October 17, 2014 § 7 Comments
The alarm went off at 4:00 AM. I had barely recovered from the NPR thrashing of the day before, and hurriedly gulped my coffee in order to make the 6:30 start time of the Thursday SPY ride in Encinitas. In addition to my busy pro masters off-season group ride schedule, which would be a big part of my resume for the coming year, I also had some serious business matters to attend to regarding a couple of employees who live and work for my firm in North County San Diego.
The ride started gently but finished like every grisly airplane accident: Body parts strewn about the asphalt, muffled groans of the survivors, and horrified looks of impending death carved into the ghoulish faces of the dead. The raging attacks of Abate, Full-Gas Phil, Dandy, Stefanovich, MMX, and Smasher reduced the 50-strong group to less than ten riders at the end.
After the ride, Abate, Smasher, and I pedaled around aimlessly until we found donuts. A fat, greasy, sugary bag of dough later we pedaled some more and said good-bye. I still had my serious business matter on my mind, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant. My associates had frankly been under-performing in some key metrics. Although we’d had a number of performance reviews, nothing changed.
Oliver would always say, “Yes, sir, I understand, I’ll start doing [ ---- ] right away,” but he never did.
Stanley, on the other hand, would want to debate things. “That’s not how it happened,” or “You need to take into consideration the fact that … “
It was very frustrating to have these guys collecting a paycheck and refusing to do what they were told. Very frustrating. And since they’d been with me for a couple of years, and I’d invested considerably in their training, it was going to be hard to let them go.
“What should I do?” I asked Smasher.
“You should have a beer.”
“It’s 8:45 AM.”
“Okay, then you should have two.”
“Only a terrible alcoholic would have beer before nine o’clock, and only a hideously terrible alcoholic would know where to find any.”
“There’s a little cafe near my place,” he said. “They serve great breakfasts and cold beer.”
We went to the cafe and ordered. The “breakfast” was a scrambled egg in a paper cup and a piece of cardboard painted to look like toast. The beer, on the other hand, was tap-fresh Stone IPA served in iced glasses. After a couple, the employee problem didn’t look so bad.
“Look,” said Smasher, who shares an apartment with my associates. “They aren’t bad, they just aren’t super motivated. Some things they do well, other things, not so much. Focus on their attributes, try to see it from their perspective.”
We had two more pints, then another two, then threw away the cardboard and eggs. “Let’s walk over to your place,” I said. “Now’s as good a time as any to have the talk.”
“Agreed,” he said. Through the fog I could see three or four other early morning customers washing down their AM beer with cardboard.
“What a bunch of drunks,” I said disgustedly to Smasher.
We reached Smasher’s place and the associates were there. They knew I meant business, but no matter how much they wagged their tails I didn’t crack so much as a smile.
We sat down on the couch. “Look, guys,” I said. Then I faltered. “I’m gonna take a quick nap and then we’re going to have to talk business.”
I stretched out on the couch and fell asleep for thirty minutes or four hours. As I lay there I could feel the warm furry little bodies of Oliver and Stanley curled up around my feet, which went from cold to toasty. They snuggled against my leg, repositioning only to increase the toasty-leg-factor.
When I awoke they opened their eyes, then came over to lick my nose. “Let’s get to work guys, shall we?” I said.
They nodded and bounded downstairs. All good.
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October 15, 2014 § 16 Comments
I got a problem. It’s kind of hard to explain but basically I am sick of my team and want to tell them to fuck off without hurting their feelings but also can I keep my bike and shoes and helmet until my new team gives me my new stuff for ’15?
Breaking up is hard to do, but there is a humane way to let people know that you don’t like them even though you like their bikes and money and stuff. First, make sure the new team will take you. It’s bad karma to jump ship without having secured a landing place, otherwise you will probably land in a pile of shit. Second, well, there is no second.
Dear Wanky Dude:
I really like my current team, but there is another team that will give me more shit than my current team. What should I do?
Swag > Loyalty. Duh.
I hate team drama. One guy on our team is mad at some other guy on our team and the other guy is mad at the people who are mad at some other people. All I want to do is race my bike and be a professional masters racer. Also, our team deal isn’t the greatest. We only get a $10k bike for $3k, and aside from the four free kits and skinsuit and shoes and discounted wheels and free nutritional supplements (all of which are pretty much legal), all we get are race reimbursements and half-off tires and free helmets, along with team t-shirts and podium hats and jackets and free socks and a full winter kit and free performance eyewear. The winter kit is bullshit because we live in SoCal. I want to be a good team member but I can’t help feeling like I’m getting screwed. I placed in the top-20 three times last year, and got a top-10 placing in the Festering Pustule Race Series as a 55+ Cat 3 Masters racer. Should I be angling for a better deal, or is this pretty much the best I can hope for? Kind of sucks, right?
