Big C, Part Two: The wrath is Stathis

July 26, 2013 § 23 Comments

I sneaked out of bed trying not to wake Mrs. WM and not to disturb the man with the hammer and the lightning bolts, who was now also playing “Do-Re-Mi” on an out-of-tune violin. I succeeded on one count and made it into the kitchen.

“Where’s the fuggin’ oatmeal?” I muttered. “Where’s the fuggin’ coffee?” I muttered.

With the oatmeal cooking and the coffee poured, I slumped over on the table. My temples were going to burst as the bow sawed crazily on the strings, out of synch with the lightning bolts and hammer whacks.

“You okay?” Mrs. WM was standing in the kitchen.

I looked up at her in misery.

“You don’ lookin’ okay.” She put the frying pan on the stove. “You can’t go onna Donuts Ride with that hangin’ over just eatin’ oatsmeal and coffee.”

“I didn’t want to wake you up.”

“You think you makin’ a coffee grinder like grindin’ a tree stump not gonna wake me up?”

I tried to say “Sorry” but the hammer and violin wouldn’t let me.

“You can’t be onna drinky pants like that at your age,” she said quietly. “You gettin’ onna drinky problem, you know? Drinky pants inna middle day when you oughta be onna workin’? Throwin’ out onna wall inna hallway like you was a college ager?”

“I’m so sorry,” I mumbled.

“Itsa okay, honey, I’m lovin’ you anyways.” The smell of fried eggs and sausage filled the kitchen as the great city’s pre-dawn night lights sparkled in through the window glass. “I don’ care onna wipin’ up some throwin’ up. I done worse in twenty-six years. But you keep up with the drinky pants and you gonna hurt people not just yourself.”

The only thing that could have made me feel worse than a bunch of shouting was the soothing lilt of her voice, mixed in with sausage. “How’d I get all cleaned up last night?”

“I cleaned you all up like you was a poopy baby. But I threw away onna your socks. They was too nastiful.”

“I won’t do it again.”

“I don’ wanna hear ’bout what you gonna do and not do,” she said, putting the plate in front of me heaped with fried eggs and sausage and toast and butter and jam and oatmeal. “I just wanna see you bein’ okay because I’m lovin’ on you no matter what.” She  leaned over and kissed my forehead.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

I rendezvoused with Jack from Illinois (not his real name) and Glass Hip a few minutes before the Donut Ride launched. “I’ve never done the new course,” said Jack.

“You hardly ever even did the old one.”

“That’s true.”

“Instead of stopping at the college atop the Switchbacks and comparing penises, we continue up to the radar domes. It adds a solid ten minutes to the climb and completely changes the tenor of the ride.”

“Do we get to compare penises at the domes?”

“They’re usually too shriveled for measurement by that point.”

“I’m looking forward to this,” Glass Hip piped up. “It’s the one legendary SoCal ride I’ve never done in almost twenty years. It should be fun.”

“Yes, it will be fun,” I said. “Kind of like having someone gnaw off your genitals with a rusty can opener is ‘fun.'”

Whereas Jack from Illinois was a kind, gentle, happy, smiling, pleasant, generous fellow who, deep inside, was a gnarly and steaming mess of rhubarb, bitter herbs, dog spit, old scabs, and the raw memories of a childhood spent locked in a closet while his older brother banged on the door with a hammer, firecrackers, and a loaded pistol, Glass Hip was the opposite.

Glass Hip, ugly as a fist, was, to the outer world, covered in scales, mottled with the scars and blotches of badly abused leather, and permanently emanated an aura of cruelty, viciousness, cheapness, and a full-throttled desire to mount, crush, and destroy all competitors of any kind. On the inside, however, deep down, far down in fact, way beneath all that, hidden from view and unseen by any living human, under layers and layers of protective viciousness, obscured from even the most discerning, lay a small, minute, tiny, hard-to-see, practically invisible, microscopically small kernel of warmth and kindness and generosity that burned with such brightness it could turn the hardest butter pat into a slightly less firm one.

In other words, these two heroes of the road were polar opposites, with the exception, of course, of the qualities they shared, and one of those qualities was this: They invariably thrashed me, cracked me, and rode me off their wheels whenever the pace picked up, which it did the moment we hit Malaga Cove.

Have pity on an old man

“The additional climb that’s been tacked onto the Switchbacks has completely changed the tenor of the ride,” I told Glass Hip.

“How so?”

“Used to be, everyone sat in until Portuguese Bend then the attacks came fast and furious, with huge accelerations at the bottom of the Switchbacks and throughout.”

“And now?”

“Now people cower in their own poop until the very last minute.”

“Then they attack?”

“Naw. They wet themselves. There’s a big group at the bottom and then it gradually whittles down into a small handful, which then disintegrates in the final killing ten minutes up to the domes.”

Canyon Bob, however, hadn’t gotten the memo, and fired off a pull of death as we approached Trump, shelling most of the field and leaving the remnants hanging onto his wheel in a gagging, ragged line. At the bottom of the Switchbacks, Stathis the Wily Greek and Sammy Snubbins attacked.

