A mammoth of a day

August 18, 2017 § 2 Comments

Why leave Los Angeles? It either has or is adjacent to everything. Ocean? Right over there. Twenty-mile climbs to searing mountain tops? Over there. Winter skiing? Just up the road.

But people peregrinate. They’re never satisfied with what’s in their own front yard, or back yard, or even their neighbor’s yard. They want more.

Fortunately, if you want more, California delivers, and if you’re a cyclist seeking new spectacular vistas surrounded by 11,000-foot peaks, throw the bike in the car and drive up to Mammoth for their annual fall grand fondue. Don’t worry about having to scale interminable climbs. You’ll get all the climbing workout you need walking up the three stairs to your cottage, because Mammoth Village sits at 8,000 feet, where oxygen doesn’t hang out much.

The Mammoth GF has history, bike racing history. It first existed as a real stage race, the Mammoth Cycling Classic, and attracted world class talent during the heyday of the 80’s. In 1994 the race transmogrified into a one-day grand fondue, and is now in its twenty-third year, regularly earning kudos for its stunning scenery, car-less roads, and beautifully maintained pavement.

And although the ride has been around for decades, it’s now at the forefront of the new wave in cycling, where chips and timed Strava segments let riders compete for overall glory as well as for imaginary spoils on certain sections in the middle of the ride. In other words, like a Chinese buffet, you really can have it all: A 102-mile race; a completely chill, noncompetitive ride; an easy ride punctuated by at least one timed, all-out effort. You pick. And of course there are routes of varying length.

Here’s what you get for your entry fee:

  1. Pro style mass start. This pro style start makes you feel pro. You can bring extra carbon for your all carbon, 100% carbon bike and get 25% more pro. Neil Shirley might be there and might even autograph your chamois (before, not after). In other words, pro.
  2. Timing and posted results. It’s not a race, really. Okay, I call bullshit. It’s totally a race. Pin on your number, nail your timing chip to your ankle, and lock down your heartjockrate strap. Don’t look up from your Garmin until it’s done.
  3. Six rest stops. Basically, these are THE REASON WE RIDE. Burn 400 kcal, eat 1,500. Repeat until sufficiently bloated. Return to the start/finish in the sag wagon. The stops have everything you are going to need, in other words, sugar. And this year they will also offer the magic of Jeff Mahin, master chef. You can always add another 120-mile loop if you go overboard on his creations.
  4. Clothing drops. Since the ride takes place at 72,000 feet, there isn’t much air. Scientifically speaking, the cold molecules adhere to your skin better way up there and create something called FIC Syndrome (Fugg, it’s cold!). So the way this works is that you wear warm stuff to start, work yourself up into a hot bother, and then drop off your nasty duds at the sag stops. The volunteers pour gasoline on them and light a match, which provides extra heat for frozen fingers.
  5. On-course lunch. If you do the Grand Fondue or the Medium Fondue, you get fed a light lunch. This has nothing in common with the packet of crackers and cup of water you get on Southwest when flying six hours from coast-to-coast.
  6. On-course SAG support. As every cyclist knows, SAG is the safety diaper we all crave when stranded out in the wilderness with two flats (right and left). The grand fondue has roving SAG vehicles that can air up your legs, swap out a punctured lung, and true your badly bent moral compass as you lie in a ditch wondering where all the air went.
  7. Signature pint glass. In 1937, Alfonse d’Tuileries hosted the world’s first grand fondue outside of Paris and he forgot to provide beer to the finishers. Alfonse is recognized as the first Frenchman to be lynched by a mob since the Paris Commune, and a garden is named after him near the Louvre. The Mammoth GF ensures no lynching by providing a trophy pint glass into which to pour your Sierra Nevada beer.
  8. Finisher’s t-shirt. If you can’t brag about it, it didn’t happen. Cool t-shirt lets you remind your slovenly co-workers that while they were arguing with an inert TV screen over a bad call by the ref, you were slaying dragons and mashing pedals in the Sierras.
  9. Event photos. Let’s face it. Your co-workers don’t really believe you were in the Sierras, much less riding 102 miles through them airlessly on a bicycle. Free event photos can be silkscreened onto a custom t-shirt or used as templates for your very own Grand Fondue face tattoo. Let ’em deny your awesomeness with that.
  10. Timed KOM/QOM section. 102-mile grand fonduers get to compete in the KOM/QOM Strava segment. Brang it.
  11. Party. After you’re done dry heaving and have come somewhat out of your delirium, there is a massive bash in the Village at Mammoth featuring more genius food creations of Jeff Mahin, Sierra Nevada fermented beverages, dessert, expo, and entertainment, not limited to the whopping lies you’ll overhear as you quietly sip your kale-peanut butter–escargot smoothie.

