The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 8: Annual Review

August 18, 2014 § 22 Comments

The most important part of your season comes now: After your season.

If you have been following the Wanky Training Plan ™ since January, you will have a solid season of results to carefully review. Your performance in each race will provide key insights into aspects of your racing that need improvement, as well as those aspects in which you have excelled, and will therefore seek to replicate next year.

The most crucial aspect of the Wanky Training Plan ™, and the one that has likely been hardest for you to implement, has of course been the high cadence pedaling style. If you stuck with it, you have likely seen a revolution in your performance as you have metamorphosed from a plodding clogstacle into a graceful, speedy, gazelle.

To help you properly review your season, I’ve selected some of my best results from 2014 so that you can see how a proper evaluation will lead to analysis of strengths and weaknesses for 2015.

Boulevard Road Race: The season began with a powerful and impressive DNF, in which all of the successful strength and high rpm-training exercises in the off season came to fruition. Although I did not actually finish the race, I got to test several electrolyte replacement fluids for ease of digestion and ease of puking them back out on the climb.

Red Trolley Crit: My first crit of the year featured a strong moral victory in which I went to the front and spun very hard. Although I did not actually finish the race, the key objective of not falling off my bicycle was achieved 100%.

UCLA Road Race: This was a super hard race and marked the first time in 2014 that I finished a race, so it was actually considered a first-place finish (by me) even though the technical placing was 29th. Out of 30. By spinning very quickly I was able to not over-tire myself, meeting another key objective, i.e. looking good on the finish line.

CBR Race #2: In my second crit of 2014, I achieved an impressive finish by finishing. Spinning played a key role in my ability to achieve 26th place out of 37 racers, a massive improvement of three placing from the week before. Simple math showed that in a mere eight more races I would mathematically be guaranteed to finish in first place.

Chuck Pontius Road Race: This was a blustery and challenging race where all aspects of the Wanky Training Plan ™ were utilized, including the refusal to cry. It also showed how continual spinning and recovery can lead to amazing results. I earned an impressive top ten finish, finishing 10th place out of ten finishes and 13 starters. Good things were clearly just around the bend as I was now peaking.

San Dimas Stage Race: Putting together all the pieces of a complex, 3-day stage race, I spun my way to 31st in the time trial,  39th in the road race, and 37th in the crit for an overall GC of 38th. This devastated the two racers who came in 39th and 40th, respectively, and showed that high cadence racing allows you to conserve until the end.

It was at this point in the season that things really came together — 22nd in the LA Circuit Race, 28th at the District Championships (29th place is still sobbing over his bitter defeat), and 146th at the Belgian Waffle Ride made this unquestionably the strongest spring campaign I’ve had in 30+ years of bike racing. But the best was yet to come.

Although I did not finish either Saturday or Sunday of the 805 Crit Series, we successfully rented a motor home and did not drive it off a cliff or get arrested. Thanks, Wanky Training Plan ™!

 

Steamy South Bay confessional

August 14, 2014 § 28 Comments

I had been faithful to her for years. There have been other girls who I’ve looked at, sure, but she was the one to whom I remained true.

Then a couple of years ago Sausage whispered to me that there was a smoking hot babe over on his side of town, told me she was “really special” and that she would “really get your pulse up.” I didn’t pay much attention at first, but over time I couldn’t resist the temptation. After all, one woman, no matter how wonderful, can’t satisfy you all the time. It’s natural to want variety, to do things a little differently, to feel the touch of someone different and new.

Sure, I knew it was wrong. But today I snapped. I felt terrible as I sneaked out of the house extra early this morning. My wife must have known something was up, because she said, “Isn’t it too early for the NPR?”

I mumbled something, got dressed, and switched off the light as I made my guilty escape. After a frenzied ride up the bike path, I met her. There on 26th and San Vicente, the morning not yet fully broken, there she was, ready for the taking if only I was man enough to handle her.

Sausage was in the middle of the group that whizzed by. He winked. “Finally came to get some, eh?” he said.

I nodded, no longer guilty, no longer afraid of the treachery I was about to commit. To the contrary, I was burning, on fire, the blood pounding through my veins as we met for the first time. The way she roared downhill on San Vicente, so smooth, so fast, so racy, it was a dream.

