Take it SLO-er

November 17, 2014 § 7 Comments

It’s been scientifically demonstrated that when a group of strangers assembles around a blazing campfire in the wilderness surrounded by unlimited beer the evening will result in fisticuffs, fucking, a mind bending hangover, or, if you’re super lucky, all three. Mike and I only achieved the hangover part, and we staggered out of the camper the next morning wildly looking for the water bottle and, on the off chance we might find it and kill it, the cat that had spend the night crapping in our mouths.

“Dude,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“No beer for me the rest of the weekend. I feel terrible. It’s gonna take a couple of days to recover from that.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “I’m done drinking, too.”

We glanced over the embankment to see what had become of our campfire teammates, and they were even worse off than we were. You know that slow staggering zombie gait, half bent-over, that people use the morning after a night that ends with no one even looking anymore at the label on the bottle? Their whole campsite looked like it had been occupied by the zombie apocalypse.

The blonde girl who had spent the night shouting at us and complaining that she “couldn’t understand it why no guy would stay with her for more than a year” was trying to get the zombie campers down to the race course because it had dawned on them that in an hour or so they would all be required to engage their hangover muscles in a vicious, relentless pain fest around the worst ‘cross course ever designed by someone who hates bicycles. Then memory fragments of the previous night came trickling back like pus from a freshly lanced infection.

“What time are you racing?” I had asked the blonde girl, who had looked like she was about thirty.

“I fucking hate bike racing,” she snarled.

“Did you notice you were at a bike race with a bunch of bike racers?”

“You don’t look like a bike racer,” she said, staring at my stomach.

“Good point,” I conceded. “So what are you doing here?”

“I’m the team heckler.”

“The what?”

“The team heckler. I’m the best fucking ‘cross heckler in NorCal and my team takes me everywhere to heckle.”

“You do kind of have a loud voice,” I offered, reflecting on her noisy, grating, and jarring manner of speaking.

“Shut up and keep drinking,” she said, so I did.

Thankfully my race didn’t start until noon, and Hecklebitch and the Zombies (I think they’re also a garage punk band) had gone down to do the women’s race. Mike and I ate several plates of dirt to keep the Gatorade down, cleaned our already clean bikes, and rolled down to the course.

Once there we did what everyone at every cyclocross race does; which is to say we began asking people about tire pressure. In ‘cross it’s all about tire pressure, and even though you run the same TP virtually every race, it’s terribly important to talk about it. At the sign-in table, which was a quarter-mile away from the opposite end of the course, we heard a terrible howling sound, like what you would hear if someone were trying to warn someone about a bank robbery, or if their child had been stolen, or if their balls had been sauteed and drained with a hundred safety pin punctures. It was a yammering, screaming, banshee of a yowl, and despite the distance it made our skin crawl.

“Who’s being tortured?” I asked.

The sign-in gal shook her head. “I don’t know, but it’s been going on all morning.”

“We’d better go take a look and kill it.”

“Kill what?” she asked.

“The poor animal that’s caught in the steel trap. That’s the only thing that could howl so miserably.”

Mike and I pinned on our numbers, asked a few more people about tire pressure and ignored their responses, and then did the only other mandatory thing that you have to do at a ‘cross race. It goes like this. “Hey dude,” you say to a bystander, “is the course open for a pre-ride?”

“No. There’s a race going on. The course is now closed.”

“Okay, thanks.” Then you go to a spot where no one is looking and hop onto the course. We did, and our punishment was immediate. The SLO ‘cross course had been laid out by a blind person. Not the usual blind person who does ‘cross races, but the blind person who, before beginning the all-day job of marking the course with with twelve miles of tape, begins the job with the tools of the trade (hammer, PVC pipe, steel spikes, and post-hole digger) as well as twelve cases of light beer.

This means that after about a quarter of the way through the course the blind dude with the hammer is himself hopelessly hammered, and the course becomes a mishmash of what you’d expect to see after several cases of beer in the hot sun: A fog of senselessly twisted barrier tape.

The course had a turn every twenty or thirty feet, which, of all the weaknesses in my ‘cross skill set, and there are about 3,350 of them, played to the weakest weakness of all — my inability to turn a bicycle. As we pre-rode the course, gradually approaching the backside, the banshee screaming increased and sounded more horrible, until we hit the small series of uphill turns that were pleasantly lined with massive gopher holes that ate your front wheel whole and jarred your bones so hard that it felt like your testicles would jounce out of their sack.

