Collision cost

September 24, 2016 § 12 Comments

Cyclists get hit by cagers every day. They aren’t “accidents.” They are collisions, and they happen for specific reasons. In the case I’m going to tell you about, the collision happened because a drunk guy decided to drive. He smashed into a group of cyclists, changing at least one life forever.

It wasn’t an accident.

The point of this story is three-fold. First, it’s an explicit command for you to check your auto liability insurance and make sure that you have at least $500,000 in uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. If your carrier won’t let you insure to that amount, change carriers.

Second, it’s a commentary on the trajectory of injury. We see Facebook posts of friends in the hospital, or gory aftermath photos, or black-and-white images of pins and bolts drilled into bone, and then we move on to the next item. It’s difficult to comprehend that after we’ve glanced at the photo, the person is still living with the injury, suffering from it, and in some cases is going to be dealing with it the rest of their life.

But what these injuries often entail is impossible to understand or even empathize with because we don’t really know what the procedures involved are. The trajectory of injury is grisly, gruesome, painful, and life-altering.

Third, this is the story of how one person deals with having her entire life upended as a result of one drunk driver. It’s not an easy story or a saccharine one, and it doesn’t have a happy ending because there is no “ending.” There’s just a story about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and moving forward with what you’ve got left.

When Deb Banks was hit on January 30, 2015, at about 3:10 PM, she didn’t feel anything. This is almost always the case in serious car-bike collisions. The victim might feel a bump or a light tap, sometimes nothing at all until she regains consciousness in a ditch, in an emergency room, or days later in a hospital room recovering from surgery.

On the day she was hit, Deb’s initial injuries included a gashed right arm requiring fifteen stitches, a cracked pelvis, and severe road rash that left permanent skid marks on her backside. The big one, though, was a pilon compound fracture of her right tibula and fibula.

The pilon fracture required an external fixator to stabilize the leg and calm the initial trauma before reconstructive surgery. A pilon fracture is one in which the lower ankle, just above the joint, is shattered. Think of a force pushing up through your ankle joint into the lower shin, so the explosive nature is up and out. That’s what a pilon fracture is, and hers was made worse by it also being compound, meaning bones sticking out from the skin.

The problem with these fractures, aside from the obvious pain and the fact that this is a key load-bearing point of the human body, is that they are really tough to heal due to low circulation, lots of broken bone, and the requirement of lots of time to heal. Most people that get these injuries are contractors who fall off a ladder, people in car crashes, or extreme snowboarders and skiers. They are said to be the worst fracture you can have and one of the hardest to heal.

The word “pilon” is derived from the French word pilon (pestle), an instrument used for crushing and pounding and usually used with a mortar. The pilon fracture is often described as an “explosive injuries” and subsequently, as noted in Orthopaedia Main, they have are also described as “explosion fractures.”

Pilon fractures have the worst outcome of all ankle fractures. They’re incredibly significant injuries, and if you look at surveys that try to measure overall function, pilons on average are more detrimental to the patient’s level of function than heart attacks.

On February 13, 2015, Deb had reconstructive surgery. Her doctor spent eight hours in surgery, taking out the external fixator and then adding two long plates and tacking them into place with twenty screws. One rod was twelve inches long, the other was five inches, and it took fifty stitches to hold it all together.

She then went into non-weight bearing mode for three months, after which she began physical therapy to begin working on walking.

Once Deb was able to get on a trainer, she did, and by May she was outside hobbling around in a black boot and riding around town on her mixte. By June she was on the back of a tandem and by August she rode 200km, the “easiest” length for a randonneur. She kept working on this, getting stronger and walking, although still limping, and her long-planned cycling trip to South America was a go.

Deb’s plan was to go to South America and ride from Santiago down the Carretera Austral to the southernmost part of Chile. She was to depart in early November; it was her comeback ride and a much deserved vacation.

Deb left for Chile and rode the Carretera Austral. During the first week, she was walking down a low sloping walkway and her left ankle twisted and instead of trying to use her right one, which was the injured ankle, to hold herself up, she dropped to the ground. The long plate had broken, also breaking more screws.

