You are not a climber

October 5, 2014 § 11 Comments

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

I used to think I was a climber.

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

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

“You look like a climber,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m no climber,” he said.

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

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

“I’m not,” he said. And he wasn’t.

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

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

“I’m not?”

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

“You’re a great climber.”

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

“Like what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END

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Get lost

October 3, 2014 § 28 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We aren’t lost, that’s where.”

END

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Silencing debate

October 2, 2014 § 27 Comments

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

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

“Why?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END

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D.I.Y.

September 30, 2014 § 6 Comments

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

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

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

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

That’s Happy the Funk Up, of course.

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

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

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

Click on the pic!

HTFU at the Belly Up in Solana Beach

HTFU at the Belly Up in Solana Beach

END

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2nd Annual South Bay Cycling Awards

September 29, 2014 § 8 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END

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Phone home

September 28, 2014 § 22 Comments

It had been an epic, bitter, full-gas NPR replete with unhappy blabberwankers, squealing baby seals looking for their freshly stripped pelts, fraudsters who cut the course and flipped it before the turnaround in order to catch the break, and the usual collection of complainers and whiners who missed the split, blaming their weakness on the “stoplight breakaway” and the usual complaint of non-racers who object to September beatdowns — “It’s the OFF SEASON!”

We swirled up to the Center of the Known Universe. Most ordered coffee. I leaned against the plate glass seated on the bricks, waiting for the throbbing in my legs to subside. Within minutes people were seated alongside with their phones out.

There wasn’t much conversation at first because everyone had to check email, then look at missed calls and figure out which excuse to use when they finally phoned in around ten. “I was in a meeting.” “There wasn’t any cell coverage.” “I was on the phone with a client.”

And of course Facebag had to be checked, texts had to be sent, and Strava had to be carefully reviewed. Some people kept their phones on their lap the entire time we congregated. One or two put them away. Almost everyone sporadically checked, interrupting conversations to gaze down at kudos and incoming dickpics.

Not me. I didn’t have my phone. It was sitting on the chest of drawers next to my bed. That’s where it stays nowadays when I ride.

I remember back when there were no cell phones. After a ride, or during a break, the Violet Crown guys would talk. Or smoke a big, fat joint. Usually both. Whatever the protocol, it always involved lots of gab. Sitting down after a ride meant rehashing the ride, inventing new rumors, or talking shit about a good friend who happened to be absent.

Compared to those conversations, the ones nowadays aren’t as much fun, and I think it’s because the flow of talk gets constantly broken up by constant cell phone monitoring. The fact is that no one has anything important to do on a cell phone in the morning. If they did, they wouldn’t be on a bike. And there’s something about conversation that, like a bike ride, requires a certain amount of warm-up. Then, once you’re warmed up, you sort of get going. It doesn’t work very well — like riding — when every few seconds or minutes the other person is checking his screen.

“But what do you do when you can’t get in touch with someone who you’re trying to meet for a ride?” is a common question. Back in the day we all knew where to meet, and if someone didn’t show up, you didn’t ride with him that day. It was pretty simple.

“But what do you do if you have an accident or your bike breaks or you have an emergency?” Back in the day we generally waited until someone called an ambulance, or we bled out, or we flagged down another rider for a tool or a tube. That was pretty simple, too.

“But what do you do if something happens at work or your wife needs you?” Back in the day we ignored that shit when we rode. It was one of the main reasons we cycled.

Since shedding my power meter, my Garmin, and now my iPhone, my riding is a lot more peaceful. More importantly, I’m about half a pound lighter on the bike. Now that matters.

END

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Great day for a ride

September 27, 2014 § 2 Comments

Hoofixerman looked out the window at the blue and sunshiney sky. “This looks like a great day for a ride,” he said to himself as he dialed up his pal. “I’ll meet you in Redondo at 9:30, Wanky,” he said, and Wanky said “Okay.”

Hoofixerman put on his bicycling outfit and had a few minutes to spare, so he grabbed the tweezers and sat down to work some more on a splinter in the ball of his foot. He had been sitting on the back porch the day before drinking some beer when he got the urge to go tear out the floor of the bathroom that he’d been working on.

Without bothering to change, he grabbed the sledgehammer and got to work in his underwear and bare feet. Pretty soon he had torn out most of the tile floor, but in the process he’d gotten a splinter in his foot. And it hurt.

