November 20, 2013 § 10 Comments
How the hell did they pick me to drive? Oh, yeah — I was from California, so I must be an expert driver, so they convinced me to rent the car at the airport. The airport gave these Irish drunks fits, because it wasn’t in Brussels but in some ‘suburb’ called Zaventem. Compared to any city in California, Brussels was was a fairly small city, almost a sprout. It only had million people. But the Paddies stared out the window like a Jayhawk farmer on his first trip to New York City. I turned on the wipers because, yeah, it was raining. DidI even need to add that? I fuggin said I was in Belgium.
It was March 12 and still winter, the northern Euro winter that ends sometime in August for a week or two. “What the fuck am I doing her?” I wondered.
One thing these Irish lads were good for was the money. They paid their share of the car rental and gas, and then some. Insurance? These were bike racers.
I pushed the envelope and rented an Audi 400. It was six years old, and easily big enough for four men who were used to cramming themselves into the crevices of econoboxes. The Audi cost $16 a day instead of $11 for the VW Golf, but we were living large.
Seamus had a decrepit PreAlpina rack, and we shipped it as baggage, tied together with four bungees. Ot came rolling down the luggage belt at Zaventem, and from the stares and glares, we might as well have been bringing in an elephant. The bikes came next, in cordura nylon cases, and shit howdy, they looked Euro-fesh.
The Paddies checked out the bikes, put on the pedals, seats and bars while I went off to the car rental counter, speaking English to a girl who countered in Flemish. Flemish was hard to understand, unless you were fluent gargling marbles. Fortunately, with a couple of pound notes as a bribe, I was whisked off to the Audi. I drove it around to the curb and Seamus whipped out a spanner and put the rack on. I could actually see the paint chip from the roof rails as he defaced it. I was about to say something, but I got ahold of myself … another day maybe … not.
The bikes were not damaged. They went up top, along with a spare pair of wheels and the tool box. It was fucking cold outside, at least 20 degrees colder than when we left Dublin, and it was starting to rain harder. Belgium in March is about as pleasant as Belgium in September, October, November, December, January, February, April, and June, which is to say it’s a wet, frozen shithole. Oh, and it’s great for bike racing, but only if you actually know how to race your bike.
Our destination was a little town called Tienen, but all the towns in Belgium are little, and cold, and wet, and cobbled, and this was where the race started the following day at noon. Tommy said that if I was going to get a ‘big’ car, I should have hired a Mercedes, and that the Audi was a ‘girl’s car.’ I told him to bugger off. After six months, I already knew how to speak English, if that’s what they speak in Ireland.
I had no qualms about driving a girl’s car, of course. When I was just out of college, I had a 1979 Peugeot 504 finished in a color the French charitably called “Hibiscus Pearl,” even though it was actually a dirty shade of white. This was a pure girl’s car, verified every time some guy in a pickup would pull up next to me and stare inside, hoping to see some hot North County chick coming home from the gym. Instead, he got me, which taught him a crucial lesson: if you want to ogle women in cars, stick to the Fiats.
But most bike racers didn’t mind driving a girl’s car, or getting ferried in a girl’s car. Some riders, mainly like Boyer, wanted their cars to be manly and tough, so they bought a pickup or had their rich girlfriend drive them around in a Mercedes. I liked the guys who went to races in a pickup, jacked up so high off the ground that no one under six feet could get inside the cab, because nothing said “manly” like cruising to the bike race in tight wool shorts and a 4-wheel drive mudder.
We got to the hotel, which was really a cave with a roof. For Seamus and Tommy the mere thought of a night away from home was like heaven to them. They had no idea how to travel. The room was on the third floor, we walked up the stairs, and the beds were maybe six feet long, so I opted for the floor and left the other three to fight over which two got the “beds.” I was asleep by ten, and they were still bickering.
At 9:00 AM I could only think “Holy mother of god, I am hungover and haven’t had anything to drink in a month.” I went downstairs and out the door, relishing the quiet and the fresh air, then walked over to a little café and asked for breakfast. One thing you needed to know is that they didn’t eat waffles in Belgium for breakfast. They ate cheese, that stinky white soft cheese that masquerades as Brie, but is really from an unknown animal of unknown origin.
I also got some coarse wheat bread, honey, and jam. I ate everything I could and washed it down with coffee, a universal beverage that all countries have in some fashion or another. After I tipped the waiter, he looked at me as if I was an idiot who didn’t know how to count. “That’s the tip, asshole,” I wanted to say, but I didn’t.
I went home to the wretched room and arrived to find the others feasting on breakfast with bread and crackers and sausage and all sorts of vile shit spread all over the room and spilled upon the floor. Obviously, they had brought food with them, because, of course, they were poverty stricken bike racers. It smelled so bad in there, like four bike racers and four bikes had spent a night in a room designed for one clean person.
Dressed, we rolled out at 11:30, signed in, and warmed up. I was back at the start after finishing one of three 45 km laps, already shelled two minutes into the race. I stopped and was greeted with what John Muir would have called “The Enormity of Silence.” They just couldn’t fathom why I was there and not back in my luxurious hotel if I had been so badly dropped. I reached over onto the table where the organizers had a microphone, and grabbed a pastry and a cup of coffee. I rode off. I figured that if I had to be miserable for three more hours, at least I was going to enjoy a cup of coffee and a sugar bomb. They said nothing and looked at me like I was from Mars.
We had more road races Saturday and Sunday, and you can fill in the blanks. The rest of the trip was miserable, cold, wet, and I got punched out the back about a third of the way into every race. They went fast there, and it was really hard to sit in when it was 40 degrees and sleeting.
No one else was anything more than pack filler. But we were rollin’ it, baby, and nobody quit, at least until we finally gave up.
– By Dean Patterson, more or less –
November 16, 2013 § 8 Comments
In a month and a half we’ll begin our third season of the SPY bicycling team. Lots of people wonder what it’s like to be an old creaky fellow with a leaky prostate and bad vision while riding for the premier old fellows racing team in California and therefore the galaxy. I’d sum it up like this:
Riding for SPY is fun.
In the first two years we saw that there were other teams with better racers. We’ve never had the fastest racers on our squad, but despite that our 45+ team was the winningest one in SoCal, our cyclocross masters teams are hands down the best, and our 35+ team, P/1/2 team and development riders mean that each year more and more people want to ride with us. Add into the mix that our women’s team, led by Jessica Cerra, is already primed to have a super year, and I think the reasons that people want to join the SPY cavalcade are simple : Swag and fun.
When you’re an old fellow, if you have any perspective at all, you realize that if your hobby is best measured in wins and losses, it’s probably no longer a hobby and has become what the rest of the world calls a “job.” You realize that as much as you’d like to win, even more than that you’d like to compete — and win — with people you actually like, doing things you actually enjoy, decked out in swag that makes you feel like you’re winning even when you place 78th.