She was in incredible pain. She had walking hiking sticks and used them as crutches for a week. She started slowly to ride again and the trip, while fantastic, turned out to be a trip that included some cycling, versus a cycling trip.

On December 27, eleven months after being hit, Deb had her third surgery. It took seven hours, out with the old hardware, and in with new versions of the same plan, only this time they added a graft from her right hip that brought new scars and numbness, which she still has, and some stem cells to stimulate growth.

She was upbeat. For sure this was going to do the trick. Most people (over 90%) whose non-union doesn’t mend, end up getting the bones to union with this procedure. It was however the same drill: non weight bearing for three months, then the boot, etc.

She was smarter about this now. She had read a ton of medical articles on this, and at first Deb felt great. She had minimal to no pain and at the three-month marker she waltzed into her doctor’s office with crutches and walked out without the crutches or the boot. The surgeon gave her the go ahead to do PT and to ride, which she carefully began.

“Carefully” meant no clipping into or out of pedals, no standing on pedals, and spinning only. She put flat pedals on her bike and used power straps to keep her clogs on the pedals. “Yes!” she said to herself, “I ride my bike in my clogs! They are comfy, they support my foot and if I need to put my foot down fast, they absorb quite a bit of the impact. In fact, I think I may go to this plan forever!”

Forever, of course, is a real long time when you’ve only just gotten started. In early May, now fifteen months after getting hit by the young drunk who, in the interim, has been sentenced to prison and will spend nine years in jail, Deb has a standard appointment with her surgeon and she’s not feeling as good as she was. She felt like her leg was out of kilter, and it wasn’t holding her anywhere near as well as the two months prior. She told the doc and he took x-rays.

Essentially, if a non-union hasn’t shown signs of union after three months, then the likelihood of it getting to mend go dramatically down, and more than likely the end result will be another non-union. By now Deb was really getting tired of her expertise in orthopedics, more particularly, in her necessity of applying it.

She pushed for a CT scan because the x-rays weren’t conclusively showing whether or not the bones were healing, whereas there’s no arguing with the CT scan. Her doctor agreed, and the bad news hit home, hard. Non-union. Again. He was frustrated and she was beyond bummed.

In June she took every test they could think of to try and find out why the bones weren’t growing back together. Blood tests, CT scans, bone scans revealing the happy news that physiologically she had the bones of 29-year-old, but emotionally the bones of a teenager in full rebellion – “You can’t tell me when to heal!”

She had thyroid tests, a liver panel (Did you know that your liver makes enzymes for bone growth? Right! Why would you want to know that?), etc. She took tests all month long in the run-up to her informal Ph.D. in boneology, and in the end the good news-bad news was that there’s nothing about her chemistry that was preventing the mend.

The next step was going to be terrible. The surgeon put an Iliazov fixator in her hands, a contraption that oozes horror and pain, and asked her to read up on the device and to think about it, because the fixator was in her very immediate future.

Deb took a trip to Colorado to see friends; it’s an annual trip as she lived in Boulder for thirty years, after which she came home and on July 8 she went in for Rebuild No. 3, Surgery No. 5. It was with a lot of trepidation, because after the last surgery she had gotten an infection that required a full surgery on top of that to open the wound and make sure that the infection hadn’t gone to the bone. Such infections can end things permanently.

By now the nurses in the surgery pre-op area knew her by name. They’ve seen her three times, and if there’s anyone you don’t want to know you on a first-name basis, it’s a surgical team. Again, they pulled out all of the old hardware, in with another graft which this time was from a pig, plus stem cells from the left side of her pelvis, plus biomorphenegenetic proteins (bone doping), two days in the hospital completely laid out. It had now been close to two years since she began paying for the driver’s few moments of drunken oblivion, and she knew that her sentence had already been worse than his.

As I write this, her surgery was ten weeks ago, and there’s still no sign of healing. The surgeon’s timeline? The fixator stays until the bone heals, period. When it comes off she has a year of physical therapy. Dr. Google says that you can see signs of recovery for up to two and a half years after the last surgery. Add up all the months and she’s looking at five years of hell with an uncertain outcome.

