Elbow gloves

October 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

I made the correct transportation choice, which was to accept Iron Mike’s offer of a limo ride to the airport. At the baggage check-in, he plops a hundred-dollar bill in front of the clerk.

“You dropped this, buddy,” he says with a smile.

The man’s eyes get big. “Why thank you, sir! I believe this bag will get personally walked onto the plane.” He picks it up and vanishes.

“I get more properly delivered bags that way. Damnedest thing.”

As we stand in the next line Iron Mike turns to an Asian couple and speaks his one word of Japanese. They stare blankly, clearly wondering why a stranger in Lycra bike tights is talking to them.

“Sorry, we’re from Malaysia,” the man finally says.

Next he chats up the TSA staffer. “How’s your morning going?”

“Aw, it was going great until the alarm went off.”

This guffaw gets him a free pass despite having a heart rate monitor strapped to his chest, a weird cycling outfit, and vegan food items in his carry-on that look like coca paste.

Farther back in line, Triple appears with Coupe Deville, and the bright minds at TSA zero in on Triple as he gets culled from the herd by the largest TSA goon.

“What in the world is this?” says the goon as he pulls a small tub labeled “Butt Butter” out of Triple’s bag.

“It’s, ah, for cycling, uh, you see…”

“Uh-huh. Step over here, please.”

Knotting his basketball-sized fists, the screener starts pulling on rubber gloves that go up to his elbow as the other two assistants tell Triple to grab his ankles. We all look the other way and pretend we don’t know him.

Trust me. I do this for a living.

Safely arriving at the gate, we sit, and a few moments later up comes Methuselah. He shows off his hand that got caught in the electric gate, and after the obligatory round of sympathetic “poor boy” and “tough bastard” we pile on without mercy.

“Fuck man, you’re a goddamn electrician. What’s up with that?”

“How many electricians does it take to get their hand caught in an electric gate?”

Etcetera.

Now everyone is scared shitless because he’s going to be descending on the bike with one hand and, what’s worse, will need someone to hold his dick when he pisses.

The lobby has filled up and the fully caffeinated mantourists begin asking Methuselah, “If your hand swells up so large after being stuck in the gate for a few minutes, why don’t you stick your pecker in it?”

Airport. Working. Uh, yeah.

At that moment the gate attendant walks over and asks everyone to please pipe down because people are “Trying to work!” The people include a gentleman slumped over with last night’s beer drool mixed with puke draining onto his sleeve and several chicks reading about orgasm enhancement techniques in the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. Being told to “shush” has the predictable effect of making all the kindergartner mantourists run around the lobby shushing each other to a fare-the-well. Pilot turns and says, “You know, I’ve been in the business for thirty years, and I’ve yet to see people at the gate get shushed because of all the people ‘working’ here.”

Just because I look crazy means I am.

One of the working passengers is dressed in a dark blue suit, gets out of his chair and approaches us, saying thus: “How can I join your ride next year?” He’s been eavesdropping on our curses and insults and enviously reading our t-shirts and wants to join the fun.

A glance at his earnest demeanor and funny combover indicate he’s batshit crazy.

“Well, first you’ll have to join Ironfly,” says Canyon Bob.

“And then you’ll have to stop being a dork,” someone adds.

Batshit then launches into a detailed lecture to Canyon Bob and Cadillac about how we can improve the route and turn a tidy profit.

“Let me get this straight,” I say. “You haven’t even stopped being a dork yet and you’re already telling us how to improve the ride? Shut the fuck up, please.”

Batshit takes the abuse with the practiced wimpy, beaten down smile of a married guy and continues his lecture. Everyone walks away as the boarding siren goes off.

A short time later we land, and it’s public toilet pandemonium as we dash into the head, strip buck naked, and pull on our kits.

The bikes are lined up outside the airport. It is rad. Fuckdude, Fireman, and M8 pulled it off despite farting each other half to death in the cab of the U-Haul for eight hours. The mantourists who drove up the day before are only slightly hungover. We take the gang photo, throw a leg over, and we’re off!