SPY’s ethos is best described as having a happy disrespect for the usual way of looking at life. Put another way, “Beware of the usual!”
Living up to our mandate
We’re not told to go forth and win races, although we’re given plenty of leadership and racing and training opportunities to do so. What we are told is that once we put on the kit, we’re ambassadors for a brand. Not sales staff, or preachers, group thinkniks, but ambassadors, people who are here to deliver a message.
What message? This message.
1. Ride the front as much as you can on group rides, wherever you may train. Be a leader. Why? Because the usual way of doing things is to hide in the pack and show your face, if at all, at the coffee shop. The usual way of doing things is to use the work of others in order to benefit yourself. The unusual and irreverent way of doing things is to put your share of work into the group effort, and maybe even a little bit more than your share. If you’re too afraid of getting dropped or of not making the split, bite the bullet and … go to the front.
2. Take care of one another, and take care of others. The usual way of doing things is to only stop when you’re the one with the mechanical. This is your Sunday ride, right? You’ve waited all week for this, right? So if someone has a flat, well, that’s bike racing. The unusual and irreverent way of doing things is to recognize that there will be another Tuesday morning ride, and it’s probably not gonna kill you to help out a fellow cyclist. You’ll make a friend, you’ll energize the person you help to pass on the good karma, and you’ll go from being “all about me” to “serving others.”
3. Represent SPY and its team sponsors in the same way that you’d want them to represent YOU. Success doesn’t mean a podium in an old fellows criterium. Success is the sum of a life predicated on our collective good deeds, leadership, and the vicious clubbing of baby seals (to whom we apologize in advance and posthumously).
4. As a bike racer, or more accurately, as an elderly fellow drowning in a delusional vat of swag and beer and navel gazing, when you race your victory isn’t what matter. What matters are your actions and how they affect your team. What matters is whether you were ready to toil in anonymity and lay it all out there for the sake of a teammate.
5. Make people HAPPY. Collective groupings of old people racing bicycles isn’t a formula for happiness. Smiling and spreading positive energy is. So go forth and happify. Now.
From the touchy-feely to the hard facts
You probably expect me to praise SPY for all the usual reasons, but what are those “usual” reasons? And aren’t we supposed to beware of the usual? Rather, my affinity for the company, begun through personal friendship and swag, has transcended those two things to reach a level of discrimination I never thought I’d reach.
Because you see, I don’t really give a rat’s ass about bike products. Of course I love nice stuff when I can get it, but I’m not now and have never been a “bike guy.” I have one road bike and one ‘cross bike. One extra wheelset for the ‘cross bike. My road hoops are the same ones I train on and race on. For me, it’s always been about being lucky enough to cycle and to be part of a cycling community. The bike and the clothes and the parts are icing on the cake.
Of course, there’s one exception to that, and it’s the unusual exception of my eyes. I began wearing glasses at age 13, bout six or seven years after I first really needed them. My vision was so bad that I could only see movies from the front row. I’m still convinced that much of my early problems in school stemmed from an inability to see the chalkboard.
Having terrible vision has affected me throughout my life. I never learned to surf above kook level despite decades of trying. Why? Because I’m horribly uncoordinated and weak. But being unable to see the wave until it was breaking on my head didn’t help. Ball sports were always impossible, and even though I could see on a bike, my eyes were constantly irritated from the wind that incessantly screamed around the edges of my Laurent Fignon frames. Wearing superb prescription eyewear from SPY enabled me to win the Tour in 2011 and was directly responsible for the winning Powerball ticket that I bought down at the corner 7-11.
In actuality, my vision transformation on the bike thanks to SPY wasn’t accidental or the result of lottery-like luck. This eyewear is authentically bound to technical performance. The prescription glasses work in an incredibly demanding range of light and weather situations, including getting bounced on my head at 40 mph and remaining intact (the glasses, not the head).
This authenticity is so much more than, “The glasses work, dude.” It’s part of the background of the product, where and why it came into being, and what drives its evolution and subsequent iterations. Plus, SPY has never sponsored Lance.
The combination of “ride at the front” and “this shit works” forms the core of the proposition when you’re thinking about buying glasses. Do you want a product made by non-cyclists for cyclists and owned by a giant Italian conglomerate that also handles leather handbags, or do you want a product that’s made by cyclists who have to live with the shit they create, and who have to answer to the product’s utility in their own races and group rides?
Putting glasses on your nose … who knew it was so complicated? Well, it is, because when you wear SPY you’re choosing between Italian luxuory monolith or a variation on ZZ Topp: “That Little Old Performance Eyewear Company from Carlsbad.” Do things like happiness, irreverence, riding at the front, helping those who need it, and buying locally make a difference to you? If they do, maybe there’s something in this story for you.
The pros who ride SPY gear are chosen in order to transcend their stereotypes as “jocks” and tap into a multicultural lifestyle based on a love of outdoors activities. Us grizzled old dudes with leaky prostates believe in that transcendence, too.
November 8, 2013 § 41 Comments
Dear Southern California/Nevada Cycling Association:
Thank you for making Ontario the site of the 2014 masters state criterium championships. I know you had a chance to also designate the 805 Crit in Santa Barbara County, but that course blows.
Ontario is the crit course that masters love best and you guys “get it.” For starters, Ontario is biker heaven. Some folks call it a shit hole covered in puke, but they are just jealous. Four-turn biz park courses with huge turns that are big enough to pilot a small naval warship through are the true test of crit skills. Whiny bitches say “it’s too easy for a championship” and “it’s not a crit, it’s a yawnfest,” but who cares what they say?
Real crit racers know that the best test of crit skills is a course so stupidly easy that you can sail through the turns with your eyes closed. You guys get that. Respect.
Also, the 805 Crit is put on by Mike Hecker and fuck that dude. In 2013 his race was a total joke. It only had 10k in prize money and the races were so fuggin hard that no one could do more than one race. Who wants a hard race? Bike racing is for showboating and not cracking a sweat. If you have to bleed sperm out of your eyeballs in order to win, what’s the point?
Also, that Hecker Wanker dude fugged the pooch because he put his races in downtown Lompoc/Buellton. The Ontario race is in a cool office park where you can look at really awesome square buildings filled with angry managers who fondle their secretaries and then get sued. That’s America, and SCNCA gets it!
Plus, Hecker Wanker got a fuggin beer company to put up beer tents. That really sucked. When I sit outside all day to watch idiots race their bikes in blindingly hot weather, I want to drink a glass of toasty warm mik. Cold beer by Firestone Brewery is so lame. At Ontario you can also top off your day by driving home on the 10. That rocks, whereas in Santa Barbara you have to fuggin stay overnight and then take your old lady to some froo-froo winery. Fugg that shit.
The other thing that sucks about Hecker Wanker’s races is that people actually enjoy them. Bike racing is about making people miserable, and Ontario’s crit course is the most miserable place west of the Mississippi, except for Lubbock. More mad respect. I hope they triple the entry fees because if it’s not a complete rip-off then it’s not worth doing.
