Every cyclist’s (twisted) dream

November 30, 2012 § 41 Comments

“How would I ride if I lost 25 pounds?”

Every cyclist has wondered what it would be like to shed massive weight and dramatically reduce body fat over the course of a few weeks.

“Would I climb that much better?”

“Would it make me that much faster?”

“Would it be worth it?”

“Is it even possible?”

“Why am I so fucked up?”

Etcetera.

Wankmeister drinks the Kook-Aid so you don’t have to

There is a long story about how I fell into the black pit of the Hunger Diet, but it’s not worth telling other than to say that a big belly and some unflattering race day photography led me my current folly.

At first it was simply to reduce the belly roll’s jelly roll. Gradually the diet took on a darker, more morbid aspect, as it became dieting for the sake of dieting. Having numerous educated, experienced people caution me against my methods only spurred me on.

At 146 pounds I’ve almost reached my “goal,” not that I ever had one. My beginning weight was 167-170; guesstimated body fat was 25%. I’m now down to 12.2%, maybe 11%.

At 6 feet, 1/8 inch, this has been a dramatic loss of weight in a mere seventeen weeks. If you’re considering something similar, I can’t advise you either way, except to say that only the somewhat unhinged have even a remote chance of “success” if you define success as being profoundly unhappy and lethargic. Likewise, I can’t say how this will affect your cycling, though I can say how it has affected mine.

Disclaimers

The bulk of the Hunger Diet consists in being hungry. Not, “Hey, honey, I’m hungry. Let’s grab a bite, ok?” but more like “I will fucking kill anyone who obstructs me from licking these three tiny pieces of dried oatmeal stuck to the pan.”

It is like doing the hardest interval of your life, and each time you look up someone screams in your ear, “You’ve got another hour to go or we will tear your nuts off!”

This interval of hell continues as long as the diet continues, except for brief rest periods called “eating.” As soon as the eating stops, however, the hunger interval picks up where it left off. So it will suck to be you.

This type of diet can’t be healthy. I don’t know how it’s unhealthy, exactly, but you can look at my food log where I’ve blogged my daily eating plans and decide for yourself which aspects of my physiology I’m wrecking forever.

Aside from being an unpleasant and unhealthy experience, people will treat you like you are a total pariah, even more than they already do, I mean. As a cyclist you’re ten times trimmer and fitter than the other slugs in your office, and they secretly envy you and may even openly make fun of you when you prance around in your tighties.

Once you let them know you’re on the Hunger Diet, and you actually put a digital food scale in the lunchroom to weigh your raisins, they will fear you and hate you and despise you and envy you, all at the same time, occasionally accompanied by a public beating. Their feelings will manifest themselves in countless disparaging comments.

“You don’t need to go on a diet! You’re too skinny already!”

“Being too thin is very, very unhealthy!”

“You’re anorexic!”

“You’re going to lose all your muscle, which is metabolically active!”

“You look like a cadaver.”

“I like my [men/women] with meat on their bones.”

“Is that your lunch? I could NEVER eat that.”

“I hate [tofu/canned tuna/yogurt/fruit/nuts/anything that’s not soaked in lard and deep fried]. How can you stand to eat that?”

“Life’s too short to diet.”

“You’ll gain it all back.”

“How’d you like some of THIS?” [Holds a chocolate Hag bar in front of your nose, makes disgusting smacking sound.]

“It ruins the pleasure of food to count the calories in it.”

“Science doesn’t have all the answers.”

“You work out too much as it is.”

“It’s important to eat some fat.”

The list of demeaning and unsupportive comments is endless and can’t be combated. Just agree with them and keep methodically weighing out the raisins. Perhaps you can toss in the odd comment about the fact that there are 5.71 calories per gram of potato chip. You can’t refute them, though, as they’re pretty much right.

Massive weight loss and cycling

When you’re racing you can’t lose lots of weight because you won’t be able to race. When you’re training you can’t lose lots of weight because you won’t be able to train.

Slow and gradual is the ticket, but is impossible for one reason: You’re a fucking cyclist and you don’t want to do anything gradually.

But here’s what I’ve found. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that I’m…lighter. Even going slow, or bonked, or completely flailing off the back there’s no sense of sluggishness. My legs turn around a thousand times easier, it seems. If this is what PED’s feel like, no wonder people take them.

I’m not any faster or stronger, at least according to the Strava times of the routes I normally ride. On the other hand, I’m completely focused on losing weight rather than putting in big efforts, so it’s possible that I will ride faster if I’m able to build power and endurance at this new weight. It’s also possible that I’ll become a unicorn.

Although I am slower and weaker, it’s balanced by having lost all endurance such that I want to get off my bike and sob after about thirty minutes into any ride, regardless of intensity. So there’s that.

With regard to vanished endurance, when your body is in constant shrinkage mode, all of the reserves are gone. You know that funny burst of power and euphoria that comes right before a massive bonk? I get them all the time now…along with the bonking. In the chubby days, bonks used to send a pre-bonk notification via a well-dressed, manicured, clean-cut bonded messenger. “Excuse me, Mr. Davidson, our blood sugar center has indicated that recent withdrawals have exceeded deposits, and barring a reasonable infusion of sugary glop in the very near future, the bonk that has been shipped out will be arriving in approximately ten minutes.”

Now it’s a little bit different. The delivery dude hasn’t shaved in two weeks, is covered with “FUK U AND DYE” tattoos, and just barges in without even ringing. “Yo, fucker. Bonk here. Enjoy.” Then wham, just like that, he dumps the bastard on every muscle in my body and the whole thing grinds to a halt, immediately.

The plus side to riding while completely bonked is that it forces your body to consume gristle, bone, heart fiber, internal organs, and brain matter, which further reduces weight and impairs your ability to force yourself to stop losing weight. So you can put another big tick in the “plus” column.

As quickly and viciously and unexpectedly as the bonking happens, recovery is ten times quicker than it used to be. This is the one thing I didn’t expect and that I truly love. Recovery. No matter how hard I go or how deeply I bonk, I am completely recovered in minutes. “Recovered” as in “ready to go again at 100 percent.”