You aren’t getting screwed, you’re getting raped. Most SoCal masters racers with your pedigree command all the above plus a free TT bike and track bike and ‘cross bike along with a monthly stipend of $500 to cover beer and Uber/Lyft to and from your favorite dive bar. You should sit down with your team director and calmly go over your race resume. Remember not to shout or to call him a “fucking moron d-bag.” Also, remind him that 2015 will be your breakout year. You got this, bro.
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October 9, 2014 § 21 Comments
When Manslaughter, Surfer, Pablo, and Boozy showed up for this morning’s Wednesday Waffle ride, we didn’t immediately notice the wanker sitting off to the side in his anonymous blue-and-black kit. As we pedaled off I saw him roll out with us.
“Daniel!” I said as I recognized him. “You coming with us?”
“Sure,” he said with a grin.
It’s not often that the best bike racer in America shows up for a mid-week flailfest designed primarily to see how much abuse a road bike can take in an MTB environment before the bike fails, the rider falls, or both. That’s “not often” as in “never.” But Daniel Holloway isn’t like other champions.
As we rode along the deadliest, most technical part of the ride — a pan-flat bike path with one flat right-turn into a parking lot — Surfer took the opportunity to show us some skilz, which involved him falling on his butt, scraping his elbow, bending his derailleur, and creating a location on the bike path that will henceforth be known forever as Cobley’s Corner.
Holloway was immediately behind him, and I couldn’t believe that he hadn’t also fallen down and run over Surfer’s aorta. “How’d you keep from running over his aorta?” I asked.
Holloway looked at me funny and said, “As we approached the turn I was looking at his front hub and it was going at a funny angle and then I realized that he was going sort of fast, and even though you couldn’t see any sand in the turn we were on the bike path, and the bike path is surrounded on both sides by beach sand, so I just eased up a bit so that when he started to fall I was able to go straight and not hit …”
“His aorta?” I asked.
“Um, yeah, sure,” said Holloway. “His aorta.” He looked over at Boozy and Manslaughter but they gave him that look that says “Don’t worry he always talks like that just ignore it and it will go away.”
Since Surfer, who’s pretty good at not falling off his bike and has great off road skills, had fallen off his bike in a corner that most four-year-olds could negotiate blind, the pressure was off for the rest of the day for the rest of us. Now we could fall off our bikes with abandon and not feel too badly about it.
I first met Holloway late last year when he was in SoCal getting in some work at the Carson velodrome before shipping out for the Euro 6-day season. He had shown up on the NPR wearing a Mike’s Bikes kit that was unusual except for the red-white-blue stripes sewn onto his sleeve.
“Who’s that wanker?” I wondered, along with, “wonder where on eBay he found those stripes and I wonder if I could buy a set for myself, too?”
It turns out that “that wanker” was the fastest guy in America, which is fine and all that. But what was unusual, aside from the fact that he kept showing up to ride with the flea-bitten common herd was the fact that after the rides he’d pedal over to CotKU and hang out. It was Phil Tinstman-esque … a guy who’s head and shoulders above everyone else but is humble, fun, and down to earth.
Whoever Mike’s Bikes was, they had a guy who was making them look more than good. He wasn’t simply going above and beyond for the team that was paying his salary, he seemed to enjoy it. After meeting him I went home and bought twelve Mike’s Bikes jerseys, a Mike’s Bike multitool, four gallons of Mike’s Bikes chain and sex lube, and a gross of Mike’s Bikes spare tires. I was stoked.
In the times since we met that he’s ridden with us hackers, it has amazed me how he listens patiently to the sorry, delusional ramblings of 50-plus wankers and their pathetic pleas for coaching help. “So, Daniel, how can I get to the next level?”
“Which level is that?”
“You know, I want to go like Wiggins in a TT.”
Instead of saying “Consider purchasing a motorcycle,” he shares what he knows in amazing detail, and it doesn’t take long to figure out that he’s a hard-core advocate of clean cycling.