Let MT4 begin!!

Or not!! Hairball, known for his great preparation, woke up at the crack of seven for his 7:55 flight, fixed his oatmeal, made his coffee, read the paper, and then began packing for the five-day trip. Oops! The darned airplane took off without him, ensuring his star in the Hall of Shame and earning the bonus Doofus of the Day Award. After chilling at the airport we finally leave without him, but in the nick of time he arrives so we abort the ride and wait another hour while he shaves, takes a faucet shower, and changes into his kit.

The other no-show is Dr. Jekyll, who shows us the superiority of NorCal mass transit by hopping the train in Oakland and riding it until it runs into a car, chops it in half, and falls off the rails. Jekyll, who carries all his shit in a giant cardboard box, has to ride twenty miles to the airport, looking like a pack mule.

Finally we’re off. It’s a glorious sunny day and we’re happier than pigs in shit. Dr. Jekyll has assured us that the climb this year is easy, so we’re not bothered by the gradual rollers on Moody Road. After a couple of miles Davy Dawg starts killing it and we’re stretched out single file.

The road makes a sharp hairpin right up Page Mill Road and the group explodes on the steep ramp. Dr. Jekyll attacks and rides away. Davy Dawg cracks. I struggle as Triple, Pretty Boy, JC, and the Fireman go by. I latch onto the Fireman, who drags me for a few miles until I blow. The road is vicious, steep, punishing, and endless. Jekyll cracks and gets dropped by Triple and Pretty Boy, Fireman reels in JC for fourth, and I struggle in for sixth.

At the top of the climb we regroup and everyone stands around looking like shit and completely blown 24 miles into the ride. On the descent it’s the domain of the gravitationally challenged, with Bluebeard bombing the tight, deadly turns at terrifying speed. Cadillac is on his wheel, followed by Woodenhead and Jekyll, with Hockey Stick close behind. Sticks, rocks, sketchy turns, overheated brakes, and chattering front wheels get us to the bottom, where we again regroup. The drop has been amidst stunning redwoods, and the clean air invigorates us all.

Over a small bump we form a group of about 12 and start drilling it into Pescadero. Woodenhead hits the front multiple times, with Davy Dawg, Fireman, and Artiste smashing the pedals. There’s an amorphous sprint in Pescadero taken by the Fireman, and then we stop for a late lunch.

Well, some of us do. Hockey Stick doesn’t get the memo, misses the turn to Pescadero, and pedals ten miles on to the coast. Not seeing anyone for an hour, and not thinking to use his phone, he’s lost and hungry and fucked. Luckily, the Anchor has taken a wrong turn, too, and finds Hockey Stick flailing, bonked, and hopelessly lost. He bundles him into the paddy wagon and drives him to Santa Cruz.

Meanwhile, we finish lunch, hit PCH, and all hell breaks loose. The Fireman splits the flailing wankers who are still belching and farting from their double-meat sub sandwich in Pescadero. The tensing 25 miles to Santa Cruz is a death feet of attrition, with only Davy Dawg, Triple, Coupe Deville, Coolhand, Fireman, and me surviving. Coolhand takes the sprint, tying for points with Firehand.

We load up on beef, coffee, and pie at Hula’s in Santa Cruz. That’s it. Done til tomorrow.

MT4 Day Five: The end of innocence

October 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

By day five, if we were tomatoes in the produce department, we would be bruised, spoiled, and after the briefest inspection by the produce boy, tossed in the dumpster. Sunrise, heralded by Hallmark cards as “The first day of the rest of your life,” rings in a dull, aching misery for what you can only hope will be the last day you ever, ever, ever see a bicycle.

