July 28, 2013 § 24 Comments
The great thing about cutting your teeth with Austin’s Violet Crown Sports Association in the early 1980′s was the way you learned how to ride your bike while profoundly high. Although I never inhaled, every Sunday ride featured numerous dirt road detours. Each time a detour passed through a low water crossing — and oddly, they all did — someone would shout “Low water crossing!” and the whole crew would come skidding to a halt.
Out would come the sacred hemp, and these hardened bike racers would puff and suck hard enough to send smoke signals to Oklahoma. It was these rides that made me wonder why pot was considered a performance enhancing drug, because I noted that once everyone was completely high, they would leap on their bikes and ride with a speed and intensity that was, uh, mind blowing. Incredible feats of speed, power, jumping, sprinting, and crazy mad high-speed bike skills were displayed such as I’d never seen before or since.
Problem was that it was pot, which meant the amazing displays only lasted about three minutes and sometimes less, after which the pace would crater down to thirteen mph, lazy conversations would ensue, much commentary would be had on the beauty and unusual shapes of the clouds, and everyone would begin to think exclusively about pizza. Want to ride the Tour on ganja? Really? Go for it, dude.
A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it sure is fun
Sometimes we would take so many dirt roads that the seemingly inexhaustible supply of drugs would run out, which meant that instead of stopping at each low water crossing we would blast through them. They were frequently covered with water, and when roads were paved it could get tricky because the entire pavement was underwater and the edges were often covered with mud and moss and algae.
It only took a couple of falls to learn that generally the safest line through a low water crossing was the center because that’s where the water was moving fastest and the chance of hitting snot-slick mud or moss was lowest.
We were now more than an hour into the MMX Deathday Celebration. It had started horribly enough.
“Just up here there’s a climb,” MMX had said.
“Oh yeah?” I was riding next to him on the front to show everybody that I wasn’t afraid to go up where the wind was strong and the pace was bitter (it was later pointed out that I was only there for five minutes and it was the beginning of the ride when we were mostly stopped at stop lights).
“Yeah. About half the field will get dropped and quit here.”
I waited for him to say, “Except you, of course.” But he didn’t.
“So, uh, what about me?”
He stared stonily ahead.
The problem with MMX was that for all his soft and fuzzy qualities, exaggeration wasn’t one of them. To the contrary, whenever he spoke he considered his words for their precision before uttering them. The down side of this exactitude was that when he said something would be “hard” or “everyone would quit” or “many would die,” it always turned out that way. But the good side was that, well, I suppose there wasn’t a good side.
We hit the first climb and everyone except Stinger, MMX, and Olivery Stanle got shelled. I somehow chased back on even as the donuts and McBreakfast were chasing up my esophagus. I got kicked out the back on the next roller and flailed by myself for a few minutes until I reached the regroup spot.
The next thing I knew, MMX, David, and I were barreling down a narrow country lane a hundred yards or so ahead of the lynch mob. The road went through a low water crossing. MMX took the middle line at full speed, as did David and I.
Surfer Dan, back in the chase mob, had not spent enough of his early life stoned on a bicycle going full gas through muddy water crossings while choking on donuts, so he took the line along the right edge. A few pedal strokes in, he noticed that he was in the air, moving sideways, with the pavement coming up towards his face at a rather dramatic pace.
Before conking his noggin on the ground he whacked his neighbor’s thigh with his head. Filled as it was with dense and clever and high-quality brain matter, the weight of his skull thumped the neighbor’s leg with such viciousness that it knocked the neighbor’s bike out from under him as surely as a stick in the spokes.
Surfer Dan, dropping into the slime at a ridiculous angle as he set up for the bottom turn, slashed hard to the left and came up with a perfect drop wallet Larry layback. Just as his rear derailleur started to purl, he yanked on the left rail and stuck his head into the cascading wall of mud, getting totally covered for several full seconds. Unfortunately, he failed to make the full barrel as the door closed on his head, jacking his fork up under the mud lip and sending him sprawling into the foam.
Neighbor, who he’d dropped in on, tried valiantly to pigdog the vertical face but ended up, like Surfer Dan, flat on his ass and getting dragged over the reef.
We stopped to count the dead and wounded. Two riders down, one trashed wheel and one mortally wounded derailleur hanger.
Dan had landed on his hip and slid thirty feet through the slime, so naturally he was laughing. “That was fun! I toldja this was gonna be a fun ride!”
“You are clinically insane,” I advised.
Neighbor’s wheel had lost four spokes and was more out of true than a speech on the floor of the Senate. “Are you gonna continue?” MMX asked, and it wasn’t a question.
“Sure,” said Neighbor. “Worst thing that could happen is the wheel could explode and kill me.”
Everyone agreed this was a minor issue and unworthy of further discussion. “What’s the rest of the route?” asked Neighbor.
“The usual route, plus three miles of sand and five miles of off-road rock garden mud climb plus sandy wall of death up vertical face,” MMX advised him. “You’ll be fine. Or not.”
As we applied pressure to Surfer Dan’s severed iliac artery and stanched the blood with a strip of tube, a boot, and a Clif bar wrapper, the gang of jagged-toothed barracudas remounted. Now that hardly anyone was left but the certifiable crazies, the ride could begin in earnest.
July 27, 2013 § 16 Comments
Only one person gets up for me at 4:30 AM. It’s not my wife and certainly not my kids. On Sunday morning, legs still aching from the Donut thrashing the day before, I drove over to rendezvous with Surfer Dan.
He was standing on the street corner, bike and knapsack at the ready.
“You want coffee?” I asked.
“No, I’m good.”
“I’ve already eaten.”
We jammed our two bikes into the Prius and headed south. “Any predictions for MMX’s birthday ride?”
“Let’s hear ‘em.”
“Only one, actually. It’s going to hurt. A lot.”
After half an hour on the deserted freeway I noticed that Dan’s hands were shaking. “You sure you don’t want any coffee?”
“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”
“You gotta be hungry.”
“No, I’m not. What about you? If you want to stop, it’s fine with me.”
“Oh, no. I’m fine. I had coffee and yogurt and oatmeal and fruit before I left. I’m full as a tick. Couldn’t eat another bite.”
I was getting more nervous about the ride. “So how bad do you think it will be?”
Dan reflected for a moment. “I’m guessing that on a scale of one to ten, it will be on a different scale.”
No doom impends like the doom of a horrific beating on the bike. “What’s with these fucking North County rides? Why are they so hard? And why do we keep going down to them?”
One thing I liked about Dan is that he thought bike riding was fun no matter what. One thing I hated about Dan is that he thought bike riding was fun no matter what. “What’s fun about getting your head staved in?”
“Oh, it’s not just that. There’ll be a big group. The ride will start so fast that half will quit in the first hour. Then we’ll get pummeled up hill and down dale for the next three hours. It’ll be a blast.”
We drove a little longer. “You sure you don’t want any coffee or food?”
“Me, either. Plus I hate fast food. That stuff is nasty.”
“Yeah, I hate it too.”
“All those chemicals.”
“Did you know they put arsenic in McChicken?” I said, outraged.
“Can’t even believe people eat that shit. It’s so bad for you.”
“Yep. And their breakfasts are just as nasty. Stuff is made in a trash compactor, spray painted, and doused in chemical smells to make you think you’re eating real food.”
“It’s a pretty messed up society we live in, eating industrialized food like that,” Dan agreed.
We drove a little longer.
“You need to take a leak?” I asked.
“I need to take a leak. Let’s pull into this McDonald’s.”
“There’s no Mac here.”
“Sure there is. Exit Pico and it’s about a quarter mile down on the right.”
“How’d you know that?”