But best of all, by putting masters states at Ontario you telegraph that guys like Hecker Wanker don’t matter. Who gives a rat’s ass if he’s promoting the sport in far-flung communities by putting the race down-fucking-town, in areas where SoCal racing is usually absent? Fugg that dude for being so ballsy. He needs to get in line and wait his fuggin turn. I propose taking a serious look at the 805 Crit in 2052. Seriously.
Finally, and I know that you guys get this, the worst place to ever put a big race is in the middle of a downtown. If you do that, ordinary people learn about bike racing, and as USA Cycling always says, FUGG THAT! Bike racing is for fancy rich awesome middle-aged douchefarts, not for regular people. If you put races in small town downtowns, then small town kids will get interested in racing bikes. FUGG THAT! Bike racing is for old people, for sure.
Anyway, good job, SCNCA. Keep putting our marquee races in Ontario. That place is the kind of shit hole that bike racers love best. Hidden from ordinary people. Keep the control in the hands of the old boy network. Water bottle primes. You fuggin get it.
October 28, 2013 § 23 Comments
I sat in my hotel room as the warm glow of victory, or something, washed over me. I had just vanquished my foe in the longest running Facebag comment war ever. He had ignominiously ceded the field with the cowardly claim that I was a stalker, a harasser, and that he had therefore reported me to the “proper authorities.”
I couldn’t help laughing at his silly subterfuge as I savored my victory. Sure, it had lopped 27 hours off my family vacation. Sure, my wife was livid. “How come you onna Facebag alla time?”
Sure, my son who we had come to visit was disappointed that every few seconds I would blurt out “You cocksucker! Take this!” And then furiously pound the iPhone’s keyboard, cursing and spitting and rending my breast.
Sure, we got kicked out of a couple of restaurants. And three bars. And a coffee shop. But at the end of the paddle battle, only one Tweetle Beetle was the winner. Me.
The congratulatory messages poured in. “You are the best Tweetle Beetle ever.”
“You own Facebag.”
“That was such an epic paddle battle.”
“Are you off your meds?”
“We are very worried about you.”
In other words, I was really happy, until I heard the knock on my hotel door.
Two burly men in blue uniforms and badges stood there. “Yes?” I said.
“Facebag police,” said the bigger one.
“Violation of terms of service, paragraph 37, section 34(a), page 987. May we come in?”
Without waiting for an answer, they pushed by me. “What’s going on? What are you talking about?”
“You’ve been reported by a user for violating the terms of service I just cited.”
“Who’s ever read those? What did I do?”
“Don’t play stupid. You broke the rule against being mean to cyclocross race promoters from Schenectady.”
“This is a joke, right? I had no idea he was from Schenectady. I made that up!”
The nicer of the two cops sat me on the edge of the bed. “Look, we’ve read the entire thread. Just confess and we’ll put in a good word on your behalf to Mr. Zuckerberg.”
“But I didn’t do anything! He said I was a crashtacular fred and that I should take his skills classes. I called him a newt and a salamander. What’s the big deal? These little Tweetle Beetle paddle-battles happen all the time. It’s Facebag, for fugg’s sake.”
The bad cop grabbed me. “Look, asshole. That wasn’t your ordinary paddle-battle!”
“No, wise guy, it wasn’t!”
“What was it, then?”
They both shouted in unison: “It was a Tweetle Beetle paddle-battle in a muddle in a bottle!”
The room became still as death. “Oh,” I said meekly.
“See?” said the bad cop. “Shit got real enough for ya now?”
The good cop put his arm around my shoulder as I softly sobbed. “It’s okay. Just sign this confession. We’ll both tell Mark you cooperated.”
“But all I did was go over his race resume on Cycling USA and point out what a wanker he was.”
“I know,” said the good cop as he dabbed at my tears.
“And I just said that for a coach he seemed kind of thin on credentials.”
“It’s okay, pal. Sign here.”
“And he called me a fucktard and said I was whacko and called Mrs. WM a ‘mail-order bride.’”
The bad cop was reviewing the comments. “Quit trying to make yourself out as harmless. Says right here you made fun of his second place finish in a road race.”
“There were only six entries!”
“And over here you made fun of all his DNF’s.”
“But he’s a ‘cross expert. Shouldn’t he at least be able to finish?”
The nice cop looked up. “This wouldn’t have been so bad if you hadn’t involved Dr. Knoll.”
“Dr. Knoll?” asked the bad guy. “The stinky foot doctor?”
“That’s Dr. Scholl. Dr. Knoll is the shrink for cyclists. He only gets involved when it’s serious. Or when someone pays. Or when he’s really bored.”
“Look, pal,” said the bad cop. “You signing or not? We ain’t got all day.”
I sighed and took the pen. It was a short confession: “I, Wanky, do hereby admit to having made fun of a cyclocross promoter from Schenectady such that it became a Tweetle Beetle paddle-battle in a muddle in a bottle. I henceforth promise to never do this again. A second violation will result in revocation of my Facebag license and loss of all paddle-battle bottle muddle KOM’s on Strava.”
I signed, and they left. After a few minutes I checked Facebag. “Wankmeister is a douchey crashtacular fred who needs to take my skills class,” read the item in the newsfeed. The writer was a cyclocross promoter in Scranton. My pulse quickening, I opened up and began reading the terms of service.
October 11, 2013 § 12 Comments
First KK set the hour record, then Fukdude set the hour record, and suddenly everybody was “training for the hour record.” But I wasn’t, because the only thing I know about it is that Eddy considered it the hardest thing he’d ever done. When I saw Fukdude get off his bike after an entire season of starving, training, intervaling, waxing his chain, and boring out his hair follicles for extra lightness, I knew the hour record wasn’t even in my imagination, forget actually doing it.
However, there are others who dare to dream big dreams, and no one dreams bigger than Hockeystick. Caught up in the excitement of watching a drained, depleted, dazed Fukdude get peeled off his bike, Hockeystick declared that he was going after KK’s hour record, as it was in his age group. This was shocking.
KK is only vaguely human. He’s one of a handful of people who can crawl into the pain box, shut the lid, and throw away the key. He’s got the perfect mix of athleticism, discipline, ability, and work ethic to take on cycling’s biggest test. But Hockeystick? Our dear, beloved Hockeystick? He of the happy-go-lucky smile, last to a fight, first to a feast, belly up the the bar and devil take the hindmost, when the going gets tough Hockeystick gets a note from his mom, why train when you can talk about it, I don’t like road riding because the sun is bad for my complexion, THAT HOCKEYSTICK? THAT HOUR RECORD?
No fuggin’ way.
I ran across Hockeystick on the way home from a race a couple of months ago. “‘Sup, Hockeystick?”
“Training for the hour,” he said.
“You? You’re kidding.”
“Nope. Man’s gotta dream big. Have challenges. Never give in to aging..”
