December 5, 2013 § 9 Comments
The next morning he woke up with that call of the wild, the raging, pounding urge to piss. Turner’s eyes flicked open and for a few brief, half-waking millimoments he tried to remember where he was and why he was sleeping on a couch and why he was covered in a strange blanket that smelled like a woman.
His brain quickly put the pieces together, but that brief uncertainty, happening as it did in a mostly dark room in a very strange place with very early sunlight filtering in through the blinds, deja-vued him back to the time he was thirteen and he’d taken a backpacking trip up into the San Cristobal mountains of southern Colorado.
They had gone from sea level in Texas to the thin Colorado air in a day and a half, driven the rental car up the rutted and rocky dirt roads as far as they could, unloaded their crap at the trail head, and set out at first light for a nine-mile hike up the Rainbow Trail. The incredible weight of the 40-pound canvas pack on his 90-pound frame, the unbelievable tilt of the trail, and the grinding mash of his not-quite-broken-in heavy leather hiking boots made the first hundred yards of that unforgettable death march almost unbearable.
But the pounding, migraine-intensity headache from the altitude sickness and the constant vomiting had made him think he would die. If Candy Donner hadn’t dropped back to help him, maybe he would have.
“Here, dude,” Candy fired up and handed him a joint.
“What is it?”
“Medicine. You’ll thank me later.”
“It’s marijuana, right? Will it hurt me?”
“It will save you. Leads to heroin, though.”
The altitude sickness receded somewhat, replaced first by intense paranoia which was itself later overlain with profound, raging hunger. When they took their first break and Pops opened up the plastic tube of peanut butter, a fight almost broke out. All the kids were stoned and hungry and tired and out of sorts.
“This sucks,” said Benny Donner, who was a year older than Turner and who went on to distinguish himself by committing suicide at age eighteen, a blow from which his dad never recovered.
When they shouldered their packs, what had in the beginning felt impossibly heavy now felt as if it had grown to double the size in the short ten-minute break. Candy dropped back with some more weed, and in a fog of anger and sickness and paranoia (“They brought me up here to kill me,” etc.) and, eventually, more hunger, Turner crept up the trail.
That first day’s ordeal had begun at daybreak and ended just before nightfall, and the only way he’d gotten through it was Candy’s cornucopia of drugs. With several hours to go, and even the adults in survival mode, Candy had unleashed the psilocybin. “Just chew and swallow plenty of water. They’ll go down. Nasty as shit, but they’ll go.”
Turner madly crushed the dried up fungi, getting pieces of it stuck in his braces, the taste so awful and inedible and bitter and obviously poisonous that it was clearly going to be good, or at least better than now. ”I wonder if this is what a vagina tastes like?” he wondered. The mushrooms got him to the first base camp, where he flung down his pack.
“Fuck this, I hate backpacking, I hate Colorado, I hate mountains, and I hate … ” he trailed off, randomly slapping at the black clouds of delighted mosquitoes that swarmed about him, the mushrooms amplifying the personalities of each mosquito so that before slapping each one he had to consider its personality: Was it a bad mosquito?
Its family: By killing this insect am I depriving a hungry family of baby mosquitoes back at the nest of their father?
Mosquito nests: Do mosquitoes have nests?
And of course fucking: How do mosquitoes fuck? And how big are their penises?
“Turner, are you okay?” Pops had rolled him over onto his back with the toe of his hiking boot, and was now looking down at him, somewhat concerned.
“Do mosquitoes have nests?” he asked.
Pops, relieved that Turner was asking the kind of questions he usually asked, smiled. “Dinner will be ready in a few. Hang in there.”
“How big is a mosquito penis, Pops?” he asked, but Pops, who was also tired and hungry, was headed over to the campsite and didn’t hear him. Turner desperately wanted Pops to turn around, but he didn’t.
Turner did in fact “hang in there,” mostly, it seemed, by his neck. No food had ever tasted better than that awful freeze-dried beef stroganoff. They’d tried it in the backyard and no one would eat it, not even the dog. At the top of the Rainbow Trail and on the brink of collapse after fourteen hours of utter hell, it was the finest cuisine anyone had ever had.
As the drugs receded and the altitude sickness set back in, Candy had taken Turner down to the edge of the stream to wash the dishes, where even more mosquitoes awaited. The nine campers had licked their utensils absolutely clean, so rather than use the biodegradable soap in the icy cold water, the boys just dipped the pans and forks and spoons in the water and rubbed the grease around with their fingers.
“Aren’t we supposed to wash them?” asked Tuner.
“Fuck it, you think anyone will notice or care? Shit, you think the pioneers washed their dishes?” Candy then whipped out one of the steel fuel canisters that he’d sneaked from the campsite and started unscrewing the lid.
“When I pop off the top, just jam the spout under your nose and inhale, deep motherfucking inhale.” Turner did as he was told, the jolting stench of the kerosene coursing up into his head. “Again,” Candy commanded. “Poor man’s buzz. Now go to bed.”
