Sometimes, sweat the small stuff

November 6, 2014 § 26 Comments

The judge looked down at me from his high perch. “Mr. Davidson,” he said, “I’m dismissing the case against your client due to the officer’s failure to appear in court today.”

“Thank you, your Honor,” I said.

He smirked a little bit. “Your client must be exceedingly happy at the fine lawyering you’ve done on this case.”

I smiled back. “Thank you, your Honor. I do my best work unopposed.”

And with that I, my client, his wife, and my two expert witnesses left the courtroom, where the judge would spend the balance of his morning and part of the afternoon trying various traffic citations. If there’s a smaller, less significant, more bottom-of-the-barrel niche in the practice of law I haven’t found it, and it’s not for want of trying.

Everyone was slightly disappointed at this complete victory except me. My client and his wife had wanted to see some razzle-dazzle cross examination of Deputy Duvall, the L.A. sheriff’s deputy who had written the completely bogus citation for my client’s alleged violation of CVC 21202(a). This is the law that requires cyclists in California to ride as far to the right as practicable unless one of three exceptions applies. In our case, my client was riding out in the middle of the lane because it was of substandard width, defined by statute to mean that the lane is too narrow for a bike and vehicle to safely travel side-by-side in the lane.

My first expert, Mr. Tomato Shirt, was disappointed because we didn’t get a chance to lose the case at trial and then appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court of the Crab Nebulae, where, in a 400-page decision rendered by the justices, the question would be resolved forever and throughout the universe that cyclists have the right to control the lane.

My second expert, Mr. Tom T. Earnest, was disappointed that we had all wasted another day and lots of preparation time to defend a case that was simply dismissed. He and Tomato were also angered that the deputy’s harassment in the form of writing bogus tickets didn’t get slapped down in court by the judge.

I, of course, was euphoric for the reason that every lawyer everywhere is euphoric when he wins by default: Trials always open the possibility of defeat, and only a fool wants to tempt fate with a dramatic courtroom trial when he can go home with a guaranteed win in his pocket. Add to that the fact that traffic court trials are about as dramatic as watching your wife scrub the calluses off her heel with a pumice stone and you’ll understand that as a lawyer, I just wanted to win — and I didn’t care how, and I especially didn’t care if it was handed to me on a platter.

This was the second no-show by the same deputy for the same bogus ticket. A third one, and hopefully the last one, is on the trial calendar for January 15. No surprise, I’m hoping for a no-show by the citing officer in that matter as well.

But not everyone is happy. There are cyclists who can’t get TV out of their brains, and who think that you haven’t really won until you’ve done a Clarence Darrow or a Perry Mason or a Racehorse Haynes in front of a packed courtroom. Here’s why they’re wrong.

The problem we’ve had on PCH is symbolized by the bogus tickets, but the bogus tickets aren’t the cause. The cause has been an enforcement policy that wrongly applies the provisions of CVC 21202(a), ignoring the black letter exceptions that make it legal on almost all of PCH for cyclists to ride in the middle of the lane. That enforcement policy comes primarily from the captain of the sheriff’s substation with jurisdiction over PCH, and you can fight tickets all day long but until the enforcement policy changes, you’re just swatting at flies in a manure field.

The aggressive, engaging policy of Eric Bruins and LA County Bicycle Coalition, the support of Greg Seyranian from Big Orange Cycling, the effective analysis and advocacy of Gary Cziko on the CABO forum and elsewhere, and the commitment of hundreds of cyclists to ride in the lane on PCH are what brought the sheriff’s department to the table. After several meetings, a ride-along where deputies could see the difference between riding in the lane and hugging the gutter, and an educational seminar for law enforcement officers, the captain of the substation, with the support of the L.A. County Sheriff, accepted the cyclists’ position on proper application of CVC 21202(a).

This wasn’t done through court trials, or flaming verbiage, or adversarial proceedings against the enemy. It was done between adults, evincing mutually respectful attitudes, trying to find a working compromise to a complex issue that requires balance between motorists, cyclists, and everyone else who uses PCH. As satisfying as it might appear on TV to destroy the opposition in court, it has been infinitely more effective to earn their respect and support and thereby change enforcement policies.

The fact that LASD has not written any more of these tickets to riders occupying the lane and the fact that the citing deputy hasn’t shown up to contest the ticket mean that cyclists are winning on PCH.

On the way back, though, my client was worried. “How’s your practice going?” he asked.

“Fine, thanks. Why do you ask?”

“Well, you know, pro bono defense of traffic citations … ” he trailed off.

“That’s why I have a PayPal link on my blog,” I said. “And anyway, sometimes it’s the small stuff that, in the end, is the biggest stuff of all.”

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No sympathy for the devil

July 7, 2014 § 104 Comments

Bicyclists of California, unite!

The Los Angeles Sheriffs Department has embarked on a methodical campaign of illegal ticketing, threats, and intimidation against law-abiding cyclists who dare to exercise their right to ride in the lane on Pacific Coast Highway.