Then it all changed in an instant. Suddenly she was going up, up, up, with Manzila blasting at the front, shattering the group as it launched up her curving, sloping surface. I was panting from the exertion, exploring her, feeling her out, looking for that rhythm that comes when two bodies, in synch, pulsate with the pounding.

The first time it was awkward, I’ll admit it. I’d been so accustomed to my lover of all those Tuesday and Thursday mornings that I had a hard time adjusting to her raw, jagged uphill contours. I’m embarrassed to say that I was so excited that I finished too quickly the first time, giving out before I should have, with a dozen or so riders ahead of me. I knew she was unsatisfied.

We sat on the corner at Sunset and regrouped. I looked at Gareth, still out of breath. “What’s her name?” I asked.

“Amalfi,” he said. “Her name is Amalfi.”

“What a beautiful name,” I thought to myself, but before I could repeat it we were off again. This second time around, a group of three wankers launched on San Vincente. I followed. This time I wasn’t going to finish early; no, I’d hold it strong and steady and even, driving her and driving her until she was satisfied, too.

We hit Chainbreaker Corner and I pounded with a frenzy. My breakaway companions sagged and heaved their shoulders. Their wad was shot. Alone I soldiered on until Gareth caught me, then dropped me. I struggled back on, grinding away, not done yet. Then Manzilla came by. I latched onto him and he dragged us to the final hundred meters, when a gaggle of four or five riders swarmed by us at the end.

I was wasted, wrecked, spent, and she was, too. I know she liked it, but as we waited again at Sunset to regroup I could tell she wanted it one more time. And I promised that I’d give it to her.

Again on San Vicente I launched with three others, except this time Gareth went with us. By Chainbreaker it was “just the two of us,” and it was this final effort that was most exhausting, most painful, yet most beautiful and satisfying of all.

“Oh, Amalfi,” I said, as I pounded and pushed and thrashed, sweat pouring off my face, grunting and gasping and moaning, amazed that I had this third effort in me, amazed that Gareth hadn’t spit me out the back and left me for dead, amazed at Amalfi’s grace.

And that was the end, just Gareth and I sweating and heaving atop her.

On the way home I was flooded with guilt, but also with a sense of love and, yes, conquest. I would never abandon my dear old lover NPR; Tuesday mornings at 6:40 were still for her and her alone. But now that I had tasted the forbidden fruit of the Amalfi Ride, now that I had buried myself in the triple climax of her six minutes and thirty seconds of pure ecstasy, I knew I would be back for more.

Would NPR understand? I hope she will. I’m only human.

Horn if you’re honky

July 29, 2014 § 15 Comments

When the hardest group ride in America starts out at 30 mph on the neutral section, you know you’re in for a beating, an “in the wrong neighborhood” beating, a Muhammad Ali beating, a mad charwoman with a steel bat-on-a-carpet beating, an adult video + tissue box beating, a John Bonham intro to “Rock and Roll” beating, or you just recognize the facts: You’re on the North County San Diego Swami’s Ride and it’s not going to be pretty.

After the warmup had slimmed the group of 50 down by a rider or two, we roared up Levant. Rather, Phil Tinstman roared. Everyone else cowered, grit their teeth, and cursed whatever draft they had for not being draft enough.

The group slimmed a bit more.

The previous night I had ended up in a bar slurping Hangar 24 DIPA’s. Now, dangling by a wheel, they were starting to slurp back. It was a briny, acidic, poisonous taste, kind of like drinking from a port-o-potty.

Thankfully, as in “Oh my dog thank you baby Jeebus,” the light at Rancho Santa Fe was red, which meant that those who made it could catch their breath, and those who straggled up just as the light turned green would meet their doom shortly up the road. The climb up Rancho Santa Fe shed a few more pounds, and the climb up to Elfin Forest blew the stragglers and strugglers out the back like a snot rocket.

A breakaway formed with Phil, Brian Stack, Chris Johnson, and about ten others. Those of us in the shelled group would have been done for the day had we not been joined by Karl Bordine. Karl rides like a wood chipper. He grinds everyone up into little organic bits that are useless for anything except mixing with cow shit and spreading as fertilizer.

