Helping the younger generation

May 26, 2014 § 16 Comments

One of the things most important to me is helping young folks, especially young bicycle riders. Although I have never coached anyone, whenever I ride I keep an eye out for young, impressionable minds who might need a bit of help with regard to learning the ropes in this complicated and demanding sport.

We started this morning and chugged along towards the base of the reservoir climb. The Wheatgrass Ride, held every Sunday, is an amalgamation of old and slow people who either have an AARP card or soon will. One or two tough guys such as the Wily Greek regularly show up, but for the most part it’s our one chance to beat up on other old people, or to avenge the wounds suffered the day before on the Donut Ride, wounds inflicted by young, strong, fit riders who lack the chub and flab and other indicia of age and inability.

I hit the bottom of the reservoir with a vengeance. Halfway up there was a gaggle of nine or ten riders on my wheel from the original group of about thirty. I swung over and Canyon Bob charged through with a very young rider tucked in behind. A slight gap opened and I hopped in behind Young Pup.

Bob mashed and smashed, shedding a few riders, and swung over. Young Pup swung over, too.

I pulled through and pounded the few IQ points I had left in a mad surge to the top of the climb. At the top I wobbled over to the side, wasted, and Hoof Fixer Man pounded through.

I clawed onto the back and coasted the long downhill all the way to the foot of Better Homes. Hoof Fixer Man accelerated up the hill and there was only a group of five or six left.

Ugly Ankles, who never takes a pull but who is also close to 90, attacked. I strained to bridge, towing the gaggle with me. As I started to fizzle and pop, Young Pup bounded by, dropping us easily, closing the gap, and fastening onto Ugly Ankles’s wheel like a suckerfish attaching itself to a dugong.

Now the chase was in earnest. With four riders on my wheel I pushed and groaned and flailed, and after five desperate elbow flicks Chatty Cathy finally, reluctantly, barely pulled through. He was no match for Ugly Ankles, however, who easily kept the distance.

Young Pup sat tucked in behind the dugong-draft, stick-like legs merrily spinning away.

The climb flattened and then reached the base of the longer, tougher climb to the Domes. Young Pup jumped hard and dropped Ugly Ankles on the first steep ramp, dropped him like a heavy turd from a tall horse.

I jumped too, and was now chasing Young Pup alone. Except for the brief respite by Canyon Bob and Chatty Cathy, I’d been mashing for the entirety of the morning’s climbing. Young Pup couldn’t get any farther away, but I couldn’t claw him back, either. He kept looking back to make sure I was in check, and I was.

Then the Wily Greek came by. He’d spent the better part of the morning twiddling his thumbs, and he overtook the elderly fellows and the elderly me with ease, gliding by on the climb hardly breathing. As he raced up the road, Young Pup jumped on his wheel and held it for a couple of hundred yards before blowing. Still, he’d increased his distance, putting my effort further out of reach, and his insectan recovery rate meant that within a few seconds he was racing off again.

At the top of the climb Young Pup wheeled around to watch us straggle in. I was the next finisher, a long way back. I pedaled up to him.

“Can I give you some advice?”

“Sure.” He was pleased to accept whatever tidbits I had to offer, seeing as how he’d bludgeoned me into a bag of broken dicks.

“When you suck wheel on a gang of old farts, most of whom have children old enough to be your parents, and then at the very end jump by them, fresh as a daisy after they’re worn to shit … no one’s impressed.”

His face fell and his lip quivered.

“If you’re good enough to smush us like a bug — and you are — then you’re good enough to attack early, or take a fuggin’ pull, or do something classier than suck and jump. There’s no honor in strategically out-riding your granddad.”

He looked like he was going to cry, but he didn’t. He clipped in and coasted down the hill.

A buddy came up. “That was a bit harsh, don’t you think?”

“I hope it was. If they learn chickenshit riding when they’re young, they’ll ride chickenshit all their lives.”

“It was pretty good tactical riding.”

“Yeah, except this isn’t a race and there’s no one here on his level except the Wily Greek.”

“He’s just a junior.”

“I’m just an old man.”

We regrouped at the bottom of the Switchbacks and the group rolled at a stiff pace to the bottom of the Glass Church hill. Davy ramped it up the long roller with Young Pup on his wheel. Davy swung over and Young Pup charged ahead. It was a vicious, long, thoroughly nasty headwind pull that instantly put everyone into the red.

He swung over and I came through, trying to match his effort. When I finished my turn, I looked at his face as he hit the front again. His mouth was twisted open in agony. Chunks of spit caulked his cheeks and face. He was gasping as if he’d been harpooned.

