South Bay form report: He’s such a Dahl

October 7, 2014 § 12 Comments

Now that the ‘cross season is underway, we need to take a moment to do a sack check of who’s doing what to whom.

  1. The ‘cross stage is set for October 12, when the first SPY Cyclocross beatdown of 2014 will take place in Chino, which promises to be blistering hot, challenging, and the best excuse we’ve had all year to hang out with friends and drink copious quantities of liquid sandwiches. The SPY Cyclocross series is sanctioned by USA Cycling, which means that riders can earn points that let them stage towards the front of the field at nationals, rather than having to sink down to their necks in the mud and muck of 155th place at the starting line.
  2. You can’t talk about cyclocross in SoCal without talking about Ryan Dahl. He’ll be on hand at the SPY race in Chino, ready to dole out a major serving of whup-ass to anyone in the 35+ A category. He’ll be joined by David MacNeal and Garnet Vertican, two cyclocrossers who have been on exceptionally good form. However well any of these wankers do, I plan to drink them under the flyover afterwards.
  3. Talk of cyclocross naturally leads to conversations of insanity, poor judgment, and the 2015 most-likely-to-die-on-a-bike award. This, in turn, leads to discussions about the recent KOM set by the Wily Greek on Tuna Canyon. For those who aren’t “in the know,” Tuna Canyon is a very long, exceedingly steep death-climb in the Santa Monica Mountains that can only be climbed on a narrow, twisting road while salmoning. Half the achievement is doing the climb, the other half is not getting splatted by terrified motorists in full sphincter-clench mode who see bicyclists going the wrong way up the one-way road. Anyway, it’s a legendary climb and Wily has carved his initials on that particular mule’s behind.
  4. Local South Bay wanker Carey Downs a/k/a Tumbleweed pulled off his first ‘cross win of the year last weekend in Long Beach, beating a field of dead people in the 55+ category. He received the much sought after Long Beach victory cup, a chalice filled with mercury, cadmium, and a choice selection of other minerals found in the local water supply.
  5. No South Bay form report would be complete without an update on the status of Prez, recently returned from a grueling work schedule just in time to miss all the races and begin training for the high point of his year: The off-season of 2014. He’s already begun gym workouts, track sessions, and 140-mile fatburner days in the big ring, and judging from the 347.9 donuts he was carrying in his skinsuit when I saw him on Sunday, he’ll need every one of those miles and then some. Of course it has been a sad and boring year on the local group rides without Prez to run into the occasional parked car, but his return will keep everyone on their toes. Welcome back!!

PS: Don’t miss any of the races in the SPYclocross Series — details below.

SPYclocross Series

SPYclocross Series

The details matter

October 6, 2014 § 9 Comments

I rode out to the memorial ride this morning for Stuart Press. He was 39, and left behind a one-year-old son, wife, grieving mother, and devastated cycling community after fighting a brief battle with brain cancer.

I never met Stu.

Well over three hundred riders massed at the start of this Sunday’s legendary west L.A. Nichols Ride, which had been dedicated to him. Like me, many of the riders had never met him.

One block up from the start there is a Starbucks, and riders crowded into the small store to get a snack and a cup of coffee. They had come from all over, with the Surf City team fielding six riders from as far away as Orange County and Long Beach. Starbucks is a natural place to start a ride from, simply because so many cyclists enjoy a quick jolt before they start pedaling in earnest.

But you don’t start the Nichols Ride at Starbucks. Founded by Raymond Fouquet, the oldest and most venerable ride in L.A., the La Grange ride, always began at Raymond’s restaurant. That restaurant, long gone, is now the site of an anonymous west L.A. office building. A few years ago the tradition of starting at the former site of Raymond’s restaurant began to erode, just because it was easier to roll out from the Starbucks.

The old guard saw what was happening, and quietly put the word out: Get your coffee wherever you want, but the La Grange ride starts where Raymond’s restaurant used to be. The new folks got the message.

Why should anyone care? It’s only one block. And why start from an antiseptic office block when you could start from a food-and-coffee-infused eatery?

The answer of course is that details matter, because history is in the details, and our present is constructed on the building blocks of the past, and our future will be built based on how we conduct ourselves now. This is another way of saying that sentiments matter. Because Raymond Fouquet was beloved, and because the things he began changed people’s lives, and because those he affected felt love for him, the sentiments surrounding something as simple as the starting point of a bike ride have meaning. By honoring the past we are honoring the sentiments of the past, and we are allowing those sentiments of love to stay alive and empower us, even though the people themselves are dead.

It’s through the details that we cheat time, and cheat death.