In the old days there would be a hard effort followed by a big message posted over the windows, which had been boarded up with enormous cedar timbers: “Closed for business until further notice.”

Further notice was usually Thursday of the following month.

Now, on the Hunger Diet, it’s like you’ve got a team of professional fluffers at the ready the second you infuse sugar or get off your bike for an hour or two. “2000-watt effort? Oh, noes! Don’t worry! Come on, boys…fluff!” Then there you are hard as porcelain and ready to go again. I’m talking about cycling, by the way. The other area in which hardness is so important, what with all the starvation and deprivation is, ah, shall we say, sadly under-performing.

More incredibly, on days where I do the NPR and then have to commute home at night, I used to be a dead man pedaling during the end-of-day struggle up the Hill. No more. The morning beatdown, no matter how vicious, leaves no imprint on my legs by five or six in the evening.

This feeling alone has made the whole ordeal worthwhile, that and the sensation of turning weightless legs. My cycling hasn’t improved in a competitive or performance sense, but it is worlds easier as an activity. No idea why this is so, but for me it is.

Postscript (Or: Why the experts are experts)

Yesterday I awoke with a new low of 145.5 and a massive stomach ache but nevertheless went on a fool’s errand. It was raining and cold and the NPR was going off on schedule, so I dutifully rode over to the 6:40 AM start at Manhattan Beach Pier to see how my new wonder weight would fare under the pressure of a full-on effort.

It fared worse than badly.

I stopped at the end of the alleyway to take off some gear and would have never caught back on had Jonathan Paris not waited for me. The group was driven by Stathis the Wily Greek, and without ever taking a pull I thought my legs were going to fall off. That effort alone, on a flat stretch of road sitting on a wheel, was all I could muster.

It went downhill from there.

The entire ride was an exercise in no power, no endurance, constant muscular pain, and a stomach cramp worse than any menstrual period I’ve ever had. Frozen and shattered at ride’s end I sat in the Kettle Restaurant back at the Center of the Known Universe and tried to atone for my sins with a massive breakfast of grease, huevos rancheros, grease, beans, and potatoes topped with grease.

This wise dietary choice got me as far as the office, where I showered, changed, and drove home, doubled over in pain. Six hours of sleep, and constant food throughout the day revived me (somewhat) so that I was able to drive back to the office, do some work, and ride back home in the rain in time for dinner, where I ate more food, completely abandoning all pretense of diet.

I went to bed at 7:30 and awoke at the point of 4:00 AM today, ravenous. Morning weigh-in confirmed the damage…149 pounds, a 3.5 gain in 24 hours.

The motivation to return to the Hunger Diet hasn’t abated one whit, though. One carefully measured 1/4 cup of oatmeal and some raisins later, and I’m raring to hit the gym and convert more of those brain, heart, and liver cells into muscle.

My only advice to you, though? Don’t.

All in a night’s work

November 28, 2012 § 30 Comments

I had just dropped down Emerald past the StageOne World Headquarters and pulled up behind a white pickup waiting on the red light at Pacific Coast Highway. Dude’s window was down, and every five seconds (I counted) a big billow of cigarette smoke came pouring out the window.

I’d inhale, unwillingly, as the smoke coursed into my lungs. “Fucking cigarette smoke,” I thought. “I love it.”

Granny was a 3-pack-a-dayer, and it killed her young as she only lived to be ninety-five. Had she not smoked like a chimney since before the Great War, she’d doubtless have made it to 97 or even 98. She was robbed.

Summers in Daingerfield I was a little chain smoker too, even though I never once lit a cigarette. Lying between Granny and Jim, him playing solitaire with the cats, her reading a book, and me watching Gunsmoke, I smoked enough second-hand cigarettes to cancerize my lungs once and for all.

I still can’t breathe in that stuff without thinking about Granny and her Kents, and also without thinking about Ian, who smoked right up until the night before he died. When we cleaned out his sad apartment with the windows drawn and the unused stretch-a-matic muscle builder hanging from the bedroom door, most of the knick-knacks, such as they were, had so much tar from the years of cigarette smoke that they were glued to the surfaces on which they rested by virtue of a thick, dark brown resin of tar as tacky and strong as any super glue.

Smokers’ delight

I’ve always thought smokers were a lot like cyclists, and it hasn’t escaped my attention that so many bikers are ex-smokers or reformed drunks or other addicts transferring one habit for a slightly less damaging one. Like cyclists, smokers are always just one step in front of the meat wagon.

Smokers measure their progress to the grave stick by glowing stick, keenly aware that it’s killing them but jaundiced enough to know that life is killing them, too. This differs only slightly from the riders who venture forth with traffic, all too willing to risk death in order to make the progress to eventual death more tolerable, pleasurable, even. Not glowing stick by stick, they measure the passage pedal stroke by stroke.

The night roaches

This night I was wearing my bolt-on legs, fresh out of the box courtesy of the Hunger Diet, and Dog I felt good. Turning left onto Esplanade I caught sight of a brilliant bike headlight behind me, moving at warp speed.

It was another night roach venturing forth under cover of darkness to ambush hapless commuters like me. My night roach policy was simple: Blow by me and say “Hello,” or better yet slow down to chit-chat as Chris Down had done last week, and I’d be happy.

Blow by me while telepathically calling me a wanker, as Bumblebee Dude had done a couple of weeks ago, and I’d chase or die trying. Part of it is the old-fashioned insecurity that drives any wanker worth his salt, the inner fear that you’re not fast enough (hint: you aren’t.).

The other part is common courtesy. Our cycling community is too small, and life’s too short, for people to slam-bang past others on bikes without even acknowledging their existence. Night Roach bore down on me and then passed, chin over stem, rocketing out of my slipstream with his South Bay Wheelmen kit briefly soaking in the glare from my light.

“See you, sucker,” he telepathed me.

