Peak performance

March 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

The best way to win the Donut Ride is to wait until a big race that attracts all the hitters. To quote Derek the Destroyer’s “First Maxim for Winning”: Your results are predetermined by who shows up.

The San Dimas Stage Robbery had started on Friday, and the usual complement of legit racers was, quite literally, off to the races. Leaky and creaky, I never have a chance to make it first to the top of the radar domes, but today, well, there was at least a chance.

At the bottom of the Switchbacks the group of twelve riders broke apart and by the first turn it was me, Tasker, Roberto, and Marco C., with Marco sitting on the front and churning out the watts. I sat on his wheel for a bit but he’s been in training and is now tipping the scales at 118, a weight that makes Strava Junior look like a fatty.

I dropped back to suck wheel behind Roberto while Tasker had the unenviable task of sitting behind the wraith. Marco dragged us all the way to the college, where Roberto pulled off, and then Marco dragged us all the way to the domes. I planned a sneak attack at the end to punish him for doing all the work, but well before my treachery he simply accelerated and pedaled away from us.

I surged by Tasker and elbowed him into the cones to keep him from getting fake second in our fake race.

Marco is fast and tough and has been around forever, one of the mainstays of the South Bay, but now that he’s on the air and water diet he’s simply leaving behind those of us who enjoy chocolate and donuts (not to mention chocolate donuts). Which got me to thinking about peak performance vs. mediocrity.

There are a lot of superlative riders in the South Bay, but many of them peak and valley. The peaks don’t usually last for long, a season is rare, two seasons Bachmann’s warbler rare … and the valleys can go on for years. In fact, some riders hit an extended peak and you never hear from them again.

On the other hand, there is a whole gaggle of hackers who never hit peak anything. As I like to say, my athletic profile is “slightly better than half-assed.” We mediocre riders never peak, but we never valley, either. Where we were last week is pretty much where we’ll be next week.

I’ve wondered why peak performance riding is so often correlated with extended disappearances. Part of it is the difficulty of achieving “race weight.” The other part is the awful horrible terribleness of FTP workouts, metering your farts on TrainingPeaks, and of course the bane of the non-insane, intervals. It takes so much to be your best. The other other part is that once you enjoy the rarefied air of putting everyone to the sword, it sucks to droop to the back of the bus, hanging on for dear life at the mercy of whoever the latest Peak Performance Flavor of the Month happens to be.

It’s why Eddy Merckx doesn’t fly over from Belgium every Tuesday for Telo, I guess. In his (limited) worldview, competing in our local training crit isn’t as impressive as winning five Tours and setting an hour record.

But to be your most mediocre? That takes considerably less than your best and it leaves room for chocolate donuts. It’s damned hard to do 3 x 20s, whereas it’s darned easy to ride with Gussy and have a croissant … and which person do you think is smiling at the end of the ride? Hint: It’s not the guy who just eked out another .01 w/kg and is going home to a dinner of one boiled egg and a sprig of raw kale.

Put another way, mediocrity is a long-haul tool; excellence is a roman candle. Both have their place, and the life of the ascetic sure looks enviable when it’s dragging you around with your tongue in the spokes.

But man, that chocolate donut …

END

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Failed parent

March 25, 2017 § 28 Comments

Every parent has their secret horror, the words their child might utter, words that would make a mockery of everything the parent has tried to teach. Here are the most common parenting fears:

“Dad, I need to talk with you about my retail heroin operation.”

“Dad, would you still love me if I voted for Trump?”

“Dad, I’m having an affair. With mom.”

But for me none of those awful scenarios is nearly as frightening, terrifying, or depressing as this one: “Dad, I’ve gotten into cycling.” Because that’s what my daughter said.

Where did I go wrong? I thought I had showed her the folly of bicycles, how riding them would, in the words of the immortal Fields, “Lead to the bottom of a dumpster.”

