Where the wild things are

March 23, 2014 § 14 Comments

Wankmeister awoke with a vicious hangover. The inside of his mouth was dried to a crackly paste of spit from the massive order of pork bulgogi he’d eaten the night before to try and dilute the effect of the four pints of Dirty Virgin double IPA. As he smacked his parched lips, trying to unstick his tongue from the bottom of his mouth, he realized that the pork bulgogi anti-hangover method had failed. He should have drunk more water and less beer instead.

Quickly slamming a cup of coffee and eating a piece of toast, Wanky pedaled to the office, got the van, and drove over to Jaeger’s place. Jaeger hadn’t won a race in ten long years, and decided that today he’d do the 50+ senior veteran’s old people’s race rather than duke it out with the youngsters in the 45+.

They got to the Lake Castaic road race course. The wind was howling and Wankmeister thought about the various reports that had come in via Facebag from the riders who’d reconned the ride the previous week. They were all in agreement, and their thoughts are summarized below:

  1. Brutal course.
  2. Windy, long climbs.
  3. Awful temperatures.
  4. Dry as hangover mouth.
  5. Difficulty amplified by small fields.
  6. Bring survival gear.

Proper nutrition is always key

Aside from the piece of toast that he’d had for breakfast, Wanky’s stomach was empty. After signing in he saw Canyon Bob kitting up. “Got food, dude?” he asked.

“Sure, pal,” Bob said, and handed over a mostly-eaten miniature chicken sandwich.

Wanky scarfed it down, but it only made him hungrier. Numbers pinned on, he rode to the start/finish with teammates Jaeger and Randy to watch the various finishing races.

The end of the race was atop a long, grinding 1k finishing hill. The 45+ field was coming in, and G$ had kicked it from pretty far out. Thurlow was closing fast, but it looked like G$ would hold him off. In the last 50 meters, which was the equivalent of the last twelve miles of a normal road race, Thurlow came by for the win.

While everyone cheered the conquering heroes, the only thing Wankmeister really noticed was the salt sheets staining their faces and jerseys and the twisted looks of pain and misery on the face of every single person who crossed the line. Jess Cerra, who had won the women’s Pro/1/2 race and was watching the finishers, handed Wanky a Harmony Bar. “You might need this for later,” she said.

Wankmeister unwrapped the energy bar and scarfed it down. “To hell with that, Jess. I need it now.”

“Are two water bottles going to be enough?” she asked. “Your race is 55 miles, right?”

“Yeah, no problem,” Wanky answered. “I don’t ever drink much water in races anyway.”

“It’s hot and dry, though,” she said.

Wanky looked again at the finishers straggling in, all of whom had a strangely desiccated, dehydrated, salt-covered, dying-of-thirst look. “Nah,” he said. “I’ll be fine.”

Is there a race here today?

As Jaeger, Wanky, Randy, Canyon Bob, and Hoofixerman stood waiting for the race to begin, they noticed that the field was … them. “Where is everybody?” asked Jaeger.

“We are everybody,” said Hoofixerman.

“But there were 16 pre-regs,” said Canyon Bob.

Jess walked back over. “Aren’t you guys racing?”

“Yeah, we go off, like, now.”

“Why aren’t you at the staging area, then?” she asked.

“What staging area?” Wanky said, panicking.

“You have to stage a mile or so back that way. The race doesn’t start here.”

The five idiots leaped on their bikes and sprinted back to the staging area, an all-out time trial that would cost Wanky dearly later in the race somewhere about Mile 2.

Sure enough, it was a minuscule field of sixteen riders, and they pedaled off with the enthusiasm of children going to the dentist. Wanky eyed Hoofixerman, who was doing his first big race with the tough and experienced and battle-hardened 50+ giants of the road. “That wanker’s gonna get shelled quick,” he surmised as Hoofixerman went to the front and picked up the pace. “Hey, dude,” Wanky said. “Better take it easy. This is a long hilly race. Don’t shoot your bullets in the first five miles.”

Hoofixerman ignored him, and took turns into the teeth of the wind with Jaeger.

“This isn’t so bad,” Wanky thought. “Kind of like a training ride with your pals.” The course was rolling with a couple of small, easily surmounted walls.

Then they hit the first big climb and Wanky realized that these weren’t his pals, they were mortal enemies who hated him and wanted to kill him quickly and without mercy. Canyon Bob rolled to the front and Wanky was soon on the rivet. It was an endless 2-mile charge up an 8% grade, and the four or five people cheering at the top meant only one thing: the next time up the spectators were expecting to see the riders drop like flies. This was the praise before the last rites.

Alone again, naturally

Once over the big climb the riders descended forever, which was a terrible thing because the out-and-back course meant that they’d have to come back up this beast. A couple of miles before the turnaround Chris Hahn began chasing the four-man breakaway that had rolled off, and this effort kicked Wanky out the back without so much as a second thought. Hoofixerman, who had squandered precious energy and ridden like a complete idiot in the first part of the race, was, of course, with the leaders in the breakaway.

The break was caught and Wankmeister somehow latched back onto the leaders after the turnaround. The tiny field meant that people were already tired and fearing the climb on the return, while Jaeger, disgusted at the slow pace, got off his bike, took a leisurely piss, overhauled his bottom bracket, and easily caught back on.