His timeline? The fixator is on until it heals. Period. And then, when it’s off, finally, looking at a year of PT and getting stronger and riding and gaining strength. The research says that you can see signs of recovery for up to 2.5 years AFTER the LAST surgery. Add that she’s closing in on two years of surgical procedures, she’s expecting this to be close to a 5-year ordeal. Gabriel Ray’s 11 years won’t have this type of hardship attached to it. Too bad.

All of this, however, is nothing more than a physiological chronology, the prison equivalent of marking off days with tally marks on the wall. The real jail sentence has been the collateral life damage, and it’s something that every injured cyclist knows about intimately.

Superficially, Deb can tell you that her new fixator friend is made up of external rings and three 4-inch pins that are drilled into her shin. It requires constant daily care. It hurts all the time. It gets infected. She can’t swim, can’t bike, can barely walk, sleeps with her leg on a foam pad, and can’t sleep under the covers. In other words, her life has completely changed as she’s been thrust into the alt-Universe of the catastrophically injured, i.e. those who carry massive disruptions to their daily life and emotional well-being along with the catastrophic physical injuries.

Business, a/k/a making a living, dinner, meetings, everything collides with the injured leg, they’re no longer compatible. “Can I do this? Laundry used to be easy.” Simple things take on the aura of an uncleaned Augean stable and it’s been like this for two years with no reprieve. Throw in the massive uncertainty with regard to what the future holds and the destabilization is intense.

And of course there is the spiral of declining visions of the possible. “I’ll be back on my bike doing a 500k rando,” has become “I just want to be able to walk.” And when well-meaning people see her pedaling her mixte and say “Thank God you can ride a bike again,” she silently knows that waking trumps riding a bike any day. If she can walk, riding will come as a result. But if the ankle never mends, life today becomes a template for the rest of life, which means dealing with a leg that is permanently disabled.

With this experience comes the other horseman of the apocalypse, depression. Life contracts as you do less, and what used to be natural optimism and a positive outlook becomes a full time job trying to maintain. She watched a TEDx piece about the power of positive thinking and tries to focus on how that process releases dopamine, helping productivity and creativity. But looming behind the depression is the constant, intense pain, and no matter how tough you think you are, you will eventually take pain meds in the evening just to get some relief and to give yourself a breather from the chasm of not being able to keep fighting, without end, a terrible and terribly painful battle.

One unexpected benefit to constantly struggling is empathy. Deb now “gets it” in a profound way. However big her challenges are, she understands and empathizes with people who are in even bigger pain, in even more dire straits with no hope, ever, of recovery.

And of course there are the parallel lives of the people who were also hit that day. She was the first hit of five. The other four are back to their daily activities, cycling all over the world and getting back to their normal lives. She’s the only one still injured, and although she can’t help but occasionally wonder “Why me?” she doesn’t think much about the driver, Gabriel Ray. He’s not on her radar and she doesn’t replay the collision, and perhaps that’s because there’s so little to replay. She felt a tap and woke up in a ditch. Far from dealing with the past, she deals with what’s in front of her, taking care of her leg, running her business, running her life, and getting healed.

It’s not intellectually stimulating and it’s mundane, but it takes all her energy and attention. With regard to the question “Where are you now?” it’s indeterminate, like her injury. Deb will find out where she is once she gets there, but for the moment the new her is more compassionate, and that’s nothing but a positive. When she was hit she was at the top of her cycling game, doing the hardest randonneur rides there were, knocking out four 1,200 km rides in a single year, in the best shape of her life and all at the age of 58.

When you feel like you’re invincible, large and in charge, except that in a few seconds you’re not. She was hit and now she struggles with laundry. Easy, right? One day 1,200 km on a bike. The next day, fighting to wash your socks. But at the same time, she realizes that when you’re on the mountaintop it’s hard to see what’s going on down in the valley. For her, she has a whole new place to learn from, and she’s learning something that in the past has always eluded her, patience. She’s determined and wants to climb the mountain again, but maybe this time she’ll appreciate the trek more than the destination. Maybe.