Karl brought the break back, and broke the back of many in the group, which further slimmed. The peloton was now a walking ad for SlenderBolic. Phil won the sprunt to the church. There were perhaps 15 or 20 riders out of the starting gaggle of 50. I got off my bike and lay in the grass, cursing the beer and the speed and the hills and bicycles and Newt Gingrich.

“It was fast today,” said one of the Fast Men.

“Yeah, it was,” said another one of the Fast Men.

“Blecccch,” I said.

The second half wasn’t as torrid, since several of the fastest riders continued on for a longer ride. But coming into the final rolling section, Tater attacked, Stack followed, and I got dragged along. He broke the group into pieces, towed me up over the last hill, took a deep breath and towed me all the way to the imaginary sprint finish, which I apparently won. Brian is sixteen.

After the ride Mrs. WM and I decided to go the pool. The Econolodge’s bathing facility was a 10′ x 10′ kiddie pool surrounded by a steel fence. “This thing look like its onna jail,” she said.

“Yeah, but we can drink all the beer we want and not have to worry about lifeguards.”

“I ain’t wearin’ onna my bikini here.”

“How come?”

“Itsa pool lookin’ out onna highway. Itsa creepers driven’ slow googling on my panty bottoms.”

So we called up a pal who was staying at the La Costa Rich People’s Hotel and Snoboretum. “Yo, Toronto,” I said. “Can we come hang at your hotel pool?”

“Sure!” he said.

“We got beer and chips and salsa and pork rinds and dried octopus legs with kimchi.”

“Ah, okay.”

Pretty soon we were at the Snoboretum. We had to give our name and driver license to the security guard, put a placard that said “Visitors/Too Cheap To Afford A Room” on the dashboard, park in a rock garden, and walk three miles over to the area where the real guests were.

But it was a bitching pool, and my appearance wearing bright red shorts, a bright red t-shirt, and hiking boots made quite a splash. Fortunately I had “SPY” plastered everywhere, making a good showing for my sponsor. The only down side was that the pool had a bar and restaurant in the pool area, so when we staggered in carrying six plastic bags that said “Safeway” which were filled with chips, beer, and dried octopus parts, the pool staff, who were wearing outfits modeled on “The Love Boat,” told us we weren’t allowed to bring in outside food or drink.

“Thatsa okay,” said Mrs. WM. “We don’t eat no outside food. Alla this food is inside food.”

By the time they had brought in an interpreter, who ended up tearing out his hair and ripping off his Love Boat insignia in despair, I was already a full six-pack in and didn’t care when security confiscated our salsa. Surprisingly, they left the octopus parts.

Shortly after we were escorted out, we ended up at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. It was a sold out event, and the main attraction wasn’t the Pine Mountain Logs, whose name reminds me of something left behind in a public bathroom, but the jazzy rock band, or the rocky jazz band Horn if You’re Honky.

The drummer for HiyH, my good friend Michael Marckx, was celebrating his 50th birthday, and it was an awesome performance. Many songs were sung, melodies were horned, rhythms were banged, bass lines were thumped, and keyboard accompaniments were hammered. I was amazed at the athleticism of the percussion, or maybe I was just having a hard time not falling out of my chair after swilling too much beer. Who knows?

It was an electric performance.

Towards the end of the set I mingled with the crowd and marveled at its energy, as well as at the fact that no one seemed to be getting high. So many friends and teammates from the cycling community were there that I half expected someone to announce that we would be rolling out in ten minutes. Instead, we grooved on the amazing HiyH set and huddled around our tequila shot glasses, trying to discern whether we were holding up the bar or vice versa. I think it was vice versa.

At the end of the evening, Mrs. WM gave me a small baggie filled with a sopping wet sports bra and workout panty that she had borrowed earlier in the day for a yoga workout. I toiled through the crowd until I saw Alan. “Yo, dude, here’s some wet women’s underwear. Can you give it to Mrs. xxx? We gotta hit the road.”