I checked my service revolver so that I could quickly shoot the trapped animal until we saw that it wasn’t a trapped animal at all, rather it was Hecklebitch. The noise was deafening. She had built her own heckling bell contraption, two thick pieces of metal that had giant steel cans welded to them. She would clang the cans together and it was so frightening that your first urge was to crap, your second to run away. Accompanied by a howling yell to “Pedal your ass faster!” and “Get at it, goddammit!” it was scary enough.

But what was truly beyond the pale was Hecklebitch’s incredible physical strength. Standing between the lanes on the sharp uphill section of the course, she would run parallel to her riders and scream at them while clanging the crazy cans of hell. Clanging the crazy cans took amazing Amazon strength, but doing that while repeatedly running a 4-minute uphill mile over a vale of gopher-style sinkholes and screaming like a drill sergeant easily made her the fittest person at the event.

To top it off she was dressed in black yoga pants and wearing a huge black floppy hat that obscured everything except her beady, red crazy eyes so that you actually thought hell had opened its gates and let out its worst denizen to suck your blood and eat you for lunch if you didn’t “Pedal faster, goddammit!”

And her teammates did in fact pedal faster; by the look on their faces it was evident that she was the best legal performance enhancer anyone in the race had.

“I’m not surprised she has trouble keeping a guy for more than a year,” said Mike.

“I’m surprised she’s ever kept one for more than a day,” I agreed. “If only because it probably takes her a full day to eat them.”

My race began and I attacked off the back, figuring I would catch everyone on the final lap and pass them in the beer tent. This course was so terrible that my technique of brake-hard-in-the-middle-of-the-turn-while-taking-the-widest-line put me way, way OTB. This was good because it meant I didn’t have to worry about being near any other pesky riders, but it was bad because my conspicuousness brought me to the attention of Hecklebitch.

By now she had been yelling and running and clanging nonstop for hours, and she was worked up into a frothy, sweating rage, making her earlier exhortations look like the peeping of mice. “Pedal your fucking bike you lazy, candy-assed sandbagging sonofabitch!” she cursed as I casually pedaled by combing my hair.

Unfortunately the taping meant I had to go back and forth like in a queue at Disneyland, passing her five or six times before advancing down the course. With each passing her rage mounted, and her teammates, who had finished, joined her in a knot of screaming abusers. They were so amazed at my slowness and apparent lack of effort that they reached new heights in insults and abuse, many of which were inventive and funny to everyone except me.

“Hashtag don’twannasweat!” screamed one.

“Hashtag don’tgetmyglassesdirty!” howled another.

“Hashtag allsmacknosack!” roared Hecklebitch.

As the abuse got more intense I began to fume, until on the third lap as they took their collective breath to heap additional insults on my head, I slipped in “Hashtag whycan’tIkeepaguyformorethanone year, and Hashtag becauseI’mbatshitcrazy.”

That shut up the entire heckling section for one full lap, but their lusty insults had provoked such amusement that a small clot of other hecklers had formed farther up. One guy kept yelling, “It will go faster if you pedal it!” until the final lap he offered up the worst insult ever as I rode by — because it was so sincere. “Quit sandbagging!” he said. Then he said “Hey, dude you’re just warming up, aren’t you? Sorry for all the heckling.”

By then I was moments away from being lapped and getting to beer early.

After the races were done for the day we regrouped at the campsite with T-Dub and Rob only to realize that we’d forgotten about our morning hangover, we’d forgotten our promise to stay sober, and most importantly we’d forgotten to re-provision the beer and wood for the campfire.

We jumped into T-Dub’s minivan. “This is a great bike race car,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, “but it’s not so hot when you’re meeting a chick for the first time who you met on Match.com.”

In SLO we drove around looking for cold beer and toured the city’s main attraction, a couple of walls down a narrow alley that were covered in chewing gum. Apparently people chew their gum and stick it to the wall so in addition to being nasty it is really, really nasty. “Do they have a booger wall here, too?” I asked.

No one answered because we had found the liquor store.

Back at the campsite we ate dinner, stoked the fire, settled into our chairs, and expressed our gratitude that Hecklebitch and the Zombies had gotten butthurt by my hashtag comment. As night closed in, a different group of crazy people began to trickle in, lured by the warmth of the flames and the enticement of free beer.

And shortly thereafter shit got, as they say, real. Very, very real.

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Take it SLO

November 15, 2014 § 6 Comments

I knew it was going to be a great weekend of ‘cross racing when we saw the straw drummer. Mike and I were standing in line at the Starbucks and an older dude was sitting at his table holding big green straws in each hand and a straw in the crook of each elbow.