If you ride bikes, and if you write about bikes, you will become familiar with death. People fall, get hit, get sick, get old, and then they’re not around anymore, forever. But in our cycling community, those losses are keenly felt. Riders we used to laugh with, race against, talk trash about, and count on are people who have made us what we are, for better or worse, and almost always for better. When they die, it hits us so much harder than the passing of a distant relative in a distant place, or a celebrity on the screen.

When Stuart died, we all gasped and said, “That could have been me.”

We hit the lower slopes of Nichols Canyon. The only other time I had done this ride, three years ago, KP and Surfer Dan had exploded the massive field and gone on to “win” the ride. It was a searing exercise in endless pain and abject terror as we shot through red lights, bounced over chugholes, and flailed our way to the breathless finish.

Not today. We climbed slowly and densely bunched. We descended quickly but carefully. We ended in Brentwood still filled with adrenaline and excess energy, a huge group of hundreds that had done anything but “leave it all on the road.” Along the way we talked about Stu, we talked about our own mortality, and we gave thanks, each in our own way, for simply being allowed the gift of life.

The details of where we started, where we finished, and what we did in between to honor the life of a good man, those details, like the details of Stuart’s life, mattered.

END

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You are not a climber

October 5, 2014 § 11 Comments

I used to think I was smart. I used to think I was handsome. I used to think I was going to be rich. I used to think I was good in bed. I used to think I was going to have a good job. I used to think life was fair.

I used to think I was a climber.

I thought I was a climber because I could go uphill faster than most of the other people I rode with. No matter that I lived in Austin, where there weren’t any real climbs. At 135 pounds, I was a climber.

Then I met Marco. Marco wasn’t a climber. He weighed about 150, and was my height. He had won the Tour of the Netherlands, and had come to Texas to escape the cold Euro winter.

“You look like a climber,” I said.

“Me? I’m no climber.” And he meant it.

To myself I thought, “Good.” To him I said, “Let’s go up the back side of Jester.”

“Okay,” he cheerfully answered, never having gone up any side of Jester, front or back.

Jester was my domain because I was a climber. The back side of Jester was vicious and steep. In my memory it was a 45 percent grade, six miles long. In reality it was probably less.

We hit the bottom and I looked back at Marco, whose nickname was “The Lung.” Why hadn’t that nickname made an impression on me, I wondered later?

Marco, who would later do the Tour a couple of times racing for Chazal, easily and breezily pedaled by me. I gave it the best effort I’ve ever given anything, but he vanished rather quickly. We regrouped at the top.

“I thought you said you weren’t a climber,” I said.

“I’m not.” And he wasn’t. So what did that make me?

Luckily, I soon forgot about Marco and once he left Texas I became a climber again. Then I moved to Japan. I was the fastest guy up the climb in Shinrin Park, the course they later used for the World Championships in 1990. No one could hold my wheel because I was a climber.

I met a guy who ran a bike shop. He was very small, maybe 120 pounds. “You look like a climber,” I said to Wada-san.

“I’m no climber,” he said.

“Good,” I thought, and took him out to the Shinrin Park climb. We hit the bottom and he dusted me off rather easily.

“I thought you said you weren’t a climber,” I said to Wada-san.

“I’m not,” he said. And he wasn’t.

Fortunately, I forgot about Wada-san and became a climber again. I was a very good climber in Miami, Texas, where there are no people, and in Houston, where there are no hills. Then I came to California. On my first few rides in PV, everyone dropped me. My riding partner, Crabs, was a fat, hairy-legged sprunter who dumped me on every climb.

One day I was talking to Fukdude after we’d gone up Fernwood. He had dropped me early. “Fuck, dude,” said Fukdude. “You’re no climber.”

“I’m not?”

“Nah. You’re too fucking fat. And big. And tall.”

“You’re a great climber.”

“Me? Dude, I’m no climber. I’m just a tall dude. You should forget about climbing and focus on something that fits your cycling body type.”

“Like what?”

“Fuck, dude, I dunno. Drinking, maybe?”

It only took 32 years, but I finally figured it out. I’m no climber. When you look at legit climbers when they’re on the bike, they seem to be sort of your size, but when they get off the bike they aren’t. They’re tiny, squnched up, newt-like mini-versions of real people, little bags of skin stretched around massive lung bags and bony, veiny, spidery legs. None of them have big tummies.

The Donut Ride started today, and after a while the climbers-plus-Davy rolled away. Rudy, Wily, and a couple of other newts vanished. We hit the Switchbacks and it separated out pretty quickly. Somehow I was still with the lead chase group, even though it had some really tiny people in it. “Fuggitaboutit,” I told myself. “You’re no climber.”

