outside!
“Tell that dude in the tights you do NOT want to ride.

“He should not be here, Belgian Waffles and all!
“I’ve heard of that ride! It’s a two-fisted brawl!”

“Now! Now!” said the dude. “Have no fear. Have no fear!”
“As long as you work, we’ll swill good Belgian beer.”

“But if you’re adjudged at the back to have dawdled,
“You won’t be rewarded or fawned on or coddled.”

“In fact,” said the dude as he pushed us outside,
“You’ll flat rue the day that you learned how to ride.”

The goat by this time was astraddle my bars
As crazily fast we three weaved through the cars.

“Take me back!” said the goat. “I hate it up here!
“I do my best work sucking wheel in the rear!”

The dude simply grinned as he cut through the wind.
“Oh, goat, now’s the day for your sins you will pay
“As the wind and the rain and the cold have their sway.”

“With the bugs in your teeth! The throttle full bore!
“But that is not ALL I can do! No, there’s more!

“Look at you! Look at you now!” said the dude.
“All panting and hacking! Your brain fairly stewed!

“You see what it’s like at the tip of the spear?
“It’s not quite as easy as back in the rear.

“And look! We don’t have to stay just where it’s paved!
“The dirt and the cobbles are yet to be braved.

“Follow my wheel if you can, though it’s hard
“And not much like farting around in the yard.

“Grip the bars tight but don’t fight for control,
“Take the bumps easy and let the wheels roll.

“Feel the wheels slip as you let the wheels slide,
“And soon you Freds both will be able to ride.

“And rather than cower and quaver and quake,
“The gnarliest, bad-assedest pulls you’ll soon take.”

That is what the dude said.
Then I fell like a Fred!

My goofy maneuver damn near cleared the decks,
It knocked down poor Sally and shook MMX.

I hit with a thud and my mouth filled with crud.
I said, “Do I like this? The warm spurting blood?”

“This is not a good ride,” said our goat as I crashed.
“My horns are all blunt and my side fairly thrashed.”

“Now look what you did!” said the goat to the dude.
“His shorts are all ripped! He’s riding half nude!

“You fucked up his frame and her nice carbon rim,
“And tore the nice kit that was given to him.

“We SHOULD NOT be riding our bikes in this shit!
“You take us home now! We won’t ride one more bit!”

“But I like it out here where it’s nasty and wet,”
Said the dude on the bike to the goat he’d just met.

“I won’t take you home, or tuck tail like some pup.
“The ride has just started, so man the fuck up!

“Your sad sack maneuvers, your wheelsucking game,
“Is frankly pathetic, disgusting, and lame.

And then he looked down and he dropped it a cog,
His mighty quads flexing, I flailed like a dog.

And just as we thought we’d crack, crater, and blow,
He looked back and said “95 miles to go.”

Then he got up on top of the big, massive gear,
“I call this game RIP OFF YOUR LEGS,” did he leer.

“In this locker of pain you’re now bound up inside,
“You will find something new, from which you can’t hide.

“These things that you’ll find here are truer than true,
“A view of yourself that’s entirely new.”

And out came two things, clad in stylish SPY Blue,
As pitilessly they spun out a tattoo.

A tattoo of pain, and they rolled like a train,
And they said to us, “Watch how we sprint in the rain.”

“Would you like to match pulls with SPY One and SPY Two?”
And Sally and I did not know what to do.

So we hopped in the line with SPY One and SPY Two.

We each took a pull. But our goat said, “No! No!
“Don’t rotate like that! Your poor legs will blow!

“We should not be  here in the muck or the storm!
“Let’s beat a retreat where it’s toasty and warm!”

“SPY One and SPY Two,” said the dude on the bike.
“Don’t give a goddamn what you hate or you like.”

“They are here to take names. They are here to kick ass.
“And you’re on their list, and it don’t say ‘free pass.’

“Now, here is a game that they like,” said the dude.
“They call this game ’53-12.’ In the mood?”

“Not 53-12!” said the goat in great fear.
“We’ve never held pace in so monstrous a gear!

“Oh, the speeds they will go! Oh, the pain they’ll inflict!
“How did we wind up in this mess? We’ve been tricked!”

Then Sally and I saw the big rings engage.
We shuddered in pain as they pedaled in rage.

They flew through the mud, we were covered in it,
The rain and the cold and the muck and the shit.

SPY Two and SPY One! They went faster than fast!
The hours turned to minutes so quick did time pass.

Our faces all covered with muddy spit flecks,
All grinning the while was big MMX.

Then those Things hit the gas with big bumps, thumps and whacks,
And with sprints and big jumps and all kinds of attacks.

And I said, “I’m beginning to like how they play!
“Are those balls down below that I’ve grown here today?”

Then our goat said, “Look! Look!” And our goat shook with fear.
“You’re about to get dropped! Suck wheel at the rear!

“What if you come off? What will your friends think?
“They’ll scorn you and laugh and they’ll say that you stink!

“Suck some wheel! Fast!” said the goat. “Do you hear!
“Your limit of lactate, your threshold is near!”

“As fast as you can, race back to the back!
“You’ll have to forget that you want to grow sack!”

I looked at the goat but his offer I spurned,
With heroes like this, this much had I learned.

‘Tis better to pull on the point with your crew,
Get beat down and fail, the best you can do,

Than to finish respected by no one but you.

I moved to the front and I pulled for a while,
And then through the slime and the mud did he smile.

I said to the dude, “Now, buddy, I’m done.
“‘Twas harder than nails, but its own kind of fun.”

“You pussy,” he said. “It’s not over yet.”
“The road isn’t finished, we’re still soaking wet.”

“Hop on, you poor sod, for this much I’ll say,
“In doing your best, what you’ve earned for today,

“Not sneaking or skulking or trying to steal,
“A free ride on some fellow traveler’s wheel,

“I’ll haul your ass home, so just tuck in behind
“But don’t be surprised if it’s work there you find.”

And then all the pain and the hurt heretofore,
Was as flowers in spring to the beatdown in store

For Sally and me as we clung to his rear,
Our tongues in our spokes as he shifted each gear.

And when we looked up, only sunshine remained.
Aside from our kits, you’d not know it had rained.

He dropped us off quick, with a nod of respect,
And then he was gone, but we didn’t expect

That he’d leave us with such an amazing attraction
A feeling of deep inner self-satisfaction,

The knowledge that taking’s a shiny, bright star,
But giving’s so truly much better, by far.



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