A short way into the big climb, Wanky got kicked out the back for good, and up in the distance he could see that Hoofixerman was finally paying for his early excesses. Slogging up to the Big Orange farrier, they pounded through the rollers to the start/finish, where they were ignominiously passed by the 35+ 4/5 riders, who had started five or ten minutes behind them.

The moto ref came by and grinned at Wanky. “At least you’re not getting passed by the Cat 5′s!” he said.

The leaders in the 50+ Really Old and Slow and Have to Pissalot Category had eased up and Hoofixerman was determined to catch back on.

With the aid of a timely neutralization to allow the 35+ 4/5′s to pass the 50+ riders, Wanky & Co. reattached. He was elated. “We made it!” he said to Hoofixerman. “Now all we have to do is hang on and let these other knuckleheads do all the work!” Wanky slinked to the back, got behind the tallest and widest rider, and made himself as tiny as possible.

A few minutes later they were back at the Big Climb. Wanky chortled with pleasure, knowing that the leaders were now thoroughly tired and all he had to endure was a brief seven or eight-minute interval. As fate would have it, he only had a 30-second interval left in his legs, about thirty less than Hoofixerman. Everyone and everything vanished from sight.

You know your day is done in a bike race when …

… you start noticing the scenery. Wanky appreciated the beautiful canyon, the trees growing along the edge of the creek down in the valley, and the cooling late-afternoon temperatures. This was about the time he ran completely out of water. At the turnaround a kind elderly fellow shouted, “Water? Need some water?” Miracles, apparently, were still occurring even in this late day and age.

Teammate Randy, who had been dropped from the leaders due to a mechanical and, since he didn’t have any tools, was forced to carefully repair his damaged $4,000 drivetrain by pounding the shit out of it with a rock, closed a five-minute gap and caught back up to Wankmeister. “C’mon, Wanky, let’s go!”

This was like a physicist with a large chalkboard saying, “C’mon, Wanky, let’s do some calculus!”

Wankmeister, who had only barely passed Algebra II with Miss Morcom in 11th Grade, did no better hanging onto Randy’s wheel than he would have solving for x. In a flash the teammate was gone. Now there were only eleven and a half miles left, including the giant climb. At the bottom, riders began to swarm by, first the remnants of the 35+ 4/5 race, and then the Cat 5 leaders, and then the bits and pieces of the entire Cat 5 field.

The moto came by again. “Bet you’re glad there’s no Cat 6,” he said before gunning the motor and driving off.

No matter how slowly the Cat 5′s went, Wanky went slower, until eventually, like a bad case of gonorrheal drip that has finally run its course, the race ended. Out of sixteen starters in the 50+ race, twelve finished, two of whom were actually slower than he was. “Top 10,” he said to himself, “doesn’t sound nearly as bad as ’3rd from dead fucking last.’”

The race at the front

Jaeger had waited until the bottom of the big hill on the return leg, and then attacked the six riders who remained with him. He soloed in the final eight miles to collect his first victory since 2004. “Wasn’t that a hard race?” Wanky asked him back at the van.

Jaeger tried to be diplomatic, aware that his friend Wankmeister had been in difficulty long before there was really any difficulty. “Yeah it was hard,” he said. “I mean, it was hard for you.”

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The joy of commuting

March 22, 2014 § 39 Comments

I have three commuter routes in the morning.

The best one takes an hour, drops down Hawthorne to the coast, wends through Lunada Bay and Paseo del Mar, drops down by the Cove, picks up the bike path at RAT Beach, then goes up Emerald through the neighborhood by Victory Elementary and over to my office on Hawthorne. The ride has scenery, a couple of short climbs, and I arrive at work completely relaxed and ready for the day’s nap.

The mediocre route takes about twenty-five minutes. I go down Silver Spur, take PV Drive to Via Valmonte, then snake over to Anza and go straight up Anza to Spencer and my office on Hawthorne. This route has traffic all the way along Anza once you cross PCH, but the traffic is rarely hostile. Anza has a bike lane in some places, and a faux bike lane in others that is packed with parked cars ready to door you any second. When I take this route I arrive at work not very relaxed because the cars are so close for most of the ride.

The hell route takes twenty minutes. I bomb down the other side of Hawthorne at 45 mph side by side with the cars, the buses, and the trucks whose brakes are frying on the descent. Drivers chop me at very high speeds and occasionally honk even though I’m passing them. Once I’m on Hawthorne past PCH it’s a war zone. There are four lanes, and I control the entire right lane. This makes a lot of morning commuters very angry. I could add a couple of more “very’s” and still not capture the rage that many cagers express at seeing me in my lane. About half the time I take the hell route a cager yells at me, and I always yell and gesture back. I get to work tense and feeling like I just escaped death or serious injury.

“Hey, you, get offa my cloud!”

Yesterday morning I was stopped at Hawthorne and Torrance. I was the first one at the light and there was a long line of cars backed up behind me. Next to me was a late 1990′s gray Chevy pickup. The cager was in his late 50′s, badly overweight, and wearing slacks and a dress shirt. His hair, such of it that there was, had been slicked back. I could smell his aftershave.

