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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Top pro surprised that time on front doesn’t lead to win at Tirenno-Adriatico

March 16, 2014 § 21 Comments

Richie Porte, the leader for Team Sky at Tirenno-Adriatico, expressed surprise today that his race tactics did not result in a stage win atop the climb to Selvarotonda. “I was on the front for most of the climb,” said Porte, in disbelief. “I was killing those guys.”

Alberto Contador, winner of the day’s stage, couldn’t explain the result either. “You know, Richie was up there on the front of the group, just drilling it really hard into a huge headwind up a very long and challenging climb. It’s hard to understand how he didn’t win.” Contador was seen shortly after the interview high-fiving his teammates on the bus and grinning slyly at his team director.

Overall leader Michal Kwiatkowski, who finished the stage with what analysts believe is an unsurmountable 34-second lead over Porte, was also at a loss to explain the outcome. “Richie was favored to win the race, and on the decisive climbing stage we were all sure he would win, the way he sat very impressively on the front for such a long time into such a bitter headwind with no teammates to help him and all of us in the leader’s group on his wheel like that. But somehow he lost.”

Second-place finisher Nairo Quintana was likewise mystified by Porte’s failure to win the stage and take control of the race despite his clever tactical riding. “We were all telling him, you know, ‘Wow, Richie, you’re killing us, dude,’ and ‘I’m cracking, I can barely hang on,’ and stuff like that, but then somehow just towards the end we all felt better and were able to pass him and put a lot of time on him. It’s weird. He was riding so strong and we were all so, how you say, in the box of hurt?”

Porte concurred with Quintana’s analysis. “It’s fuggin’ weird. Every time I looked back they had these faces that were filled with pain, awful grimaces, you know? And their shoulders were drooping and they were making loud breathing noises. I had ‘em, I had ‘em, I swear. Then, poof! We get about one kilometer out and suddenly everybody takes off and there I was, even though I’d done all the work, I couldn’t go with them. After pulling them up the climb like that you would have thought that they would at least have waited for me,” Porte added with a slight show of frustration. “It’s almost like they were playing me. If we weren’t all such good pals, I don’t know.”

Teammate Bradley “Wiggo” Wiggins was nonetheless upbeat at Porte’s chances on Sunday’s last mountain stage. “He’ll just have to hammer from the gun,” said Wiggo. “Tire ‘em out from the start, maybe take a little breather if he can, and then go right back to the front and drop the hammer on the climb. Ride ‘em off ‘is wheel. That’s the ticket, just like it was a triathlon, full fuggin’ gas from the get-go. They won’t know what hit ‘em, especially at the end when they hit the Muro di Guardiagrele with its 30% ramp.”

After the award ceremony, the top finishers congratulated Porte on his outstanding ride, saying “You were a beast,” and “I hope you don’t hammer us like that tomorrow. We won’t stand a chance!”

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What are you riding from?

March 15, 2014 § 27 Comments

My father rode a bicycle. It was a big, black Hercules with a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub and white handlebar grips. My father’s bicycle was a tool. He rode it to work.

Many years later, I rode a silver-with-brown-highlights Nishiki International. It had twelve speeds, Sugino cranks, Suntour shifters, and Dia-Compe brakes. I rode that bike away from the pain.

My mother rode away from my father and our family in 1979. Mom and Dad took us out to dinner, a very nice Italian place, though we never went to nice anythings. Our royal parents were strangely friendly and solicitous. No one told me to stop smacking or to quit clacking my teeth on the fork. The food tasted so good. I still remember the spaghetti and the crunchy bread with small shards of garlic toasted down the middle.

After dinner we went home and my parents seated my brother and me on the olive velour couch. I scratched Fletcher’s head while he happily thumped his tail on the floor. “We’re getting a divorce,” they said.

The spaghetti didn’t taste so good any more. My brother silently went upstairs and tried to fling himself out of the upstairs bedroom window. I still remember with clarity the panic in my father’s eyes as he gripped my brother’s leg at the last second, the last possible second.

It was organic how profoundly my mother hated her marriage, though her husband was a good man and simply insufficient. What was sufficient? Only a woman knows.

In truth, it wasn’t him she hated. How could she? She hated her father and every man cast in his image, which is to say on some level, all men.

