If you wanna get to heaven (you gotta raise a little … )

September 25, 2014 § 14 Comments

“Manslaughter and I are going for a slow spin around the hill. Leaving in five minutes.”

I read the text and started changing. I caught them in downtown Redondo, flipped it, and we started around the peninsula. It was 9:30 AM on a Wednesday, and too early on-a-day-that’s-not-a-Friday to contemplate drinking. The chatter was the same as always. Derek talked about losing weight. Manslaughter giggled. I wondered what I was going to blog about.

Manslaughter began talking about Santa and Jesus, and how he didn’t believe in either. Then Derek turned and said, “That’s fine, being an atheist and all, but then what exactly is your plan for getting into heaven? You don’t cruise across the line into heaven in the middle of the pack, sucking wheel. Getting into heaven is a time trial, and Jesus better be in your support vehicle.”

“Not to mention your water bottle,” I added.

Manslaughter giggled and suggested taking a “dirt road.”

“What kind of dirt road?” I asked.

“A flat one,” he lied.

Derek and I agreed since we were on our road bikes and, hell, we had done the BWR, right? How bad could it be? Manslaughter turned off the pavement to the left of where Tink had once splatted and where Toronto’s daughter had hit the seam in the road and launched into the curb and where Little Sammy Snubbins had flipped into oncoming traffic at 30. Ah, memories.

The dirt was fine until it turned up, then up again, then massively up. Manslaughter, currently ranked #23 in the nation for mountain biking, and therefore a never-miss descender and climber, misjudged a turn, fell off his bicycle, and ended up looking like a pubic crab on its back wiggling a very tiny bike in the air. We laughed and passed him, trying and failing to run over his neck.

Derek slowed, having lost too much weight the night before, and I raced by. I kept him behind me by weaving all over the steep and narrow trail. I’m not sure why he kept saying “motherfucker,” but he did. After a while we caught a rider on horseback.

“That horse is pretty sketchy,” I thought. “If I sneak past it I bet it freaks and maybe kicks and kills Derek and I win to wherever the fuck this climb goes.” Manslaughter had been dropped a long way back, which was fine, except that he was the only one who knew the route.

I picked a tight passing lane and went to shoot through it. The horse sensed my presence and looked like it was going to turn away from me, which was fine, until I realized the pivot was actually an aiming maneuver. The last thing I saw was its rump rising up to make room for its rear legs to clear and then lash out.

The next thing I knew, I wasn’t on a hot dirt road in Palos Verdes anymore. It was cool out and cloudy, but I was above the clouds. I saw a big pair of gates. I could see through them. There was Prez, wearing a halo and what appeared to be a peacock suit made of lycra, winking at me and holding a pair of new Michelin tires over his head with no video camera. There was Erik the Red, waving. Those were the only two people I knew.

Then I saw Charon manning the gates. He had a big book in front of him. “Wanky! You signed up for the wrong race again! Better head on down to your proper category.”

I felt myself falling. Now it was hot again, really hot, but at least I saw more people I knew. Hell, I knew everyone. But there was a black river of steaming hot energy gel to cross in order to get to them. I climbed into the boat waiting on the shore as a hooded guy started to row me across. “Brad?” I asked. “Brad House? Is that you?”

“Naw,” said the oarsman. “He went to somewhere really hot and miserable and filled with sinners. He’s in Texas.”

I debarked and got into a long line. “Where do I sign up for the 50+?” I asked.

Lane, who happened to be standing next to me, said, “I don’t know. I’m here for the Strava competition.”

“Who the hell is in charge around here?” I demanded. Soon enough I got to the sign-in table.

A huge three-headed angry Marine wearing an FBI men-in-black suit and Blues Brothers SPY shades glowered at me. “What the fuck do you want, cupcake?”

“Chris?” I said. “Is that you?”

“Who were you expecting to meet? Mitt Romney? You just signing up for eternity? Only $10 for the second eternity.”

“There’s been some mistake,” I said. “Manslaughter’s the atheist. He’s the one who wanted to suck wheel on Jesus. I’m always at the front. How do I get back up to Prez and those tires?”

“Ha, ha, cupcake,” Chris laughed as he gave me my number. “You’ve just been entered in the BWR from Hell.”