“Hey, pal,” he said, indicating that we were almost certainly not going to be pals. “Get up on the sidewalk. You’re backing up traffic.”

“Hey, non-pal,” I said. “I have a legal right to be in this lane.”

“No, you don’t. You’re on a bike. Get on the sidewalk and let the cars pass. You’re blocking traffic.”

At that moment a big city bus turned from Torrance onto Hawthorne and pulled up to the bus stop just past the light we were stopped at. “Yes, I do have a right to be here. Just like that bus, which is also ‘blocking traffic.’ Or maybe he needs to also get on the sidewalk?”

The guy got really angry. “You’re breaking the law!”

“No, I’m not, and I don’t see your badge, so shut the fuck up.”

“There’s no need to curse!” he screamed.

“There’s no need to be a square-headed dick, either.”

The light turned green and he sped off. I kept smack in the middle of the lane and sure enough, as happens all the way down Hawthorne, the traffic behind me waited until the neighboring lane cleared, then safely passed by, one by one. I had won the battle, but had lost the stress war.

Get a car, maroon!

Although I have three routes to work, there’s really only one route home, and that’s the fastest one, back down Hawthorne. I’m always tired and always want to get home quickly because, beer. Yesterday was Friday and I was leaving at 5:30. Hawthorne traffic is always angry, but the two angriest times for cagers are Monday morning and Friday late afternoon. This is because on Monday they have to go the place they hate the most for the next several days, work, and on Friday they have to go the other place they hate the most, home, for the next couple of days. If every commute ended in a bar or strip club or all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, cagers would be a lot happier.

I made it most of the way to Sepulveda without incident. Then, about a hundred yards before the light, I heard the telltale sound of a cager to the left of me slowing quickly because he’d been texting or listening to music or fiddling with his knob only to discover that he needed to move two lanes to the right so he could get into the right-turn-only lane and turn onto Sepulveda. The only thing between him and his multi-lane change was me, and as always happens, the cager becomes enraged that an otherwise last second clean-lane-sweep is going to be thwarted by a puny bicycle.

By now we had stopped in the traffic waiting for the light. The driver had long blonde hair and looked like he had come straight out of a police profiling manual under the heading “Typical Unemployed Surfer Dude on Drugs.”

He leaned over and began speaking through his open window. “Hey, asshole!” he shouted, not even bothering to try and trick me with the “pal” thing.

“What’s up, shitwagon?” I answered.

“You think you’re a fucking car? Get out of the fucking road before I run your ass over.”

“You think you’re a traffic cop? Shut the fuck up you sorry ass drug runner before I video your license number and file a complaint for civil harassment and the cops strip search your anus with a cattle prod.”

“Get on the fucking sidewalk! Bikes aren’t cars!” he raged. The traffic began to move, he waited until I had passed him, then shot over into the far right lane and raced down Sepulveda in a squeal of angry rubber.

Use it or lose it

The obvious question, paraphrasing an email from a friend who saw me commuting on Hawthorne the other day, is “Why in the world do you drive on that awful and dangerous street when you have much better alternatives?”

The answer is because it’s quick, and although stressful it’s not any more dangerous than the other routes I take. When I ride in the center of the far right lane, cagers pass me safely. This isn’t always the case on Anza. What seems dangerous, the proximity of cars, is actually safe when I’m in the lane with a bright taillight blazing away, especially in the daytime.

The other answer is that I have a right to ride in that lane. Why should I let cagers intimidate me with their ignorance? Why should cagers get all the fast, well-paved roads? Riding where I have a legal right to ride isn’t something I have to justify, any more than a person has to justify wanting to eat at a lunch counter or go to a movie. In tandem with that is the fact that every time a cager sees a biker in the lane, like it or not the cager is getting educated. He’s learning to expect bikes in the street, where they belong, not on the sidewalk, where they don’t belong.

I’ve seen downtown L.A. over the last five years go from being a place where bikes were a rarity to being a place where motorists absolutely expect to see bikes in the lane. I’ve yet to see a bike-cager encounter in DTLA like the ones I regularly experience on Hawthorne. Exercising your right to be in the lane is the best possible way of teaching cagers that you have the right to be there.

I’ve often thought that if bikers would commute down the bigger, more hostile roads in small groups it would be awesome. The sight of ten or fifteen commuters in a lane would make a much stronger message than some lone dude pedaling like crazy while screaming like a lunatic and flipping off his harassers. Maybe.

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I’ll have another bag of sand, please, with an extra dollop of cream on top

March 21, 2014 § 46 Comments

The most recent South Bay cycling kerfluffle and 24/7 Facebag drama was a beaut. The facts, such as they weren’t, went something like this: Gimme Mah Trinket, a super fast live-to-ride badass MTB racer showed up at the Third Annual Fredfest and Dorkathon Cross Country Bicycle Race in Scratchypits, CA. Having won the Leadville-qualifying Barburner, and having completed Leadville itself once and sort-of-but-perhaps-not-really completed it a second time, Gimme signed up for the beginners’ Cuddly Puppy Division race.