Turner crawled into his sleeping bed with an awful, jagged kerosene high, but he went to sleep right away and he was the first one to wake the following morning. It was still, toasty warm inside his sleeping bag, the inert body of his brother next to him, the inside of the tent dripping with moisture, and the sound of birds outside, the headache gone. That half-moment between sleep and wakefulness, trying to piece together where he was and why, suspended in thought and time, safe in the warmth of the tent, it had been the most delicious moment of his life.
Until right now.
December 2, 2013 § 59 Comments
There’s a nearby bike shop called “Safety Cycle.” The name is weird unless you know the history of the shop and the history of the bicycle. The shop opened in Hollywood in the 1940′s, and its name referenced what we all recognize as the modern bicycle, a pedal-powered machine with two equally sized wheels.
The safety bicycle replaced the penny farthing, high-wheeler, or “ordinary” bicycle of the late 1800′s because it was safer. You still fell off your bike, but you didn’t fall from as high up, which meant that head injuries were fewer and less severe.
Since 1893, the last year that the deadly high-wheelers were last mass produced, safety in cycling has made marginal progress at best. Yes, we have helmets, lights, better brakes, better tires, and reflective material, but the culture in road cycling is still one that rejects safety, even holds it in contempt.
Spare me your tales of speed
I dislike talking about motor sports. The occasional moto rider or car enthusiast will pop up in the peloton, and before long it’s one endless bore-a-thon about the dangers, thrills, complexity, and awesomeness of high speeds while strapped to the back of an internal combustion rocket.
I get that motor sports are faster than bikes. I get that it take a lot more balls to go 130 on two wheels than it does to go 30. And I get that you are a general badass in that awesome sport. Now, please shut the fuck up and show me that you can make it to the top of a tiny hill without getting hopelessly dropped, because, you know, we’re on bicycles now. They’re not as awesome as things that say “Ducati,” I know, but if motor sports are so friggin’ cool, why are you out here? Getting dropped? Before we’ve even accelerated?
This is all shorthand for confessing my impatience with moto heads, until something happened the other day when I was pedaling, very slowly, with a moto head who was telling me for the fifteenth time about his 150 mph crash at the Fontana track in which he only broke two fingers.
“You sure got lucky,” I said, also for the fifteenth time, trying out of politeness not to tell him that if he ever said the word “moto” again I would sprint away, never to return.
“Nah,” he said. “Luck didn’t have anything to do with it.”
Now he had my attention. “What did? I suppose you’re the second coming of Evel Knievel and Bob Hannah?”
Sometimes it pays to listen
Moto Dude laughed. “Hell, no. I’m just your ordinary moto dude. You know what saved me? It’s the safety culture in motor sports. I look at cycling and am blown away by you guys. It’s deadlier going 30 on a bike than it is going 60 on a moto. And it’s because the cycling culture is so macho. It’s stupid.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Look at your clothing. What would it take to put a Kevlar pad in the hip of every pair of shorts, or a tailbone protector, or Kevlar-padded elbows and wrists? In moto, the rule is that what you’re wearing when you walk out the door is what you’re going to be wearing when you crash. You think that Lycra is gonna protect your hip from shattering?”
He had a point. After my big crash a month or so ago, I had gone online and ordered a full set of MTB protective gear, including elbow and wrist pads, and a crash belt that had hip and tailbone pads. The problem was that the gear was too heavy and bulky for road riding. Also, because the hip and tailbone pads weren’t sewn into my bibs, they didn’t stay in place and rubbed the hell out of my legs. They were also hot. Worst of all, they made my butt look big.
MTB and death
MTB riders have always been light years ahead of roadies. Take, for example, their long tradition of getting stoned after races. They also have a healthy regard for safety, with full facemask helmets and protective gear, especially for downhill, that is so good that some moto riders use the pads because they are lighter and work better than motorcycle gear. MTB riders didn’t grow up thinking that a head-on-stone or hip-on-tree trunk collision earned you any style or macho points, so they’ve always been receptive to doing things better. Who wants to finish a fun day on the trails breathing through a tube on life support?
What’s our excuse? Road racers fought hardshell helmets hammer and tong just so they could look cool. I was at the vanguard of the stupid train in 1986 when hardshells were mandated by the USCF, and got suspended for 30 days due to my nasty letters complaining about my “right” to bash my brains in while bike racing.
Still, going back to Moto Guy’s point, what is our excuse? I’d buy shorts with a Kevlar hip pad, and I’d buy sleeves/arm warmers that had elbow and wrist protection, not to mention socks that had a narrow insert around the ankle. As more and more crazies in cars get physical with us for riding our bikes (check out the nutjob comments on my blog post from a couple of days ago, when a guy proudly insinuates that he’ll hit anyone who’s riding “illegally”), it seems like there’s even more of a need and a market for road gear that emphasizes protection more than stylish British gentlemen’s “fashion.”
Moto Dude’s right
As he lectured me on what a bunch of macho dumbasses we are, Moto Dude also confessed that motor sports used to be similarly stupid. “Not to mention hockey,” I added.
“Yeah. But you know what happened? There used to be a mentality of ‘If you crash and get killed, it’s because you suck.’”
I thought about my epic FB war with a goofball from Schenectady whose thesis had been that very thing: You crash on a bike because you’re not very good at riding it.