I rode as hard as I could to escape the melee, never escaping it completely, but typically managing to stay a few bike lengths ahead, except, of course, for those times that it overtook me as if I were getting swarmed by a thousand-man field sprint. I learned to pedal like hell, miss the biggest pile-ups, then pedal some more. Or perhaps it was more like going over the falls at Teahupo’o. Hold your breath until you were ready to explode, then pop to the surface with milliseconds to spare. The price of not breathing deeply enough was drowning. In my brother’s case, it was drowning by a gunshot wound to the heart. That was on Father’s Day 2012, just yesterday.

I rode as hard as I could, switching bikes to take advantage of lighter weight, and eventually went all in for modern speed boosters like handlebar shifters and carbon components. The more I rode, the more I saw other people riding hard too, staying a wheel or so ahead of their own private monster. Cycling, the crazy kind, is that way. Everyone seems to be riding from something.

During the ride I had a daughter and two sons. You think that the necrosis of a broken family heals itself over time? You are wrong.

But still I rode and watched the riders around me, the ones who continued decade in and decade out, not the dilettantes or the ones who tried bicycling and then moved on to pilates or surfing or golf or sailing or spin class, rather, the ones who didn’t so much as persevere as they endured. It is, we were told, an endurance sport after all.

After three grueling years, my eldest son breached the surface, sucked in a lungful of air, and told us that he would graduate a year early. I relaxed on the pedals and celebrated in spirit. He was my son. He had never been forced to ride away from us. “How should I arrange all the graduation events and stuff with, you know, the grandparents?” he asked, and I could hear his knotted brow over the phone line.

So I said to him, “Their battle is not your battle. This day of celebration is for you.”

He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to.

And in one way at least, my riding days are done.

Fancy pants

March 14, 2014 § 20 Comments

She saw me fiddling with the car keys. It was 5:30 AM. “You ain’t takin’ onna car, I hope.”

“Uh, yeah I am. I’m going to the La Grange mixer after work and it’s on the West Side.”

“Don’t you remember I was tellin’ you I’m drivin’ onna girls party night tonight?”

“You did?”

“How come you ain’t listenin’ anything I say about me and you got big old commode seat ears when somebody’s talkin’ onna drinkypants biker party?”

“Commode seat ears?”

“Means big old ears can catch any old crap.”

“No big deal,” I said, knowing it was a huge deal. “I can ride my bike there.”

South Bay vs. West Side

My friends on the West Side regularly made the trek down to the South Bay for our occasional bike events, and that was invariably a labor of love because the traffic from there to here in rush hour is mind-numbingly bad. If Sausage & Co. were willing to brave the 405 for us, it only seemed right that I’d do the same for them. Still, doing it on a bike presented problems.

The biggest problem was, of course, clothing. You can show up at Naja’s wearing a bike outfit, or a t-shirt with holes in it, or with bicycle helmet hair, and you’ll fit right in. On the West Side, you simply can’t. Whereas you can be ready for any event in the South Bay with a quick pass of dental floss and a bit of de-stinkifier to dilute the B.O., West Side casual is a highly sculpted, carefully developed look that takes time, money, and incredible attention to the details that will make what you’ve “just thrown on” look like something out of fashion magazine.

After wet, sticky bike clothing and the musky stink of armpit, my next challenge was, of course, the biking itself. I’d done the NPR that morning and knew that by the time 4:00 PM rolled round I wouldn’t feel like climbing back into my smelly kit and riding for thirty miles to a bar I’d never been to. The “never been to” issue was also a problem: I didn’t know the roads in West L.A. at all and had no idea what roads were best for a bicycle.

Be like Wike

By 4:30 I was heading to the bike path, and somewhere around Manhattan Beach I saw Wike blazing by in the opposite direction. We waved. Minutes later he had flipped it and rode up to me. “Where you going?”

“Beer.”

“That sounds good. Where?”

“I’m not sure. Somewhere near Beverly Hills I think.”

Most people would want more information about someone doing a thirty-mile ride to get beer. “Like, what’s wrong with the beer around here?”

“Nothing, but La Grange is having a mixer, and I need to get mixed, and they always come down here, so this time I’m going up there. Wanna go? I have no idea where this place is.”

“What’s the address?”

“10543 Pico.”

