Everywhere is local

May 21, 2014 § 17 Comments

A couple of days ago I traveled to Philadelphia for my eldest son’s college graduation. It felt good to be away from the bike, not overtrained or undertrained, just mediocritrained. Sometimes it’s nice to leave your bike behind.

On Saturday I posted a photo on Facebag and immediately got a message from Skip. I met him last year when he was in Los Angeles. He’s a national masters champion and rides for the Time Factory Team out of Pasadena, even though he lives in Boston. He showed up for a couple of NPR sessions, handily outsprinting everyone, and hung around afterwards to trade lies and drink coffee on the bricks at the Center of the Known Universe.

Skip was in Philly on business this past weekend and was just around the corner from Franklin Field, where graduation ceremonies were taking place. We swapped a couple of messages and agreed to meet up at Monk’s Cafe that evening. If you’re looking for the inside track on the best beer joint I’ve yet to find in Philadelphia, Monk’s is the place. They don’t have a beer menu, they have a beer telephone book. Bring your reading glasses.

Fortunately I didn’t have to read much farther than on the first page where it listed “Lost Abbey Devotion” as one of the beers on tap. I couldn’t make up my mind whether it was nicer to meet a familiar face or a familiar beer in this faraway city, so I compromised and agreed with myself that it was great to meet both.

The night went on and the empties kept piling up and everything got foggy and all the women started looking beautiful and the proprietors of Monk’s Cafe began to shake the entire place so that the floor and table swayed in the oddest way, but I endeavored to persevere. Back in the hotel it occurred to me that Skip had never shown up, which was weird. I checked my Facebag messages and saw that many hours ago he had taken a picture at the cafe, surrounded by food and drink, wondering where the hell I was.

“That’s a great question,” I said to myself. “Where the hell am I?”

The next morning Skip and I exchanged messages. “Sorry, dude,” I said. “I never saw you.”

“That’s okay,” he said. “I was at the bar right next to the door the whole night.”

“How much longer are you in Philly?”

“Leaving later today.”

“Want to grab a beer after I’m done with the commencement exercises?”

There was a pause in messages, as if he were trying to work out how someone who couldn’t find someone else in a small bar was going to make contact in a big city like Philadelphia. “Sure,” he wrote.

One thing led to another and that afternoon we were seated at the City Tap House. Now here’s the weird thing. When you don’t know someone all that well but you’ve ridden with them, it takes about five seconds before you are talking like old friends. You know lots of the same people, you’ve done lots of the same races, you’re both suffering from the same mid-life cycling delusionary syndrome … you hit it off.

I’m not sure if it’s like that for golfers or soccer players or bass fishermen, but my bike follows me everywhere, even when I leave it at home. And that’s the way I like it.

Burn your bra

May 19, 2014 § 36 Comments

It started about three years ago when Surfer Dan showed up on a ride with stubble. Leg stubble. Being a hairy chap, a week later it was a solid coating of fuzz. By month’s end his legs were furry. Gorilla furry. Cavewoman furry. It was the most daring fashion statement anyone in the South Bay had ever made, and it sent shock waves through the peloton. What was worse, we all waited for the inevitable collapse in his cycling performance.

Everyone knows that hairy legs slow you down, lots. People have known this since the 1900’s, when early bike racers tested their legs in wind tunnels. With his hairy legs, it was just a matter of time before Surfer Dan would start getting dropped on group rides, dropped on the climbs, dropped in the crits he never raced, and dropped in the individual time trials.

Oddly, it never happened. Even with all that hair down there, he continued to break legs, put hard legs in the breaks, and remain the alpha Big Orange Cat 3 Who Should Be a Cat 2 Sandbagger.

It wasn’t long before Cavendish followed, and then Wiggins. Although not quite daring to go hairless down there, the British Duo began showing up at real bicyle races with facial hair, even though the old Romagna di Corleone Wind Tunnel tests from the early 1900’s showed that the only thing worse than leg hair was facial hair. (Experts will also tell you that having a smooth visage facilitates face massages, and, when you fall on your face and tear off your lips coming down Las Flores after writing a book about how to descend properly, the absence of facial hair allows the easier application of Tegaderm, etc.)

The inescapable conclusion is that it is now okay to ride your bike with hairy legs and furry face. Apparently the data from the mule-drawn wind tunnel of those early days was wrong: it is possible to ride a bicycle fast, or even fastly, certainly fast-ish, without shaving.

This presents a dilemma of sorts. If you let the hair grow out and enjoy the feeling of the breeze ruffling through the thicket in your thighs you will have to explain to everyone at work how it’s now OKAY and how it DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE A FRED and most importantly that YOU ARE STILL A FAST BICYCLE RACER. The first few weeks it will, however, be helpful to bring all your medals, ribbons, trophies, juice boxes, etc. to the office if you haven’t already just so people don’t forget that YOU ARE STILL LEGIT.

On the other hand, if you continue with your shaving ways you’ll have to continue that funny pose in the shower where you twist backwards while holding onto the soap dish while not throwing out your lower back as you try to get the little patch of incipient fuzz on those two tendon thingies behind your knee without slipping and ending up in the trauma ward.