I shuddered. There in the distance stood MMX with a whip and a giant purple card, beating a drum that was slightly out of tune. He sneered at me. “What’s wrong, Patsy? There’s only 8 billion miles of dirt through a live volcano this time.”

“No!” I screamed. “Noooooooooooooooo!”

Suddenly I was lying on my back and the horse lady was saying, “He didn’t give me three feet when he tried to pass. He’s lucky poor old Sukey didn’t kill him.”

Manslaughter and Derek were splitting a bag of sport beans waiting for me to wake up. “If you help me wipe up the blood,” I said to them, “I’ll have Mrs. Wankmeister pick up a case of Racer 5 and make us some quesadillas with mushrooms and salsa.”

It sounded like a good idea to Derek and Manslaughter. Suddenly it was okay to drink before noon on a not-Friday-day. And we did.

END

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Riders lament cancellation of Tour of Beijing after 2014

September 24, 2014 § 14 Comments

The pro peloton was rocked today with news that the beloved Tour of Beijing will likely end after 2014. “This was one of the best races on the calendar,” said Serge Dumoulin, noted domestique for Continental III-level pro team Buster’s Bunion Buster Orthotic Shoe Implants p/b Carburetor Kleen. “It was an epic race.”

Praise for the race was unanimous. In its first three years, the Tour of Beijing a/k/a Race for the Cinders, was hailed as one of the toughest and most challenging events on the pro calendar. “Sure, the stages were all pretty much short and flat,” said Pepe Contreras of Team Barnacle, “but to pedal even a hundred meters in that stinking, smog-filled shit hole of Beijing, I rate it as my greatest accomplishment ever.”

Team doctors from Trek, Cannondale, Katusha, and Tinkoff-Saxodope all agreed. “This race presented the most incredible challenges of our collective medical careers: how to inhale vast quantities of mercury, lead, cadmium, and airborne clenbuterol without either dying or testing positive. This was our greatest achievement.”

Pierre du Fromage-et-vins-du-Sucre, one of the few riders to complete all three editions, waxed nostalgic. “It’s not often you get to support, through your athletic participation, a nation that not only represses human rights but that also pollutes the globe on a massive scale. I’ll miss that. Plus all the teenagers we had sex with for, like, six bucks.”

Brian Cookson, head of the UCI and uncharacteristically sober at 9:00 AM British time, was more sanguine. “The Tour of Beijing served its purpose, to reach out to the growing population of Chinese sporting enthusiasts and expand awareness of our sport, but let’s be honest here. When has anyone ever gone to China and not gotten fucked? Making money off of the Chinese is harder than taking a full bottle of rye whiskey away from a thirsty Irishman. Not that there’s any other kind.”

Although the Tour of Beijing provided a last-stop Pro Tour race for riders still looking for a win and Andy Schleck, Cookson believes that other opportunities are in the offing. “I was recently contacted by a gentleman, Mr. Abdul Abdullah-Masoud al-Qaeda who would like to unveil a premiere stage race in the northern part of what was, formerly, I believe, known as Iraq. We are still working out the details, and would of course require that none of the riders be decapitated, and I believe they may be flexible on that point as long as everyone wears a bedsheet. With the UCI, rider safety is our paramount concern.”

END

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Facebike

September 23, 2014 § 8 Comments

One day I was pedaling home from the NPR and I saw Scrum, a buddy. “Hey, man, I tried to message you on Facebag but couldn’t find you anymore.”

“Yeah,” Scrum said. “I deleted my account.”

“How come?”

“Every time I got on there it depressed the shit out of me. Everyone has a perfect life except me, it seems.”

“Oh, that’s just PR bullshit. People only put up what they want you to see. You know, happy stuff. They still get cancer and get fired and take Prozac like everyone else.”

“At least they can fake it. Anyway, I’m a lot happier now. Back to my old self. Best thing I ever did.”

Facebag, of course, has its problems, one of which is its moniker, “social media.” When I was a kid there was one phone in the house, we got our news from newspapers, and the only way you could socialize was by being around other humans. Talking to the cat never qualified as social. Instead, it often meant having to talk to Mrs. Wint, our nosy neighbor, who would run over to the house every time someone got divorced, pregnant, busted for smoking weed, kicked out of school, or caught screwing a non-spouse.