It took some effort, but I caught onto his wheel, and, already deep inside his head, I knew what he was thinking when he saw my light reflect off the inside of his front rim.

“Hi, there!” I telepathed “I’m back!”

“Fuck,” he telepathed in response. “Better pretend I don’t care.”

By now he was absolutely drilling it, but we had a small tailwind and were still on the section of Esplanade that slightly tilts down, and he was broad enough and going fast enough that the draft was substantial, so he now had a permanent guest.

You hooked it, now you gotta land it

In Normalworld, he would have sat up, looked back, and said something. Or he would have swung over for me to take a pull. But we were in Nightroachworld, where everything is a potential boot sole about to come down on your spine.

“If I sit up, he’ll know I’m too tired to go it like this by myself,” he thought. “But if I keep at it, I’ll blow and look like the ultimate wanker. What if he’s just resting, and as soon as I pop he powers away? If I wave him through, I’ll look stupid for not having invited him along when I passed him in the first place, and will be admitting that he’s as good as I am. Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

I took stock of his legs. They were young legs. He rode a fair amount, but didn’t have the look that comes with brokedown, carved up, older, battle-scarred, road-hardened legs. So the equation got easier. Esplanade ends in a hill. You can either bear to the right and take the stiff, steep climb, or you can bear to the left and take the gradual one.

At this torrid pace, he was going to come apart as soon as we hit the hill. If not, he was the proud owner of a UCI pro license. He had to pick his poison. The left turn was more gradual and would show he was afraid of the steeper route, and therefore fearful. The right turn was gentle at first and would then break you without mercy.

He bore left. “Oh, Mr. Toughguy,” I telepathed, “afraid to go steep, eh?”

As expected, he slowed a bit at first, then quickly unraveled. Then, and only then, did he look back. “Hey,” he said hopefully, panting hard, “how’s it going?”

It was a fake friendliness, begging now for pity, and maybe a dollop of mercy, where he had given his all to wankify me on my carbon cross.

I said nothing and sat on his wheel. He churned about thirty more big, square, forced efforts and then completely blew. I pulled alongside him. “How’s it going?” he whimpered, but all it sounded like was “Howsmmlllgnnguhg?”

I revved up the bolt-ons and sped away.

A tale of two night encounters

Smokers are at least a little cynical on the inside, if not a whole lot. The act of smoking makes it impossible to lie to themselves. “These fucking things are killing me,” they think. “I guess I’ll have another one. Now.”

In our own way, cyclists share that cynicism about the negative effects of cycling–the expense, the risk, the subjugation of domestic tranquility to biking, the unhealthy eating habits, in short, the things about cycling that are killing you but that aren’t killing you quickly enough or certainly enough to make you refrain from doing it.

Why else would a night roach blast through the dark with a tiny headlamp, swerving around curbs and madly overtaking strangers, for no reward but the pleasure of administering a whipping?

I was pondering that question the following evening, twenty-four hours later. Again, I was on the way home. This time, though, the bolt-ons had been replaced by overcooked noodles. My pace was labored as I rolled through Lunada Bay.

Suddenly I heard voices behind me and saw the brilliant shine of multiple lights. A small group of four riders overtook me, going significantly faster. They slowed. “Hi, there,” said their leader.

“Hey,” I answered. “Where you guys going?”

“San Pedro, then up Via Colinita to the Domes and back to Manhattan Beach. Want to join us?”

They’d broken up their earnest pace just to chat with a stranger. “Sure,” I said.

They made a slot for me in fourth wheel. The pace resumed. It wasn’t hammering, but it was steady. These dudes were serious. The guy in front of me, John Daly, told me about the ride. “Five o’clock every Tuesday and Thursday after work,” he said. “We get in right at fifty miles. Only about 3k of vertical, but it’s better than nothing.”

Wow. After work. These dudes were serious. My spaghetti strands began talking to me. “You go with these dudes and you’ll bonk in Pedro,” they whispered. “Then they’ll drop you and leave you for dead. Politely, of course.”

As we rolled along I noted how carefully and courteously they rode, pointing out shit in the road and keeping a tight, safe line. No attitude here at all. Everyone welcome, just pay attention and enjoy the night as you rolled through it.

“Hey guys,” I said, “I think I’d better head back.”

“Sure,” the leader said. “Glad to have had you along.” They vanished into the blackness, the bright red embers of their taillights glowing with each drag on the cigarette, until they vanished around the bend.

I watched them disappear just as a great horned owl flew overhead, noiselessly, and settled on the traffic signal crossbar at Hawthorne, waiting for some rodent, who, unaware, would become its next meal.

When the old Craig looked back

November 24, 2012 § 19 Comments

In 2009, every Donut Ride ended like this: I would be pinned, or near pinned, two-thirds of the way up the Switchbacks. The wankoton would have been blown to smithereens. The only wheels left would be John Hall, Kevin Phillips, Greg Leibert, Craig Leeuwenburgh, and a handful of others.

The old Craig would look back at me, always back at me, and stand on the pedals, and that would be it. One or two others would be able to match his pace. The rest of us would detonate in the attempt.

I wish you knew how hard I tried to go with the old Craig. I tried everything. I tried counting matches and holding a few bullets in reserve until the Switchbacks. That didn’t work. I tried gluing myself to his wheel and following his every move. That didn’t work. I tried attacking in Malaga Cove. That never came close to working. I tried stringing it out in Portuguese Bend. That never worked, either.

Whatever poison I tried, the old Craig had the antidote. He’d look back, stand on the pedals, and bust loose.

Through the sweat and pain and curses and gasps, it was quite beautiful, really. Smooth, effortless, his face set grimly to the tune of “It’s time, children,” the old Craig would look back and then glide away, twisting that enormous uphill gear like it was a piece of soft taffy. It always made me think of that gnarly, raspy, guttural refrain of John Lee Hooker’s: “Boom, boom, boom, boom.”

And then the old Craig died

I can’t put a date on it, but one day the old Craig was no longer there. He was always there, or mostly there, but he wasn’t really there anymore. The big push would come, and I’d whip by him quicker than a twig in front of a 5-hp leaf blower.