“Then,” continued Moto Dude “the sport lost a couple of its very best racers, guys at the top of their game. Kind of hard to argue that the reigning world champions don’t know how to ride, right? So people started looking at the equipment. Same thing for F1 and Nascar. And they found out that there were places where, with a few modifications, you could go from racing in a death trap to racing in a car that could crash and burn at 150 and you’d walk away. They figured out for moto that lightweight protective gear saved lives and prevented horrific injuries.”
We pedaled along together for a while, neither one of us saying anything.
Then I remembered the other reason I disliked arguing with moto heads. It’s because they’re pretty much always right.
November 30, 2013 § 56 Comments
Ten ways you make the group ride bad:
- You refuse to share the work. You sit in the entire ride, or most of the entire ride. The one or two time you go to the front, your efforts are feeble, and they end quickly. You are so afraid of getting dropped, getting tired, or feeling pain that you leave all of the work to others.
- You show up late. The ride leaves at 8:00, but you know it never really leaves until 8:10 at the earliest, so you fiddle with your saddle bag or your Garmin or decide that now is a great time to replace your cleats. Then you text the gang that you’re running ten minutes late.
- You don’t have a spare tube or a spare CO2 cartridge or a pump. Someone else will have one if you need it.
- You don’t say hello to newcomers unless they look fitter and faster than you. You especially don’t say hello to “dorks” because, you know, we’re still in junior high.
- You still haven’t learned how to ride in a straight line.
- You constantly drop your head to read your wattage, cadence, mph, kilojoules, distance, average speed, normalized power, heart rate, leaderboard status, etc.
- You overlap wheels then swerve when the guy in front moves over on you. For bonus points, you curse at him.
- You carefully avoid holes and detritus that the riders in front of you point out, but you don’t bother to point them out to the people behind you.
- You pass people at high speeds on the inside of tight downhill turns just because it’s “fun.”
- You don’t stop when people crash or flat.
Ten ways you make the group ride fun:
- You make sure your tires are in good shape, you carry a spare, a way to air it up, and something extra for the person who doesn’t.
- You drop off the back — miss the whole ride, even — when someone’s in trouble or needs help.
- You ride at the front.
- You greet newcomers and try to remember their names.
- You call shit out.
- You chastise people in private, not in front of the whole group.
- You show up on time.
- You understand the difference between group rides and training.
- You give the strugglers and stragglers a push from time to time.
- You put the group’s safety before your ego.
November 26, 2013 § 11 Comments
Whenever I get bummed out about all the douchebaggery in Old Foks Racing a/k/a “masters,” I think about the shadow riders. The shadow riders, you know, they perk me up.
They are the men and women who ride in the shadows of the d-bags. They often don’t race, or if they do, it’s occasional, and whenever they show up on a ride — if they show up on a ride — they remind you what legs, lungs, and unfettered ferocity mean on a bike. The shadow riders didn’t get the “fast riders are assholes” memo. They smile and go hard and beat you up the hill because they’re just plain old faster.
Craig Hummer is one of my favorite shadow riders. He doesn’t race at all. In between his crazy-busy schedule as a national TV sports commentator, he throws on a light, rolls out at 5:00 AM, and charges around the PV Peninsula.
The first time I met Craig, I didn’t even meet him. We were going up to the Domes and he was going down. “That’s Craig Hummer,” someone said.
“Craig Hummer. The TdF announcer.”
“Whatever.” I didn’t have a TV and wasn’t interested in people who talked about the Tour de France.
“He’ll rip your fucking legs off.”
Now … I was interested. I looked him up on Strava, and he had some mythical times on some mythical segments. “Ah, so what. Anyone can chalk up times on Strava.” So I thought.
A few years later I did my first ride with Craig. He ripped my legs off, which was bad, but he crushed my fragile ego, which was worse. All the way up VdM he was chatting. All the way to the Domes he was gabbing. I never got a word in edgewise, not because he talked too much, but because I was coughing up a kidney.
Wanting to make sure it wasn’t a mistake, I rode with him again, this time with Tri-Dork and Ol’ Scabies, who is 70 going on 95. Ol’ Scabies rode better at 70 than I ride at 49, and it was only through the combined half-wheeling of Tri-Dork and Craig that we shed him. If I can ride 1/10 as well as Ol’ Scabies when I’m his age, I’ll surrender my AARP card and take up Elite road racing.
Craig dusted my broom again, hairy legs and all, chatting the whole way like we were at a quilting bee. Then he honored me by saying he looked forward to our next ride. The sun was up by then, but it was only 7:30 AM. The next time we talked, by message, he was jetting his way to NYC, out of the shadows and into the limelight.
Damn ugly jersey dude
The first time I got ground up into gristle and pooped out the back by Tony Manzella, he was wearing a terribly ugly jersey emblazoned with the names of famous bike racers. He had come down to the South Bay to sample the Donut Ride, and the bite he took was big enough to eat the whole damn thing.
Tony was obviously too big to climb well, so when he dropped the whole fuggin’ wankoton and soloed to the college, the problem was simply that he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be able to do what he did. Fucker.