Social, in other words, meant having to suffer through her bad breath, stupid ideas, repetitive stories, receding gums, and un-bra’ed, floppy breasts in order to get to the good stuff. It was like shelling pecans. You had to peel away the bad part with quite a bit of effort to get to the meat.

Social is the one thing that Facebag is not because you don’t have to endure the physical irritants of your “friends” that you would have to put up with if you really were face-to-face, instead of screen-to-screen. When they bore you, or share their racist rants, you simply hide their feed. Most unsocial of all, you and only you get to pick the moment of interaction. In the old days you pretty much had to deal with Mrs. Wint whenever you ran into her, which was all the time. If you were social, you stopped to talk. If not, you waved and kept going. Quickly.

How many people do you know on Facebag who, when you run into them, are completely different from their profile? The friendly Facebagger who’s an obnoxious ass. The tough-talking badass who’s a pussycat. In the old days, Mrs. Wint was always Mrs. Wint.

Like quitting big-hopped beer, I’ve never been able to stay away from Facebag. The two times I deleted my account, I returned within months. With the help of Scrum’s sage advice, though, I’ve been able to make some very positive changes. I log in when I get up and spend no more than five minutes on it. I don’t endlessly scroll through my feed. I never click “like,” and rarely comment on anything. I post occasional things about gun violence to satisfy my twin needs of tweaking my gun-nut friends and doing a bit of Internet advocacy. At the end of each month I go back and delete most of the stuff from the previous month. I subscribe to a Sunday newspaper and read books instead of cat postings and self-congratulatory photos of third place at the Olde Bumfucke Crit and Shamefest.

But most of all, I’ve tried to get out of my shell and socialize on Facebike. Facebike is that two-wheeled thing that leans up against the wall in my bedroom. It lets me get next to friends, or behind their sweaty butts, and chat with them. Yesterday Derek and Aaron and I rode out to Latigo, and a good portion of it involved an old-fashioned political argument.

Remember those? When people exchanged heated opinions in person and then somehow had to come off the passion of the moment and the differing ideas and still be friends afterwards? When you couldn’t just end an argument the Facebag way — comparing someone to Hitler and deleting all their comments? Besides, after a hundred hard miles, who wants to argue anyway? And how can you argue when you’re begging for their last gel?

Facebag is still one of the world’s greatest bulletin boards, and that’s how I use it now. But when’s the last time you called someone “social” who spends hours a day staring at a bulletin board?

END

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UCI rule changes usher in new era

September 21, 2014 § 31 Comments

With the changes to the UCI’s rules for the hour record attempt firmly in place, Jens Voigt stormed to a new mark in the legendary event, setting a fastest-ever pace in the event, a time that was faster than anyone has ever gone before in this distance, except for eight other riders, all of whom went faster, but who, under new rules are now technically slower, making Voigt the fastest ever rider not to have used certain modifications under the old rules that allowed the “superman” position. Voigt’s new status as the fastest ever rider for the hour except for the riders who have actually gone faster created a wave of happiness and hysteria at the UCI, and Cycling in the South Bay was lucky to catch this brief interview with chief Brian Cookson in between lunchtime martinis.

CitSB: You must be really happy about this.

Brian Cookson: Oh indeed, indeed. This rule change is going to see a wave of riders attempting to break the hour record.

CitSB: Can you explain it to the folks back in Peoria? It’s kind of confusing.

BC: Of course. Under the old rules, which were instituted to replaced the former rules before that, and which in turn had been liberalized over the previous rules, a rider couldn’t set an hour record unless he did it under the same technical constraints as Eddy Merckx’s 1972 ride in Mexico City.

CitSB: And why was that so hard?

BC: There just weren’t very many more pairs of wool shorts left anymore. Except for the guys over at Velominati. And reproducing the open-shit sewers of Mexico City in ’72 was a major technical hurdle, not to mention getting old-school pepper-upper combos like Deca, heroin, strychnine, and cocaine.

CitSB: So then what happened?

BC: We changed the rule so that it mirrors the existing rules for the pursuit. If you can use it in the pursuit, you can use it in the hour record.

CitSB: Even those stupid looking smooth helmets that make you look like a speeding penis?

BC: (Slams another martini, rubs self). Especially those.