People’s lives change, of course. They get busy, or they shift priorities, or they endure tragedy, or they run out of mental fuel, or they just move on. Craig was still around, and always looked fit and fast, but the old Craig was gone.

It would almost make me sad to blast by him on the climbs, if dropping someone can make you sad, which, of course, it can’t, especially someone who has driven so many nails into your coffin, long nails with rusty ends that jab you in the eyes as he pounds them in. There he would go, kicked without mercy out the back, swirling and spinning and sucking down the drainpipe along with all the others. It was weird to see, and unsettling, and somehow it was wrong.

It was wrong because Craig was already in an elite group of athletes for whom the bike was a tiny part of a rather big picture. Craig flies huge airplanes filled with living, breathing people, and his decisions, his actions, his approach each day in his life carries with it the consequences of immediate life or death for tens of thousands of people every year.

The magnitude of that responsibility is one thing, but his behavior on the bike, even after the old Craig had given up the ghost, never varied. When someone flatted, he was the one who pulled over to make sure the tire got properly fixed. Sometimes he could tow the rider back to the group–often as not someone he’d never met before and would never meet again–other times his group ride ended right there on some windy stretch of PCH, left alone to bull into the wind for a few hours.

In addition to always being there for others, with the exception of that harsh, cruel moment when the old Craig would look back and lower the sharpened blade, his kindness was without limit. Gentle, soft-spoken, funny, empathetic, and solid as bedrock…those things never changed despite the early passing of the old Craig.

Crushing that guy and spitting him out the back, rolling over his carcass with a hard kick of the pedals, always felt wrong, even though to do otherwise on the Switchbacks would have broken the code, the law, the iron mandate of the Church of the Spinning Wheel: “Crush today if you can, for tomorrow it will be you.”

How soon we forget

Throughout 2010, 2011, and 2012, the old Craig became a distant memory. He had a new place in the wankoton, and we forgot he’d ever had any other: The new Craig was pack meat.

Today there had been a furious run-up to the Switchbacks. Vince DiMeglio had burned holes in the carpet from the bottom of Trump National, leaving what was left of the hundred-plus holiday pack to consider alternate training methods.

Mark Alvarado jumped hard just after Trump, taking a handful with him. Chain locked onto his big ring, he shot up the first ramp of the Switchbacks, then accelerated all the way to the first turn. I don’t know how many were left; stuck on his wheel I could only count three or four shadows behind me.

We soft pedaled to the second turn and Mark went again after the bend. I took a pull and swung over after the third turn. Jake Sorosky plowed forward. A few kernels in the pan popped, Mark among them, as I gathered what little I had left to hold Jake’s crazy, wobbling, swerving, back-and-forth, uneven wheel.

After the fourth turn, a solid two-thirds of the way up, I stood up and shed Jake, spinning hard, pinned. Then I heard a whining wheel, the sound of accelerating rubber.

It was Craig. He passed me slowly, giving me a half-second to get on. Then he looked back.

It was brief.

It was grim.

It was the old Craig, with vengeance. He kicked so hard I couldn’t have followed without a motorized assist. Then he vanished, vapor, spinning that soft taffy without stress or strain.

I blew and swirled down the drainpipe. There was no other detritus to swirl with.

If you can pin bike blow, I pinned the smear and held it all the way to the top. Steven Ruiz made a come-around attempt, but I fended him off, somehow.

At the summit I only had one breath left. “Good to see you back, Craig.”

He smiled, gently. “Nice job, buddy. It’s been a while.”

Clawing turkeys

November 23, 2012 § 10 Comments

Iron Mike and I knew it was going to be bad, and not just because we made our first pre-ride pee stop at the elegant planter and walkway entrance in front of the Police Department.

“Can we piss here?” I asked, incredulously.

“Sure. Do it all the time.”

“What about the cops?”

“You see any cops?”

“I see a big entrance to the police department that we’re standing in front of.”

“I asked if you see any cops,” he said, casually uncoiling the hose and helping spruce up the vegetation.

I had to admit I didn’t see any, so I followed suit.

We’d gotten to the start of the Holiday Ride early. It was chilly but the sun had already burned off the mist. It was going to be a perfect day. Every idiot in the South Bay with a bike would be there. Rather than start with the foaming crowd we kept pedaling. After about ten minutes they caught us on Vista del Mar. Rather, they rolled over us like a tsunami.

Did you say THREE HUNDRED?

Remember, this is an unorganized, unsponsored, casual ride that has been happening for years on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Memorial Day, July the Fourth, and Labor Day. But whatever the critical mass was, it somehow got reached. Well over three hundred turkeys strutted out of the woodwork to test their legs in the race up Mandeville Canyon.

And a test it would be. Stathis Sakellariadis, Tony Manzella, Rahsaan Bahati, Diego Binatena, Dan Cobley, Greg Leibert, Cory Williams, Kristabel Doebel-Hickock, and a slew of Helen’s strongmen were all there spoiling for a fight.

Which was fine and as it should be.

What was not fine, and what was not as it should have been, was the outright war for position that began the moment the swollen cancer left Manhattan Beach. Going down Mt. Chevron, some idiots braked for the reflector dots and took their feet out of the clips. The idiots following too closely and watching something other than what was in front hit and went down.

No one cared, apparently because this was a race to the death.

I’m not easily frightened

Well, actually, I am. I’m a cowardly, fearful, trembling wussmaster when it comes to crashing, pain, danger, or getting hurt. And the second we were overtaken by the cancer, my terror level went through the roof.

People who don’t race, who have never raced, who have no intention of racing, and who wouldn’t know how to pin a number on a mannequin were fighting for position like pros approaching the Tranche d’Fuckenberg. Tiny little space between two bikes? The Turkey Pros shot through.

Both lanes filled, curb to center lane? A Turkey Pro would jump the yellow dots, sprint into oncoming traffic, advance ten positions, and dive back in.

