Strawberry fields forever

April 20, 2014 § 36 Comments

The night had started off slowly. I was sitting next to a couple of dudes at the bar and they were discussing beer. “I like the slightly fruity finish, almost strawberryish,” one said of his light-colored ale.

“Yeah. And it’s amazing the way it starts with a full nose, almost chocolatey, then transforms into something airy and almost, like you said, a fruity aromatic.”

I looked at my 32-oz. glass of suds. “Are you guys talking about beer or edible underwear?” I asked.

They laughed nervously. “Ha, ha. Good one. What are you drinking?”

“Racer 5.”

“Oh, that’s a good beer,” approved Fruity Finish.

“Yes, very workmanlike, solid,” added Chocolatey Nose. “For sure it’s a biggie and has those strong citrus notes. Kind of muted compared to others but still lots of orange rind and piney notes. It’s a big beer, for sure.”

“It is?” I asked, wondering if they were talking about the big mug.

“Oh, yes,” chimed in Fruity Finish. “I’d add that, you know, it’s a well-balanced bitey IPA, right?” He eyed my giant mug. “You’ll get a better nose from a tulip glass, it’ll let the smell travel and pull out the high notes on that classic mix of piney, mango, citrus, resin, dankness. There’s enough bitterness, nicely mixes with the fruity, citrusy, fresh finish.”

I looked at them as if they were trying take upskirt photos of my wife. “You think so?” I asked.

Fruity Finish and Chocolatey Nose nodded. “How would you describe it?” asked Chocolately Nose.

I took another swallow from the giant mug as the bitter liquid charged down my throat. I savored it for a moment. “Hmmm,” I said. “Tastes like ass.”

The two connoisseurs winced. “Ass?”

“Yep,” I said, taking another swig. “A big old nasty swallow of ass. And that’s what beer’s supposed to taste like, by the way.”

They didn’t know what to say, so I continued. “Beer is one of the nastiest things ever invented, worse than kimchi. It’s rotted inedible offal stewed in a pot and left in a bucket to rot some more. If it doesn’t taste like shit you’re doing it wrong.”

Fruity Nose protested. “Good craft beer …”

“Fuck good craft beer. Beer tastes foul when you start and gets fouler with each successive swallow. That’s why by your tenth beer you’re cross-eyed trying to choke the shit down. That’s why men drink it after a long day digging ditches or clear cutting virgin old growth. If you’re going to fructify and chocolatify it, might as well soak a pair of flavored edible panties in ethanol and eat that.”

Convo saver

The two experts politely turned away, which was perfect timing because up came the Godfather. He sat down at the bar next to me and ordered a beer. Like a man, he pointed to my glass and said to the bartender, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Like a man, he didn’t bother to ask what it was, he just assumed that it was strong and bitter and there was a lot of it.

“How’d you get into cycling, Godfather?” I asked him.

The barkeep plopped the huge cold mug in front of him and he paused to take a deep, manly draft after we clinked the shit out of those 12-lb. mugs. “Fatty tuna,” he said.

I thought about that for a second, hoping like hell he wasn’t about to pronounce that there was a finishing note of raw fish. “Not saying I’m drunk, Godfather, but you’re gonna have to help me out with that one.”

“Fatty tuna,” he repeated. “And strawberries.” Then, like a man, he sucked down a full quarter of his glass and dissected it the only way any man worth his salt would ever evaluate a beer. “That shit is good,” he said.

“Damn straight,” I said, adding the only man-approved comment to another man’s approval of a cold beer. “But I’m still not understanding the berries and tuna thing and what it has to do with bikes.”

Godfather lives up on top of the Hill and runs the global energy consulting arm of IBM. He is always nicely dressed and seems like the perfect product of Southern California suburbia. But he isn’t. “You know, I grew up in Pedro,” he said, referring to San Pedro, the impoverished little armpit at the southernmost tail of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. “We were fishermen, and our family had fished the peninsula since they emigrated from a little village in Sicily in the early 1900′s. All of Pedro was fishermen, mostly Italians and Portuguese, and Croats, too.”

“Pedro?” I asked, incredulously. “You mean the place that’s now crawling with gangs and drunk longshoremen and street people who live in shopping carts?”

“The same,” he said. “We had three boats, the biggest was the Giuseppe, a hundred-footer. When I got big enough to work the boat, I was seven, they took me on my first run. We left in the wee hours and sailed up by Abalone Cove, shining lights on the surface to bring up the squid. Once we had a full load of squid, we sailed farther out to the bait barge and cashed in our bait for money that we used to fuel up the Giuseppe and the chaser boat.”

“What’s a chaser boat?”