Alan, ever the good sport, said “Sure!” and immediately posted it for sale on eBay via his iPhone.

We sailed home through the deserted SoCal freeway until we hit the not-so-deserted freeway shutdown at Westminster, where a 5-mile detour took two hours to navigate. Home at 2:30 AM, we may not have horned, but we sure did honky.

Down in the alley

July 24, 2014 § 40 Comments

A new bobble has been added to the weekly Donut Ride, and I contemplated it as the wankers of the South Bay chewed me up and spit me out. It’s a short, steep, nasty little alleyway that comes after a long uphill slog followed by a fast downhill followed by a gradual climb followed by a very short wall.

The point behind the alley is to crush the spirits and impoverish the souls of those who, even at the outset of the group ride, are already broken.

The Donut Ride has evolved into an almost perfect group ride. It is so hard that to properly complete it you must cheat, cut the course, suck wheel, sneak ahead while everyone is regrouping, or all of the above. The climbs are so vicious that hordes of South Bay bicycle owners refuse to even show up. It drops people while they are still in bed.

In common with all great group rides, it crowns a winner who everyone can dispute, but not actually beat. “Wily Greek is a wheelsucker,” we mutter each time he deftly sprints away at the bottom of the Switchbacks. And like all group rides, great or not, you get to declare yourself the winner of something. “I was the first one to the Domes out of the fastest people who got dropped in the alley.” “I was the fastest climber out of the non-climbing sprinters who live in Long Beach.” Etc. It’s almost as good as Strava.

The Donut Ride also contains the race-within-the-race element that so many of us live for: the OTB flailer who nonetheless fights tooth and toenail to finish ahead of the other OTB flailer who said something rude to him on Facebook. Best of all, like all group rides it’s free, starts close to home, doesn’t require an entry fee or a license, and when done properly will effectively wreck any legitimate training plan or racing goal.

The ideal group ride, which the Donut is, will be intense enough to destroy your legs but not make you faster. It will be long enough to exhaust you but not long enough to build your endurance. It will force you to ride either too slow to build your engine, or so fast that you’ll need an entire week in order to recuperate. It will expose all of your weaknesses and develop none of your strengths. Best of all, if you are a Donut vainquer, your victories will translate into little more than DNF’s and barely-finished’s at legitimate stage races.

It is a cul-de-sac for performance, and crystal meth for the legs. Plus, it finishes near several brewpubs which open about the time the ride finishes.

But the hardest group ride in America … Where is it?

My default vote goes to my own backyard; yours probably does, too. After all, no kid is smarter or better looking than your own. The Donut Ride is about 50 miles long and boasts about 5,000 feet of climbing. It goes off every Saturday, with anywhere from 80 to 100 idiots lining up at the start in Redondo Beach in the summer … and less than a dozen making it to base of the Switchbacks-to-Crest climb thirty minutes later, after which the smashing begins in earnest.

But is it the hardest?

The Swami’s ride in Encinitas is horrifically hard and staffed with twisted mutants like Tinstman, Bordine, Marckx, and Thurlow, but it’s shorter (about 30 miles) and “only” has 3,500 feet of climbing. Then there’s the SPY Holiday Ride, a beatdown so vicious that if I make it up the first climb without getting shelled I consider it a total victory: 60 miles, 4,000 feet of climbing, and a 100+ field that is always stacked with state champions, national champions, and group ride champions who live just to dish it out on gang slugfests like this one. The ugliness is sharpened by competition for KOM and sprint awards given out post-ride in the form of BWR Ale brewed by the Lost Abbey.

But is it the hardest?

I don’t know. America is filled with group rides that go off every Saturday, Sunday, holiday, Tuesday, Thursday, and every other day that ends in “-day.”