Still he hit the front and, after stuffing us in the hurt locker, punted the hurt locker off the cliff.

I would have told him “good job.” But I couldn’t.

END

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Softmen and the kittens of Flanders

April 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

Early yesterday morning, California time, the hardmen were fighting for glory on the roads to Roubaix as the heir to the mantle of “Lion of Flanders” equaled Roger deVlaeminck’s four wins in the Hell of the North.

As Tom Boonen rode a star-studded field of classics specialists off his wheel in a stunning attack 50km from the finish, a different group of cyclists, still bleary from the early hour, sat around the TV at StageOne Sports World HQ in Redondo Beach. Cheeks pooching out with chewy, tender, sugary muffins, tummies expanding just a tad bit further with each swallow of the buttery croissants, we, the softmen of SoCal, represented the kittens of Flanders. At our feet bounded Zeke the Wonder Dog, snarfling up whatever scraps hit the floor, clearing the table with his 40-lb. tail, nuzzling the crotches of the embarrassed ladies, emitting periodic blasts of wonderdogfarts, and feeling generally pleased that so many people had showed up at such an early hour to scratch his back, rub his head, and titillate his olfactories.

Thoughts determine words. Words determine actions. Actions determine character.

The only thing that anyone with a brain could possibly think after watching Boonen’s tour de force was, “I’m a weak pussy.” In that vein, our small group that included Sparkles, Junkyard, Toronto, Big Bowles, Hockeystick, and VV pedaled up to Malaga Cove to hook up with the Wheatgrass Ride.

We met up with Iron Mike, Clodhopper, Wild Carrot, Ihatetherain, Mephistostaphipapadopoulous, Nimrod, Canyon Bob, Pilot, Sumo, Cutiepies, Psycho Mike, Dutchy, and Fishnchips. And although we were prepared for an epic pedal, we weren’t prepared for the tire.

By tire, I mean Big Bowles’s tire. We had started the pell-mell dash towards the glass church, with Clodhopper bulling away on the downhill like a giant load of dirt that had been dumped off a cliff. Clodhopper’s former self is a waif-like shadow of his current self, as sitting on his wheel is affectionately known as the “Cadillac draft.” The only down side is his backside, which peers out from beneath the threadbare lycra shorts whose expiration date passed in ’97 to reveal the unblinking evil eye of Mordor, so awful to look at but from which it is so impossible to avert your gaze.

Why it’s worthwhile to endure the stare of the hairy eye

In addition to the gigantic swath he cuts through the wind, Clodhopper is a great wheel because when the going gets nasty, no one can suffer like he can. Beneath the layers of walrus-ite and packed into the chest cavity of this enormous lunk are the heart and lungs of a former world record holder in the 1600m relay. You can see the video here.

Now I know that you’re really proud of that podium in the Cat 4’s, and I know that it really meant a lot when you got that colorful jersey in the masters road race, but can we please put your lameness in perspective? Clodhopper once held the fastest time over 1600 meters ever recorded by any human being who ever ran.

Unlike bicycling, which is available at the elite competitive level only for people who can afford to spend on their bicycle a sum equal to the average annual income of the average human being in 2012, running is available to everyone with two legs. Whereas the competitive pool for cycling is a tiny genre within a microscopic niche inside a practically invisible crevice, the competitive pool for runners puts the poorest on a par with the richest. Got legs? You can play the game.

So you can forgive (maybe) Clodhopper’s pennypinching on the shorts, you can forgive his slightly expanded waistline, and most of all, you can appreciate the strength, power, and ability to suffer of this pedal-mashing, hairy-assed, cupcake-snorting leviathan.

It seemed like a good idea at the time

As Clodhopper drove us through Portuguese Bend, the ragged line of desperate wheelsucks clawed and gasped as they clung to whatever vestiges of Clodhopper’s draft were still available after about sixth wheel. And as the menu always dictates, Big Bowles had found shelter against the wind nestled in behind the portly protection of Fishnchips.

This time, however, Big Bowles’s recipe for survival hit a snag. The protection afforded by Fishnchips’s posterior was so vast that it blocked out Big Bowles’s view of the road. It blocked the shoulder, the hillsides, the Pacific Ocean, and, if you had sat behind him long enough, it would have eventually caused a solar eclipse, so total, wide, and complete was the gigantitude of the Welshman’s gluteus maximus fatticus.