CitSB: Back to Ma and Pa in Peoria. Jens Voigt has the new hour record, but there are still eight riders who have set UCI-approved hour records faster than him. How can you be the record holder in 9th place?

BC: Again, as with most things in cycling, you have to be steeped in the history and the regulations to appreciate the effort. It is true that the fastest hour records of Boardman and Rominger will never be broken, but those records were set due to technical specifications that allowed them to use bike positions that we will never allow again.

CitSB: Why is that?

BC: The hour record should be pure. It should be man against time.

CitSB: Or woman.

BC: What?

CitSB: Never mind.

END

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The Rule

September 19, 2014 § 19 Comments

The Rule, and there’s only one, is this: The harder it is, the better you’ll feel when it’s over.

Bryce came whizzing by us on the bike path. He had hairy legs and a new $7k Cannondale with electronic shifting. Bryce nodded at us as he flew by.

“You know that wanker?” I asked Nate.

“Yeah, nice kid. Fitted him on his new bike last night.”

“He’s going awfully fast.”

“I guess it was a good fit,” said Surfer.

In Santa Monica we ran into him again, after we’d split up from Nate. “Where are you going?” asked Surfer.

“I was about to turn around and ride back to Hermosa.”

“You’re welcome to join us if you want to.”

“Where are you guys riding to?”

“We’re just doing a couple of climbs on the West Side.”

“Oh, yeah, I know all the roads over here,” Bryce said confidently.

Surfer, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of every street in Southern California, paved and unpaved, said “I bet you don’t know all the roads.”

“I work for the power company putting up utility poles. I know all the roads.”

Surfer smiled at him. “Then you’ll know where we’re going.”

I wanted to tell Bryce to turn back now, while he still had the chance. As a new cyclist out to test his legs, the last person you would ever want to run into is Surfer. Instead, I egged the kid on. “You look like a pretty good climber,” I said as we started going up Amalfi.

To his credit, Bryce was game. He punched away at the long climb. “Hang tight here in just a bit,” said Surfer. “It’s going to be unpaved for a little bit.”

We went through the gate and indeed the going got kind of rough. I took another look at Bryce’s deep-dish racing wheels. He was breathing hard, then really hard. We’d been climbing for a long time. “Hey,” he said. “How much farther to the top?”

“We’re almost there,” I lied.

After a while we went through another gate and the dirt climb stretched out forever, still going up. “How long you been riding?” asked Surfer.

“Six months,” Bryce said between deep breaths.

“What’s your longest ride?” I asked.

“Thirty-five miles,” he answered. “How long is this going to be?”

“Longer,” said Surfer.

Bryce got off his bike and started walking. We pedaled up the grade and waited in the shade.

“How much farther?” he asked when he reached us. “I’m done. I can’t go any more.”

“That little section is the hardest part,” I lied again. “You’re doing great. It’s pretty much a gentle climb from here to the top.”

“You’re lying,” he said. “You guys are assholes.” We were high upon a dirt ridge out in the mountains now. It was hot and he was out of water.

“We’re not just assholes,” said Surfer with a grin. “We’re the biggest assholes in Southern California. Want some water?” He handed over his bottle and Bryce thirstily drained it. “Need some food?” Bryce nodded and gobbled up the BonkBreaker. “Know this road?” Surfer asked.

Bryce looked at him, then laughed. “No. No, I don’t.” It was the laughter of “I’m cracked and hot and waterless and lost and I hope these guys don’t leave me.”

We pedaled on for a ways until we came to the final section of the climb, a solid quarter-mile where you had to get out of the saddle and hump it. I was glad I had on a 28. Surfer and I waited beneath another tree for a while. “Think he’s going to quit?” I asked.

“I hope not, because if he does we’ll have to go back down this damn thing and look for him.”

“I think he’s going to quit. Kid’s game, but this would break anybody. He was struggling back on Amalfi.”

At that moment Bryce appeared, grim and covered with red dust. “These shoes suck for walking,” he said. We gave him the last of our water. “I know that whatever you tell me is going to be a lie, but how much farther to the top?”

“This is it,” said Surfer.

He brightened. “Really?”