I had talked with her about my friends who had pursued “bike racing,” “bike touring,” “grand fondues,” and worst of all, “the bicycle industry” only to wind up washed up. The list was endless. Cyclists turned Buddhists. Cyclists turned bankruptcy lawyers. Cyclists turned brewers, politicians, consultants, adult video actors, yes, even cyclists who had sunken to the worst depravity of all, triathlons.

And it seemed like my efforts had worked. I even took her on a couple of “fun” 40-mile rides on a bike with no gears and 4,000-feet of elevation to make sure she hated it, and she did! For years the mere mention of the word “bicycle” made her angry. Best of all, I could look her in the eye and say, “Do you want to be like me?” and watch the color drain out of her face before adding, “then be a cyclist.”

So I slept soundly for twenty-eight years, safe in the knowledge that another kind, decent, well-adjusted person had been saved from the mindless insanity of madly dashing hither and yon in search of new ways to waste more time and even more money.

Until a couple of months ago, when I noticed the warning signs, which for me were roaring, screeching, sirens. “Hey Dad, I went for a bike ride today!”

After that it was only a matter of time before she began wearing something other than her husband’s six-year-old hand-me-down shorts, baggy t-shirts, and leggings with skeleton prints on the outside. THE LAST TIME I SAW SOMEONE FALL HOPELESSLY, INSANELY HARD FOR CYCLING WAS WHEN MMX RODE WITH A SKELETON-PRINT JERSEY. WHAT IS IT ABOUT SKELETON PRINTS????

We rode together. The first time up Silver Spur, she walked. The second time, she walked half-way. The third time, she rode.

A month passed before she broke the terrible news, with a smile of course. “Hey, Dad! I’m on Strava!”

I sobbed softly, hand trembling for the beer I wished was there. “Yes?” I asked quietly.

“Yeah! And I got 2nd on the Monero segment!! Behind some girl named Frenchie!!”

“Oh,” I mumbled.

“Do you know her? Is she really good?”

“No,” I said. “Yes.” This was what it felt like to have a child go off to war and never come back.

“I’m only a few seconds down,” she said excitedly. “I’m gonna try hard to get that QOM!”

I looked at her tennis shoes, her MTB handlebars, and her 35-pound chromoly bike. Here was my dear child, coming to me with a Strava problem. How would I tell her the insanity of it all? The madness? The addiction? The waste of a young and beautiful life? How would I tell her to burn her bike and buy a Range Rover?

Our eyes met. “Look, honey,” I said, taking the deepest breath of my entire life.

“Yeah?” she said.

“You gotta approach Monero from Granvia and Hawthorne on the downhill. Slam the right-hander, rail the turn and let the momentum take you up the first quarter of the bump before you have to dig. Then hold about 90% to the crest, but save your last 10% for the flat after the top. That’s where people bog. You’ll nail it.”

She looked at me, giddy. “Thanks, Dad!”

END

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World fame on Amazon

March 24, 2017 § 19 Comments

There are two ways to know you’ve hit the big time.

  1. Your $2.99 blog finally gets four subscribers, none of whom is a family member.
  2. You get mentioned on an Amazon bicycle customer review.

One of these just happened. Click here.

END

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Hired Guns: Part 2

March 23, 2017 § 32 Comments

Part 2: Red Cross Store Blues

When I was a kid there was a lot of empty time. My Dad had a set of Leadbelly’s Last Sessions and I’d put them on the record player when no one was home because if you were a little kid using the adult record player you would get an ass beating. Huddie Ledbetter was himself part of the great black exodus from the South, leaving Texas after serving a prison sentence in Louisiana.

Towns across America were viciously racist in the early 20th Century, and few protests capture the times better than Leadbelly’s Red Cross Store Blues, a song in which the protagonist refuses to be snookered by the Red Cross welfare stores to enlist in a war he has no intention of joining. The other giant of the early blues era and a World War I veteran, Bill Broonzy, was even more to the point with Black, Brown and White.