Little things along the way make life better, too. She has a trainer and is working with him to try and regain some fitness in this limited state. It takes Deb as long to get dressed as it does to do her fifteen-minute workout. One day a woman saw her in the gym and remarked how great it was that she hadn’t given up. It’s true, she realized, she hadn’t and she won’t, and in the process she’s gained compassion for others because now she’s fighting like hell for each bit of progress a minute at a time, unwilling to concede the field to the inertia of not being able to act, to the inertia of the passive tense.

In blots and jots it hits her this way: Just take the parts when you were feeling your worst and string it out for two straight years. That’s where she is and the intoxicating whisper is always at her shoulder: “Just give up,” it says. It’s there because you’re in pain and the pain meds don’t fix it. At the same time, she’s also planning her next 1,600 km ride, and she’s planning it for next June.

Whether it ever happens, the plan is there, and you never hit the target unless you aim for it. She wants to prove that she can come back, that she can do it again, and then maybe she’ll be done with it. It’s occurred to her that cycling for hundreds of miles may not be her thing anymore, but if she does bow out, she’s vowed to do it on her terms, not on the terms of Gabriel Ray. “He doesn’t get to decide how I choose to live my life. He doesn’t.”

[Deb is the owner of Rivet Cycle Works and has chronicled the first year of her recovery here, with photos and a much in-depth picture of her ongoing recovery.]

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The Atheist Training Bible for Old Bicycle Racers, Chapter 21: Don’t you dare

September 23, 2016 § 19 Comments

The most fertile or febrile part of your year is here. It’s the time when you can do other things than cycle. You can explore new activities and develop new skills, strengthen your weaknesses and strengthen your strengthiness. You can give your legs, and most importantly, your feeble mind a rest. You can relax a little bit and even try out sports that you’ve always been a bit interested in but have never had the time or energy to squeeze in between your 3-a-day interval workouts.

You can do all of that and more. Don’t.

Specifically, don’t do the following:

  1. Tell me about how you’ve started running. Running is for runners. You are an old worn out shoe of a fake bike racer doper who dribbles pee at night. Running will improve none of that and only hurt your knee. Plus, you will never be a runner. You are a jogger. If you can say, “I’ve taken up jogging in the off  season!” with a straight face, okay, go ahead.
  2. Post gym selfies. The gym is a place where insane cycling delusions go to get pumped up on steroids. Lifting weights only improves your ability to lift weights. Doing squats only helps you squat down better with a chest of drawers on your back. You are not a lifter, you are a weight-obsessed worn out old shoe and lifting even a carton of milk gains useless muscles and hints to your S/O that you might be able to do something useful around the house. Strava Jr. tosses his water bottles, cell phone, and socks at the base of the Switchbacks and whips you like a pissed off wench in a dominatrix show, and he ain’t lifting no weights.
  3. Sign up for yoga. Yoga will help you live a better more fulfilling life, ergo it’s stupid as fuck. Mindfulness is the enemy of the crafty, shrewd, back-stabbing instincts that will allow you dominate the 55+ mid-pack position in every crit finish. And shut up yesterday about flexibility. You should look the same way off the bike as on: hunched, bowbacked, goofy-kneed, crany-necked, and as unsteady on your pegs as a drunken sailor. The more permanently hunched you are in real life, the more aero when they pry apart your arms and legs to set you on the bike.
  4. Hit the pool. You know how many people drowned in pools between 2004 and 2014? 3,536. You know how many people drowned on bikes since the beginning of time? One. And it was a triathlete (of course) who got the order mixed up and biked off into the ocean at Kona.
  5. Base miles. The only thing you had better be doing with the word “base” in it is “freebase.” Bike miles are for hammering. If you don’t hurt, why are you even alive? Rest when you’re dead.
  6. Training camp. If your clubteam has a training camp, change clubteams. Training camp implies a) You haven’t been training and b) You think roasting marshmallows over a burning tire and crapping in a trench is fun. If a), get the hell out of the yoga gym pool, slap it in the big dog and go knock out six consecutive 700-mile weeks that are heavy on sprints, 20-minute threshold efforts, 1-hour time trials, standing starts, and hill repeats. If b), sell your bike and become a scoutmaster.
  7. Cyclocross. Cylocross will leave you exhausted, injured, slow, and in the possession of a bike that’s so bad for riding you have to carry it. The only thing ‘cross has going for it is that it’s fun, and nothing ruins a road season, a road racing mentality, or life in general as thoroughly as fun.
  8. Group rides. These will wreck your season because you will get to know, like, and appreciate your clubteam mates. Nothing sucks away your ability to lie, cheat, betray and crush a person like friendship and empathy. The only acceptable group rides are ones you advertise as “no drop, beginners welcome” and begin at 32 mph into a stiff headwind.