Wike, who knows L.A. like a human Googlemap, grinned. “Okay. You’re gonna need some help. I’ll go have a beer with you. I think I can get us there.”

As we came to the turnoff onto the Ballona Creek bike path, Wike veered left. “No Ballona Creek?” I asked.

“I’d rather bike through a hostile Afghan village with ‘Jesus Saves’ taped to my forehead than take that thing,” he said. Ballona Creek is famous for toughs who lie in wait and attack passing bikers for their bikes and the five or ten dollars they carry in emergency change.

“It’s that bad, huh?” I’d never taken it, but my computer map recon before setting out indicated it was the best route.

“Yeah. We might have a little traffic on the streets, but it’s no big deal.”

When your ‘no big deal’ is my colonic cleanse

Before long we were tearing up the gutter along Admiralty, Lincoln, and an entire network of surface streets that were choked to the throat with cars. This was urban guerrilla riding at its most intense, and it involved somehow following the wizardry of Wike as he hopped potholes, power-slid around gaping cracks, bunny-hopped onto curbs, sliced impossibly narrow slits between swaying buses and parked cars, split lanes, charged around tight corners in tandem with sedans whose numbers were inches from our hips, sprunted through yellow lights, raced ghetto dudes on green-and-yellow-and-purple fixies, and shot through darkened freeway underpasses filled with glass, rocks, nails, condoms, and detritus from the week’s auto collisions.

I’ve made a note to myself. “Riding up Pico from the 2000 block to the 10000 block is not for the faint of heart or for those who like a clean chamois.”

We got to the bar half an hour before the party and had to beg to be let in with our bicycles. The bar, Steingarten L.A., was run by a friendly manager and friendlier hostess who let us park our bikes on the patio. We clattered across the stone floor looking like the bike dorks we were. Two beers and a bratwurst in, we couldn’t have cared less.

At 6:30, Wike got up. “Thanks for the beer, dude. I’m headed back.” And back he went.

The La Grange partiers were filtering in and everyone pretended that you know, since they were a bike club that it was, you know, totally okay for me to be standing in, you know, a stinky, wet bike outfit and cycling cleats that sounded like an angry man pounding the floor with a hammer every time I walked. More beer was poured, much of it in the form of  Belgian triple, and more food was eaten, and by the time the party ended I had lost the $130 taillight on my bike and my credit card.

With Belgian triples, though, you don’t care. “Who needs a fuggin’ light at midnight in L.A.?” I slurred.

The person who needs a taillight at midnight in L.A. is YOU

Several La Grangers were concerned that it might be difficult for me to get home, seeing as it was a long way away and I lived on top of an unlit hill. Others thought that I was only getting what I deserved. Still others were hugging me good-bye with their arms outstretched and touching me only with their finger tips and what looked like rubber gloves.

“Even in the South Bay,” I thought, “I’d be considered rather gnarly.”

As I reached into my jersey pocket to put on my glasses, I realized that I didn’t have them. I’d left my Rx clear riding glasses at home and only had what would be most helpful for a long night’s trek in the dark, my Rx sunglasses with extra black tinting to keep out the bright California sunlight. There didn’t appear to be any of that, and when I put them on things got noticeably darker.

“You’re gonna fuckin’ die, hon,” said Foxy. “You want a ride home?”

“Nah,” I slurred. “I can ride on the bike path.”

“You’re still gonna fuckin’ die, hon. But I can at least give you a ride to the Santa Monica public toilets. That’s where you seem to meet everyone anyhow.”

I let the comment slide, grateful that I wouldn’t be riding Pico at night.

The long march

Once I started pedaling, the mixture of beer, bratwurst, beer, Korean BBQ appetizers, beer, my lost taillight, beer, and my lost credit card started to add up. “Why do I feel so bad?” I wondered. “And why does the start of a measly 25-mile ride feel like the end of the Bataan Death March?”

Of course … by totaling up the morning’s ride and the commute to Steingarten, it was already an 80-mile day + greasy food and beer. This would be a full century, finishing with a 1,300-foot climb in the dark. Thankfully, it was also cold, so I had that discomfort going for me.

It took forever to get home, and I got to observe a complete cross-section of late-night life on the bike path. Waifs texting in the moonlight, homeless people looking for a place to lie down or for perhaps a waif, strange women pushing baby strollers with babies in them, men running up and down steep staircases and grunting, and bargain hunters combing through the trash cans. By the time I hit the bottom of the big hill I was frozen to the core and barely turning the pedals. Somehow I got up it and got home.