With his earphones in, grooving to the beat, he drummed the air with his drinking straws, flipping them like drumsticks and catching them again in his elbow and mouth. He was skilled but clearly insane, just like a ‘cross racer. Unlike a ‘cross racer, however, it was before noon and he wasn’t obviously drunk.

As Mike pointed the RV north to San Luis Obispo, we took inventory. “Beer?” I asked.

“Six cases. So we’re covered for tonight.”

“Coffee?”

“Check.”

“Toilet paper?”

“They’ll have that at the race.”

Knowing that we were fully provisioned I relaxed as we powered up the 101. Three hours later we got to El Chorro Regional Park where they were setting up the course.

After being cooped up in the RV we were champing at the bit to ride. I kitted up and raced over the dirt wall behind our campsite. On the other side a nice fellow had just finished setting up his tent, which he had inconveniently placed immediately in front of my bike. Due to his poor placement, I was forced to ride over his tent.

He was kind of upset as we untangled his sleeping bag and camp stove from my derailleur, but I explained to him that if he had not put his tent in the way of my bike it wouldn’t have happened and plus now he had a new rear entrance to his tent which would improve airflow.

Mike and I rode for twenty minutes around the course then returned to camp, exhausted by the hard workout and ready for a big meal. Mike threw together an awesome mountain of pasta and meat sauce, sourdough slathered in butter, potato chips, Oreos, and beer.

As our campfire blazed and the temperature dropped, all the neighboring ‘crossers, thirsty and cold, gathered to the flames like moths. After nine hours all the beer was gone and the ‘crossers from Oakland were getting restless. I know this because the tall blonde was picking up the empties and draining the last drops of beer and Ebola spit from them.

When she finally reached for my beer I was afraid things would get ugly and then magically the SPY crew of Jim, Aden, and Vic showed up with six fresh cases. The natives all relaxed and the tall blonde took her hands off of my throat and we were all friends again.

Sometime much later the fire had died, the bottles were empty, and Mike was starting to look pretty cute. We climbed into the RV and were soon snoring the sleep of the dead.

There might be a better way to prep for a ‘cross race, but I don’t want to know what it is.

The anti-cyclist cyclist

November 14, 2014 § 58 Comments

It seemed pretty harmless. My fan sent me a private email and told me about a little bike-citation-trap that the LA Sheriff’s Department was running on PCH southbound. There is a shortcut that about seventy eleven billion riders take coming home on PCH, and it’s illegal because it requires you to go the wrong way down a one-lane, one-way street for about fifty feet before it becomes a two-lane, two-way street.

The reason that you break the law here is because you are tired and it’s the last 30 miles of your ride back to PV and if you go straight with your shot legs you have to “drag your wagon” as Miss Kentucky would say, all the way up Pepperdine Hill instead of sailing back to Malibu on a pancake flat, untrafficked road.

Problem is, the untrafficked road leads by Cher’s compound, and the trillionaires along the road, or at least one of them, doesn’t like it when bikers break the law to “sneak” onto “their” road. So, after getting a tip from my fan — the equivalent of someone telling you about a sobriety checkpoint — I went onto my Facebag lawyer page and gave the cycling planet a heads-up. “Don’t break the law here, and either go straight or walk your bike until the road becomes two-way.”

Pretty soon a maroon reared his ugly head, some wanker named Heath who is presumably a cyclist, and he made a couple of nasty comments about “lazy cyclists” and insinuating that the trillionaires were right to be angry at the scofflaws. I counter-posted once or twice and then deleted all of his comments, adhering to my new Facebag policy of “you gotta pay to play.”

In the past I would hunker down and engage in multi-day Facebag comment wars that were immensely entertaining to everyone but me. I realized the depth of my illness when, coming up for air, I realized that I had posted over 200 comments in a battle of the maroons between me and some wanker in upstate New York about whether or not his ‘cross skilz class would have prevented a crash. Yep. It was that weighty a topic. I engaged in this tweetle-beetle-battle-in-a-Facebag-bottle while visiting my elder son at college, ruining the weekend, and causing permanent emotional damage to the other maroon, who threatened legal action against me. (Note to reader: threatening lawyers with legal action is like threatening Bre’r Rabbit with the briar patch.)

However, it takes two maroons to have a tweetle beetle battle, and after reflection I realized that in this case I was the other one, and vowed not to do it anymore. So when Heath began tossing out the red meat I just tossed out the red delete and that was the end of it. Henceforth, I decided that if anyone wants to argue with me, they have to do it in my sandbox, here on the blog, where I not only make the rules but where I can edit everything they write or block them completely if I so choose. It’s not fair, just like life.