Tregillis and his 3-lb. bike faded. Chatty Cathy faded. Suddenly there was nothing left but three or four climbers and me.

We hit the ramp to the Domes and Sandoval punched it. Sandoval is five-foot-five and weighs less than Tregillis’s bike. I leaped onto his wheel, and it was just him and me.

One by one, we passed the suicides who’d started out with Rudy and Stathis the Wily Greek. I had given up all hope. Sandoval is 26, the same age as my eldest daughter. He attacked me a couple of times, displeased with the fat, tubby, wheezing lardball dangling on his wheel. Somehow I hung on.

With a quarter-mile to go, Sandoval got out of the saddle. I matched his pace for a while, and then I didn’t. He vanished around the turn and I got fourth. Which is pretty damned good for someone who isn’t a climber.

END

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Get lost

October 3, 2014 § 28 Comments

I sometimes hear riders talk about getting lost, but I don’t believe it. Hardly anyone gets lost anymore. With a phone and a Garmin, you can’t.

My first proper bike ride, I got lost. “Lost” as in “I had no fucking idea where I was, where I was going, or how to get back home.” On that December day in 1982 I took my mostly new Nishiki International into Freewheeling Bicycles. Uncle Phil had told me to bring it in after I’d ridden it for a month to get it tuned up. He checked the cables and made a few minor adjustments, all for free, of course.

“Where is a good place to cycle if I want to ride longer than my commute to school?” I asked him.

He grabbed a bicycling map from a little rack and spread it out on the counter. “How far do you want to go?”

“I don’t know. A couple of hours, maybe?”

He bent down over the map and used a pencil to trace a route from the bike shop to Manor and back. In those days once you got just the tiniest bit east of Austin, there was nothing but country roads. “Have a good ride,” he said.

I started out on what was a cool and sunny day. As the route went east, I passed through poor parts of Austin I never knew existed. Although I’d tried to memorize the streets and the turns, I periodically took out the map and checked. It was a big city map, and the wind made it flap, and it shared the common deficiency of all maps, that is, once they are unfolded they can’t be refolded along the same lines. It’s the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics, actually.

So each time I’d refold the map along different lines and stick it back into my sweaty wool jersey it would be soggier the next time I took it out. Oh, and wet paper tends to tear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Garmin tear.

By the time I got up to somewhere, located just off of somewhere else, and not too far from over yonder, I was totally fucking lost and my map was in tatters. You know what used to happen when you got lost? You got scared. Just the word “lost” was scary. Lost is what happened to soldiers who ran out of water tracking Indians between Texas and Mexico, and ended in them drinking their own piss, and then slitting their veins to drink their own blood.

Lost is what happened when you were miles from a convenience store, when you didn’t have a phone, when email hadn’t been invented, and when you didn’t dare go up to some brokedown trailer with a junkyard dog on a chain and ask the woman in the wifebeater t-shirt where you were.

Worst of all, lost was something you were going to have to deal with, and it wasn’t going to be fun because however far you planned to ride, lost only happened when you were the absolute farthest from home, and lost guaranteed that you were about to add twenty miles of riding to your trip.

Lost also, in accordance with the Fifth Law of Thermodynamics, only occurred when your one water bottle was empty and the day had reached its maximum temperature and that tiny saddle sore had bloomed into a gaping magnolia-sized flower of blood and pus, and, if you were really lucky, after you’d flatted and used your last tube and had bonked.

Fortunately, I was endowed with a keen sense of direction, which I relied on until I flagged down a pickup. “Where’s Manor?” I asked.

“Manor? You’re headed in the wrong direction, sonny. Just turn around and follow this road for the next ten miles or so.”

Ten miles or so, in Texas, is a distance roughly equivalent to something between ten and fifty miles. I flipped it and got to Manor, eventually. Even more eventually, I got back home, but without a Garmin I wasn’t even able to console myself with the satisfaction of knowing how far I’d ridden. The only consolation was, I suppose, that I hadn’t had to drink my own blood.

But that’s not quite true. Getting lost meant a couple of things. First, incredible satisfaction at finding your way back. If the bike ride was an accomplishment, getting lost and then getting found was an even bigger one. Second, you learned the roads. Nothing sharpens your sense of location and memory of places like fear. I can still remember that route vividly. Third, it almost always made a good story, especially the part where you broke down and begged the woman in the wifebeater to let you drink out of the hose and she said, “Shore, it’s over there by the dog, don’t worry he won’t bite usually,” and you had to decide whether it was going to be worse getting the rabies shots or drinking your own piss and blood.