I can’t wait for the next mixer on the West Side with the beautiful people. But I might listen a little more carefully to Mrs. WM when she tells me about her schedule.

Weird funky brains tangled up in the sound all around us

March 11, 2014 § 15 Comments

I have come to accept that nothing is as it seems except for those things that appear incomprehensible, which is to say all people, each of us, you, me, your mother, your father, and the real person inside the true person inside the secret you.

One of the craggy inscrutables was always Dave, with his wry grin and potato-chip-thin build and weird way of talking and weirder way of spelling and writing, weird because he was Plan II and had read books and had written sentences, in theory at least, to get through his rigorous liberal arts college degree, but maybe he’d forgotten all of that? Maybe he’d had the whole four years ghostwritten? Maybe he was beyond grammar and syntax and spelling and normal speech because you know, he raced bikes for Labor Power and when you raced bikes in the long cruel shadow of MKA, the self-invented caricature of a cartoon, the loneliest one always surrounded by people, maybe you have to forfeit the common currency of language as we know it and speak only in tongues, mystic ones understood by a nation of two, or even fewer.

And then!

That tumbling moment of car and bike and crush of bone on steel and hospital and blood and bills and the poor Mexican in the next room who was hurt in some horrific industrial accident and who they slapped Band-Aids on and hustled out asap because NO INSURANCE AMIGO while they plugged and prodded and poked and rode the rich bitch of Dave’s comprehensive health insurance policy until he was sewed and screwed and glued back together as good as new except, you know what?

He wasn’t.

Humpty was put back together again but they left out the bicycle, the screaming madness down a wild and woolly hill surrounded on all sides by other idiots who thought the glory of a city limit sprint or the cheapass trinket for winning a forgettable race in some shithole in the desert made it worth risking this, the only time that Dog has granted us, privileged us, us in all of the universe and in all of infinity and the space-time continuum, and you’re gonna squander even a second of it on a fuggin bicycle race?

No, that part got dropped in the gut bucket when they put Dave back together, so he had the memory and the love and the camaraderie and the sensations of having been buried deep in the bike delusion but he got sprung from the ICU free, free of the baggage, nothing left to show, nothing left to prove, hand up a bottle, help the boys get ready before the race but my time in the rack is done, son, it’s all you.

And he changed his name and I didn’t understand it until today, Dos Gatos.

He teamed up with a traveling pharmaceutical drug rep guitar player who he’d known in high school and drunk Pearl beer with in a rusted out Pinto, a dude I’ve never met but whose German name I can sure as hell pronounce and who I can tell you has a wife who I’ve also never met but is smoking hot and she’s gotten a million inviting looks from strangers if she’s gotten one and I’ve never even seen her, all I’ve ever seen is his mother-in-law, a hard drinking, chain smoking Midwestern woman who’s tough as a boot and tougher, who laughs and who loves from the bottom of her heart and so her daughter must, too, did I mention that the mother-in-law and I once got drunk together in a bar in Germany because that’s exactly how small the world is and it explains, nearly enough, how I learned that Dave the tough and gritty former bike racer made music with the drug hawker and who would have thought that under all that gritty bike racer and bad grammar there lay a musician?

Who would have thought that the people you know are such profound strangers?

Of course it was thanks to Facebag that I clicked on a link of photos of Dos Gatos, and boys, your Hollywood photo shoot was nice and all but when the link took me to the two music clips of your band and I hit “play” and heard sounds soulful and easy, good with who you are, okay with the broken pieces that got left out of the rebuild and the half-fixed ones that got put back in, feeling and warmth and a little frilly undergarment of pain and loss and hope for what wasn’t, what isn’t, what can’t be, but that maybe, after all, with a little bit of luck, just might be anyway, you know what I heard?

I heard the highway pouring beneath narrow wheels and the wind in my hair.

Give it a listen. I hope you’ll hear it, too.

Dos Gatos music on Reverbnation, http://www.reverbnation.com/dosgatos

Loser, loser, chicken dinner

March 10, 2014 § 21 Comments

Wankmeister stared, almost unseeing, at the big greasy leg of chicken that dripped enormous globs of grease onto his fingers and hands. With each mechanical thrust of the chicken leg into his mouth, the grease drizzled down into his beard and slowly congealed there until the whole thing looked matted and sticky as it shone repulsively in the burning afternoon sun.