Hanging Chad followed, and so did I.

A thick fog covered the Hill and we were soon alone. G3 and G$ had attacked way back at Golden Cove and were far ahead. The rest of the field was in pieces. By the second turn I was in Old Man Hell. My breathing was so deep that it reached down into my colon. The stabbing pains from the hangover had been replaced with stabbing pains in my thighs, butt, arms, neck, face, and hair, especially my sideburns, which ached beyond any description.

At some point I realized the futility of it all. I am a few months shy of fifty. Hanging Chad is thirty. Stathis is twenty-six. Sammy is nineteen. Sammy and Stathis took turns, each one pulling so hard and fast that it felt like a flat interval. “I’ve never survived climbing with either one of these dwarves,” I told myself. “What makes me think I can do it today?”

Hanging Chad read my mind and folded. Stathis looked back at me and said something. “I think it’s English,” I said. “But mixed in with my breathing like that, it’s hard to tell.”

What was obvious was that Stathis was not breathing hard or even, apparently, trying. He pulled as far as Ganado and looked back, flicking me through.

“Are you crazy?” I telepathically transmitted. “I’m barely hanging onto your wheel. I’m old and slow and weak and frightened and riding far outside myself. You are young, strong, and not even sweating. This moment, when I have somehow survived this far on the Switchbacks hanging onto your wheel, will go down as the second greatest ride of my life, but you will have forgotten it by lunchtime. Have pity on an old, feeble wanker and let me suck wheel for just a few moments more.”

Stathis looked back at me again with the kindness and empathy of a great white shark about to tear its prey in half, or of a Republican contemplating a bill that included help for the poor, or for old people, or for children. With that brief glance he telepathed this: “Yes, you are old and weak, but you are on my wheel, so you are, by definition, stronger than all those who are not. Therefore you are legitimate prey. I feel no mercy or sympathy for you, as the moment I let you survive you will brag to the world, likely on your blog, about how you climbed with me all the way to the top, a half-truth that will lower me and exalt you. I feel no pity for you nor any desire to do anything other than crush you mercilessly under the heel of my jackboot. Your cries and pleas mean nothing to me, to the contrary, the louder you squeal the more I will enjoy the sound of my club against your eggshell skull.”

With that, he yawned and rode away. Sammy followed.

Cut adrift and resigned to being reeled in, I was surprised to see Hanging Chad come by at full speed. I hopped on and enjoyed the Cadillac draft of this triathlete-turned-savior. At the college he blew and I soldiered on. Stathis overhauled G$ and G3, completely consuming their three minute lead, followed by Sammy, then me.

Next up were Glass Hip and Jack. “We had you in our sights,” said Glass Hip, he whom I have never beaten on a climb.

“I got lucky.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “You did.”

“Don’t suppose it will happen again.”

“No,” he agreed. “It won’t.”

And it didn’t, as he pummeled me the rest of the ride.

With this one great feat, however, my confidence began to surge, because the following day was the MMX Birthday Ride Beatdown, a North County San Diego Fuckaganza in which many were invited to a happy celebration of cycling and fun and camaraderie in which there would be neither fun nor camaraderie but only a punishing, humiliating beatdown administered without regard to friendship or anything else.

In the back of mind, there were other things bubbling around the edges, too. I’d be heading to Houston after the birthday beatdown to be with my mom, who was scheduled for major surgery to combat a very aggressive breast cancer with which she’d been diagnosed. Sunday would involve a huge physical effort as well as a huge logistical effort. I’d have to get from North County to LAX in time to make the last flight of the day, which would put me in Houston at midnight.

I got back home and had lunch, then opened the fridge to grab a beer. “Nah,” I said. “Not today.”

I know I really shouldn’t, but…(Part 2)

July 26, 2012 § 8 Comments

Spivey and I got the morning started off in his garage taking turns ripping our thumbs out of our palms. He had over-tightened the quick release on his front wheel, and by the fifth try we had wrapped a towel around our bleeding hands and were inventing new combinations of “motherfucker” and “shitfuck” and “goddamned cocksucker,” etc. This was the high point of our day.

We arrived in Encinitas and the SPY/Swamis participants on the Godfather’s 48th birthday celebration ride trickled in. They all had that gnarly, unpleasant, “Where’s my fucking coffee?” look that augurs ill for any bike ride.

MMX gave his customary speech, thanking everyone for coming and expressing his pleasure at the day’s route. We would do the Swamis ride through Elfin Forest to the church, then meander out up Summit to Bandy Canyon, back through Rancho, around by the lake and then home. It would be an “enjoyable” ride, according to the Godfather.

Those who knew him, which was most everyone, realized that it would be a crushing beatdown from hell. What better way to celebrate inching closer to death than with a punishing assault up and down the roads of North County?