The clever roomie with whom you so gaily chatted on Day 1 is a boring, grating twit whose every utterance unleashes a barely restrained, primal urge to strangle. The lovely scenery of California, so awe-inspiring in Carmel and Big Sur, has become a blurred, hostile moonscape of asphalt, road striping, and flat tires changed at inopportune times. The bravado and heroic imagery of the Man Tour has had its chintzy veneer stripped away, revealing what everyone else saw from the beginning: a creaky bunch of saggy, wrinkly, balding, ill-tempered, pot-bellied drunks who are too cheap to vacation in Italy.

And a hundred nasty miles still await.

Making matters worse, the biggest prize of the entire tour, the one that carries bragging rights, eternal glory, and spiteful resentment from everyone else until next year, sits at the sixty-mile mark: the L.A. County Line on PCH. There will be a fierce attack somewhere in SLO, perhaps earlier, where the group shatters and a breakaway emerges. From the entrance onto PCH, past the Rock at Pt. Mugu, and all the way to the county line there will be a surging, pounding, frenetic race between a handful of wrung out, surly survivors.

However, a nasty surprise awaits those who aren’t following this blog: the county line sign has been stolen, and all that remains is the wooden post itself. The only way to recognize the finish line is by the abrupt change in pavement color, where it shifts from the thrifty Ventura County road department’s hot mix of dirt, holes, straw, glass, nails, and warm tar into the firm, dark, hardened paving of Manly Los Angeles County. The canny victor in 2011 will be the one who lunges for the line while the other peckerheads are sitting back, craning their necks to the side in vain to spy the nonexistent green sign. Will the Wankmeister claim his second consecutive victory, or will the Fireman douse his parade with the Lethal Hose of Sprint Fury?

Come on pretty boy, gonna make you a man

The group of weary warriors regroups for lunch at Trancas and then pushes on towards home. The familiar landmarks become sharper–the funny bump in Malibu just past Cross Creek; the big cracks in the road near Moonshadows; the nasty bump in the road just over the hill past the Getty; the grate on the shoulder at the last light before Temescal…and with each landmark the exhaustion fades and the singularity of the accomplishment begins to sink in and rejuvenate tired legs, except for Woodenhead, whose wife has been calling every thirty minutes for the last two days telling him that he’d better quit fucking off and get home and help change the poopy diapers.

Suddenly it’s a victory parade all the way to the Ironfly World Headquarters. Friendships re-blossom. Well-wishers like G$ meet us on PCH or at Will Rogers and escort us back through the Center of the Known Universe and on to WHQ. Knoll tips a cup of Peets in our direction. Lies that, a few hours ago were mere middle of the road whoppers become full-blown fields of bullshit. The longing for beer wells up in the back of one’s throat again, and it’s just in the nick of time, as Mel has tapped a fresh one at the World HQ. The arthritis, achey prostates, and Ben Gay joint rubs are an ancient memory, at least until we get home. MT4…in the books!

MT4 Day Two: The big country of the south

September 18, 2011 § 2 Comments

When large numbers of overly aggressive, underly fit old farts get together to compete, strange things happen. At yesterday’s Texas-UCLA beatdown, for example, we showed up to our seats with two large chicken burritos apiece, a plastic tub filled with Indian curry, four containers of fries, extra-large cups of lemonade, a blanket apiece (not necessary in the 90-degree heat), and an assortment of satchels, backpacks, and oversized handbags. We fit barely into the tiny Rose Bowl seats, kind of like that extra dollop on the taco that makes all the grease and beef and juice dribble out the end when you bite into it. The season ticketholder (50-yard line, Row 10) sitting in front of us watched our arrival in horror and disgust. These were literally the best seats in the house, and there was more orange than blue in the surrounding seats.

“I didn’t get season tickets to be surrounded by Texans!” she snapped. This lady, who I’ll call Nasty Bitch from Hell with a Sorry Fucking Attitude, or just “Nasbitch” for short, was in her late fifties and obviously trying to recapture her glory sorority days when she was the floor whore at her house as a UCLA undergrad.

