August 10, 2012 § 2 Comments
In less than twelve hours, five South Bay motorheads will be contesting the Leadville 100. Lauren Mulwitz, Kathryn Donovan, Brian Perkins, Marq Prince, and Pete Smith have lived a monkish (nunnish?) existence leading up to the big event, which rolls out tomorrow.
There’s not a lot for me to say about it, except that it’s so tough they don’t have a starting line, they have a starting “corral.” The racers are so amped up on adrenaline and Accelerade that the race volunteers have to rope them inside the corral when it’s their time, drag them whinnying and snorting up to their bikes, strap them on, and set them loose.
Lokalmotor Greg Leibert will be in attendance with food, drinks, hand-ups, and bicycle riding tips for Team South Bay. As eager as I am for our local crew to go out and crush it in the thin mountain air, I’m even more eager for them to return home and start mixing it up again on our weekly wankfests. You’re missed, and you’ve hardly been gone!
Huge props to each rider for all the hard work and for taking on this epic MTB challenge. I spent a few minutes watching YouTube videos to try and get a sense of what it was like, but when you’re watching a 7-time TdF doperwinner being chased up a trail by spectators, including fat old dudes, small kids, and a woman with ski poles while he’s “racing” up a slope so steep that he’s barely staying upright on a 12 x 59 gear combo, well, the vicarious pain was just too much, so I switched off the YouTube and had a bag of Doritos.
If Lance had to get off and push, and 45-time winner Dave Wiens had to cross the finish line on his hands and knees, and EPO Leipheimer called it the most grueling thing he’s ever done, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen to mere mortals except that it will be almost Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, and long. One hundred miles at eleventy-nine thousand feet along unpaved fire roads…sound like fun? You’re nucking futs.
Good luck to you all, win, place, show, finish, or give up three-quarters dead before the end. You’re going for the gusto and Wankmeister is with you in spirit. On the couch. Blogging. Munching Doritos.
Go get ‘em, and don’t forget to send pictures! And a postcard! And a t-shirt that says, “My wankers went to Colorado and all they brought me was this fucking sack of empty GU gels!”
June 27, 2012 § 22 Comments
Yesterday’s New Pier Ride was dedicated to my brother, who took his life on June 16, 2012. Slightly more than seventy people rolled out from the Manhattan Beach Pier at 6:40 AM. By the time we turned onto Westchester Parkway, the peloton was easily a hundred strong.
Christine Reilly, Stella Tong, Greg Leibert, Lauren Mulwitz, Joe Yule, Vickie VanOs Castaldi, Izzie VanOs Castaldi, Chris Gregory, Tink, Suze Sonye, Jay Yoshizumi, Brian Perkins, Gus Bayle, Rahsaan Bahati, Cary Alpert, Sarah Mattes, Greg Seyranian, Dara Richman, and David Perez brainstormed and got the word out so that people were at the Pier well in advance of the start time. Vickie and Greg took the sixty-five handmade armbands, beautifully lettered by Izzie with “R.I.P. Ian, ’62-’12” and tied one to each person’s arm. Then Dave Kramer introduced Greg, who made a short, moving, and beautiful speech about my brother, someone he had never met.
I then clipped in and led us out onto the bike path. Once I pulled off and floated to the back, I was overcome by the sight of the countless yellow armbands fluttering in the breeze. My friends had done this for me, as well as people I’d never even met, like Emily and her boyfriend Chris, who came over from the west side just to be there. Others who couldn’t make it like Dara and Laurie were there in spirit, and still others showed up at TELO in the evening and shared their sympathies and condolence. I’ll never be able to repay any of them.
It’s a very good debt to owe, forever.
Girls and bikes
I got into cycling as a result of my brother, indirectly. His second year of high school he got in a horrific fight with my mom about the car. Our parents had divorced a couple of years before, and it was the kind of hateful, acrimonious, bitter divorce that paralyzes the kids and poisons your life for the next few decades, like battery acid in the ice cream. Ian was tired of fighting over the car and one day he went out and bought a black
Fuji touring bike. It cost $300, an incomprehensible amount of money.
Going from a Jeep Golden Eagle Cherokee to a bicycle? I had one conclusion: “Dork.”
Within a couple of weeks, though, I discovered the source of his inspiration. His girlfriend was a cyclist, and they biked everywhere together. “Whatever,” I thought. “He’s still a dork.”
