We won’t get fooled again

October 14, 2018 § Leave a comment

After yesterday’s bloodbath I went over to Team USA’s hotel to drop off a loaf of sourdough rye/wheat. I figured they can always use some good nutrition.

Daniel Holloway met me in the lobby. “Hey, man, thanks for the bread!”

“Sure.”

“Did you do the Donut this morning?”

“No.”

“Oh. How come?”

“I was, you know, destroyed and unable to walk.”

“From yesterday?”

“Yeah.”

He nodded. “Well, I’ll shoot you a text next week when we have an easy day on the schedule.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m good.”

END

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There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again! Please consider subscribing … Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

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Tokyo Olympics, here I don’t come!

October 13, 2018 § 5 Comments

On Thursday night I was really tired, three days into my planned two weeks of rest. I was looking forward to the weekend, where I was going to do a lot of nothing and do it exceptionally well and vigorously.

Shortly before lights out I got a text from Daniel Holloway, he of the many U.S. national crit and road championships, and he of the Madison/Omnium portion of the U.S. national track team. “Ride tomorrow with the team at nine? Five hours.”

I wasn’t sure the text was meant for me, so I texted him photos of the new Big Orange 2019 cycling kit and said, “Can I wear this outfit?”

He immediately pinged back. “I don’t care what you wear. But wear your DAMN helmet.”

“Guess it wasn’t sent in error,” I concluded.

You never get in trouble for coming early except when you do

The ride started at nine so I showed up at 8:30. Everyone was sitting around a table by the pool so I pulled up a chair, realizing belatedly that I had just crashed the team pre-ride meeting. But no one said leave, so I stayed.

I got to listen to the riders talk about the team and also eavesdropped on the discussion that their coach Clay had about the concept of initiative. It was intelligent, well thought out, and perfectly articulated. I’ve never thought about teamwork and about how teams come together, not for ten seconds, ever, much less considered how you get a group of world-class, Type A athletes to work towards a common goal. Getting to listen to a world class program preparing for the Olympics, and getting a glimpse into the different theories of the psychology of success was flat out fascinating.

At the end of the meeting Gavin Hoover announced the route. “Going north,” he said, which sounded awesome because it meant a few hours on the PCH rollers and then back home.  This made sense because it was a track team and you wouldn’t exactly expect these riders to seek out the hardest climbs in the Santa Monica mountains. Throughout the team discussion the riders and Clay had been mentioning the 2 x 15’s on the menu. I knew what a 2 x 4 was and that in Japan carpenters preferred 2 x 6’s, but I had no idea what a 2 x 15 was or why anyone would get such a serious look on their face when they said it.

Someone asked Gavin about exactly where “north” they were going.

“Latigo, Mulholland, then finish on Piuma,” he said, mentioning two of the hardest climbs in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the hilliest arterial highway.

Did someone say “Olympics”?

The only reason I went is because I was invited and it is rude to turn down invitations. I had zero desire to ride with ten world class cyclists in their 20’s, and one or two “old men” in their early 30’s. Why? Because I knew my time with them would either be brief and painful, or long and painful, after which I would get dropped. And not simply dropped but dropped in a completely shattered state, beyond recovery.

To make matters worse, Daniel had introduced me to the group as a “local legend” (mostly false), and a “good rider” (total bullshit). All I could do now was fail big, and I took comfort in my extensive experience doing that at least.

Riding on PCH was an education in itself. Track racers of this caliber literally ride shoulder to shoulder. The gaps and spaces I created were small, but compared to their disciplined riding style my holes looked big enough to drive a truck through. I’m sure the hairy legs and fourteen blinking lights helped instill confidence.

I also realized that virtually all of the riders, even though they were fully dedicated for 2-3 years to the national track racing training plan and racing schedule, were also accomplished road and crit racers. Whatever happened later in the ride wasn’t going to be pretty. For me.