Look before you leap

Unfortunately for the ex-dorm queen, we attended the game with my mom, who grew up in a small Texas town, is in her 70’s and takes no shit from anyone, especially rude women with an attitude.

“We’ll do our best not to bother you, honey,” Mom said in her sweetest Texas twang.

“You’re already bothering me!” Nasbitch said. “Where did you get your tickets from, anyway? Stubhub? And you’ve got too much stuff!”

“Now don’t you mind us, honey,” Mom said. “We’re just going to be quiet as church mice. Where did you get that pretty bracelet, honey? That is so cute.”

“I didn’t get it at Wal-Mart,” Nasbitch snarled as she turned back for kickoff.

Mom then accidentally kicked what was left of the curry off the little ledge and it spilled into Nasbitch’s very cute $1,500 Vuitton bag that she had tucked under her seat. “Oh goodness me, honey, look what I did! I’m so sorry!” Nasbitch went berserk just as the Texas contingent began to roar at the first interception of the game. “Oh honey, look! Everyone’s cheering!”

“Yeah, mom. Texas just got a touchdown!”

“That’s good, isn’t it?” she asked in a stage whisper.

“It’s awesome, mom. It means we scored points and are going to beat the crap out of UCLA.”

“Don’t talk ugly. And it’s not their fault that they can’t play football very well. They are from California, after all.”

For the next two quarters I roared “Hook ‘em!” and “Stuff him like a cheap taco!” and “Good job, UCLA Ruins!” and “Touchdown!” and “Fumble!” and “Another Texas beatdown!” and “Chokers!” and “Score!” and “Barbecue the bastards!” and “Touchdown!” and “UCLA sucks!” until Nasbitch picked up her stuff and left.

Santa Cruz to Big Sur: rum, sodomy, and the lash

Day Two of MT4 is kind of like that football game…one long-ass, miserable, never-ending beatdown.

“Big Sur” gets its name from the region’s original Spanish appellation, “El paĆ­s grande del sur,” which can be roughly translated into English as “The great southerly land where Chief realizes he should have gotten in more MT4 training miles.”

In addition to stunning natural landscapes, Big Sur boasts endemic plants such as wild orchid, and a small population of California condors. The native Americans of Big Sur were largely exterminated by the Spanish, who through through slavery, pestilence, rapine, torture, and murder taught the heathens the gospel and virtues of Christ.

Day 2 of MT4 relives the enslavement by the early conquistadores, as the gang leaders flay the weak, sick, and frail, driving them mercilessly from Santa Cruz to Monterrey with a hail of oaths and strokes of the cat o’ nine tails. Driven like hogs to the slaughterhouse, the tour goes through one of the most beautiful places on earth–Carmel, California. But the bloodied and weary Roman galley slaves never see it, as their sweat-filled eyes are glued to the wheel in front, suffering like dogs with each stroke of the lash that goads them on to their destination.

Mixing the waters of the earth

Weary, beaten down, and ready to quit many hours ago, the sinners shackled to the train of pain roll onto Bixby Bridge, one of the great iconic structures in California. The road-weary wankers dismount stupidly and fumble for their shrunken wrinkly, sometimes for minutes, as they hurry to pee into the Pacific Ocean before the train thunders off again.

Woe unto the stragglers who fail to land their plank in the Roman galley before the vessel of woe sets sail! The next ten miles are uphill, rolling, and windy beyond belief. What was once the misery of being beaten and thrashed by heartless taskmasters has become something even worse: hanging onto the end of the taut rubber band, wondering when it’s going to snap and leave the broken oarsmen stranded on their own, battering helplessly for mile after mile into the teeth of the ferocious coastal gale. Just as things seem like they can’t get any worse, they do! A series of hard accelerations splits the small group that has launched off the front, and the New Mexican Fireman drives a stake through the skulls of the hangers-on, flying home alone to the sprint finish in Big Sur itself.