The handful of times we rode Mandeville together on the Holiday Ride, my goal was simple: Stay with Tony until I gave birth to a small vomitus. Then quit. Each time I achieved this goal.
Tony’s the guy who decides to race ‘cross, shows up, does the most competitive races and places in the top four his first race. Then the top two. Etcetera. He’s the guy you fucking hate, except, you can’t possibly hate someone that good, that honest, that friendly, that fair, and that willing to take a pull. Then, to really make you feel like a POS, he’s the guy who can chat you with you before the ride about … art.
Tony’s a shadow rider par excellence. He loves to ride, but his integrity and decency and perspective show you, by example, that the master’s racing scene doesn’t have to be what it is. There are people out there who have that rarest thing of all, common sense, common decency, perspective.
So what if he ground me up and spit me out on Seven Minute Canyon? So what?
November 19, 2013 § 60 Comments
I used to see him every time I took the bike path in Hermosa Beach. If you took the path all the way to the end, you had to dismount and go up the stairs, so the goal was to stay on the path as long as possible, then take a right up one of the little walkways which would put you on the street. That way, you could keep pedaling.
The last possible point of departure was a walkway marked by a big hedge, and he was always there. It didn’t matter how early, and let me tell you, sometimes I made early look positively lie-abed. Five-thirty, six, it didn’t matter.
He was always there.
And he was always drunk.
Not a little drunk, not getting-warmed-up drunk, but drunk. He’d be standing, leaning actually, against the wall that separates the beach from the bike path, and he would be sauced, even though you knew he’d only been up for an hour or so.
His face was drunk ruddy, and his eyes were sad beyond belief. I’d always grin at him and say, “Morning,” and even though he never answered he always nodded this sad, dying nod.
“That dude,” I thought every single time, “is drinking himself to death.” And he was.
What were his demons? What made him so sad? What had he lost, so precious that he wanted to exit this world in a poisoned trance?
Maybe his wife of thirty years had left him, or maybe he’d lost his job, or maybe he was from the Midwest and had come here to drink and drown, to finish up his days on the golden shore. Whatever it was, my pal Rex, who often rode with me in the morning, thought it was something much worse than sad.
“That’s all fucked up,” Rex said on The Morning.
“Yeah,” I said. It was on The Morning that we made our habitual turn and the dying man was leaning on the wall, sauced, and he nodded to us, but next to him was a bike. A beach cruiser with a nasty patina of rust and of course a coozy holder. “Dude’s got a fuggin bike,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Rex. “It’s my old cruiser.”
“You know that dude?”
“No. But I talked to him one morning. He lives a few blocks away and he can barely make it on foot down to the strand. So I gave him the cruiser. Might as well make his last days easier.”
“What’s his story?”
“No clue. But he’s racing to the grave.”
One morning, about two weeks after The Morning, the guy was gone. A solid year of seeing him leaning against the wall, and I knew that the poison had taken its course. This is how life is. Relentless and without pity. I’d never even stopped to ask his name.
Later that year I was in Santa Monica, a long way to the north. I stopped in for breakfast at a cafe. My waiter handed me a menu. “Coffee?” he said with a smile.
He was an older guy, but smiling broadly, and I recognized him. It was Dying Dude. “Sure,” I said. When he came back to the table, I said, “Recognize me?”
“I used to see you every morning on the bike path down in Hermosa.”
He lit up. “Oh, yeah, I remember you. Your buddy is the guy who gave me the bike.”
“You were drinking some hard stuff, man. I don’t think I ever saw you sober.”
He laughed. “I came within a day or two of dying. That bike your friend gave me, it saved my life.”
“Yeah. I started riding it to the strand, and then one morning I just kept riding it, all the way to the end of the bike path, must have been twenty or thirty miles.”
“Yep. I was so exhausted and thrashed when I got to the end of the path that I just lay down for about six hours. Then I pedaled back to Hermosa. I haven’t had a drink since. Got a job at this cafe … commute every day on the bike path.”
He laughed. “No shit.”
I ate my breakfast and got ready to ride back home to PV. The old cruiser was locked to a parking meter out in front of the cafe. I nodded to it, and grinned.
November 18, 2013 § 7 Comments
Ryan Dahl: Relentless pulverizer of the master’s 35+ SoCal ‘Cross season in 2013. It’s been amazing to watch him leap away from the field in the first few kilometers and then basically ride solo for the rest of the race. It’s been not quite as amazing to have him lap me halfway through the events we’ve done together.
Ella Johnson: Stood on top of the podium in both of the only ‘cross races she’s ever done. Plainly taking after her dad, and even though her super human strength is without peer in her age class, the most awesome thing was the way she cheered me every single lap. Dad & Mom have brought this little girl up right!
Carey Downs: Anyone can pay an entry fee and drag his ass around a ‘cross course for 45 minutes, but Carey’s the only guy in SoCal who can follow it up with a four-star barbecue clinic. Although beer is strictly forbidden and never consumed at ‘cross races, he also complements his feasts with a collection of Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, and Stone IPA bottles that are filled with, uh, water. Supporting Oscars to Marilyne, Jeff, Todd, Will, Arik & Craig.