Can’t move up by riding in the wrong lane? Watch the Turkey Pros hop the right-hand curb and race up the sidewalk. That nice lady pushing a pram with twins will understand later how important it was for them to be properly positioned, even though she’s drizzling terror pee now.

Only a couple of people figured out the solution, one being Miles Irish. Miles bulled to the very front and kept the gas on all the way to San Vicente while Turkey Pros crashed and burned behind him. Downside? The plumes of smoke coming out of his ears once the road tilted up. Upside? He never planned on winning on Mandeville anyway.

Towards the front, but never on it

The main ploy behind the Turkey Pros was to hop, squeeze, slide, and push their way towards the front, but to never actually get into the wind. It’s a clever tactic worthy of a protected Euro pro in a big race…but it’s a wanker move par excellence for the Holiday Ride.

When we hit the left turn on San Vicente, Hair looked over. “Why the serious face?” he laughed. Dude fucking always laughs, is fearless.

“I’m trying not to crash.”

Hair laughed. “Better spend that energy trying to hang on.”

And he had a point, because when we hit Mandeville Canyon, Josh Alverson opened up the throttle. Tree Perkins followed, with me glued to Tree’s wheel. I held the speed for thirty seconds or so, then swung over. Done.

As the wankoton blew by, I counted. For ten solid minutes riders passed me. I stopped counting at 298, and there were dozens who’d never even turned up Mandeville as well as dozens who had u-turned and gone back before passing me.

Unbelievable.

Meanwhile, back at the Center of the Known Universe

Long before I reached the summit a cadre of South Bay wankers including Joe, Gus, Marc, and Doug came blasting by. They had made the sensible choice not to wait for the endless stream struggling up the hill, and to ride back in a smaller, safer group.

For some reason, however, the closer they got to CotKU, the more ridiculous things got. Dudes who hadn’t been in the same zip code for Mandeville honors were now gunning it, devil-take-the-hindmost, to be first in line for coffee.

The only thing that got in the way of their fun was a Cadillac Escalade, and although they hit it full tilt, the 4,000-pound vehicle amazingly didn’t crumple from the impact of the flesh-and-bone-wrapped-around-some-plastic-tubes.

It did lose a tail light, whereas Carey D.’s entire frame broke. Doug busted a brake, and Marc got an ouchy on his saddle bag.

Back at CotKU they compared notes, trying to understand why their forceful bodies hadn’t been able to easily thrust aside the Escalade. No one could figure it out until King Harold, who happens to be an engineer, explained it to them.

“Mass times velocity,” he began, as the wankers’ eyes glazed over at the word “mass.”

Then he re-started. “Look here, dorks.” Everyone looked at his foot, where a doodlebug was trundling by. He lifted his foot and lowered it quickly on the hapless bug.

“You, dorks, are the bug. The Escalade is the foot. Get it?”

A light went on in the formerly befuddled and confused faces of the crash victims. “You mean…?” said one.

“That if it’s a witch…” said another.

“And it’s heavier than a duck…” said a third.

“Then we burn it?” said a fourth, as the other three nodded vigorously.

King Harold shook his head. “No, no, no,” he said. “I mean that this Holiday Ride thing we just did…”

“Yes?” they asked in a chorus.

“It’s perfect for you. Just perfect. See you on Christmas Day.”

Taking thanks

November 22, 2012 § 21 Comments

Now’s the time of year when we briefly pause from our rapacious, self-aggrandizing, endless dedication to acquiring things for ourselves and take a look around. It’s not just to see if there are thirds or fourths of turkey and dressing, or to see if we’ve left any bargain unexamined at the Target pre-Black Friday Wednesday Discount Sale on Tuesday Night.

We take a look around to give thanks.

But not me. Not today.

I ain’t thanking anybody. Been there, done that. Shouted my thanks to the skies and the Internet every year since mom told me I should be thankful, and enough’s enough. Yeah, I got a lot to be thankful for. There. Write me down as “thankful.”

Taking thanks

This year I’m going to focus on taking thanks. “What a selfish turd,” you’re thinking. Well, yes. But hear me out.

How many times during the year does someone thank you, and all you do is give them a perfunctory nod? Or say, “Sure, dude.” Or worst of all, say “No, thank YOU,” effectively tossing their gratitude back in their face like a smelly dishrag.

Fact is, I’ve been getting thanked all year for all kinds of shit, some of it trivial beyond belief, some of it not so trivial. But so what if it’s a big deal or a little deal? The DEAL is that whatever I did meant enough to someone for them to stop, take a breath, and utter the magic words. People almost never say that gratuitously, except, of course, on Thanksgiving.

So why didn’t I take each and every one of those thanks in the spirit it was offered? Why’m I waiting until the Day of the Great Overconsumption of Bad Food and Hard Liquor while Driving Gas-Guzzling Cars to Overpriced Discount Sales for Shit We Don’t Really Want or Need to think seriously about all of my good fortune in 2012?

Why?

Because I’m a sheep who does what he’s told.

Not this year, though. This year I’m taking thanks. More specifically, I’m taking thanks related to cycling. I can’t take them all; there’ve been too many. But I’m going to take a handful of those thanks and give them what they deserve in the same spirit they were offered: With humility and appreciation.

Okay, the humility is a work in progress. But the biggest drunkathon begins with a single shot, right?

You’re welcome, wankers

Several people have thanked me this year for blogging. You’re welcome, wankers. It’s a selfish endeavor, as I love to do it. But you know what makes me do it? You, the four or five people who occasionally read what I write and who chuckle or snarl or roll your eyes or even choke up a little. You took a minute out of your life to read, and another minute to say thanks. You’re not just welcome, you’re more welcome than you’ll ever know.

An NPR wanker thanked me earlier this year for yelling at him, and for following it up with a terse explanation of what “If you’re second wheel, pull the hell through, dammit!” means, and why.

You’re welcome for the tongue lashing, wanker. Unlike 99.9% of the rest of humanity, you didn’t take personal offense at the public beatdown (which you would have been justified in doing), you didn’t call me an ass and tell me to shut up (appropriate responses, both), and you didn’t go home and pout (lame, but what so many grown up people usually do).