Despite personal assurances given by Captain Patrick Devoren, assurances made in the presence of me, Gary Cziko, and Eric Bruins of the LA County Bicycle Coalition, the department has stepped up its illegal ticketing and harassment campaign against cyclists. Even worse, the captain and his deputies have targeted the Big Orange cycling club in a brazen attempt to use force, threats, and fines to frighten cyclists out of the roadway.

Bicyclists who believe that they are inferior, who support the right of motorists to abuse and intimidate them, and who think that legally using PCH on a bicycle is counterproductive because it will “anger the motorists of Malibu” will be thrilled to know that they are firmly on the side of the sheriffs department.

Cyclists who do not consider themselves second class citizens will be outraged.

After being promised by Captain Devoren at a meeting in January that we would no longer be cited by deputies for obeying the law, the same abusive deputy — Deputy Duvall — pulled over David Kramer on June 29, 2014 while he was legally riding two abreast in the far right lane on PCH.

David was part of a 20-person contingent, and Deputy Duvall cited him for violating VC 21202, which requires a cyclist to stay as far to the right of the lane as practicable unless the lane is of substandard width or unless the lane cannot safely be shared by both motorist and bicycle. If these either of these conditions apply — and both did — cyclists are not required to ride “FTR” (as far to the right as practicable), and they are allowed to use the full lane pursuant to the section of the Vehicle Code that gives bicycles the same travel rights on roadways as motor vehicles.

Check out these two videos, both of which show that Deputy Duvall has no idea what the law is and is simply harassing the riders because he can:

Video 1
Video 2

While Deputy Duvall was citing Kramer, I phoned the watch commander who, after patient discussion, agreed with our interpretation of the law: That the cyclists were allowed to ride in the lane 2-by-2 on that section of PCH. Duvall cited Kramer anyway.

The following day I spoke with Captain Devoren, who proposed a meeting — I never heard back from him after that — at which we could explore, possibly with judicial input, the legality of our interpretation of the law, a law which needs no interpretation because it is explicit regarding when and where cyclists are not obligated to ride FTR.

Yesterday, July 6, a motorcycle deputy pulled over a group of Big Orange riders again and cited cyclist Scott Golper for “riding in the lane,” allegedly in violation of CV21202. Scott at the time was at the back of the group and hugging the fog line. The deputy took Duvall’s absurd mis-interpretation of the law even further and told the cyclists that they were not allowed to ride in the road at all. When asked to put the rider’s road position on the citation, he threatened Scott with arrest. He then added that bicyclists on PCH were an endangerment to cars, and if cyclists didn’t want to ride in the gutter they should STAY OFF PCH.

Deputy Young then called the watch commander and told him he was citing “the same group as last week.” It was clear from his tone of voice that the department had decided to target Big Orange, and that they were using this intimidation tactic to get the word out to all cyclists on PCH: Ride on the shoulder or don’t ride PCH at all.

Most incredibly, the deputy admitted to Scott that he probably wouldn’t even appear as a witness to prosecute the case, which means that the case will be dismissed. This is exactly what Deputy Duvall did in a previous case against Greg Leibert, a matter which required multiple court appearances, expert witnesses, and legal representation just so the department could harass cyclists, force them into court, and then not show up to prosecute their bogus case. This is harassment of the worst sort. The ticketed cyclist has to defend himself or hire a lawyer and the deputy just writes the ticket, harasses the group, and goes about his business.

Below is a video of Deputy Young in action, adding his truckload of cluelessness to the body of law enforcement ignorance that already makes riding PCH extremely unpleasant as well as hazardous for law abiding cyclists. That this unpleasantness and danger is exacerbated by the very people who are supposed to make PCH safe is outrageous beyond words.

Video 3

Keep in mind that there is no law in California that requires a cyclist to ride on the shoulder, and that Deputy Young is telling Scott that he can’t do what’s legal, and that he must do what isn’t required.

What I believed was a professional and honest attempt on the part of Captain Devoren and his deputies to reach an understanding with cyclists about proper enforcement of the law was apparently a ruse that the department has been using to keep us from collective action to defend our right to use the road.

I have taken David’s and Scott’s cases pro bono in an attempt to get a fair decision from the Santa Monica court in which the court will rule in our favor on these tickets and every other one like them. The motorists who pull the strings at LASD have obviously elected to make this the battleground, and it will have repercussions throughout the state of California.

If cyclists can be legally harassed, threatened with incarceration, fined for riding in the road on PCH, and illegally ordered to ride on the shoulder, then you can be absolutely certain that law enforcement will take this very significant victory and use it to illegally prosecute cyclists throughout the state.

Riding in the lane is a matter of safety, and more importantly it is a matter of legality. We are entitled to use the roads only to the extent that we are willing to stand up and fight for that right. Motordom and the police state would prefer that we either ride on bike paths or not ride at all. Imagine every group ride you do for the rest of your life being subject to this new and illegal prosecution of law-abiding bicyclists.

So, how can you help?

Simple.

  1. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Your monthly $2.99 donation will be used to defray the legal expenses of defending David and Scott and to promote activities that oppose harassment by the LA Sheriffs Department.
  2. Email me at fsethd@gmail.com if you are willing to actively oppose this illegal harassment of law abiding cyclists. Activities will include letter-writing, phone calls, organized full-lane rides on PCH, and mass meetings of cyclists with the sheriffs department to demand that they stop their illegal harassment.
  3. Notify me if you or someone you know has been cited for a VC 21202 violation so that I can try to arrange pro bono representation in defending their citation.