“I, uh, have to take a leak a lot on the way back from San Diego.” We pulled into the parking lot and went in. “Man, that sure smells good,” I said. “I mean, it smells good for nasty industrial chemical shit.”
“Does, doesn’t it?”
“Let’s get something to eat,” I said.
“Might as well. It’s gonna be a long day.”
We each ordered two sausage, egg, and cheese McGriddles (550 kcal x 2), hash browns (150 kcal), a sausage burrito (300 kcal), a small nonfat yogurt to keep it healthy, and we split a tub of cinnamon McMelts. We washed it all down with a large coffee and then ambled off to the toilets where whole sections of bathroom tile were blown off the walls.
Welcome to Leucadia Donut Shoppe
We got to Encinitas way early and had nothing to do. “You ready for some more coffee?” I asked.
“No, I’m good.”
“Me, too. Do you like donuts?” I asked.
“Love ‘em. But I’m stuffed.”
“Me, too. Leucadia has the best donuts in SoCal.”
“Really. They’re sold out by eight o’clock. But I’m stuffed.”
“Yeah, if I eat another bite I’ll bust. Where is it?” Dan was curious and we had nothing else to do.
“Just up the road. We can swing by so you’ll know it for next time.”
We drove by. The windows were down and fresh donut smells wafted into the car. “I’m fucking stuffed, Dan.”
“You should check the inside of this place out, though. It’s awesome.”
“Sure. Let’s do it.”
We went in just as the fellow who ran the place was bringing out a fresh tray of golden glazed donuts. “How may I help you?” he asked.
“One glazed for me. And one for him. And a couple of cinnamon, and two chocolate old fashioneds.”
“And an apple fritter!” Dan added, with a little fleck of drool coming out of the corner of his mouth.
“And an apple fritter.”
We sat out on the patio and ate the donuts. “I feel sick,” I said.
“Me, too,” said Dan.
“What were we thinking?”
“I’m not sure we were.”
“Looks like it’s about time to ride.”
We drove over to RIDE Cyclery in Encinitas. There were about sixty warriors milling around. They all looked ill-tempered, as if they’d been forced to get up early and the only thing that would make them feel better was to smush a pair of weak and overfed L.A. cyclists into a bloody pulp.
“Hi, guys!” I said cheerily. “Gonna be a fun day, huh?”
Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. Brent stuck his head out of the shop. “There’s bagels and cream cheese and coffee if you guys are hungry.”
I looked at Dan. Dan looked at me. “I’m fricking sick from those donuts,” I said.
“But let’s at least go in to be polite.”
Inside the shop was a big platter of poppy seed bagels and cream cheese with jam and coffee. We each had a bagel.
“All right,” we heard MMX say outside. “Time to ride.”
Things were suddenly not looking very good.
July 25, 2013 § 12 Comments
Every bad ending has its roots in a bad beginning. In this case it was a steaming hot platter of spicey fried pork, which I inhaled. Then I looked greedily at Woodrow’s plate.
“Are you done?”
“I think I have space for those ribs.”
“The ones on your plate.”
“There’s nothing left except the bones.”
“Are you kidding? A rib’s not properly eaten until you’ve gnawed the gristle and stripped the membrane.”
“Yuck. It’s all yours, Dad.”
The next day was Friday. “You sure up onna early,” said Mrs. Wankmeister.
“Huge day today. Gotta get in early and ambush the day.”
“You not ridin’ onna bike? Itsa time wastin’ day all your bikin’ friends ain’t got onna job and wastin’ all day Friday like it’s onna weekend day.”
“Nah. Got too much on my plate. If I’m at the desk by seven it will set me up for the rest of the week. If I fiddlefuck around with those wankers we’ll wind up drinking coffee and swapping lies at Terranea until eleven.”
“What do you want onna breakfast?”
“I’m not hungry after all that greasy pork and all that gristle last night.”
“You gonna work onna cup of coffee and you gonna fail crash onna desk because no energy.”
“I know my body.”
“I know it onna lot better because you actin’ onna guilty because you eatin’ all a dinner like a trash disposer an now you gonna try to get the day onna one cup of coffee but you gonna be hungry like cats and dogs and come home hungry and eat ten times as more. Why you don’t eat onna oatmeal now?”
“Nah. I’m good.”
Then I checked my phone and saw a text from Junkyard. “Coffee cruise. You in?”
“Nah,” I texted back. “Gotta work. Big day ahead.”
I pulled on my kit and got halfway to work. “Dang, it’s early. I suppose I could do part of the coffee cruise and peel off for the office after twenty or thirty minutes. That would still put me in early.”
I turned off and met the gang. “Hey,” said Junkyard with a nod, the silent acknowledgment of a fellow lazyshit bike bum deadbeat. “What happened to the big day?”
“I’m gonna pedal with you guys for a few minutes and then head on to work.”
“Yeah. Sure. Let’s roll.”
At 10:30 I checked my watch. “Fuck! How’d that happen?”
“How’d what happen?” asked Junkyard, now on his fourth cup of coffee and well into a story about some girls, a stolen bike, three cases of beer, a garage, and a job interview.
“I gotta go, guys.” I jumped on my bike and dashed to the office. By eleven I was hard at work.
At 11:30 the phone rang. It was Jack from Illinois (not his real name). “Hey,” he said.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“I just got into town. Go for a pedal?”
“Can’t. Big day today at the office.”
“What were you thinking of?”
“Quick spin around the Hill with Crabs. You’d be back by two.”
“Well, I’ve still got my riding shorts on.”
“Meet me in twenty?”
Bad things come to those who wait
I met the crew. “Man, I’m hungry.”
“Didn’t you eat lunch?” asked Jack from Illinois (not his real name).
“Just some coffee this morning. But I’ll be fine.”
“Sure, you will. Let’s roll.”
Three and a half hours later we got back to Redondo Beach, and I was dehydrated and famished. “Let’s grab a beer,” suggested Crabs. “That’ll perk you up.”
“Beer,” added Jack with a smirk. “It’s what’s for dinner.”
We sat down and ordered the first round. “You guys gotta come by our new place sometime,” I said.
“Nice place, huh?” said Crabs.
“More of a dump, actually. But our neighbor is smoking hot and hangs out on the adjacent balcony all day with a thong and a bathing bra. She’s very talented.”
“She talks to an old worn out shoe like you?”
“Never had the nerve to even say ‘hello.’ I’m waiting for the perfect moment to make the right impression.”
“Hey, easy on that beer,” Jack said as I drained the first tumbler. “It’s gonna hit you like a sledgehammer.”
“Afraid it already has.”
“Why don’t you get something to eat?” he said as we ordered another round.
“Fuggit, I’ll be fine.”
By the third round it was clear that “fine” was not a condition that I would be in for the remainder of the day, which was now an early evening. Crabs had left us, and as Jack simultaneously phoned Mrs. WM and ordered me a double cheeseburger with bleu cheese and sautéed onions and jalapeños and avocado, I put in for a fourth pint, this final, giant nail in my coffin being something called a Triple IPA and arriving dark and bitter and cold and ornery and evil and, with the abandon of the first three, being tossed carelessly down my throat with this difference, that instead of roiling my already distressed and churning stomach with nothing but its companions, it mixed and matched and heaved and rolled with the monstrous burger which, Jack later said, “You appeared to devour in whole swallows, without chewing.”
“I gotta go,” I slurred. “Bfor’ I get too drunk.” There was three of everything and the deck of the ship pitched and rolled atop the heavy seas.
“We’re too late for that. You gotta wait. Your wife’s coming to get you.”
“She is? She don’t have a bike.”
“Right. She has a car.”
On cue Mrs. Wankmeister appeared. She wasn’t happy. “What you wanna be drinky pants alla day when you supposed to be onna workin’?”
