The last step

April 7, 2013 § 5 Comments

As a friend of mine from Texas told me many years ago, “It’s not the flop on the bed, it’s the walk up the stairs.”

How right he was, and now that it’s the morning of the day, all that’s left is anticipation. What a delicious sensation is anticipation, mixed as it is with hope and fear, confidence and anxiety.

Anticipation has been raging through me nonstop since last night. It was the difficulty in falling asleep.

It was the reverse trickle of mole, ice cream, and birthday cake that gurgled up to greet me with a little “Hello, friend” as I lay in bed.

It was waking up at one o’clock…”Did I miss my alarm?”

It was waking up at two o’clock…”Is it four o’clock yet?”

It was waking up at three o’clock…”Just one more hour.”

It was getting up at 3:30 and abandoning all pretense that those final thirty minutes would be spent any way other than with eyes wide awake. “What the hell. Might as well shave my legs.”

The anticipation comes from the expectation. The expectation comes from the telling and re-telling of what lies ahead. The telling and re-telling comes from the training, the practicing, and the miles we’ve all invested to be “ready” for today, whether”ready” means to conquer, to be honorably acquitted, or just to drag yourself in tatters across the finish line.

Each little checkpoint has bolstered or weakened our confidence. Weight going up? Bad. Legs feeling awesome and light? Good. Bike looking sparkly and clean? Good. Last minute equipment change making you feel funny on the bike? Bad. Images of finishing strong? Good. Images of horrible dirt catastrophes? Bad.

Some have been prattling on about “the hay being in the barn.” Perhaps it is. But now the well-fed stallion is being led out by the reins, snorting and stamping and raring to run, or the undernourished nag is resisting with every step, neighing in terror, and dreading what lies ahead.

In a handful of minutes you will sign-in your name, pin on your number, scarf down your waffle, throw a leg over, and flop on the bed.

I hope it’s good for you, because the walk up the stairs has been all I could have ever wanted in a lover, and so much more.


April 6, 2013 § 7 Comments

  1. Bicycle; Giant TCX. Thank you, SPY-Giant-RIDE.
  2. New tires; Hutchinson Intensive @ 90 psi. Thank you, Rahsaan Bahati.
  3. New Squadra bicycle rider outfit.
  4. New Giro helmet. Okay, it was new last year.
  5. Wheels; Mavic Open Pro, 32-hole aluminum box rim clinchers. Brand new 25,000 miles ago.
  6. Gears; Shimano 105, 11-12-13-14-15-16-17-19-21-23-25.
  7. Chain rings; SRAM 36-46.
  8. Shoes; Sidi Genius Carbon 5.5. Very old but still the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn.
  9. One water bottle.
  10. 12 Medjool dates.
  11. iPhone with Strava app.
  12. $25 for gasoline.
  13. Jeans, t-shirt, shoes, socks, underwear for post-ride.
  14. Suitcase; for courage.
  15. SPY Quanta Rx sunglasses; for screening out the awfulness.
  16. SPY Braden Rx horn-rimmed spectacles; for apres-beatdown lounging.
  17. Sunscreen.
  18. Wallet.
  19. Five extra pounds, just in case.
  20. Six-pack of Optimistic Expectation.
  21. 32-gallon drum of Dismal Reality.
  22. Pedals; for dancing on.
  23. Teeth; for gritting.
  24. Vocal cords; for groaning.
  25. Lungs; for bursting.
  26. 130+ miles; for hurting.
  27. 11,000+ feet of elevation; for bragging.
  28. Mind; for the centrally focused beam of nirvana that, beginning here, will spread to every cell in my body at the end of the day.

*No baby seals were clubbed in the making of this checklist.

** But they will be tomorrow.

***Total elapsed time for composition, proofing, and hitting the “Send” button: 19 minutes and 40 seconds.

The silent streets

April 5, 2013 § 23 Comments

Due to the morning time hustle I occasionally drop down Hawthorne and continue straight on into the heart of the city. It’s a solid little 3.5 hour ride, usually cold, always quiet, never any traffic, and the monstrous Los Angeles thoroughfares are devoid of anything except my narrow wheels and the little beam of headlight that only occasionally serves its purpose of lighting the road ahead. Big sodium streetlights, the glare from early-hour fast food joints, and the shimmering illumination from this endless city transform pitch black night into a living, breathing, not-pitch-black-at-all bikescape.