Robin Kaminsky: Spends her weekdays putting people back together in the ER, spends her weekends ripping them apart again in ‘cross. Robin typically races three events per day. Do I need so say anything more? Oh, maybe I do. She wins most of them.
Brian Zink: Named after an element in the periodic table, Zink the cyclist has an amazing similarity to the history of zinc the metal. When Italian doctor Luigi Galvani discovered in 1780 that connecting the spinal cord of a freshly dissected frog to an iron rail attached by a brass hook caused the frog’s leg to twitch, he discovered properties that led to the process of galvanization of metal and to the discovery of the galvanic electrical cell, which in turn led to the first battery, or the Voltaic pile. Zink lived up to his family history of dissecting live animals when I stopped to “help” him after he had flatted on the Holiday Ride. I’d been shelled and he was standing at the road side. Grateful for the chance to get off my bike and moan, I “helped” him change his tire by handing him his spare tube. Once he changed it, he returned the favor by dragging me all the way back to Encinitas … at 32 mph. It was like being dissected alive while having an ox gore you in the groin while pulling you with a chain behind a dump truck while going over an unpaved road filled with exposed tree roots and land mines. The ride concluded with what felt like being beaten by galvanized steel, in a nod to the history of galvanization through the use of zinc. Thanks, Zink.
Prez: Doesn’t get any sweeter than a lead out by a speedy sprinter. Returning from the Wheatgrass today, Prez hauled me up the final bump before the Hawthorne sprint and deposited me 300 yards from the imaginary victory sign. So what if it was just the two of us?
That Cop on PV Drive North: When I blew through the stop sign, saw the cop at the last minute, locked up the brakes, skidded out into the intersection, hung my head, shamefully pedaled BACK to the stop sign, stopped, and put my foot down, I knew the only possible thing that could happen was a ticket. Instead, the cop shook his head in disgust and kept going. Winning!
Alan Hill: Amazing conversation about Sean Kelly’s autobiography and “grit.” Real, true, honest to goodness grit. Not that plastic fakey shit they get out of a syringe or a can or a volcano or Rapha catalog or Velominati web site and prance around as if they were really bike racers. No, not that shit. Grit.
Erik Johnson: Some people ride well, some people think well, few people do both. Zen Master + Yoda Adept + Cap’n Bill Flog ‘n Guzzle, Erik had some words of wisdom about the journey vs. the result. I’ll tell you what he said, but I’ll need your credit card first.
The Hillbilly Cooperative: Founding members Sherri Foxworthy, Marvin & Mea Cambell assembled at Chez Davidson to discuss pubic shaving prior to brain surgery, how hillbilly teenagers used to occupy themselves before the Internet and cell phones (let’s just say nature took not only its course, but several unnatural deviations as well), the relative complexity and severity of various laws pertaining to the transport of various things across state lines, and what happens when you mix fine home-made beer with good wine and lasagna. Hint: what happens requires large quantities of oily food the next morning.
Dave Wehrly: Made South Bay cycling history by hiring an artist to body-paint a model in an NPR kit as a promotion for our upcoming book signing and wine bottle draining event. When I was in San Diego on Sunday I had countless people sing the praises of the artwork and admire the beauty of the model. My dad even called up and asked, “What was that girl wearing? It sure was skin tight.”
Phil Tinstman: Explained how the lateral trochantric medial laryngectomy in his foot, which had happened in the Tour of Vietnam, was going to require surgery. But in the meantime he just figured he’d keep racing on it. Dayum!
Chris Gregory: In sympathetic coordination with Phil, she decided to do a 60-mile North County ride despite having torn the bipolar arachnoid process in her knee. Halfway through the ride the pain got so excruciatingly bad she had to return to camp with only 30 miles for the day. Fortunately, her medical background taught her to treat the injury with the two giant Lost Abbey taps in the parking lot at SPY headquarters.
Dandy Andy: Perhaps jealous of Phil’s ankle and Chris’s knee, on Lap 3 of today’s ‘cross race Dandy charged into a tree root with his head and severely strained the subnominal orbital disc that protects the Achilles heel from getting twisted into the appendix. The result was a terribly sprained foot, which was bad, and a self-diagnosis of two weeks off the bike, which meant that he is damned to gain 200 pounds in the next fourteen days. Say a little prayer for him, and be sure to drop off some chocolate bon-bons.
Greg Seyranian: After G$ received a bogus ticket for legally leading the Big Orange club ride in the lane on PCH, Greg took the sheriff’s “advice” and did the ride today with all 70 riders riding in the lane … single file. It showed the utter ridiculousness of the sheriff’s illegal order. Hopefully, change will come soon, in the form of Deputy Doofus learning how to properly apply the law.
November 11, 2013 § 17 Comments
I was eating a hangover burrito and slurping down my second cup of lard-infested coffee when I saw the dreadful Facebook news: The glorious Sunday Kettle Ride had been pulled over and ticketed for riding in the lane. The person who got pounded with the ticket was, of course, G$, the guy who always steps up as the leader.
The sheriff’s deputy had these words of wisdom: “Every accident I’ve been to where a cyclist was hit, it was their fault for riding in the middle of the lane.” He was uninterested in the actual California Vehicle Code which permits the type of riding that the bikers were engaged in.