For myself, I’m following the lead of Surfer Dan, G3, Wiggo, and the Manx Banana. Henceforth the only razor you’ll find in my medicine cabinet is Racer 5. For those who are on the fence, by going full hair you have nothing to lose but your ingrown red hair follicles about mid-thigh that get infected from sweat and bacteria and end up looking like you rubbed your crotch in an ant mound when you stand there in the mirror sucking in your gut while trying to get the abdomimals to poke out from underneath the protective layer of chub.

Hair on!

Hideaway

May 15, 2014 § 8 Comments

My alarm clock went off but I did not. So, at 7:30 I rode down to CotKU to at least say hello to the forcats du NPR, who were massed on the bricks drinking coffee, exaggerating their greatness, and minimizing the derring-do of others.

I minimized and exaggerated as best I could until Eric, Surfer Dan, Sam, Phoque de Paris, Chris, and AEPie-hole indicated it was time to ride some more. We approached the light at Beryl. “Which way?” asked Dan.

“Let’s do Gussy’s Cobbles,” I said.

“Gussy’s? You mean mine.”

“No, those cobbles were discovered by Gussy. He showed them to me about six months ago and I’ve been doing them ever since.”

Surfer Dan sighed. “Wanky, they’ve been a Strava segment called ‘Tha Surfer Dan’ for well over a year. That’s my turf.”

We flew through the stop sign at the end of North Harbor drive, dashed through the parking lot, and shunted onto the gravel-and-cobbled walkway that threaded between two concrete posts. Any error here and you were gash.

Through the posts the mini-cobbles led up a grass-stone-dirt-tree root embankment and we charged, full bore, Surfer Dan in the lead until he veered off to the right. Unbeknownst to me, “Tha Surfer Dan” Strava segment went right whereas the “normal Wanky commute” went left.

Erik, charging hard on my left, also veered right at the top of the embankment, precisely where I began to drift left. There is no better epilogue to a Strava segment charge than taking out your good friend and teammate, but unfortunately we only smashed bars and untangled at the last minute.

Everyone else laughed and cat-called as we hustled our way up to Catalina.

A happy disrespect for the usual

Ever since the first Belgian Waffle Ride in 2012, I have been impressed with the SPY Optic motto of “A happy disrespect for the usual way of doing things.” But I never really understood it until Tha Surfer Dan.

Over the last two years I have altered my perspective about road bicycling. I used to think that road bicycling meant pavement, but the BWR taught me that there are other paths you can take using the same things you have always used. New paths, different paths, exciting paths, not limited to cycling.

Tha Surfer Dan was a little mix of grass and mini-cobbles I would have never sought out before 2012. Now I went out of my way to ride it.

At the top, Surfer Dan said “Let’s do a couple of climbs. Anybody up for Dirty del Monte?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Instead of going up Via del Monte the usual way, we hop onto a dirt track next to the library, go up a wall, empty out onto the golf course, then go up another dirt track, follow an abandoned road, and come out near Paseo del Sol.”

This seemed very happy and very disrespectful to the usual way of climbing Via del Monte. “I’m in,” I said.

“There’s a chute you’ll have to walk up, though,” he said. “I’ve never made it to the top without dismounting.”

Far from the madding crowd

Riding in Palos Verdes is weird. You’re in the heart of Los Angeles but it’s mostly quiet and almost rural. There are hardly any shops or stores and almost any road takes you up to breathtaking views of the Pacific. Nothing prepared me for Dirty del Monte, though. It was like being spirited into a different world.

We blasted off the pavement and up the narrow dirt track, suddenly surrounded by trees and shade, and the noise of traffic was instantly obliterated. We beat the pedals until we mounted the wall, dumped out onto pavement, and a few moments later were again ensconced in the silence of the trees. We clawed our way up and up and up until the dirt track gave way to an abandoned and overgrown narrow strip of shattered pavement.

On every side were trees, and each sharp turn threw out another priceless view of the ocean and the bay all the way to Malibu.

It finished almost before it had begun, a 1.5-mile dirt climb straight up the face of the peninsula on road bikes and narrow tires.

No one said a word. We stopped our bikes and caught our breath. Whatever we were feeling, it wasn’t disrespect. But on the other hand, it wasn’t usual, either. Finally, I understood.

END

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Rattle and hum

May 12, 2014 § 14 Comments

The rental RV sounded like it was coming apart at the seams. Every imperfection in the road surface caused the entire chassis to violently shake. The windows and screens howled like they were about to come off, and drizzles of piss laced with vomit and feces oozed out from the bathroom, where the stopped-up toilet was brimming with the spoils of cycling victory. Shards of broken glass littered the floor amidst a thin floating layer of beer. Everyone either had a headache, wanted a headache, or was causing someone else’s headache.

I hadn’t bathed since Thursday.

Derek the Destroyer lay on the bed in the back, moaning and intermittently dry-heaving or wiping strings of puke from his chin. It was eleven PM and we were still caught in traffic, a few miles away from home but at least another hour of aggravated waiting as our RV guzzled vast quantities of gas and we calculated the surcharge we’d be assessed for the clean-up charge. I tried to find the language in the contract where it itemized the cost of cleaning up shit and vomit. There it was, under “Acts of God.”

The trip had seemed like such a great idea at the time. We would rent an RV because all the hotels were full. $279 for three days, split between the three couples. We’d race our bikes at the 805 Crit Series in Buellton/Lompoc. We’d finish each day with a beer or two, socialize, have a healthy dinner, and return to L.A. with a wonderful weekend under our belts and perhaps some good race results as well.