It was a full cuddly puppy field with six or seven riders, all of whom except for Gimme were excited to be racing their first ever, or second ever, or whatever MTB cross country race. Now I must insert here that I didn’t even know that you raced cross country on a bicycle. I thought cross country was a kind of foot race, so when I was told that the controversy occurred at a cycling cross country race my first reaction was “Fugg’ yeah, I bet those runners were sure pissed at getting beat by the bikers. I would be, too.”

But not.

The cuddly puppies lined up with battle-hardened, steely legged Gimme Mah Trinket and got devoured. How badly did they get devoured? Gimme stomped their dicks by seven minutes. She finished so far ahead of the puppies that race officials temporarily lost contact with her ACARS.

The cuddlies struggled in across the line, puppy butts covered in dirt and briars and brambles and sweat and gel packs that had exploded in their jerseys and drizzled down into their buttcracks. And they did what puppies do when they get their noses rubbed in their own shit. They whined. And the whine they whined was the greatest, most famous, most oft-repeated complaint ever made anywhere by any wanker in the history of the USCF: Gimme Mah Trinket is a SANDBAGGER!

Gimme didn’t really care. Her license listed her as a Cuddly Puppy despite being one of the strongest South Bay women on the road and in the dirt, she’d raced her category, and most importantly, she got her trinket. It was a beautiful, hand-carved, antique, hand-decorated water bottle from 1998 made during the Chee’ Pass Dynasty in China. Then she went to the official and upgraded to a Cat 1. Apparently you can go from a Cat 3 to a Cat 1 in MTB just by saying, “Gimme a one, please.”

Who knew?

Let the wailing begin

The cuddly puppies were outraged. They’d trained hard. They’d committed millions of dollars to this fine sport. They’d hired a coach, given up smoking meth, and told all their friends at work that they were going to do a “bicycle race.” How unfair that a pro, a superstar, a hard woman, a ruthless, toothy, shark-blooded killer with a zillion miles under her belt would sandbag the Cuddly Puppy division? At the Scratchypits race, no less! The outrage!

A measure of just how much of a beginners race it was bubbled to the surface merely by airing the “Sandbagger!” complaint. If USA Cycling were a book with a subtitle, it would be this: “USA Cycling: Sandbagging for Fun and Trinkets.”

The whole purpose of categories is to allow for organized sandbagging. If bikers wanted a real bike race, here’s how it would be run:

  1. Men, women, mutants, cuddly puppies, ex pros, current pros, leaky prostates, loose bowels, juniors, seniors, and almost-corpses would line up together.
  2. The ref would blow a whistle.
  3. The first person across the line would be declared the winner.

This would result in a genuine bike race with genuine results. The winner could say, “I was the best racer that day.” The down side is that races would have only thirty or forty riders, all of them would be in their late 20′s, and the same three people would win every single race. In other words, hardly anyone would get a trinket. The bigger down side is that USA Cycling and the various race promoters wouldn’t be able to promote races, because with entry fees from thirty riders you can’t cordon off a street, supply ambulances, promote the event, and hire a couple of cheap plywood boxes for a podium.

This is why cycling has zillions of categories, groupings, rankings, and divisions, so that no matter how weak, feeble, inexperienced, or strategically stupid you are, there is “some” chance that you’ll get a trinket. Trinkets get spread more democratically, race promoters get paid, and USA Cycling gets to send out another surly, obese, ill-tempered official to scream at you on a motorcycle.

Think of race categories for what they really are: Affirmative action for the weak, slow, and stupid. Without cycling’s affirmative action program, 99.999% of all racers would never experience the thrill of getting a $20 prime, or enjoy the glory of standing on a plywood box in the blazing sun, or posting their “results” on Facebag. Our society would be poorer as a result. Moreover, at least in the SoCal crit scene, without affirmative action no white people would ever win anything, and we can’t have that.

Do you really want a bike race?

The Scratchypits kerfluffle, if anything, proved that trinket racing really works, and it’s not the first time that a veteran sandbagger has been booted upstairs to a harder division due to whining cuddlies. The most famous sandbagging case in SoCal history was the Great Prez SoCal Cup Upgrade and Meltdown, where our hero sandbagged as a Cat 3 for several years. Just as he was on the cusp of winning the SoCal Cat 3 Cup, some cuddly puppy’s angry mom complained to the refs. “Prez is a sandbagger! Little Pookums can’t win anything! Upgrade him!”

Prez got force upgraded, and so emotionally destroyed that the trinket was so rudely snatched away despite being within inches of his sweaty grasp, that he dropped out of racing for an entire year. Worse, now that’s he’s back as a Cat 2, he is forced to race with the 35+ Masters division, the biggest category of sandbaggers in the entire sport. These are the guys who are for the most part Cat 1′s, Cat 2′s, and ex-pros, but who’d rather win most of the time than lose all of the time. However, unlike the Cat 3 races, riders like Prez go from winning sandbagger to pack meat, as it’s often difficult to finish and impossible to win. No more trinkets for Prez.

G$ tells a similar story about his own history of sandbagging. “When I was a Cat 3, I never wanted to upgrade. But after winning four out of sixty races, they force upgraded me. Some junior’s mom complained and said me and Roadchamp were dominating everything. Boom. Cuddly puppy upgrade. But I was like, dude, I’m forty years old. How’m I gonna race with the Cat 2′s? Their road races are a hundred miles long. I have a job, sort of. But they upgraded me anyway.”