Then a couple of weeks after that I began to hear moaning and groaning coming out of his bedroom. This was way before Internet porn. This was awesome, and he was a dork no more. “What a stud!” I thought. “That bike deal is pretty cool!”
Buses and bikes
Although I didn’t rush out and get a bike to aid in the quick dispatch of my virginity, the idea remained that bikes were cool. This was partly because Ian had let me test ride his Fuji a few times, and it was so different from the rusted out Murray that I’d used for three years to commute to Jane Long Junior High that it hardly felt like a bicycle.
My freshman year in college at the University of Texas, 1982, my parents refused to let me have a car. I lived in the Village Glen Apartments out on Burton, six or seven miles from campus, and had to take the shuttle bus, which in those days was run by union-busting Laidlaw. They employed only hippy stoners from the 60’s and 70’s to drive the buses, and paid just enough to keep the hippies in weed, ensuring that there would never be any unionizing.
The Village Glen was one of the last bus stops on the Riverside Route before getting on I-35 and going to campus, so in the morning the buses were often full. That meant having to get out to the bus stop extra early, as the first bus or two rarely had room for even one more passenger. One morning in October I was standing in the rain waiting for the bus. The first one passed me and splashed me. The second one passed me. The third one roared by with an “Out of Service” sign on the front.
I screamed at the driver and flipped him off. He braked. I’d never seen a whole bus go sideways. Out bounded the raging hippy, fists balled and murder in his eyes. If I hadn’t been so tiny and petrified he would have killed me. Instead he screamed. “How about I beat you into a fucking pulp you snotnosed little fuck?” he roared.
“Uh, I, I, I’m really sorry. Please don’t kill me!” I begged.
“You ever fucking give me any attitude on a bus I’m driving I’ll break you in half you little prick. They don’t pay me enough in this shit job to put up with bullshit from spoiled little assholes like you!”
“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.
[To crack dealer] “So, should I start using crack?”
I had to wait another twenty minutes in the cold, pelting rain. During those twenty minutes I went from being grateful that I’d get to school with all of my teeth to angry at being a bus sheep. My resentment built throughout morning classes and exploded in an epiphany when my last course finished at noon. “I’m gonna buy a fucking bike, just like my brother did! Fuck Laidlaw! Fuck that hippy stoner fucker! Fuck the rain!”
I practically ran down 24th Street to Freewheeling Bicycles and Crackhouse, where I realized something else after walking the aisle. “Fuck, I’m broke!”
Fortunately, Uncle Phil Tomlin had just the bike for me, a Nishiki International with Suntour derailleurs, Dia Compe brakes, and Sugino cranks. At a paltry $375.00, I’d be able to easily afford it as long as I didn’t eat in November. Food or bike? It was an easy choice, especially with Uncle Phil kindly and professionally assisting me with my first bikecrack purchase.
The rest is history, and a year later I’d already been voted “Most Likely to be Killed by a Car or Truck” by my riding buddies. 1984 was my breakout year, when I dominated the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial and won a coveted Laverne and Shirley board game for first place. The thirty years after buying that first bike have flown by, and somehow I’m still riding with the same happiness and joy as the day I pedaled that Nishiki out of the Freewheeling parking lot.
This is gonna hurt me and it’s gonna hurt you
So this thing that has given me more joy and happiness, this thing that has surrounded me with friends who are often closer than family, is a gift from my brother. I thought about that while Greg spoke. He paid me the ultimate compliment in the process, saying that they had come to honor my brother because without him, I wouldn’t be part of their community.
There’s no other way to say this than to say I felt more loved than I have ever felt in my life. Sweaty, muscled men threw their arms around me, and sweaty, muscled, beautiful women did, too, each one saying something that sounded like love, regardless of the words. And as proof that these weren’t just empty phrases, when we hit the bottom of Pershing they went so hard so fast that I was almost blinded by the pain.
“This one,” Jaeger said as he came by with the ferocity of a jungle beast, “is for Ian.”
There’s a place for gentleness and for camaraderie; it’s called the bricks on the Manhattan Beach Starbucks after the ride. The New Pier Ride itself is a place for the unbridled beatdown, the relentless attacking into the wind, the crushing of the weak by the strong.