Those fears ebbed as we got one long flat tire change and made two pit stops on the way to Latigo. How bad could it be? The rider I was next to, Jonathan from South Carolina, asked me “How long is Latigo?”

Someone else chimed in. “About 30 minutes,” he said.

I am not a Strava/time/KOM dude, but I do remember that at the peak of his doping career Levi Leipheimer set the record at right around forty minutes.

Every Olympian an amazing story

Although this was not the full track squad, it comprised a good mix of the team pursuit riders, Madison riders, and omnium riders who were going to compete in two weeks’ time at the World Cup races in Toronto. In short, they were peaking, and this was a big race simply because the selection process for Tokyo puts a lot of emphasis on World Cup results. They aren’t decisive, but good results in these big races matter. This wasn’t an early season “team building” training camp. It was a “finishing touches” or “final sharpening” camp, after which the riders would be at their best for a huge international competition.

I reflected on that, too. Riding with the A Team as it peaked for a major pre-Olympic “qualifier.” WTF was I doing here?

Sublimating that for a moment I focused on my riding partner, Jonathan. Four years ago he weighed 300 pounds and was a party-time football player, wrestler, and college kid working in an Asheville, N.C. bike shop. He took up riding, then moved to South Carolina to be near the velodrome, started racing, upgraded to Cat 1 (it’s that easy), made the national team, and decided to target the Olympics. Um, okay.

“I went all in,” he said. “Just threw the whole bowl of spaghetti on the wall and waited to see what stuck.” Apparently it was the most glutinous bowl of spaghetti since Marco Polo came back from China, because from the look of things the whole thing was still on the wall.

“Yeah,” I thought. “Just woke up and now I’m trying to make the Olympics four years later. Happens all the time.”

My other riding partner was Adrian, an accomplished road rider who raced for UHC until they folded last year, then moved on to the track. Adrian juggled a full-time professional racing schedule with … law school.

“Took seven years because I had to do it part-time,” he said. “But doing it part-time was way more affordable, so I got out without any debt.”

“Are you licensed?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I was injured and had a couple of months’ down time so I studied for the D.C. bar and passed.”

“Ah, of course,” I thought. “Just had some down time so I took a bar exam. Why not?”

The focus and caliber of the riders was as evident off the bike as it was on, and that was disconcerting as we approached the “30 minute” Latigo climb.

2 x 15 is not a cut of lumber

“You doing these with us?” Adrian asked.

“Doing what?”

“The 2 x 15’s.”

“I guess so. I’m here. What are they?”

“We ride for 15 minutes at a prescribed wattage, rest five minutes, then do it again.”

“Is that all?”

He looked at me and smiled. “Yep. That’s all.”

“I mean, that’s all the workout for the whole day?”

“For the whole day.”

“I guess I’ll try. Can I sit on your wheel?”

“Sure.”

“What wattage will you holding?”

“340.”

“Oh,” I said in a very small voice. “I guess I won’t be sitting on for long.”

We started up the climb and I couldn’t believe how easy it was. “Man,” I thought as I pressed down on the pedals, “I am crazy strong, hanging with the pros at 340 watts!”

The first five minutes breezed by, hard but totally doable. “Old Man Power,” I told myself.

The second five minutes were exponentially harder, suddenly. Adrian’s cadence had never varied, whereas I was hunkering, upshifting, downshifting, and doing all kinds of research to find the absolute best draft.

“Is my gasping fucking up your workout?” I gasped. “I can tail off if it is.”

He laughed. “You’re fine, pal.”

I wasn’t fine. In fact, the final five minutes were a gore-soaked horror show and all I was doing was sitting in. The interval was finished, and so was I. All I could think was, “OMFG, he’s going to do another one in five minutes.”

As Daniel explained to me later, “Yeah, these are hard because the first one you’re fresh and so the first five minutes are free as your heart rate is climbing; it’s really only the last seven minutes or so that are bad. But the second one starts with your heart rate already up. You get a one-minute breather and fourteen minutes of pain.”