That’s all for now. Gotta go do some intervals. It’s already Sepfuckingtember.

END

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Unplugged

September 22, 2016 § 27 Comments

After reading a thoughtful article about the benefits of unplugging, shared by a friend who’s recovering from a broken collarbone after crashing on the NPR, I switched everything off last night around 7:00 PM and didn’t turn back on until I woke up, just after five. I woke up without an alarm.

Then today I powered down at 4:30 PM, plowed through thirty more pages of a book that is dense but that, as one friend put it, “Is a hairbrush for the tangled mind.” I did some other etceteras and was looking forward to bed when I realized I couldn’t very well blog on paper.

During those few hours of relative mental calm I reflected on the terrible chain collision that happened on Tuesday’s NPR. A big chunk of asphalt didn’t get called out, one rider hit it, another launched over it but didn’t fall, and a third went down hard. At least five other riders hit the deck. One left in an ambulance with a fractured scapula and broken ribs, another broke a clavicle, and a third suffered a severe concussion.

There was plenty of blame to go around, but none of it resolved a key question. Does the Big Group Fake Race belong on the streets anymore?

Leaving aside for the moment that no one was killed but easily could have been, and leaving aside for the moment that the NPR has been the site of many bad falls, one serious car-bike collision, and at least four huge gang pile-ups … wait, we can’t really leave that aside because that’s pretty much the point.

If the pace is slow, everyone bunches up and it’s sketchy as hell. Then the group is frisky for the sprint and people who shouldn’t be going full-gas in a packed group are. It’s scary.

If the pace is fast, everyone from mid-pack back is gassed and can barely keep their head up. Any irregularity in the road, large rock, or sudden change in speed up ahead can cause the kind of catastrophic chain reaction that we saw on Tuesday.

For a few months we had a police escort, but the powers that be eventually quashed that and now the group is back on its own. At least now everyone stops at red lights.

We all know that riders assume the risk and that when you’re feeling good the risk is worth assuming. It’s when everything goes sideways that you really have to wonder.

  • Why am I here?
  • Why are you here?
  • Are there too many people?
  • Is it time to euthanize this ride and do something else?

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Remaining pro cycling fan convinced the sport is “clean”

September 20, 2016 § 31 Comments

James Smegdahl, America’s remaining fan of professional cycling, was interviewed by Cycling in the South Bay after the recent Fancy Bear hack revealed that 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins was a lying liar who lied, and probably also a cheating cheater who cheated.

CitSB: How does it feel to be America’s last fan of professional cycling?

JS: I wouldn’t say “last.” My dog watches it, too.

CitSB: Were you surprised by the Fancy Bear revelation that Wiggo had been injecting corticosteroids before and during the Tour despite saying in his book that he’d never taken a shot for anything except that one time he got the clap?

JS: No.

CitSB: Why not?

JS: The way I see it, Obama is a muslin and he was born in Muslania.

CitSB: Muslania? Where is that?

JS: It’s where all the muslins come from.

CitSB: Well, it’s pretty damning, isn’t it? On the one hand, in his autobiography Wiggo says he’s never injected anything except for maybe dehydration, and on the other he’s received a couple of TUE’s, one for an entire year, that allowed him to constantly inject steroids.