This is one you’d be crazy to miss.

END

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The hard way

August 17, 2017 § 22 Comments

As the racing year winds down, I reflect as I always do on what I’ve accomplished since January. The answer is generally the same, “Nothing.”

So then I wonder, “What did I do it for?” The answer is always the same. “Because I didn’t know what else to do.”

Finally, I put my all-carbon bike, which is 100% pure carbon and made exclusively of carbon up on the stand, clean it, move the tires around, wax the chain, and admire the “Wanky” sticker on the side. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I ask me.

The short answer is “I don’t know.” But the longer answer (by two words) is “I like the hard way.”

It’s always at that moment that the decisive answer rings true inside my skull. I like the hard way. When I was young I rode hard. When I was middle-aged I rode hard. Now that I’m a grandpa I ride hard.

Not well, perhaps. Not fast, certainly. But hard? Oh, yes-indeedy. I tasted peanut butter puke at Telo on Tuesday. I felt my heart against my ribs on the Flog. I crawled up the hill at the end of last week’s 130-miler, barely able to turn the pedals. No trinkets won, no fucks given, but man, it was hard. For me. Not for you. You could have done it with one leg, blindfolded. But for me.

For me, the hard way is always the easy way, backwards. The easy way starts easy and finishes hard. The hard way starts hard and ends easy. Neither way is better than the other. Do you like chocolate or vanilla? They’re just different.

The hard way, when you think about it, isn’t even that hard. It even makes a handy-dandy List of Hardness.

  1. You have to get up early … way early. That’s the hardest thing you’ll do all day, in fact.
  2. Chuck the data and the power meter and the computer and the heartjockstrap monitor, find your discomfort zone, and stay there. If you don’t feel bad, it’s not good.
  3. You have to get dropped.
  4. Finally, you have to go to bed no later than ten no matter what else is happening in TV-land, fooball-land, or Internetland. This is crazy hard.

Interspersed with all that hardness, you have to rest, which is even harder than hard riding. Resting is different from sleeping. And it’s certainly different from drinking. Drinking is never resting. It’s fun but it’s not rest.

That’s all there is to it. It won’t win you many races but it will make you appreciate other people. You’d think it would be the opposite: The harder you go, the more contemptuous you are of those who ride pillow soft. But no. The harder you go, the more you respect people because you realize that they’re doing what they can, just like you’re doing what you can.

The harder you go, the better you’ll sleep.

The harder you go, the more you’ll appreciate the days that you don’t.

But most of all, the harder you go, the more quality you’ll wring out of your inherited meatbag. And as you’re able to wring the last mini-watts out of the meatbag, you’ll develop an affinity for other hard avenues in life that are equally and more rewarding.

You’ll go into business for yourself. You’ll dump a shitty relationship. You’ll study a crazy hard language. You’ll quit shooting heroin. You’ll slow down for people who need help (that’s uber hard). You’ll watch the hummingbirds swarm the feeder during spring and fall migration.

You’ll do crazy hard stuff, like no more sugar in your hot cocoa. Do you know how bitter that is? Actually, once you’re used to it, it’s not bitter at all. It’s just hard. Hard and good.

You’ll stop eating jam on your toast. Syrup on your pancakes. Cream in your coffee. (Kidding. No one is hard enough to quit putting cream in their coffee.)

The hard way makes hard choices easy. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. The load lifts. You mash down on the pedals and they give like a fist through butter. Why? Because the hard way is eventually, ultimately, finally the easiest.

END

Ants in your pants

August 15, 2017 § 14 Comments

I was in bed. It was Sunday. I had made my personal statement, and it was this: “I am not getting out of bed without pancakes.”

There was some spirited discussion before a settlement was reached, some promises were made, and my wife headed off to the kitchen. She popped her head in a minute later. “No butter. I’m going to the store.”