“Memorial lap in silence?”
“Fuck you, dude.”
“Give ol’ Wankmeister the win?”
“Over my dead body. He wouldn’t want it and I wouldn’t give it.”
Suffice it to say that today I was the weak, and others were the strong, and the law of the jungle prevailed, as it always should. But even though I was the weak and struggled at the end, I didn’t get crushed. I got carried along by the unlikeliest thing of all, a raft of soft yellow ribbons floating in the breeze.
June 9, 2012 § 9 Comments
Lauren Mulwitz is a woman. She’s attractive. She’s friendly. She enjoys sunsets, reading, quiet evenings, and filling your body with unimaginable pain as she rips your legs off, grinds you up, and leaves you heaving and spent in the gutter.
In other words, she’s a perfect candidate for the Leadville qualifying race known as Barn Burner. There’s not a lot to say about this epic 104-mile race that is done on fat tire bikes up and down fire roads that were hewn through a rock field with over 8,000 feet of climbing, except this: It’s very hard.
A couple of days ago I pretended to sit down with Lauren and imagined interviewing her about her third-place finish at this extraordinary beatdown of a bike race. Here’s what she would have said, maybe:
WM: Lauren, you’re best known in the South Bay for sausage stomping and kicking people’s dicks off, especially on the NPR. How did you get into SMESFCP?
LM: Uh, what’s that?
WM: Sado/Masochistic Extreme Sports For Crazy People.
LM: Oh! Well, I’ve always been good at endurance events, and I like triathlons, so it was kind of a natural. I’ve done Leadville, and as selection gets more competitive each year I decided to target Barn Burner to qualify for 2012.
WM: Got it. What was the hardest part of the race?
LM: Hmmm…probably the drive to Arizona along the 40. Have you ever had a root canal?
LM: It’s about as much fun as that. Unless you like wide-open landscapes filled with dirt and occasional markers for “alien landing sites.”
WM: Alien landing sites? Oh, those. Yeah, it’s hard to find a clean toilet in Arizona. So you got to Flagstaff, and then what?
LM: We headed to the race venue. The drive to the start was crazy scary, with two-way traffic trying to occupy a single lane of fire road, and dust so thick you think you’re at a Judas Priest concert. It looked like Burningman meets mountain biking race meets HempCon, so I felt right at home. I parked, unloaded my bike, and was instantly greeted by Bryson Perry, a two-time Leadville winner. We got to pre-ride the course with Dave Wiens, the six-time Leadville winner, and in addition to the great company I got some great advice for the race.
WM: Like what?
LM: “Watch out for the sausages.” That was the main thing. I mean it’s a selective race, but as a qualifier it attracts 500 entrants, and there’s a lot of sausage in that factory.
WM: Can you tell my reader how the race began?
LM: Sure. It has a Le Mans start, which means that all five hundred idiots run a ¼-mile footrace to the bikes, mount them, and begin the first loop.
WM: What’s the purpose of that?
LM: Mostly to watch the sausages trip and fall. It also staggers the start. Racers who can walk and chew gum at the same time get out on course first, sausages out later.
WM: So then you rode off into the sunset for 104 miles?
LM: No. There were four 26.2-mile loops, and you got tagged after each lap. The gun fired and everyone dashed to the bike racks. I ran carefully, avoiding the basketball-sized rocks. Lots of sausages were impaled on the granite and never even got to the rack. We sold off their shit after the race and used it for prize money, which paid 299 deep as a result.
WM: So except for the sausages who died, it was just hammer and go? Time trial mode?
LM: Actually, there was a monstrous bottleneck on the first part of the course, because the riders kicked up so much dirt and created clouds of dust. I couldn’t really go anywhere or see anything until about three miles in, when we turned onto a larger fire road, and the dust cloud cleared up. I hopped onto moderately fast pacelines and conserved energy throughout that first lap.
WM: I call bullshit. I’ve never seen you sit on a paceline at NPR. You’re always frying sausages and stomping dicks. Come on. I may be Texas dumb, but I’m not Texas Aggie dumb.
LM: Not to take anything away from your super greatness, WM, but Barn Burner is, well, a bit harder than NPR. I mean, NPR is hard, and you’re really good, great actually, don’t get me wrong.