“We had a little motorboat hanging on the back of the Giuseppe, my dad ran that.”

I tried to envision all of this happening right here on the coast of Southern California in the late 1960′s, a family fishing operation off a peninsula that’s now slathered in tract housing, faux Mediterranean designs, and filled with people whose only conception of beer is fruity finishes and chocolatey noses.

“I bet your old man liked beer,” I said.

“Damn straight he did. But we were a big Italian family, so he loved wine, too. Anyway, we fueled up the boat and headed out because we knew the tuna were running up from Baja, and if we could land a decent catch we’d be able to keep a roof over our heads for the next three months or so. It was a big deal. Grandpa climbed up into the crow’s nest and started scanning the water for dolphin fins because the tuna ran beneath the dolphin schools. Sure enough, he spotted ‘em. He had eyes like a hawk, just like the whalers back in the day.

“He shouted down to dad, and we rolled the chaser boat into the water, and dad cranked the motor and set out after those tuna with grandpa coming up under a full head of steam. Dad got to the school, and started to turn it with the chaser boat, bringing the dolphins back to the Giuseppe, where we had the nets. It was exciting stuff, yelling and the crew doing everything just exactly at the right time and then bam, those nets were filled with tuna and all hell broke loose. We wound up with three tons of tuna that run.”

“So what does that have to do with cycling and strawberries?” I’d managed to hang onto that thread despite the boat chase and the tuna catch and the squid and the old Italians drinking beer.

“I’d ridden my bike down to the harbor that morning at dark-thirty. Dad filleted a 30-lb. cut of fatty tuna, wrapped it in some newspaper, and put it in my basket. Now mind you, the bike and the tuna weighed almost as much as I did. ‘Go get us some berries, Gerald,’ he said. So I had to crank that big steel bicycle loaded down with fresh fish all the way up the wall on 25th Street and out PV Drive South out to what is now Trump National Golf Course. It wasn’t a golf course then, I can assure you.”

“What was it?”

“Strawberry fields. And corn fields. Paolo and Maria Pugliese farmed strawberries all along the coast along with a couple of other families.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“I am not. Where you now see multi-million dollar McMansions and a golf course there used to be strawberry fields and old Italians with sunburnt faces. It took me forever to get there, lugging that fish on that heavy bike. Remember, I was only seven. Finally I got there, and old Paolo took my fish and handed me two big wicker baskets. ‘Go pick your berries, Gerald,’ he said. So for the next two hours I bent over in the fields picking those fresh strawberries, then I rode home.”

“And that is how you got into cycling?” I asked.

Gerald finished off his beer in a one long manly pull. “Yes,” he said. “It is.”

END

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Bloor Road to Blue Bluff TT: Back to the future

February 27, 2011 § 8 Comments

The first USCF race I ever entered was one of the very, very few USCF races I ever won. It was February, 1984. I had just gotten my Cat 4 license and joined the Violet Crown Sports Association in Austin after six or seven months doing their weekend training rides, the highlight of which were the “dirt road low water crossing sprints.” Jack and Phil and Mike knew every dirt road within a 100-mile radius of Austin, and every weekend ride featured numerous detours down roads that weren’t even on a map. Every time we’d hit a low water crossing, which was about every fifteen minutes, the peloton would slam on the brakes, throw the bikes onto the roadside, and pass around a massive joint.

I inhaled lots, not because I ever smoked but because the conflagration would send up plumes of smoke so thick that you couldn’t not partake. The group would then leap back on their bikes, and anyone who thinks pot isn’t a performance enhancing drug should have been on one of those rides. The pace would go from zero to hammer-forty in ten seconds, strung out into a line of dust eating, big ring churning, full-on pedal floggers.

No more than two or three minutes later, however, the hammer euphoria of the drug would morph into the wow, dude, mellow phase and the pace line of raw meat eating musclemen would become a slow, meandering, peaceful aggregation of happy riders. But those first two minutes…what performance!

Only the hard men need apply

In order to keep its USCF club license, the Violet Crown, snidely referred to by the envious as the “Violent Clowns” would annually throw together a “race,” usually announced a week or two in advance. In 1984 it was the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial, in between Austin and Manor just off FM 973. Total distance was 4 miles.

I still remember the excitement, getting up at 6:00 a.m., eating a bowl of yogurt and granola, airing up the tires in my bright purple Picchio Rigida, pulling on my Detto Pietra shoes and pedaling from campus out to the course on that freezing February morning. By the time I got there I was frozen solid, and to my surprise, which should have been no surprise, Bloor Road was all dirt, and it began at the bottom of a steep hill. I wondered what would happen if there were a low water crossing.