He didn’t care.

At the next table over, two chatty ladies from Seattle were proudly detailing each pedal stroke of their successful assault on the Solvang metric century. They had already changed into matching orange tops and miniskirts, and seated across the way with legs slightly parted Wankmeister duly noted that the most animated of the two was full commando and completely shaven. “Holy shit!” whispered Squishy. “Check that out!”

Wankmeister didn’t care.

Big Bowles came cheerfully over with a foaming cup of Firestone I.P.A. and set it affectionately down in front of him, patting him on the back. “Take some of this, pal. You’ll feel better.” Wankmeister tilted the cup back until the holy liquid poured down his parched throat, but the magical reaction of fresh beer in dehydrated body never happened. All he tasted was bitter. Bowles was concerned. “You look awful.”

He didn’t care.

The sun kept beating down on his exposed neck as various South Bay riders trickled in. There was Gussy, happy and backslapping. There was Toronto and Mrs. Toronto, she pleased with her Metric 100 and he displeased with multiple tire blowouts and flats and various issues. There was Major Bob who looked like he hadn’t yet ridden a bike this day. And of course the contingent of FTR DS Jaeger, King Harold, Bull, Squishy, Checkerbutt, Luscious Lucious, Tub Top, sat around enjoying the day and the beer and their completion of the full hundred miles.

Wankmeister didn’t care about anything, and more melted rivulets of fat trickled down into his beard.

A baby dolphin hunt gone terribly wrong

Cycling, when done properly, is a series of poor decisions culminating in despair. Having paid the $90 entry fee for the Madera stage race, Wankmeister bailed the night before due to incomplete recovery from his bubonic plague and ovarian cyst. Overcome with guilt, he decided that rather than staying home and doing the Donut he would instead go to Solvang for the annual baby dolphin hunt.

In the beginning it had been glorious. Jaeger, Wanky, Bull, King Harold, and the Long Beach freddies had engaged in a wonderful morning of gaffing and filleting the baby Solvang dolphins by the hundreds. At one point DS Jaeger flatted. Imperiously handing his bike over to Tub Top to change the tire, he waded out into a field and happily pissed on the vegetables. Tub Top got his revenge by improperly seating the bead, which meant that despite the record-setting tire change DS Jaeger was soon enough standing on the side of the road wasting more of other people’s CO2 cartridges as he tried to do right the fifth time what he’d been too lazy to do right the first.

The one happy outcome of so many unplanned stops was that it allowed hundreds of baby dolphins to pass by the hunters with snide baby dolphin smirks, as if to say “You thought you were so fast, but who’s passing whom now?” Actually, none of them said “whom.” Baby dolphins don’t know how to use the objective case.

It was a happy outcome for the hunters because it simply meant that rather than a one-time dolphin slaughter, the brave predators were engaged in a catch-and-reclub program whereby the dolphins were caught, clubbed, released, and the clubbed again. By the time they reached the 60-mile-mark at Santa Maria, it looked like it would be a day for the record books. At least a thousand baby dolphins, countless “we can hang with this train” flailers, and even a pair of triathletes were clubbed, gaffed, gutted, and filleted.

Don’t count your baby dolphins before they’re gored

On the first set of rollers outside of Santa Maria, however, FTR DS Jaeger, forgetting all of the CO2 cartridges he had shamelessly borrowed, forgetting the quick wheel change he was given while he urinated in the field, and forgetting the camaraderie of the great sport of Solvang Century Ride Dolphin Clubbing, accelerated hard and kicked Bull out the back. Next to go, despite a last minute push from Checkerbutt, was Wanky. Then, a few miles later, Tub Top was clubbed. Shortly thereafter, Squishy got squished. One by one DS Jaeger disemboweled each of his friends, soloing in to the Solvang finishing tent and beer garden with no one in sight.

Last to finish were Bull and Wanky, the former tired, the latter barely able to stand.