Beer, medicinal herbs, slabs of steak, more beer, potatoes slathered in butter, and more beer will presage an evening spent howling and crying at the massive leg cramps that twist the downtrodden mantourists into new yoga postures of pain. MT4 Day Two: in the books.

MT4 Day One: Blood on the saddle

September 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Day One of Man Tour goes from San Jose to Santa Cruz. It is an epic day for some, a rude awakening for others, and leg-breaking batterfest for all. Day One of Man Tour is rife with tales of glory and preludes to crushing defeat. Last year, Pretty Boy spanked all comers on the climb out of the state park, proving that a summer spent training in the French Alps and a kit change every time he got sweaty could overcome three dozen elderly slackers on stone cold legs and tummies filled with barbecue roast beef.

Day One saw Gonzo’s chain snap at the bottom of the first climb. It saw the entire peloton come within inches (a very few inches, actually) of getting arrested in Cupertino when we stopped to gang-piss in the shrubbery along a major thoroughfare. Day One saw certain mantourists dismount on the climb and walk. Others were rumored to have hitched a ride with the sag. Day One in years past has seen the likes of Knoll set a blistering pace for two days that no one could match, only to crack and crater on Day Three such that he was bundled into the follow car and unable to complete the Tour. Mostly, though, the significance of Day One is discovered on Day Two.

Those who have prepared properly will finish up with the 6000+ feet of climbing, 80-mile day with a big meal. They will stroll through quaint and scenic downtown Santa Cruz, carefully stepping around the spirited youth who line the sidewalks smoking meth, shooting heroin, and puffing away at the local pot crop. After the meal, they will settle in for a long, refreshing sleep. They will wake up the next morning and enjoy a modest breakfast of eggs, bacon, oatmeal, toast, jam, butter, biscuits, wagonwheel gravy, link sausage, flapjacks, maple syrup, more butter, a large fruit bowl, cereal, and two tankards of pitch black, triple-bitter coffee laced with a cup of sugar and heavy whipping cream. Once on the bike, they’ll note some residual poison in their legs which flushes out by mile 10, and, ant-like, they will happily soldier along the flat-to-rolling terrain of Day Two. Life is good. The road is open. It’s a beautiful place to be, and no one’s telling you to lift the toilet seat or put down the lid.

My body’s a temple, and I pillage it regularly

Not so pleasant is Day Two for the lazy grasshoppers who fiddled away the summer. Those whose MT training consisted mostly of cheeseburgers and beer find Day Two to be a whole old day. Even though it’s much flatter and rather scenic, Day Two to these recalcitrant grasshoppers feels almost exactly like Day One, only worse. There’s no euphoria at rolling out of San Jose Intergalactic Airport hundreds of miles from responsibility with fresh legs, a happy heart, and the silly smugness that comes from wearing the same outfit as everyone else. There’s no wonder and awe at the majesty of this great state. There’s no spryness or spring in the legs. Rather, from the moment they’re awakened by their partner’s groaning snores at 2:00 a.m., they have the sickening realization that the deep-bone aches, the cramping calves, the stiff neck, and the painfully sore back are only going to get worse. Much, much worse.

As the grasshoppers pedal out of Santa Cruz, the first ten miles feel okay, not nearly as bad as the night presaged. By mile thirty, they’re ready to call it a day. By mile fifty, the whole thing, which they knew deep down was a bad idea, has become a poster child for what happens when bad judgment mates with fantasy and sport. By mile sixty, the grasshoppers have gone from miserable to angry. By mile eighty, they’re whimpering. When the group rolls into Big Sur, the grasshoppers are fused into a permanent hunch over their bikes and have to be pried off with sticks, blows to the head, and open bottles of cheap beer wafted under their noses.

Day One, then, sets the tone for the rest of the tour, a kind of rectal exam that tells the doctor whether or not you’ll need a colonoscopy or whether you’ll get to put your shorts back on and go home with a clean bill of health. You’ll never feel better than you feel on Day One, but you can assuredly feel a hell of a lot worse.

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