Give me forty

April 1, 2014 § 21 Comments

On the last day of the San Dimas Stage Race I hurried to the line. The ref read our last rites, blew the whistle, and off we went, careening through six turns, a modest incline, and a screaming downhill that dumped into a 90-degree turn onto the finishing stretch.

My goal was simple: earn another DNC crown to go with the string of them I’d won in every crit now since the Dana Point Grand Prix in 2008, when a lummox clipped one of the steel barriers on the left and started a pachinko cascade of bikes, wheels, screaming idiots, and soft-cartilage-and-bone smearing along the pavement at 30 mph. “DNC,” by the way, stands for Did Not Crash.

Downtown San Dimas was an idyllic place to race. The start/finish was packed with spectators. The town was charming. The weather was perfect. Nothing could possibly go wrong, and in fact nothing did until the last turn on the last lap, when things not only went wrong, they went horribly wrong while slinging ass downhill at 40 mph some dude on the BonkBreaker team took the hard right hander a bit too hard and wound up splaying himself against the barricades, crashing out Steve Klasna in a great glorious finale of crunching, smashing, cursing, and opprobrium.

This of course is the price of trying to win bicycle races. You must take chances. Those chances will not always pan out. When they do not, you will pay with skin and gristle and purple scars that you can point to years later, grotesquely, as you pull up your pant cuff and itemize the scars to queasy-looking coworkers at the water cooler. This is generally a day or two prior to the time you get your termination notice, assuming you have a job, which of course as a self-respecting masters pro bike racer, you don’t.

You know you’re in trouble when the liberal arts major is calling you out for your bad math

I knew that by skulking in the rear, sitting up long before the sprunt, and letting Troy Huerta madly dash by to beat me for 46th place, I would almost certainly earn another DNC crown, and I did. What caught me unawares was the announcement “One lap to go!” and the Pavlovian shark attack that ensued when they rang the bell lap.

It caught me by surprise because I checked my watch and noted that they had rung the bell at about 32 minutes into the race, meaning that we finished our 40-minute event in about 34 minutes. Nor was it the first time that a masters race had been shorted. In fact, it’s a tradition at virtually all SoCal crits to hear the bell lap five minutes shy, sometimes more, of the scheduled forty or forty-five minute race.

The rationale, of course, is that it’s better to end the race a few minutes early than a few minutes late — better for the promoter, that is. The inanity of a 35-minute crit for the 45+ racers (and incredibly, for the 35+ racers as well) was shown on the course itself. With a star-studded field of truly great racers, the peloton averaged over 28 mph for the entire race. The 35′s averaged over 29. In other words, it wasn’t a bike race. It was a drag race.

Forget tactics. The strongmen kept the foot on the gas for the entire time, ramped up a lead out train at the end, and awarded the spoils to the flat-out fastest guy in the field. In our race that was Bill Harris. In the 35′s it was Charon Smith.

And although those two guys can win any crit of any length, it greatly diminishes the racing element of the event when it’s set up to be so short that there isn’t even a mathematical possibility of a breakaway. Why not just make it two laps? Thirty-five minutes isn’t long enough to make a dent in the big engines, and it’s not long enough to create the pauses that lead to attacks, breakaways, and the thrill of, you know, tactical bike racing.

 Don’t blame the promoters, they voted for McGovern

Of course the real illness is the proliferation of categories. Promoters only have a limited amount of time to close off downtown or to occupy an office park. Many crits have as many eleven categories, without even providing kiddy races or junior racing events. Dana Point in 2014 has thirteen events beginning at 7:50 … and no junior races, either. The Cat 5′s and the 30+ 4/5′s race an absurd — yes, absurd — twenty minutes.

The attraction of multiple categories for promoters is maximal entry fees. The attraction for the bicycle riders is the illusory hope of a trinket. The victim is the sporting event itself, where the spectators are virtually guaranteed to witness a mass gallop finish every single time. Is that fun to watch? Hell, yes! Who doesn’t want to watch Charon out-kick a hundred guys in the last 200 yards so that it looks like a greyhound racing a bunch of pet rocks?

But we don’t need to stand around baking our brains in the hot sun to watch an outcome that will be the same whether the race lasts forty minutes or four.

Also … don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining. Unless it’s also raining.

When the flyer advertises a 40-minute or 50-minute race, then the promoter should run a race for the advertised length, the same as when a gas station advertises gas for 4.15 a gallon: it means a gallon, not 3.75 quarts.