G$ went on to collect plenty of trinkets, but only as a masters sandbagger. In sum, the category system is there for you to sandbag. You pick the race you think you have the best chance of winning, and the race you can most likely win is always the one against the weakest field. The weakest field is always the oldest or the slowest or the least experienced category. This is how trinkets are won, how juice boxes are collected, and how well-practiced podium poses are executed for the three adoring fans.

Any other system would result in a bike race, and no one in their right mind wants one of those.

Least of all the cuddly puppies.

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A love affair

March 20, 2014 § 9 Comments

Fields was all-knowing. “This is a stupid sport.”

MKA and Chris Hipp and others copied the tag line, but Fields invented it. There is nothing Fields didn’t know, or, put differently, if Fields didn’t know it, it wasn’t worth knowing. When he spat in the soup and headed off to Wisconsin to forsake his bike and become a lawyer, he provided a role model that few have had the nuts to emulate.

Cycling is a stupid sport. There is no money in it. Coda.

How she made me feel

You know the saying. “People may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”

I never lay in bed with Lesli Cohen, but she made me feel nonetheless. It was not erotic, except in a way, it was.

I had reached the umpteenth fine-toothed edit of my New York Times #1 Global Bestseller, “Cycling in the South Bay,” but something was missing. What was missing was someone once-removed to go over the manuscript who was in love with words, who fornicated with syntax, who stroked and massaged and erotically touched sentence structure until it was clean, pure, risen, the climactic pinnacle of what it could be.

What was missing was a real editor.

Lesli didn’t know me, biblically or otherwise, but she had generously shared my blog posts with her considerable readership. I turned to her and begged a favor. “Would you go over my manuscript and edit the hell out of it?” Then I added, “Of course I’ll pay you.”

Lesli refused payment and took the manuscript. What she did, no one else could have done. She loved on it.

How do you love on a manuscript? What is manuscript love? It is the embracing of each word, the deconstruction of each sentence, the application of the rules of spelling and grammar and structure and logic to every single word you’ve written. It can’t be done by an amateur with a handycam. It has to be done by a pro, someone profoundly versed in the erotica of the construction of language.

She “did” my manuscript, and when she was done, if there was anything there to sparkle, it shone brighter because of her. We smoked a cigarette together. Virtually, of course.

Ring down the curtain

Until yesterday Lesli edited Cyclismas.com, a cycling web site. Through a series of mistakes she wound up on the sticking end of a lawsuit. Through another series of mistakes that involved trusting the untrustworthy, and a final unfounded belief that there was something in the world of cycling that was truthful, she ended up investing in a big project that eventually failed. When the last splash of water swirled down the drain, she was left with nothing, and yesterday she sent out a note that the web site and her project were closing down.

Naturally, the draining litigation will continue, because of Newtown’s little known Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: The lawyers always get paid.

My thanks to Lesli aren’t enough, but they’re all I’ve got. Lesli, you are one of those rare people who I’d want above all others in my foxhole. You fought not simply the good fight, but the best fight. You made mistakes grounded in faith and trust and decency, and you sought to take the high crimes and misdemeanors of an errant pro peloton and turn them into something good for all of us. You did it with class and intellect and integrity.

I’ll miss your beautiful writing and your amorous affair with words, but I know that we’ll meet again. Paris, perhaps?

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Where the gains are made

March 19, 2014 § 21 Comments

One time Prez and I were racing through Pedro with Vapor on the old Donut Course. We’d sprinted away from the field and were barreling along Pacific Avenue doing everything we could to hold onto Rahsaan’s wheel. Things weren’t going well for us; it was like trying to keep up with motorcycle. Eventually Rahsaan kicked it hard, for real, and Prez and I dug so deeply we were scratching China.

Thankfully, we hit a red light. Prez looked at me, covered in slobber, eyes bugging out of his head, leg muscles so gorged with blood that he looked like a bodybuilder a minute before going onstage. “This level of pain,” he said “is where the gains are made.”

I’ve thought about that ever since, especially when the pain gets so intense that I pop and get shelled, making not so much gains as deficits. And I also wonder why pain in one venue is somehow endurable, but pain at the dentist isn’t. I can suffer on a bike — not MMX suffer, or Zink suffer, or Thurlow suffer, or Leibert suffer — but deep I can go. Unless it’s the dentist.

Extrusions of bone

“Big deal,” you’re thinking. “A post drilled down through your gum and into the fuggin’ bone of your jaw, or even a root canal can bring anyone to his knees.”

Except I’m not talking about posts and root canals. I’m not even talking about cavities. I’m talking about that most benign of dental operations, the dreaded bi-annual teeth cleaning.

“Bi-annual?” you say. “That’s fuggin’ disgusting! Your mouth must be nastier than a baboon’s ass!”

Indeed, my darling, it is. Nastier, for sure. But there’s a story behind it. You see, I have Davidson teeth. These are not the teeth of mortals. Pere Davidson, now in his 78th year, has never had a cavity. Grandpa N.F. Davidson (that’s “N” for “Nahum”) died in his 70′s without ever having had a cavity or lost a tooth. My brother Ian died with teeth that never felt a drill bit.