“Yes, but be careful after we make the right. The downhill can get away from you.” I looked again at his delicate carbon wheels and was grateful to be on my 32-spoke aluminum rims with wide, thick tires. Bryce banged and bumped and bashed his way through the ruts, over the rocks, and along the endless washboard descent, almost crashing hard a couple of times.

We stopped at the old Minute Man silo, filled our bottles, and poured water over our heads in the searing heat.

When we finally hit the pavement, he said “Where are we?”

“Mulholland, just a couple of miles from the 405.”

Bryce perked up. Finally, a road he knew.

We had been going at a snail’s pace up in the hills in order not to lose Bryce, but now we had to get home. Surfer wrapped it up to 30, gave Bryce a very short lesson on drafting, and off we went.

Bryce had gotten a second wind and was a quick study, rotating through smoothly and keeping the speed. Until San Vicente, that is, when the thousand-yard-stare set in.

“I don’t feel so good,” he said.

“You’re bonking,” said Surfer, offering him the last gel packet.

“Next time we do this I’m going to kick you guys’ ass,” said Bryce. The kid was game.

The closer we got to Hermosa, the happier he got. “Hey, guys, thanks for dragging me along. This is my biggest ride ever!”

“You rode like a champ,” I said. “Not many people could have done what you did today.”

“For a couple of old guys you and Surfer go pretty good. But don’t think I’m going to forget about this.”

“We won’t, either,” I promised.

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Go to the front

September 18, 2014 § 31 Comments

A guy who is one of the best racers I know said to me, “Seth, when I first met you I was convinced you were ruining a whole generation of bike racers.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere.”

“Seriously. Always telling people to go to the front. That is not how you win races. That is how you lose races.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. There are only three ways to win a race. Attack and ride in solo. Go with, or bridge to a break and outsprint your breakaway companions. Or win the field sprint. Going to the front of the peloton and hammering like a knucklehead will guarantee that you never win any races.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And there you were, telling all these young kids to ‘Go to the front!’ And they were doing it. It’s the complete opposite of race winning tactics. Going to the front will only fry you. In a race or even on these training rides people love it when you go to the front. You fry yourself, they get a free ride, and leave you like you were chained to a stump at the end. What’s the point?”

“Well, if people don’t go the front and make it hard, then how do you end up with a good training ride?”

“There’s always some idiot who will do that. Just don’t let it be you.”

“Really? I’ve been on plenty of rides where no one takes the bit and it’s just a wankfest shitshow with one or two hard efforts, usually on a climb.”

“Look, racing is energy conservation. The winner conserves through tactics, then expends his max at just the right time, or meters high-output efforts so that there are only a few of them. But they count. Your philosophy of going to the front and slogging away is stupid, and the only person it hurts is you. Anyone can sit on a wheel at 27, which just isn’t all that fast. What’s worse is that it teaches bad tactics because you end up racing the way you train.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“So why don’t you lay off the ‘Go to the front’ propaganda for a while? You might even get on a podium yourself.”

“Because winning races doesn’t mean shit.”

“Lots of bike racers would disagree with you.”

“I’m not talking about bike racing.”

“What are you talking about, then?”

[...................................]

What was I talking about?

A couple of days ago I got the best email that’s ever come my way. This is what I was talking about.

Seth, I saw something the other day that reminded me of you. It was a show about Japanese culture where they were highlighting various festivals and some of the instruments played during the celebrations. One important instrument is the takebue flute. They visited a very old guy who is a master takebue maker and he said something very interesting that I thought you would appreciate.

Traditionally, takabue are made out of bamboo that the customer will bring to the flute maker, and it goes without saying that people who are going to spend a lot of money on this special item go to great lengths to cut for themselves a piece of bamboo that is especially beautiful, clean, and straight.

The flute maker said that years ago a man brought him a piece of bamboo that was curved and very rough. It was not what he was used to working with, but when he began hollowing it out and cutting out the holes, he realized that it was very strong bamboo, and that its wood was incredibly dense. When it was finished, the sound was especially bright, and far superior to anything else that he had ever made.