The work of great blues musicians may seem irrelevant to cyclists pedaling through a rich white town a century later, but the tools put in place to oppress blacks in PV Estates almost a hundred years ago have proven equally effective at harassing another group of undesirables: Bicyclists.

There is disagreement about why so many PV Estates residents so virulently oppose bicycling. My opinion is a minority one, but it has the advantage of being backed by over four hundred years of history: The city’s behavior is rooted in racism.

We don’t have to go back to the slave ships to understand how important racism was to the founding of PV Estates, as well as the founding and maintenance of its police force. The city’s founders spelled it out, quite literally, in black and in white. Their founding document? Racially restrictive deed covenants that forbade the sale of property to non-whites.

In this regard PV Estates was no different from hundreds of other communities across America, and its origins are indistinguishable from California’s other richest and whitest coastal communities. Of the 13,438 people who lived in PV Estates as of the last census, 161 were black. That’s 1.2 percent. This segregation of the races was inherent in the development of the community and countless others like it. Leadbelly and Broonzy would recognize PV Estates today at a glance for the “sundown town” that it is.

Even though we take vague comfort (as long as we’re white) that in some ways race relationships in America have changed since PV Estates was created as a subdivision in 1923, in some fundamental ways those relationships haven’t. I always assumed that PV Estates, like the urban Texas cities I grew up in, was racist. But it wasn’t until I got embroiled in the Great Bicycle Gang Imbroglio that I began to understand that PV Estates wasn’t casually, or accidentally, or coincidentally racist. It was methodically laid out, planned, and executed as a racist community. But as with so much else in our national fabric, to understand how important racial purity was for the founders of the city, you have to turn to law, and you have to understand that PV Estates’ desire to remain racially pure was not unique, special, or unusual. A look into PV Estate’s founding mythology of racial purity is a click away on the Supreme Court’s 1917 decision of Buchanan v. Warley.

Gazing back a century to 1917 it’s almost impossible to use the right lens. Rather than focusing on the future they didn’t yet know – computers, phones, air travel for the masses, television, video cameras, full carbon bikes that are 100% pure carbon, or even bicycles with gears – it’s a lot easier to focus on what their recent past was. The year 1917 was only fifty-two years after the Civil War. 1865 was to them as 1965 is to us: Recent history to most, living history to many, and still redolent with personal recollection and experience.

Americans were still struggling with the awesome weight of understanding the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution: Blacks were people, citizens, the equal of whites, and entitled to the same rights. Much of that “understanding” though involved a low-grade, unending war against implementing those guarantees, and no place was a more bitter battleground than the U.S. Supreme Court.

Joseph McKenna, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Day, Edward Douglass White, Willis Van Devanter, Mahlon Pitney, James Clark McReynolds, and John Hessin Clark were on the U.S. Supreme Court when lawyers argued Buchanan v. Warley. All were northerners except for McReynolds (Kentucky), and White (Louisiana). Louis Brandeis had not yet been confirmed at the time of oral argument and was nominally from Kentucky, but raised in a Jewish family from Prague that valued German culture and that prized Schumann and Schiller as dinner time conversation topics, it’s safe to say that his childhood had little in common with the redneck state in which he was raised.

This constellation of justices, that included two of the greatest jurists to ever sit on the court, rendered the opinion in Buchanan v. Warley, which confronted a simple issue: Can a white man sell property to a black man even though the city of Louisville had an ordinance prohibiting it? It was a test case set up by the NAACP to fight the new wave of segregation that was crashing like a giant close-out over the cities that were absorbing the great black migration from south to north.

Justice William Day, writing for the majority, was no slouch. In his nineteen-year tenure on the court he penned over four hundred opinions, of which only eighteen were dissents. He was an enemy of large corporations and voted with antitrust majorities throughout his time as a justice. But it was nonetheless surprising when he ruled that ordinances prohibiting blacks from owning property in white neighborhoods were unconstitutional.