The boys in yellow

In addition to the fifty-five riders from North County and environs, Alan Flores had made the drive down from Newport, Bill Holford from Long Beach, and Francois, Maxime, and Brieuc had rolled over from Annecy, France. They were part of the wheel engineering and marketing team for Mavic, who has just released the new C982X14.219 integrated hub-spoke-wheel-tire system. They’d come to California for the product roll-out, and also to kiss the signet ring of the Godfather. You can read about the whole thing here.

The Mavic wheel was fucking rad. The tubular and rim are seamless, so that when you rub your hand (or penis) along the rim up and over the tire there is literally no change in surface curve from the rim to the tire. It’s as if the tire and rim and molded in one piece. This reduces drag coefficient by 78.82 Å, but raises the drat coefficient by 17.8 Mofos, as changing the integrated tubular looks about as complicated as one of those charts that shows all the different parts of a woman’s reproductive organs.

When I asked Francois about changing the tire, he laughed. “It is so simple, in fact. We radio the neutral car and they simply come and replace the entire wheel.”

Of course. I’d forgotten that when you’re in charge of support for the Tour, mechanical problems are a cinch. We all got inordinate pleasure later on when Maxime needed to adjust his seat but didn’t have a wrench. I got to go around to everyone and say, “Hey, the Mavic neutral support guys need a hex wrench, 4mm. Anybody got one?” It was even more awesome when one of the guys did.

What was super cool about the Mavic guys was the way they “represented.” More than just engineers or marketing shills, these guys could ride. They took everything that the North County riders and roads could throw at them, and acquitted themselves more than honorably. It was cool to watch how smooth they were on the bike and how easily they fit into the peloton. I often got the feeling that they were taking it easy on us, in that golf-game kind of courtesy where it’s uncool to stomp the living shit out of the people you’re hoping to do business with.

Rolling with the rollers

Each time I’ve gone to North County for a ride, I’ve been crushed. The crushing hasn’t been administered solely by the heads of state, either. Chubby dudes on fixies. Girls on ‘cross bikes. Elderly gentlemen learning how to ride again after their triple bypass. No genera of rider has been unrepresented in the classification of “Stomping Wankmeister’s dick in North County.”

I’ve tried to figure out why that is, and after reviewing my past power files and carefully analyzing the Strava data, it’s pretty clear: I suck worse than they do. What else could explain getting dropped on Rancho by everyone, including that nice lady in the Seven jersey who just got into cycling in February? What else could explain having to lean up against Spivey’s car after the ride to keep from falling over after getting off my bike? What else could explain having the whole group wait half an hour for me to catch up?

Well, actually, there is a factor above and beyond my suckage. It’s the fault of the North County roads.

Unlike the South Bay, where you are either riding flat, doing huge climbs in the Santa Monica mountains, or doing steep medium-length climbs in PV, North County San Diego is just rolling. All routes. All the time.

When you roll out of Encinitas and start the Swamis loop it’s a series of short rollers. They’re hard because of the pace, but not steep. You can find a wheel and hunker down. Same for Elfin Forest–there are plenty of short zingers, but nothing to kick you out the back per se.

The problems start to accrue after about forty miles, when the incessant rollers have, like a frog in a slowly heated pot of water, gradually brought your muscles to a boil. You stand out of the saddle–perhaps on Summit, or perhaps on Bandy Canyon–and you realize that there’s nothing left. By the time the pack rolled away from me and Spivey on Rancho, even though we’d had a 20-minute break and a coke, we were at whatever level of flaildom comes after “Code 6 Wanker.”

The bikers who live and train in this shit all the time–the MMX’s, the David Andersons, the Victor Sheldons, the Erik Johnsons, the Ryan Dahls, the Stefanoviches, and all the other “gimme my fuckin’ coffee” wankers and wankettes–have no problem. For them it’s another easy or semi-challenging sixty miles in the saddle. For the Wankmeisters, Spiveys, and other poor bastards whose strength lies chiefly in their ability to imagine how great they are, it’s a total fucking beatdown.

How much of a beatdown? At the hip little breakfast joint afterwards, Spivey and I were so fucked up we couldn’t even mutter phrases of obscene admiration at the luscious cuties who brought us our oatmeal and burritos. Yep, that much of a beatdown.

Comparing apples to apples

Inquiring minds likely want to know how the North County Swamis-type ride stacks up against the local South Bay institution, the Donut Ride. Well, it doesn’t. Unlike the Donut, which lollygags all the way to the bottom of the Switchbacks unless there’s a Sergio or a Rudy or some other legit rider with a bug up his ass, our route started hard, was hard in the middle, and finished hard. On the other hand, North County visitors such as MMX and Stefanovich have showed up on the NPR and after a few hard efforts quickly realized the importance of having a large group within which to find shelter and relief. The key point is that although those guys can come up to LA and hang with our rides, I certainly can’t go down south and hang with theirs.

Maybe with a bit of practice that will change. Or not. Unfortunately, as soon as I hear the phrase “Let’s go down south to ride with the SPY guys!” that old desire to join the ride wells up again, just like my third grade desire to talk out of turn. Wish I could repress it, ’cause I know it’s gonna end badly.

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