Instead, you reached out on FB to find out what it was I was all upset about. Wanker, your maturity and calm and decency made me feel like a tool, and made me grateful that you’d accepted my idiosyncratic hollering for what it is: All bark, no bite, and a sincere desire to keep the sharp end of the stick safe and fast. You gave me a lesson while taking a lesson, and you thanked me in the process. You’re welcome, wanker, in the most profound way I know how to say it.

An NPR wanker thanked me last week for giving her a couple of pushes up Pershing, pushes that allowed her to hang onto the foaming, stampeding herd of idiots.

You’re welcome, wanker. You’re welcome because I never used to push anybody, ever. When I saw people coming apart at the seams I’d always shrug and say, “Welcome to hell, wanker,” as they spiraled off the back in defeat and despair.

But you know what? Suze Sonye started giving me little boosts on the Donut after hard efforts, and Rahsaan started giving me power shoves on the NPR when I was unraveling, and Greg Leibert did, too, and so did Harold Martinez. I never thanked any of them, wanker, but I remember each one of those pushes, where they happened, and how I felt.

I never thanked them, wanker, but I got the message: Don’t be too fucking proud and tough to lend a hand. So instead of thanking them, wanker, I reached out and pushed YOU. Granted, these spindly little arms don’t push like a Harold Martinez or a Dave Jaeger or a Rahsaan or a Suze, but sometimes that little push is the difference between on the back and OTB.

So, wanker, you’re welcome for those pushes, as long as you understand they came to you in a roundabout way from Suze, and although I can’t take credit for them, I can sure say “You’re welcome.”

Finally, a couple of South Bay wankers thanked me for some socks I sent their way. “Thanks for the socks, WM!” they said. “These are rad!”

You’re welcome, wankers.

But did you know that I’ve been stuck in the cave on and off this year? And did you know that when things were looking pretty black, you were saying something silly, or stomping on my dick, or pretending to listen to me blabber, or slurping lard with me at The Habit, or sending me a happy text with some goofy emoticon, or just sending out vibes of love through the ether, vibes that I somehow fricking received?

Did you know that thanks to you, wankers, there’ve been days where I’ve been able to wrap my fists pretty tightly around the edges and hold on like a never-say-die bastard?

And did you know that the reason I ever got those socks in the first place is because a wanker from Bakersfield came down to visit one Saturday and passed them on to me out of nothing but friendship? That in addition to a lot of road scum, dirty toenail grime, and a slightly gamey smell even after four washes and a bucket of bleach, there’s a circle of love in those pink garish unicorns?

From my vantage point, those socks were a pretty small symbol of appreciation for what you’ve done for me.

So you’re welcome, wankers, all of you.

And all that those words imply.

Are you missing your banana?

November 21, 2012 § 20 Comments

On the way back from the NPR yesterday, just past the stoplight at Mt. Chevron, I saw a big yellow banana sitting in the middle of the road. “Is Dan Cobley missing his banana?” I wondered.

It seemed wasteful to leave it there, but it seemed dirty to pick up a banana from the middle of the roadway and eat it. I swung over and stopped and watched as a car made straight for the banana.

Missed it.

I turned around and headed back as the second car roared towards the bright yellow marker. “What could be easier and more fun than squishing a banana in your car?” I wondered. “Especially while it’s being hungrily eyed by a cyclist?”

Missed it.

I reached down and tucked it in my jersey, or tried to. No wonder it had fallen out. It was a solid 150-grammer, long and bulky and a poor fit for Dan’s jersey pocket, or anyone’s.

The beneficial necessity of riding alone on the New Pier Ride

Great things can happen when you’re alone. Just that morning I’d had the opportunity to stop on Pershing and take a long, leisurely piss while the planes took off overhead. I’d gotten to wave and say hello to Francisco and Hugo. I’d found a fresh, lightly bruised banana. While everyone had been rushing to get to the bricks, I’d been slowly pedaling back.

Lately it’s been necessary to drop off the back after the NPR sprunt and get back as best I can. When you give it everything in repeated efforts, there’s nothing left for the brisk, post-ride pace back to the Center of the Known Universe that’s set, then anted up, then raised, then called, then raised again by all of the wankers who couldn’t seem to find their way to the front during the NPR proper.

Why are they so fresh? Did we do the same ride? Am I that much weaker? [Ed. Note: They sucked wheel for four laps; Yes; Yes.]

Being by myself, or slowly riding with one or two other people is just fine. One thing you realize when you go from in the group to off the back is that time slows down. That’s because each millisecond isn’t divided up into segments known as “avoid crashing,” and “accelerate,” and “follow wheels,” and “pull through,” and “gasp.”

The disadvantageous necessity of riding home alone at night

Whatever reflection and clarity may occur during those OTB post-NPR pedaling sessions, nothing much like that happens coming home in the pitch black after work.

It’s less than 48 hours away from the most important holiday in America and the celebration of pure, unadulterated joy that our nation knows, that brief time when we put down our work, set aside the things that occupy our bodies and minds, and give deep, reverent thanks as we sit out on the cold pavement at midnight in long lines with angry strangers awaiting the sale of discounted gadgets at Target.

Riding home alone at night in this pre-Black Friday blackness, when drivers are in black moods trying to reconcile their desire for gadgetry with their groaning revolving card balances, when drivers are angrily cutting and chopping and speeding their way through molasses that won’t let them cut, chop, or speed, when drivers are feeling the relief of the Black Friday Holiday being compressed and tortured by the stresses and strains of knowing they’ll spend too much money, eat too much bad food, and drink too much, amidst all of this Black Friday blackness, it’s a dicey time to be a frail reed of skin and bone wrapped around a few sticks of carbon, stuck to the road on a few millimeters of rubber, and noticed by the world if at all only by virtue of a red blinky on the back and a bright but narrow headlamp on the front.