What struck me about Heath, though, is a common thread that runs through cycling in which cyclists themselves are extremely critical of other cyclists when it comes to obeying traffic laws. It’s a hall monitor complex, and it’s bizarre. I don’t condone scofflawing most of the time, but unless it’s egregious and puts someone else’s life at risk, I don’t much care about it, either. Cars break the laws all the time too, and when I’m motoring along and someone changes lanes without using a turn indicator (that actually happens), I don’t honk, or scream, or post a rant about it.

My motoring time is better spent driving defensively than it is screaming, cursing, flipping off, honking, or Facebagging about all the maroons out there who are trying to kill me.

Cycling is already dangerous enough without having to split my attention to whether or not someone runs a stop sign or goes the wrong way for 50 feet down Cher’s street. And in the battle between the scofflaws, it’s the motorist, not the cyclist, who is the overwhelming bad guy.

My buddy C. was dropping down Manhattan Boulevard a few days ago, traveling at the speed limit, and lawfully riding in the lane. A very busy and important manageress of a local MB optic shop came by, speeding, let out a blast on her horn, totally ignoring the new law that requires a passing motorist to give a cyclist 3-feet of clearance. C. got out of her way just in time to avoid being turned into pulp, and at the stoplight a few feet ahead, the one she had apparently been rushing to get to so she could stop, he thwacked on her window and yelled at her.

“I’m calling the police!” she screamed.

“Great,” he said. So they pulled over while she dialed 911. Unlike the LA police, where they don’t even bother to show up unless at least three shots have been fired and one person has been hit, the MB police aren’t quite as busy, and five minutes later a cop approached. To C.’s incredible joy and disbelief, it was a cop on a … bicycle. Finally, for once, justice was about to be done.

The eyeglass lady had been speeding. She had passed C. illegally. She had broken the law prohibiting unnecessary use of the horn. She had illegally crossed the double yellow line to pass. More to the point, she admitted to all of it.

So of course, the bicycle cop on the bicycle (did I mention he was riding a bike?) began to berate … the cyclist. After hearing both sides of the story, he asked C. “Why didn’t you call me?”

“You mean while she was trying to kill me as I descended at the speed limit? Kind of whip my phone out of my jersey pocket and dial 911?”

“Well, it’s illegal to hit someone’s window like you admit to having done.”

“Right. And my reaction was in response to her assaulting me. So are you going to cite her for all the things she’s admitted doing?”

“It’s your word against hers.”

“Right, except she and I both agree that she was breaking the law.”

“Well, you should have called me.”

“Look,” said C., feeling very much as if he were living the Monty Python argument clinic or descending into tweetle-beetle-battle hell, “she called you and you’re here. What are you going to do about it?”

“It’s your word against hers,” said Deppity Doofus.

And that’s pretty much how it ended: The motorist, having admitted to a plethora of violations, one of them a moving violation, got to continue on while the Manhattan Beach bicycle cop (he was riding a bicycle) blamed the cyclist.

I thought about all this as I pondered Heath’s cyclist-hating comments and it made me think of Pogo. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Can they sue me?

November 13, 2014 § 24 Comments

It’s a common question with a short answer: Yes.

Here’s the scenario: You come up with a new course and invite your friends to join you. It’s the classic “group ride” with no waiver, no rules, no controlled access to the course, no referees, no ambulance on stand-by, and no entry fee.

The guy who invites his buddies to the beatdown wants to know, of course, whether or not he can be sued if someone falls off his bicycle, gets hit by a car, or gets taken out by another wanker.

The easy answer of course is “YES.” Anyone can sue anyone for anything at any time. Pay the filing fee and it’s game on. But the real question is whether or not the plaintiff will win. And it all starts with something called assumption of the risk.

In California, if some wanker sues you because he fell off his bike during the Thursday morning beatdown ride that you mentioned on Facebook, your best defense is assumption of the risk. In common language, this means that if you’re dumb enough to do it, don’t come whining to the judge when you get hurt.

Technically, it’s more, well, technical. After your former best friend sues you, and you’ve become the defendant, you move for summary judgment on the basis of primary assumption of the risk. This is a fancy way of saying that you’re asking the court to kick the case out the door before it ever goes to trial because you can show that you owed no legal duty to the whining wanker to prevent the harm that he’s now complaining about.