We had, of course, forgotten the inflexible truth: Bike racing is nothing but a bad time gone worse.

Optimism is the foundation for all disappointment

We alit from the Cruise America 30-foot RV, which was really nothing more elaborate than an old U-Haul with a broken toilet. It was the first day of the race series and the wind was blowing at 30 mph. We complained to the volunteers about having invited so much wind to a bike race. “It’s always windy here,” they cheerfully smiled. “Thank goodness today it’s not that bad.”

The race course was at the Greater Lompoc Disaster Training Center, a place where cops and firemen prepare to shoot people then rescue them. There was a fake town, numerous crashed cars, and Lompoc police everywhere. The proximity of so many ambulances would prove to be a bonus in the pro race, because on the last lap (where else?) a rider slid out in the last turn (where else?) and went face first (what other body part?) into the steel barricades. The destruction and carnage were horrific, but it was great practice for the medics, who enjoyed it thoroughly.

Before our race began, I almost drizzled in my shorts because there was a deafening volley of gunfire, as loud as if I were standing at the end of a firing range. This is because I was standing at the end of a firing range and the cadets were blazing away. A few seconds later they came marching by in formation, guns smoking. Anyone wearing an Al-Qaeda for President t-shirt would have been gunned down on the spot.

The course was on a police car training oval. We raced around in circles, but I had the misfortune of racing with the 35+ group. Note to self: 50-year-old legs that can barely keep up in the 50+ races do not fare well against 35+ legs. Our team did great. Harmony John won and the Destroyer got fourth. I distinguished myself by bridging up to Fukdude, who was chasing the chase group that was chasing the chase group that was chasing the leaders.

We got swarmed a few hundred yards before the line, but not before I refused to do any work and got roundly cursed by everyone in our flailaway. This proved the Number One Rule of Racing: If they’re calling you a “motherfucker” you’re doing something right.

Pro hydration

After the race we ran down to the Albertson’s in King Harold’s slick BMW and bought twelve cases of beer, six enormous bags of chips, and five tubs of salsa. Dinner and hydration were taken care of.

Back at the Buellton RV park, we snuggled in for a long night’s sleep. It’s really weird sleeping with strangers and listening to them snore, fart, get up in the night to piss, and mutter in their sleep. Of course, they probably thought it was weird seeing someone bring one small bag for a three-day trip, and to have hygiene products for the entire stay consist of a toothbrush and a stick of deodorant. “Wait ’til they see me take a spit bath,” I thought.

The next day the wind had picked up and we were facing 30-40 mph winds with occasional 50 mph gusts. Our race was an hour long, or rather the race was an hour long for those who finished. Half of the field was dead and buried by the 30-minute mark. I came unhitched about then and quit, unable to assist my team in its effort to keep the leader’s jersey except by hollering “Go, everyone!” from the sidelines and making sure the beer was cold.

Harmony John stayed in the race leader’s jersey for another day, but the monsters from Monster Media let it be known they were intent on stripping it from his back. I joined a post-race strategy session that included several vicious rounds of beer, polishing off the chips and salsa from the night before, and then going to a steak house and ruining the meal by eating four baskets of crackers and eighteen butter pats.

We were joined at dinner by Daniel Holloway, who regaled us with stories of winning the Athens Twilight Criterium, winning the Dana Point GP, winning the race the night before, and numerous other winning tales. I was going to regale him with my story of getting third at a CBR crit a couple of years ago, but decided not to. Back at the RV things were looking grim, especially at three in the morning when my stomach roared to life.

The battle between the crackers, steak, butter, beer, wine, and all of the leftovers that people had shoved off onto my plate along with the cheesecake, apple fritter pie, and ice cream had reached a fever pitch. I now had to puke, but couldn’t bring myself to do it in the RV because the crapper was already filled with shit and it seemed preferable to vomit all over myself rather than sticking my head down into that mess.

I couldn’t go outside because the RV had a safety lock on the door I’d never bothered to learn to unhitch, and in my current condition there was no chance I’d get the door open before machine-gunning my dinner. Also, even if I did get the door open I wouldn’t get far, and the thought of a giant mound of partially digested dinner in front of our U-Haul/RV was simply too embarrassing.

Finally I decided to mentally overcome the physical desire to throw up. My body was soon soaked in sweat, including the jeans I was sleeping in (my bag hadn’t had room for pajamas). Next to get saturated was the bed/couch. After an hour of struggle, the beer and food mush gave in and I went back to sleep.

The next morning everyone wanted to know, “Why were you groaning so loudly?”

Redemption

The last day of racing I swore to have zero beers prior to the race and I kept my vow. My legs felt great since I’d only raced thirty minutes the day before. I was ready to do my duty and help Harmony John keep the leader’s jersey. On lap two I was shelled, and on lap ten I was pulled.

I later calculated my cost for the weekend as $491 for 95 minutes of racing, or $5.16 per minute, or about $310 per hour.

Our team lost the race and the jersey. Derek fell off his bike at the end and threw up. “I’m sick,” he said, which we pretty much figured out because he was lying on his face in a gravel driveway surrounded by a swarm of bees.