The second one started and incredibly I hung on. The pain started immediately. I couldn’t believe I was able to hold Adrian’s wheel. I didn’t look at my watch but we were at least halfway through. The pain was unbearable and giant black octopuses were swimming in front of my head. My peripheral vision vanished, and Adrian’s rear wheel swelled up in my field of vision like a truck tire.

“That’s enough,” I thought. “I can quit now. With honor.” I sat up and looked at my watch. I had completed just sixty seconds of the interval.

From bad to worse

Their workout for the day completed, everyone was chatty and relaxed. Except me. I was silent and wasted. Mulholland was horrible beyond any words and took forever. The riders were feeling super happy and I got to witness some of the insane bike skills that make THEM different from US.

Holloway took the entire Latigo descent with one foot unclipped, throwing out his leg at 30 mph into the hairpins as if he were going to drag it.

For giggles.

Adrian did a downhill bunny hop about two feet into the air on Mulholland for no reason at all.

Except giggles.

I lizard-gripped the bars on the Rock Store descent as the group bombed it, and I knew they weren’t even bombing it.

“We’re really going up Piuma, aren’t we?” I asked Daniel.

“I think so,” he said.

At Piuma, Gavin, who looked just as fresh as when we’d rolled out of El Segundo almost four hours prior, motioned for the left-hander. At the very bottom of the climb, before it was even a climb, I came off. “Don’t wait for me,” I told Daniel. “I know the way home.”

The first part of that was superfluous, of course.

The group vanished, I flipped a u-turn and got to PCH via Malibu Canyon Road. At Cross Creek I called my wife. I could barely stand. “Can you pick me up at CotKU in an hour?” I begged.

“Sure!” she said. “Hard day?”

I mumbled, put my head down, and pushed the pedals homeward.

END

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An unforgettably horrible day with Team USA! Please consider subscribing … Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

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Junk shop

October 12, 2018 § 7 Comments

My wife went into the Bike Palace today, where she was met by a very nice salesman. “May I help you, ma’am?” he said in that polite way of nice young fellows addressing a grandmother.

“Why, yes,” she said. “I’m looking for some butt cream.”

The polite young man nodded understandingly, as if every grandmother in San Pedro came in daily looking for this product. “I see,” he said. “You mean …” he trailed off.

“The stuff for your butt,” she said. “So it’s not onna raw meat.”

“Ah,” he smiled, relieved, greatly. “You mean chamois cream?”

“That’s it!” she said.

Rustproofing your undercarriage

I’m sure it’s been around for a while, but I didn’t really know there was such a thing as chamois cream until a buddy had a tube of DZ Nuts lying on the counter.

“Whazzat?” I asked.

“Chamois cream.”

“What’s it for?”

“Your shorts.”

“What does it do?”

He looked at me like he was talking to a simpleton. “It keeps your ass from getting raw.”

“You’re joking, right?”

It was a who’s-the-idiot standoff. I think he won.

Back in the days of barnacles

Fact is, I’ve never used chamois cream. Never needed it. Sure, there have been times when my junk has looked like the meat counter at Whole Foods, but when we started riding back in the day that was called “toughening up.”

In the beginning you’d barely be able to walk. Sitting on the bike was like sitting on an oiled and scalding frying pan. Chamois were rough and sometimes you’d wear the same one a couple days in a row. They were made of leather and had a tendency to easily rip open sores and tender spots. You softened them up with sweat and blood and excretions.

In especially bad cases of “toughening up” you’d get gigantic saddle sores, the size of a nickel or bigger, huge bleeding things that were uglier and more disgusting than a cat’s butthole. Once the cysts burst and the poison drained, the whole nasty mess would scab over, you’d ride a few hundred more miles, the scabs would fall off like chunks of tire from an 18-wheeler, and voila, you’d have a nice thick patch of skin as leathery and tough as a mother-in-law.

This was of course the best motivation on earth to keep riding: terror of losing that giant undercarriage callus and having to go through ye olde “toughening up” again.