If you can show that the wounded wanker expressly assumed the risk, then you have a complete defense to his negligence lawsuit. Of course, the group ride is exactly the scenario in which you won’t have a signed waiver, or even a speech advising everyone that they’re about to engage in something that may maim or kill them, so proving an express assumption of the risk may be contentious. One way you can protect yourself is by admonishing everyone at the start of the ride that they’re voluntarily assuming the risk of death or catastrophic injury. Another way, of course, is making people sign a waiver.

The rationale behind the assumption of risk defense is that you owe no duty of care to protect a plaintiff against the risks inherent in a particular competitive sport voluntarily played by the wanker, absent some reckless or intentional misconduct. For cycling, falling off your bicycle is unquestionably an inherent risk of riding in proximity to other wankers. The only thing that a defendant may not do is increase the risk of harm above that inherent in the sport. For example, tossing hand grenades into the peloton, or intentionally knocking someone off his bike to “teach him a lesson,” or pushing someone off a cliff on a descent.

The ordinary stupidity that most wankers exhibit on a group ride isn’t enough for the whining wanker to win his lawsuit. California courts have said that “[i]n some situations, the careless conduct of others is treated as an ‘inherent risk’ of a sport, thus barring recovery by the plaintiff.” So, when there are 85 knuckleheads on the NPR, many of whom still don’t know how to ride in a straight line, you can’t sue someone because you got knocked off your bike.

Whether the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies doesn’t have anything to do with whether the whining wanker behaved reasonably. It’s a question of law that depends on the nature of the sport or activity in question and on the parties’ general relationship to the activity. The overriding consideration in the application of primary assumption of risk is to avoid imposing a duty which might chill vigorous participation in the implicated activity and thereby alter its fundamental nature.

In other words, group rides involve riding proximately to unskilled idiots, lots of them. It is inherent that if you’re going to hammer your bike on a public road next to some bonehead, said bonehead may inadvertently chop your wheel, whack into you from behind, or barf onto your handlebars. The law says, “Tough shit.”

Generally, the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies in a “sports setting,” and an organized, noncompetitive, long-distance bicycle ride is one of those sports activities to which the primary assumption of risk doctrine applies. The case of Moser v. Ratinoff basically held that you can’t sue a fellow wanker who takes you out on a group ride when the person who knocked you off the bike was just an ordinary idiot. Remember when your mom told you that if you hang out with dope smokers you’ll be a pothead, too? Same deal.

There are a number of cases involving sports activities in which the court found a primary assumption of risk. Snow skiing, water skiing, ouch football, collegiate baseball, off-roading, skateboarding, golf, lifeguard training, tubing behind a motorboat, wrestling, gymnastics stunt during cheerleading, little league baseball, cattle roundup, sport fishing, ice skating, football practice drill, judo, rock climbing, river rafting, and sailing have all been found to be activities where the assumption of risk applies.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and I am, too: “GOLF IS NOT A SPORT.” But the judge says it is.

In some other recreational activities, courts have held that there was no primary assumption of risk. Boating passenger and recreational dancing cases in California allowed the whiny plaintiff’s case to proceed, but it’s my opinion that the embarrassment of having to admit that you’re a recreational dancer totally negated the value of any money awarded in the litigation.

Primary assumption of risk applies to competitive sports and to noncompetitive recreational activities as well, such as a ski boat driver towing a water skier. Like competitive sports, vigorous participation in noncompetitive sports would likely be chilled and the nature of the sport altered if liability were to be imposed for ordinary careless conduct. This has particular meaning for your informal group ride beatdown, which may not technically be a sporting race (especially given all the wheelsuckers who will cut the course).

An activity falls within the meaning of “sport” if the activity is done for enjoyment or thrill, requires physical exertion as well as elements of skill, and involves a challenge containing a potential risk of injury. So, not ballroom dancing, but yes, the Thursday ride. You can get whacked by a car. By a co-wanker. You can slide out on the wet spot on the descent on the golf course. Hit a peacock. Slam into the curb while ogling the hot chick in front of you. Thrill, physical exertion, and risk of injury are all present.

Although bicycle riding, like driving an automobile, can be a means of transportation, “organized, long-distance bicycle rides on public highways with large numbers of riders involve physical exertion and athletic risks not generally associated with automobile driving or individual bicycle riding on public streets or on bicycle lanes or paths. Bicycle rides of the nature engaged in by the parties here are activities done for enjoyment and a physical challenge․ In view of these considerations, the organized, long-distance, group bicycle ride qualifies as a ‘sport’ for purposes of the application of the primary assumption of risk doctrine.” The court in Moser basically said that big, organized group rides are a sport. Incredible, but true.