JS: But he was allowed to inject them. It was legal.

CitSB: But he denied doing it. And they boosted his performance.

JS: Lance had a backdated TUE for corticosteroids and he didn’t get kicked out of the ’99 Tour and he wasn’t a muslin, either.

CitSB: That’s the point, isn’t it? Wiggo, who claims to have raced clean, was using the same procedures that Lance used to race dirty when he won his first Tour.

JS: You wouldn’t have that problem if we had a wall. And Mexico’s gonna pay for it, too.

CitSB: Excuse me?

JS: We gotta make America great again. How come you hate America?

CitSB: But Wiggo is British.

JS: Trump has a Trump golf course in Great Britland, too.

CitSB: You mean in Scotland?

JS: Where’s that?

CitSB: It’s part of Great Britain.

JS: That’s what I said.

CitSB: You said “Britland.”

JS: Quit picking on my words. Anyway, it’s not doping if you can back it up. And Wiggo backed it up. He’s won more Olympic medals than any British athlete ever.

CitSB: But doesn’t this call into question whether he was clean when he won them?

JS: No.

CitSB: Dave Brailsford promised total transparency, but has provided anything but. The same time he’s been touting marginal gains through better training, Wiggo’s been juicing on the sly. Doesn’t that make you suspicious?

JS: Have you ever been to Creation Park?

CitSB: No.

JS: You should. It would answer a lot of your questions. They have Noah’s ark and dinosaurs like they had during Jesus’s time. It shows how the dinosaurs got on Noah’s ark and floated away with him.

CitSB: I see.

END

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Doughboys. And doughgirls.

September 19, 2016 § 14 Comments

There is something about organized rides that I don’t like. Oh, there it is! It’s the word “organized.” As soon as the flyers start waving, the waivers start flying, the entry fees start piling up, and the rules start getting disseminated, I get limp all over.

I remember when I did my first century ride. It was sponsored by the Austin Bicycle Club. I think Terry Wittenberg Bob Lowe were still on ABC then, riding with Shimano stuff in an all-Campy era. There was no waiver, but there was a sign-in, and you rode off when you rode off.

There was no sag and no post-ride celebration. There wasn’t even a finish. You did the route and patted yourself on the back and lied about your time, which you measured with this old-timey device called a “wristwatch,” and then when you got home you soaked your feet and head in epsom salts.

Since 1982 I’ve done a baby’s handful of organized rides. The biggest one I ever did, and encouraged others to do, was the Belgian Waffle Ride, four times from 2012-2015. I’m still recovering from the beatdown of 2012, and the psychological scars will likely never heal.

A grand fondue I’ve never done. First of all I don’t like fondue. Second of all I don’t like grand. So there you have it, no grand fondue for me. Mostly though I don’t like grand fondues because here in California the biggest one is the Levi Leipheimer Grand Ex-Doper Fondue.

It blows me away that people who claim to love cycling and clean sport will pay money to this asshole. He is the embodiment, along with George Hincapie, of success through cheating, and then, after retiring in disgrace, making several hundred thousand dollars every year on cyclists who gladly pay money to ride their bikes under the banner of a complete, almost wholly unrepentant drug cheat.

But I progress.

A few weeks ago it was brought to my attention that Phil Gaimon, America’s top professional road racer, is hosting his own grand fondue. It’s called the Malibu Gran Cookie Dough. So I was interested because I love cookies, and I love cookie dough, and I love Malibu. Still not a big lover of gran, but whatever.

When considering whether or not to sign up for this event, which was going to cost me over $100 bucks, and considering that these were roads I could ride for free anyway, and considering that I hate organized riding, several things occurred to me:

  1. I’d be supporting a clean athlete.
  2. I’d be creating a mini-platform to rant against the Thorfinn-Sassquatch/Levi Dopeheimer types.
  3. There’s no way in hell I’d ever do this route if it weren’t on a grand fondue, even though it’s one of the most fantastic routes imaginable.
  4. If you conduct a pre- and post-ride weigh in, and if you do the ride properly, you are guaranteed to be calorie positive.