“I was gonna…”
“You was gonna be drinky pants and now I’m onna taxi service because you’re onna too drunk for ridin’ home or standin’.”
“I don’t need no taxi,” I muttered as I slumped over in the passenger seat.
“You’re lookin’ onna drinky pants green face and you better not be throwin’ out all onna inside my car!”
“I won’t!” I tried to shout back, but couldn’t because of the cheesebeer that kept fighting to crawl out of, or rather pour out of, my throat, and the ensuing struggle to keep down the admixture meant that all I could say was, “Urghhh.”
“You get out now!” she commanded.
I struggled to my feet, crossed the parking lot, and somehow ascended the stairs and reached my door. Turning to the wall I leaned over and opened my mouth as the cheeseburger mixed with four pints of beer and bile splattered against the wall and formed a pool in which I stupidly stood, waiting for the eruption to stop.
“Are you okay?” It was the smoking hot neighbor, of course, and I paused for a moment to reflect on my impeccable timing.
“Uh-uh,” I said, and completed the ejection, wondering why my feet were now soggy and warm and squishy between the toes, and wondering why everything smelled like beer vomit, and wondering what would happen if I sat down, and after sitting down, wondering why my bottom felt warm and soggy like my feet, and what that squishy wet feeling was seeping up through the pad of my riding shorts and into the crack of my butt.
Tomorrow, we ride
At 5:00 AM my phone rang. Was it really my phone? Or was it my head? Or was it both? It was.
Then the hangover inventory began. “Where am I?” I asked myself.
“You are in bed.”
“How did I get here?”
“Someone put you here.”
“But the last I remember I was sitting in my own vomit.”
“You’re now wearing clean PJ’s and your favorite Smurf underwear.”
“Why do I smell good?”
“Someone must have bathed you.”
“But I was fully dressed and covered in very nasty pieces of hamburger and bleu cheese and beer.”
“Someone has taken care of you, it appears.”
I looked over at the other side of the bed. That slight turn of the head set off whanging hammers and grenades and lightning bolts of pain in my skull. She wasn’t awake yet. So it would at least be an our or so before The Reckoning.
The phone kept ringing. ”Hello?” I said.
“You alive?” It was Jack.
“How do you feel?”
“Great. As long as I don’t move and there’s no noise above a whisper.”
“Well, the Donut Ride is at eight, so start eating aspirin, eggs, and drinking water. You’ve got three hours.”
“Not happening. And quit screaming.”
“I’m not screaming and it is happening. Glass Hip’s in town and you promised me you’d ride with us. It’s his first Donut since he moved to California in 1996. Sack up.”
The crazy man with the hammer and the lightning bolts paused for a minute. Here was a hard choice. Stay in bed and be there when Mrs. Saint Wankmeister awoke, or get up and escape under cover of darkness for the Donut Ride, knowing that each movement for the next four hours would be a living, agonizing hell.
The wrath of Mrs. WM? Or the wrath of Glass Hip and assorted Donut idiots who would pummel me in my weakness?
“I’l meet you in thirty,” I said.
July 20, 2013 § 16 Comments
One day a few months ago, a funny email popped into my inbox.
“Before I ship, I wanted to make sure you drink red wine. No offense if you don’t, different strokes, you know? I grow it and make it and thought you might enjoy it. We (wife, daughter and I) just got done bottling a Rhone blend (Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mouvedre) which is kinda good. Let me know, it’s on the house.”
The email was signed by someone I didn’t know, and had a quote at the end that went “I’ve got no answers of my own, and none have been provided.” — Robert Hunter.
I emailed back saying that I drank red wine, white wine, green wine, purple wine, and would drain whatever he sent my way. Of course there was some story behind this, and I asked for it. The writer responded, and, I’ve changed around his story a bit just because I like to tinker, but what follows is, except for the parts I’ve made up, all true.
The cycling story
I started riding a trike, like most., and had a 20″ brown beater when I was six. It got stolen from the Piggly Wiggly. I exacted revenge on the teenager who stole it the following year by whacking him upside the head with a baseball bat as he hid behind a hedge, playing kick the can. Then I stole the bike back.
I rode my Royce Union BMX bike and Huffy ten-speed everywhere while living in the Valley in the late 60′s. At thirteen, I glommed onto my older brother’s bike, which was first bought for us both in 1965. He used it for a couple of years, as it fit him far better. We got it from the Belgian custodian of our church, who had purchased it for his son, Andre. This man, Mr. DuManshe, was from the Belgian Congo, and had been raised in Brussels. He had the foresight to buy the 58 cm Garlatti, a weird bike made from Columbus steel straight gauge tubing.
It had Campy Valentino components, steel cottered cranks, and tubular wheels. It was a real “racer.” My brother turned sixteen and got into cars, drinking, and girls. I had eyes for the bike, though, and overhauled it, painted it bright red/orange, and rode it everywhere. It was my ticket to freedom, my own personal revolution, as we lived in the middle of the Valley. It’s not the first or the last time that a revolution has been delivered on a crank and two wheels.
That bike could get me anywhere I wanted to go: The beach, Simi Valley, Westside, even the remote wilds of Palos Verdes. I played baseball growing up, and was in Senior, Pony, and Colt leagues at the fields in Encino. One day in 1969 in my baseball uniform with my glove on the bars, I rode up to the rail at the Encino velodrome and saw some real bike racers. An older guy named Paul Therrio, Ralph Therrio’s uncle, noticed me, and approached, telling me that I should give the track a spin.
I got a loaner track bike and started racing Juniors as a fifteen year-old. I started doing training rides with the North Hollywood Wheelmen, then a small club, and then I got an ABL license, and between high school sports and bike racing managed somehow to stay out of jail. Fast forward to 1972, if it’s possible to fast-forward to the past. I was out of high school, and had been appointed to West Point, and went there for a year before I came back and lived for most of the summer in the Bay Area with an aspiring junior roadie named Eric Allen. Eric died in the 80′s when he was run over by a truck. RIP, my friend.
I worked for Wente Winery in Livermore to pay the bills, trained hard, and won a couple of races as a Cat 3, which is where they stuck you once you left the juniors. No Cat 5 back then! I went down to UCSD in the fall of ’73, played baseball and basketball there and rode for training and fun, and kept the license alive but only raced three or four times a year.
I tore my knee up playing basketball and started riding a lot for rehab in ’74. Then I went to UCSB in ’75 (spring and summer) and rode with a bunch of the SBBC crowd, raced Cat 3 again and liked it, and returned to UCSD in the fall of ’75, where I rode hard all winter. In 1976 I raced up in Washington State as a Cat 2 during the summer, and got free room and board at a girlfriend’s parents’ house in Yakima while working at a vineyard and getting very dirty for my money. After that I rode about 2,000 kilometers in light, fast touring to get back down to UCSD for the fall quarter. I liked that better than road racing, which usually consisted of fifty wheelsuckers and ten guys who did all the work.
I started racing in earnest in 1977, got a job in a bike shop and ended up managing it and then owning one. I went to grad school in ’79 and moved to Palo Alto, where I worked for Avocet. The family also owned PA Bikes on University Ave. I raced most of ’78-81 as a Cat 2, then as a Cat 1 on the road, and even tried he kilo for a while. That was okay as I got to go to the USOTC in Colorado Springs and got coached by Eddy B. in the winter of ’79. I still don’t remember him fondly.
I moved to the Sierras and rode for fun, got fat and happy, and went to work for Huffy Corp. in ’84. Somehow I started moving a lot and ended up in Ireland working for True Temper, a Huffy division that made long-handled garden tools, and was there for almost three years. I was thirty and the cycling light went on. I rode with the Dublin Wheelmen although I lived a ways away from Dublin.