The flute maker asked the man where he had gotten this bamboo, and remarked that it was the strongest, most dense, and most beautiful wood he had ever worked. The man told him that most people choose bamboo from the heart of the bamboo thicket. The bamboo in the middle of the grove is sheltered from the wind and the elements and therefore grows straight and tall, so aesthetically that is the bamboo that people choose. But the sheltered bamboo, hidden from the battering effects of wind and rain and sun is relatively soft, whereas the bamboo on the edge of the thicket takes the brunt of the weather. It is scorched, frozen, pushed, abused, misshapen, and beaten by the elements, and that is what makes it so very dense and strong.

Take care, brother.

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Hi, Mom — tasting the Totino’s (Part 9)

September 17, 2014 § 4 Comments

Hi, Mom

I have to keep this short but here is how it all went down on the NPR yesterday and it would have been different if I hadn’t had to sleep on the floor again. Tonight I’m giving ol’ Cindy the boot. She is the most selfish person I have ever met and what’s the point of having a couch if I never get to sleep on it?

I showed up at the start of the ride and saw this guy and said which one of you jokers is Bahati and he said he’s pretty easy to find, he’ll be the one going 40mph on the flats into the wind. I was like whatever, dude, which one is he and this guy who was wearing an MF Wonton Heavy Industries kit, like what the f*** is that??, said Bahati is the guy whose hair is growing out from here to Venus.

Which one of you jokers is Charon Smith I asked and this dude whose name is Sausage was like Charon doesn’t do this ride often and I was like what does he look like just in case I need to open up the can on him, too, and Sausage was like Charon’s the dude whose hair is growing in the other direction. What kind of name is Sausage I asked Sausage and he laughed, then Higgins rolled up and said hey Porky and Sausage laughed even harder. I’m Billy Blitzkrieg the Hammer I told Sausage, remember it.

We started riding and sure enough Bahati jumped in with us and sure enough he has big hair. Hey Bahati I said, I hear you’re the fast guy out here just want you to know I’m coming to get you. He turned around and laughed and said this is just a training ride, so don’t hurt yourself, sonny and I was like oh, I won’t be the one hurting because when I turn on the Hammer Jets whatever you had for dinner last night will be making a reappearance, back home I used to call it making the boys taste the Totino’s.

Bahati laughed again and said what’s your name boy and Higgins said that’s Porky, Rahsaan, don’t pay him any mind and I said everybody who finishes ahead of me today can call me anything they want but the rest of you turkeys will have to call me Blitz or Blitzkrieg or just The Hammer. Okay, Porky, said Bahati and things picked up. I looked at his legs and they are skinny kind of like a junior high school girl’s, not like the junior high cheerleaders back home, mom, big and thick like tree trunks, I mean skinny normal junior high girls. He wasn’t going to be going anywhere with those toothpicks.

Pretty soon it ramped up and I got stuck behind some slow people who gapped me out and the group rolled away, that was on Lap One, but I cut across the street and hopped on when they came back by. Then on Lap Two I got stuck behind some guy named Marv from Arkansas, he had smoke coming out of the top of his head and the group rolled away again but I cut across the street and hopped back on when they came back by. Then on Lap Three somebody went real fast while I was reaching for my water bottle and same thing.

Then on Lap Four I was feeling pretty good so I got on Bahati’s wheel and mom I sure did open up the can. Get ready to taste the Totino’s, pal, I said as Bahati started stringing it out again for the hundredth time. This time I looked down at my Garmin and sure enough he was going 40 uphill into the wind with those skinny toothpicks!! Who knew????

Here is a big mouthful of Whup A** for you buddy boy I said as I got ready to unleash and make him taste the Totino’s but I looked at my Garmin again and it said 42 and that was too fast I wasn’t ready to ladle out the Whup A** just yet plus I had a funny taste in my own mouth which was unusual.

Then I got ready to really dole out the Whup A** with a shovel but Bahati was up to 43 and I felt something weird in my back and neck and legs and stomach and my eyes couldn’t focus, and people were all screaming at me to hold my line I guess they knew I was about to come flying around Bahati for the finish.

Bahati sat up before the line and Higgins came around him as he slowed down and I was going to hop on Higgins’s wheel and come around him and win the whole shebang but my eyes still wouldn’t focus and it was just a dumb training ride and I didn’t care about it anyway because it made a lot more sense to save the Whup A** for a real race when they would all be surprised, kind of like a Stealth fighter jet that you can’t see.

More later, gotta go, love you, mom!!!

Billy Blitz

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