“Never give in to aging? Dude, you look ten years older than you are. Your gut sags lower than your pecker. You’ll never set the hour record — KK has that.”
“I’m on a program. I’ve got a coach. My way, like the song says.”
“So tell me about the plan.”
“Long miles on the weekend. Steady cadence. Defined interval work on the velodrome.”
“What about diet? You still look like you’re hung over from Christmas.”
“Anquetil was a hard partier.”
“Anquetil was a multiple winner of the Tour, classics winner, hour record holder, the greatest time trialist the world had ever seen. What does that have to do with you?”
“Ya gotta dream big to stay young.”
“Dude, you can’t stay young. Everyone gets old. And some get older than others, quicker.”
“My way, baby.”
We parted ways.
An hour record hopeful walks into a bar …
A few weeks ago I was in a bar for a party, and who should I see on the high stool but Hockeystick. “Yo, Hockeystick. What the fuck you doing here?”
“Having a little snack.”
“Snack? That’s three plates of tacos in front of you. And a pitcher of beer. How many pitchers so far?”
“Dude! What happened to the hour record?”
“Nothin’. I’m going for it.”
“Impossible. You look like the Pillsbury doughboy’s fat grandmother. With his hour record attempt eight weeks out, Fukdude looked like a coathanger on a diet. KK was down to tendons and gristle. You look like an elephant seal getting ready for an Arctic winter.”
“I got this.”
“Got what? The bill?”
“The record. I got this.”
“Talk to me, bro. The only thing you got so far is arteriosclerosis.”
“I decided not to go after KK’s record.”
“Well, that’s a fuggin’ relief.”
“But I’m still goin’ after an hour record.”
“Which one? 210-lb. plus category? I didn’t know there was one.”
“Naw, I’m goin’ for the Eddy Merckx hour record, age 50+.”
“Merckx style. No aero. Just me, drop bars, spoked aluminum box rims. Mano a mano.”
“You’re fuggin’ kidding me.”
“Nope. I figured I couldn’t beat KK, so I looked it up and there’s this Merckx category that no one’s done in the US before in my 50+ category.”
“So all you fuggin’ have to do is ride around the track for an hour?”
“And no matter how slow you go, you set the record?”
“Like, you could pull a taco out of your skinsuit and drink beer out of your water bottle?”
“And still get to tell people you set the hour record?”
“Hockeystick?” I said.
“You’re a fuggin’ genius.”
He shoved the last giant taco into his mouth as a burst of sour cream and salsa drizzled down his chin. Then he drained his one-pint tumbler and smacked his lips. “Yeah,” he said. “I know.”
September 26, 2013 § 10 Comments
A good friend gave me a book called “Hell on Two Wheels.” It’s about the Race Across America.
“It’s very poorly written,” he said. “But it’s a good book.”
I pondered that. Being a good book and being poorly written don’t usually go together, but in this case he was right. I won’t talk about the book’s bad points. It’s enough to say it is very poorly written, and maybe throw in another handful of “very’s.”
The good things about it, though, were pretty good. Good enough to buy? That’s up to you.
The hardest sporting event in the world
Every mindless endurance activity claims this, and each one has a long list of the deprivations you have to endure to win. Pro football. Walk across Australia. Iditarod. Tour de France. Triple Ironmans. And of course, RAAM — ride your bike from San Diego to Maryland as fast as you can.
None of these events is the hardest sporting event, or even close to it. Why? Because the difficulty of a sporting event is defined by the number of people who do it. If you’re the only person doing the sport, or if the participation pool is only a few hundred people worldwide, it’s just not that hard. It may be miserable. It may be mind numbingly hard. It may wreck your body forever. But the hardness of the event is defined simply: If a billion people are competing for the top spot, it’s harder than if your competition is fifty other athletes, no matter how tiring or demanding the event. In short, competition defines hard.
So, winning a World Cup in soccer is the hardest sport there is. Sorry, RAAM.
But isn’t RAAM still pretty damned hard?
From the standpoint of what your body goes through, I’m not sure there’s anything harder. But you could say the same about creating a new sporting event in which people competed to survive horrible car accidents. What’s interesting about “Hell on Two Wheels” is that it describes two facets of RAAM that have a lot in common with amateur cycling, that is, the physical discomfort and the bizarre emotional makeup of its participants.
In normal bicycle racing, which is hardly normal, winning occurs when a rider combines the ability to overcome extreme physical pain with strategy. It’s what annoys runners who become cyclists. The strongest guy rarely wins unless he’s also one of the smartest. In RAAM, the winner executes a complex strategy of minimal rest, maximal sustainable physical effort, and mentally overcoming days and days of physical pain.
In essence, winning RAAM takes the intolerable pain of bicycle time trialling and stretches it out for seven or eight days. “Hell on Two Wheels” walks you through the totally bizarre things that riders inflict on themselves, things like “Shermer’s Neck,” where your neck muscles fail and your head flops down on your chest, or saddle sores that turn your crotch into a raw, infected, bloody, agonizingly painful pulp that is almost unendurable with each pedal stroke. And you pedal like twelve zillion times.
In other words, good times.
The craziness inside
As with amateur bicycle racing, RAAM is a completely selfish activity. As the book introduces the athletes, most have cloaked their participation in some noble-sounding goal such as raising awareness for child trafficking, or doing something in solidarity with sick people.
But as you learn about what it takes to prepare for and compete in RAAM, you figure it out. These people just like to ride their bikes, all the time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m not sure, after reading this book, how it’s a good one, either.
Of course, I can relate to the craziness. When I’m not riding I’m thinking about it, getting ready to do it, or blogging about it. Maybe the real take home from RAAM is that it shows how, when taken to its logical conclusion, bicycle riders are nutjobs.
If you’re like me, you’ll finish this book and be grateful that you’ve never signed up for RAAM. However deep into the Kool-Aid vat I’ve fallen, I’ve not fallen that deeply. Although, now that I think about it, it might be pretty cool. Yeah. Yeah.
September 16, 2013 § 22 Comments
I was pedaling up Western Avenue with Rudy Napolitano on Saturday. I never pedal anywhere with Rudy except to the extent that he is a small speck receding, quickly, in the distance.
“What’s going on with you this weekend?”
“I’m leaving Sunday for Trento, Italy,” he said.
“Trento, Trento, Trento,” I thought to myself. The name rung a bell. “Vacation?” I asked. The road season had ended the week before at nationals in Bend, Oregon.
“No. Headed off to world’s with Mike Easter.”
“Worlds?” I asked. “World championships?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Like, rainbow jersey worlds?”
“Where if you win you’re, like, the champion of the whole world?”
He looked over and grinned. “That one. For masters racers.”
“What’s the course?”
“It’s the same one they’re using for the UCI pro worlds. We do one lap. 110 k or thereabouts, with a 20k climb at the end.”
“You’re fuggin’ kidding me, right?”
Again, the grin. “No. For real.”