I turned over on my side. I could wait for butter. The butter would go, meltedly, atop the golden brown pancakes. Yummmm.

A minute later the phone rang. My wife was exercised, mightily. “Come down to the car! Now!”

“What’s wrong?”

“Ants!” she shouted. “Ants everywhere in the car!”

I lay there, caught between the iron pincers of a paradox. If I got up to go investigate the ants I would have broken my vow not to get out of bed without pancakes. If I didn’t get up to investigate the ants I wouldn’t get the pancakes.

I lay there and wondered what to do. Finally her voice became too insistent to ignore. “Okay,” I said. “I’m coming down.”

I went down to the parking garage where she was standing. Little lines of ants were marching down the charging cord and disappearing into the car. “What do you think?” she asked/demanded.

I studied them for a minute. “They are working a pretty good paceline,” I concluded. “But there appear to be quite a few wheelsuckers.”

This earned me a storm of anger, but before I could suggest that the ants would be better off with a double rotating line than a single one, I noticed a giant smear along the pavement, spreading out from under our Chevy Volt in a massive pool that branched off into tributaries throughout the neighboring lady’s parking space. Neighboring Lady was a clean freak.

It was a Valdez-sized spill. “Honey,” I said, as she gesticulated towards the ants. “Did you happen to notice this oil spill underneath the car?”

“No,” she said, glancing with mighty disinterest at the coursing rivulets. “Is that why the ants are coming?”

“I doubt it,” I said.

A few days earlier we had taken our car to the fine folks at Martin Chevrolet for an oil change and a tire rotation. I thought the tires were rotating fine, but they recommended it so we took it in. It might have been a coincidence, but it sure seemed strange that the oil that had heretofore all stayed inside the crankcase a few short hours after being worked on had now sprung a leak.

It was a Sunday so they were closed, and rather than drain all the oil onto our parking lot I drove down the hill, parked it in their service driveway, and let the crankcase empty on their concrete, not mine. I dropped off the key and rode my bike home. As I rode, I considered how many trips I’d made to the dealer and reflected that each time I’d put my bike in the back and ridden home. This Chevy Volt really had been eco-friendly.

The next morning they called and apologized. An evil genius at the factory somewhere had given them a defective gasket and the gasket had caused the leak and they were terrible sorry. Terrible, terrible sorry. Presumably the defective gasket had gone so far as to install itself, but I said nothing.

I picked up the car and they were sorry some more, but not as sorry as I was because when I got home I had to douse the entire parking garage with Simple Green and scrub like a madman for about an hour. Afterwards we went to Hollywood to entertain a guest. Hollywood is like hell minus the amenities. The worst part was the Chinese Theater, where an insane homeless vet lay on the sidewalk with a sign asking for money, and a few feet away two gentlemen were selling “One dollar water!” at the top of their lungs.

Each time they said, “One dollar water!” the vet would shriek, clasp his ears, and scream at them to please shut up, he couldn’t stand it, even though you could barely hear the vendors over the crowd. One of the vendors, realizing how disturbed the homeless man was, intentionally cried “One dollar water!” over and over, cupping his hand so that the call targeted the crazy dude, who with each cry would roll into a fetal ball and thrash himself on the pavement.

All around, Chinese tourists took selfies in front of the Chinese Theater, which was a fake, white entrepreneur’s imitation of a Chinese building.

We got back into the car and raced down the 101 at five or six miles per hour. Suddenly my wife shouted, “The ants! The ants are back!”

“Technically,” I said, “they weren’t ‘back’ as they’ve never gone anywhere.”

This struck the wrong note, a D# in the key of C as it were, and we began to argue about the ants, with me blaming her and with her blaming me.

My eldest son said nothing, but from the safety of the backseat he took out his phone and googled “ants in my Chevy Volt.” It turns out that this is a common manufacturing defect. Ants like electricity, and Volts have lots of electricity. It is a match made in heaven except for the passengers, for whom it was more like a divorce made in hell.

The ants didn’t bite (much) and we got home without any more excitement. I insisted that the ant pogrom be kept to a minimum, as ants are people, too. The spill had dried out nicely and my neighbor thanked me for scouring up the oil.

In less than 48 hours I had reduced my carbon footprint, been gentle to smaller, vulnerable animals, and cleaned up a major environmental disaster. I knew when I bought it that the Chevy Volt was going to make me greener. I just didn’t know how much.