If, because I’m old and slow, I only deserve forty minutes of competition, don’t short me on my lousy forty minutes unless you’re prepared to welcome me back to the registration table and refund my money. Five minutes hacked out of a 40-minute race is 12.5%, and for a $35 entry fee, that’s $4.37 that just got lifted out of my back pocket. In real terms, that’s half a six-pack of Racer 5 IPA.

Of course the simplest solution is the worst one. Make the races longer and decrease the number of events. Maybe the sport would be more exciting if my precious 50+ category and all the other sandbagger categories got axed, leaving us with longer, more exciting events for six or seven categories of genuinely fast people who had the legs to race a technical crit like San Dimas or Dana Point for an hour or more. Maybe lengthier, tougher courses would produce, better, tougher racers.

Or maybe not. Maybe without a 30+4/5, a 50+, or a 65+ category the sport would just dry up and blow away. You know, like it has in Europe.

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Diving for the gap

March 29, 2014 § 11 Comments

The 50-mile road race in San Dimas started at 7:50 AM.

The day began by charging into narrow spaces, skittering across the road avoiding insane people who were trying to crash me out, slamming on the brakes to avoid instant death, crazy accelerations to pass the clotted clump of confused obstacles in my way, screeching around potholes, racing into crowded turns, tense hands clenched in a death grip, and barely avoiding being rammed from behind … and that was just on the freeway driving to the race.

As I stood in line waiting to sign in, I couldn’t help but marvel at the wonderful volunteers who had gotten up at dark-thirty in order to help make this event happen. Unpaid, smiling, and happy to lend a hand, they had to wait a few minutes until the race organizers provided them with the sign-in sheets. While 50 or 60 riders waited patiently in line, the biggest prick-ass prima donna from the South Bay began loudly criticizing the volunteers.

“Where are the sign-in sheets? This isn’t right!” he bitched. “I have to get ready! Where’s my sign-in sheet?”

Everyone looked surprised at this amazing display of douchebaggery until they recognized who it was, then they shrugged. “Oh, it’s him. Again.”

Strategy is key

The SPY-Giant-RIDE team boasted 37 riders in a field of 23, so before the race we huddled to plan how we would wrest control from PAPD (prick-ass prima donna) even though our best placed rider was so far back we needed a calculator, sextant, and sundial to figure out the time difference.

“If we get all three time bonuses, then win first, second, and third, conquer the field with a breakaway that puts thirty minutes on the peloton, and the rest of the riders get swallowed in a giant sinkhole, there’s a slight chance we could get on the podium,” one of our riders said. “Absent that, we’re hosed.”

As each loyal rider asked what role he could play, duties were explained.

“Hit it hard on lap two. Keep the pace hard, so that PAPD has to work. He’s only human.”

“Define human!” one rider demanded.

One of the other team leaders chimed in. “We’re going to have to ride the front and go with constant attacks. Stay towards the fore and as soon as there’s a lull, launch. Make them chase.”

Everyone agreed to give it their best and to use our superior numbers to put the rest of the field in difficulty.

After the team huddle I pulled Dandy and Mongo aside. “Look, wankers,” I said. “Fuck that shit. We gott execute Sub-plan B.”

“Sub-plan B?” asked Dandy. “What’s that?”

“It’s simple. This race is packed with guys who will devour us whole. Team Leader told us to ‘ride the front.’ Dude, that’s where the pain is. The only thing that will happen at the front is bad. Screw the team. We gotta survive. So, Sub-plan B has two steps: 1-Cower. 2-Hide.”

They mulled it over. “Doesn’t that make us weasly non-team player traitorous dickweeds?” asked Dandy.

“Yes,” I said. “But it also means we have a chance of finishing and not getting dropped on the very first lap.”

“What do you calculate the chance?” asked Mongo.

“One in half a billion.”

Their faces brightened at the possibility. “We’re in!” they said in unison.

Planning the work, working the plan

Although I hadn’t told them, Sub-plan B had an ulterior motive: protect my 31st placing. It would take a whole crew of sub-par wankers working together to keep me in thirty-first, but with Mongo and Dandy committed to the strategy, I knew it might work.

“Anyway,” I told them as we rolled out, “chill at the back. The first lap is going to be a warm-up effort anyway, nothing crazy.”

Within minutes we were all on the rivet, struggling to hang onto the poisonous tail of the swinging whip as the maddened peloton charged up a grade that felt steeper than the interest rate on a payday loan. I struggled over the top, gassed. “Jon!” I shouted over to my teammate who was in his first race back after having a full hip replacement. He’d ridden less than thirty miles in the last six months, yet was easily keeping up with the murderous pace. “That was the big climb, right?”