But before you get too happy, recall that you’re not allowed to do anything to increase the risks inherent in the activity. Although defendants do not have a duty to protect the plaintiff from risks inherent in the activity, they do have a duty not to increase the risk of harm beyond what is inherent in the activity. Analyzing the liability of other than co-participants requires defining “the risks inherent in the sport not only by virtue of the nature of the sport itself, but also by reference to the steps the sponsoring business entity reasonably should be obligated to take in order to minimize the risks without altering the nature of the sport.”

In other words, you can’t take the tackle out of tackle football, but neither can you let people play it with handguns.

But a defendant may not increase the likelihood of injury above that which is inherent, and conduct is not inherent in the sport if that conduct is “totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport [and] if the prohibition of that conduct would neither deter vigorous participation in the sport nor otherwise fundamentally alter the nature of the sport.” A participant injured in a sporting activity by another participant may recover from that coparticipant for intentional infliction of injury or tortious behavior “so reckless as to be totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in the sport” but not for mere negligence.

In the group ride context, you can’t intentionally take someone out, but you can apparently be a wanker. Certain activities have been held not to be inherent in a sport and thus not subject to the primary assumption of risk doctrine. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages is not an activity inherent in the sport of skiing. So if you’re showing up for the 6:30 AM ride completely soused, and you accidentally push a pal into oncoming traffic, expect a lawsuit.

But what about cyclocross, which ordinarily can’t be properly done without beer? The Supreme Court of California has yet to rule on such a thorny issue.

Going too fast, making sharp turns, not taking certain precautions, or proceeding beyond one’s abilities are actions held not to be totally outside the range of ordinary activities involved in those sports. The analogies derived from the risks in other sports suggest that one cyclist riding alongside another cyclist and swerving into the latter is a risk that is inherent in a long-distance, recreational group bicycle ride.

I’d argue that it’s inherent in your local group beatdown, too, but to be safe you should take the time to mention it.

So what does it all mean? In general, people who participate in informal group rides appear to be protected in California by the doctrine of assumption of the risk. This doesn’t mean you won’t get sued, it just means you have a fairly solid leg to stand on when you have to defend.

*Key cases: Knight v. Jewitt, Moser v. Ratinoff, Amezcua v. Los Angeles Harley-Davidson.

Disclaimer: This isn’t legal advice for you or your case or your upcoming ride. It’s general legal advice. No attorney-client relationship has been created between us without a signed retainer agreement.

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The ones who persevere

November 12, 2014 § 4 Comments

I respect people who’ve volunteered — yeah, volunteered — to work for the government, whether in its war corps, its Peace Corps, or its bureaucratic corps. The USA only works when good people enter the machinery and help it run smoother, cheaper, smarter, better.

In a broader sense, whether they’re working for the Air Force or the company that makes Air Jordan, I admire people who persevere. I was privileged to be part of Major Bob Frank’s retirement ceremony on Monday night. Bob served as a major, unrelated to Major Major Major Major, in the USAF. The only mistakes he made in his 20-year career were having an open mic at his retirement ceremony, and letting me speak.

Through a befuddled haze in which we drank every single bottle of IPA at the VFW Post in Redondo Beach (note to self: drinking all the beer in a VFW post indicates a drinking problem), it was a wonderful evening where Major Bob’s cycling friends could show their support for him by drinking the military attendees under the table. We are skinny, but we have a bigger substance abuse problem than they do.

The next morning, let’s just say that the 6:30 AM ride from Malaga Cove was “sparsely” attended, as in “three people showed up.” Bull, Dan K. and I rolled out at 6:30 sharp.

Dan K. is one of those people who has been transformed by cycling. He’s shed 60 or 70 pounds over the last couple of years. “I’ll ride along with you guys until I get dropped,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” said Bull. “It won’t be one of those rides.”

I wondered what he was talking about. With Bull it’s always one of those rides; he’s the guy who goes until he blows, recovers, and goes again. And again. And again. We descended and then climbed the Malaga wall back up to PV Drive. My legs were stone cold, and Bull pushed the pace. Dan K. kept the pace and Bull fell off. We regrouped and reloaded at the top, and Bull came pounding by again.

Going up the short climb at Lunada Bay, Dan K. punched it and Bull and I got kind of dizzy. Then we climbed the alleyway, fractured again, and regrouped in time to drop down by the seaside and climb the Millionaire’s Wall back up to Hawthorne and PV Drive. This time there was more fracturing than a North Dakota oil well, and with big gaps. Bull rolled up. We could see Dan K. toiling away behind us. We didn’t hammer, but we didn’t exactly wait for him, either.