Yesterday Derek and I headed east and took the LA River Bike Trail. It goes northeast and ends not far from somewhere, pretty close to over yonder but not as far as way over yonder. We stopped to take a leak.

“Dude,” he said. “I gotta know where we are.” He whipped out his phone.

“Hell, I can tell you where we are,” I said.

“Yeah?” he glanced up as he waited for his phone to pick up a signal. “Where?”

“We aren’t lost, that’s where.”

END

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Silencing debate

October 2, 2014 § 27 Comments

When I lived in Miami, Texas, pop. 588, I became friends with Dr. Malouf Abraham, who lived over across the way in the big town of Canadian, pop. 2,100. Dr. Abraham was an anomaly in his rough and tumble Texas hometown. He went to college and medical school, became a doctor, and devoted his life to medicine and art.

Dr. Abraham always encouraged education, and seemed to care little about sports in a place where the high school football team was the high temple of human achievement. My kids were young then, and he gave me the best advice about education I’ve ever gotten. “Make them into good students,” he said. “You know why?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because in the real world, it’s the nerds who sign the paychecks.”

In the school experience, no activity is as cathartic, stressful, educational, intense, and applicable to all aspects of adult life as formal debate. Kids who go through four years of high school debate are changed by it forever. Kids who go through an elite high school debate program often find themselves on the receiving end of scholarships and admission to elite universities. Kids who are derided by their athletic classmates as “master debaters” will go through life never suffering from the number one fear of American adults — the fear of speaking in public.

When I debated at Bellaire Senior H.S. in Houston, the program was run by an opinionated tyrant. Unlike other schools, we were not allowed to attend summer debate camps, or to buy our cases and briefs, or to use materials from other schools. Every piece of evidence we used, we researched ourselves. In 1979 that meant going to the Fondren Library at Rice or the library at the University of Houston, and first learning to use the index for the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. We had to learn to use the extensive collection of federal government documents, and we had to type up our briefs and cases on typewriters.

The Internet didn’t exist, and Google wasn’t even a gleam in Sergey Brin’s eye.

But the real bottom line to our debate program was our coach’s religious devotion to the principle that in order to improve you had to compete. And compete we did, from September through February, most weekends traveling to outposts as far away as Lubbock, where we would lug our sample cases into rounds and fight, tooth and claw, for primacy in a debate over whether it was better to legalize marijuana or not, whether it was better to provide food aid or not, whether it was better to mine the seabed or not.

Those brawls were as charged with fear, aggression, passion, uncertainty, the humbling of defeat, and the elation of victory as anything I have ever done. So I agreed completely when my youngest son signed up for debate at Peninsula High School. In fact, it was the school’s debate program that caused him to choose Peninsula over the high school that his elder brother had attended.

His first year he competed at a few tournaments and did okay. His second year he competed at a few more, and the high point of his year was breaking into the elimination round at a tournament, where he made it to the quarterfinal round before losing. This year, his third, he broke again at his very first tournament.

That’s when he got the shock. Because another team from his school had also made it into the elimination round, he and his partner would be forced to forfeit to the other team because the other team from his school had won more of their preliminary rounds and had a better record. I was, quite naturally, outraged.

Back in the day when two teams from the same school ended up against each other in elimination rounds, they debated. The better team won, and it wasn’t always the one with the higher ranking. The idea that any team would ever forfeit to another team was incomprehensible, scandalous, beyond the pale. But as I took up the issue with his coach, I learned that it has become common practice to tell kids to give up and quit, to deny the underdog the chance to beat the overdog.

What is inconceivable in track, or in chess, or swimming, or any other type of competition is apparently normal for debate in our corner of Southern California. You pay your money, fight your heart out and then, instead of being given the same chance to compete as all the other kids in the elimination rounds, you are told by your coach to quit.

The reasoning, as explained by my son’s coach, is that it “conserves resources” and “prevents intrasquad rivalry.” The first argument is odd, since the debaters pay to attend, and the only resources that are being conserved are proceeds received by the tournament, which pockets the savings by not having to assign judges to the round. The other justification is crazier — it assumes that debaters, whose sole modus operandi is combat and argument, can’t take defeat at the hands of their friends.

Although I’m no fan of youth sports, especially when kids engage in them to the exclusion of academics and crucial “extracurriculars” such as music, art, or debate, I have to take my hat off to athletic endeavors like cycling, in which kids from the same team go at each other hammer and tong. Some of the best competition I’ve ever seen has been at the Carson velodrome, where teammates in Connie Cycling’s youth program go all out to beat their compadres.