There were four or five of us who hopped flights over to Brussels and Paris and San Sebastian and Milan during the spring and summer, riding the Saturday and Sunday events as amateurs. I got dropped a lot at first, then learned to hang on. They rode in stupendously bad weather and they were hard, hard men. I found out I was pretty good when it was fairly flat, cold, wet, and windy. A lot of Pot Belge back then, and I got transferred back to the states, and after the spring of ’89 I hung it up, using the excuse of the drug use I saw, but really, I’d had enough. Bike riding was really fun for me, but racing was getting really hard, a lot of suffering, and I couldn’t make the family-life balance work with the bike racing thing. My son, born on the last day of 1989, is autistic, and that took a lot of time, shifted a lot of priorities, and turned my focus elsewhere.
The wine part
I was always a wine drinker, especially when travelling in Europe, and when I met my second wife, we were soon married and I sold my place in Carlsbad on the beach and moved out to Alpine, on the way to Boulevard and home to what used to be a great road race put on by SDBC — The Willows Road Race — on the Viejas Indian reservation, which is now a casino, hotel, and shopping outlet center.
We needed to landscape about an acre and we decided to grow grapes in 2006. I had a couple of severe crashes with cars and had a cracked pelvis, a whacked out back, and a tricep that was torn just about in half. I tried to ride too soon, and suffered some setbacks, so the vineyard was a good fit. It was an outlet that was calm and peaceful, but required some effort. I joined the San Diego Amateur Winemaking Society and met some very nerdy ex-engineers/retired geeks who loved to make wine, though only about 20% actually grow the grapes. We have one of the greatest exposures, combined with incredible soil for grapes, so I am growing several Rhone varietals (Syrah, Grenache Mouvedre, Viognier) and am now in the sixth year of growth for these vines.
I don’t buy grapes, but rather make wine out of what I grow. I don’t sell it either, but usually give it away or drink it with friends. We have lots of dinners and parties here at the hacienda. I built a semi-subterranean wine room and have a half dozen Hungarian Oak barrels and all the techno widgets that winemakers like to have, which is amazingly similar to bike tech-weight weenies. Making wine is pretty easy if you have good grapes and keep everything clean.
I have a dog named Honey, and I have attached a picture of her. We call the syrah “Yellow Dog Red.” What you are going to receive tomorrow via FedEx Ground is our blend, which is 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah. Open it, let it breathe for an hour, pour it, let it breathe 15 minutes more, and then drink it. It is 2012, so it tastes a bit young, but I think you will be impressed.
I have also attached a picture of my love, who by day is a banking executive, and we have a loft up in L.A. where she goes every week, but I go to once or twice a month. I am very lucky to have found her this late in life. She is a beautiful woman and has two grown children, as do I. Last, I attached a picture of me lying around in a hammock on our gopher-infested lawn next to the Bocce ball court and roses. I don’t drink as much as I used to, and really enjoy riding a bike more now, but only get out three or four times a week. Occasionally, I ride more often, get fitter, and do some time trials or jump in the Fiesta Island hammer-a-thon on Thursdays. I have been having windows of memory, usually in a dream, where a certain bike race gets re-lived. I am trying to get those things entered into a word file, so that keeps me busy.
Shame about the whole drug/doping thing, but it was way too obvious to me, and when Kayle and others started getting popped, it wasn’t hard for a lot of riders and fans to connect the dots. I had been telling friends for years that almost all road pros were all on their own “programs.” It’s funny how we want so badly to believe in our heroes. Hope this didn’t bore the living shit out of you. Enjoy the wine and be well.
Sure enough, the wine showed up via FedEx. I’m not a connoisseur of anything except maybe sleep, but when we cracked it open at a party a few days later it was consumed “good to the last drop.” There’s something about knowing the story behind the thing’s creation that makes it taste better. This was no exception.
July 18, 2013 § 39 Comments
Every once in a while I have one of those conversations that makes sure I don’t ever have too many friends. I ran across a buddy the other day coming in on Palos Verdes Drive North. I was returning from a race and he was finishing up the all-day training regimen prescribed by his coach. “I feel great!” he said.
“That’s nice,” I answered, knowing that we were going to a bad place, soon.
“That’s why I love cycling. It keeps me young.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
Appalled silence at the heresy. “Sure it does. I feel better now at fifty than I did at twenty-five.”
“Then you must have felt like shit when you were twenty-five.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“When I was twenty-five I could ride 600 miles a week on a saddle designed to block all blood flow to the pelvic region, have boners on demand not to mention an ‘uninvited guest’ every time I saw a cute girl, memorize thousands of kanji with minimal effort, work late, get up early, and remember everything I read the first time through.”
“Now I can ride 300 miles a week only if I bookend each ride with a three-hour nap. Boners require advance notice, an engraved invitation and a saddle with a cutout big enough to put my fist through, my memory is limited to breakfast, I collapse in a heap at nine o’clock, get up in the morning only with massive amounts of coffee, and can’t walk ten steps without having to take a pee.”
My interlocutor then pivoted onto the tried-and-true high school reunion comparison. “Yeah, but I feel so much younger compared to the people I went to high school with. I went to my 30th reunion and I was the youngest, slimmest, best looking person there. Most of them were so fat and hairless and in such bad shape or surgically altered that I couldn’t recognize them without name tags.”
“I’m sure that’s true. But bicycling isn’t ‘keeping you young.’ At best it’s slowing the rate of decay compared to your classmates, which rate is nonetheless rapid, irreversible, and accelerating logarithmically with each year.”
“That’s ridiculous. It’s not how old you are, it’s how old you feel. You’ve got to stay young at heart, and cycling keeps me young at heart.”
“Wrong again. It’s how old you are, not how old you feel. The most ancient-feeling two year-old is going to far outlast the youngest-at-heart centenarian ever. At fifteen, death is something that happens in movies and certainly not to you. At fifty, you’re so close to death you can see its outline in the mirror.”
“You’re such a cynic. Riding makes you feel young, admit it.”
“Riding makes me feel great, except for during, before, and after the ride. But it doesn’t make me feel young. I can’t even remember what young feels like.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Young is a state of mind where there’s more possibility than not. Young is an upward trajectory. Young is when forty seems incomprehensibly old. Young is when your mind has more hopes than memories. Young is the stench of hormones and the soup of raw emotions mixed with curiosity, intensity, infinite energy, and lust. Young is never a nine o’clock bedtime, unless you’ve been up for the last thirty-six hours.”
“I’m so much fitter now since I took up cycling five years ago. I’ve already ridden seven thousand miles this year. My kids couldn’t keep up with me on a bet.”
“Your kids don’t need to keep up with you. They’re already miles ahead.”
“How do you figure?”
“You can get on your bike and pedal for hours. Your kids can walk into a bar and get looked at by young girls. They win.”
“I’ve talked to plenty of young girls in bars.”
“Were you buying?”
” … yeah … “
“So which one is younger? The guy who rides all day with other old men and conquers high mountains and has to pay for conversation or the guy who walks into a bar and gets noticed by young women without having to buy?”
“The minute you stop trying, you’re dead. You gotta keep pushing yourself otherwise you stagnate and die. You gotta take the hard road, attack the mountain and avoid the flat path at all costs. You gotta push the envelope to bustin’, no matter how much it hurts, how tired you are, or how badly you want to quit. That’s how you stay young.”
“Not at all. The minute your heart stops beating, you’re dead, and this can easily happen when you get run over by a car while riding your bicycle. The best way to preserve life is not by riding a bike, it’s by staying indoors and watching TV while eating chips, drinking beer, and doing thirty minutes a day on the trainer.”
“But that’s not living!”
“Of course it is. Each person gets to decide how they want to spend their allotment of time. But no one gets to stay young, and no one gets out of here alive.”
“So why do you ride then, Mr. Grumpy Old Fart?”