He gave me a funny look. “Climb? No, dude. That’s just a roller. When we hit the climb, you’ll know it.”

I slinked to the back and hung on for dear life. Far too soon we hit the actual climb, and as Jon had predicted, it was unambiguous. I’ve felt worse and gone harder and done more intense efforts, but they all involved being chased, caught, and beaten by my older brother and his friends.

Dandy and Mongo were fine. “Kind of fast for a warm-up, though,” said Mongo as six or seven fatty tuna riders got chucked out the back.

As the pack shrank the pace never let up. Each time we neared the top of the climb we had to go over fifty feet of faux cobbles that were really nothing more than little bricks with cracks in between. The shaking and jarring that attended each passage was intense, and I could only think about how pathetic this was compared to the European races where the cobbles are actual cobbles, the climbs go on for a kilometer or more, and the weather is often cold and wet and miserable.

By the fifth lap the pack was much reduced and I barely struggled over the climb. The sixth time over I popped, along with Mongo and Fireman. The final lap we rode together in a smooth and professional paceline, with me sitting on the back and shouting instructions. “Go faster! Pedal harder! Give me some food!” etc.

Celebration

Thanks to their ability to follow my instructions, we made the time cut, then dashed off to Eureka Burgers to enjoy a jalapeño and egg cheeseburger with fries and four or five double IPA’s. I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but I woke up under a tent several hours later as a concerned teammate kept saying, “Are you okay? Are you okay?”

I mumbled that I was, which was excellent because it was just in time for our pre-race strategy for the final day of the stage race, a 40-minute crit over a twisty, technical course.

“Okay guys, listen up,” said Team Leader. “Tomorrow everyone’s going to be tired after three days of hard racing.” Then he looked pointedly at me. “And some of us were tired, or appeared to be tired, before the race even started.” He looked at me some more. “But we have to use our superior numbers in the crit.”

Assistant Team Leader chimed in. “Yeah. The weak-ass flailers, er, I mean, uh, the lower-placed GC riders need to go to the front early on.” He looked at me as I pretended to be asleep again. “Wanky! You and Mongo and Dandy can do something tomorrow to justify all the eyewear and kits and discount swag for once in your sorry lives by taking a fuggin’ pull. Got that?”

“Who? Me?” I said.

The team turned on me in unison. “YEAH! YOU!”

“Aw, c’mon guys,” I pleaded. “I couldn’t do anything today. My feet hurt. My legs were sore. I cramped. I ran out of salt tablets. I had a vanishing twin. My wheels were out of true. It was an herbal tea. My meat was tainted. I didn’t have the right warm-up. I’m not good at fast descents. My taint was meated. I’m a slow climber. Beer.”

They had already returned to the strategic discussion, but at least I had my marching orders.

Take. A. Pull.

To me, that sounded mighty singular. As usual, when tomorrow rolls around, I’ll be all in. Maybe. Unless I’m not.

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The five stages of time trial grief

March 28, 2014 § 27 Comments

Clinical psychologists have worked since the 1950′s to explain and understand the mental processes that underlie time trialling. The most famous of these, “The Five Stages of Time Trialling Grief,” was developed by Wouter Herndydoo, a Belgian time trial psychologist who observed riders as they progressed through the phases of a time trial. His research created a paradigm that we still use today to analyze, understand, and to help riders cope with the emotionally devastating consequences of finding out that in the “race of truth,” everything they’ve convinced themselves of is, sadly, a lie.

At the San Dimas Time Trial today, where I participated (vaguely) in the 4.25-mile climb up Glendora Mountain Road, I observed numerous riders attempting to cope with the mental collapse inherent in such a challenging event. What follows is a primer for wives, girlfriends, husbands, and significant others who have to live with the ruined and psychologically destroyed bicycle racer after coming home from San Dimas, tail between legs, thin crust of salt on the brow, and a bag full of excuses about why he/she “just didn’t have it today.”

By monitoring your cyclist you will be able to observe as they progress through the 5 Stages of Time Trialling Grief, and you will be able to help them adjust to the “new normal”: that state where they realize the profundity of how badly they really suck.

The stages …

Denial — As the reality of going hard, uphill, full gas, for 20 minutes or more is hard to face, one of the first reactions that occurs the moment when the rider begins to swallow his tongue is Denial. What this means is that the time triallist is trying to shut out the reality or magnitude of the situation, and begins to develop a false, idealized, completely false reality. The biggest lie the rider tells himself is this: “I’m gonna catch my minute man.” The minute man, of course has vanished forever into the haze.