Hair took over the drive home and I kept him awake by listening to his stories about learning to drift back in Okinawa. Every few miles he’d demonstrate and the RV would slide over a lane or so on the freeway, clearing space and bowels like nothing you ever saw. Derek could only moan as each pothole bounced him several feet in the air on the mattress in back.

We finally got back to the Metro parking lot in Inglewood, where Mrs. WM was waiting for me. “How was the racing?” she asked.

“Perfect in every way,” I said. “As usual.”

END

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If the (bathroom) walls had ears, and sometimes they do

April 16, 2014 § 31 Comments

We used to joke that his feet didn’t touch the floor until he was four years old. Friends have wondered where his happiness and smile came from, and most have traced it to his mother, but I put it squarely on the shoulders of his Japanese grandma, because that’s where he was raised.

The day he came home from the hospital she fashioned a kind of sling that fit underneath a loose quilted jacket, and she bound him to it, with his tiny head peeking out from above her shoulder. His consciousness developed between long and loving sessions at his mother’s overflowing breasts, followed by sleep, a diaper change, and an awakening world seen from the back of his grandmother. His first conversations were with her.

Each child is loved differently no matter what you tell yourself, and he was loved by his grandmother as the first son, a tradition baked in the kiln of prehistory, a man who she would serve in a long line of men including her father, her own younger brother who was the eldest son, an arranged husband, the father-in-law with whom she lived for decades and cared for in his floor-ridden, gradual, cancerous demise, the unpalatable brothers of the arranged husband, and of course the husband of her only daughter. That would be me.

The tiny one bound up on her back and carried to the market, to the butcher, and to the fish shop as she pedaled her old red mamachari, however, was different from the other males in her life because him she served without complaint, him she carried on her back with the quiet confidence that although she had never had a son she now had him.

So many times I would hear them talking, him marshaling the first thoughts into words, her listening to the infinite warble on her back with endless patience as she cooked or cleaned and then answered, sometimes just as lengthy, a call-and-response from the fields of time.

The new century

Last Saturday I was returning from a memorial ride for Eli Ritchbourg, a young father who had died of an aneurysm. I had run out of water and decided to refill at the toilets in Santa Monica. The big, clean, spacious stalls are more like small apartments than public toilets, and are much prized by the homeless for that very reason. As I pedaled up I noticed a Middle Eastern grandmother, her head covered in a dark scarf and her body wrapped in a dark, loose-fitting dress that covered the tops of her shoes.

She was holding the hand of her grandson, who looked like he was somewhere between two and three. She had slowed her pace to match his, and he had that funny hitched walk of a kid with a diaper full-to-busting with the overflow of digestion. He was talking, perhaps in Arabic, and it was a lengthy little speech indeed. His grandmother said nothing, but she listened attentively as they headed for the toilets.

In their path was a group of three or four Santa Monica moms, each with a Mercedes-Benz’s worth of kiddy stroller, and each stroller hung with bags, toys, juice carriers, and oversized cup-holders for the the venti triple shot soy mocha latte. The Arab woman carried nothing but a nondescript canvas bag. Where the old grandmother listened, the young mothers snapped and carped and nagged at their children: “Vicent! VINCENT!” along with my favorite verbal torture as a child, “Suzy! Share! I told you to SHARE!”

The children brawled and bawled back, a staccato exchange of brats and their brat-minders, of angry parents and whiny children. The mothers had lovely skimpy outfits that revealed just enough to be sexy and not quite enough to be tawdry, and their hair was pulled back in that casual babysitting mode that takes a solid hour of careful work and makeup to achieve.

The Old World crossed the path of the New World and each was aware of the other. One mother raised an eyebrow, and it spelled out contempt, before she quickly resumed scolding her child for unreasonably wanting to shove a fistful of sand down the other child’s throat.

The stall next door

I pushed my bike into a stall and locked the door. As I zipped up my jersey I realized that the old woman and her grandson were in the stall next to mine; the stalls were completely separate compartments whose walls reach to the ground on all sides. The tops of the stalls opened up about seven feet above the ground so there was circulation of the cool ocean breeze, and what was said next door was perfectly audible.

I paused to listen as the little boy continued speaking, unhurriedly, to his grandmother. After a while he stopped. His question or his story, the one that had been going on since they crossed the open space outside, had ended with nary an interruption by his grandmother. Now it was her turn, and she answered with the same patient, loving tone that I had heard so many years ago in Japan.

What had he been saying? Was he telling her about whales, or about the dead fish he’s seen washed up on the shore, or had he been asking her where the ocean came from, or why the sky was blue?

And what was she answering? Was she telling him about the first time she had been to the sea, or about her grandfather who used to cross the ocean’s desert in a caravan of camels, or about whales and fish and why they couldn’t walk but had to live in the water?

Whatever she was saying, it was patient and long, and it drowned out the cacophony of scolds and whines and sharp rebukes from outside.

I thought about another little boy, my eldest son, who long ago would listen to just such an explanation and then, on the back of his Japanese grandmother, would launch off into another eternal question as she pedaled the bike to the tea shop. Something of the happiness that she had given to him, she now gave to me through this brief eavesdropping, and it powered me in its own way as I rode joyfully home.

END

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The things we teach

April 12, 2014 § 19 Comments

Many years ago we lived in a one-room home. The whole interior was a little more than ten tatami mats, or about 178 square feet. That probably sounds small until I tell you that six of us lived there, including one squalling infant. We were building a house on the other side of Utsunomiya, and my wife’s grandfather had allowed us to stay in one of his rental units until the house was finished. Our furnishings consisted of a small TV and low table. We lived there for eight months, but I don’t remember ever being cramped.