“Do I have to have a reason?”
“C’mon. You love it. Admit it, Mr. Grumpy Cat Face.”
“I love it. But I don’t know why, and it sure isn’t keeping me young, judging from my hair loss and other objective indicia.”
The road had now reached the intersection with Silver Spur, a steep, awful, punishing one-mile slab of pavement that invariably wrung your final breaths out of your lungs no matter how strong you felt. ”I’m turning here. Join me? It’ll add a couple of miles and a touch of climbing, but will still put you back in Redondo.”
“No, thanks. That’s too hard a climb for just now.”
“Really? C’mon, dude. The minute you stop trying, you’re dead. You gotta keep pushing yourself otherwise you stagnate and die. You gotta take the hard road, attack the mountain and avoid the flat path at all costs. You gotta push the envelope to bustin’, no matter how much it hurts, how tired you are, or how badly you want to quit. That’s how you stay young.”
He scowled, but made no attempt to turn. “You’re forgetting something.”
“The only thing dumber than paying a coach to tell you how to ride is paying him to tell you how to ride and then not taking his advice.”
“Even if it makes you old?”
“Even if it makes you old.”
He had a point, which was, I think, that I’m lucky I don’t have a coach. I tackled the climb and got to the top exhausted and sore and, I’m afraid, just a little bit older than when I started.
July 16, 2013 § 22 Comments
I had just finished charging up Silver Spur on my ‘cross bike, newly equipped with very big, very urban commuter tires. My new training mantra is “make it an interval,” which means “pound whenever you can.”
We’ll see how long that lasts.
Although I didn’t know that I’d set one of my fastest times up the first portion of this beast (Strava segment here), on fat tires, no less, I knew I’d gone up it fast (for me) because my legs burned the whole way up. I crested the top and kicked into glide, gulping in the air and feeling the waves of acid in my legs dissipate.
I felt great.
Let’s get Jr. something he’ll be safe in
About a hundred feet before the ARCO at Silver Spur and Hawthorne, a Toyota ForeRunner blew by me with about six inches to spare, barely missing my shoulder with the mirror, then slammed on the brakes and made a hard right into the gas station.
I pulled up behind the car, which was about ten years old, and waited for the driver to exit. He hopped out and looked surprised — but only for a split second — to see me there.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hello,” he answered. He was about seventeen and wearing a floppy white t-shirt, saggy shorts, and flip-flops. You could tell he had just gotten up because after all, it was almost noon.
“You passed me with a few inches to spare and came pretty close to hitting me.”
“I did?” He tried to look concerned as he sized me up. “I must not have seen you.”
“Really? I was in the middle of the lane.”
“I’m so sorry, but it’s a good thing I didn’t hit you, right?”
“Yes, it’s a very good thing. You might have scratched your car if you had.”
“Yeah,” he said, uncertainly, then brightening as he understood how lucky he’d really been not to scratch the car.
“How could you not see someone in the middle of the lane? Were you on the phone?”
“No.” Then he threw away the pretense as he realized that I wasn’t angry and therefore no longer a threat. “Look, I have an issue with you cyclists.”
“Yeah, really. You guys get out in the way of cars and then we have to swerve at the last minute to keep from hitting you. It’s really dangerous.”
“Yes, it is. Are you aware that we have the legal right to be in the lane along with cars like yours, even cars that parents have bought for their somewhat selfish and spoiled children?”
“Sure, I know you have the right to be there. Look, I’m really sorry.” Everything about his tone, his face, and his posture said he wasn’t sorry at all, and that now he was annoyed.
“You don’t look sorry. You look annoyed, as if I’m bothering you.”
“Look, mister, I said I was sorry. You’re lucky I didn’t hit you. I had eye surgery the other day. I can’t see very well. When I saw you all I saw was a blur.”
“I thought you didn’t see me.”
“Can I just go inside and get my Coke? You’re harassing me, mister.”
“Really? You consider being spoken to in a civil tone of voice after coming close to killing someone ‘harassment?’”
“Do you want me to call the police?”
“I don’t want you to do anything other than pay attention to bicyclists in the roadway. They’re not all as skilled as I am. A little wobble and I’d be in an ambulance right now. But if you think the police will help facilitate this conversation, by all means call them. I’ll be interested to see what happens when they ask to see your I.D.”
Now he was paying attention, fully. “What do you want me to do? How many times can I say I’m sorry?”
“I want you to think about something.”
“I want you to think about your dad.”
“What about him?”
“How old is he?”
“I turn fifty in a few months.”
“Would you have done what you just did, and would you be speaking like you’re speaking right now, if it had been your dad on the bike?”
He looked at me. “No. But you’re not my dad.”
“I suppose we can both be grateful for that, right?”
He was uncertain again. “Right.”
I got back on my bike and rode off.
July 14, 2013 § 16 Comments
On Thursday Tink and I followed up the greatest victory of my career with a spin around the Hill . As we came through Lunada Bay on PV South, there were cars stacked up at the four-way stop sign in every direction. Tink was going to go straight and I was making a right to climb up Via Zumaya for home.
It is downhill to the stop sign with a sweeping turn as you whip off to the right. No self-respecting cyclist would think about coming through at anything less than full throttle.
There was plenty of space for me to take the right-hander full gas. At the last moment I saw Tink doing a full brake and panicked unclip as her rear tire skittered. To the left, two cars back, was a cop car.
“Oh, poop,” I didn’t say to myself, choosing instead something more colorful. My speed took me so far up the street that I was almost ready to run the next stop sign when the officer hit the siren.
I fought the law and the law won. Sort of.
I knew it was coming, and knew it would be a game of chess. I’d skated on my last violation in Torrance for shoveling on the coal through a four-way stop sign, again with traffic backed up in all directions.
Although I’d begun with the Blind Stop Sign Ruy Lopez, an admittedly weak opening, it gave me some control over the center of the board as the officer didn’t know I’d seen him from the corner of my eye. His best move would have been the Morphy’s Defense, i.e. striking me from behind with his bumper, or the Berlin Wall Defense, which involves a speedy trial followed by a hanging.
However, he went with the Sicilian, which was simply bleeping me with his siren and preparing to attack my queen with his $380.00 citation. (Note to novices: Attacking my “queen” a/k/a Mrs. Wankmeister by giving me a ticket is a great way to keep her livid for months.)
Responding to the Sicilian
Since he didn’t know that I’d seen him, I had two choices. I could go with the Up Yours Pig counter-defense, where the cyclist shrugs and tries to bluster his way out of the ticket, or I could go with the Gee I Sure am a Moron swap, which throws the cop off-center by an unexpected display of contrition.
I opted for the Moron by doing a fake twitch and jerk when he hit the siren to make it look like it was totally unexpected and that I was frightened. The Moron involves making the cop giggle when you appear to jump out of your skin, and also involves putting the Dog Showing Belly move into play. Dog Showing Belly tells the cop that you are completely acknowledging his superiority and he is free to lick your balls if he so chooses.
The officer didn’t, but as soon as he saw me advance with the Moron he did the Gomer Pyle follow to the Sicilian Defense. The Gomer is where Sergeant Carter screams at the top of his lungs, “What in the hell were you doing back there?”
The philosophy behind the Gomer is that it forces the cyclist out of the Moron play and backs him into the Up Yours Pig counter, which then escalates into handcuffs, a ride to the police station, and a phone call to the attorney of your choice. I doubled down on the Sure I am a Moron by responding with “I was riding like a complete idiot, officer.”
“Yeah,” he said. “You sure were.” He’d lost the momentum behind the Gomer and had sacrificed control of the board.