More to the point, no one would have ever used chamois cream because there was something weak and cheating about it. “You mean you didn’t get sepsis and have festering, open wounds for six months? You call yourself a bike racer?”

The Decision 2018

I stared at that jar of chamois cream on the table. All natural ingredients. Guaranteed to keep things smooth and supple. Antiseptic, organically sourced, extends chamois life and presumably the life of your undercarriage as well.

It was practically calling my name. “Tryyyyy me!”

I looked at it again and reflected on what the last couple of hours of my 240-mile day had felt like a couple of weeks ago. “Shouldn’t I try it?” I wondered.

Nah.

END

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The problem with Starbucks

October 11, 2018 § 6 Comments

Every cyclist, at some time or other, breaks down and gets coffee at Starbucks. There are only so many hand-picked, fair trade, organic coffee shops with a simple drip for $15.99, and when you need a quick buzz or a place with a lot of chairs and don’t want to be surrounded by people reading Sartre and Hegel, well, it’s gonna be Starbucks.

I’ve noticed that in the morning SB is how people feed their kids. Mom/Dad will swoop in with the kids in tow, order coffee, a junk snack, and breakfast for the children. Some parents will sit down at a table and make it breakfast time, replete with conversations about school and the upcoming day. What about privacy and intimate conversations between parents and children? I guess those are off the table, literally.

That kind of makes sense in a twisted way. You get up late, you don’t know how to fry an egg, the clock is ticking, and by the time you’ve gotten your testicles plucked the traffic outside is piling up and the Starbucks is on the way to school drop-off because no kid walks or rides to school anymore.

What I’ve also noticed is that in the evening, the SB inside the grocery store is absolutely jammed, as is the sugar-and-salt buffet manned by Panda Excess. These are mostly teenagers, who are at the SB for dinner, and by dinner all I mean is “calories.” They are hungry, there is no one home, and they “eat” with a massive calorie bomb and maybe a doughy chemical food substitute. Maybe.

It’s not just Starbucks

Home cooking has long been in decline, if by home cooking you mean “I picked some ingredients up at the store, and through preparation at home converted them into a meal.” This is wildly different from “I picked some shit up at the store and microwaved it,” or “We got carry-out, dumped the shit out of the box onto a plate (or not) and ate at home watching TV.”

People don’t cook less because they have less time. They cook less because they are taught from infancy that prepared food is better in every way. Schools serve big brand fast food, and parents really and truly prefer to eat out. I still remember how my mom worshiped at the altar of Jack in the Box french fries, and how, to this day, the sight of a box of greasy fries warms my heart.

Like being able to do basic repairs on your bike, however unprofessionally, being able to do basic repairs in the kitchen has value, a lot more value than paying an international conglomerate to feed you. What if 90% of the time you took your bike to the shop to air up the tires because “I don’t have time to air up my tires at home.”

That’s where bike tech has been going for decades, in fact: Making things so complex that even basic maintenance has to be done outside the garage, or in my case, the bedroom. How many people can get a disc brake working again if they accidentally close the caliper while the wheel is off?

Boozy P., my ace mechanic, might laugh at the idea of me ever doing anything serious to my bike, but he did actually teach me how to take off the bars and pack it myself in a box for shipping. I only almost killed myself once by failing to properly tighten the headset as I rocketed down a cobbled descent outside Vienna. No death, no foul.

In other words, frying up an egg won’t kill you. It’s cheaper. You got time for it. The whole neighborhood won’t be sitting around listening, and even if you totally screw it up, unlike the loose headset, it won’t kill you.

END

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Sharing space

October 10, 2018 § 3 Comments

One of the things that has become clear to me is that people won’t ever understand each other if they don’t share the same space. It’s why you can’t have a fair society when the society is segregated. It’s why you can’t understand a country to which you’ve never been.