How do you evaluate their difficulty? The following criteria, for sure …

  1. Length. Should be more than 40 miles, less than 70. It has to be long enough not to simulate any race you’d actually do, but short enough that it can be completed before your wife goes completely apeshit at another wasted weekend on the bike. Also, it must be long enough so that you perform all chores and kid-activities with a glum face and lagging step.
  2. Elevation. Enough to make it hard, but not so much that the only champions weigh less than 130-lbs. Ideally, the elevation is spread throughout the ride rather than dumped at the end like the LA Holiday Ride, which is a joke. Having at least one 20-minute climb to obliterate the chubmeisters, the old people, the “just getting into the sport-ers,” and juniors is ideal.
  3. Number of riders. 30, minimum. Having somewhere to hide and suck wheel is crucial for a group ride. Too few people forces everyone to work, which reduces or eliminates the ability to name-call and point the finger after you get shelled.
  4. Wind. The more, the better. Wind is the great unequalizer, because it strips the skinny climbers of their watts/kg advantage and grinds them up into little rat pellets. Wind, preferably cold (although frying-pan hot furnace blasts are good, too), increases the chances of crashing and quitting.
  5. Elements. Freezing rain/brain-scalding heat/crushing humidity are always a plus. Especially in SoCal, where eternal sunshine cultivates softness, a good dose of terrible weather does wonders for separating the wheat from the cadavers.
  6. Pavement. Shitty road surfaces, hairball descents, off-camber paving, unannounced changes from tarmac to gravel … anything that will cause a flat or a crash or potentially crack your frame gets extra points.
  7. Quality of field. This is hard to evaluate, but generally, if the average age is “gets an annual prostate check,” then you’re playing with a worn out deck of cards. One good way to evaluate the field is financial stability. The more people living with girlfriends, out of cardboard boxes, sleeping on couches, the faster and more brutal the ride.

I’ve heard lots of stories about “our local group ride is the toughest,” and would like nothing better than to find out for myself. Is the real badass group ride yours? Post the info in a comment or shoot me an email, fsethd@gmail.com, with a link to the Strava segment if there is one. Extra points if the ride is so badass that it’s not even on Strava. It certainly won’t be any fun to go check it out in person, but it might assuage those late-night worries, i.e. “What am I going to write about tomorrow?”

Bike the Reich

July 16, 2014 § 21 Comments

“I would like to rent you a bicycle,” I said to the lady at the counter, who was understandably confused.

A split second passed. “Oh,” she said, correcting my bad German, “you mean you would like to rent a bicycle from me?”

“Er, yes, please.” This made a whole lot more sense because I was a tourist in Berlin and she was an employee at a bike rental shop. “I would like something in the range of 58 cm, I could go with 56 or 60, but 58 would be best, with a 110mm stem and a cut-out saddle,” I added, smiling. “Something to relieve the pressure down there.”

“Of course,” she said, taking down my passport number and running my credit card.

“Also, SRAM if you have it, although I could do with Dura-Ace. Just not Campy, please, as I’m not too familiar with it.”

I signed the credit card receipt and we went out back to the rental bikes. There were about twenty black 3-speeds with upright handlebars, baskets, balloon tires, huge foam saddles, and giant v-cutouts instead of top tubes so I could get on and off in my skirt.

“Which one would you like?” she asked. They were all identically sized.

“Can I have the black one?”

“Of course,” she said, unlocking the enormous 10-lb. chain that went with the bike, giving me the key, then dropping the chain in the rear basket.

I swayed off, pedaling down the street, slowly gathering speed like an iron steam engine rolling down the rails.

No amount of bicycle iron, however, could detract from the feeling that screamed “Bicycle! Yippee!” that coursed through my veins. Like every bikeless cyclist stranded in a foreign city, after about two days I had begun to eye riders who whizzed by on commuter bikes with a fierce envy that finally turned to nefarious plans to murder some old lady just so I could have her bike to get around on. Of course most old German ladies, particularly in East Berlin, are about 6’4″ and not what I would call easy pickings, so I had inquired and found the rental shop.

As I yippeed along the streets I rolled through Checkpoint Charlie, by the Trabi dealer, past the Mauer Museum and the Topography of Terror Museum and then made a big loop back to Potsdamer Platz. Much of the loop had been in the middle of busy morning traffic and no one cared.