What I remember is the morning ride to kindergarten.

I had the biggest Bridgestone commuter bike that they sold at the local bike shop, a 55cm monster that, even with the seat jacked all the way up, was much too small. It had fenders, 30mm all-beef commuting tires, and a kickstand, but the piece of resistance was the add-on that they installed at the time of purchase: a kiddy seat.

The kiddy seat was a wire basket contraption with two flimsy cushions, foot pegs, and leg guards to keep the passenger’s legs out of the spokes. It mounted onto the rear bike rack and had a fixed handlebar so that the kiddy could grip in the event that circumstances became rough or unstable. There was no seatbelt of any kind.

Rough and unstable circumstances

My eldest daughter was in kindergarten, and due to our temporary location I had to pedal her across town every morning, a solid 20-minute commute in heavy traffic. They say that a child’s personality is formed at birth, and whether that’s true or not, it’s definitely formed after your first trip to kindergarten in a wire basket on the back of my commuter bike.

Ours was no normal commute, either, because of the Tobu Hill. This was a very short, steep, 200m downhill that swooped under the Tobu train line and flattened out at the traffic light on Heisei Dori. The road was narrow and even had a segregated bike path, but you couldn’t get any speed on the bike path so my daughter and I always opted for the lane. Well, she never opted for anything. She just hunkered low in the basket and gripped the bars survival tight.

The beauty of that little drop was that you could get a good head of steam, and if you got lucky and hit the traffic light green or mostly yellow and there was no oncoming traffic you could take the wide slightly cambered right-hander out into a clean 4-lane road. A full-speed sprint down the hill and a lucky light meant that we could sweep through the turn at a solid 35+, the bike in full lean, the tires at the limit of their grip, and the taste of fear dry and exhilarating and bitter roiling at the back of my tongue.

My daughter never complained, never cried, and never asked me not to do it, although upon reflection she never asked me to do it, either. She wore the cutest of kindergarten outfits, Japanese cute, a cuteness that only generations skilled in the art of tiny and cute could ever produce, and part of the uniform was a hat with a drawstring. At 35mph in full lean, the drawstring wasn’t strong enough to keep the hat on her head, of course. The times I looked back at her, usually after reaching terminal velocity but before hitting the hopefully green light, she always looked the same.

She would be staring calmly ahead, tilted in the seat so that she could see around me, a faint smile on her face, with one hand holding the handlebar in a vicegrip and the other mashing her hat onto her head so that the wind didn’t carry it away. If there was fear in her eyes as she pondered the onrushing and immediate future, it never showed.

Neither of us, of course, wore a helmet.

The  great Utsunomiya World Championship Road Race

One morning we were sitting in traffic. As the light turned green and we began to move, a fancy road rider whizzed by. “Good morning!” I said, but he ignored us.

I looked back at my daughter. “That rude bastard,” I said. “Let’s catch him!”

She didn’t agree, but she didn’t disagree, either. She only peered around me to get a better look at our quarry, casually took one hand off the handlebar and clamped her palm to her hat. She knew that whatever was going to happen next it would involve high winds and turbulence.

The Bridgestone was a solid 30 pounds and Sakura was another 35 or 40, and I happened to only be wearing flip flops, so the bike wasn’t exactly quick off the line. However, once you got that giant lump of chromoly up to speed, it had momentum, and lots of it.

Packed in the middle of tight traffic I was able use the cars to draft my way up to about 30mph. Inches off the bumpers of car death I went faster and faster until my legs really started to burn and my breathing became painful and my body had to viciously sway from side to side to beat the pedals hard enough to keep up the speed. I could feel her weight shifting behind me as the bike rocked side to side.

The speed picked up and I hunkered down in the draft. Through the car’s windshield I could see the roadie up ahead as well as the car’s speedometer. We were over 35mph and the bike was starting to shimmy. My legs tore at the pedals and I was buried in the red. We approached a giant traffic intersection, and our draft was the last car that was going to make the light, which had turned yellow. The roadie had already come to a stop.

The Toyota I was drafting gunned it and got me up to forty before he pulled away. The bike was in full shimmy. Braking was not an option as I prepared to sail out into the intersection. I turned my head and stopped pedaling in preparation for the moment we’d shoot past the stopped roadie. Buzzing as close to him as I could, I said, “Good morning again!” and we rocketed by as if we’d been discharged from a Soviet work camp.

Judging from his gape, he’d never been passed by a dude in flip flops on a bike with a kickstand hauling a kid in a basket. At forty miles an hour. I’m sure the fact that I wasn’t pedaling added to the mysterious nature of the public humiliation.

My daughter is twenty-five and she still rides a bicycle, though her smile is wider and, you know, she wears a helmet.

END

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Post-traumatic jackass syndrome

April 11, 2014 § 30 Comments

If you don’t know Adam Myerson, he’s a member of the Lost Generation. These were the guys who came of age during the reign of Lance, and unlike Hincapie, Vaughters, Leipheimer, and those who have gone on to profit greatly from their misdeeds, Adam took the Nancy Reagan option. He just said “No.”