Now, Hoofixerman took out the tweezers and started digging into the flesh of his foot. But he couldn’t get the splinter. He looked at his watch and realized he was going to be late if he didn’t get going right then. Hoofixerman jumped up but the second he put pressure on the ball of his foot he almost fell over from the pain. Thanks to his Home Depot doctoring, the splinter had gone deeper and now any pressure on the foot was agonizing.

He stumbled over to the desk, got out a magnifying glass and his ultra-old-man reading glasses, and had another go at the splinter. After ten minutes of blood and skin and flesh and his teeth gritted so hard he almost cracked his molars, Hoofixerman got the splinter. It was a tiny piece of white bathroom tile perfectly shaped like an arrowhead. He slapped on a bandaid and shot off a text to Wanky. “Running late. Be there in fifteen.”

Then he hopped on his bike and blazed off towards Redondo.

However, his pal Wanky had left his phone at home. Wanky waited at the rendezvous for about ten minutes. “Where the hell is Hoofixerman? He’s never late.” Figuring something had come up and Hoofixerman had bailed on the ride, Wanky rode off.

Hoofixerman got to the rendezvous point two minutes after Wanky left. “Wank’s always on time and that fucker never waits.” Hoofixerman shot off two more unseen texts and another unanswered phone call.

“Yo, Hoofixerman! What’s up?” shouted a pal who was sipping coffee at the Starbucks.

“Hey, Freddie! Did you see an ugly looking skinny weird biker guy with a fake beard here a few minutes ago?”

“Yeah, man. He looked like he was waiting for someone, then he started cussing and rode off.”

“Thanks!” Hoofixerman yelled. Then to himself he said, “If I hammer down Catalina I can probably catch him.” Unbeknownst to Hoofixerman, this wasn’t going to happen because Wanky had taken the bike path. Hoofixerman raced off again until he thought his lungs would pop, but no Wanky, so he sat up and soft pedaled all the way to the bridge.

At the bridge some wanker coming in the other direction was looking at his Garmin. “Hey!” yelled Hoofixerman, because the guy was coming straight at him. Hoofixerman veered right and the wanker veered left. Hoofixerman turned left and the wanker turned right. Hoofixerman went straight and the wanker did too.

“Hey man, are you okay?”

Hoofixerman was looking up at the wanker in a daze from the tarmac. “Define ‘okay,'” he said.

“Anything broken?”

“Hell if I know.”

“Okay,” said the wanker, who pedaled away, satisfied that Hoofixerman’s answer was good enough to avoid a lawsuit.

Everyone on the bridge, especially the old guys with the fishing poles and stinky bait, was staring at Hoofixerman. He walked his bike over to some apartments where they couldn’t see him in his shame as he checked out his bike. Blood gushed from his elbow and knee. There was another wanker with his bike turned upside down in front of the apartments trying to fix a flat.

“Hey, man, you got a spare tube?” asked the wanker, who had a pile of airless tubes nested in a pile near his feet like a bunch of dead snakes.

“Yeah, but it’s my spare. My only spare.”

“Dude, I got an appointment with my broker in PV at 1:00 and my wife isn’t home. Can I please borrow your spare?”

“Borrow? As in ‘borrow some toilet paper’?”

“Yeah, please?”

“It’s an 80mm stem, man, so if I get a flat there’s no way in hell anyone’s going to have another one if I flat.”

“My broker …”

“And your wife, I know.” Hoofixerman sighed and handed over the tube. “You might want to check your tire and rim more carefully if you’ve already gone through three tubes.”

The wanker ignored him and put in the new tube. Off they went, at least for about a mile. Then the wanker’s tire flatted again. “Sorry, dude,” said Hoofixerman. “But I gotta go.”

A couple of miles later, Hoofixerman, whose tires never flatted, got a flat tire. “Shitcakes,” he said, without even bothering to get off and flag down another cyclist. The blood had clotted, but his wrist was really sore, his new cycling underwear outfit was torn, and his elbow didn’t bend properly.

He rode the next ten miles home on the rim. “How was the ride?” asked his wife.

“It was okay,” he said. “But I learned a couple of things.”

“What’s that?”

“Always carry two spare tubes.”

“And?”

“Don’t tear out the tile floor in your underwear.”

END

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