“How was the ride?” a vaguely familiar person asked, but what was there to say, except this, and he was too tired to say it …

Nothing is as lonely and miserable as getting dropped by your “friends” 35 miles from beer, and then, over the course of the next miserable hour and a half, getting passed by slow people, old people, young people, male people, female people, triathlete people, tourists, first-timers, last-timers, riders on their last legs, riders getting their second wind, the strong, weak, rich, poor, handsome, ugly, lovely, pitted, proud, sympathetic, gloating, oblivious, in short, everyone and everything on two wheels. Finishing a ride such as this imparts no sense of accomplishment, no feeling of pride, no joy at a job well done but rather a profound sense of worthlessness and failure, a recognition that the icy hand of death is laid fast upon your balls and has begun its final squeeze, a grim glimpse into the near future where everyone is younger and stronger and your trajectory is moving from quickly downward to flatline, the beauty and nobility of the human spirit nothing more than a willful suspension of disbelief that got us through our youth and, now devoid of all magic, that we can angrily cast aside, or gently lay to rest as a sweet nothing no longer worthy of whispering in the ear of fate and no longer holding any power to deny or delay or even momentarily forget that rust never sleeps. Other than that, it was a great day, one of those moments in time where each passing hour erases a little more of the awfulness until in retrospect, like a terrible disease from which you only barely recovered to avoid death, the pain becomes blurred and forgotten except as a historical fact, and you have forgotten the sweat-encrusted, laboring grunts of the riders who suffered with you, the fiery burning in your feet from shoes that fit perfectly until mile 80, what felt like fiery shards of glass being shoved up your rectum from too many hours on a hard, narrow ass hatchet, the crackling and contorted neck, aching from holding the watermelon in a distended position for hours on end, the shivering stings of muscular cramps, the dull and primeval message of “You’re going to die soon” that comes from dehydration, and worst of all the frenzy of feeding and sugary faux hydration at the feeding stations that neither replenish nor hydrate but instead caulk your muscles in stiffness so that when you remount it’s worse than if you had never stopped, while all around friendly volunteers are telling you “good job” and offering you another stale chunk of p-b sandwich, or a quarter of a green banana as you hate them to their very bones for being cheerful and kind and even more because at the last way station, with its famished riders and the one or two geniuses who have conned their way into the ambulance and a free ride back to beer by claiming heat prostration, some well-meaning sadist says “Only 12 miles to go!” In your own little hell, of course the only thing worse than not knowing you only have 12 miles to go is knowing that you have exactly 12 miles to go because you know what a mile is and how long it takes, and twelve of them, stacked up like this at the end of five hours of unmitigated misery are unendurable to contemplate, let alone complete, it’s as if the dentist gently reminded you that after the root canal he would be operating on your brain with pliers and a screwdriver, but you continue slogging away because as much as you’d love to lie down in the road or, yes, call the Solvang taxi, there is something inexplicably stupid about people in trouble on bikes that makes them continue on for no good reason other than the best reason of all, which is that they are impervious to the normal operation of a rational mind.

Wankmeister looked at his vaguely familiar friend and didn’t say anything. With the grease in his beard and the sunburn and the haggard eyes, he didn’t have to.

You’re never too old for ice cream

March 9, 2014 § 44 Comments

I put the call out on Facebag to see if anyone had a starter bike, 54 cm or thereabouts, for my 16-year-old. We’d been talking and he had said, “I’d like to go riding with you sometime, Dad.”

Several friends reached out with various kind offers, but none kinder than Wankomodo. “I have a fairly nice bike I could let go for $500. It’s just sitting in the garage and I’d rather see it used than gathering dust.”

A couple of weeks went by and I finally got around to visiting to check out the bike. It was an immaculate S-Works Tarmac with Campy 10-speed, Ksyrium wheels, brand new Continentals, and Speedplay pedals. “If you want the compact chain rings and rear cogs I can throw them in for fifty bucks.”

That night I got home with the new bike and showed it to junior. He glanced at it. “That’s nice,” he said.

Some more weeks went by. I was busy, then sick, then he was at a track meet, and then finally our schedules meshed. “Let’s go for a ride on the bike path,” I said.

“Okay!”

In the interim I’d yanked the Speedplays and replaced them with a pair of flat plastic pedals. This would be the only super bike in L.A. with “pedal” pedals.

“What should I wear?” he asked.

“T-shirt and shorts and sneakers should be perfect.”

“Okay. Who’d you borrow this bike from?”