Anger — “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who made me sign up for this bullshit event?” are thoughts common to this phase. Once in the second stage, the rider recognizes that denial cannot continue, and not just because the wattmeter shows an average output of 98. Due to overwhelming pain flooding the things, shortness of breath, and being passed by three fat people in granny gears who started 3, 4, and 12 minutes back, the rider is very difficult to soothe with the typical lies that supporters shout while out on the course, e.g. “You’re killing it!” and “Looking good!” The anger leads to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. “Why am I so slow?” “Why is everyone shouting at me?” “Where am I?”, etc. Anger can manifest itself in different ways. The rider can be angry with himself (extremely rare), or with others (extremely common), and especially those who are passing him like he is chained to an outhouse while taking a dump. It is important to remain detached and nonjudgmental when dealing with a rider experiencing anger from time trial grief. Pretend that his lame justifications are true, and nod sympathetically. “I know you were in the wrong gear,” “They’re all doping,” and “What a bunch of sandbaggers!” will likely defuse much of the rage, along with a baby bottle and a fresh diaper.

Bargaining — “I’ll do anything for a few more seconds”; “I will give my life savings to buy some faster wheels”; “Time to start doping … more!” are common responses to getting shit out the back in the first kilometer up Glendora Mountain Road, or worse, averaging 31 mph for the first mile and then 7 mph for the rest of the course. This third stage involves the hope that the rider can somehow “pick it up” as the course gets progressively harder, or avoid finishing with a time that is unbearably humiliating when posted on Facebook, where his mother is usually watching. Usually, the negotiation for a faster time is made with a higher power (Dog, Buddha, THOG) in exchange for a reformed lifestyle (“I’ll never drink again!”; “I’m gonna lose 30 pounds starting TODAY!” and, most common, “I promise to start training — really!”). Other times, the flailer will use anything valuable as a bargaining chip against another human agency to extend or prolong the moment before total collapse. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I am a clogstacle-like boulder trying to roll uphill, but if I could just do something to buy more time … is it illegal to sell my children on eBay?” Riders facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example “Can I sit on your wheel for a few seconds while you pass? The ref’s not watching.” Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially in time trials, since even if the passer is willing, the fact that he’s passing means the wheelsuck will eventually get shelled anyway.

Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with pedaling?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?”; “I miss my Tuesday crit practice where I can cut the course and raise my hands in victory, so why go on?” During this fourth stage, the grieving rider begins to understand the certainty of a humiliatingly slow time that will be analyzed, pointed to, and laughed at behind is back or worse, to his face. The riders’s result will be a mid-pack finishing time for a Cat 4 beginner, a 9-year-old girl, or a fast walker on crutches. Much like the existential concept of “The Void,” the idea of riding, if not life itself, becomes pointless. Things begin to lose meaning to the rider, who no longer fantasizes about Campy electronic shifting, winning a sock prime, or moving up in the SoCal Cup standings from 79th to 77th. Because of this, the rider may become silent, refuse to talk to anyone after the ride, and spend much of the time crying and sullen. This process allows the grieving time triallist to disconnect from his teammates and sponsors possibly in an attempt to avoid further trauma in the form of having to do additional TT’s later in the season. Depression could be referred to as the dress rehearsal for this “aftermath.” It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. “I’m a slug-like bat turd, but that makes me unhappy.” It is natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage, especially when your magazine is empty at Mile 2 and Phil Tinstman or Chris DeMarchi come by so fast that their draft almost knocks you over. Feeling these emotions shows that the rider has begun to accept the situation. Often times, this is the ideal path to take, to find closure and make his way to the fifth step, Acceptance of Wankerdom.

Acceptance — “I suck like an industrial drainpipe, and that’s okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for getting my gonads stomped with spiked boots.”; “All the women are faster than me, and the men, too. And the children. Such is life.” In this last stage, riders begin to come to terms with their utter unsuitability for time trialling despite the finest equipment, the slipperiest helmet and clothing, and no matter how many times they parade around on the Parkway on a TT bike. This stage varies according to the rider’s situation. Riders who have died a particularly awful death on, say, an uphill TT like GMR, can fantasize about alternate realities such as, “I’m really a sprinter.”; “I’m more of a rouleur.”; “Actually, I’m best at recovery.” TT-dead riders can enter this stage a long time before the people who have passed them, often close friends and teammates who just think their pal is a total wanker and hungover rather than someone whose entire collection of bike paraphernalia is about to wind up on Craigslist. Years later, the rider typically accepts a calm, retrospective view, such as that often heard by Fields, who is known to say, “What a stupid sport,” and “Bike racing is such a colossal waste of time.”