“Is it like masters nationals? Any wanker with a license and an entry fee can enter?”
“Umm,” he said. “It’s a little different. You have to qualify.”
“They have a list of Grand Fondos that are qualifiers. They want to make sure you can handle Dolomite-type climbs. Grand Fondos are huge in Europe.”
“Dang. So which one did you qualify at?”
Again, the self-deprecating grin. “I didn’t, exactly.”
“So how did you qualify?”
“I got an invitation.”
The sound of my jaw hitting my top tube must have surprised him. “An invitation? Like the FB invitation I send out to my South Bay Year-End Drunkfest?”
“Yeah. Same deal.”
“Holy shit. What did it say?”
“Oh, you know, the usual. ‘We heard you were killing it every weekend on the Donut Ride and figured you could handle worlds.’” Now he was laughing. At me. A little bit. Maybe.
“So what’s the game plan?” I was already trying to figure out what my tattoo was going to say. “I rode the Donut with World Champion Rudy,” probably. The only question was whether I’d put it on my — or on my —.
“There’s a flat section where we might try to get away. It’s Europe, so the climbers are real climbers. Little dudes. 130 pounds, you know? They fly uphill. Maybe steal a march on the climbers and then have an advantage when we hit the climb.”
“And in between now and the race? What kind of training?”
“The hardest thing when you taper, you know, is not eating four bags of donuts and three pizzas every single day. Right?”
I didn’t say anything, having eaten four bags of donuts and two pizzas the day before despite not being on a taper. “Uh, right.” I thought about Mrs. WM’s daily freshly baked hot loaves of bread and the slabs of butter I slayed them with. “You gotta, uh, watch those calories.” My tummy jiggled a bit as we went over a bump.
“Yeah,” Rudy said. Then we hit Better Homes and he pedaled off, hopefully to a pizza-free taper, and even more hopefully, to a great race next weekend in Trento. When he wins, remember that it was me who gave him all that great advice about pizza and donuts. Right?
September 10, 2013 § 28 Comments
Used to be, you made friends by spending time with people. You got to know them by the things they said and the things they did, and there weren’t any shortcuts. You called a person a friend because you hung out with them, not because of their posts on Facebag.
Friendship used to take time, and it almost always involved some special event to metamorphasize. Friendship was a bond that resulted from some stressful occurrence, like clay that gets fired in a kiln or like a horseshoe that gets heated in the coals and beaten with a blacksmith’s hammer. We used to say friendships were forged for a reason.
Cycling has always been a place for friendships. We spend a lot of time together and we reveal ourselves, not in perfectly positioned social media posturing, but in the natural and crude and roughly varnished scenarios of 3-D reality. We crash, fight with motorists, swap tales over coffee, beat each other up on the climbs, help change flats, rib each other, and race, race, race, whether we have a racing license or not.
My two teammates, Josh and Eric, were just that up until a week ago. As we all know, teammates can be friends, or acquaintances, or even arch enemies. Then, after spending thirty hours together in a car, six days at a big bike race, and five nights sharing meals and accommodations, we became friends.
That’s because friendship comes from simple things that really aren’t that simple, like trusting some dude to drive while you’re snoring in the back seat. Friendship comes from that quick readiness to be the one to fill the tank, tip the waitress, or lend a hand with bike prep the day before the race. Friendship comes from that slow revelation of character, where the laughter is genuine and the sympathy is real.
Friendship forms when you earnestly plot and strategize and even argue about the best way to win the race, or to cover your opponents, or to designate different roles. Friendship is what’s left after a few good beers and trust have cemented the spaces caused by worry and hope and even fear that when the meatwagon starts hauling off bleeding bodies, one of them will be yours.
Maybe the thing about friendship that is the most surprising is the way it changes you. I went to Oregon convinced that the most important thing was to have a good time and ride a good race, but after seeing the intensity and the dedication and the focus of Josh and Eric I started to think that maybe I needed to be more like them. A freshly-minted Cat 2, Eric snagged an impressive 8th place finish in his first national crit championships after a mere two seasons of racing.
Josh pulled down what was an even more amazing result: A Cat 3 who has only been riding for two years somehow coming up with an 11th place. Both guys went out and finished one of the hardest masters national road races in history, a ride that ended in freezing rain with hailstones so big they actually broke the edges off of Josh’s helmet. Like friends do, these guys taught through example, always admitting their inexperience and trying to learn, but at the same time making no apologies for giving it everything they had, every single time.
These guys had more to show after two years than I have to show after more than thirty. Like friends do, they inspired me. Their ferocity on the bike was matched by their good humor off of it. If I’ve laughed more in the last twenty years than I laughed in the last week, well, I haven’t. And if I’ve ever seen anyone besides Derek the Destroyer come anywhere close to drinking as much beer as Josh and still rip legs on the bike, well, I haven’t.
You’d think that after all that adversity and being away from home and having to drink all that beer and eat all that junk food and sleep in a strange bed we’d have been sick of each other when it came time to pack ourselves and our shit back into the F-1 Prius at 5:00 AM and make the all-day slog back home. But we weren’t.
Because you know, that’s how friends are.
September 9, 2013 § 8 Comments
As I reflect on the past week at nationals, it was an incredible experience competing on the big stage and seeing such amazing people like the Shimano neutral support dude who thought Rudy had ridden off on the spare bike, so he ran over to the Time team and said, “Where’s my bike?” and the Time dude who was pretty chunky himself got all pissy and said, “Look here, fatso, you’ll get your bike back!” and it looked like it was gonna be a clash of the rubber tummy bumpers because Rudy, who had had his winning solo break brought back after riding so hard he’d broken his seat post, was in despair and had pedaled away on the neutral support bike to phone the suicide hotline.
Before the two fat people could tummy bump, however, the longest running junior high school girls’ catfight in SoCal cycling history, a vicious spat between Michelle Johnson and Joncy Abate, erupted into a violent stream of name calling and insults about each others’ lip gloss. The combatants almost came to blows until Michelle’s skirt got hung up on Joncy’s strapless bra and they were both ejected from the post-race festivities for indecent exposure. Michelle’s BFF, Crystal “Meatballs” DiMarchi, separated the two girls.
“Michelle!” he said, “Quit spitting on Joncy and let’s all go watch Sharon crash out with 13 laps to go.”
The three girls clasped hands and skipped over to Turn One just in time to see Sharon do a backflip over the barricades and into a bush.
In addition to the high level of name calling competition and tummy bumping, nationals showcased USA Cycling’s extraordinary marketing savvy. Having held nationals in Bend for three consecutive years, USAC’s marketing machine ensured that each corporate sponsor received maximal exposure for their significant investment in masters racing.
Everywhere we went in Bend, we’d tell shop keepers and town denizens that we were there for the national championships.
“Of what?” they invariably replied.
“Really? Here? In Bend?”
“Yes. Racing’s been going on all week.”
“Wow! I had no idea!”