Berlin is a muscular yet understated city, gritty in the eastern part and clotted with big, blocky high-rises that in a thousand years will be extraordinary exemplars of fine architecture but for now just look like deformed Legos made of glass and steroids. Alexanderplatz and environs have the warm tingle of an urban shithole, decorated with American college kids discovering their first European venereal disease, bums collecting bottles from the garbage bins, and gypsy beggars asking “Speak English?” to which I reply “Can I borrow five bucks?” That made them wander off rather quickly.

Back on Helga the Iron One, I yippeed along the bike path until I was where I wanted to be: completely lost. So I yippeed some more until I came to a cafe that was just beginning to set out tables. It was already 8:00 AM, so I ordered a half-liter of Berliner Kindl pilsener. It is a fine, traditionally brewed Berlin beer that combines hints of cardboard and bad water with a forward note of bloody urine.

So I had another, and then two more. After that I lost count, so I paid the bill, or what I thought was the bill but was in fact just a piece of trash. I learned my mistake when the irate waiter chased me down after I’d unlocked Helga. It occurred to me to slap him with the butt-end of the 10-lb. chain, but since I’d never been raped in a German prison I figured I’d pay up and save that experience for another visit.

It is amazing how a bicycle can be transformed by a mere three liters of early morning beer. What had begun as Helga the Fat had become Ulrike the Sleek. “It really does kind of feel like a racing bike,” I said to myself, bouncing off the bike path, over the curb, and out into traffic where I just missed hitting a small but lively bus.

As I mashed on the pedals I was amazed at how fast it went, even though not in a necessarily straight line. However, all of the rush hour traffic was impressed, as they began honking and waving their hands in a show of entusiasm at my expert riding skills. I was in love with this magnificent city, and it with me.

Somehow I ended up in the middle of a giant throng of bike commuters stuck at a red light. There was a woman with a kid on the back. Five or six men in suits. Several old women doing the morning grocery shopping. But I paid no attention to them as I muscled my way to the starting line. I knew who I was going to have to beat: the dude in the helmet on the racing bike.

The light turned green and I jumped on his wheel. He didn’t notice me right away, but as he picked up speed the creaking and groaning of Ulrike caught his attention. What caught his attention even more was when the next light turned red and he braked. Ulrike the Sleek had become Ulrike the Don’t Brake None Too Good, and I whacked his rear wheel so hard with my balloon tire that it knocked him over.

In German I can now pretty much understand “You sorry motherfucker!” It sounds a lot like it does in English. I checked to make sure his tibia was okay and then continued on. Fortunately, just before the beer wore off I spied another cafe and pulled in to top off the tank.

“I would like to buy you a beer,” I told the waiter.

“Thank you,” he said, “but I am working. May I get you something?”

“A beer, please,” I said. It was almost eleven and the day had already been perfect. My German wasn’t getting any better, but I was caring about it less, and I had now learned to say “you motherfucker.” I sat there practicing for a few minutes.

“You motherfucker. You motherfucker. You motherfucker.” I said.

“Excuse me?” asked the waiter, who had arrived with my beer, just as I uttered my last “motherfucker.”

I stared smiling
at the foamy glass. “You look delicious on me.”

He scowled and set it down, but I don’t recall anything else. I’m sure it had a happy ending.

Dependence Day

July 5, 2014 § 10 Comments

Cobley and I drove down to Encinitas for the SPY Holiday Ride. He kept me awake with keen observations about life and an endless string of funny comments about our mutual loathing of wheelsuckers.

The ride started. Guys ahead of me in the massive group of 100+ riders pointed out cracks in the road, potholes, glass, and other obstacles. When I attacked a couple of miles before the first climb with some Aussie wanker named Matthew, he kept pulling through hard, giving me plenty of rest. Thurlow bridged, caught his breath, and towed me up the climb to the first rest spot.

Phil Tinstman put everyone to the sword on the Lake Hodges climb, and Thurlow smoked the meat off our bones on the return sprunt. On a 45-mph descent in the middle of a sweeping turn, Thurlow flatted both tires simultaneously. Anyone else would be in ICU now, but Thurlow calmly brought the smoking, shuddering heap to a stop, changed his flats, and continued home.