He’s also up for a crazy good time, as today’s ride showed. When we caught up to Manslaughter atop Sullivan Ridge, he was standing in front of a narrow chute that plunged off the side of the mountain to a place that resembled Horrible Injury, or maybe it was Certain Death. “Wanna try this little single track?” Manslaughter asked. “It’s called Joe Jr. Drop.”
“Where does it go?” I asked.
“Down to the old Nazi camp.”
“Sure,” I said. “Leaping off an unpaved cliff on a road bike into a Nazi camp. What could possibly go right?”
As I launched off the edge Manslaughter said, “Yo, Wanky. You might want to close the … “
I didn’t hear him, but soon figured out that he meant the little thingy on the side of the rear brake, which I always keep wide open and which now, on a steep, sandy, twisting trail wasn’t really slowing me down. At all. Fortunately, on MTB trails there are lots of things besides brakes to slow you down, and the one that worked quickest and most effectively for me was a big tree.
I fell off my bike, got up, and then braked again with a patented maneuver called, “I’m very afraid right now of falling so I’ll just fall down right here even though it’s straight and obstacle-free to get it over with.”
Also, who knew that road bikes didn’t work well on sandy, steep single track? Just before we reached the bottom, Manslaughter yelled back at us. “Hey, you’re almost done. But watch the last turn, it’s technical.”
Holloway, who was in front of me, took note of the danger, then fell off his bike and skidded down the last few feet on his shoulder, with his handlebar stabbing painfully into his knee. We sat on a rock wall and watched him take stock, pleased at having ruined the lucrative Euro 6-day season of America’s top rider without having done hardly any injury to ourselves. Apparently, though, he was going to live, although a giant, 4-inch, purple bruise-welt-charley-horse on his knee was growing larger by the second.
“If we call Life Flight,” I said, “you’ll at least set the KOM going back up.”
We rode through the old Nazi camp and over a trail filled with giant shards of razor shale, then climbed a twisty, steep wall back up to Sullivan Ridge, then rode to the ICBM site, then continued down the dirt trail until it dumped out at Mandeville. When we returned to Manhattan Beach we parked at Brewco and fought the recession with several well-timed beer purchases and plates of nachos.
Through it all, Holloway was good-natured, and didn’t seem bothered that we had ruined his career by taking him down a path that no sane person would have done on a road bike. He was a professional, friendly guy who exuded friendliness and goodwill.
Now that is a champion.
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October 8, 2014 § 56 Comments
I once knew a right-wing-whackjob from Clarendon, Texas, who ran the local paper. It was called the Clarendon Enterprise, and you might think that the name was a testament to the free market glory hole. However, when you went into Roger Estlack’s office, you noticed a giant poster of the spaceship that carried Kirk and Spock to parts unknown, including, presumably, Mr. Sulu’s. The Texas Panhandle’s most fervent supporter of conservatism was apparently inspired not by the U.S. Constitution but by the aliens. At least that’s the message I took back home.
Roger’s favorite target was any piece of legislation that was “for the children,” and nothing could get a good, old-fashioned boil of foam spewing out of his mouth quicker than a policy to protect “the children.” One time the Texas Ag Commissioner tried to regulate french fries in schools, pointing out that grease-soaked lard grenades were hardly good for developing little bodies.
Roger mercilessly ridiculed the Nanny State. “We survived drinking from garden hoses, we survived bikes without helmets, and we even survived french fries, so get your stinking government out of my kid’s life!” he railed, or something to that effect. He was a childless bachelor at the time.
Of course, once Roger got married and had kids, he never again ridiculed children or measures for their protection as far as I ever saw, but that’s a different story. He probably drives his kids to school and fearfully checks out the school playground to make sure the equipment there is safe.
At the other end of the spectrum from Roger there are the bike helmet nannies, people who go absolutely berserk when someone shows up without a helmet, as I did last Sunday on a big ride commemorating the death of a local cyclist. The day before I’d come close to passing out from heatstroke, and rather than head out to the frying pan of West LA and Mulholland Drive with my helmet in place I chose to do what I did almost every day of my life from 1982 until 2005: I hopped on my bike and pedaled happily away without a helmet.
My history with helmets is a checkered one. I opposed the hardshell helmet rule when the USCF passed it in 1985 or 1986, and got suspended for a few months after writing a very rude and offensive letter to cycling officialdom stating my displeasure. What can I say? I was dumb. I reluctantly wore helmets in races, and refused to wear one anywhere else.