This came the morning after a super twisted opinion piece in the New York Times, in which the writer opined that the laws in this country essentially allow motorists to kill cyclists with little to no penalty, while at the same time the cyclist/author confessed to being afraid to ride anywhere except … in his basement. The message was apparently that although it’s wrong to kill cyclists, it’s even wronger to stand up for your rights by riding on the road.
As I was struggling up Via del Monte yesterday, my good friend Surfer Dan looked over at me and said, “You know, we’re all pretty fragile.”
On cue, I pulled over and lay down in the grass, caught in that half-contraction between swallowing and vomiting. The sun beat down. Dan looked on, mildly amused. We had finished the Donut Ride several hours ago, and decided to consummate our healthy bicycling activity with a massive cheeseburger, fries, and copious amounts of beer.
Dan, who doesn’t drink but who compensates for his abstinence with the ability to clear off the largest plate of food in a matter of minutes, had been sitting around the table while I and a handful of others enjoyed the Bike Bomb Effect. This is the smash-to-the-brain that you get after a long, hard, hilly ride in the sun that leaves you completely famished and dehydrated, and then follow up the ride with several 23-oz. glasses of Thunderhead IPA.
The others staggered home, and Surfer Dan nursed me back through the beach cities and up the endless steeps of Via del Monte. When you are suffering from the Bike Bomb Effect and going uphill, it feels like you weigh about 800 pounds.
“You should probably get up before they call the police,” Dan advised.
He had a point, but things were still too foggy for me figure out what it was. “Why would they do that?”
“Because it’s unusual for people to be lying in the front yard of these multi-million dollar estates.”
I pondered it for a while. The sun felt very good, and the road was so very steep. The grass felt like it had when I was a child, fresh and green and bendy, and scratchy in a good way, cushiony, and despite the sun it was cool out, and if I rolled over to my side just a bit the sun stopped hitting my eyes and it was better than a bed or a hammock.
“Come on, man,” Dan said, nudging me in the gut with his shoe.
The sharp prod of the shoe spoke with a kind of harsh logic that his words hadn’t, so I got up and got on my bike, except not really, because it kept falling over. Finally I started pushing it. “Does it get flatter up here?” I asked.
Dan was laughing. “Yeah, it does.” And it did.
For the remaining mile, which took forever, we spoke of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, of why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings. We concluded that whether it’s our own inner turmoil, or some asshole cop giving you a ticket for something you didn’t do, or some fool behind the wheel of a car who kills you because he “didn’t see you,” we’re all pretty fragile.
So it would be good, then, to handle with care.
November 4, 2013 § 37 Comments
I’ve done tons of group rides in my life, century rides, memorial rides, fundraising rides, whatever. I’ve never done anything like the Nosco Ride, nothing even close.
Let me tell you about it.
This guy, Mike Nosco, died in a car accident. He was a Navy vet who did two tours in Iraq and an employee of Amgen. I’m not even sure he rode a bike. His brother Jack, a cyclist and Ventura County firefighter, was devastated. He decided to grapple with his grief by helping other people, so he put on a memorial ride. Jack asked for donations, and he gave the money to sick people.
This year was the fifth running of the ride. I don’t like charity rides because they remind me how fucked up our healthcare system is. We’re the only “advanced” nation that has to help people defray crippling medical bills with bake sales and bike rides. It makes me sick to my stomach.
But my good friend Suzanne Sonye threw up a last minute plea on FB the night before the ride. “This one is worth it,” she said.
I looked at the ride’s details, and it didn’t look like a very good ride for me. Rather than preparing with a solid one-month block of climbing (the ride covers 9,500 feet of elevation in 81 miles), I’d been preparing by doing 45-minute ‘cross races and the occasional high-speed crash on my head.
Nor was I thrilled about what I was sure would be a pretty expensive donation.
I showed up the morning of the event and learned that it was free. You could donate if you wanted, or not. “What size t-shirt would you like?” asked the wonderful young lady at the registration booth. You see, you got a t-shirt and a swag bag whether you donated or not.
“What kind of asshole would come to an event like this and not kick in, at a minimum, the equivalent to a race entry fee?” I wondered.
Answer: Bike racers.
In addition to those who brazenly signed up and accepted the swag and donated little or nothing, many others pirated the ride, waiting a few miles up the road and hopping in, where they got to spend the day lapping up the energy drinks and snarfling down the food at the incredibly well-stocked rest stations.
Reality check redux
There is no easy way to describe the Nosco Ride, except to say it’s mind-bendingly difficult. Whereas Solvang and any number of other rides shoot for the lowest common denominator in terms of difficulty, the Nosco Ride reflects the kind of person Mike Nosco actually was. Gritty, tougher than nails, up for the biggest challenge, and ready to give it his all.
The ride started with a 600-person lemming rush from Borchard Community Park to PCH, and from there the huge swirling wankoton rushed at max speed to Deer Creek Road. This is the one big climb in the Santa Monica Mountains I’ve never done because one time Dave Jaeger told me that it was “Really hard.”
“Harder than Las Flores?”