Cobley, who had worked like a Trojan, attacked on the flats and dragged me the ten miles or so back to Encinitas. Back at the shop, Brent offered to take a look at my bike, which wasn’t shifting right. He fixed it in a jiffy and, after close inspection, noticed that the frame was fatally cracked. He photographed it and got the ball rolling for a frame replacement. Then he gave me a bottle of water and a discount on a very nice tire.

I started falling asleep on the drive home, so Cobley took over and let me half-nap while he navigated the freeway’s July 4 traffic. I got home at 2:00, put Yasuko’s bike in the back of the Prius with mine, and we drove down to Malaga Cove and parked. It was going to be impossible to drive through Redondo to Manhattan Beach, so we went by bike.

She hadn’t ridden a bike in 30 years, and this was my son’s Specialized road bike, very skinny tires and all. He’s about half a foot taller than her, and I had forgotten to lower the saddle for her. She could sit on the saddle just fine. The “only” problem was that her feet couldn’t reach the pedals.

We stopped a wanker with a massive saddlebag. “Do you have an Allen key?” I asked.

“Sure!” he said. Then he interrupted his ride and emptied the contents of his small suitcase on the pavement. He had three tubes, four CO2 cartridges, a paperback (a paperback?), a spoke wrench, a cell phone, two patch kits, a spare pair of socks, and a giant keyring. “Darn,” he said. “I guess I don’t have my Allen keys.”

But he had stopped and tried to help us and we were appreciative. “Why don’t you try Marcel’s?” Yasuko said. “He might be home.”

We walked a mile downhill to Marcel’s and knocked on the door. He ran to answer it in a frenzy. “It’s the last five minutes of the game!” he shouted, dashing back to the couch.

“Can I borrow your Allen wrenches?” I asked.

He sprinted to the garage, raced back and lobbed the 5-pound set of iron keys my direction. I lowered her seat. “Thanks, Marcel!” I said. A Dutch friend who will interrupt even five seconds of a World Cup where his team is still in contention is a friend indeed.

Yasuko rode beautifully on the densely packed bike path, threading drunks with the skill that I’ve still only seen watching kids in Japan ride their bikes to school — graceful, able to navigate the tightest spaces while bar-to-bar with fifty other kids, never braking … and she was singing, too.

In Manhattan Beach, Wehrley welcomed us warmly to his home and plied us with delicious hot dogs, Budweiser, and watermelon. Then we meandered over to Derek and Jami’s encampment on the beach where they shared drinks and stories and laughs.

Around seven we pedaled back to Redondo and collapsed on the couch of Greg and Jeanette, but not before they fed us with more food, hydrated us with copious amounts of water, regaled us with funny stories, and pressed into our hands a cold beer or two.

From their deck overlooking the water we watched the fireworks display just above our head. Well, everyone else at the party did. I slept in the chilly evening on the outdoor couch, draped with a thin blanket and warmed while propped up against the mass of my buddy Gus, the world’s best portable heater.

Home at eleven, Yasuko cooked us each a bowl of delicious instant ramen.

It was a long and wonderful Independence Day of dependence on strangers, family, and friends.

END

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My bicycle cellphone

July 3, 2014 § 44 Comments

In the late 1960’s if you were a kid and you wanted to go somewhere, you went by bicycle. Soccer moms hadn’t been invented yet, and during the summertime if you wanted to leave the house you had to pedal. And you always wanted to go somewhere because the alternative to outside was inside.

Inside meant nothing to do, absolutely nothing. TV for kids didn’t start until re-runs at 3:30 or 4:00, and since we didn’t have a television it didn’t matter anyway. Even the kids who had TV were up by seven and had the whole day to kill until they could watch Speed Racer or Ultraman in the late afternoon.

Inside there was a big box of comics that you had read ten thousand times. There was a stack of records you’d listened to a million times. So the only way you were going to have fun was by hanging out with your friends.

Someone in the neighborhood could always be counted on to want to steal something, beat someone up (hopefully not you, but sometimes it didn’t work out that way), start a game of baseball that would end in a fight, start a game of touch football that ALWAYS became tackle football and ended in a fight, throw things at cars and run away, smoke cigarettes, or see if someone’s older sister would show us her breasts.

The only way to find out what was going on and who was doing what was by using a bicycle cellphone.