Davidson teeth are harder than the sentence of a hanging judge. They are impervious to sugar, fat, sugar, sludge, ice cream, abuse, never flossing, rarely brushing, bad diet, beer, sugar … they’re the only part of my body that has ever elicited the same reaction from health care professionals throughout my life: “Mr. Davidson, you have excellent teeth.”

Notice they never said “clean teeth,” or “pretty teeth,” or “well-aligned teeth.” No. Only “excellent,” as in “Any tooth that  could withstand these four pounds of plaque and abuse and mistreatment and still be this strong and cavity-free aren’t teeth, they are diamond-plated extrusions of bone.”

Every advantage comes with a price

For me, the price began in Galveston at age 6, when I went to the dentist. He pulled two of my teeth for no reason at all, and he did it without anesthetic. I howled and screamed bloody murder. It hurt like a motherfugger, and from that point on I was terrified of dental work. Simply walking into the dentist’s office made me break out in a sweat, and I never sweat.

My lifetime of dental pain was as nothing when I went to Japan and met Mrs. WM. Japanese people have the pain threshold of an ox, and she held me in pure contempt. “Why you askin’ onna pain drugs? Thatsa for little kids.”

“Because my teeth are covered in seven pounds of plaque and it hurts like hell when he scrapes my teeth.”

“I like onna teeth cleaning. Kimochii. Even onna cavity he never gives me a pain drugs because cheaper.”

“You get your teeth drilled without novocaine?” I asked, sweating at the mention of “drilling” and “novocaine.”

“That’s nothin’. Even when a Japanese girl push outta baby there’s no onna pain drugs. ‘Girl, you baby time is normal and you ain’t gettin’ no pain drugs because, cheaper. An’ Japanese girl just push out the baby like a watermelon. You ain’t talkin’ to no Japanese girl about a tooth cleaning pain drug. She’s gonna think you’re onna girlman.”

She was right. In Japan I was the wuss of all wusses. One time her dad had a root canal without any pain medication. “Just a tooth,” he said.

I think I fainted listening to the story.

The paradox of Dr. Hayashi

In L.A., my dentist is Dr. Hayashi, a Japanese dentist. He is the bomb. He is incredibly delicate and skilled and careful and pro, but even he has to bring out the heavy duty equipment with Mr. Davidson shows up lathered in sweat and teeth covered in plaque.

Today was hell.

“Hmm,” he said. “You have a pretty big build-up of calculus.”

“Yeah,” I thought. “I got more fuggin’ calculus on my teeth than on an AP exam.”

He gently stuck the metal scraper into my mouth. I clenched and released four pounds of sweat. The metal hook caught on a tartar outcropping as he yanked a big chunk of calcified scum off my tooth. It sounded like a calving iceberg. “Looks like we have some work to do today,” he said.

“We?” I asked. “If I have to do anything other than sweat and moan, there’s a problem.”

Pretty soon the scraping became so intense that he had to drop the steel chisel and pick up the electric whizzer thingy with the vacuum spit sucker. The sound alone hurt. The plaque drill might as well have been stuck into my eyes, that’s how intensely I reacted, with little urine puddles and sharts mottling the dentist’s chair.

“Nurse,” he said, planting his boot on my chest, rolling up his sleeves, and pulling on his thickest rubber surgical gloves, “hand me the #12 bit with the diamond tip. And be ready with the extra-coarse sandpaper.”

After a brief while his rubber gloves were covered in blood as my soft and sickly gums spewed gore. His welder’s goggles were covered with shards of razor-sharp tartar, more tartar than you’d find in Crimea. His cute assistant tried to suction up the blood and spit and chunks of plaque as my mouth spattered the room with bacteria and bodily fluids of the most contaminated sort. After fifteen minutes his hands looked like they’d been plunged into a chest cavity. My mouth spouted blood and spit, which drooled down into my matted mustache and beard. The pain was unbearable as I fought the suction thingy with my tongue and clamped down on the drill.

“Mr. Davidson,” he said. “You’ll need to open your mouth so I can reach the teeth.”

After forty-five minutes, which seemed like forty-five hours, he gave up, having dug out food items from last November, pieces of GU wrapper, slivers of gristle, and part of an old Life magazine from 1955. “That’s all we can do today. Why don’t you come back in three weeks after your gums have quit bleeding. You’ve still got plaque deposits that I can’t reach, as well as what look like pieces of bicycle inner tube, some fish bones, and a hard-to-reach clump of hair wedged down below the gum line. I’ll have to special order a hand-drill and some low-grade explosives, but we’ll get it next time for sure.”

Have you ever heard of having teeth so gnarly that they have to be cleaned in stages? I haven’t, but I was so glad to get out of the chair that I would have agreed if he’d suggested a follow-up visit that included a lobotomy with an icepick.

You’d think that with such a miserable experience I’d learn, and start flossing regularly, brushing after meals, and wearing a condom. But he said the magic words when I left, the words that guaranteed my box of dental floss from 1982 would remain in mint condition for another year or two. “Mr. Davidson, you have excellent teeth.”

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Digital detox

March 18, 2014 § 27 Comments

I can name what I was missing in the days that I was plugged in through every orifice to the personalized, customized, hand-tailored social media apps that have taken over the World Wide Web.