“By a long shot.”
So I scratched it off my list.
Starting a group ride of 600 people up Deer Creek is unfathomable. It has an average pitch of 72%. It is 43 miles long, unpaved, and goes beneath several pillboxes that are manned with live .50-caliber Browning machine guns. When the group hit Deer Creek, the same group that had been fighting for inches and scrapping for every single position on PCH, it was complete mayhem.
You’ve heard the expression “blew apart the race”? This blew apart the race. The total climb was over five miles long and was so steep that my 39 x 28 wasn’t nearly enough gear to climb it well. That, and my weak legs and puny lungs …
There was a sag station at the top of the climb and people were hurling themselves at the bananas, BonkBreakers, and water bottles. Others were just hurling.
Several miles later we descended Yerba Buena back down to PCH, got a brief respite, and then climbed Mulholland, all nine miles of it. It wasn’t that steep, but after Deer Creek people were completely wrecked. The only course I’ve ever done that is tougher than Nosco is the BWR, and it’s almost fifty miles longer and has an additional five thousand feet of elevation.
Atop Mulholland there was again mayhem at the sag stop. I ate bananas and pb sandwiches and almonds and watermelon and doused myself in water and then went through the food line again.
It isn’t over until about midway through
We next descended Encinal back to PCH, where I fell in with a group who kept a nasty tempo all the way to Latigo. This is one of my demon climbs. Nothing good has ever happened to me on it, and today was no exception. Crushing my best-ever time of 46:19, I managed to finish it in 59:00 flat, and that was only after Lee Adams towed me for the first seven miles of the ten-mile climb. I won’t get into a FB war with her again.
At this next-to-last feed station people were zombie-like. I ate a fistful of sliced bananas and realized only hours later that I’d neglected to remove the peels. The remainder of the ride was rolling, with a few short climbs, not enough downhill, and a filthy headwind the last five miles.
At one point a rider was lying on the roadside with a CHP officer hunched over him. “You okay?” asked the cop.
“I’m fine,” said the downed rider.
“Why are you lying in the road then?”
“Cramps,” he grimaced.
I pedaled on.
They don’t make ‘em like that anymore
Back at the park we were served unlimited amounts of delicious Mexican food. Free. And we were served unlimited amounts of Sierra Nevada beer, your choice of Pale Ale or Torpedo. Free. In case you didn’t get that last part, let me repeat: Free.
Then there was live music, an auction, free massages, a bone marrow donor registry, and support from top to bottom by Road Bike Action magazine and Robb Mesecher, who did so much to make this event what it was: unforgettable.
November 3, 2013 § 33 Comments
An article came out in Bike Radar a couple of days ago that reasserted what pros have known for a long time: quit gronking.
Gronking, of course, is the pedaling style of 99.9% of all bicycle riders everywhere, except for those who “super gronk.” I passed one of those dudes on the Donut Ride today, buried in the most intense super gronk I have seen in a long time — no helmet, rusted out MTB from 1989, and going up an 8% grade at the astounding gronk rate of about 20 rpm. I could count the hairs on his leg, he was pedaling so slowly.
Spin to win
We’ve all heard that stupid line. Has it helped? Hell, no. We keep gronking away, shoulders swaying so far from side to side on steep grades that they scrape the pavement, knee joints popping, IT bands snapping, and the only one who’s winning is the physical therapist.
So instead of “spin to win,” which plainly motivates no one, I’m urging you to “spin to beer.” The more you spin, the sooner you’ll get to the end of the ride and beer. You won’t win shit, and you won’t care.
The science of gronking vs. spinning
“Everything happens for a reason, and the reason is usually physics,” a wise woman once said. With regard to cycling, everything happens due to physics and, of course, drugs, tainted beef, and volcano doping, but today we’ll just focus on the physics.
“There is an optimum torque for a given individual, much like there’s an optimal torque range in a car,” says Allen Lim. “Generally speaking, there is good research that shows that as power output goes up, the most efficient cadence for that power also goes up.” Lim, of course, is the former trainer of dopester Floyd Landis and employee of the now completely disgraced dopester team RadioShack during the Armstrong era.
If anyone should know about power output and the variables that affect it, it’s Lim, who’s now doing penance for his association with the dopesters by selling healthful nutrition for athletes.
But back to gronking …
What Lim is saying is that you, essentially, suck, and that in order to reduce your suckage coefficient you can either train harder and smarter (har!), volcano dope (not happenin’ with the kids’ orthodontia, etc.), or raise your cadence.
Why we gronk
Our terrible, inefficient, power sapping, esthetically unappealing cadences are a function of laziness. Intuitively, our bodies know that the faster we pedal the more tired we will get. This is the same body that tells us to have just one more for the road, to give crystal meth a try, and to invest in penny stocks.
In other words, our bodies and minds are clueless and delusional. Doubt me? Look at all the people who have purchased an Elliptigo. Or a unicycle. Or lottery tickets.
Your body, although generally stupid, is simply operating based on the data you provide it. When you were a little kid, you noticed that the faster you ran, the more exhausted you got. When you graduated to bicycling, you noticed that the faster you went, the more pain you felt in your legs. Your body then did the arithmetic and concluded that “the more pain you feel, the faster you’re going.”