 

Crisis of confidence

October 30, 2013 § 24 Comments

It happens to everyone, usually after a massive crash. It goes like this.

Day 1 (en route to hospital with full morphine drip): How’s my bike?

Day 2: When can I ride again?

Day 3: I guess I can’t ride this weekend.

Day 4: I guess I can’t ride for a few weeks.

Day 5: I guess if I can’t ride for a few months.

Day 6: I wonder how much of this is gonna be covered by insurance?

Day 7: I wonder if I’ve still got a job?

Day 8: If I ever mention “cycling” again I’ll be divorced. Again.

——–

Then the rehab begins. It’s worse than the accident. Or, you spend a month posting stickies on the fridge because even though you didn’t break anything, your closed-head injury has left a few too many open spaces on the fill-in-the-blank test.

“Remember to pick up milk.”

“What is milk?”

“Remember to wake up.”

“Remember to write down name on back of hand for easy reference.”

Somewhere between the shuffling return to work and the final hundred sessions of physical therapy (“Okay, today we’re going to practice bending your elbow two degrees. It’s really going to hurt until you scream and beg to be put to death, but just bear with me,”) everything changes. A flood of questions spring up.

Questions like this

“What was I thinking? I’m too old to be dressing like a Circque d’Soleil reject.”

“My dog, I could have died in that crashtacular fredsplat that’s gotten 54,000 hits on YouTube. Then what would I have done?”

“All the money I’ve been spending on … bicycling? Really?”

“I just can’t bear the thought of dying so young and leaving all that cold beer in the fridge. It needs me.”

“Even the thought of getting back on a bicycle terrifies me. Not to mention what it does to my friends who have to ride behind me.”

“All the years I’ve wasted on bicycles, my whole life has passed me by! And for what? Strava?”

Answers like this

Fortunately, I’ve seen this happen to lots of people, and they solve the problem rather simply: they quit cycling and go back to being normal people. However, a few really do sit on the fence and angst over it. “Should I quit cycling? But I love my friends! But how can I do something so dangerous? But it’s so fun! But the thought of riding makes me break out in hives. But I like hives!” Etc.

So, to sum up, here’s a handy-dandy set of answers that will fit every catastrophe that has resulted in the soul searching question, “Am I really cut out for this?”

  1. In life, high risk equals high reward. In cycling, high risk equals little to no reward and/or life-altering disasters. Choose accordingly.
  2. The older you get, the more it is going to hurt when you fall six feet off the ground onto your head, even with a helmet.
  3. The faster you go, the more likely it is that something will surprise you and cause you to fall six feet off the ground onto your head (see No. 2 above).
  4. Most people prefer to die in degrees behind the wheel of a car rather than in one fell swoop on a bike, being taken out by a car.
  5.  There are no answers in life, except for in cycling, where even though there are lots of answers, they are always the wrong ones.
  6. If you have to choose between your life and your children, it’s time to sell the  the bike and turn parent or sell the kids and turn pro.
  7. Cycling is not a metaphor for life. It is life. And a pretty bad life, might I add.
  8. No matter how badly you were hurt, no one really cares. I mean they do, but actually, they don’t.
  9. Best tip for not getting in high-speed crashes: avoid them. And sign up for the world famous Marina del Schenectady cyclocross skills class offered by “Inches” Polnikov.
  10. No matter how crazy you think your cycling addiction is, you’re right.
  11. If you got smashed flat tomorrow or wound up in traction, the NPR would still go off at 6:40 AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But after the ride I’d sure as heck bring you coffee.
  12. Life is not about conquering your fears or achieving great things or being happy. It’s not “about” anything.
  13. For every person who gives up cycling, fifty other middle-aged idiots will blindly take it up with power meters, electronic shifting, and disc brakes. And they will crash spectacularly. Cf. David Hollande and virtually everyone on Big Orange. And Prez.
  14. The only difference between your weird cycling life and your weird normal life is that in cycling no one cares about how weird you are because everyone is breathing too hard and trying not to crash or get dropped on the Switchbacks.
  15. Your friends are your friends, two-wheeled or not.
  16. And get well soon.

WM

When the whip comes down

June 6, 2013 § 11 Comments

If your computer shook and blew a little smoke out the back this morning, there’s a reason. The record for the most iconic climb in SoCal fell, and not by a little. Josh Alverson took eleven seconds out of the fastest time up the 1.9-mile Palos Verdes Switchbacks.

This is a climb whose top times include monster riders like Kevin Phillips, Tony Restuccia, Derek Brauch, Evan Stade, Pete Smith, Jeff Konsmo, and one-off wankers like G3, Tri-Dork, and Stormin’ Norman who can pull some amazing stuff out of their shorts when they have to. Out of 15,567 efforts by 1,983 riders, Josh’s time reigns supreme. Hats off to this madcap, funny-talking moto hammerhead!