In addition to their stealth marketing, USAC made sure that race finishes were packed with dozens of spectators. In my entire life there has never been anything as exciting or thrilling as finishing an arduous road race to the enthusiastic cheering and applause of three spectators and a small crying child.
On a serious note
Despite the dickbag disorganization of USAC and the kindergarten hairpulling dramas, nationals was the best racing I’ve ever done. The quality of the field is so high, except perhaps for Mr. Poopypants. No matter how much we brag about the quality of racing in SoCal, a week at nationals confirms how many great riders there are, even though SoCal racers claim their share of podium spots, the rest of the country and NorCal make every race a hard fought battle.
The competition raises your game and gives you a clear measuring stick regarding how good you really are. The road races are stacked with great roadies. The crits are filled with sprint monsters. The time trials are loaded with pain merchants, and the tandem events are packed with butt snorkelers.
Most of all is the team camaraderie that we built by spending a week together completely drunk. On our final night we celebrated at Deschutes Brewery and then slept on a park bench. As a team we’re already making plans for nationals in Ogden, the polygamous child-bride capital of Utah. Training begins today.
September 5, 2013 § 23 Comments
“Dude,” Josh said, “your face is fuckin’ covered with chocolate. Looks like you been bobbing for corn in the port-o-potty.”
Eric wiped a smear of sweat and spit across his face with the back of his hand. “Gone now?”
“Not even close.”
For well over three hours they’d been racing in the warm sunlight along the undulating roads that would ultimately lead to the mountaintop finish atop Mt. Bachelor. You couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day, at least as far as the weather was concerned.
Eric put his hands back on the bars and grimaced as the pack surged up the easy roller. They were three miles from the base of the climb and seven miles from the finish of the national championship road race for older fellows. The last forty miles had been an endless series of easy rollers, so easy that Eric’s legs were cramping and he could no longer hold onto the end of the peloton.
“I’m done, dude,” he said to Josh.
Josh glanced up at the darkening sky. “That looks bad, man. Hang on if you can.”
Eric slid off the back. As the gap widened, the pack seemed to slow. Now at the rear of the caravan, Eric dug and started working his way back. He re-connected. The pack surged again. He came unhitched, this time for good.
Alone now, he felt something hard hit his cheek. Then it hit him again. “That’s hail,” he said to himself. As each minute passed, the hail intensified. By the time he hit the bottom of the giant climb that eventually, theoretically, according to the race bible, led to the finish line, he was being pelted with golf ball-sized hailstones and blown sideways by 30 mph gusts. The hailstones hurt so bad that he wanted to cry out, and the larger ones raised giant welts where they struck his bare legs. Mixed in with the hail was a freezing rain. Then, as he got out of the saddle to pull himself up the climb, his legs cramped.
He was now officially as cold, exhausted, and miserable as he’d ever been in his entire life.
How in the hell had it come to this?
Taffy, beer, and the lure of immortality
On the fourteen-hour drive from L.A. to Bend, Oregon, Eric, Josh, and I had taken turns behind the wheel of the Prius. Initially maligned for its lack of power, its odd appearance, and its soccer-mom mystique, the Prius had quelled all criticism at the first gas stop.
“Dude,” Josh said. It was his turn to buy gas. “It only took thirty bucks and it’s full. What the hell?”
Hundreds of miles later, when we refilled again, no one was complaining about the lack of acceleration, as we’d all agreed to put the savings into a mutual beer fund. Every thirty minutes or so Eric would reach into his bag and whip out a new giant stick of taffy. Once Josh had found the taffy stash, the competition began. In addition to the giant Trader Joe’s bag of trail mix that we inhaled, I wondered about cycling nutrition before the Big Race. The taffy competition got so intense that several giant sticks, which had melted inside their wrapper, had to be placed directly under the AC vent so that they could be cooled enough for the competitors to peel off the wrappers with their teeth.
Getting the lowdown on the big ride
We reached Bend and checked into our team house, and convened a special team strategy meeting. Alan, who had done the race the year before, was blunt. “Look, dudes, it’s a really simple race. We go downhill for twelve miles, turn right, do a bunch of easy rollers for about forty miles, then hit the climb. First one up the climb wins. It’s a fifteen-minute bike race.”
“How easy are the rollers?” asked Eric.
“They’re nothing. You might be on the rivet once. Then it’s just easy.”
“How hard is the climb,” I asked.
“It’s the hardest fifteen minutes you’ll ever do.”
“What if you’re not, uh, like, you know, a really good climber?”
Alan looked at me. “Then you’ll look like a burnt fragment of flesh at a Hawaiian pig roast.”
“So what should my strategy be?” I asked.
Alan thought for a minute. “Sit in the whole way, and when you hit the climb, don’t be surprised when everyone leaves you.”
“Okay,” I said.
“What’s most important is rest and nutrition, so get to bed early, stick to your diet, and you’ll do fine.”
The perfect nutritional storm
Josh, Eric, and I were thrilled to find a nice little brewpub around the corner from the SPY Team HQ, a little place called The Old St. Francis School Brewery.
“Why are they fuckin’ serving brewskies at a school?” Josh asked. “Not that that’s a bad thing,” he said as we took a table.
“What are you having?” I asked Eric.
“I’m so not hungry,” he said.
“How can you not be hungry? We just sat in the car for fourteen hours.”
“I think it was the taffy.”
“You gotta be nutritionally energized,” Josh said as the waiter came by. “Eric wants a double cheese baconburger and a 32-oz IPA.”
“And I’ll have the same thing with double cajun fries and a pizza.”
“Yes, sir.” The waiter looked at me.
“Uh, I’ll have the garlic bleu cheese bacon and sausage pizza with artichoke and creamed corn. And the IPA.”
We got home shortly after the brewpub closed at two. The five-minute walk took a solid half hour, but we made it, and got ready for bed.
“Dude,” Eric said as he pulled out a gigantic pair of orange earplugs, each one of which was long enough to go from one side of his skull to the other. “Do you snore?”
“Only when I sleep. Do you?”
“Yeah, but not too loud. Do you fart?”
“Never, except at night.”
Eric dug around some more in his bag and pulled out a giant pair of nose clamps. “See you in the morning.”
The big bike box flail
The next morning we drove out to the time trial course in Prineville, where USAC had moved the registration, almost an hour from Bend, the city that everyone was staying. It made sense, you know, to have registration and packet pickup as inconvenient as possible. We got there just as our teammate Mike Williams was finishing. “How’d it go?” I asked, knowing that there’s only one of two ways a time trial can ever go. Horrible, and you win, or horrible, and you lose.
“It was horrible,” said Mike. “But I beat one dude.”
“More than one, I hope.”
“Yeah, but this one was awesome. My minute man came up to me at the start and said ‘Take a look at this jersey and memorize this number, ’cause you’re never gonna see it again.’”
We began laughing. “You’re joking! Even a bike racing douchebag wouldn’t say that!”