Five other riders showed up, including Mike B., who was a junior and who had the first cyclocross bike I’d ever seen. Also present were  Jack P. and maybe Tom P. When the results were tabulated, I was the winner over Mike by a few seconds. The organizers had either found a low water crossing or temporarily dispensed with the requirement, and in between giggles I was awarded first prize: an unopened Laverne and Shirley board game, complete with the plastic wrapping. Just in case you think I’m making that last part up, you can see it by clicking this link. It still remains the most valuable thing I’ve ever won in a bike race, and it has appreciated greatly in value: a vintage game will set you back $77 on Ebay.

PV Hillclimb 2011

Fast forward 27 years. I’m still a Cat 4 for those who idiotically believe that if you persevere at cycling you’ll eventually get better. The PV Hillclimb series (is two a series?) is sponsored by local promoter Brad H., Big Orange Cycling member, bicycle activist, endurance racer, elbow flapper, and 2009 state time trial champion in the category of mixed tandem combined age 90+ (of the four teams, one was disqualified because the guy had an expired license and the gal had “no license info available”). Brad has shown his thirst for the kill on numerous occasions, most memorably when he wrecked me at last year’s Devil’s Punchbowl. I’ve mentioned this in previous blog postings, but not because it bothers me. I barely remember it, in fact. I also hardly remember him regaling Rod G. with the race outcome by saying, “I don’t know what happened to Seth. He just crumbled. So I rode away.” For the record I’m not even slightly bitter, because I’m bigger than that.

I got up excitedly at 6:00 a.m., ate a bowl of yogurt and granola, aired up the tires in my white Specialized, pulled on my Sidi shoes, and pedaled from home out to the course on what was a freezing February morning, replete with hail along PV Drive from last night’s hailstorm. I rolled along on fire as the Mad Alchemy “Madness” high heat embrocation cream had gotten smeared up high and inside the chamois, and my parts were simply smoking.

Prices have gone up since 1984, when it cost me $5 to enter the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff TT. Brad’s PV Hillclimb set me back $25, but it would prove to be worth every penny. Although there was no Laverne and Shirley board game on offer, the winner would have his name engraved in a PDF file and permanently uploaded to the World Wide Web. I shelled out my money and  continued up the hill to warm up.

Cycling on the Palos Verdes Peninsula has several iconic climbs, and this course is one of them. It’s six miles long, starts at the nature center at the bottom of the reservoir, and goes up Palos Verdes Drive to Marymount College. At the college you turn right and head up Crest to the radar domes. The total distance is six miles, with about .5 mile of downhill halfway up the climb. The first three miles are a gradual grade, no more than 4 or 5%. After the downhill the road tilts back up, and then you go right at the college where there’s a short but steep section before the road settles down into a gradual climb up to the finish. It’s easy to come out too hot on this course and run out of gas once you hit the college. It’s also easy to hold too much in reserve and finish with gas in the tank. My goal was to hold 310-315 watts for the entirety of the climb.

When the cat’s away

This weekend bragged an absence of the South Bay hammerati due to the Callville Bay Classic in Nevada and the Ontario crit. Other lightning fast climbers had gone north, where they could pedal as many long hills as they wanted without having to pay for it. The absence of a Laverne and Shirley board game, the cold weather, competing events, and common sense meant that when sign-up closed only 37 idiots had penned their names and paid their money.

Teammates Kevin, Jon, Bob, Greg, Alan H., and Alan M. toed the line and went off on schedule. Kevin won the 35+, and Jon got second. A couple of minutes into my ride I started to remember why it had been 27 years since the last uphill time trial: they really hurt. My category included 6 other riders, so it was bigger than the entire field in 1984. Moreover, one of the hungry Hard Men against whom I had to prove my mettle was Big Brad, the glare from his white state champion’s mixed tandem 90+ TT jersey blinding in its refulgence.

The sweet taste of victory

My minute man was a furry Freddie, and I overtook him with ease. My two minute man was furry Freddie’s furrier cousin, and I devoured him as well. At the finish I turned in a 22:31, which was good enough to put me atop the 45+ category, relegating the six other pretenders to the ash heap of defeat. In the course of human endeavor, has anyone ever achieved more? In the annals of cycling, has a more glorious chapter ever been written?

I stood at the roadside, sucking in the winter smog and reflecting on my accomplishment. How did this compare to Merckx’s Mexico City hour record in ’72? To his Giro TT victory in ’73? To Boardman in ’96? Surely those events, noteworthy as they were, couldn’t compare to this field of six that I had so totally dominated. Did Merckx, Moser, or Rominger ever have Brad H. snapping at their heels? Were any of those titans ever hardened by the spoils of victory in their early years by a Laverne and Shirley board game? I doubt it.