Never mind that you are a slug, and never mind that external data contradict your internal arithmetic: even though you’re slow as shit, as long as you’re feeling discomfort as a result of mashing harder than a Tennessee bootlegger, your body concludes that you’re “going fast.”
So while your body is telling you to lapse into that laboring, soul-sapping gronk, physics is telling you to find an easier gear and spin. More importantly, fashion is telling you that when you gronk and slog and mash and grind, you look like you’re giving rectal birth to a watermelon.
For years, the compact crank has been regarded as the old man’s dying wheeze or the refuge of sissies. That’s still true. However, by replacing your current 56-47 chainring configuration with a more svelte 50-34 you will not only cease showering the bunch with the juice from your exploding knee joints, you will go faster.
To add even more kick to the likker, you can abandon your corncob and hit mountain bike ratios on your cassette. SRAM offers a 12-32, a 12-36, and, for those who are unreconstructed gronkers with a penchant for double IPA’s and cheeseburgers, SRAM also offers a 15-75.
So the next time I see you on the road, let’s quit gronking and “spin to beer.”
October 30, 2013 § 24 Comments
It happens to everyone, usually after a massive crash. It goes like this.
Day 1 (en route to hospital with full morphine drip): How’s my bike?
Day 2: When can I ride again?
Day 3: I guess I can’t ride this weekend.
Day 4: I guess I can’t ride for a few weeks.
Day 5: I guess if I can’t ride for a few months.
Day 6: I wonder how much of this is gonna be covered by insurance?
Day 7: I wonder if I’ve still got a job?
Day 8: If I ever mention “cycling” again I’ll be divorced. Again.
Then the rehab begins. It’s worse than the accident. Or, you spend a month posting stickies on the fridge because even though you didn’t break anything, your closed-head injury has left a few too many open spaces on the fill-in-the-blank test.
“Remember to pick up milk.”
“What is milk?”
“Remember to wake up.”
“Remember to write down name on back of hand for easy reference.”
Somewhere between the shuffling return to work and the final hundred sessions of physical therapy (“Okay, today we’re going to practice bending your elbow two degrees. It’s really going to hurt until you scream and beg to be put to death, but just bear with me,”) everything changes. A flood of questions spring up.
Questions like this
“What was I thinking? I’m too old to be dressing like a Circque d’Soleil reject.”
“My dog, I could have died in that crashtacular fredsplat that’s gotten 54,000 hits on YouTube. Then what would I have done?”
“All the money I’ve been spending on … bicycling? Really?”
“I just can’t bear the thought of dying so young and leaving all that cold beer in the fridge. It needs me.”
“Even the thought of getting back on a bicycle terrifies me. Not to mention what it does to my friends who have to ride behind me.”
“All the years I’ve wasted on bicycles, my whole life has passed me by! And for what? Strava?”
Answers like this
Fortunately, I’ve seen this happen to lots of people, and they solve the problem rather simply: they quit cycling and go back to being normal people. However, a few really do sit on the fence and angst over it. “Should I quit cycling? But I love my friends! But how can I do something so dangerous? But it’s so fun! But the thought of riding makes me break out in hives. But I like hives!” Etc.
So, to sum up, here’s a handy-dandy set of answers that will fit every catastrophe that has resulted in the soul searching question, “Am I really cut out for this?”
- In life, high risk equals high reward. In cycling, high risk equals little to no reward and/or life-altering disasters. Choose accordingly.
- The older you get, the more it is going to hurt when you fall six feet off the ground onto your head, even with a helmet.
- The faster you go, the more likely it is that something will surprise you and cause you to fall six feet off the ground onto your head (see No. 2 above).
- Most people prefer to die in degrees behind the wheel of a car rather than in one fell swoop on a bike, being taken out by a car.
- There are no answers in life, except for in cycling, where even though there are lots of answers, they are always the wrong ones.
- If you have to choose between your life and your children, it’s time to sell the the bike and turn parent or sell the kids and turn pro.
- Cycling is not a metaphor for life. It is life. And a pretty bad life, might I add.
- No matter how badly you were hurt, no one really cares. I mean they do, but actually, they don’t.
- Best tip for not getting in high-speed crashes: avoid them. And sign up for the world famous Marina del Schenectady cyclocross skills class offered by “Inches” Polnikov.
- No matter how crazy you think your cycling addiction is, you’re right.
- If you got smashed flat tomorrow or wound up in traction, the NPR would still go off at 6:40 AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But after the ride I’d sure as heck bring you coffee.
- Life is not about conquering your fears or achieving great things or being happy. It’s not “about” anything.
- For every person who gives up cycling, fifty other middle-aged idiots will blindly take it up with power meters, electronic shifting, and disc brakes. And they will crash spectacularly. Cf. David Hollande and virtually everyone on Big Orange. And Prez.
- The only difference between your weird cycling life and your weird normal life is that in cycling no one cares about how weird you are because everyone is breathing too hard and trying not to crash or get dropped on the Switchbacks.
- Your friends are your friends, two-wheeled or not.
- And get well soon.