He latched back on.

In Portuguese Bend things broke up again, and Dan K. caught up to us at the light on the other side of the Switchbacks. My legs ached; Bull’s did, too. Dan K. might have been tired, but he didn’t show it. We separated again, and Dan K. caught us again, this time in Redondo Beach, completing what was essentially a 1:15 time trial, and a very hilly one at that.

“Good job, man,” I said, gassed.

“Thanks for letting me tag along,” he said, not appearing to be very tired.

Funny thing, perseverance.

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Passing it on

November 11, 2014 § 26 Comments

One of the old-timers was complaining about one of the newcomers. “When’s he gonna learn how to ride a fuggin’ bike?”

In the old days, people learned to ride a bike through shouting and blunt curse trauma. Nowadays there are a few curmudgeons who still wield the lashing tongue as a method of instruction, but we are dwindling, and for good reason. For one, it’s a lousy method. For another, you get tired of hollering because the exponentially increasing number of new riders makes it impossible to holler at all of them.

Plus, no one pays attention. You’re just a grouchy old sourpuss with a hangover.

The Aged One grumbled a little more. “Fuggin’ punk pulls some of the stupidest shit on a bike I’ve ever seen. Whatever happened to ‘Show up, shape up, and shut up’,” he asked.

“Those days are gone,” I said.

“It’s a damned shame. We’ve all gotten too soft and considerate of the next guy’s feelings, even when he’s pulling some douchey move that could kill you.”

I wasn’t so sure. The good old days had their bad old side, too, and part of the bad side was a culture of exclusion. In order to be one of the gang, I seem to remember, you had to get yelled at a lot. The masochists and those who aspired to positions of sadism could stick it out, but many’s the happy cycling enthusiast who shrugged and walked away after getting screamed at or belittled.

The kinder, gentler pedagogy is visible in real life, too. A friend was telling me about his son, who had walked on to a Division 1 basketball team. After two years on the team the son sat down with his father. “Dad,” he said, “I’m thinking about quitting the team.”

This came as a pretty big shock to the dad, who had been at his son’s side for the entirety of his basketball career. “Why?” he asked.

“If I work even harder than I’ve been working for the next two years, and if the stars align, there’s a very, very small chance that I’ll see a few minutes of playing time. The guys I’m competing with are for the most part future players in the NBA. I’m good enough to be on the team, but I’m not that caliber. It’s a huge amount of work and I’m not sure I want to do it anymore, especially when I look at what it takes away from my studies. I mean, the real reason I wanted to go to college was to get an education.”

This of course is the point where the Old School Father would have given his son a talking to, something along the lines of “Quit being a fuggin’ candyass, dogdammit. Get out there and bust your ass, and don’t talk to me about quitting until your eligibility is up.” He would have loaded the speech up with some guilt and shame as well. “Do you know how disappointed your mother will be?” etc., etc.

But my friend, you know, instead of the reflexive harangue that I’ve seen parents use when their kids quit Little League, much less a Division 1 basketball career, he took a different tack, passing on what he’d learned over a lifetime of living and parenting to his child. “Don’t make any rash decisions,” he said, “but consider it carefully, and if you’re ready to walk away from it, then walk away.”

A couple of weeks later his son came into his study. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, dad, and I’m ready to quit. And also, dad … “

“Yes?”

“Thanks for loving me enough to let me do what I have to do.”

All this rattled through my mind as the Aged One finished his complaint about the newcomer. “Well,” I said to him, “look at it like this. You’ve got more experience than anyone else out here, right?”

“I suppose so.”

“And he’s still pretty ignorant, right?”

“You can say that again.”

“Well, what’s the use of our superior wisdom and experience if we don’t know how to pass on what we’ve learned?”

He nodded and was silent for a few minutes as we finished our coffee. Just then, newcomer rolled up, smiling the smile of the young, the strong, and the just-finished-a-killer-ride. He went into the coffee shop, got a cup and came back out.

The Aged One made some space for him to sit down. “Hey, man,” he said with a friendly smile. “Could I talk to you about something?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

I couldn’t stick around, work being work, so I got on my bike and rode off. But a week later I saw the two of them riding side by side, chatting animatedly, punctuating their conversation with laughs. The newcomer was also riding a very, very, very straight line.