END

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Take a deep breath

August 14, 2017 § 47 Comments

Sometimes, it’s really not about the bike. It can’t be.

As a friend of mine recently said (who happens to ride bikes), “Americans who history has labeled The Greatest Generation once died to fight Nazis. Today their descendants are marching to spread Nazism.”

Our president has strongly supported white supremacy by failing to strongly repudiate it. Everyone who can’t plainly state opposition to the people, ideals, and behavior that led to the Charlottesville rally for Nazism and the death of Heather Heyer supports it, too.

END

I hear it’s your birthday

August 13, 2017 § 13 Comments

What’s the essence of cycling?

People.

What kind of people?

Friends.

Pablo Maida, West Side legend, all-round nice guy, and champion sporty goatee wearer, celebrated his 50th birthday on Saturday with a party. A rolling party. On Pacific Coast Highway.

Between a hundred and four thousand people showed up to celebrate with him, and we didn’t simply ride down PCH and take the fuggin’ lane.

WE TOOK THE WHOLE FUGGIN’ LANE.

I have never seen a group ride go three abreast (four abreast in places) along the world’s finest bike path, but we did today. The pace was steady but not too quick in order to accommodate the various abilities out on the ride. I got to enjoy the thing about cycling I love best, which is yelling at people to “Slow the fuck down!” and “Call that shit out, fer fuck’s sake!” and “Quit half-wheeling, dogdammit!” and “Get your ass back there!”

What should have been a free-for-all down PCH turned into an orderly, disciplined mob that cruised all the way from Helen’s Cycles in Santa Monica to The Rock and back without shattering into a billion slivers of pain and broken dreams. Head Down James never attacked, if that tells you how orderly it was.

When we got back to Santa Monica, Pablo’s beautiful and awesome wife May May had put together a massive party at the S&M Brew Works, where tired baby seals feasted on mackerel, beer, and the amazing food truck parked in front. Free beer? Free food? Hungry cyclists?

YES.

Pablo and I got to spend some time preening and showboating on the front as pro photographer Steve Cohen snapped away throughout the ride. Friend Dan Mitnick also shot a huge number of great on-the-bike pictures, which he’s generously shared and which are posted below. It’s no accident that Pablo is beloved. He’s taken some hard knocks in life and instead of becoming bitter, has used those experiences to become a more compassionate and understanding guy. It shows in the people who surround him.

We talked about the team rider who was killed during a race several years ago, and about how that death completely changed his perspective on riding a bike. Instead of riding to be first, he began riding to appreciate the things around him. Pablo told me about what it was like post-epiphany to climb Latigo, a ride he’d done countless times, and how with new lenses he saw the landscape, the sky, the beauty of the earth … all things that had been invisible when his face had simply been shoved down against his stem.

We talked about how randomly lucky each of us was to simply be there at that place and time. And then, the 80-mile ride ended in a flash, washed down with a delicious burger, fries, and a Coke.

Happy birthday, Pablo. You’ve made each one of us a little bit better. Thanks for taking us along on your ride.

END

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Mainstream crazy

August 11, 2017 § 17 Comments

When the New York Times is giving out advice about how to commute to work, it’s time for me to find another niche hobby. Yep, that venerable institution whose motto is “All the news that’s fit to print” has taken to printing news about bicycle commuting. Click here to find out their recommendations for how a beginner can successfully commute by bike.

Once you’ve mastered the NYT intro course, you can proceed to Wanky’s Advanced Commuting Course, below.