The decision sent shock waves through the nation. It was the first time in the prior thirty-eight cases that had come before the court regarding civil rights that the court had ruled in favor of blacks. And although the racist south was most deeply entrenched fighting the Fourteenth Amendment, few if any northern or western communities in America wanted to integrate either, and a quick review of PV Estates’ 2010 census data shows that for this enclave at least, little has changed. “If you’re black, oh brother, get back, get back, get back.”

But in those days when questions of race were still so close to the carnage of the Civil War, and the status of blacks had only been elevated in principle rather than in fact, racists felt no qualms about putting their bestial arguments into Supreme Court briefs. Justice Day noted “That there exists a serious and difficult problem arising from a feeling of race hostility which the law is powerless to control, and to which it must give a measure of consideration, may be freely admitted.” This is of course the mantra of the anti-politically correct, or the Trumpers of 2017, a hundred years later: We hate blacks and the law can’t stop us from hating them.

Yet Justice Day was not hobbled by this reality as he considered and then struck down the racist arguments supporting discrimination in housing sales: “It is the purpose of such enactments, and, it is frankly avowed, it will be their ultimate effect, to require by law, at least in residential districts, the compulsory separation of the races on account of color. Such action is said to be essential to the maintenance of the purity of the races, although it is to be noted in the ordinance under consideration that the employment of colored servants in white families is permitted, and nearby residences of colored persons not coming within the blocks, as defined in the ordinance, are not prohibited.” The racists wanted separation of the races but, apparently, not when it came to their servants. This parallel in PV Estates is evident any weekday on countless city streets, where Hispanic workers tend the yards on condition that they leave the city at day’s end. Justice Day made clear that the case was not one of maintaining racial purity, but a white man’s right to sell his property to a black man if he saw fit, and vice versa.

The appellants argued that the proposed segregation would promote the public peace by preventing race conflicts. “Desirable as this is, and important as is the preservation of the public peace, this aim cannot be accomplished by laws or ordinances which deny rights created or protected by the Federal Constitution,” was Day’s curt response.

Finally, Day rebutted the racists’ strongest suit, one that PV Estates residents still bandy about today — property values: “It is said that such acquisitions by colored persons depreciate property owned in the neighborhood by white persons. But property may be acquired by undesirable white neighbors or put to disagreeable though lawful uses with like results.”

And just like that, the constitutionality of these ordinances was tossed on the rubbish heap.

If only racism could have been tossed on the rubbish heap with it.

END

*Note: I’m cobbling this together in fits and starts and am only up to Part 2. The next three installments will be published next week. In the meantime, back to our regular bike racing programming nonesuch and whatnot and etcetera.

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Hired Guns: Part 1

March 22, 2017 § 29 Comments

Part 1: The Tax Man Goeth

The mayor of Palos Verdes Estates, the city council, and over sixty percent of the voters in the last municipal election on March 7, 2017 voted for something so important and crucial to the community that it could only have been given the most anodyne name imaginable: Measure D.

This ballot item, if it had been forced to comply with the same rules of truthful disclosure that we require of foodstuffs, would have been called “City Fire Department and EMS Tax.” Because that’s what it was: A tax to continue paying for that least objectionable and most necessary of all city services – a fire department and its attendant emergency medical services.

Who could possibly vote against that?

The answer turned out to be “about forty percent of the people who voted in an election that had less than thirteen percent of all eligible voters show up to vote.” Normally that would be a crushing victory for the tax man, sixty to forty. But in PV Estates, tax proposals like this one had to be approved by two-thirds of the people who voted, and the end tally left the tax supporters about three hundred votes short. In other words, the people of PV Estates voted, incredibly, not to pay for their own fire and emergency medical services.

It might seem strange to think that a mostly older community with a large proportion of retirees would vote against a fire department. This is no henhouse filled with spring chickens; the city’s median age is a sun-wrinkled, HGH-assisted 50. PV Estates sits on a hilly slope that is highly susceptible to the wildfires that make California such a staple of national night-time summer weather news reports. Setting aside the conflagrations, the fire department is also the first responder when people wake up in the middle of the night with chest pains, when they fall and break a hip, or much more importantly, when their cat gets stuck in a tree.