It was only in 2005, when I started riding in Houston and people on the local group ride became virulently hostile and physically threatening that I caved in and started wearing a helmet. My refusal to wear one was worse than making some kind of personal statement. They took it as a person attack on them, something that threatened their safety. (Huh?) Unhelmeted I was called an “asshole,” a “fucking idiot,” a “crazy bastard,” and was insulted as well.
No matter how much I hated helmets, I hated being yelled at incessantly and eventually gave in to peer pressure at least during group rides. Little by little it became a habit until one day, October 25, 2013, I fell off my bicycle at 40 mph and landed square on my head. I can’t say that the helmet saved my life, but it certainly saved me from certain brain damage. More, I mean.
Although there is pretty good science that says current helmet designs can cause as much damage as they can prevent injury, the existence of MIPS technology seems to finally have turned a corner and created a helmet that can protect from direct, straight-line force injuries, and can also protect from low impact rotational brain trauma, the primary cause of concussions. In other words, with the right helmet you’re pretty much safer with it than without it.
But it’s a funny word, “safer,” because you certainly give up a few things when you strap on a lid. Descending Mulholland without a helmet at 40 with a gaggle of idiots as you leap chugholes and bounce off of loose rocks, you will — I promise — ride as if your life depended on every pedal stroke. Vulnerability begets care, and up to a point care is the best safety precaution ever invented. Second, when you click the chinstrap you give up some simple sensory pleasures. Most people will never know the feeling of having the wind in their hair. At 40. Going downhill. On a bike.
And they’ll be poorer for it.
But the biggest tradeoff is this: When you choose safety, you give up the benefits that come from taking risk and surviving it. This is no small thing, especially in the world of bicycling, where at its outset you are climbing aboard a 15-lb. piece of plastic and navigating narrow spaces with cars and trucks. And as Arik Kadosh never tires of pointing out, you’re doing it with protective gear that is the functional equivalent of underwear.
If someone is truly concerned about safety as their guiding star, why would they ride bikes on the road in a group? The answer is that safety really isn’t the primary factor, or, more likely, safety is a big factor and in general riding a bike is pretty darn safe whether you’re helmeted or not.
The elephant in the room vis-a-vis safety isn’t just the basic risk of bike v. car, though. It’s also the risk that I call “equipment choice.” Several of the people who berated me for my failure to wear a helmet were riding on bicycle wheels made for 120-lb. Tour climbers. I’d contend that a 190-lb. rider bombing down Latigo or Mulholland or any other long, fast descent in the LA hills on a fiery hot day while seated atop an ultralight pair of carbon tubulars is taking a much bigger risk than I did riding without a helmet. My 32-spoke aluminum box-rim Mavic OpenPro clinchers with lightly worn 25 mm tires are, in that regard at least, a much bigger commitment to safety than the big boys and big girls riding ultralight race wheels.
And then, when you talk about bike safety, the two safest things you can do are 1) ride with a bright headlight and tail light at all times, and 2) take lane instead of cowering in the gutter. So it struck me as funny that people who don’t really maximize their own safety would find my helmet-less attire so offensive, ostensibly because of the danger.
Of course none of this is to encourage people to ride without helmets. People should analyze risk and act accordingly, which means, overwhelmingly, that people should wear helmets. But in some cases, the danger and the thrill and the freedom that come from being out on the edge add meaning and pleasure to your life in a way that safety, by definition, cannot. Even if riding helmetless for a single afternoon is a pretty low-risk act, having people behave as if it’s like jumping the Snake River Canyon seated behind Evel Knievel makes it ten times more exciting than it would otherwise be. Where else can you get the thrill of feeling like the lead gangster in the Hell’s Angels as a 50-year old guy with a droopy bosom and saggy tummy except by riding around on a bicycle in your underwear without a helmet?
“That Wanky … he’s a fucking idiot … and that’s daaaaaaaangerous!!!” Yes to the one, not necessarily to the other.
There is profound fun to be had doing things that other people call suicidal and dangerous, especially when, like last Sunday, it’s probably neither. Whether you’re salmoning up Tuna Canyon or heating your rims on the Las Flores descent, though, danger is sometimes its own reward, a reward much sweeter than anything you’ll get on the bike path. The thrill of danger is more than a nutty person’s weird behavior. A maxim from one of the oldest, deadliest professions says, with great wisdom, “Safe harbors make poor sailors.”