Somewhere near the turnoff to Artiste’s house, everyone swerved to avoid a giant piece of asphalt lying atop the tarmac. Big Bowles, blinded by the hugeormity of Fishnchips, discovered the asphalt piece by striking it at 32 mph with his front wheel. Oh, how quickly the joys of a snug draft turn to terror and destruction! He managed not to crash, and for a brief moment those who hadn’t cared enough to alert him to the asphalt voiced concern regarding his wheel. “You okay, dude?” they asked just before they accelerated over the final hump, dropping him completely.

“I’m fine,” Big Bowles wailed. “These are self-sealing tubeless tires!”

There is no such thing as a self-sealing bicycle tire

The romp up by the Glass Church resulted in a shattering of sorts, with me pedaling an itsy bit, Ihatetherain taking a dig, and Clodhopper making one massive, cetacean-like pull all the way to the next-to-last bump. Ihatetherain jumped away, followed by Iron Mike, and then all were sent packing by El Peruano, who had joined us in Portuguese Bend and decided to put the group to the sword.

I sucked wheel as long as possible before ditching El Peruano and racing first to the sign, ahead of Sumo and Mephistostaphipapadopoulous, only to find that our finish-line “No Parking” sign on a wooden post had been replaced by four “No Parking” signs on metal posts. I reached the first sign and sat up, declaring victory.

By the time Big Bowles limped up to the group, his self-sealing tire wasn’t sealing all that great. “Gimme a shot, Bobby,” he said to Canyon Bob, who always carries a hand pump so that he can bail out the other wankers who use all twelve C02 cartridges on their first flat. Canyon Bob gave him the shot, and Big Bowles’s self-sealing tire continued its leaking frenzy.

“What’s with this darned thing?” Bowles asked. “I’d better go ahead and put in a tube. These tubeless tires can be ridden with a tube if you have to. They’re pretty cool that way.”

What was with that darned thing

The next thing I knew, Big Bowles had taken off the wheel and removed the tire from the rim, and the green slime tire sealant was covering his hands, quickly spreading to his face and then even his feet so that he looked like Brer Rabbit cagefighting with the Green Tar Baby from Mars.

The green slime sealant picked up bits of glass, rock, gravel, dirt, gum wrappers, cigarette butts, used condoms, and even an old gas cap, so that by the time Big Bowles was finished with the surgery he looked like a punk rock Christmas tree. We stuck him back on his bike and continued the plod up Hawthorne.

Clodhopper and I got mostly up the climb and then pulled over next to the bus stop across from the Ralph’s to wait for the others. As we stood there, up whizzed one of those Chevy’s that they made to look like a PT Cruiser, only with better velour seats. Out jumped a fellow in a three-piece suit and red necktie, stopping his car smack in the lane of traffic, and dashed over to the trash can next to the bus stop.

After a few quick rustles and dives, he ran back to his car, hands filled with a few bottles and a couple of cans. “That’s a hard way to earn seven and a half cents,” I marveled.

“After subtracting the cost of gas he’s losing money,” mused Clod. “Massively.”

We watched as the PT Chevy zoomed up to the next bus stop and repeated his cash collection, marveling at how unbelievably cheap and poor the rich people were in RPV, and how you’d never see such a thing in PVE, as they do it late at night.

After a while we got to the Jamba Juice, where Iron Mike and Psycho Mike treated everyone to multiple rounds of wheatgrass, a foul concoction that “cleanses the blood,” which is another way of saying that your turds are bright green for the next few days.

Psycho Mike had brought along a buddy, Cap’n Jim, pilot of a San Pedro tugboat, who almost caused StageOne to have an aneurysm by wearing a pair of Bike Palace shorts and a white/green/brown jersey that had the outline of a human skeleton (front and back) with all the organs in perfect Gray’s Anatomy placement.

We savored our wheatgrass, and called it a day. Big Bowles called a cab.

Sweat the small stuff

November 20, 2011 § 5 Comments

It was kind of nasty out there.

People ride for different reasons. I ride for the pleasure that I get from the pain.

I marvel at people who enjoy riding simply for the beauty and pleasure of turning the pedals on a sunny day. I envy those for whom cycling is a weapon among their arsenal of fitness tools. I’m awed by those who discovered the bike hard on the heels of an illness or a condition like alcoholism, obesity or diabetes, and have used cycling as a pathway to health.

Most of all I wish I were like the people who can look out the window on a cold, wet day with squalls and lower temperatures in the forecast and just say, “Fuck it. I’m going back to bed.”