But voting against the fire department and EMS wasn’t really a vote against either, and it certainly wasn’t a vote against cats. It was a vote against the PV Estates Police Department, an agency that of late had become the endless target of bad news, litigation, and virulent anonymous hate speech attacks.

To understand how a minority of voters could torpedo an entire police department, though, you have to go back to 1978, to Howard Jarvis, and to Proposition 13, the mother of all regressive tax laws. And to understand why the white voters in PV Estates were so staunchly behind regressive taxation, even to the detriment of their own community, you have to go all the way back to the city’s inception and the deed restrictions that marketed PV Estates as an ideal community that would bring together “the cream of the manhood and womanhood of the greatest nation that has ever lived, the Caucasian race and the American nation.” Those were the words of its founder, and his adherents are alive, well, and kicking like hell.

END

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Hired Guns: Introduction

March 21, 2017 § 16 Comments

Introduction

The city of Palos Verdes Estates, or part of it, is battling for the survival of its municipal police force. Opponents want to demolish it and replace it by contracting for law enforcement services with the monolithic Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. It sounds like pedestrian city politics, unless you happen to be a bicyclist. In that case, it isn’t pedestrian at all.

This issue affects a lot more than the pedal pushers who often run stop signs as they breeze through one of the most scenic and challenging bike routes in the United States. Class war, surfing localism, contempt of outsiders, hate speech, enraged small town racists, the California Vehicle Code, murder, Wall Street predators, regressive taxation, and the complex act of understanding and enforcing the law all turn up when this topic is spaded over, like wriggling earthworms in a cool mound of leafy compost.

I got involved in this whole thing backwards, simply by riding my steel Eddy Merckx with down-tube shifters on the way to work one day. I had been in California for a couple of months and was renting a house in Palos Verdes Estates, a place I ended up in entirely by accident. The law office I was working at was in San Pedro, and when I arrived in California I told the realtor, an avid cyclist nicknamed “the Badger,” that I wanted to rent in San Pedro because it was close to my office.

“Dude,” he said. “You don’t want to live in Pedro unless you like lung cancer or want to hang out at Godmother’s. Let me show you some places in PV Estates.”

To my unsophisticated eye it looked like a lot of other suburbs I’d seen throughout my life. Nice homes, affluent people in nice cars, white people everywhere, and, oh yeah, the most stunning scenery imaginable stuck right in the heart of Los Angeles. I traced the road on a map and saw that my commute to San Pedro would be along PV Drive South, a twenty-minute drive with three stoplights, no traffic, and postcard views of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island from start to finish.

Did I mention that this was in the heart of Los Angeles? Because when I told my family back in Texas that I had a twenty-minute, no traffic, sprawling ocean view commute in the middle of LA, they thought I was lying through my teeth and everywhere else.

One morning as I rode to work, because it didn’t take long to figure out that the most beautiful, car-free road in California was also the most beautiful car-free bike commute in California, I blew through a red light at the intersection of Hawthorne and Via Vicente. There was no traffic in any direction, but I hadn’t gotten through the intersection before I heard the siren of the guy I would later get to know as the dreaded Deputy Knox.

By 2007 I had been riding competitively and racing for thirty-five years. I had run tens of thousands of red lights and hundreds of thousands of stop signs, and I had done it in Texas, Japan Germany, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. I’d never been ticketed, not once, and had never been hit by a car. Deputy Knox of the LA Sheriff’s Department pulled me over and wrote me a ticket. I knew enough not to argue with a 6’4” dude carrying a gun, handcuffs, and a radio, but even so I was surprised at his glowering anger. He was prodding and pushing me to react, but I’d experienced that in plenty of other venues with cops, so the more he pushed the meeker I got. I wanted to get to work, not star in a new chapter on civil rights.