Anyway, I hope this re-cap helps, because tomorrow it’s going to be even worse with the road race. Good luck.

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You can ensure that I’ll be able to afford extended grief counseling after today’s TT (3oth out of 55 with a wankish time of 19:34) by subscribing to the blog! Everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. I’ll be glad you did.

Chasing the shark

March 27, 2014 § 9 Comments

The phone rang. “Yeah?” I said.

It was Scooter. “The start times are up. Have you seen yours?”

“Start times? For what?”

“The time trial. You signed up for the San Dimas Stage Race, remember?”

“Oh. Yeah.” This was a massive salt-peter in the peter pill.

“And guess what?”

“I’ve already lost ten minutes on the field?”

“No, dummy. You’re the third rider off!”

“That makes sense. They always send the slowest guys first. That way everyone can fly by them 5 miles an hour faster and have a good laugh.”

“Not at San Dimas. Your 30-second-man is THOG.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Nope. Go see for yourself. And your minute man is Jaeger.”

“Jaeger? My teammate who beat me in the 50+ Barnacle Butt category last week by fifteen minutes?”

“Yup.”

“So what you’re saying is that I have two guys ahead of me who I’ll never see, and the whole field behind me who will all pass me like I’m chained to a block of concrete going down a gigantic ocean waterspout.”

“Don’t be so negative. You’ve trained hard for this.”

“I have?”

“Sure! You’re peaking for this race, remember when we talked about it in January? San Dimas was the most important race on your whole calendar! Remember? You had a plan to do specific uphill time trial power workouts. Diet. Meticulous care and attention to your rest and recovery. You were gonna slash through this race like a Brazilian farmer chopping fresh acreage out of the jungle. Remember??”

“Vaguely. I mean, yes. I remember.”

“So? You been doing all that, right?”

“All what?”

“The TRAINING, you numbskull! The training!”

“Oh. That. Well, I got a little off course in January, then things didn’t work out so well in February because of a beer issue, and in March I had a couple of cases at the office start to heat up. But other than that, yeah, I suppose I’m still on schedule.”

“Good. Because Leibert is on fire. And Konsmo is just a few riders behind you; he’s flying, and going uphill is what he does. So it’ll take everything you’ve got.”

“What if all I’ve got is, you know, a droopy stomach and not much gas in the tank?”

“Dude! This is your race! Those guys are all beatable. THOG? So what if he’s a former Olympian and one of the greatest riders in the history of the sport? So what if you’ve never beaten any of the other 35 guys in the race ever, at anything? So what if time trialling is what you do worst? Tomorrow is the day you cut loose! Get into the pain cave! Bring the big hammer! Make it hurt so good, baby!”

“I don’t know,” I said doubtfully. “The last time I did a time trial was about five years ago and even though I did the perfect pre-race donut and chocolate eclair race prep, it didn’t turn out so good. And, like, I haven’t really practiced since then.”

“No problem. Here’s what you do.”

“Yeah?” Scooter was so enthusiastic, I started to get hopeful.

“Just go out there and hammer! Everything you’ve got!”

“Really?”

“Hellz. All that crap about going slowly and finding your rhythm … fukk that! Time trial equals balls out. Throw down from the go-down!”

“So I should just pound it from the start?”

“Like it was the last 200 meters on the Champs-Elysees! All out! You’ll catch everyone by surprise and go so fast you’ll be finished before you actually get tired.”

“Wow. I’d never thought of doing it like that before.”

“Of course not. You have to innovate to win, and you can do this. Full gas from the first pedal stroke. You’ll thank me when you’re standing on the podium.”

“With great advice like that, I’m thanking you now. I feel better. I’ve got a game plan. I can do this!”

“Hey, by the way,” said Scooter, who is often in financial difficulty. “Could I borrow a hundred bucks? I’ll pay you back next week.”

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You can ensure that I’ll be able to pay for even more entry fees ny subscribing to the blog! Everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. I’ll be glad you did.

Down in the bottom

March 26, 2014 § 1 Comment

I met Bruce in 1988. He doesn’t remember it.

Roger and Jimbo, fellow bike racers, had suggested that we do a “little run” along Town Lake. I reminded them both that I only ran after a bad Mexican meal. Neither cared; it was a set-up. Roger ran regularly and Jimbo did, too.