This never happens

Somehow I made it down and up the Malaga Cove Climb, up the Lunada Bay alley, up the Oceanfront Estates bump, and up the Hawthorne grind to Highridge. My legs were dead and my spirit was dead. The heaviness of my brother’s death just gets worse, it seems.

Tucked safely in the bike lane I approached the driveway of the apartment complex on the right. A stream of cars passed me, each giving me a wide berth. Then, what often happens, happened. A sporty car made a hard right in front of my wheel, chopping me harder than a Brad House “hello” and zipping into the driveway.

My black mood erupted into fury. I sprunted up to the next opening in the hedge, hopped up on the sidewalk, and dropped down into the parking lot just as the sporty car disappeared behind the closing security gate.

I bombed down the ramp and entered the secure garage just as the sporty car pulled into its spot. The driver was a fat, tired woman in her late 40’s who looked like she’d been placed in the cockpit with a shoehorn. She looked up and saw me. Her face showed shock, then fear, then anger, then shrewd manipulation.

She half-cracked the window. I knew she had one hand on her phone, ready to dial 911. I had stopped a good seven or eight feet from her car and had one leg over the top tube, making no move to dismount or approach her. I was livid.

What happened next was a first.

“What?” she snapped.

I opened my mouth, and the torrent of abuse and foul language and rage melted. What came out was a polite, almost ingratiating question. “You didn’t have to do that, did you?”

“Do what?” she re-snapped.

“Cut me off.” I was listening to myself in shock. I never talk to people like that.

“I didn’t cut you off.”

“Yes, you did. You missed my front wheel by about six inches.”

“I did?” Of course she’d seen me and made the whole calculated decision in a split second: Chop the guy on the bike so I can rush down and park. You never know when your reserved parking space is going to run away.

“Yes. I mean, I’ve got a bright tail light, a head light, I’m doing everything I can to be visible and ride safely.”

The nastiness of her day and stress of her Black Friday abated. I was just some skinny dude trying to ride his bike safely for her. I wasn’t even angry.

“I’m really sorry,” she said.

“It’s okay.” Then I smiled. I never smile. I turned to leave, but the security gate was shut. “Could you hit the button?” I asked.

“Sure.” The gate opened.

I left and I wasn’t even mad. I was alive.

Like I said, this never happens. It must have been Dan’s lucky banana.

Diet misery Q&A

November 18, 2012 § 42 Comments

I’ve been getting lots of questions about the New De-improved Wankmeister Diet. Answers below.

Q: Why are you doing this? Is it a test or a goal?
A:  I don’t know. Yes. Or no.

Q: What is the scientific basis for your approach?
A: Physics. Output > Input results in weight loss.

Q: Duh. I mean the health aspects. What scientific health principles have you based this on?
A: There are none. Except for my friends telling me I’m crazy.

Q: How much do you weigh right now?
A: This very moment? 151 lbs/68.492 kg

Q: How tall are you?
A: 72 1/8″, 183.2 cm

Q: What is your weight goal?
A: 145 lbs/65.770 kg

Q: That’s insane, isn’t it?
A: Perhaps. Today’s post-ride weigh in was 146.5 lbs, but that was mostly dehydration as I’d forgotten to take a water bottle and the ride lasted over five hours.

Q: You really are weird, aren’t you? And stupid?
A: Apparently.

Q: You earlier claimed to be doing this on coffee, starvation, and willpower. I call bullshit. You’re not still claiming that, are you?
A: The first phase was pretty much that, going down from the 168-170 range to the mid-150’s. Now I’ve devolved into more careful planning.

Q: Why?
A: The first 10-15 pounds were horrible, but easy, as they involved cutting out the obvious stuff. There is no more obvious stuff. And not much stuff either, for that matter.

Q: What “obvious” stuff?
A: Coffee went from heavy cream to whole milk to 2% to nonfat to black.

Q: Sugar. What about sugar?
A: Not a sugar-in-my-coffee kind of guy.

Q: What other “obvious” stuff?
A: Third and fourth helpings. Massive greasy gut-bomb dinners like Mrs. WM’s Famous Fried Chicken Strips, Mrs. WM’s Lazy Tonight Frozen Gyoza, Mrs. WM’s Gutbomb Chicken Curry and Rice by the Kg, Mrs. WM’s Extra Oily Salad Dressing Ladled on with a Shovel, Mrs. WM’s Heavenlicious Meat Sauce Made with Pure Yummy Fat Calories, and of course Mrs. WM’s Honey I Bought a New Prius-load of Hag Bars and Ghana Chocolate How Many Dozen Would You Like to Eat Right this Minute?

Q: Blaming it all on Mrs. WM, eh?
A: No. Taking charge of my meals. There’s a difference. And that stuff was pretty obvious. You asked about obvious, remember?

Q: Okay, okay. So what did you replace all that with?
A: Gnawing hunger.

Q: I mean food.
A: I started eating breakfast. Daily. To be more accurate, I’ve become so hungry that I will kill anyone who tries to prevent me from eating breakfast. I wake up three or four times a night now to see if it’s time to get up and eat breakfast.

Q: So in addition to destroying your health from a nutrition vector, you’ve wrecked it from a sleep/recovery angle as well?
A: Yes. However, I awake each morning at 4:30 AM so alert, hungry, keen, and poised to attack the day that, paradoxically, I have more power and mental energy than I’ve ever had in my life.

Q: Now we’re talking. So it’s translating into power on the bike?
A: No. I’ve lost speed, power, endurance, and acceleration.

Q: WTF?
A: But I’ve gained incredible recovery and lightness on the bike. I recover instantaneously. No matter how long the grade my legs feel light and they turn over the pedals effortlessly.

Q: So what if you’re dropped and going at a snail’s pace?
A: This isn’t a Bike Racing Improvement Diet. I’ve sucked at bike racing for thirty years. That won’t change with a different calorie allocation.

Q: Now that you’ve cut out the lard sandwiches, what do you eat?
A: Before I figure out what I’m going to eat, I figure out what I’m going to burn.