Knox wrote the citation, gave me a nasty lecture, and sped away. That encounter, between a meek, bony guy on a bike endangering no one in a victimless crime, and an angry cop trying to prod him into a confrontation, made a huge impression on me. “What if I’d been black?” I wondered, scared. Knox was lean but he was muscular, he was big, and he was ready to arrest me and haul me off to jail if I had given him any guff. My instinct, by the way, proved dead-on the following year when my friend and fellow riding partner Jeff Konsmo was pulled over and cited by Knox. However, unlike my red light violation, Jeff was pulled over because Knox didn’t understand – or chose not to understand – vehicle code section 21202a and its exceptions. When Jeff objected to the grounds of the citation, Knox slapped on the stainless steel jewelry and shoved him in the back of the patrol car.

This was my first and lasting impression of bikes and law enforcement on the peninsula. They hated your guts. You didn’t belong. Get the hell out.

END

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A touch o’ wind

March 20, 2017 § 24 Comments

Before the race G3, who won it the year before, told me that “It’s the hardest race you’ll ever do.”

The Hun, who was driving, nodded savagely. “Absolute fucking hardest,” he said.

When two good friends, experienced road racers, and all-round tough guys tell you that it’s the hardest race you’ll ever do, my (obvious) reaction was to discount everything they said because they were such soft little cream-filled cupcakes.

“So what’s so hard about it?” I asked, bored and hoping they would fill the rest of the 2-hour drive to Desertmethtrailerville with epic lies about their awesomeness and somewhere along the way I could pick up some good intel that would help me attack my teammates and cover myself in glory at their expense.

“Wind,” said G3.

“Fucking wind,” said the Hun.

“Incredible wind,” said G3.

“Wind so fucking bad you gonna cry your mommy,” cursed the Hun.

“The wind is so ferocious it will destroy everyone who doesn’t have a wheel the entire race.”

“Fucking wind gonna break your balls and you gonna quit right away you don’t ride smart.” He cast a sideways glance indicating that “ride smart” wasn’t something he necessarily credited me with.

We got to the course outside Lancaster, which is part of California, but not the good part. I had made sure to fuel up on a Burger King double bacon cheeseburger and fries when we stopped for gas, so although I was properly nutritionized I was not prepared for …

The wind.

On the course, way over in a field, four Big Orange teammates were fighting with a team canopy that had blown several hundred yards into the middle of someone’s dirt and plastic trash orchard, where this year’s crop also included used syringes and not-brand-new condoms.

By the start-finish, all the port-a-potties were lying on their side.

The paperwork at registration was on the ground, weighted by thirty-pound rocks.

Everyone was covered in sand, grit, and anger. Lots of anger.

I got on my bike to warm up and unwisely pointed it with the tailwind. Without pedaling I quickly hit 30 mph, then 35, then with a pedal stroke or two was doing 40. By the time I turned around I had gone so far that returning to base camp took almost thirty minutes and I was already tasting bacon.

Head Down James had just finished racing. “How’d it go?”

“Breezy,” he said.

“How was the climb?’

“Headwind. Three miles. Not too steep. You’ll do fine. But watch the downhill.”

“Sketchy?”

“Straight as an arrow with a couple of gentle curves you can hit without touching your brakes. You’ll easily hit 55. Watch out for the potholes and cracks, and big pieces of cactus blown onto the course, and of course the trash and there’s one place where a load of logs spills out into the road. If you hit one of those at speed it won’t be good.”

“No,” I agreed.

“One guy in our race did and took down five other people.”

“Is that what those five ambulances were for?”

“Yes. No one died though.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah, and watch out for the puppies. There are so many puppies and people have all driven up from LA to photograph them. Gets dicey at 55 with people running back and forth across the highway and pulling over.”

“Puppies?”

“Yeah. They’re gorgeous but watch out.”

“How’d you La Grange guys do?”

“We swept the podium.”