Adam and I are friends on Facebook, which is to say that since we’ve never met we’re not friends at all, at least not in the way that I grew up understanding the word. Rather, I lurk when his posts pop up on my feed and I like his approach towards cycling in particular and life in general.

Yesterday he opened up with a simple question. “Is there a medical term for the long term stress caused by being taken within an inch of your life, every day, multiple times a day, for the simple act of riding a bicycle on a public road?”

I glanced at the tail end of the comments and was surprised by the number. I was also surprised by the tenor of at least some. This was pretty much a softball question that any rider could relate to. Nothing is more ubiquitous in road riding than the constant fear of death and mutilation, and no preparation is more essential to the task of cycling than mentally girding yourself for the physical, verbal, and emotional onslaught that is the price we pay for daring to take our legal piece of the pavement.

Blame the victim

Incredibly, at least one commenter (since self-blocked and self-deleted) put the blame, or at least tried to shift it, on Adam. Surely there was something in his riding that precipitated at least some of this hostility?

All hell didn’t so much as break loose as it organized a freedom train.

And although the pro-Adamites greatly outweighed the anti-Adamites, the dialogue quickly assumed the air of a back-and-forth about who follows the rules and who’s a more law-abiding cyclist. All I could think was, “What the hell does that have to do with it?”

The price of pedaling

I know a lot of people who take great pride in their letter-perfect traffic behavior. I’m not one of them. I follow the rules when it’s to my advantage and I break them when they aren’t. I can feel the daggers when I cruise through controlled intersections, and I can hear the honks when some jackass in a giant pick-up vents at my infraction of the moment.

He can kiss my ass, because until the laws are set up to protect me, I’ll keep on surviving, thanks very much. As a reminder of how worthless you are on a bike here in SoCal, Jorge Alvarado’s killer just received the incredible sentence of 90 days in jail. We wouldn’t want to ruin that kid’s life, after all.

Nor am I on a mission to make cagers love me. The ones who accept me, accept me. The ones who hate me, hate me, and the ones who are going to mow me down because they’re texting or drunk or fiddling with the radio, well, I can’t do anything about them anyway. The only ones I care about are the crazies who want to kill me, and they’re not going to be mollified just because I put a foot down.

As Adam said, more or less, why should the price of making a mistake on a bike be death?

Post traumatic jackass syndrome

The unfortunate answer is, “Dude, that’s just how it is.”

But what’s more unfortunate is that his original question was such a good one. What do we call the mental condition of being constantly under assault or threat of assault?

I think PTJS is a good start, and although I can’t really describe its symptoms, I can describe the absence of them. Take the bike path and you’ll see what I mean. Suddenly, the cager exits your mental picture. As you pedal along the path you’re watching for peds and bikes and dogs and kids and skateboards and roller skaters and perhaps also the first thong of spring, but you’re doing it without the constant awareness of whether or not you’re about to receive a 1-ton solid steel enema.

There is a lightness to your grip on the bars and a relaxation of your shoulders and neck. You’re no longer afraid.

There. That’s the thing that riding on the road hangs around your neck no matter how good, how fast, how quick, or how experienced you are. The factor of fear, sometimes slight and sometimes screaming so loudly that you tense up enough to taste your own death, that’s the thing that you take with you when you’re wresting your legal piece of pavement from the jaws of the cagers.

The safety of the bike bath

Of course many riders eschew the beach bike bath in the South Bay because they claim it’s far more dangerous than street. They may be right.

Surfer Dan was pedaling along and prepared to pass Mitzy and Bohunk on their cruiser bikes. “On your left!” he said, loud enough for them to hear but not so close as to startle them.

Mitzy moved over, as she and Bohunk were hogging the whole path, but Bohunk didn’t budge. Dan eased over to pass. “Slow down, asshole!” snarled Bohunk.

Surfer Dan is a pleasant fellow, I suppose. But he’s also a coiled pack of solid muscle, the kind of muscle you get from a lifetime of surfing big waves, and he’s a coiled pack of mental muscle, too. You don’t earn your place in the lineup just because you surf well. You earn it because you can defend it, too.

Playfully, Dan looked at Bohunk, a giant, hairy, stupid creature who oozed ill will. “Please, don’t!” Mitzi begged. This obviously wasn’t Bohunk’s first brawl on the bike path and you could tell he relished the opportunity to beat up another wimp riding around in his underwear.

Dan grinned at Bohunk and said, softly, “Wanna go?”

Bohunk lunged for the bait. “Fuckin-A, you asshole! Let’s go!”

Dan eased his rear tire to within an inch of Bohunk, ready to whack the cretin’s front wheel out from under him in case the guy was crazy enough to try and get into a fist fight over being passed on the bike path. He had no intention of cutting his knuckles on this guy’s teeth. Bohunk reached out his left leg and aimed a mighty kick at Dan’s bike, but Dan easily moved over just as the full thrust of the extended, trunk-like leg fully extended into the open air.

Bohunk lost his balance and splatted hard on his shoulder, bouncing his concrete-like head against its brethren, the asphalt of the bike bath. With a long smearing sound of skin against pavement and sand, the aggressor then fouled the rest of himself up in the still-moving chain and rear wheel.

“Have a nice day!” Dan said, smiling as he rode off.

I’m guessing that he’s not suffering from post-traumatic jackass syndrome as a result.

 

END

If you’ve been hurt in an accident click here for legal assistance.