I threatened his queen with another strong salvo of I Sure am a Moron. “That was stupid beyond belief.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It was. You know why I’m pulling you over?” He’d dropped the Gomer and was circling back with the Sicilian. Now it was a game of nerves. If I flinched, he’d take my queen, give me a citation, and ruin my marital bliss for the foreseeable future.
He’d left a pawn exposed, though, that could take me straight to checkmate, but I’d have to be bold. “Because I blew through the stop sign and am riding like an idiot?” This was the Dog Showing Belly bait, and he took it.
“No. I’m pulling you over because every car at that intersection was waiting for me to do something. If I’d let you go, the phone at HQ would be ringing off the wall right now. Instead everyone is satisfied that Ianother scofflaw cyclist is being brought to justice.”
Let’s help each other out
“I’m a cyclist,” he continued. “And the last thing I want to do is cruise around writing citations to cyclists. But when you come screaming through an intersection filled with cars and don’t even make a pretense of slowing down, what do you expect me to do?”
“Pull me over?” I suggested.
“Yeah. You really deserve a ticket for that stunt,” he mused, but I could see that the combo of Dog Showing Belly + I Sure am a Moron were working. “Tell you what I’ll do,” he said.
“I’ll let you off with a warning. But I’m putting your name in my notebook in case this happens again. What’s your name?”
“David. David Perez. 867-5309, area code 310.”
“Okay, Mr. Perez. Next time try to put a foot down, okay?”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“And be safe out there,” he added.
“I will!” I lied, and pedaled off.
The third time pays for all
This morning I pedaled to Manhattan Beach for a Donut Ride warm-up and came back through Hermosa Beach. For some reason I was so happy that I sat up, folded my arms, and gaily cruised through a whole series of stop signs, as well as a red light.
I felt so happy until the Hermosa Beach police SUV roared up to me with a red-faced sergeant screaming at the top of his lungs, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
I practically fell off my bike, and my fear and jerky reaction made him smile even though he tried to hide it.
“Riding like an idiot, officer, a complete idiot.”
Ruy Lopez this time? Or should I open with the Queen’s Gambit?
July 6, 2013 § 8 Comments
I have been banging the drum here in L.A. for some time now regarding the great bicycle riding opportunities in North County San Diego. This is not because I want to encourage people to get to know others, have fun, and enjoy cycling. It is because I get vicarious pleasure out of seeing my friends and riding buddies suffer obliteration. Although riding in North County won’t make you faster, it will permanently devastate your self-esteem. So, as Knoll would say, “There’s that.”
I joined my first SPY Holiday Ride yesterday. The evening before we had a team celebration at RIDE Cyclery. MMX, Slim Jim, and Brent had stocked the deck with giant coolers filled with fresh growlers of beer from Lost Abbey. None of the growlers had fancy beer names like “Working Stiff” or “Take Five” or “North County Rough Road.” No, they just had percentages of alcohol content written on the caps with a Sharpie.
This was beer for people who were serious about drinking beer. The Lost Abbey figured out how to make the beer, and apparently it was your job to figure out what to call it. The next morning I awoke with a screaming, blinding, pounding, stomach-churning hangover from hell, so in the future I will call their beer Sbpsc Hfh. Add vowels as needed.
It would be easy to blame the next day’s dismal ride performance on the hangover were it not for the fact that I have never done a hard ride in North County that didn’t either kick me out the back or reduce me to a whimpering puddle of drained legs and melted ego.
Why you should do this ride
1. There is no “B” ride. It is uncompromising. You will suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, be kicked out the back, and forced to find your way home alone or in the company of other lost damned souls. How many things do you do in life that are uncompromising? That demand everything of you and guarantee nothing but defeat? (Don’t answer this if you’ve been married for more than five years.) That bring out the best in you even when your best is a pathetic, sniveling NOTHING? So, you should do this ride because it replicates, in the tiniest of ways, your natteringly, immeasurably insignificant place in the universe.
2. You are a chickenshit. Yes, you. You, who hide behind wheels, always take the short route home, sandbag in the easiest categories, or “compete” by “racing” exclusively against Strava and your own “personal records.” Thing is, you don’t have to just be a chickenshit. You can go on this ride and be a smashed chickenshit and earn the contempt of the august men and powerful women on the SPY Holiday Ride who will crush you like an eggshell beneath the wheel of an Antonov An-225.
3. There is order in the court. Unlike the Manhattan Beach Holiday Ride, in which 300 freds and 50 solid riders usurp the roadways of coastal L.A. in a mad, undisciplined dash to Mandeville Canyon, the SPY Holiday Ride is ordered. Yesterday about 175 riders went two-by-two for the first five miles, a sick single file for the next four, and all-hell-breaking-loose at the nine-mile mark when the peloton shattered at the base of the San Diegueno climb.
4. Prizes galore. Yesterday an entire case of The Lost Abbey’s BWR Bad-Ass Ale was awarded to the sado-masochist who spent the most time on the front. Unsurprisingly, the winner was Phil Tinstman. KOM winners got cool SPY sunglasses. OTB-wankers got as many servings of ridicule and contempt as they could swallow.
5. Natural selection. This ride rather quickly separated the wheat from the chaff, and you eventually rode with the category of your true ability. Once the pain train hit Lake Hodges, those who had pulled early, blew early. Those who had sucked wheel in hopes that a miracle would get them up the punishing rollers had to re-evaluate their faith. Those who had saved so they could punish finally “Let the Dogs Out.”
6. Variable terrain. The terrain in North County is different from much of SoCal, and punishing. It doesn’t feature many long climbs, but it continually throws rollers in your path no matter which direction you go. These variations wear you down, break your will to live, and leave you looking for a quaint coffee shop with yummy pastries, or failing that, a Starbucks, or failing that, a house with a garden hose. But there are none.
7. Heatstroke. Once you leave the coast it gets A-fucking hot. The poorly hydrated crack, crumple, and cave. The lucky ones die.
8. Benign indifference. Although close two hundred riders started, only a tiny handful finished with the lead group. The rest were ground beneath the wheel, or, as Hesse would say, “Unterm Rad.” This is of course how the universe views you: With benign indifference. Many people go to Sedona or buy crystals or use Feng Shui to align themselves with the universe’s forces when really all they need to do to discover their true quotient of universal meaninglessness is go get their balls stomped on the SPY Holiday Ride.
9. Free salt for wound-rubbing. Post-ride, one wanker said “We normally ride a bit faster going up to the first climb, but we had a pretty gentle roll over there today.” This was the section where I pulled my fucking brains out, drove the pace like a madman, then cracked and split open at the bottom of the first climb only to learn that it had been a tad on the slow side. Sorry bastard motherfuckers.
10. Lots of awesome Strava KOM’s. The SPY Holiday Ride is a great chance for you to bag some prestigious KOM’s, kind of like “The lottery is a great chance for you to get rich.” Only, the chance for you is zero.
11. Regrouping. The SPY Holiday Ride regroups a couple of times, although neither time is for your benefit. It is to allow the baby seals to rejoin so they can be re-clubbed and re-skinned. And you will be.
12. Race simulation. The pace was very much like a tough road race with a series of difficult sections, each of which caused destruction at the back of the pack. Unlike real road races, however, where you can conveniently categorize yourself according to age and gender, this ride forced you to match matches against monsters like Thurlow, Full Gas Tinstman, MMX and the SPY Train, Brett Clare, and a handful of very strong wheelsuckers who never took a pull but attacked and attacked hard.
13. Fireworks. Although illegal due to the dry conditions and high temperatures, the ride offered constant explosive detonations that occurered when riders like Zink, Hatchitt, David A., Stinger, and Tait lit the fuses of Those Who Shall Not Be Named For Now and watched as they snapped, crackled, fizzled, and popped with a whimper.