The only real company are the buses, and that’s if you don’t get on the road until 4:45 before taking the long cold drop down the Hill. Even holding the Hawthorne descent down to 35 mph by sitting up erect to catch as much wind as possible, all it would take is a skunk ambling home after a night afield, or a chubby raccoon hustling across the lane before daybreak brings the raccoon’s nighttime to turn my morning ride into an ambulance ride. As the first glimmers of dawn turn the PV roads into death alleys for small creatures, I hope each time that I’m not the small creature…exhilaration always comes with a pricetag of fear.

Giant buses hooked together at the waist trundle by along Hawthorne, taking forever to stop and reload and relaunch, by which time I’ve left them far behind until they pass me again just in time to pull over once more and pick up someone going a long way, early, to a hard job. The far right lane of Hawthorne is so ample and welcoming, like the large, soft arms of a comforting lover into which I can fold myself completely.

Past the 405 you enter a slightly rougher part of town, and after a few miles you’ve cruised into the neighborhoods where people earn a living through manual labor indoors or out, or where the homeless begin scavenging the sidewalks and gutters and dumpsters for the garbage largesse that will keep them alive for another few days.

One terribly ill man in tattered clothes stands in the middle of the giant empty street and calls at me, waving and stabbing with his crippled arthritic fingers and rubbing the back of his hand against the spit and froth that spills forth from his mouth. The morning’s frigid air sears through the holes in his clothes, but his madness either heats him to the core or, more likely, makes him capable of enduring that which we cannot. I’m momentarily afraid and hit the pedals harder, my miracle safety machine leaping forward to take me further into the city’s electric morning bowels of blackness.

Coming up the giant hill at South LaBrea, cresting it and roaring down in the cutting morning dawn, fully owning a lane that in times of full sunlight is the domain of cars, and crashing my rims along the devastated pavement remind me that smooth is for the rich, rough and holy is for the poor. A brief wrong turn twists me in an odd direction, but then I’m found and humming along Jefferson. A bike path beckons “Come hither!” but is nothing but a tawdry promise of short-term pleasure; she ends in a brick wall a scant two miles later.

Washington, the father of a country built on the backs of slaves, and the namesake for the next large boulevard, takes me all the way to the bike path in Marina del Rey. The white and the rich get their nice paving quickly. In minutes I’m on the beach trail, watching while wetsuit-clad arms and legs and torsos on Styrofoam balance, or not, on the swiftly shifting opinions of the morning swell. By nine o’clock I’m seated at my desk , still shivering from the morning cold. And then I turn to the task at hand and remain there, more or less forever.

Wave of shame

April 4, 2013 § 19 Comments

You know how your mom taught you that cheating is wrong?

Well, nothing’s changed since then.

Webster’s Third International Dictionary defines cheating as “Any activity regularly engaged in by cyclists.”

The Oxford English Dictionary is more succinct: “Cheating: A form of cycling.”

Though cycling is nothing more than cheating on wheels, it takes a special event to really bring out every cyclist’s uncontrollable urge to cheat his mates. An event, like, say, the BWR.

Name, address, and category, please

Riders doing the BWR had to fill out an application. One of the questions was “Yo, wanker, what USCF category are you, if any?”

Maybe they thought no one would read their entry application. Maybe they thought they could fake out the BWR…”Who’s gonna know if I’m a Cat 1 or a Cat 5? Shoot, I had that fake license made for Tour of Tucson so I could start in the front and that went off without a hitch.”

Or, maybe they mistakenly thought that the risk of detection was low and therefore worth the lie, as low-ranking or unlicensed riders were going to be relegated to the second wave of starters.

Drumroll, wankers! Below is the fully published list of flailers and liars who’ve hilariously listed themselves as Cat 2 and yes, even Cat 1! Wankers who get dropped going out of the parking lot! Wankers who wouldn’t know the front of a peloton if you gave them a motorcycle and a push from Bahati!

[Kidding. I would never publish that list. But it exists, so you can go ahead and squirm anyway. You know who you are, and more importantly, so do I!]

Being relegated to the second wave is apparently a mark of undistinction. Certain unnamed riders have gone out of their way to grovel, plead, and make guest appearances to ensure they leave in the first wave. You know, that’s the wave with the guys who are going to drop you forever at about Mile Six.