WM: Okay, so you’re sitting in and conserving, riding smart, not stomping sausages on the first lap. I’m skeptical, but go ahead.
LM: Towards the end of the first lap, I saw a dude in a gorilla suit. He was bumping techno music, and doing some weird gyrations with his hips. It was weird.
WM: Hmmm. Really does sound like a Judas Priest concert.
LM: I completed the first lap, ran through the barn, came into the transition area, lubed my chain, ate some food, drank some water, brushed off some dust, talked to some people, and then took off for Lap 2. I probably wasted ten minutes.
WM: Why? I mean, it’s a race, right?
LM: I just got caught up in the fun.
WM: Yeah, like in junior high. One minute you’re passing a group of kids, next minute you’re smoking meth and holding up liquor stores. Good times! Okay, what happened on Lap Two?
LM: I was less conservative, and hopped on a freight train traveling at warp speed to make time on the flats. I felt really good, and hit both climbs slowly, but descended fast, and found some great wheels to follow.
WM: Sausage count?
LM: They were all over the place. I kind of felt bad for them.
WM: I don’t. What happened next?
LM: On Lap Three I stayed consistent, found some good groups to ride with and we worked together. Great rotations from a couple of guys and bing, next thing you know I’d qualified for Leadville.
WM: “Bing”? What does that mean? How’d you place?
WM: Honey, that ain’t no fucking “bing.” “Bing” is what Wankmeister does when he flails off the back or gets canned in the sprunt. Third place isn’t “bing.” It’s fucking awesome. What memories stand out?
LM: From a technical perspective, the course has two climbs, both of which are gradual. After the first climb there’s a descent named “the rock garden,” and it’s so technical and rocky that you really have to pick the right path, or slow your roll a lot! If you don’t, you’re going to endo.
WM: I’m surprised the sausages in your rotation let you suck wheel.
LM: They didn’t!! I’ve never been asked to take so many pulls. They looked back at me several times, and said, “Okay honey, it’s your turn!” I took a few pulls, but decided to be conservative and save it for the last lap. I stayed with a group that was slower than my natural pace to conserve energy, and ended up losing time. In hindsight, I should have charged ahead, and maybe made up some time.
After the third descent through the rock garden, my forearms and biceps were starting to cramp and really hurt, and I could barely grip my brakes. I managed to finish the lap in a consistent time, and was stoked to be on my last lap!
WM: Yep, you can’t neglect your arms. That’s why Wankmeister is a legend at the gym. [Flexes]
LM: [Looks like she’s biting her tongue] Ah, okay. I came into the transition area after the third lap, drank half a coke, and grabbed my last food and water. It was instant energy! I headed out like a bullet and began the final lap. I was so happy, and had so much adrenaline to be on the last lap, I was flying up the climbs and down the descents. But since the race was so spread out at this point, I couldn’t draft on the flats and had to put it in the big gear and motor.
WM: I guess that’s where doing all those NPR rides with Wankmeister really paid off, huh? There’s probably no way you could have done it otherwise, eh?
LM: Ah, ummm, well…
WM: It’s okay. You’ don’t have to praise me. [Winks.] So then what?
LM: After eight hours of riding on the rivet I was getting disoriented. My head felt like it had swollen up into an 18th Century Russian novel. My legs felt like they’d had forms built around them and been concreted in. I couldn’t see from the filth. My hands were losing their grip. At one point things were so awful and fucked up and grisly looking that I thought I was in Temecula.
WM: Wow! That’s epic! Did you die?
LM: No. Thankfully, I saw the gorilla dude, and knew I was almost done! I bombed down the last chute, came into the barn, and was introduced as the third place woman racer! I was covered in dirt and exhausted, but after 8 hours and 19 minutes, I gotta say, I had a blast! Only wish the course had more single track, and was more scenic. I’m really looking forward to Leadville, and know it’s only going to get better!
WM: Well, you’re clearly insane. Any last words before I call the authorities?
LM: Big shout out to “Tree” Perkins, who also qualified for Leadville.
WM: That wanker? He freaking never goes to the front on the NPR.
LM: There are more things in the world of cycling than the NPR.
WM: [Crestfallen at being reproached by his hero] Oh.
LM: But we love you anyway! [Pats his scrawny bicep]
WM: [Happy smile on his face] See you out there next Tuesday, and best of luck to you in Leadville!