In other words, there’s a balance between doing things that may kill you and learning from the risk, and being a fraidy cat who starts and squawks every time he hears a mouse fart. It’s why people who race bikes in mass start events have generally better bike handling skills than the freddie in the recumbent who never deviates from the bike path. Not that one’s better than the other, except, when it comes to bike skills, one of them probably is. It doesn’t mean the better bike handler will live longer or have fewer crashes or make more money or have more fun, but it does mean that if you want better skills you have be put in challenging and, yes, dangerous situations.
So is riding helmetless a good way to improve your bike skills? Uh, no.
But the same impulse that lets you say “Oh, fuck it,” and pedal without a lid may be the same impulse that lets you line up and do a race, or try a challenging downhill course, or have a go at a job opening you would have never considered otherwise. Risk, danger, failure, disappointment, injury, and death can be really bad outcomes, but sometimes the only way to claw your way to the other side where you’re awaited by comfort, success, satisfaction, health, and vigorous living involves doing things that, taken by themselves, are ostensibly stupid and unnecessarily risky.
One good friend wrote to say that he didn’t want to start a debate when he saw me without a helmet, but his concern was purely selfish. He wanted me around because he liked me.
I assured him that this wasn’t a new retro-retro-protest movement, and I didn’t intend to repeat my bad behavior any time soon. I’d even been wrong about the weather that day; it never got particularly hot. But at the same time, after being scolded by so many well-meaning people, I did feel like I’d dodged a bullet, cheated death, somehow done something a little bit daring and wild.
You know, like when we rode bikes as children, and riding without a helmet wasn’t considered dangerous, it was just considered being a kid. And no one ever considered that kind of bike safety … for the chillllldren.
October 6, 2014 § 9 Comments
I rode out to the memorial ride this morning for Stuart Press. He was 39, and left behind a one-year-old son, wife, grieving mother, and devastated cycling community after fighting a brief battle with brain cancer.
I never met Stu.
Well over three hundred riders massed at the start of this Sunday’s legendary west L.A. Nichols Ride, which had been dedicated to him. Like me, many of the riders had never met him.
One block up from the start there is a Starbucks, and riders crowded into the small store to get a snack and a cup of coffee. They had come from all over, with the Surf City team fielding six riders from as far away as Orange County and Long Beach. Starbucks is a natural place to start a ride from, simply because so many cyclists enjoy a quick jolt before they start pedaling in earnest.
But you don’t start the Nichols Ride at Starbucks. Founded by Raymond Fouquet, the oldest and most venerable ride in L.A., the La Grange ride, always began at Raymond’s restaurant. That restaurant, long gone, is now the site of an anonymous west L.A. office building. A few years ago the tradition of starting at the former site of Raymond’s restaurant began to erode, just because it was easier to roll out from the Starbucks.
The old guard saw what was happening, and quietly put the word out: Get your coffee wherever you want, but the La Grange ride starts where Raymond’s restaurant used to be. The new folks got the message.
Why should anyone care? It’s only one block. And why start from an antiseptic office block when you could start from a food-and-coffee-infused eatery?
The answer of course is that details matter, because history is in the details, and our present is constructed on the building blocks of the past, and our future will be built based on how we conduct ourselves now. This is another way of saying that sentiments matter. Because Raymond Fouquet was beloved, and because the things he began changed people’s lives, and because those he affected felt love for him, the sentiments surrounding something as simple as the starting point of a bike ride have meaning. By honoring the past we are honoring the sentiments of the past, and we are allowing those sentiments of love to stay alive and empower us, even though the people themselves are dead.
It’s through the details that we cheat time, and cheat death.
If you ride bikes, and if you write about bikes, you will become familiar with death. People fall, get hit, get sick, get old, and then they’re not around anymore, forever. But in our cycling community, those losses are keenly felt. Riders we used to laugh with, race against, talk trash about, and count on are people who have made us what we are, for better or worse, and almost always for better. When they die, it hits us so much harder than the passing of a distant relative in a distant place, or a celebrity on the screen.
When Stuart died, we all gasped and said, “That could have been me.”
We hit the lower slopes of Nichols Canyon. The only other time I had done this ride, three years ago, KP and Surfer Dan had exploded the massive field and gone on to “win” the ride. It was a searing exercise in endless pain and abject terror as we shot through red lights, bounced over chugholes, and flailed our way to the breathless finish.