My advice? Lobby for Wave Two. It’s the golf cart crew. It’s where the fun will be. It’s where the only pressure will the the PSI in your tires. It’s where you can admit that you don’t have a chance in hell of winning a jersey, and you could care less! You’re here to do a tough ride, acquit yourself honorably, eat some waffles and drink some beer.

I begged to be sent off in Wave Two, but my request was denied with two words: “Sorry, no.”

Do I care? Nope. I’ll get shelled and enjoy my day regardless.

PS: The big cheat

If anything about the propensity to lie about one’s lame USA Cycling category is serious (and I’m pretty sure nothing is), it’s this: People who lie on entry forms are kinfolk to people who cheat on the course by cutting it. Last year the big story was that only a handful of riders actually did the entire route. When faced with the unpleasantry of Country Club Lane at Mile Zillion, they somehow missed the turn that had been marked with bright orange paint.

Not this year! Everyone who wants to be deemed a finisher has to join Strava and upload their ride data. No data, no jersey. Worst of all, no commemorative ale. So just do like your mother taught you: Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. And eat your vegetables. You’ll need ’em.

Gimme that wheel

April 2, 2013 § 20 Comments

We’ve all been there. You’ve just taken a meaty pull into a brutal headwind. Your face is covered in a moist sticky film of sweat and snot. You swing over as the next wanker pulls through, and the group ride strings back in a single file twenty riders long before it bunches up and becomes the raggedy rear end, where the baby seals cower at the back and cling to one another for protection as they seek to forestall being clubbed to death.

You slide five or six wheels down the line and motion for the wanker next to you to let you in so you can move back up in the rotation. You don’t want to drift twenty wheels back because it will take forever to get to the front again; most of the riders after the tenth wheel will never pull through anyway. It’s just a stupid group ride or oxymoron “training race,” insignificant even in the already COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT WORLD of bike racing.

So you wave, or point, or look at the rider next to you. He sees you but doesn’t look at you. And he refuses to let you in. You drop back another wheel. Same thing. Pretty soon you’re at the raggedy rear with the baby seals.

None of the wankers who refused to let you in has ever pulled through. They’ve either gotten “near” the front before swinging over and drifting back, or they’ve gapped out and forced everyone else to pound by and close the widening space, or, best of all, they’ve called it a day and gone home.

You? You’re stuck grinding your way back up to the front, closing gaps, coming around guys into the wind or passing them leeward in the gutter just so you can get to the front and take a pull.

Scenario Two

You’ve been in this next one, too. You’re in the last mile or two of the Tuesday morning/evening ride. Somehow you managed to get on Pork Loins’s wheel, the one dude in the group whose wheel everyone is desperate to have. He’s massive, providing the Cadillac draft of all drafts. He’s fast, able to wind it up to the finish at such a high speed that whoever comes around him, if they can come around him, always gets the vee.

You never get Pork Loins’s wheel because you’re not willing to kill for it, but today you got lucky and it’s going to be a full-bore launch to the line and for once in your life you’ve been guaranteed a win. You’re not much of a sprunter, or a clumber, or a time trailer, and today is your day.

With 500 meters to go, some dude charges over and tries to take the wheel. The only way you’re going to keep it is by bumping, maybe grinding a little, and muscling him back out. By now it’s full throttle and the popcorn’s popping and the baby seals are getting clubbed right and left and thrown to the wayside and it’s getting more argy-bargy by the minute, but you’re still locked onto Pork Loins and therefore have the guarantee of victory but this dude with the rock hard shoulder and the dragon tattoo keeps coming over and in a split second you have to decide this one thing:

“Is the thrill of winning the group ride worth the risk, which is increasing by the millisecond, of getting tangled up and hitting the asphalt and getting run over by all these other idiots and starting the day with head-to-tail road rash or, better yet, in an ambulance?”

So you let Dragon Dude take the wheel, and suddenly you’re pushed out of the draft and are face to face with that 38 mph wind which slings you backwards at the exact moment that all the other idiots surge forward for the final two hundred meter victory lunge, a pointless lunge because Dragon Dude has it by a country mile. Of course he does. He’s the one who got the wheel of Pork Loins.

That shoulda been you. But you know what? It wasn’t.

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