“Oh, but he did. So I caught him at the turnaround and as I passed him I said, ‘Have I seen you before?’”
Mike had schlepped up several bikes for the team from L.A., including Eric’s and Josh’s. His parents lived nearby, so we went to their house to get the bikes. The moment we stepped inside his house, his mother came up. “You boys look hungry.”
This is a polite way people have of saying to bike racers, “You look sickly and malnourished.”
“Well, now that you mention it … ” we said.
“Let me see if I have anything for you to eat.” In a matter of minutes she had laid out a huge spread of turkey sandwiches, fresh vegetables, homemade fudge, upside down pineapple cake with ice cream, and beer. There was enough food for twenty people. We ate ourselves sick and then went outside, where we had the dilemma of putting three bikes and four wheelsets into the Prius. We’d been joined by our teammate F-1 Jim Pappe, so nicknamed because he drove so slowly that even the local rusted out redneck pickup trucks passed him at will. We somehow got all the bikes and people crammed into the two cars and headed back to Bend with all our gear and our registration goodies.
One by one the team began to show up, with MMX arriving that afternoon, and John Abate arriving with Jess that evening. The road races were scheduled for the following morning, with the 50+ going first at 8:00 AM (me, Alan, F-1 Jim, and Randy Tinney), followed by the 40+ race (John A.), then the 35+ (Eric and Josh), and finally the 45+ with MMX, John Hatchitt, Andy Schmidt, and Peter Anderson). We all gathered that night again at the brewery and prepped for the race with copious amounts of greasy bar food and fresh beer. F-1 JIm, who had gotten sick on his drive up from Bakersfield and vomited all along the way to Bend, had recovered somewhat. Randy, however, was feeling awful.
“Dude,” he said. “I can’t race tomorrow.”
“Can’t race?” I said. “Why the hell not?”
“I have a headache.”
“We’re not asking for sex,” I said. “We just need you to toe the line and help Alan in the road race. You don’t even have to finish.”
“You don’t understand,” he said, as he wandered off to the men’s room to throw up again.
Back at the SPY HQ, I readied my gear for the race the following morning. The horribly dry air and the altitude left me gasping every time I walked up the stairs. “I hope the bike race isn’t harder than the staircase,” I muttered, before falling asleep.
The morning dawned to reveal at least one terrible hangover tinged with dry mouth and the overpowering urge to vomit. I somehow overcame the urge.
Abate had gotten in at two o’clock with Jess, minus their bicycles, which United had conveniently lost in between San Diego and Bend.
“No problem, sir,” United said as John frantically dialed their “service” department. “We should have them to you by the end of the day.”
“Dude,” said John. “We’ve got a bike race in a couple of hours. We need those bikes now. How do you lose a hundred-pound giant plastic container filled with bicycles? How?”
“Well, when we find it we’ll send it over to our service delivery center, and Delta will bring it to your hotel.”
“I didn’t know Delta had merged with United.”
“They haven’t, sir.”
“THEN WHAT THE FUCK DOES DELTA HAVE TO DO WITH MY LUGGAGE?”
He slammed down the phone and implemented Plan B.
“Hey, Randy,” John said as the phone awakened Randy from his dried pool of puke.
“You still not racing this morning?”
“Can I borrow your bike?”
John raced over to Randy’s condo and got his bike. Then he and Josh swapped machines, since Josh’s bike was closer to his size, and began the meticulous process of recalibrating seat posts, cleat positions, handlebars, and all the other important modifications that have to be made if your $10k bike is going to earn you the 57th place you have worked so hard to attain.
The leadenness in the sky
Since our race started three hours before John’s in the 40+, F-1 Jim and I left the SPY HQ at 6:15. MMX stuck his head out of the bedroom. “Weather forecast is for thunderstorms, hail, and temperatures in the 30′s.”
“At least we have that to look forward to.”
At the start of the 50+ elderly fellows’ national championship road race, the temperature was forty degrees, but the skies were clear. Greg Leibert, who was riding solo for Big Orange, did a few efforts with me up a short hill, and we chattered like chipmunks in the biting air, which, when you added in the wind chill, was easily 30 degrees. “Glad it’s going to be a sunny day,” I said.
We started off shortly past eight o’clock and in order to freeze us even more the race pointed immediately down a screaming twelve-mile descent. As the speeds began to ramp up over fifty mph, various riders who had never descended at those speeds in their lives began to get high speed frame chatter. One rider’s bike began to shimmy and twist like a flag on a pole in a hurricane as he rocketed off the road at speed and careened into the gravel, then the brush, and then into the soft landing of the sharpened ends of pine boughs.
The terror of avoiding the chattering bikes was almost enough to counteract the sub 20-degree chill that had penetrated into our internal organs.
How the race was won
Even though Alan’s race plan was solid, it was clear to me after looking at the national champions, world champions, and galactic champions in the race that my only hope lay with Godzilla showing up and eating everyone except me. After a handful of initial attacks, with Godzilla not showing up, the winning break of four mutants “rolled” of the front, which is another way of saying they went so fast that no one could catch them. Pretty soon the sun came out and we warmed up. The riders who’d been wrapped in several layers of plastic began undressing, which created a second level of terror almost as bad as avoiding the downhill catastrophic crashes caused by the frame shimmies.
The undressing riders would sit up, hands off the bars while packed in the middle of the clotted peloton, and begin fighting madly with zippers, sleeves, hats, and gloves, and then packing it all into a tiny rear jersey pocket. The merest chughole or wobble would have taken out half the field, but somehow no one crashed. However, one dude couldn’t get an arm of his rain jacket stuffed into his rear jersey pocket, and the flapping sleeve began driving me crazy.
“Is it going to droop down into his spokes and crash us all out?” I wondered. Each time I tried to get close to him to tell him, the Law of Cyclist Proximity kicked in. This is a basic racing peloton rule that says you will always get stuck behind the one person you don’t want to be stuck behind, or, you will never be able to get up to the rider you need to get up to.
I finally gave up, and just in time, because the easy rollers had begun to do serious damage to the peloton.
Easy for you, impossible for me
The easy rollers that Alan had promised were in fact a grueling, grinding series of endless, short climbs that, one by one, gradually sapped everyone’s legs even as the winning break of mutants disappeared forever. I hit the front exactly once and took a mighty pull, but after the peloton stopped laughing they reeled me back in just in time for the big final climb. I’d not eaten anything except a few Gatorade gummy chews which had been included in my preregistration goodie bag.
The gummies were wrapped in a long plastic tube best opened with a buck knife or blow torch. Each one was in a separate, hermetically sealed compartment made of industrial-strength rubberized plastic, and I almost tore out my rear molars opening the thing up. Then, in desperation I chewed not only the gummy but also the rubberized wrapper. It was nice that USAC had partnered with a company that knew how to make cycling-friendly food products.