Not today. We climbed slowly and densely bunched. We descended quickly but carefully. We ended in Brentwood still filled with adrenaline and excess energy, a huge group of hundreds that had done anything but “leave it all on the road.” Along the way we talked about Stu, we talked about our own mortality, and we gave thanks, each in our own way, for simply being allowed the gift of life.
The details of where we started, where we finished, and what we did in between to honor the life of a good man, those details, like the details of Stuart’s life, mattered.
October 5, 2014 § 11 Comments
I used to think I was smart. I used to think I was handsome. I used to think I was going to be rich. I used to think I was good in bed. I used to think I was going to have a good job. I used to think life was fair.
I used to think I was a climber.
I thought I was a climber because I could go uphill faster than most of the other people I rode with. No matter that I lived in Austin, where there weren’t any real climbs. At 135 pounds, I was a climber.
Then I met Marco. Marco wasn’t a climber. He weighed about 150, and was my height. He had won the Tour of the Netherlands, and had come to Texas to escape the cold Euro winter.
“You look like a climber,” I said.
“Me? I’m no climber.” And he meant it.
To myself I thought, “Good.” To him I said, “Let’s go up the back side of Jester.”
“Okay,” he cheerfully answered, never having gone up any side of Jester, front or back.
Jester was my domain because I was a climber. The back side of Jester was vicious and steep. In my memory it was a 45 percent grade, six miles long. In reality it was probably less.
We hit the bottom and I looked back at Marco, whose nickname was “The Lung.” Why hadn’t that nickname made an impression on me, I wondered later?
Marco, who would later do the Tour a couple of times racing for Chazal, easily and breezily pedaled by me. I gave it the best effort I’ve ever given anything, but he vanished rather quickly. We regrouped at the top.
“I thought you said you weren’t a climber,” I said.
“I’m not.” And he wasn’t. So what did that make me?
Luckily, I soon forgot about Marco and once he left Texas I became a climber again. Then I moved to Japan. I was the fastest guy up the climb in Shinrin Park, the course they later used for the World Championships in 1990. No one could hold my wheel because I was a climber.
I met a guy who ran a bike shop. He was very small, maybe 120 pounds. “You look like a climber,” I said to Wada-san.
“I’m no climber,” he said.
“Good,” I thought, and took him out to the Shinrin Park climb. We hit the bottom and he dusted me off rather easily.
“I thought you said you weren’t a climber,” I said to Wada-san.
“I’m not,” he said. And he wasn’t.
Fortunately, I forgot about Wada-san and became a climber again. I was a very good climber in Miami, Texas, where there are no people, and in Houston, where there are no hills. Then I came to California. On my first few rides in PV, everyone dropped me. My riding partner, Crabs, was a fat, hairy-legged sprunter who dumped me on every climb.
One day I was talking to Fukdude after we’d gone up Fernwood. He had dropped me early. “Fuck, dude,” said Fukdude. “You’re no climber.”
“Nah. You’re too fucking fat. And big. And tall.”
“You’re a great climber.”
“Me? Dude, I’m no climber. I’m just a tall dude. You should forget about climbing and focus on something that fits your cycling body type.”
“Fuck, dude, I dunno. Drinking, maybe?”
It only took 32 years, but I finally figured it out. I’m no climber. When you look at legit climbers when they’re on the bike, they seem to be sort of your size, but when they get off the bike they aren’t. They’re tiny, squnched up, newt-like mini-versions of real people, little bags of skin stretched around massive lung bags and bony, veiny, spidery legs. None of them have big tummies.
The Donut Ride started today, and after a while the climbers-plus-Davy rolled away. Rudy, Wily, and a couple of other newts vanished. We hit the Switchbacks and it separated out pretty quickly. Somehow I was still with the lead chase group, even though it had some really tiny people in it. “Fuggitaboutit,” I told myself. “You’re no climber.”
Tregillis and his 3-lb. bike faded. Chatty Cathy faded. Suddenly there was nothing left but three or four climbers and me.
We hit the ramp to the Domes and Sandoval punched it. Sandoval is five-foot-five and weighs less than Tregillis’s bike. I leaped onto his wheel, and it was just him and me.
One by one, we passed the suicides who’d started out with Rudy and Stathis the Wily Greek. I had given up all hope. Sandoval is 26, the same age as my eldest daughter. He attacked me a couple of times, displeased with the fat, tubby, wheezing lardball dangling on his wheel. Somehow I hung on.