You couldn’t call on the home phone because first and foremost, guys never called guys. It was un-guyly to begin with, and fraught with peril because the phone was always in some parent’s bedroom or in the living room. That’s “the phone” as in “the one phone in the entire house.” And it was black and it had a rotary dial with a piece of paper in the middle of the dial that had your phone number written on it in case you were too stupid to remember your own phone number, which no one was because the number was the same your entire life.

Mine was (713) 666-7639.

If Sam Rodriguez had stolen some of his brother’s drugs you couldn’t ask about it on the phone — his mom might be there, and so might yours. It was only by dialing the old bicycle cellphone over to a friend’s house that you could find out what was going on and if anyone wanted to play.

Of course with a bicycle cellphone you often got a busy signal. “Hello, Miz Schuermann. Is Mark home?”

“Why no, he isn’t, Seth.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“He may be over at John Sweeney’s.”

So you’d have to pedal over to John’s house a few blocks away and hope that he was there. Parents often had no idea where their kids were, and never had any idea what they were doing or when they would be home, except that it would be shortly before dinner.

Sometimes you’d have to go to several houses, then to the pool, and then to the park before you found anyone. That old bicycle cellphone would get dialed to hell and back before someone answered. And once you hooked up with your pals you’d ride somewhere else — the 7-11 to steal candy or play pinball, back to the pool for a swim to see if you could catch some girl’s top or bottom getting jerked down when she went off the high dive, or over to the Duques’ to see if anyone had any dope to smoke.

This meant you were always on your bike. More than that, it meant that the lousiest rider in the gang had “skilz.”

When I see new cyclists in their teens or early twenties, I always marvel at the things they can’t do. They can’t ride with their hands off the bars. They have trouble pulling out a water bottle without wobbling like a drunk staggering home from the bar. They can’t hop a curb. They clumsily totter at stoplights when they come to a stop. In short, there is a whole range of skills they never learned because they never had a bicycle cellphone to take them all over the neighborhood. When we wanted to see porn, we had to pedal all the way over to Patrick Klepfer’s place, where his big brother had a stash of Penthouse magazines, and after marveling at the anatomy we would gleefully read the Letters. Nowadays kids don’t need a cellphone bicycle to see porn, they just tap-and-jerk.

It was a matter of a couple of bike rides for me to learn how to use toeclips and toestraps when I got my first road bike. Why? Because sticking your foot into a metal cage and cinching down the strap was nothing compared to the ramps.

We had two. One was on the way to school, on Pine Street just before you got to Braeburn Elementary. There was a big ditch that ran parallel to the road. You’d start fifteen or twenty yards back and pedal like hell for the lip of the ditch. Then you’d shoot down into the ditch and up the other side, “catching air.” The landing zone was about five feet long, and you had to time it perfectly or you’d fly off the curb and into oncoming traffic.

No one got killed, but we had plenty of close calls. The idols could catch huge air, hit the ground, and stop just before going over the curb. We wankers would catch little air, close our eyes, and pray that the cars were paying attention.

The big ramp was on Chimney Rock. It had a long dirt entry, went down into a very deep ditch, and came up a vertical lip that was much higher than the entry lip. If you didn’t have huge speed you wouldn’t even make it over, and would tip backwards, cracking your head and spine as you backflipped into the ditch. If you had huge speed you would go so high in the air that without perfect positioning you’d have your forehead staved in by the giant tree limbs that overhung the landing zone.

Our parents never paid attention to us when we came home covered in dirt and smeared with blood. How else WOULD we have come home?

As I pedaled along the bike path the other day, despairing of this younger generation that doesn’t instinctively know how to avoid death and dismemberment on a bicycle, I saw something that made my heart sing.

It was a 12 or 13-year-old kid on a cruiser bike with a surfboard racked to the side of the bike. He had one hand on the bars and was texting with the other. No helmet, pedaling in flip-flops. The path was crowded and he weaved between countless Obstacles of Death. He hit a thick patch of sand, barely stayed upright with one hand, and never stopped texting despite narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with a baby stroller. He might even have been high.

My optimism for the future of America has never been greater.

END

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