We have a lot of foreign countries in Los Angeles, more foreign than Tibet or the forests of Papua New Guinea. They are foreign even though the people who live there speak the same language and travel on the same passport as I do. They are foreign because people from the wealthy communities refuse to cross the color line unless it’s on the freeway.

A couple of weekends ago I went to an event called the Inner City Lites Health Festival held at Jesse Owens Park in Westmont. It featured booths, music, food, information about various health programs, and free expungement services administered by the Office of the LA County Public Defender. The event is in its 15th year and is organized by Mark Johnson, a guy who works tirelessly to make his community a better place.

I stayed for a couple of hours and talked to people. One guy told me that I was only a couple of blocks away from Death Alley, and that Westmont was the deadliest place in LA, if not the nation. Maybe so, but that didn’t put any kind of damper on the festivities, and as I found out after reading up on the matter, most of the deaths are drug-related and occur among the highest-risk group: Young men.

I haven’t been young for decades and my drug trade involves Geritol. No wonder I felt safe. And how couldn’t I? There were dads, moms, kids, and grandparents everywhere, people enjoying being outside together on a splendid fall day.

People were friendly, and I met guys like Lorenzo Murphy, who has a talk show called Compton Politics. Friendliest of all were the cyclists; every neighborhood has ’em! I met Will Holloway of the S.O.LA Real Ridaz, a group that has show bikes, low rider bikes, chromed-out bikes, and that donates bikes to kids. We talked and made plans for a ride, and then started talking about putting on a bike show in the South Bay. Before I left the guys who had rolled out their classic cars invited us to sit behind the wheel and take a couple of pictures.

There are so many people, our neighbors and fellow human beings, who face huge challenges, challenges that we can’t imagine tucked away here in the South Bay. And there are so many people fighting for change, where change means doing things that give kids a chance, where change means a hot meal, clothes, a roof, basic health care, and a job.

Here’s the thing: I would have never ventured over to Jesse Owens Park by myself if my friend Ken Vinson hadn’t invited me to his MVMNT Rides earlier this year. It took someone reaching out, and a bunch of friendly people, to make me feel like I was welcome in a place where hardly anyone looked like me. Ken and his friends taught me that change is possible. Now. Today.

But you can’t be part of that change until you leave those places in which you feel familiar and comfortable. Like travel of all kinds, crossing neighborhoods makes you realize that people are people. And most of all, it makes you realize that you’re not, and never have been, alone.

END

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Ain’t it grate?

October 9, 2018 § 10 Comments

Monday must have been Bad Mood Day. I got two nasty emails from two nasty retirees, both suffering a pretty severe case of butthurt due to the work done over here by Blogbot 4.5.6.

Nasty email #1 was a continuation of a prior nasty email, which went something like this: “So I still think you got your head up your ass. I am thinking of cancelling my subscription as well.” I like to call this The Wrath of the $2.99. You’d be amazed how many people indignantly and triumphantly announce that they are going to punish my transgressions this way.

Nasty email #2, by a fellow whose initials are so appropriately “BS,” was livid that I’m not wearing a helmet. He never had a subscription to cancel, being one of those fine South Bay folks who NEVER READS YOUR CRAPPY BLOG but somehow manages to stay abreast of its contents.

Keyboard battles

As much fun as it was for these two to spend what looked like an awful lot of time composing a lot of awfully crappy prose, it drove home a simple fact: You can type all you want, but what matters is what you do in the real world.

Take, for instance, the grates on Crest a half mile or so when you’re climbing up from Hawthorne. Have you ever noticed that the second one is lethal, especially for a 23mm tire? I run under-inflated 25’s, but even then it’s dicey. It’s particularly bad because the first half of the grate is properly aligned so that it’s flush with the asphalt, but the second grate, which was installed backwards, opens up a nice little gap just big enough to catch your tire throw you on your head, which is exactly what happened to a friend climbing Via del Monte three years ago.