My debate coach was a tyrant and in many ways an abusive guy. He was the debate equivalent of the old school football coach, with this exception. Winning and losing didn’t matter. But competing did. If there was a holy temple, it was revelation of self and the sharpening of skill that only occurs when you pin on a number — in a debate round, in a chess match, on the boards.

Telling kids to quit in any endeavor because there’s someone out there who’s just better than they are, because the underdog has no chance of beating the overdog, says everything you need to know about the person who espouses the policy. Dr. Abraham, in his homespun Texas way of looking at the world, would have had some choice words for this kind of anti-educational defeatism. Maybe he would have said “That debate coach is obviously never going to be a nerd.” If he did, I’d agree.

END

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D.I.Y.

September 30, 2014 § 6 Comments

I will tell you this. Art makes the world go around.

Painting, music, writing, film, dance, and a thousand other vectors of human creation are what distract us from the grueling and profane march from birth to death. Art isn’t what keeps us sane, art is the insanity that allows us to endure, to enjoy, and to experience the full range of being human.

In the odd world of bicycling, artists are omnipresent. Some, like Jules, draw amazing images on the pages of books. Some, like Junkyard, draw amazing 3-D paintings on bike clothing. Some, like Su Zi, craft watertight haiku. Some, like Dave Worthington, give voice to the muse through song lyrics.

And others, like the jazz funk musicians who I’m proud to call my friends, just want you to HTFU.

That’s Happy the Funk Up, of course.

The beauty behind all of these artists is that they aren’t willing to let someone else do the heavy lifting for them. They own the concept of D.I.Y. My jazz funk friends, whose band happens to be named HTFU, encapsulate the fun and the fulfillment of doing it yourself. It fills their music, it fills the stage, and it fills the arena.

This is the awesome gift that great music gives us: Don’t rely on others to create art for you, create it yourself. You are self-sufficient, and your art is enough, whether shared by two or two thousand, whether it’s going to stand for the ages or just be a one night stand.

On October 16, at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, HTFU will be playing for your entertainment and for their inner satisfaction. Join us and help spread a little art, a little craziness, and a little bit of happy, too.

Click on the pic!

HTFU at the Belly Up in Solana Beach

HTFU at the Belly Up in Solana Beach

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2nd Annual South Bay Cycling Awards

September 29, 2014 § 8 Comments

It started out as a bad idea and quickly grew into a terrible one. By the end of the inaugural South Bay Cycling Awards, a/k/a “The Wankys,” wooden penis ashtrays had been handed out, cheap basketball trophies had been transferred, a massive cake had been eaten, stuffed baby seals had been clubbed with a hammer, sexy women with slitty dresses had paraded around onstage, and numerous cyclists were removed from the gutter feet first.

Of course, as everyone knows, once you have something that is a colossal failure, the only thing to do is repeat it the following year and hope that the magnitude of the badness is greater than that of the year before.

So I present you with the 2nd annual South Bay Cycling Awards, to be held on October 25, Saturday, from 6:00 PM until Whenever:00 AM. The only item that will be making a return from 2013 is the famous Wanky Bed Sheet awards banner, designed five minutes before showtime by Marc a/k/a Toronto. The wooden penis is gone, the stuffed seal is gone, and the basketball trophy has been given to all three of my children as a collective Christmas-and-birthday present.

2014 offers huge improvements on last year. First, rather than showing up at Naja’s (to the surprise and dismay of the management), and commandeering their bar, we have told the folks in advance at On the Rocks in Redondo Beach that there will be a half-dozen very polite, abstemious cyclists who would like to reserve a table for a few hours. They needn’t know that last year’s sellout crowd of 120 will be greatly exceeded.

Second, The Wankys will feature two kegs of beer from Strand Brewing Co., the South Bay’s premier brewer, and those two kegs will sell for $2 a glass until the contents have been fully consumed, or until Manslaughter has slaked his thirst, whichever comes first.

Third, the award categories have been refined, although the much-coveted and greatly feared Wanker of the Year™ award will return, publicly recognizing that rider who epitomizes the qualities of wankerdom: Delusion, Commitment, Lack of Talent, Bad Dieting, Awful Riding Skills, Unbridled Enthusiasm, and a Deranged Sense of Humor. I am not, unfortunately, eligible to receive this award, though many have suggested that no one could possibly be a more fitting recipient.

The dress code will be strictly enforced. Those who are dressed will be strictly required to remain so. Those who are not will likewise be required to maintain the status quo.

END

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