Bruce met us and we started out on our “little” 10k. Exclusively a cyclist, I was amazed at how my biking fitness translated into running. I left those turkeys in the dust before they’d even warmed up. After the first mile I felt funny. After the second my legs seized up. Everything hurt so badly after that I could barely walk.

Bruce, an actual runner, blew past. Roger, a crappy runner, roared by a bit later. Jimbo, who gave jogging a slow name, lumbered by as I struggled to put one foot in front of the other. By the time I reached the end of the run they were conferring, I suppose, about whether or not to send out a search party.

That’s the first time I had ever run two miles, and the last time I ever ran anywhere, and like the rest of my life, that moment was tied and twisted and nailed down through some vague connection to a bicycle.

Everything’s connected

Through Roger I met Dave, and a few weeks ago I posted some musings on Dave’s music. Dave, through all these years, is good friends with Bruce, and forwarded him the link. From there Bruce, perusing the blog, ran across Cycling in the South Bay, my epic book which is now ranked #697,843 on the Amazon bestsellers list. Bruce bought a copy, pushing this seminal work relentlessly higher on its inevitable surge to #1.

And as things turn out, Bruce is a writer. Not a bloggy, scratch-your-ass-in-the-morning-in-between-bong-hits while trying to think up some way to fill up the screen type of writer, but, you know, like, a real writer. A person who does plots and characters and dialogues and climaxes and settings and novels that are so damned real they will scar the hair off your hot parts.

He wrote a book called “Sour Lake.” It’s not about how to mix whiskey cocktails.

What it is, is a book you should read. What it is, is a book you should read in paper, not digital format. What it isn’t, is a book you should read alone, or late at night. Especially don’t read it late at night.

Blurred margins

I recommend reading this book in the paper format because there will be less damage to your e-reader from your terrified clutch as you move through the harrowing tale. The book will also suffer less from the sweat that pours off your forehead. How gripping is this story? It reminded me of “The Shining,” which I read during the summer in broad daylight during the algebra class I’d failed in the regular school year. I still remember being scared witless reading that book in the afternoon surrounded by people.

The plot of “Sour Lake” I’ll leave to you. If you’re interested in scary-ass stories, you will like it plenty.

What I won’t leave to you is the inner mechanical beauty of this book. I’ve never read a novel that so completely blurs the lines between fact and fiction. In the beginning it seems like a historical novel, almost real in its verisimilitude. Then it clearly becomes fictional. Then it drifts into the science-fiction genre. So far, so good, unless you begin reading it a bit too closely (this tends to happen late at night when you’re good and scared).

By the end of the book you will, I promise, be wholly uncertain as to whether you just read a spectacularly scary book or an objective primer on the demise of the human race. This midwifery between novel and journalistic account is so well done and so unnerving that it is only by the light of morning and a hard coffee-toast-butter-jam-coffee scrum that I can confidently push the thing over into the “fiction” pile.

The Big Thicket

The second beauty of this book is its portrayal of the Big Thicket. I’ve floated the Neches down through the heart of that thing. I’ve hiked the deep trails and been surprised by wild hogs and their piglets. I’ve seen pitcher plants, pileated woodpeckers, and have watched hooded warblers flitting through the trees. And I will say this: Bruce McCandless has woven the primeval nature of the Thicket as the background for his story with hardly a thread out of place.

I say “hardly a thread” because early on he remarks that a “crane flew up,” or some such ornithological nonsense, and at another point he makes a comparison to a whooping crane. These missteps aside, his rendition of the Big Thicket as a force for evil and as a place that has eternally thwarted the efforts of men is done with incredible skill. You know he’s spent time there, and that he’s well versed in the history and character of one of the last great wild places in Texas.

Since it’s a novel that features gore and terror galore, the Thicket is a perfect setting perfectly matched to its subject matter. But let me say this in its defense: the Big Thicket is no fear-filled place of goblins and demons. It’s one of the last pieces of wild left in America and has been under assault for decades by timber and other interests. It is a gentle and beautiful outdoor wonderland where the confluence of biological time zones has produced an amazing variety of life, especially plant life. Still, if you’re tramping it at night …

The Sears Craftsman

The final beauty of the book is the way it is crafted. If you love writing where every word has been selected with care from a million others and placed perfectly in series, you will be blown away by the prose in this story. The words fit the story like the perfect jigsaw puzzle. Not a single anything is out of place. The careful mix of letters, news clips, and prose make for page-turning reading at its best.