The first time I met Josh was on a Donut Ride. He was wearing a Bike Palace kit and hadn’t gotten the memo that you’re not supposed to attack out of Malaga Cove, attack onto Paseo del Mar, attack out of Lunada Bay, attack in Portuguese Bend, attack at the bottom of the Switchbacks and then drop the field. I would have personally delivered the memo had I not been languishing several miles in the rear.

Josh now rides for Spy-Giant-RIDE, and along with teammate Eric Anderson and Big Orange wanker Peyton Cooke, they made an assault on the Switchbacks after doing the NPR and Via del Monte. The arrangement was as follows: Peyton led from the bottom to the first left-hander. Eric took over from there until the steep section after Turn Four. Josh soloed to the finish.

News reports indicate that Peyton went so fast and so hard on his section that he almost fell over when he swung over. Eric, a fierce and unpleasant wheel to be on even in the best of times, buried it for the next three turns, fading just before the juncture with Ganado. Josh sprinted/sat/sprinted/sat/sprinted all the way to the finish. Strava link here.

Kudos, all three of you!

Now go get jobs.

Boulevard road race and tragedy, Part 2

February 5, 2013 § 15 Comments

At the starting line we very old fellows staged behind the somewhat old fellows in the 35+ race. Stefanovich was there, and looked back at me.

“I made it!” he grinned.

“Sorry about that,” I replied.

“No, dude, I was inspired by your blog. This is gonna be awesome!”

“Inspired?”

Dandy Andy, whose four-foot handlebar mustache drooped down to his knees, nodded vigorously. “Yeah! We read it on the way down. Inspired!”

“Oh,” I said glumly. “Then you missed the point.”

“I did?” asked Stefanovich.

“Yes, it was supposed to be a demotivational piece, something to despire you from coming, not inspire you to show up.”

Stefanovich laughed. “Yeah, well we’re here now! So braaang it!”

The whistle sounded and off they went.

He’s got your whole world (in his hands)

When it came our turn, my only concern was whether I’d get dropped on the 10-mile twisting, tailwind descent. The ref sent us off with a warning. “Okay, guys, watch out for the turns on the descent. We’ve already lost seven or eight riders in high speed collisions, so I’m asking you to take it easy the first lap. After that you can do whatever you want.”

I wondered why our lives were precious on lap one, but worthless on laps two and three, until I realized the ref’s unspoken subtext: “Most of you wankers won’t be around for the second lap, so it will be safe to go full throttle.”

Ulp.

After cresting the first brief, gentle 2-mile climb, we hit the downhill. My 50 x 11 immediately spun out, but I was prepared for the acceleration and sprunted onto the end of the whip, letting the slipstream suck me along.

The down side to being on the end was simple: There were about fifteen wankers ahead of me who were scared shitless, and with good reason, as they were clueless about how to handle their bikes at 50 mph in a tight formation on a twisty road. I had a flashback to the year before, when Tree Perkins had lost control, crossed the center line, and leaped up into a fence, then a shrub, then climbed a tree with his bike.

The feeling of helplessness was complete. My life was wholly dependent on the flubs and flails of some Cat 4 wanker who had just turned 45 and decided to ride with the “safe” dudes rather than the suicidal Cat 4 field, not realizing that it was these very aged Cat 4 wankers who made our normally conservative old fellows’ category so deadly on a course like this.

As if on cue, Tri-Dork dropped back to a couple of wheels in front of me. Tri-Dork was the one wheel I wanted to avoid beyond all others, but like a moth drawn to a flame, could not. Tri-Dork’s bad bike handling skills, which had caused him to flub and crash on a dry road one morning with only one other rider and shatter his shoulder, were accentuated times a thousand by the speed and the turns.

Swooping through each curve, Tri-Dork wobbled, braked, gapped, accelerated, and slashed his way through the formation with terrifying abandon. Charging up through the field at just the moment he should have been slowing down, Tri-Dork got bumped and did the only thing you’d expect a recovering triathlete to do in a bike race: He panicked and shot for the center line.

If a car had been coming in the other direction this story would be an obituary extolling his bravery, instead, he regained control and charged back into the field. “Tri-Dork!” I shouted. “Get the fuck away from everyone! And stay out of the trees!”

The race in earnest

Today’s elderly fellow beatdown and prostate abuse ride would be dominated by Big Orange and Amgen. We turned off the downhill and began the climb up Las Posas, with Mike Hotten of Big Orange setting tempo on the front. His steady pace was the first phase of the Big O “softening up.”

A huge rivalry had shaped up between Big O and Amgen. Steve Klasna, who had ridden for Big O the year before and is one of the best racers in SoCal, now rode for Amgen and was looking for his first victory of the year. Thurlow Rogers a/k/a Turbo a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG had won Boulevard the year before, and as one of the the greatest American cyclists in history, as usual he had come to win. Backed by national champion and locomotive Malcolm Hill, Amgen was closely matched against Big O.