Race results here: http://www.backontrackproductions.com/2011TTClifClimb2ZLTS.htm

Race WKO+ power file here: https://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0Bwllm4cLW7EBYzk0ODdlYTctNWI2YS00NGI3LWFkNmEtYWRkNjNjMTJmMTAy&sort=name&layout=list&num=50

Batshit crazy product testing: Mad Alchemy medium embrocation

February 2, 2011 § 2 Comments

People who’ve done the Boulevard road race have varying memories of it. Mine, aside from crushing defeat, ignominious defeat, and humiliating defeat, are mostly centered on having been frozen to the core. Last year the race began in a freezing rain. The year before it snowed. This year the forecast is for sunshine, but if you check the course elevation–5,000 feet, same as Denver, Colorado–you’ll know that the forecast can change quickly. My expectation is that it will be very cold or at least very chilly, maybe even batshit miserable.

The whole idea behind embrocation is to heat your legs without covering them in lots of restrictive clothing. The other point is to augment your training/racing without having to say “I use Ben-Gay.” The biggest benefit of an embrocation is that it sounds very pro and very Euro, more so if you just say “embro.” Finally, of course, it has the talisman effect of cream in a jar, stored in a small bag, and rubbed on like a magic elixir prior to going forth to do battle. Davis Phinney used to achieve the same effect with his “lucky shorts.” After a few grand tours that must have been lots gnarlier than this stinky gel in a jar.

Mad Alchemy appeals to the most base bike racing instincts: its name admits mental instability and suggests a thoroughly discredited scientific theory. False advertising lawsuits need not apply.

How much to use?

If you’re cycling on the Palos Verdes peninsula, the pre-dawn temperatures can vary from the high 30′s to the low 50′s this time of year. Getting the type of embrocation right, and then smearing on the proper quantity, involve lots of trial and error. I bought a jar of Mad Alchemy Cold Weather Medium, recommended for temperatures from 30-60F, and a jar of Mad Alchemy Cold Weather Madness, recommended for putting on your shelf as a reminder that if you need this stuff it’s too damned cold to be outdoors on a bike.

Last Friday it was in the high 40′s and I put some medium cream on my legs, not very much, in fact, and I paid scrupulous attention to putting my shorts on first, rolling up the legs, and only then applying. If you put it on nude and then pull up your shorts, you will get hot dick and frypan balls, as described in a previous post. If you’re a woman I shudder to think what the phenomenon would be called. After a few minutes the Mad Alchemy warmed up my legs so that no leg warmers were needed at all. However, I didn’t put enough embrocation on so that after two hours my legs were cold.

On Saturday it was in the low 40′s and I put on medium cream, this time slathering it on pretty heavily. It worked wonders, especially since the temperature got up into the 60′s after a couple of hours. The heat remained on my legs for five or six hours, and it was exacerbated by sunshine. I also stuck a finger in my eye almost eight hours after using the cream, and it burned like hell for about thirty minutes. Lesson: wash your hands, dumbshit.

On Tuesday it was in the high 40′s and, like Friday, I used the medium cream. My legs were warm but my hands and feet, which were protected only with thin gloves and sock material booties, were really cold. I decided that today I would lather up my feet and hands as well as my legs and see how that worked. One side effect after yesterday morning’s ride was that after showering (hot water makes your legs really burn) and getting dressed for work, my legs pulsed heat for another couple of hours in the office. People were actually huddling around my thighs for warmth. That’s what they said.

This morning I put on what I thought was a lot, and rubbed it between my toes, all over the tops and soles of my feet, and on the back of my hands. I considered putting a pinch between my cheek and gum, but didn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t check the temperature until I rolled out. It was in the mid-30′s, and even though my legs, hands, and feet were toasty warm, the rest of me froze to hell. Lesson: make sure you’re bundled up, up top. The medium embrocation was at its limit, and I probably could have used the extra hot cold weather Madness. If it’s cold enough tomorrow, I will give it a try.

The best thing about this product is that it’s really expensive. At $20 a jar, you can spend several hundred dollars a year just on your pro “embro.” Studies have shown a correlation between the amount of money you spend and the amount of pro-ness you feel on the bike, and if nothing else it will give your wife another item on the monthly credit card bill to nitpick and criticize. Not that it happens in my family. Right, honey?

Buy or not to buy?

Definitely buy. It’s a good product and it works.  You’ll pedal faster and stronger in cold weather without all the lycra on your legs. Not sure if rapeseed oil, the active ingredient, is on the UCI list of banned substances, but it’s definitely in the California Penal Code. Use with caution.

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