Q: Huh?
A: Lots of diets focus on intake, which is necessary. But they don’t also focus on consumption, especially consumption that swings wildly from day to day. On the NPR I burn 1,500-1,800 calories in the morning, and another 500-800 on the commute home at night. Tack that onto my basic caloric consumption of 1,585 calories and you have a potential 4,000+ day. Contrast that with Friday, when I don’t ride at all and spend two hours max in the gym, using at most 500-700 calories. Without a crystal clear picture the night before of what my burn is going to be, I can’t make a food plan for the following day.

Q: Oh, my Dog. You’ve gone off the deep end.
A: Really?

Q: Absolutely. What you’re saying is you not only count calories, but you micromanage them daily. I’m assuming that means meal by meal?
A: Yes.

Q: Sounds like you’ve taken all the fun out of life.
A: Not all of it. Just most of it. Especially when “fun” means gorging, regretting, and hurting like a dog while riding.

Q: Okay. So the positives are waking up four times nightly, getting up for breakfast at 4:30 AM, and having to memorize calories per gram for every food item in the pantry. What are the down sides?
A: Mood swings. Or rather mood swing.

Q: What’s that?
A: I now live in two states. The state of eating and the state of hunger.

Q: How’s your sex drive?
A: It drove away.

Q: I suppose that’s another “positive?”
A: You’ll have to consult with Mrs. WM on that.

Q: Do you expect to live like this the rest of your life?
A: No. Once I reach my target weight, if I reach it, I’m going to try to maintain it for an entire racing season and see if it’s as horrible and unendurable after a few months as it has been so far.

Q: Why should it change?
A: Because each time I plateau, I adjust and frankly don’t feel so hungry. It’s the constant bumping down to new levels that triggers the starvation response and the desire to eat my fork.

Q: Any concerns about proper nutrition? Losing your hair? Rickets? Pellagra? That kind of thing?
A: None. Breakfast is oatmeal (40g small day, 80g big day) sweetened with 40g of raisins, followed by zero-fat yogurt (100g small day, 200g big day), 84g raspberries, 90g blackberries, sometimes 50-90g banana (big day), and 40g trail mix (extra big day). There’s tons of nutrition in a breakfast like that. Plus a pot of searingly strong coffee.

Q: Lunch?
A: Used to be PB sandwich with coffee and cream. Now it varies depending on the day. Small day is half a block of tofu, one egg, teaspoon of soy sauce, and a large Fuji apple. Big day is whole block of tofu, two eggs, tbsp of soy sauce, can of tuna, 2 tbsp of salsa, apple and banana. Afternoon snack is 40g of trail mix and/or a banana.

Q: Dinner?
A: It varies. I try to incorporate Mrs. WM’s healthier leftovers into my own regimen. Beans. Edamame. Tofu. Boiled egg. Smattering of spaghetti flavored with some garlic and dried tomatoes and red pepper. Cut the oil.

Q: Any WM diet tips?
A: Sure. You can make a great dressing with one part balsamic vinegar to one part dijon mustard. No oil required.

Q: Any tips on dealing with the hunger?
A: Eat the high volume, low cal stuff first because it’s filling. Take the time to dice vegetables as thinly as you can. It brings out the flavor, takes longer to eat, and is more filling. A salad with 150g carrots, 150g cucumbers, 150g celery, 150g onion, 150g cherry tomatoes, and lettuce with the aforementioned dressing will feel like you’ve eaten an entire sandbag.

Q: Sandbags, huh? Sounds appetizing.
A: You want Chef Boyardee? That’s a different aisle.

Q: Now let’s talk reality. Dessert. Sweets. No Hag bar, Ghana scarfing dude gives up dessert? Really? How do you sate the sweet tooth?
A: Zero-percent Fage Greek style plain yogurt. It has the consistency of Hag, and tastes great once you get used to it.

Q: That’s what they say about anti-freeze, you know.
A: Hmmm. Mix in berries and/or thinly sliced banana. It’s pretty darned good.

Q: That’s it? Not buying it.
A: Well…

Q: Go ahead. Spit it out.
A: Every now and again…

Q: Yes?
A: You can add…

Q: Uh-huh?
A: A little tiny dollop of..

Q: Yeessss?
A: Hag vanilla. Or chocolate.

Q: Thought so. You fucking diet cheaters are all alike.
A: Yes, we are.

Q: Any plans to market this as the South Bay Wanker Diet?
A: No.

Q: Why not? It seems tailored to crazies, and the South Bay is filled with nothing if not that.
A: This isn’t a “program.” It’s an illness. If you want serious, long-term weight loss, go with a proven program. ViSalus seems to work for a lot of people.

Q: But not Wankmeister?
A: I don’t like being told what to do. And I like to dice my own vegetables.

Q: Ooookay. Any chance you’ll share the actual daily food plan details with us?
A: Sure. I can post them in the comments if you’re really interested. But it’s boring stuff.

Q: Any last advice?
A: Whether I stick with this or fail tomorrow, I’ve learned how to evaluate food. How many calories per gram? That’s so important and we just don’t learn it in the normal course of things. You can immediately see the difference between a carrot at .41 cal/g versus spaghetti, at 3.57 cal/g, and you can choose to increase the one and decrease the other. It’s huge, and once you start thinking this way, you understand why the food industry is so hell bent on obfuscating these values and making them hard to use.

Q: Soapbox alert…
A: Yeah. It’s extraordinary that menus actually have this info now, but it still takes practice and a calculator to figure it out. After a few weeks, though, you can start to eyeball. It’s great. It’s empowering.

Q: Empowering? So you think it’s eventually going to translate to watts?
A: Once I get to 145, assuming it’s not immediately followed by a graveside service, I’m going to try to build power at that new weight. Maybe it’s impossible, maybe not. But it’s going to be fun trying.

Q: That’s the first time you’ve used the word “fun” to describe any of this.
A: Well…it is fun…for me.

Q: I thought you said it was miserable.
A: No emotion exists in a vacuum, dude. Any way, gotta go.

Q: Dinner?
A: How’d you guess?

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