As Alan had foretold, everyone over 140 pounds, which was virtually all of the elderly fellows in the race, was hideously shelled on the lower slopes of the climb. As the climb continued, the destruction became more pronounced. Sag-bellied, multi-chinned fellows who had begun with fantasies of glory were now relegated to wheezing, gasping, square-pedaling oafs who looked like they were being flayed to death by Captain Ahab.
Roger Worthington, who had won the tandem TT the day before, decimating a field of three other teams in the 50+ Men Who Are Willing To Spend $15k On A Custom Carbon Tandem That They Will Never Ride Again While One Has His Nose Jammed Up The Other’s Ass, was wasted from the effort. He took a long hard pull in the lead-up to the climb and then, as he imploded, began to shout “Pizza and beer, one dollar off at Worthy Brewing tonight!” as the wounded, stampeding elderly fellows roared up the climb.
I roared, too, but only for two hundred yards or so. Then I was stuck by myself, the field maddeningly close but hopelessly and forever unreachable. I could see the field break into smaller bloody clots as the final climb did its terrible work. Just as I had resolved to get off my bike and cry, a big white Nissan drove up alongside me. It was MMX, whose race wouldn’t go off until three.
“What are you doing back here?” he sternly asked.
“Flailing,” I said.
“Those guys up ahead,” he said. “Catch them.”
The guys were way ahead, and I had to choose between saying “Fuck you,” and “Yes, sir.” I chose life. I chose “Yes, sir.”
What unfolded was the most glorious 38th-place finish in the history of Elderly Fellows road racing. Whether it was MMX’s encouragement, my fear of looking even worse than I already did, the photo crew that was shooting close-ups of my awful grimaces, or the slight draft from the passing vehicles, I somehow got atop the gear and picked up speed.
Everyone who races loves to talk about pain, misery, and the hell of enduring a hard climb, but in addition to all that I had a special collection of facial grimaces that I practiced religiously at home to make sure I seemed more heroic than 38th place would normally seem. I gritted. I contorted. I drooled. I blew flecks of snot. I bobbed. I weaved. I thrashed. And incredibly, I began picking up one wanker after another. As Rudy Napolitano had said before the race, “Just don’t give up hope. Even though you’re hopeless.”
Each freddy freeloader I passed leaped onto my wheel, but quickly came off. With a last lunge I reattached to the seventeenth chase group, a collection of ragged and tattered and chubby and demoralized riders who were only thinking about the finish line 500 meters hence. I sped by, bringing BBI’s Brad Hunter with me. We had a brutal, heroic, incredible struggle for 37th place, with his final kick propelling him to a step on the sub-sub-sub-sub podium and a prize that included all of the unopened Gatorade gummy chews that had been thrown to the roadside in disgust.
Our race finished with the strongest of the mutants dropping the other mutants and me crossing the line in thirty-eighth place, one of the strongest placings imaginable and much more awesome than “38th” sounds. I checked with lots of people after the race and they all told me that thirty-eighth was truly impressive.
The amazing fart explosion
John Abate’s race, which rolled out shortly after ours finished, got caught in the hailstorm just as the climb began. But an even worse storm had descended on his smallish peloton a mere twenty miles into the race. A dude who shall forever hence be knowns as “Mr. Poopers,” raised his rear end up off the saddle in order to unleash what he thought was a mighty fart. Unfortunately, there was a major miscommunication between his sphincter and his brain, because when he released the gas, it was a fully loaded breakfast burrito turd with all the trimmings.
More impressively, he was wearing white shorts, and the gigantic brown bomb shot straight up the back of his bibs, staining everything brown and gagging everyone nearby. The smell was overpowering and it forced the pace up as each rider struggled mightily to get in front of Mr. Poopers. What was even more terrifying to the riders was the onset of the rain, because everyone knew that the water would start washing the poop out of Mr. Poopers’s shorts, and from there onto the bikes, shoes, and kits of whomever was behind him.
John surged to the front of his group at the base of the climb. The winning break was already up the road as the hail unleashed with such fury that it shattered his Garmin. Neither snow, nor sleet, nor hail, nor sideways wind gusts of 30 mph were enough to slow a man trying to escape the now-sopping-and-dripping Mr. Poopers, and John charged through the flying hail like a madman.
John hit the finish line and saw that the barricades and the entire finishing area had been destroyed by the hail and the gusts of wind, which had exceeded 50 mph atop the ski resort at Mt. Bachelor. The USA Cycling organizational team, which was extremely adept at cashing the checks of the riders. was less adept at handling problems on the actual race course, leaving it to racers, their wives, friends, and some dude in a wheelchair to pick up the barricades so that the finishing riders weren’t crashed out and killed as they finished. Hiding somewhere far from the calamity and sipping hot chai lattes, the USA Cycling brass convened an emergency meeting.
“Shit out there is gnarly,” said one.
“Glad we’re not out in it,” said another.
“Want to send off the rest of the races?”
“Sure. Worst that could happen is someone gets killed.”
“Plus if we cancel we’ll have to deal with scheduling and possibly refunds.”
At the mention of the word “refund” everyone panicked. “Send ‘em off, no question. Hey, waitress! Could I have another tea?”
Just as they decided to order a few frozen and wet volunteers out to the PA system, a troop of angry motorcyclists stomped in. These were the men and women who followed the races and various chase groups. “If you think we’re going out in that deadly hail and snow and rain and sleet, you’re nuts,” said the leader.
The chief USA boss shook his head. “But what about refunds?”
Everyone quailed and several of the veteran staff began sobbing. “We can’t do refunds. We just can’t!!”
“I know!” said the boss. “We’ll move the race to tomorrow!”
“But what about the riders who just flew in for this one race and who can’t stay?”
“Fuck ‘em!” the others yelled in unison.
“And what about the riders who were going to do the tandem road race on Friday? The two events will overlap!”
“Fuck ‘em!” everyone roared, even more loudly.
“No refunds ever! Crank up the email machine and notify everyone. Chai tea lattes on the house!” roared the boss as everyone applauded.
What teammates are for
No sooner had John dismounted than the winners, then the remnants, of the following 35+ group came straggling in. Josh and Eric were covered in sleet. Josh’s helmet had been dented in by the hail, and Eric’s legs were covered in giant red welts. Neither could speak, and both had to be helped off their bikes. John, who was still frozen from his race, kicked into gear. With Jess providing towels, blankets, and warm clothing, the riders were stuck beneath the heating vents, which were going full blast. Both riders looked like they had just been through a terrorist attack.
Josh looked over at Eric. “Did we finish?”
“I think so.”
“Dudes,” said John with a grin. “You didn’t just finish. You finished the toughest, most grueling nationals road race ever.”
Eric cracked a smile. “It was a piece of cake until that final climb thanks to all those easy rollers.”
“Where’s my recovery beer?” Josh asked.
There was the hiss of a cap flipping off a bottle as Jess pressed an ice cold brew into his hand. “Right here.”
Josh drained the bottle as the icy cold beer warmed his frozen insides. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah.”