You’ll also love the dialogue and Bruce’s feel for the way people speak. He’s a connoisseur of bad Texlish, which is some of the most expressive language anywhere. In short, the book doesn’t read. It runs. I suppose from a guy who used to race 10k’s at the head of the pack, I should have expected nothing less.

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Mr. Stinkyparts

March 25, 2014 § 17 Comments

“Here!” Mrs. WM said accusatorially, flinging the black Pearl Izumi base layer tee across the bed. “Smell onna that!”

I picked it up and took a whiff. “Kinda gamey, huh?”

“It ain’t no game! Itsa ammonia smell from your stinky underparts!”

“You mean my underarms. Not ‘underparts.’”

“Itsa stinky onna underarms, too. How come you such a stinker? I washed onna your bikin’ undershirts three times and still onna nasty old stale ammonia stinky underparts. It’s infecting onna other clothes inna laundry. Itsa infecting onna my bras and underpants so I can’t onna wash ‘em together. How come I gotta do extra separate washing loads because of your stinkyparts? How come?”

“Honey, I’m a man. And I exercise a lot. So, I guess I stink. But I read an article on Google News that says men who are super clean are less sexy than guys who have, you know, a kind of ‘manly’ smell about them.”

She turned up her nose. “Sexy stinky? Thatsa gross. I like a sexy clean.”

“But guys work out and they sweat and they smell. It’s just the way we are.”

“I do onna Zumba exercise an’ you wanna know what?”

“What?”

“After I get onna body sweat after booty shakin’, you wanna know what I do?”

“What?”

“I take onna bath! How come you can’t take onna bath after bikin’ and how come you can’t use a underparts deodorant stick before you going onna bikin’? I got you fifteen underparts smell sticks and you ain’t usin’ up even one of ‘em.”

“I hate deodorant. Plus, all those chemicals right next to the lymph nodes in your armpits is not healthy. Probably causes cancer.”

“You hate onna deodorant but everybody else hatin’ on your stinkyparts. Every time you pointin’ or liftin’ up your skinny arm itsa big poison gas cloud comin’ out onna your shirt sleeves makin’ everybody can’t breathe without makin’ screwed up face. Itsa nasty.”

“I still think those chemicals might cause cancer, the way they get absorbed by your lymph nodes and distributed throughout the body. Ten years from now we’ll find out that stuff is worse than lead poisoning.”

“You’re standin’ inna elevator old Mr. Stinkyparts and I’m tellin’ you everybody wishin’ they had cancer and was dead by it so they don’t have to be there with tears runnin’ outta their eyes because of stinky.”

“Okay, I get it. I smell bad. Anything else?”

“Anything else is jus one thing. Wear onna deodorant and quit infectin’ onna my underwear inna laundry basket.”

“Okay. I promise.”

She smiled. “I’m gonna take a shower and get clean. You should get onna clean, too.”

Sounded kind of like an invitation.

First trimester summary

March 24, 2014 § 3 Comments

In SoCal, the road racing season starts Jan. 12 with the Ontario Shitfest Grand Prix, and ends September 7 with the Droopy Breasts and Leaky Prostate Old Persons’ National Championships. That’s nine months of racing, about the same amount of time it takes to gestate a baby.

We’re fast approaching the end of the first trimester, so I thought it would be a great time to do a mid-season analysis of who’s doing what, when, how, where, and why, and maybe even make a few predictions for the rest of the season. It’s the time of year that you start to hear the rumbling and grumbling of “Are WE the next Labor Power?” And it’s as good a time as any to say, “No, you aren’t. You are to Labor Power what a dingleberry is to a dinosaur turd.”

To be clear, the bar set by Labor Power is unattainable, so quit trying to be its heir. What do I mean?

  • Labor Power rode the ugliest kits ever. No matter how stupid and repulsive your outfit is, Labor Power’s was worse. If Roger and Chris couldn’t sublimate an abortion, no one could.
  • Labor Power was the cheapest team ever. Your team spends more on water bottles than Roger spent on his team car, race entries, and kits. Labor Power was so tight with money that even bike racers considered them cheap.
  • Labor Power won more races in a season than most teams today even enter. In 2002 they had 110 first place finishes in everything from crits to road races to stage races to track events to circle jerks. They were so dominant that if you finished 2nd or 3rd no one cared. At all.
  • In 2003 they only won 103 races. Get it? “Only” 103. So quit bragging about your string of ten wins.
  • In 2004, they won the ELITE men’s national championships with Chris Walker putting everyone to the sword. This isn’t the shrunken and leaky prostate division, folks, it’s the full-sized, covered-with-dog-hair testicle race. And Labor Power won it.
  • From 2005 to 2007, the year that Roger imploded with a full brain-and-hip replacement, no one from Labor Power wound up in prison.