The race day favorite was Greg Leibert, whose teammate Jeff Konsmo could be expected to play his usual role of policeman/late attacker. New to the 45+ fold was John Hall, easily one of the top climbers in the South Bay and a guy who always kept a strong finishing kick for hilltop finishes. Former Boulevard vainquer Todd Darley would also play a key team role, with Tri-Dork flying the wild card colors in his 45+ debut. One of the biggest men to line up for Boulevard, Tri-Dork had proven the year before at the UCLA Punchbowl course that size was no limiter, as he’d ridden with the leaders for most of that hilly, attacking course.

Jessup Auto Plaza brought the heat with the Man Who Fears No Hill, Andy Jessup, easily the biggest dude in the field and also the gutsiest. Not content to do the flat crits, he was always pushing the pace in the races least suited for his build, uncowed by altitude or by the toothpick physiques of the likely podium contenders. Benny Parks, who had won for Jessup at P[e]CK[e]RR the week before, would be in the mix, and Jessup’s Brien Miller would play a key role in my own personal Boulevard saga.

Supermotor Jon Flagg, riding mateless for Surf City, tough guy Greg Fenton, and national champ Doug Pomerantz for UCC would round out the movers and shakers in the race. My own SPY-Giant-RIDE Cyclery team started with a solid contingent that included Alan Flores, John Hatchitt, Jon Geyer, and Andy Schmidt. As Alan would later remark after posting his best-ever Boulevard finish for 6th place, “We were just passengers today. It was a handful of other guys driving the bus.”

Lap One Climb: Devil take the hindmost

Klasna, Leibert, Konsmo, and THOG sprinted around the kicker that ended Las Posas and began the 4-mile climb up to the finish on Old Highway 80. The pace went from cool to warm to hot to full-fryalator. Midway up the climb the field had been reduced from about 70 to no more than 40 riders. Thankfully I’d started at the front, and as Konsmo and Co. turned up the screws and my legs seized up there were plenty of spaces to fall back without getting dropped completely.

The survivors were now in one nasty line, and as Leibert and THOG looked back to assess the damage, it occurred to them that, with the remainder of the field bleeding from the eye sockets, now would be a good time to ride in earnest. Their two-man attack left the rest of the field gasping and huddling for a rear wheel.

With about a mile to go the pack bunched up and I realized that today would be the first time in four attempts that I’d ever finished Boulevard with the lead group on the first lap. It was more than euphoria. It was victory, and it tasted sweet.

As we piled into the start/finish, however, the leaders ratcheted up the pace and blew out a handful of riders on the steep finish line pitch. My victory evaporated as I realized that my race was about to end at one lap. Fortunately, we crested the finishing hill with Amgen’s Robb Mesecher coming by, and by latching onto his wheel and double-wide draft was able to maintain contact with the group, which was now strung out in a mad chase to bring back G$ and THOG.

Once we hit the descent, the group had thinned considerably, but Tri-Dork was still very much there. G$ and THOG had returned to the fold, and Hotten again rode tempo on the green tennis court vomity stretch of Las Posas. We pushed up onto Old Highway 80, rolled slowly for a hundred yards or so, then exploded as Konsmo, G$, and THOG blew apart the group.

A few seconds before I popped we overtook Aaron Wimberley, a sprinter in the 35+ race and one of the few fast men with guts enough to take on a hilly killer like Boulevard, rather than hiding and waiting for the speedfest at the short, flat, fast crit the following day. “Go, Wanky!” he yelled as we flew by. I “went,” all right…straight off the back.

As I cratered, Brien Miller yelled at me. “Come on, wanker! Dig!”

“I’m digging!” I gasped. “My grave!”

My race had ended midway up the climb on the second lap as I watched the leaders ride off, then came detached from the chase group. I soft pedaled to catch my breath, well aware that the next lap and a half would be done alone, into the wind, slowly, with nothing left in the tank.

As I recounted to myself all the grand successes of the day (finished one lap with the leaders, got halfway up the second lap with the leaders, almost sort of kind of practically didn’t get dropped, etc.), I heard an awful noise behind me. It sounded like a large animal in its death throes, or like a giant engine with a major internal part broken and rattling loose, or like a one-eyed monster from the Black Lagoon coming up from behind to eat you.

I didn’t dare look back, and it’s a good thing I didn’t, because when the shadow of Malcolm Hill came by, it took everything I had to latch on. Powerful arms flexing, mighty legs pounding, bellows-sized lungs blowing like a racehorse, Malcolm had the chase group in his sights and he wasn’t slowing down.

Soon we’d overtaken Brien. “Dig!” I shouted as we went by.

He grinned and hopped on. Malcolm flicked me through with his elbow after a solid half-mile haul, but all I could do was fizzle and fade for a few strokes before Brien came through with a powerful surge. Between Malcolm and Brien, with me sitting on the back taking notes and adjusting my socks, we closed the gap to the chase group to within a hundred yards.

Suddenly my inner wanker blossomed, and the possibility of catching on spurred me to actually take a pull. I leaped forward, temporarily dropping the two mates who had done all of the work, latching onto the back of the chasers. Malcolm and Brien joined, and a quick glance proved that this was indeed the chase group to be in.

Get that Flagg, Darling, and put Pomegranate on it

Jon Flagg, Todd Darley, and Doug Pomerantz comprised the chasers, along with a couple of other horses, and the leaders were briefly in sight, though they vanished after the turn onto the descent. Whittled down to about ten expert riders and one Wankstar, these elderly fellows conducted a downhill clinic on the backside of the course.