What I was missing is this: “Major” by Todd Balf, “The Chronology of Water” by Lydia Yuknavitch, “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov, “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, “Blood Medicine” by Kathleen Sharp, “Isaac’s Storm” by Erik Larson, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey, “Cry, the Beloved Country” and “Too Late the Phalarope” by Alan Paton, “The Anti-Abortion Movemement and the Rise of the Religious Right” by Dallas Blanchard, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson, and “The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles — Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone,” translated by Paul Roche.

Instead of tweeting my meaningless opinions about guns and Republicans and death and taxes, instead of facebagging each of my wife’s latest oven creations, instead of slapping up new profile details on LinkedIn, and most time-devouringly of all, instead of tracking every single turn of the screw on Strava, I’ve pulled the needle out of my vein and been killing time the old-fashioned way, with books and bikes.

Don’t get me wrong. I still lurk for an hour a day on Facebag; no one kicks a habit that monstrous in a month or two. And I still suit up and blog. But hours and hours and hours out of my day have suddenly been freed, in no small part because every single social media app (can I call it S&M?) has been deleted. Gonna have some down time today, Mr. Davidson? Better bring a book …

Now for the down side

The sad fact is that the less I Strava, the less I ride. Something about being strapped to that particular digital bull means more saddle time. Call it peer pressure, or the self-reinforcing nature of surrounding yourself with similarly minded addicts, or the S&M (that’s “social and media,” right?) pleasure of watching trinkets and trophies and numbers and statistics multiply, Strava converts desire to pedal strokes.

In the same way that counting calories helps you keep tabs on your weight, counting bike data helps you stay mounted. When you know you rode seven out of seven days for 23 hours and 350 miles last week, it’s really easy to make sure that you plug in an extra lap or loop or trip up the strand to make sure you match the previous week’s productivity.

Don’t lie to me. I know I’m not the only one.

Of course the questions bubbling around the edge are these: Was it really all that productive? Why does bicycling have to be productive? Isn’t productivity a work term? And don’t we bicycle to get away from the strictures of the workplace?

How it used to be

Before we were plugged in, bicycling wasn’t as fast as it is now. Hack riders are faster. Weekend warriors collect scalps. And the really fast riders? They are superhuman, and no, I don’t chalk it up the old whine that “everybody’s doping.” They aren’t.

What people are doing is using social media like Strava to harness the incredible power of data generated by HR monitors, power meters, and cyclocomputers. Riders who train without data are in the distinct minority, and even they are plugged into friendship networks like Facebag that provide amazing amounts of information about how to ride faster, how to train and race better, what to eat, and what equipment works best. Throw in the detailed nature of ride routes where you can tailor your workout to incredibly specific road and trail parameters, and you have a perfect storm surge of cycling data that relentlessly pushes almost everyone higher.

The beneficiaries of this data sharing in terms of speed and fitness aren’t just racers or elite riders. They’re the everyday person too, who’s a commuter or a tourist or a rider who likes to pedal with his friends in between bar stops.

A complete fred at the Starbucks in Hermosa on Sunday gave me a long lecture about how to use Strava from my iPhone. He was kitted up; I was wearing shorts and a tee. Ten years ago this guy and his wife wouldn’t have even owned bikes. On Sunday they confidently lectured me about how I could use my iPhone to be a better cyclist.

What happens when you pull the plug

My first response to my digital detox was a kind of frantic insecurity. “What’s going on out there?” The second phase was an attempt to revert to my oldest habit, reading, in an attempt to fill the vast void of newly available time, but it was terribly hard because I couldn’t concentrate for more than a few minutes. You can’t click “like” on paperbacks. Even as my concentration has slowly returned, I’ve likewise gotten used to rides that under the iron law of “Strava or it didn’t happen,” well, I suppose they didn’t happen.

Absent all that data and all those interactions on Strava and elsewhere there’s nothing to reflect on after I lean the bike against the wall except the internal reflection and what I can remember of the ride. There’s no leaderboard or virtual contest with people I’ve never met, or worse, people I’ve met but never ridden with yet who are my “competition” on Strava. All I’m left with at the end of the ride is, like reading a book, what happened during the ride or the read. That is, what happened on the battleground of the tiny strip of real estate between my ears.

And for me, that’s enough.

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It’s not too late to subscribe 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.

Old School

Old School

A funeral dirge

March 17, 2014 § 29 Comments

There is still more than a month left before you line up for the the third SPY Belgian Waffle Ride. But it might as well be tomorrow.

You see, training and preparation aren’t going to help you this time around. If you were paying attention, the 2013 version was the most challenging one-day event on the calendar. It dragged us over unpaved roads, 120 miles of relentless riding, and 9,000 feet of elevation. The ride was so awful that people milled around in the parking lot afterwards trying to smile, and failing. There wasn’t enough strength left to raise the muscles around the corners of their mouths.

I’m exaggerating, of course. A handful of riders were tired but happy at the end. They were either genetic freaks who have nothing in common with you and me, or they were clever people who kept a steady pace from start to finish, refusing to get suckered into the accelerations of faster groups.

Everyone else was vulture meat.