14. Del Dios KOM. This bad boy has over 6,500 riders on Strava, but yesterday Full Gas Phil whomped the snot out of the record time and set a blistering new pace of 12:38. You should do this so you can be like me, who gave it everything he had and got 98th place. 98th.
15. The 130-lb. Exemption. After the first pitch the road flattened out and this was where, if you were still there (you weren’t), various hardmen went to the front. Then some dude hit the jets, even though he had never taken one pull the whole day. His reasoning? “I don’t have to pull, dude, I’m only only 130 pounds.” So take notice: Anyone 130-lbs. or less need not bring along so much as a shred of self-respect.
16. Watch Brett sprint. On the return there was a sprint into Rancho Santa Fe. Those hoping to pass Brett, Full Gas, Thurlow, MMX, Josh, etc. brought mopeds.
17. Pity the fools. The 3 Witches ascent had the next sprint at the top, featuring three risers that topped out with a nasty sprint. For the first two witches, a couple of wankers from SDBC set tempo with Thurlow, Full Gas, and MMX sitting behind. For the third and final witch, Thurlow pulled and dropped the fools, with Full Gas Phil taking the sprint, MMX next and followed by Thurlow. Everyone else was shelled here. You were, too. Oh, wait, no you weren’t — you were shelled like an hour ago.
18. Visionary delusions. After a few more merciless beatdowns, sprunt points, and complete draining of all bodily adeonsine triphosphate, the handful of remaining riders “remarked what a great ride it had been.” Uh, sure. Whatever. Bunch of fucking liars.
19. Horrific inland heat. The weather got hotter as the ride went inland. The heat sucked the life out of the weak, the lame, and the too-many-Lost-Abbey-brews-the-night-before. I staggered into a convenience store in Del Mar and doused my head in water, then lay on the cool pavement and hoped for a gurney or for someone to run over me. No one did.
20. Making great friends. After Zink flatted I was miserably stuck on his wheel for 30 miles while he “repaid” my assistance with the tire change by dragging me up hill, down dale, periodically dropping me, sitting up and waiting, towing me for a while, dropping me again, and generally making my life a living hell while trying to help me out. Note to self: Don’t ever stop to help Zink change a flat.
– 60 miles with 3800 feet of climbing
– 4 sprint waypoints, and the KOM at Del Dios
– Held every national holiday. Next one will be on Labor day.
– Ride size: 100-200, depending on weather and time of year
July 3, 2013 § 14 Comments
My plan was simple. Our race went off at 10:35. There was a Firestone beer tent in the middle of the esplanade that opened at 11:00. I would pedal at the back for twenty-five minutes, quit, and go over to the beer tent and quaff craft brews while the other idiots pummeled each other into submission.
This race had everything that SoCal bike racers loathe. It had a turn that required some skill to negotiate. It had a howling wind for a long stretch that crushed your will to live. It had a slight incline that prevented you from gaily sucking wheel until the last lap. Worst of all, it had blistering dry heat that seared the inside of your lungs into sandpaper, and the harder you breathed the worse it hurt. As if the demanding course weren’t enough, the 45+ Elderly Gentlemen With Prostate Issues category was stacked: Thurlow, Hill, Strickler, Flores, Clare, Hatchitt, Rahm, Arellano, and a host of other tough guys toed the line, which meant that any kind of decent result would be legitimate indeed.
Fun for the whole family (if your family is wholly brainless)
No man who races bikes and doesn’t have fundamentalist Islam-type control over his wife ever shows up with his lady in tow if they’ve been married for more than six months. This is because the wife figures out after the first two races that a) All office parks are ugly, hot, nasty places to spend a day, and b) Her husband always finishes 45th or lower, or crashes out, or both.
However, the 805 Series promised to be different. It was in Santa Barbara County, a place that Angelenos love to visit on the weekend so that they can pay $10 for a cup of coffee and sit in five hours of traffic on Sunday evening on the drive back home. Santa Barbara also conjures up images of beautiful scenery and countless small wineries where, under the guise of being an oenophile, you can stagger from tasting room to tasting room so thoroughly drunk that you’d be unable to differentiate a Cabernet from a glass of the finest 2013 Pennzoil 10w/40.
Santa Barbara is one of the few places that the tight-fisted, selfish bike racer can coax his wife to visit by promising winery tours and a romantic dinner, then doing the last-minute bait-and-switch by saying, “Fuck, honey, I’m wasted from the race. Let’s go back to the Motel 6, watch some porn and drain a case of Coors Light.”
I had cornered Mrs. Wankmeister into a negotiated truce. “You’ll love it up there, honey,” I promised. “Beautiful scenery, wine tasting tours, and a change of pace.”
“Onna last trip onna Palm Springs inna summer my butt was bakin off. It’s like a Palm Springs, huh?”
“Oh, no! They don’t let meth heads into Santa Barbara County unless they’re affiliated with the university. We’ll be up by Solvang, a cute little Danish town with windmills and such. It’s so picturesque with wine tasting tours and tours where you can taste wine and wineries where you can enjoy wine tasting of wine.”
“Why’s a Denmark gonna know about making onna wine? Denmark’s a place onna codfish and porky salt and whiskey I thought. I never heard on no Danishmark wine.”
“Well, the wine’s not Danish, it’s the little town. It’s very cute with windmills and such.”
“It’s soundin like onna Palm Spring. All they had onna Palm Spring was a big Marilyn whore and a boys and men looking up onna her skirt. And you was lookin so hard onna up her skirt you got the neck strain and we drove all around tryin to find you onna aspirin.”
“It was just a statue, honey.”
“I know it was onna statute honey and you know it was a statute honey. So why you was standin onna her skirt tryin to look onna her clamparts? Alla clamparts you’re looking onna Internets, what you thinkin on seein on her clamparts? You seen one clamparts you seen a million.”
It was touch and go to get her off the clamparts discussion, but I finally prevailed. She wasn’t very happy about it, but at least she’d agreed to go.
Plan the work, then work the plan
Before the race started, we had a team meeting. Our leader, Flamethrower Flores, gathered us around. The cool thing about being part of a big team like SPY-Giant-RIDE is that everyone has a role to play. We can do things together that no one of us can do alone. When everyone is part of a bigger plan, it makes you feel worthwhile and gives you a sense of mission. That’s why I love this team.
“Andy, set the pace from the gun. Make it fierce enough to sap the will of the cannon fodder so they won’t try to follow a break.”
“Hatchetman, stay towards the front and roll with any breaks. If one leaves without me, I’ll bridge and you’ll be there to help.”
“T-Rex, if a break gets up the road without any of our guys, go to the front and bring it back, or at least get us close enough to bridge. Obviously, if it boils down to a bunch sprint, we’re leading you out.”
“Lupus and Jimbo, cover moves and if we get someone up the road, go to the front and clog the chase. If it’s a bunch sprint, you boys are first and second in the leadout train.”
They nodded. “Okay, guys,” Flamethrower said. “Let’s roll.”
“Uh, hey, man,” I said. Everyone turned and looked. “What about me?”
“Oh, yeah, Wanky, uh, do your usual thing. You know, go to the back and don’t get near any of your teammates.”
“Oh,” I said. “What about, like, if there’s a break? Should I block?”
Hatchetman leaned over. “Let me make it real fucking clear: You get anywhere near any of us and I’m putting your ass into the barriers. Last week you damned near crashed out the entire team. If you want to help, get your ass to the back, do your usual full brake flail through the turns, swing wide, cut inside, and scare the crap out of everyone behind you. But don’t get near any of us. And that’s an order.”
“Got it, buddy!” I said, thrilled to have a clear mission and the total support of all my teammates who all agreed on my very important role.
Rubbing shoulders with the big boys
In addition to being part of such a cool team, the other great thing about racing is getting to hang with the legends of the sport. My favorite part is the warm-up around the course, where I get to shoot the breeze with the really good racers. Of course, they know who I am and we always get to share thoughts about racing, one man to another as it were, peers.