“I didn’t borrow it. It’s yours.”

He looked at it differently.

Before we left I aired up my tires and then gave him the pump. He pushed and strained to get the gauge up to 100 psi. “This is hard!” he said. I had forgotten that not everyone is born knowing how to air up a tire as I watched him struggle with getting the pump head on the valve.

We loaded the bikes in the car and drove down to the Riviera. I parked on the flat section of Camino de Encanto and got his bike out. He put on his helmet. He hadn’t ridden a bicycle since he was eight. “How do I do this again?” he asked.

I’d forgotten that not everyone rides a bike everyday.

“Throw your leg over the top tube and set the pedal up like this … “

“What’s the top tube?” he asked.

I’d forgotten that not everyone knows what a top tube is.

“It’s this.” I walked over and showed him. Then I returned to the car to get my bike out. I heard some funny noises and looked back. He was weaving and barely staying upright.

“Keep pedaling,” I said casually, my heart in my mouth. I turned back to the car. He wasn’t a child anymore. I could not run to him, because he is now a child with the mind of a man. He passed by, smiling, still wobbling a bit. I smiled back as if it were the most normal thing in the world, as if I were not afraid.

“Stay to the right,” I added. He reached the stop sign, turned around, and came back. “Why don’t you do that a few more times to get used to it, then we can go.”

“Okay,” he smiled. “My ass hurts though.”

I grinned. “Welcome to bicycling.”

A small group of Serious Cyclists were going the other direction. The fattest one with the fanciest bike eyed our amateur get-up. “You’re going the wrong direction!” he smirked. “The hill is the other way! C’mon, don’t be weak!”

“Martin Howard would have laughed at that,” I said to myself with a smile.

The bike was a terrible fit because I hadn’t jammed the seat forward and put on a super short stem. It looked awfully uncomfortable; he was stretched out like a circus performer. But I didn’t say anything. He was riding, and he was riding with me.

We coasted down the street when suddenly I heard someone say, “Hey, Seth!” It was Marilyne, Craig, Lisa, Renee, and Carey, all returning from the Sunday Wheatgrass Ride. I was wearing shorts and a tee, and they summed up the situation instantly. We chatted and coasted down to the traffic circle. They all went very slowly, with my son tagging along on the back, uncertain and wobbling and me so afraid. He was in the road, the damned road, on the damned bike, anything could happen but I swallowed my fear.

“We’re going down to the bike path,” I said.

“See you!” they said, and rode off.

We went down the embankment and I was afraid again but I said nothing and showed nothing because he is no longer a child. Something happened and I heard a scraping noise. He got back on the bike and didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything either because there was nothing for me to say.

On the bike path we rode to the pier at Redondo Beach. The path was crowded with people. I had forgotten that not everyone easily weaves between hundreds of people on a crowded path and never worries about hitting them. “Hey Dad,” he said. “Can we stop for a second?”

“Sure.”

We stopped. “This is stressful,” he said with a nervous smile.

I had forgotten that, too. “You’re doing great,” I said.

He remounted, smoother and faster and more confident than even ten minutes ago. We reached the pier. “Take a break?” I said. “This is the turnaround.”

He looked relieved. “Yeah.”

“How about some ice cream?”

Out came the big grin. “That would be great!”

It has been lifetimes since I rode my bike a couple of miles in shorts and tennis shoes with someone I loved and stopped and ate ice cream. Never, maybe.

We sat on the bench and watched the Jesus freaks and the tourists and the man with the battered guitar and the happy little kid dashing with his mom running after him out of breath and the ice cream tasted so good. “You ready?” I said after we were done.

“Sure!” He had the enthusiasm of ice cream, now.

We pedaled back without incident. Behind me, he talked about a book he was reading. It was as pretty a sound as any symphony.

We got to the ramp and he almost fell making the turn. Then he got off and walked to the top. I’d forgotten that not everyone rides a bike up steep hills for miles at a time. We remounted and made for the car. There was the little climb up Calle Miramar and then the more significant bump up Camino de Encanto.

He was puffing. I had forgotten that not everyone rolled up those two small hills without puffing.

We got to the car and loaded the bikes in.

“That was fun,” he said.

“Yes, it sure was,” I answered, thankful I hadn’t forgotten that you’re never too old for ice cream.

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