  1. Deck your halls. NYT advises lights if you ride in the dark. Wanky advises riding with lights everywhere, all the time. Cagers will avoid you only if they see you, and nothing screams “Lunatic on a bicycle!” like fourteen lights blazing in all directions.
  2. Spot the nutballs. Once you have mastered pedaling, you need to master nutball spotting. On the Peninsula, our resident dingleberry is Robert Lewis Chapman, Jr., a small-fry palm frond manager. Nutballs are often seen driving mid-grade German kiddie haulers, and they have it in for you. Learn to spot them by their chrome domes, tiny heads barely peeking over the steering wheel, and their erratic driving. Once spotted, take immediate evasive action.
  3. Cuss practice. Every once in a while twice a day you will need to communicate forcefully with the public. Practice, practice, practice.
  4. Carbon. NYT recommends sturdy, dependable, practical bikes with bells and fenders. That is ridiculous. Dress for your commute like it’s the Tour de France or, more importantly, the Saturday ride. Matchy-matchy shoelaces on your Giro Empires, yo. And make sure you’re riding 100% carbon that is pure carbon and made of carbon.
  5. Hand signal. NYT talks about hand signals as if there were more than one.
  6. Strava. Mere mortals commute. If you didn’t KOM a heavily congested segment replete with pedestrians and moving vans on the way to work, it didn’t happen.
  7. Race numbers. Always commute with a race number sticking out from your seatpost or top tube. Better yet, pin up both sides of your aero commuting skinsuit. Extra points for shoe covers and aero TT helmet.
  8. Commute recap. Rehearse your Amazing Commuting Dominator story in your head so that when you get to work you can regale everyone with the incredible feats you performed on a bike whereas all they did after waking up was get fat.
  9. Jaunty cycling cap. Mandatory apres-commute gear for hanging out around the water cooler as you execute #8 above.
  10. Raw celery. Crack out a stick of this calorie-free, nutrient-free, tasteless and waterlogged vegetable, and gnaw on it while executing #8 above. [Must begin with “I’m famished.”]

END

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Heartbreak Hotel

August 9, 2017 § 38 Comments

With one lap to go I was a few minutes from achieving the only thing I have ever desired in life, that is a victory at our local training crit a/k/a Telo.

The field was a mishmash of gizzards, car parts, tree roots, defective Morton-Thiokol O-rings, broken razor blades, bald tires, and sunken galleons on the Spanish Main, as the pack had disintegrated shortly after re-entry, leaving only Frexit, Head Down James, Hair, and me in three-man-one-robot breakaway.

With seven laps to go, Frexit had urged me “Easy, easy!” as we came through Turn 4, which in bikeracespeak means “Ouchy!” So I waited a lap and attacked, shedding my unwelcome partners in an honest effort to toss them onto the garbage pile of discarded racers.

My hands were tied. If I sat in the break until the finish I would certainly get fourth. If I attacked I would [certainly – .0000001%] get fourth. So I had to go with the percentage shot.

Five laps to go and the gap held steady.

Four laps to go and I started pulling away.

Three laps to go and they clawed some of it back.

Two laps to go and it held at ten seconds.

One lap to go they were eight seconds back. Dreams of victory danced through my windshield. A lifetime of groveling was about to be rewarded with a few seconds swallowing a deep draught of the elixir of victory. Repeated beatings at the hands of unpleasant people was about to result in the bootheel landing on their neck instead of mine. Revenge would be sweeter than a diabetic dessert.

I rehearsed my victory speech, remembering to thank the little people who had made me who I am, thanking my parents, my deceased dog Fletcher, Phil who sold me my first bike, Fields, and then moving on to my wife, children, and a brief explanation of the dedication and hard work it had taken to reach what to the casual observer looked like an overnight success.

My speech, however, failed to account for the bitter hatred that Head Down James felt deep within his soul. Even though I had mentored him as a beginning cyclist by shouting epithets at him, screaming at him to lift up his fucking head, and trying to intimidate him at every turn, he apparently had forgotten all those little kindnesses and was now hell bent on revenge.

With Head Down James preferring to drag Frexit and Hair up to me so they could smear him in the sprunt rather than seeing me walk off with a glorious, life-altering victory that I would mockingly hold over his head for all time, he buried himself and closed the gap with only a few hundred yards left to go. Head Down James knew that the ignominy of being dropped out of his own breakaway and then beaten by a solo move at the hands of the leakiest, braggiest, un-cagiest racer in America would put paid to his professional athletic career. Frexit also knew that a Wanky defeat before his assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans Velo would cause an emotional collapse from which he might never recover. Hair didn’t care; he wasn’t getting higher than second no matter what and he knew it.

Head Down James’s effort was enough. Aaron and Frexit buried him, and worse, they buried me. I praised them insincerely afterwards, congratulated them while secretly wishing that each were slowly beheaded by a rusty table saw, and pedaled home, crushed.

And although you may not give a damn, my dear, tomorrow is another day.

END

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