So the other day I got off, snapped a couple of photos, and sent them to Cheri at the Public Works Department in Rancho PV. Unlike the City of Los Angeles, RPV’s public works folks are astonishingly quick, and cheerful to boot.

Twenty-five minutes after I sent the email, Cheri answered with this:

Good Morning Seth!

Thank you for your bringing this matter to our attention.  We have contacted our maintenance department and they will make the necessary corrections.

Have a good day!

It’s not quite as nice as “You have your head up your ass, I’m canceling my subscription!” but I’ll take it. The next day I was on Crest again, and here’s what I saw:

The grates had been reset and the gap eliminated. First thing I thought was how awesome it was to have a city that was efficient, friendly, professional, and willing to take seriously issues that could endanger bicyclists.

I thought about all the time and angst and ill-will and canceled subscriptions and canceled non-subscriptions that my two detractors had wasted, tied up in knots over my opinions,which are about as significant as the hot air escaping from a tea kettle. I hoped that after they had blown off their steam, they each had the good sense to go for a ride and try to make something just a little bit better in the real world.

Where, you know, shit actually happens.

END

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The art of mercy

October 8, 2018 § 11 Comments

We had gathered at the Center of the Known Universe for a 160-mile ride to Ventura and back. It was 5:30 AM and none of us wanted to be there. As we stood around waiting to leave we unanimously decided that riding to Ventura was a stupid idea.

Instead we would ride fifteen miles to Santa Monica, get coffee, and be back home and in bed before 8:00 AM. This, we decided, was a great idea.

In Santa Monica everything was closed except Urth Cafe, the most overpriced place with the worst service and the mediocre-est coffee you will ever drink, anywhere. But it was open.

We ordered and then huddled around the giant heater to stay warm. Before long it was time to go. I went over to the bikes, then came back as no one was leaving the heater.

“Let’s go,” I said.

“Hush,” I was told. “Baby Seal is telling a story.”

“What story?” I asked.

“He’s explaining how he learned about kindness and mercy in cycling.”

Once upon a time

“There I was,” Baby Seal said, “as the tiny NPR pack turned left onto Vista del Mar, I saw my idol pull over and take off his rain jacket. ‘Are you okay?'” I asked.

“‘Yeah,'” he said.

“By the time he had stowed his jacket the group was gone, and they weren’t coming back. I’d been riding for about two years and had gone from a 230-lb. smoker to a fairly fit rider. But I still hadn’t really earned my chops, and I didn’t hesitate to stop to help my idol. Together, I figured, we could chase back on.

“I hit it hard and for two minutes pulled my brains out. I looked back, and Idol was tucked on my wheel and not coming around. ‘He’s recovering,’ I told myself. ‘We got this.’ I pulled even harder, longer.

“A couple of times I looked back but Idol was in the box. ‘No worries,’ I told myself. We’ll get within striking distance, somehow, and he’ll close the gap. We got this!

“I rode my heart out, and for the first time I felt like one of the gang. The rain had kicked back up, it was cold, and I was driving it on the front, giving my idol a chance to recover. This was teamwork, what cycling was all about. Once you feel that warm glow, you never forget it.”

“Then what happened?” asked the Wily Greek.

“We came up over the Pershing bump and there was the field, maybe 100 meters away. I was done, but had saved just enough to be able to catch on when my idol finally came through.”

“Then what happened?” asked Adam.

“The motherfucker attacked and dropped me, bridged to the field, and left me for dead.”

Heads were shaken all around.

“But you know what was the worst part of it? The fucker never even looked at me, not a nod, not a ‘good job,’ nothing. And he didn’t ride by me, he attacked me. I have never been dropped that hard since, ever. I was crushed. Left alone, abandoned like a little kid on a doorstep, I was too shattered emotionally to even try to catch on. I turned around and went home.”

“Wow,” said Wily. “What an asshole.”

“Yeah,” I chimed in. “What a dick.”

Baby Seal looked over at me. “Yeah,” he said, “you ought to know. Because it was YOU.”

END

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