With a quarter-mile to go, Sandoval got out of the saddle. I matched his pace for a while, and then I didn’t. He vanished around the turn and I got fourth. Which is pretty damned good for someone who isn’t a climber.
October 3, 2014 § 28 Comments
I sometimes hear riders talk about getting lost, but I don’t believe it. Hardly anyone gets lost anymore. With a phone and a Garmin, you can’t.
My first proper bike ride, I got lost. “Lost” as in “I had no fucking idea where I was, where I was going, or how to get back home.” On that December day in 1982 I took my mostly new Nishiki International into Freewheeling Bicycles. Uncle Phil had told me to bring it in after I’d ridden it for a month to get it tuned up. He checked the cables and made a few minor adjustments, all for free, of course.
“Where is a good place to cycle if I want to ride longer than my commute to school?” I asked him.
He grabbed a bicycling map from a little rack and spread it out on the counter. “How far do you want to go?”
“I don’t know. A couple of hours, maybe?”
He bent down over the map and used a pencil to trace a route from the bike shop to Manor and back. In those days once you got just the tiniest bit east of Austin, there was nothing but country roads. “Have a good ride,” he said.
I started out on what was a cool and sunny day. As the route went east, I passed through poor parts of Austin I never knew existed. Although I’d tried to memorize the streets and the turns, I periodically took out the map and checked. It was a big city map, and the wind made it flap, and it shared the common deficiency of all maps, that is, once they are unfolded they can’t be refolded along the same lines. It’s the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics, actually.
So each time I’d refold the map along different lines and stick it back into my sweaty wool jersey it would be soggier the next time I took it out. Oh, and wet paper tends to tear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Garmin tear.
By the time I got up to somewhere, located just off of somewhere else, and not too far from over yonder, I was totally fucking lost and my map was in tatters. You know what used to happen when you got lost? You got scared. Just the word “lost” was scary. Lost is what happened to soldiers who ran out of water tracking Indians between Texas and Mexico, and ended in them drinking their own piss, and then slitting their veins to drink their own blood.
Lost is what happened when you were miles from a convenience store, when you didn’t have a phone, when email hadn’t been invented, and when you didn’t dare go up to some brokedown trailer with a junkyard dog on a chain and ask the woman in the wifebeater t-shirt where you were.
Worst of all, lost was something you were going to have to deal with, and it wasn’t going to be fun because however far you planned to ride, lost only happened when you were the absolute farthest from home, and lost guaranteed that you were about to add twenty miles of riding to your trip.
Lost also, in accordance with the Fifth Law of Thermodynamics, only occurred when your one water bottle was empty and the day had reached its maximum temperature and that tiny saddle sore had bloomed into a gaping magnolia-sized flower of blood and pus, and, if you were really lucky, after you’d flatted and used your last tube and had bonked.
Fortunately, I was endowed with a keen sense of direction, which I relied on until I flagged down a pickup. “Where’s Manor?” I asked.
“Manor? You’re headed in the wrong direction, sonny. Just turn around and follow this road for the next ten miles or so.”
Ten miles or so, in Texas, is a distance roughly equivalent to something between ten and fifty miles. I flipped it and got to Manor, eventually. Even more eventually, I got back home, but without a Garmin I wasn’t even able to console myself with the satisfaction of knowing how far I’d ridden. The only consolation was, I suppose, that I hadn’t had to drink my own blood.
But that’s not quite true. Getting lost meant a couple of things. First, incredible satisfaction at finding your way back. If the bike ride was an accomplishment, getting lost and then getting found was an even bigger one. Second, you learned the roads. Nothing sharpens your sense of location and memory of places like fear. I can still remember that route vividly. Third, it almost always made a good story, especially the part where you broke down and begged the woman in the wifebeater to let you drink out of the hose and she said, “Shore, it’s over there by the dog, don’t worry he won’t bite usually,” and you had to decide whether it was going to be worse getting the rabies shots or drinking your own piss and blood.
Yesterday Derek and I headed east and took the LA River Bike Trail. It goes northeast and ends not far from somewhere, pretty close to over yonder but not as far as way over yonder. We stopped to take a leak.
“Dude,” he said. “I gotta know where we are.” He whipped out his phone.
“Hell, I can tell you where we are,” I said.
“Yeah?” he glanced up as he waited for his phone to pick up a signal. “Where?”
“We aren’t lost, that’s where.”