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Cross face

November 10, 2014 § 5 Comments

It’s always a good idea to pre-ride the course if you can. I sneaked onto the dirt climb and liked it. It was long and not too steep, sure to wear people out who had to do six laps around the 1.7-mile circuit. I came to a whoopty, and rolled down and up the far side with no problem. Then there came a second whoopty, deeper and steeper. “No problem,” I confidently grinned to myself just as the front wheel smashed against the far side and came within inches of pitching me head-first into the wall.

A nice red blob oozed out of my ankle as I came out the other side, hands shaking from the nearly catastrophic falling-off-bicycle-incident.

The far side of the course had been designed to take into account each of my many inner fears. The first was a long patch of soft, downhill sand chopped in half by a gravel pit. I sailed over it, wildly veering from tape to tape but staying upright. Then the course took a hard right through a deep sand trench that dropped you off into a thick layer of mud. Beyond the mud lay the lakeshore, where a wrong turn would result in a bath. I thought about the warning signs posted alongside the lake: “No fishing! Fish Contain Mercury and Heavy Metals!”

After the mud trap there was a soft, nasty sand pit that went on for a hundred yards or so followed by two small barriers where sadists with cameras gleefully awaited my arrival. Over the barriers, you could remount if you were in your XXXXS gear, or push through more knee-deep sand to firmer ground. Oh, and there was a flyover.

Some people get nervous before races because they don’t know what awaits them. I never get nervous before a ‘cross race because I know exactly what awaits. Pain, a few bad turns, and then a solo slog in last place for 45 minutes. As I stood at the start line thinking about exactly where my first difficulty would separate me from the herd, a weird thing happened during call-ups.

“Seth Davidson,” the ref said. I looked around to see who else in the 45+ A ‘cross race could possibly be named “Seth Davidson.” No one ventured up to the front row, so I shambled up, proving that merely by appearing on race day and pinning on number miracles can happen. Whoever was behind me was going to have a serious clogstacle to overcome.

The race started and I quickly gravitated to the back, then the far back, then off the back. At the sandy barriers I’d caught the tail of the main field, which mostly consisted of a giant sausage squeezed into a too-tiny patch of lycra. The giant sausage waddled over the barriers and I hopped past him, which is where my problems began.

I tried to get back on my bike but the sand was too soft to pedal, which kind of made sense since I’d parked in the deepest section of the sand trap rather than over on the edge, where it was firmer. After providing several dozen amusing photo ops for the camera folks, most of whom have by now posted clever and amusing memes on Facebook such as “Exhorts Others to Race: Stands Forlorn in Sand,” I made the bike move. By this time the peloton had relocated to a different county. I was about to get depressed until I powered by the SPY support team headed by Tait, which had already prepared a can of quality beer for me as a hand-up.

On the hill I overtook giant sausage, who appeared close to bursting out of his skin. For a very long time I rode by myself, with sad-faced onlookers viewing me with pity, or contempt, or both. Even my friends were too embarrassed to shout,with the exception of the SPY Beer Squad. With each partial can of high octane fermented recovery drink, I felt better and better, or at least less and less fearful. Each time I came through the mud and sand and gravel pit I picked up a few seconds until another hapless sod, someone so slow and inept and devoid of ability came within my sights. We traded pulls until the barriers, at which time I heard a whirring sound.

Glancing back it was Phil Tinstman, who had started two minutes earlier in the 35+ race and had now lapped me on a 2-mile course in less than forty minutes. The beautiful thing about this was that getting lapped meant that I’d have one less lap to ride around this course from hell.

After the race I staggered over to the SPY tent, where Sam Ames was washing away huge clots of blot mixed with gravel and sand by pouring cold beer over the open wound. “That’s a waste of good blood,” I said. Then, collapsing into the beanbag chair, Todd Parks wandered over and blamed me for his terrible start. “I thought you were going to take me out!” he said.

“The fact that you were behind me speaks for itself,” I said.

Phil, who didn’t look like he’d ridden his bike yet en route to his state title, chatted with some of his peers, not that he has any. “Once I had a big enough gap, I pulled the plug,” he said. “No sense in killing myself before the pro race.”

I thought about that as a kind of reverse strategy, you know, pulling the plug once everyone had ridden off to Mexico, and saving myself for the beer competition afterwards. “It’s an old Paolinetti tactic,” Phil added. “It’s okay if you win by just enough.”

“Hmmm,” I thought, “there’s wisdom there. Maybe if you’re losing, it’s okay if you lose by a few laps, too, rather than immolate yourself to only lose by, say, a few minutes.” Then I thought about giant sausage dude and how he’d cunningly sat up once I passed him. “Wise, wise man.”

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