As I cruised through Turn One I came up next to Stricky. “Hey dude,” I nodded. “Good course, huh?”
“Get the fuck away from me, you goddamned kook. You almost fucking took out my front wheel on the last lap in Ladera Ranch.”
“Got it, bro. Have a good race!” Next I pulled up alongside Thurlow. “Hey, dude,” I said.
He didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t ignoring me. He’s just quiet like that. “How’re the legs, man?” I asked.
He still didn’t say anything, but I know he heard me. He’s like that, you know, even when he likes you a lot and thinks you’re a cool dude too, he sometimes just doesn’t say anything. It’s his way of saying something without really saying anything. “Have a good race, dude,” I said.
He answered by not replying, which was cool. Some people are just intense that way. As I started to pass him he glanced at me. “Don’t pass me,” he said.
“You heard me.” Then he glided on through the turn. He wasn’t being hostile or anything, he actually likes me a lot and really respects my riding. There was just that thing at CBR where I accidentally almost took out four dudes in the warm-up lap and maybe he was just jittery or something.
I finished my lap knowing I had the full support of my teammates and the respect of my adversaries. We lined up. The ref read us our last rites and fired the gun, and we were off.
There is a moment in every bike race, if it’s any kind of bike race at all, when, after chewing the enamel off your stem, pounding so hard you want to vomit, surging and jumping with such ferocity that your knee joints ooze blood, draining the last drop of sugar goop out of your fourth bottle, and shooting every last bullet in your magazine, you realize that there are still 55 minutes left to go in the 60-minute race. For me, that moment had arrived in the town of Buellton. I knew that the smart thing to do was quit while I was behind, but if I were wedded to smart things I wouldn’t have been in a bike race to begin with.
I’d spent the first few laps careening wildly through the turns, and I knew I was doing my job because every few seconds some poor sap behind me would let out a scream, followed by the sound of a bike hitting the curb and flipping over into the barricades. It didn’t take long before I had thinned the field considerably and was the very last guy in the group.
The course was brutal, and the slight climb, the searing dry heat, and the industrial blow-drier hot wind had shredded the pack. Andy had set a nasty pace, with Lupus and Jim pounding the whimpering remnants into submission. Finally Flamethrower launched and dangled off the front for six miserable laps. When Amgen brought him back, he countered and a split formed with him, Thurlow, Hatchetman, Gentleman John Slover, and Mark Noble.
This was the moment the entire pack was waiting for: The moment when the real racers could speed off and flog their demons in the teeth of a relentless headwind and the rest of the wankoton could sit up, plan for dinner and tea, and “help the team” by “blocking.” In reality, we were all so beat to shit that it wouldn’t have mattered who was in the break. We went from a long, thin line to a fat amorphous lump as soon as the breakaway rode clear.
My mission accomplished for the day, at 11:00 sharp I sneaked out the back and rolled straight into the beer garden. I can tell you that the Firestone 805 is lighter and tastier than the Firestone DBA, but the difference isn’t really clear until you’ve had five or six apiece in order to properly tease out the flavors. From some foggy and slurred place I watched Flamethrower outsprint Thurlow and Mark Noble. Another awesome team victory that I could notch on the stock of my gun. They couldn’t have done it without me, and the only thing I really wondered was “How much will my cut be?”
Burrito love and the tattoo of death
The next shellacking on offer was the 35+ race. A handful of 45ers had lined up, wrongly thinking that they’d get in a little “extra training.” What they were really about to get was an unforgettable beating.
The temperature had soared to 105, the wind had cranked up another 5mph, and the fierce looks of fresh riders like Full Gas Phil, Vampire, and the Italian Stallion telegraphed their intent to rip it from the gun.
I wandered into the Mexican food joint that sat on the third turn, a super fast left-handed sweeper whose curb was so close to the restaurant window that you could see the spaces between the teeth of the racers as they railed the first lap mouths open, tongues lolling, and flecks of spit already clogging the corners of their mouths.
I thought momentarily about going out into the blistering heat to cheer but the waitress arrived with a four-pound verde burrito with cheese and covered in cheese on top of several layers of cheese. I sank my teeth into the cheese as two riders came through on Lap Two.
It was Full Gas Phil Tinstman on the point with Vampire on his wheel and some poor bastard trying to twist sideways and also hunch down in order to get the slightest bit of a sliver of a draft from Vampire, the only rider who can stand next to Full Gas and make him look morbidly obese.
They hit the convection oven headwind heat blast and Poor Bastard melted and dripped through the oven rack a completely destroyed piece of meat. Full Gas hit it harder and as the pack came through single file the numbers had already thinned.
The Italian Stallion tried repeatedly to get away but each effort was marked by an already wasted peloton that was strong enough to mark moves but too weak to bridge or bring back the break. After thirty minutes of the seventy-minute race had passed, the field was whittled down to thirty riders. Sixty had started.
The remaining flailers looked wild-eyed and crazed from heatstroke as Full Gas and Vampire widened their lead. From time to time I considered cheering them on, but the burrito was still mostly there and the sun’s glare looked so uninviting. By race’s end a mere twenty desperate riders were left. Full Gas dumped Vampire coming out of the last turn like a redneck emptying his ashtray out the window while blowing down the Interstate at 90. The finishers all had a whipped and ruined look that reminded me of someone with food poisoning, a bad hangover, and Montezuma’s Revenge.
I finished my burrito and walked to the beer garden.
June 23, 2013 § 14 Comments
I joined the Montrose Ride yesterday morning with local legend and German import Armin Rahm. He guided me along the route, providing the world’s steadiest wheel in a sea of swervy riders. Coming into the big sprint in front of the school crossing, Frank Schroder provided a 1-kilometer lead out at Warp 7 that popped and frazzled all but a handful of riders who were strong enough to come around him at the end. After the ride Armin and I enjoyed a knockout cup of coffee in the picturesque town of Sierra Madre.
Even though it’s all L.A., and even though the distance isn’t very far, the South Bay’s separation from Pasadena by the Great Ocean of Unmoving Traffic means that there’s not nearly as much cross-pollination of the two cycling communities as there should be. Still, it was great to see friends like Tony Sells, David MacNeal, and Ed Engay on the ride.
Afterwards I swapped out Lycra for wool and headed over to the Chris Cono Contreras memorial service at the Pasadena Civic Center. I’m not sure how many people the room held, but it was easily three hundred if not a lot more. Death has a way of cross pollinating, the same way bike rides can. It brings together different groups of people with nothing in common except the person who has died, only to find out that they really have a lot in common, after all.
Chris’s cycling friends got to meet his friends from other parts of his life that didn’t revolve around two wheels. Family got to meet people who had only known him on the bike. The outpouring of grief, and its attendant sense of loss and regret, were intense.
After the service everyone migrated over to a wonderful outdoor reception, where we ate, talked about Chris and his life, and got to do the thing that he most likely would have been doing: Drinking a few beers and talking bikes and bike racing.
It’s a proven fact that after death no one has ever come back to life, myths and fables notwithstanding. The idea of “rest in peace,” then, is a funny one for me, because from a factual standpoint, you’re not “resting” at all. You’re just gone, and the web of life reflexively and instantaneously mends over the tiny tear you’ve left in the giant skein. Death is so painful and shocking and dramatic, but life rolls on like a giant wave, smoothing everything in its path, indifferent, benign.
Still, one of the people who stood up and reminisced about Chris said this: “Ride in peace.” He said it with tears streaming down his face and it was moving. I think it’s a beautiful sentiment for those of us who are still here, so I’ll pass it on as a new motto, in memory of Chris: Ride in peace.