I’ve never felt safer at 50 mph on a bike as Malcolm & Co. drilled us through the tight turns at max speed, max lean, and never so much as a waver or a wobble. With a few miles to go before the turn onto Vomit Road, Darley leaped off the front. The final effort to bring him back, just before the turn, revealed the incredible once we’d crossed the tracks: The leaders were right there.

As we steamrolled up to the leaders I spied a poor sod in a Swami’s kit flailing in the gravel off the road to let us by. He wasn’t pedaling squares, he was pedaling triangles. He had that Wankmeister look of dropdom that comes from having ridden alone, fried, cold, into the wind, by yourself, for most of the race. He was haggard and beaten and defeated and covered with the frozen crust of snot and spit and broken dreams.

It was Stefanovich.

“Come on, you fucking wanker!” I yelled as we roared by. “Get out of the fucking dirt and race your dogdamned bike!”

He looked up and smiled through the crusty snot.

A few hard turns and we’d reconnected. Todd paid for his efforts by slipping off the back, and Tri-Dork, who’d made an amazing reattachment, was likewise surgically removed. More incredibly, G$ and THOG were still there.

My one lap victory had now become the ride of my life: I was finishing the third lap at the head of the field, and in my excitement I surged to the front as we crested the first rise on Las Posas. G$ looked over and grinned. “Wanker! Hit it, buddy!”

I swelled up like a big old balloon, pounded hard for three strokes, then blew and got dropped. As my race ended yet again, I passed a Jessup wanker from the 35+ race. “Get your ass up there, you quitter!” he yelled.

Spurred by shame I dug and caught onto Malcolm’s wheel just as we flew over the cattle guard.

A few pedal strokes later I was rested and taking stock. There were fifteen riders left. Just then, G$ glanced over to the side and attacked. It was a thing of beauty. With fourteen riders keyed on this one guy, and with him already having ridden a 15-mile breakaway, he kicked it hard. No one could follow as he dangled just off the point. It was that moment in the race where everyone tried to rationalize the reason they weren’t chasing, while refusing to admit they were too tired and afraid and broken and chickenish and weak.

G$ dangled for a mile, getting slightly farther away as Konsmo and Hall kept the pace brisk enough to discourage any followers.

Except one.

With the animal fury that’s his trademark, THOG ripped away from the peloton. “There,” we all thought, “goes the race. If I chase I’m doomed. I think I’ll just sit in and hope for third.”

By the time we hit the big climb for the final time, cat and mouse had begun. Only problem was, the cat and the mouse were up the road and out of sight. So it was more like roaches and Raid. Flagg attacked repeatedly but no one was letting him go anywhere. After the third surge, Konsmo rolled. The gap opened, and then he vanished.

“Well,” we all thought, “fourth is pretty respectable to brag to the GF about. I’ll fight for fourth.”

As we approached the start/finish, the hard attacks came for real. With a few hundred yards to go I had to choose between getting dropped and getting dropped, so I wisely chose to get dropped. “Fifteenth,” I told myself “is damned respectable in this race. And even if it isn’t, I’ll claim it is.”

G$ outlasted THOG for the win. I crept across the line significantly behind #14.

Big Orange took first,third, and fifth. Amgen walked away with second, ninth, and tenth.

But if you ask me, it was 325-lb. wobblywheels Tri-Dork, finishing 25th in his very first Boulevard outing who went home with the best ride of all.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 3, “Post-race analysis of why you’re a fucking wanker for not showing up”

It’s all God’s fault

February 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

Some places are so pitilessly ugly that they scar you with their wretchedness. Pearblossom is one such place. Pearblossom howls with a dry desert wind that sucks the moisture from the air as it blows over the sharp, spiny, wound-inflicting desert plants that puncture the coarse sand like rusty studs on the collar of a rabid punk rock killer. Stuck in an orbit of pain and ugliness at 3,997 feet, this dustblown town has just enough of a commercial dribble to keep it from being a ghost town, but not quite enough to raise it much above the status of a graveyard.

Every time I load my car with bike, pump, wheels, and dread, I think about the bone deep ugliness of Pearblossom, gateway to the Devil’s Punchbowl, the last cobbled and cracked pavement on my own personal highway to hell. Saturday was no different. Mired in the defeat and despair of the relentless horsewhipping I’d suffered two weeks earlier as the only Ironfly 45+ at Boulevard, all I could think about on the drive to the race course was the weather forecast: rain and temperatures in the low 40′s. I’ve done Devil’s Punchbowl twice and finished near-last or DFL both times, and have done UCLA’s Punchbowl once, finishing in the last group of broken stragglers and damned proud of that.

There’s something poetic about the race being held along the San Andreas fault. According to UC geophysicist Yuri Fialko, “The information available suggests that the fault is ready for the next big earthquake but exactly when the triggering will happen and when the earthquake will occur we cannot tell. It could be tomorrow or it could be 10 years or more from now,” he concluded in September 2005. Devastating, catastrophic, unexpected, pain, suffering, misery, loss of life…great place for a bike race.

Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly is to the bone

Saturday, I could feel deep down that the only recompense I’d have for spending the day in the vicinity of a town that looks like it has been shot with a shit cannon would be another painful beating at the hands of my betters. Turning off onto Pearblossom Highway I noted the wind turbine that was spinning crazily from the 30-mph wind and gyrating in tandem with the billows of dirty diapers, styrofoam cups, and fast food wrappers that blew across the roadway. The wearying ugliness of the place was heightened by the hand-lettered roadside cardboard placards that advertised “Coffee and Gas” and “Chorizo Viern/Sab/Dom,” scratched in black magic marker and nailed to a post. A junked car lot had a rusted out VW microbus that some redneck had painted camo and welded onto a set of tank tracks.

The only bright spot was the bright blue sky, the brilliantly shining sun, and the knowledge that however awful the day’s drubbing was going to be, it wouldn’t be meted out in the rain. When I pulled up to the sign-in booth I spotted my good buddy Kwan Luu. He had been there since 5:00 a.m., and although the day was still cold, the dreaded rain never materialized. Shortly after signing in, a huge gust blew through, picked up both sign-in tents, and carried them away like the giant sails they were. Volunteers scrambled pell-mell into the cactus-filled desert scrub, trying to wrestle down the wayward tents, which blew farther and farther away with each fresh gust as the angry desert plants shredded the volunteers’ legs into bloody, pulpy wounds. The tents came to rest several hundred yards off, heavy steel legs tangled up in the cactus. “This,” I thought,”is the perfect metaphor for this race: sturdy legs caught unawares and blown to hell into a cactus field of pain.”

An earth-shattering event

I tested the air temperature against my bare legs and chatted with racers who had just finished. “Arm warmers and you’ll be fine,” one idiot said. “I took my gloves off after the first lap.”

The air was still biting cold, but the sun was bright and we didn’t go off until 1 o’clock. “Perfect time to slather on the Mad Alchemy,” I thought. Fortunately, I’d brought the Uber Madness tub of gel, which warms down to 0 degrees and in a pinch can be used to smelt ore. I rubbed on gob after gob and then got out to warm up. To offset my thin gloves I smeared a thick layer on my hands. Despite the sun it was cold, mid-40′s or so. I’d been off the bike all week and felt even slower than usual.

Port-a-Potty navigation

This isn’t a Boy Scout merit badge yet, but it should be, because navigating your way through a pre-race port-a-potty is more technical and has more horrific repercussions when done badly than any accident on the bike. I entered the cubicle of brown death to empty my bladder one last time, carefully placing my cleats so that they were on either side of the brown lumps on the floor that might have been mud. Or that might not.

I took off my right glove and held it with my teeth as I reached down to grip. Just as I made contact I cursed to myself. “Goddammit!!” I said, realizing that I hadn’t wiped the fiery hot leg embrocation off my fingers prior to reaching down. As I cursed, my glove slipped out from between my teeth and into the urinal. I swatted to catch it with my left hand, lost my balance, and both cleated feet slipped squarely into the big brown patch that I’d now concluded most definitely wasn’t mud.

Glove covered in piss, cleats clotted with manure, and the inside of my shorts now burning with the heat of a thousand forest fires, I hurried to the line just in time.

Lambs to the slaughter

The dire weather predictions had thinned the 45+ and 35+ fields to such a tiny contingent of idiots that the officials decided to combine us into one race of about thirty. As we sat astride our bikes waiting for the official to wave us off, a giant storm cloud that had been hovering above the peaks began to sweep down. The hillsides were covered with snow, but until that moment the bright blue sky and the warming sun, especially while sitting in the car with the windows rolled up (an especially accurate way to approximate what it’s going to feel like out on the course), had obscured harsh reality: we were starting at over 4,000 feet and climbing another thousand or so each of the four laps that would make up the 50-mile race.We rolled out into the 20mph+ uphill headwind at a pace that was simply a crawl. “This is awesome,” I thought. “I’ve never gone out this slowly. I may actually do well today. Plus, these 35+ guys don’t look that tough. All the guys who race 45+ say that it’s much harder than the 35′s.”

A few hundred yards later it began snowing. “Snow!” someone yelled.

“It’s not snow,” an idiot responded. “It’s a flurry.”

“A flurry of what, you dumbass? Charcoal?” someone shot back who sounded a lot like me.

Tucked in towards the rear of the group I sidled up next to Leibert. He looked at me and smiled. “Lambs to the slaughter,” he said.

“Yeah,” I chuckled, but then stopped as I choked back a bleat, realizing who he meant.

By the time we got to the right hand turn the early flurry had petered out. I was impressed at how un-tough the 35+ guys were. In the middle of that reverie, my legs awakened to the sharp pain of an even sharper acceleration. Within seconds we were strung out in a line, with the gutless and weak 35+ girly men smashing the pack into pieces. Dave W., Mike H., and another Big Orange rider made the split. The rest of us were pulverized into easily digested baby food and barfed out the back. I knew it was bad because one of the guys who missed the split was Leibert. It’s a rare sight indeed, but not an altogether unpleasant one, when you get to see the executioner with the blade against his throat for a change.