Read #4 again. Calorie positive. Grand fondue. Shit ton of beautiful Malibu canyon climbs. Once-in-a-lifetime permit to ride Sycamore Canyon Road. Calorie positive.

Did I mention calorie positive?

Most grand fondues and century rides are set up so that you can flog yourself for six hours and then collapse in a puddle after you’ve uploaded your Strava file, which ranks you 897th for the day, 8,970th for all time, but first among 53-year-old men who weigh 153 pounds. Then after puddling, you drag yourself up to a picnic bench, drink a bunch, eat a bunch, and watch as your body tries to shift from survival-starvation mode to calorie-alcohol-overload.

There’s a reason they have a crash cart and defibrillator paddles at the finish rather than at the start.

But the Malibu Gran Cookie Dough is different. You can flog yourself if you want, but why? Instead of marking the route with tents offering sugary gloop with extra sugar, the MGCD offers actual food stops where you can feast on real coffee and real food dreamed up by Jeff Mahin, one of America’s very finest chefs and, not coincidentally at all, a specialist in the art of making cookies.

If you stop at the right stops, drink in the spectacular scenery, meander out for a ride instead of a race, and bring a big appetite, you’ll never be able to brag that you crushed it or that you did the hardest ride in the galaxy or that you broke Strava. Instead you’ll be able to claim that you did a big fun ride and you did it calorie positive.

Did I mention calorie positive?

[Photos used permission of Phil Gaimon.]

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The grapes of wrath

September 17, 2016 § 18 Comments

Velo Club La Grange has an annual mass start bike race called the Piuma Hill Climb. It’s a club race and there’s nothing on the line except bragging rights, which means everything is on the line.

Every bike club in America should emulate VCLG. There were ninety-nine starters, none of whom had any hope at all of doing anything other than getting their tender parts beaten into mush.

At the top of the climb, which was 8.1 miles long, La Grange and Helen’s Cycles had set up tents and CPR stations complete with defibrillators and Joe Pugliese. I’d call Joe the Annie Liebovitz of cycling photography but that’s a disservice to his amazing ability. Better to call Annie the Joe Pugliese of celeb photography.

Back in Santa Monica the club had catered a massive, all you can eat gourmet buffet by Rick Friedman. Rick is the Joe Pugliese of cycling food buffets, and my photo of the food, which is an awful picture, reflects my lack camera prowess, not the presentation or taste. Need I say more?

The ride itself was an out-of-body experience. Piuma is a legendary Santa Monica climb. It starts with a vicious little wall, and today the starter was none other than Tony Manzella, who pegged the first few minutes at 500 watts to make sure that everyone was blown to bits at the gun. Which they were.

In general I hate Strava because people who tout their KOMs rarely have much prowess in real life, head-to-head competition. Tony is not that way. He’s a complete Strava dork and he backs it up with performances like he did today, shelling 90 people in the first hundred yards, towing the fastest riders up the hill like they were hooked to a ski rope, detonating halfway up, and still getting one of the fastest times of the day.

My ride was unexceptional except that it began with the typical delusions. “Today I’m going to hang with Tony and Chad and Matt,” and “Today I’m going to stomp the dicks off Jaycee and Cowan,” and “I’m just going to hang tough and suffer like a dog.”

The suffer part happened at least.

In the first fifty feet Matt Wikstrom, the relentless engine of pain and winner of the climb in some inhuman time or another, eased up next to me. “Let me in, buddy,” he said, motioning for Tony’s wheel. Interpretation: “I don’t want you to gap me out, wanker.”

I know my betters and slid back.

After a few minutes some kid named Sean attacked the lead group, and I stayed with the acceleration until I didn’t. Then I was alone. I looked back and in those first few minutes we had gone so fast that the road behind was completely empty, like my legs.