Does your train leave on time?

April 4, 2014 § 27 Comments

I was coming home from a terrible encounter with the Palisades climb. One of my friends who’s been cycling for a couple of years was talking about one of the regular rides she does with a friend.

“So, the thing is that the ride leaves at nine but nobody shows up at nine except Peggy, and she’s, you know, ready to ride. At nine.”

“Uh-huh?” I asked, wondering what the problem was.

“Yeah. She’s ready to ride, but other people aren’t ready until you know, sometimes fifteen or twenty after. It really irritates her.”

“What do you mean ‘aren’t ready to ride’? They’re still doing pilates warm-ups?”

“No, silly. They don’t get there until five or ten minutes after, or maybe somebody has to find a parking space because they drove down, or they’re finishing their coffee. That kind of thing. And it’s annoying to Peg because she’s been off the bike with that broken collarbone and everyone else is really fit and she’s like, hey, ‘I want to get my ride in. I want to ride.'”

“Still not sure I see the problem.”

“Well, what’s the etiquette? Is it okay to leave even though other people aren’t ready? Or they’re running late? That’s not really cool, is it?”

“No,” I said. “It’s definitely not cool. But so what? I stopped trying to be cool when I was thirteen.”

The thorny issue of departure times

It seemed easy at first. It’s Peg’s ride. She sets the time. If people aren’t there or aren’t ready or whatever, she leaves. It’s simple.

But of course it isn’t, and it’s complicated because Peg’s ride, like a whole lot of rides, aren’t set up right. And I discussed this with my friend.

“A ride needs two elements and two only.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“A start time and a leader. That’s it. The leader leaves at the start time. Everyone who’s late or who had to get the kids off to school or who had to check one more social media post chases. Or they ride alone. Or they start a different ride.”

“Seems rude.”

“It is, until people get used to it. Then it’s the opposite of rude. It’s the kindest thing you can do for a fellow cyclist: tell them when you’re leaving and always leave at that time. It lets them plan. In fact, once you’ve drilled the time in over and over again, it becomes a self-starting thing that needs no repetition. Take the Wheatgrass Ride. It leaves at 8:05 whether Iron Mike is there or not. Or the NPR. 6:40 AM, right? If you show up at 6:41, you chase. Even the Donut … it leaves at 8:05. And remember those rides to the Rock? Six o’clock sharp. No one ever complained past the first two rides. You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because the people who can’t get to a bike ride on time stopped coming to that one. They slept in. So the only people left were the ones who knew how to set a clock and not hit ‘snooze.'”

“But it’s hard to get people to be punctual.”

“Why worry about other people? Set the time, tell your friends, and then go ride. What’s the worst that can happen? You have to ride by yourself? You’ll eventually attract people who are punctual like you, and instead of waiting around for twenty minutes you can do your ride and get on with your day.”

“I don’t know … “

“Oh, and one other thing.”

“What’s that?”

“If it’s your ride … “

“Yes?”

“Don’t show up late.”

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Going for the throat

April 3, 2014 § 41 Comments

I have greatly reduced my time on Facebag. I’m ashamed to admit it, but before I went lukewarm turkey, I was spending up to four hours a day on it. That’s four metric hours, and sometimes more. I told this to DJ, who’s an engineer. “Dude,” I said. “I’m spending four fuggin’ hours a day on Facebag. Metric hours, man.”

“Seth,” he said.

“Yes?”

“Time isn’t a metric unit.”

“Oh,” I said, relieved that there wasn’t yet another aspect of the metric system that I was supposed to understand, but didn’t.

Nowadays I’m a lurker. I stalk the ‘bag for about thirty minutes a day or even less. I noticed for the first time that it’s pretty much the province of angry old people, new bicycles, and cats. With all of my new-found time, I began reading again.

I used to read voraciously, and it took a while to learn to read again because my brain was so wired to those little mini-jolts of excitement when something popped up on Facebag, or worse, on the Twitter. After a couple of weeks, though, I stopped expecting the pages on the book to light up with a notification or message or clever retort. My stack of books has piled high, and there’s an equally towering stack of unread ones.

I was talking with a friend about ratcheting down my Facebag activities, and he concurred. “I quit cold turkey three weeks ago,” he said.

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“Why?”

“It made me so depressed. I’d see all those posts about how perfect everyone’s life is and how wonderful their kids are and what excellent relationships they all have and it made me feel like a piece of dung. It was either that, or posts about how they’d just experienced the worst day ever, or a photo from a bike crash with four teeth missing. So I quit.”

“How do you feel now?”

“Great! The only people I talk to now are, you know, real ones. And none of them are perfect. Not even a little bit.”

We laughed.

Real people, indeed

In tandem with my cancellation of the Twitter, Strava, and Linked-In, and my Napoleon-at-the-gates-of-Moscow retreat from Facebag, I started riding with my youngest son, who’s sixteen. We ride on Sundays. Our first ride was from RAT Beach to the ice cream shop on the Redondo Pier and back. Our second ride was to the frappucino spigot at the Sckubrats in Hermosa and back to RAT Beach. The third week we tackled something big: we rode from Pregnant Point down Paseo del Mar, up the Lunada Bay bump onto PV Drive, and from there to the frappucino spigot at the Golden Cove Sckubrats. Then we returned to Pregnant Point and called it a day with a solid 10-mile ride.