How bad, was it, really? I was so devastated that I fell off the 3-year teetotaling wagon and have been drinking incessantly ever since. Only recently have the bad memories faded, but not really.

The 2013 BWR, however, was a cakewalk

The 2014 route map has been mostly finalized, and it is senseless in its difficulty. The ride is longer. Instead of a leg-snapping 120 miles, the total distance is 136. The ride is hillier. Instead of 9k feet, it is now 11k. Worst of all, instead of 10 miles of unpaved road, this year offers up more than 30 miles of sand, dirt, rocks, and gravel. That’s bad enough, as in “He put out his own eyes with a fork is bad enough.” But the thing that makes it worse is that much of the off-road portion is uphill. And then, of course, downhill.

Any one or any two of these elements could be properly trained for if, say, you were a full-time professional cyclist in your 20′s or 30′s. But all three elements together — distance, elevation, and road surface — mean that there is no realistic way to be ready for it. It will grind you up and leave you forlorn and mostly lost somewhere in North County San Diego on a fiery hot day in the middle of our first official Globally Warmed Spring.

None of this hell and misery takes into account the high likelihood of a mechanical, or two, or seven, or flats, or ripped out sidewalls or destroyed rims or cracked frames or shattered forks. In other words, if your equipment is right, it will be so heavy and sturdy that you will almost certainly never be able to get up the climbs towards the end of the course. If your equipment is wrong, you’ll DNF somewhere in the hinterlands, eyed by hungry pumas and by buzzards who circle overhead. Once you’ve collapsed at the roadside rest assured that the survivors will part out your bike and empty your pockets for extra food.

What’s a poor registrant to do who’s already paid his entry fees?

Below are my suggestions for surviving this miserable beatdown of a day, a day in which you will go through the spectrum of human emotions, from anger to rage to resignation to exhaustion to depression to fear of impending death to not caring anymore to beer. The happy end of the emotional spectrum will not manifest until months after the event, if ever. So:

  1. Do not pedal hard during the first 120 miles. That’s right. If you squander so much as a pedal stroke early on, thinking you can hang with the Bordines, the Rogerses, the Shirleys, the Cobleys, and the Dahls, you will come apart at Mile 60 or earlier. Trust me. I’ve done it.
  2. Do not be suckered in by the tasty waffle breakfast. Have your normal big ride pre-dinner and your normal big ride breakfast, whatever that is. Last year I ate 17 waffles and a pound of eggs and washed it down with a quart of coffee and paid the price beginning at Mile 5. That price was destruction.
  3. Avoid the rest stops unless you need water. If your nutritional plan is to fuel up on the Barbie food that will be available by the fistful, you’ll never make it. Carefully pack substantial, real food, like peanut butter sandwiches or a large t-bone steak.
  4. If you stop for water, get back on your bike immediately. Every minute you stop equals fifteen minutes of pedaling to exorcise the coagulated death sludge that will immediately clog your vascular system. If you’re not moving forward, you’re rocketing backwards.
  5. Carry three spare tubes and a mini-pump. Share your tubes with no one. This is not the day to help out people who are unprepared, or who showed up with threadbare tires, or who were too cheap to bring an extra tube, or who are riding on paper thin race tires and latex tubes, or who are simply unlucky. This is their day to die. So it is written.
  6. If you’re not on ‘cross or MTB tires (either of which is a suicidal choice, by the way), run 25-mm heavy-duty training tires. Run new ones, but make sure they have a hundred miles or so on them.
  7. Inflate your tires to 80 or 90 psi, max. The course will be covered with sharp stones, thorns, rough gravel, roots, glass, and dead people. The lower psi will greatly reduce the number of punctures as you roll over the teeth and bones of the dead and will add immeasurably to your comfort over the course of this 10- or 12- or 14-hour day.
  8. Go all-out with your gearing. 50 teeth max in front, 28 in back … 30 if you can make it work with your derailleur. When you hit the slopes of Double Peak and can crank it into your 36 x 30, you will love me and buy me free beer for the rest of the year. If you cheap out or lazy out and show up with real road gearing you’ll founder and die somewhere in the sandpits of backroad North County, never to be seen again.
  9. Do not have a single article of clothing or piece of equipment that you haven’t thoroughly tested and ridden in adverse conditions. This is not the day to try anything new, even that cute chick or guy you picked up at Green Flash Brewery the night before. Sample them later, after you’re dead.
  10. Ride with full-fingered gloves and a shit-ton of sunblock. The sun will drain and waste and sap your vital juices, so cover whatever you can stand as long as you don’t overheat.
  11. Max out your uninsured motorist coverage. In the unlikely event you are injured or killed on the course by a car, this will provide you with an avenue for compensation that you or your heirs will badly need.
  12. Make sure you’ve got at least one 120-mile day on your legs before the Big Day, but don’t bother trying to recon the whole route or to simulate it. You can’t, and the attempt will only destroy your will to live. Treat it like the invasion of Normandy. Prep the best you can, but leave the actual catastrophe to the day itself.
  13. Spend the night in Carlsbad or somewhere close to the start. That way we can all go pound IPA’s until the wee hours. Really. Because whether you show up with a bleeding hangover or fresh and rested, the end result will be the same.

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Subscribe 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.

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