Jaycee Carey, who is older than last year’s carbon wheelset, blew past me, motioning me to get on his wheel. He is friendly that way, kind of like the guy in the sawmill who says, “Put your hand on this rotating blade that we use to saw through fat trees, you will like it.”

I followed him as he dragged me up and past a couple of other riders who had been puked out the back. We formed a small group, Jaycee caught his breath, then rode off. (Note: James Cowan, who I had vowed to bury, buried all but two or three other riders in another amazing performance by Head Down James.)

My foursome grupetto hung together until the top of Piuma, when Roberto and the dude who had done most of the work jumped away. The two dudes I was with looked like they were trying to swallow a shovelful of salt, and I’m not kidding, all the way up Piuma guys were actually moaning. Not grunting, moaning, like what you do when your thumb is caught in a sewing machine that is stuck on overlock. I heard more moaning going up that fucking hill than in a cheap porn flick.

Roberto and I were alone on Schueren until he dumped me on the last turn, which sort of made up for his whimpering. I straggled in for ninth place, 37:30, which involved more brutality and sadness than I can ever remember.

At the top of Scheuren we got our pictures taken by Joe, filled our water bottles, watched the other corpses stagger in on their hands and knees, and lied about how we did all the work, how we almost hung with Matt and Tony and Cowan, etc., and how next year instead of being older, slower, dumber, and uglier, we’ll really turn in a stellar performance.

The camaraderie was amazing and everyone was happy at having participated. There were no ridiculously overpriced entry fees, there was free food at the end, there was amazing sag at the top, there was amazing photography to commemorate our tummies (Dan Champan shot a ton of pixels as well), there was gorgeous weather, and it was all part of a normal Saturday on the bike–no need to drive out of town, get a room, or do anything other than show up, pin on a number, and get your dick pounded off.

I’m going back to Piuma tomorrow to see if I can find mine.

Thanks VC La Grange for a truly miserable morning of fun!

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Smile, it’s free

September 16, 2016 § 33 Comments

Ever since the combat with the cities of Rancho Palos Verdes and Palos Verdes Estates began over the installation of a few signs (more NIMBY agitation over this than over the federal class action lawsuit alleging gang behavior and city complicity, yo), I’ve been testing the theory that local residents dislike cyclists.

What I’ve found is that for they most part, they do not. At worst the don’t care. At best they actually like us. The Lunada Bay Boy on Mom’s Couch and his NIMBY vidiot-recorder who are making such hay with their hatred of cyclists are a tiny slice of nastiness and venom in otherwise pretty nice bunch of folks.

I’ve reached this conclusion by running the following scientific test throughout PV when I cycle.

  1. Approach walker, jogger, leaf blower, gardener, trash truck operator, woman pushing stroller, dad getting into his car on the way to work, etc.
  2. Smile.
  3. Wave when it’s safe to do so.
  4. Say “Good morning!”
  5. Alternatively, say “Hello!”

In virtually every instance people smile back, return the greeting, and/or wave.

There are always one or two people over the span of several days who are so deeply sunken in their reverie of how they’re going to evict their son from their couch, or who are so sour that nothing can penetrate their misery, that they pointedly stare at the ground or grumpily refuse to make eye contact.

But you know what? They are a tiny minority. Pretty much everyone else doesn’t object in the least to the fact that you’re on a bicycle.

Not only that, but the occasional grumpster, like the lady yesterday who said “Good morning!” back to us and followed up with “I can hear you in my bedroom talking at 6:00 AM!” are amenable to conversation. One of our riders stopped and spoke with her and explained that whoever she was hearing, it wasn’t us because we don’t ride at that time on that road.

The lady then … gasp … apologized.

This is the great evil of a few diehard haters and the cesspool of angry comments that makes up places like NextDoor, where you can post anonymously with no fear that you’ll ever have to reveal your name and explain your bizarre notions to real people. The evil is that the perception — “Residents hate cyclists!” — creates reality.

Fortunately, with the simple act of a few free smiles and liberal use of the greetings you learned in kindergarten, the myth can be shown for what it is, that is, much sound and fury, signifying either nothing or a very uncomfortable couch.

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