At that moment a blast of sand swept in and covered us, sticking to James’s sweaty face and my sunscreened one.

Our race began straight into the headwind up the 3-mile climb, with about twenty very old, very tired, and very apprehensive fellows engaged in a fierce competition to do nothing but hide. Contemptuously I went to the front half a dozen times and tried to up the pace.

G3 pedaled up alongside. “Dude,” he whispered. “Hide. You don’t know what you’re doing.” I spat in reply.

We crested the climb, having culled a few of the weak, sick, and mentally infirm, did a short easy downhill, and then made an easy right-hander. In front was a short 200-meter bump. This was the bump where G3 had warned me to “Be at the front because it’s short and easy but they will race over it and if you have even two bike lengths between you and the group you will never see them again because the second they crest it they will be going 60 with a huge tailwind and your day will be over.”

“More silly exaggeration,” I had thought as I saw the leaders begin to accelerate. “But just in case …”

Horribly positioned at the very back I sprinted with everything I had, which wasn’t much, and just latched on as the leaders crested the bump. The four riders who were a few wheels back were never seen again. It was that instantaneous.

The fear was awful, the chug holes in the road were abysses, and everyone except me seemed fine with the idea of dying, if that’s what it took, to get to the bottom quickly. Before long we began rocketing through corridors of cars and SUVs parked on the road side, with city folks wandering randomly across the road.

“The fucking puppies,” I thought. “The puppies. Where are the puppies? All I see are giant orange fields of poppies.” Then it dawned on me. “Puppies. Poppies.”

Tucked into the back of the group we made a right turn into the worst cross-wind in history. The leaders punched it hard. If you were in the first six wheels you had a draft; everyone else was shoved against the double yellow line in a vicious echelon with no shelter.

The moto ref helpfully yelled and honked at us to “get off the yellow line,” which only made us move farther to the left such that the giant mirrors of pickups passing in the opposite direction at 75 came within inches of our heads. Gaps opened and I began having to close them.

If you’ve never had to close a gap in an echelon with a howling cross-wind, it is like being Sisyphus but instead of pushing a giant rock up a hill you are pushing a giant rock off your head only to have it fall back and spatter more brains when the next gap opens.

I closed four gaps and then almost ran over the red cones before the next turn, a right-hander that went straight into the wind, back through the start-finish and up the climb. After two minutes of sitting at the back cursing the dirt, the puppies, the poppies, G3 and the Hun for telling the truth, the wind, the tumped-over toilets, and praying the moto ref would DQ me, I gave up.

One lap, quit, wobbled into the start-finish area where I was cheered by no one except my good friend Kristie. “What are you quitting for?” she said. “Finish the race!”

“I double flatted,” I said.

“Oh my dog! That’s terrible!”

“Yeah,” I said.

She looked at my tires. “Your tires are fine, Seth.”

“Yeah, but it was a right flat and a left flat.”

Two small children who were there to watch their dad race quizzed me in great detail about my weakness, why I had quit, why I had come if I only rode one lap, whether I usually quit, whether my kids also quit, whether quitting was okay (their teacher said never quit), did I like  quitting, did my dad know I had quit, did I know their dad wasn’t gonna quit, had I ever beaten their dad and if so how come I had quit and couldn’t beat him today, and did I want to try and beat them playing Gorgonzola Space Destruction Zombie Catchers.

Next, I got to sit on the side of the road for another hour and a half and watch the miserable faces of the racers come by in gradually reduced numbers until they slow-motion sprunted across the line, faces caked in salt and grit and misery. “One lap to go!” I shouted as they finished, Cruelty Thy Name Is Bicycle Racing.

G3 got second and the Hun got third, which was awesome because before they even dismounted I demanded my share of their winnings. “You couldn’t have done it without all that work I did on the first lap.”

Too tired to resist, they staggered to the car and deflated, thousand-yard stares pasted on their drawn faces while the wind howled and moaned.

END

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