I would like to tell you that my youngest son is a natural-born cyclist. After all, he’s been around it all his life. I’d like to tell you that he has the perfect build for a road racer — he’s compact, lean, and has long legs. I’d like to lay out our plans for an all-out assault on cycledom as he learns the ropes.

But you see, it’s not really like that, even though he does have the perfect build. First of all, I’m a terrible coach. What the hell do I know about cycling anyway? And I don’t care how people ride as long as they don’t fall down or get picked off by a car. Truthfully, he’s not really a natural, which makes sense, because neither am I. And he’s not one of those kids who loves to compete. I’m pretty sure that if you showed him your jugular, he’d want to know what it was connected to … he wants to be a doctor, not the Cannibal or a forcat de la route.

In a way it’s depressing to think I have a child who is interested in something that might result in a job, as if he’s repudiated the Davidson family history. But I will adapt.

On that ten-miler day we took our first breather just where the road rises up from the Lunada Bay vista. Then we pedaled, with mucho effort, up to PV Drive. Rest Stop Number Two. Then we gritted our teeth and made it to the Starbucks. Mucho mas tiempo was spent drinking frapps and gazing at the ocean and talking about science. I also learned that in mid-1800’s Italy there was no right-wing reactionary party, and that the nation’s unification involved moderates, liberals, and anarchists.

Who knew?

What other people care about isn’t always what you care about

We pedaled back to Pregnant Point, and the next day he said that his legs were “real sore.” I thought about that.

The following week we did the same route, but instead of stopping at Golden Cove we continued along PV Drive to the top of the hill just before you descend to the glass church. We turned around there and fought a stiff headwind for two long miles all the way back to the frappucinos, which tasted better than good. Did I mention that the frappucinos tasted good?

As we sat there I remembered riding along the seawall in Galveston with my dad and my brother. No one ever coached me or told me how to ride, probably because no one knew any more than I did. The only advice I ever got, in fact, was to “Watch out!” when I stopped paying attention one day and rode off the 15-foot seawall onto the granite boulders below. It’s miraculous that I wasn’t killed, if you believe in miracles. Otherwise, I was just another dumb-lucky little kid.

My son and I drove home from Pregnant Point, still talking about Italy in the 1800’s. We had a big dinner, which tasted as good as one of those dinners you have after a 100-mile beatdown with the fast riders. The beer I washed it down with tasted special as well. We both went to bed early and I slept a deep, uninterrupted, profound, and satisfied sleep. I’m hoping that maybe he did, too.

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A love affair

March 20, 2014 § 9 Comments

Fields was all-knowing. “This is a stupid sport.”

MKA and Chris Hipp and others copied the tag line, but Fields invented it. There is nothing Fields didn’t know, or, put differently, if Fields didn’t know it, it wasn’t worth knowing. When he spat in the soup and headed off to Wisconsin to forsake his bike and become a lawyer, he provided a role model that few have had the nuts to emulate.

Cycling is a stupid sport. There is no money in it. Coda.

How she made me feel

You know the saying. “People may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”

I never lay in bed with Lesli Cohen, but she made me feel nonetheless. It was not erotic, except in a way, it was.

I had reached the umpteenth fine-toothed edit of my New York Times #1 Global Bestseller, “Cycling in the South Bay,” but something was missing. What was missing was someone once-removed to go over the manuscript who was in love with words, who fornicated with syntax, who stroked and massaged and erotically touched sentence structure until it was clean, pure, risen, the climactic pinnacle of what it could be.

What was missing was a real editor.

Lesli didn’t know me, biblically or otherwise, but she had generously shared my blog posts with her considerable readership. I turned to her and begged a favor. “Would you go over my manuscript and edit the hell out of it?” Then I added, “Of course I’ll pay you.”

Lesli refused payment and took the manuscript. What she did, no one else could have done. She loved on it.

How do you love on a manuscript? What is manuscript love? It is the embracing of each word, the deconstruction of each sentence, the application of the rules of spelling and grammar and structure and logic to every single word you’ve written. It can’t be done by an amateur with a handycam. It has to be done by a pro, someone profoundly versed in the erotica of the construction of language.

She “did” my manuscript, and when she was done, if there was anything there to sparkle, it shone brighter because of her. We smoked a cigarette together. Virtually, of course.

Ring down the curtain

Until yesterday Lesli edited Cyclismas.com, a cycling web site. Through a series of mistakes she wound up on the sticking end of a lawsuit. Through another series of mistakes that involved trusting the untrustworthy, and a final unfounded belief that there was something in the world of cycling that was truthful, she ended up investing in a big project that eventually failed. When the last splash of water swirled down the drain, she was left with nothing, and yesterday she sent out a note that the web site and her project were closing down.

Naturally, the draining litigation will continue, because of Newtown’s little known Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: The lawyers always get paid.

My thanks to Lesli aren’t enough, but they’re all I’ve got. Lesli, you are one of those rare people who I’d want above all others in my foxhole. You fought not simply the good fight, but the best fight. You made mistakes grounded in faith and trust and decency, and you sought to take the high crimes and misdemeanors of an errant pro peloton and turn them into something good for all of us. You did it with class and intellect and integrity.

I’ll miss your beautiful writing and your amorous affair with words, but I know that we’ll meet again. Paris, perhaps?

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