So just in case you’re wondering whether your string of seven or eight victories puts you in the “Labor” class, the answer is “No. It doesn’t. Not even close.”

Is there any hope for this younger, weaker generation?

Yes! Great things have been accomplished so far in 2014. Let me tell you about them.

  1. Jessica Cerra is the best all-around racer in SoCal, if not the USA. She wins hilly, windy, brutal road races. She wins four-corner crits. She time trials. Best of all, she’s always ready with a smile and encouragement before she tears your ego out and pops it in the shredder. Plus, she makes a mean Harmony Bar. Word on the street is that sooner rather than later she’ll be snatched up by a pro team.
  2. Rahsaan Bahati has confirmed (again) that he’s the fastest and best crit racer in America. 2014 has seen Rahsaan absolutely tear things up in the pro crits, and the only people who’ve been able to give him a consistent run for his money are Corey and Justin Williams. Over the last decade Rahsaan has remained the single best crit racer in America. And he still shows up on the local Tues/Thurs NPR in L.A. to smack down the locals. Sometimes, literally.
  3. Charon Smith’s legend keeps growing. What began as a wanker who couldn’t glue on a tire (crashing at Eldo thanks to a rolled front tire on the last lap) has metamorphosed into the most consistent winning masters racer in SoCal. Charon’s always there to encourage, to lift up, and to laugh — unless you’re muscling for the sprint, in which case you’re going to learn the disappointment of second place.
  4. Surf City Cyclery has put together premier masters crit racing club. Along with Charon we’ve seen Kayle Leogrande, Ben Travis, and other SCC riders keep a stranglehold on the SoCal crit circuit. Will they ever venture out from the safety of four corner crits? I’m guessing … no.
  5. Kings of the road? That title goes to Monster Media and the Troublesome Trio of Phil Tinstman, Gary Douville, and Chris DeMarchi. These three musketeers have dominated in the hardest, most grueling masters’ road races that SoCal has to offer, taking impressive wins at Boulevard, Punchbowl, and Castaic. If you plan to win a 35+ road race, take a ticket and stand in line. A long line.
  6. Biggest contingent of women racers? That’s Monster Media again, with Emily Georgeson, Patricia Calderon, Suzanne Sonye, Shelby Reynolds, and a host of other strong women riders taking wins and letting promoters know that women race and they race in numbers.
  7. Best all-around team? That’s SPY-Giant-RIDE, of course. Not just one-trick crit ponies, the SPY team has won races in every division from women’s to extremely old and mostly brokedown 50+ geezers. (That’s you, DJ.) With two big wins against the Surf City machine — Derek Brauch and Aaron Wimberley — SPY has also taken stage race victories in the 45+ division with Greg Lonergan, as well as stage wins with Kyle Bausch. However, SPY’s strongest division is the pack-fodder category, topped by Wankmeister, who is able to convincingly defend 52nd place against all comers. SPY’s dominance in ‘cross is also unparalleled, and SPY promises to again put riders in the top-1o of the hardest road event in America: The SPY Belgian Waffle Ride.
  8. The top of the mark in the Pro/1/2 division seems pretty much occupied by the Jakroo/Maxxis team. However, since they’re all under the age of 40 I don’t really pay much attention to them and assume that the weakest rider in that category is faster than me by a factor of ten.
  9. You’d be crazy not to acknowledge that the one team that is over-the-top in terms of filling categories with its riders and therefore PROMOTING the sport of bike racing is Big Orange. This South Bay conglomeration of wankers packs the fields in every division. Hats off to a club whose emphasis isn’t just on racing, but on encouraging people to get out there and have a go.
  10. Young punk getting outta town? That would be Diego Binatena, who, after an early season of consistent top-10 finishes and a few key victories has been invited by Team USA to storm the beaches of Normandy for a Euro campaign.
  11. The Ageless One: That would be Thurlow, still ripping the legs off of young, snot-nosed punks in the 45+ division. Rumor has it that The Hand of God a/k/a THOG is going to celebrate his 400th birthday this year, but we know that’s a lie. He’s older than that.

Did I leave you out or forget to mention you? Better fill out a “Hurt Butt Report” and submit it to Chris Lotts for public comment and review.

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