“If a man hates at all, he will hate his neighbor.” Samuel Johnson

We flew down the back side of the big hill in a mixed group of about twelve riders. When we turned right at the bottom of the screaming descent, the lead group was less than 30 seconds ahead of us. They had slowed as the gradual rise braked their speed.

A Barry Lasko rider accelerated to try and close the gap. Leibert answered with a swift counter. Bill Ralph and I took this as the perfect strategic moment to crack. With us was a rider from the 35+ gaggle, No. 104, I think, wearing a red-white-and-blue kit. I would come to hate him with all my heart over the next hour of my life.

Bill put his head down and began to pull. All I could do was come through with short, weak efforts, trying to spell him as he did the lion’s share of the work. To my amazement, up came Hotten from behind. Hotten, Bill, and I (well, not so much I) took turns as #104 sat on the back. Of course there was no reason for him to help, and by the looks of it, he was completely shellacked, but nonetheless out of my own misery a deep and lifelong hatred began to well up. I cursed that guys’ stupid Felt bike, I cursed his stupid jersey, I cursed his squeaky clean freewheel, I cursed his goofy pedal stroke, I cursed his parents, his siblings, his life story, his family tree, I even cursed his legwarmers, which looked really warm. Of course I did all of this manly cursing to myself, mostly because he looked big enough to twist me into a pretzel.

As we struggled through the finish area, world’s best Maggie, Angel to the Freds, called out encouragement and offered me water. Her smiling face got me through the second lap…not sure if I should be grateful or not. After getting halfway up the big hill the second time we were joined by another 45-er, “Scott,” who I will never forget as long as I live. He had closed the gap to our foursome and when he overhauled us he was gasping and wheezing and gagging with such ferocity that it sounded like he was being strangled.

That was fine and normal. What was unforgettable was the 12-inch dangle of near-frozen snot that had dripped from his nose, over his mouth, and was now swaying in the wind as it hung off his chin like a living, breathing stalactite. I wanted to offer him my piss glove and turd shoe to make the ensemble complete, but didn’t.

When the going gets tough, I head for the car

On our third time up the big hill, the P-1-2 group overtook us. Bill rolled towards the front of their group. “These punks aren’t so tough,” I snarled to myself. We turned right to attack the stairsteps, the not-so-tough punks hit the gas, and I hit the skids along with snotnose, wanker, and Hotten. Bill surged with the others and was gone.

Snotty and wanker then accelerated, leaving Mike and I alone. My piss glove was now iced piss. No feeling remained in my hands. The Mad Alchemy embro had mixed in with the dirt, mud, and sand and had ceased to heat. My feet were frozen. I couldn’t feel my lips or my face. My glasses were covered with ice as we hit the 50mph downhill. The wind cut through my short sleeve jersey and arm warmers like a bandsaw through a drunk millworker’s wrist.

Hotten looked back, let me attach to his wheel, and drilled the downhill as if there were actually something to drill about. We hit the bottom, where the snow had turned to freezing rain. “Got another lap in you?” he asked.

“Bleat, bleat, bleat,” I answered.

Crossing through the finish area for the third time, I saw Maggie. “Can I quit now?” I bleated.

“Of course you can, honey! Get off that stupid bike and get to the car before you freeze to death!”

It’s a known fact that the only two people you can’t disobey at a race are the official and Maggie. Bill had disobeyed the official a few minutes earlier by crossing the center line and getting DQ’ed. I wasn’t about to get DQ’d by disobeying Maggie, so instead I quit the race and staggered over to the car. Hotten roared on up the climb and finished like the iron man he is.

Winning isn’t everything (but it’s better than being a quitter wimp)

I wish I knew how the race unfolded, but since I don’t, I’ll have to speculate: Dave Worthington, Mike Haluza, and Jon Flagg rode everyone off their wheel to finish 1-2-3. This seems confirmed by the photo I stood around to snap at the finish. Greg got 4th, grinding it out for 50 miserable miles and never losing more than a minute or so on the leaders.

Haluza, judging from the absence of shoe covers, absence of leg warmers, and arm warmer pulled halfway down, wasn’t even cold. I’m not sure he knew it was snowing. Of course you’re wondering how they decided who got the win. It may have gone like this:

Dave: “Okay, guys, I’m winning today.”

Guys: “FU. You always win.”

Dave: “That’s right.”

Haluza: “I’m 6’4″ and could squash your entire body with my left foot.”

Dave: “I’m 5’8″ and can sprint faster than your Moto Guzzi.”

Haluza: “Okay. Take it.”

Jon: “Well, I get second then.”

Haluza: “Okay, but I get to punch you once as hard as I want after the race.”

Jon: “Ah, er, third place and that bag of pistachios sounds pretty good to me.”

Haluza: “Damn right.”

If you missed this epic slugfest on the San Andreas Fault and had to vicariously enjoy the UCLA Punchbowl race results on this blog, don’t worry! There’s another Punchbowl race coming up in April that will be longer, but every bit as fun.

Here’s the link to my WKO+ power file for the race, just click here.

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