The sting of the lash

By today’s standards, I was an abused child. By Texas standards in the 1960’s, I was a little miscreant who deserved every whipping I got, and probably a few hundred that I didn’t. By the Davidson family standards, which originated in frontier Tennessee, fought and somehow survived the Civil War, and ended up in West Texas ranching a corner of barren desert scrub, I got off easy.

No matter. As a child I lived through horrible beatings that I still can’t square with my reality, the reality of a parent who, after a handful of halfhearted spankings administered to my daughter when she was very young, never struck a child again. Something about the ferocity of my childhood whippings has been beaten so deeply into me that they are inextricably bound up in the sinew and muscle of my very being.

The big black beard, the flashing angry eyes, the powerful arms, the fury, the terror, the crazy attempts to escape, the submission, and the sting of the lash. Over and over, until the pain engulfed my frail body, until the sobs and screams were so deep and racking that they sucked even the primitive will to survive out of my dancing legs, just standing there limp and blind, absorbing the biting, angry, relentless sting of the lash.

That terrible pain, pain so sharp and awful, inflicted by the person I loved and admired and wanted to be like most, can for me only truly be exorcised a few moments at a time, on two wheels, during those fleeting seconds when everything is screaming stop, but the waves of hurt roll on, shutting out everything else.

Am I the only one?

The rain of pain falls mainly on your brain

For me, then, the wind and the rain and the cold aren’t deterrents. They are, rather, accelerators that get me quickly to the pleasure zone, where effort becomes work, and the work then becomes discomfort, and the discomfort morphs into either the extreme exhaustion of a long ride or the searing pain of a bad climb or a hellish rotation or a solo chase in no-man’s-land with no hope of ever latching back on.

This morning I hooked up with Iron Mike’s Wheatgrass Ride after fielding a torrent of texts and emails about the weather. Is it raining up on the Hill? It’s gonna worse, isn’t it? I don’t know if I should go, are you going? Etc.

Of course I’m going. Look at all that pain out there, waiting to be harvested. I have to.

We pulled out of Malaga Cove under threatening skies and a few drops of rain. The sunny riders had already drawn their line in the sand. “If it gets any worse, I’m going home.” Which it did, and which they did.

Soon we hit the turn at the bottom of the reservoir and began the climb up to Homes and Domes. The rain began to really fall, not stylish and well-dressed rain that’s too cool to come down hard, but like Texas rain. Thick, wet, hard, and cold. I shuddered from the pleasure as the wet drizzled down into my shoes and as the thick, greasy layer of embrocation pumped the heat down into the soles of my feet.

Here I was, again, riding with ten stalwart friends tucked on my wheel, their faces splattered with the dirty rain kicked up from my rear wheel. Were they having as much fun as I was? Why were they out here on a day like this? But even with them I was alone, falling into that old place, the place that started out as gentle ripples but promising something worse, something better, something infinitely more, piercing some black secret if only a second so that I could peer into the void and understand how. Understand why. Why?

Wiping away the hurt

There’s a 4.9-mile stretch on the Wheatgrass Ride that takes you from the bottom of the Switchbacks to the church on the right just before Hawthorne. It has a little of everything. It rolls, it has a couple of sharp, short kickers, it has a terribly deceptive gradual uphill, it has a gentle, long screaming downhill, it has a few twists, and on Strava it has a record set by my good friend Douggie on January 8, 2010.

I’ve been trying to break that record for months. I’ve assaulted it with ten other guys riding a paceline, with a handful of 3-4 engines, as a duo, and even solo. No matter what the configuration, the closest I’ve ever gotten is about a minute from his record of 9:57. When we dropped off the Switchbacks this morning I felt the howling tailwind that everyone had assured me was the key ingredient missing from all of our previous failed attempts.

I went. There were three riders in front of me: Fisherman, Clodhopper, and Frankendave. I passed them and kept up the heat through Portuguese Bend. The ripples turned into waves. At the glass church Fisherman and Clodhopper flashed by, then blew. I soldiered up the roller, never thinking I had a chance. And all the while I saw it coming, the white hot sting of the lash.

Over and over and over until there was no Strava, no Wheatgrass, no bike, just a snotslick strip of pavement and a tunnelled blur and the raging flush of the fury and the terror and the pain choking off everything except the silent scream within begging for it all to stop.

And bam. It stopped. And I had the new record by eleven seconds.

To the happy lovers exiting the Hawthorne Starbucks I was covered in snot and grit and grime and filth. But to me, I was cleansed from within. Again.

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