The old whales

August 15, 2018 § 12 Comments

The other morning I was out riding around the Hill with a bunch of people in a hurry. In the other direction came a small group of riders who didn’t look like they were in a hurry. They looked like they were out for a pleasant ride. I glanced twice and recognized most of them. They were people I used to ride with all the time.

Donut beatdown? They never missed it. Five-day smashfests from San Francisco to LA? Present and accounted for. Piuma-Stunt from PV and head north after that? Sure! NPR? Twice weekly, baby. Telo? Yaaaah. Then go long to the Rock on Sunday, dragging the peloton behind ’em for 120 miles? Uh-huh.

What happened?

Moby Dick

I only read Moby Dick a couple of times but the thing I remember most about it is that there are no women in it, anywhere. Maybe there was a woman in the church scene, or something. Other than that, it’s 400,000 pages of guys doing guy things like sailing to the South Pacific and spearing whales bare-handed.

The best part in the whole book is the description of life in the sperm whale pod. It was simply the best life ever. When I get run over by a chubby Lunada Bay Boy on Mom’s Couch, I hope to be reincarnated as a sperm whale in the South Seas 10,000 years ago. Those whales had it good.

But kind of like bike racing, they only had it really good until they didn’t. And the didn’t part came when a young bull would take on the boss of the pod and run him out of office. Once you got run away from the pod and all your cows got taken away, life pretty much sucked. You swam alone by yourself, grazing on plankton or whatever sperm whales eat, and you lived forever being miserable.

The whales of the Hill

Now don’t get me wrong. These dudes aren’t sperm whales cast out from the pod. They are old whales who have their own old whale rides and they ride along at old whale speeds and chat about old whale things. It’s wholly unobjectionable.

But I wonder what it is that triggers them to turn away from the mayhem of the full-gas Saturday and decide to ride around having slowpoke fun? They used to crave the adrenaline and enjoy the beatdown. They used to turn their noses up at hobby bikers. What happens in a whale to make him say, “Done with that nonsense. I’m going to do this nonsense instead.”

Part of it is probably always getting dropped. You reach a point where you get tired of starting with the group and saying “adios” after fifteen minutes or less. What was the point of that?

Another part of it is probably exhaustion. You can’t do those big efforts and recover like you used to.

And I guess it sucks being surround by young whales who are better than you even though they don’t even train and were up until 3:00 AM drinking cigars and smoking tequila.

Risk has got to be part of the equation as well. The older you get the greedier you get for the few years that are left, even if hanging on means poking around. Better to poke on the pavement than rot under it? Is that it?

Likely, boredom is a factor. When you’ve done the Donut 500 times you know how it’s going to end. You were getting dropped in ’97, you were getting dropped in ’07, come on, already. And beatdown rides aren’t much for conversation, either, when you’re just staring at some dude’s sweaty ass and skinny tire and trying to blot out the pain, unsuccessfully.

Sad face

Whatever the reasons, and they’re all good ones I’m sure, it makes me sad. I’ll be talking to some whippersnapper and we’ll pass a whale. “See that whale?” I’ll point. “He used to wait until we got halfway up the Switchbacks, start from the rear, and ride everyone off his wheel.”

“That old fart?”

“Yep. That one.”

The whippersnapper will shake his head, not buying any of it.

I look around now and I’m not the oldest guy lining up to get his weekly dose of humiliation, but I’m close to it. I miss those old whales and wish they’d come back. Or I wish I didn’t feel compelled to go do that which I’m clearly unfit for, kind of like those geezers in the 70’s who tried to horn in on the disco craze and just looked silly, polyester shirts unbuttoned to their navels, white chest hair spilling out like somebody tumped over the can of Comet.

Maybe the whale life isn’t so bad. Maybe they know something I don’t. Maybe.

END

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Nice bikes are so expensive

August 14, 2018 § 23 Comments

It is crazy how expensive bikes are. When you add up all the stuff, it can set you back $5k or more just to get started. What a ripoff!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Heart valve replacement: $170,000

Heart bypass surgery: $123,000

Diabetic medical care: $9,601 per year (multiply times 10, 15, or 20!)

Hypertension: $2,000 per year

Atherosclerosis treatment: $12,888 per year

Erectile dysfunction: $1,727.75 annually ($69.11 per pill x 25 sessions per year)

Drug/Alcohol rehab: $1,000 (outpatient detox), $6,000 – $60,000 (inpatient rehab), $5,000 – $10,000 (outpatient rehab), $4,700/year (medications)

Insomnia-related costs: $1,431 – $1,510 per year

Depression treatment: $8,000 per year

Sedentary lifestyle: $1,437 per year

END

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The cyclist superiority complex

August 8, 2018 § 28 Comments

I just finished a book called “How Cycling Can Save the World” by Peter Walker. My friend Marv gave it to me a while back and it’s been dust collecting with all my other unread books. The title wasn’t very compelling, and I figured there wasn’t going to be anything in it I didn’t already know, and if I want to read preachy incoherent ramblings by a madman I can peruse my own blog posts.

Well, I take it all back. It is a fantastic read even though it pillories a guy I highly regard, John Forester. More about all that later, as the book can’t be done justice in a single post. Instead, I want to focus on Chapter 8, “Why Cyclists Are Hated.”

Why cyclists are hated

Walker goes into a lot of detail about the ways in which cyclists are abused, but he never really comes around to explaining why. The reason is simple. We have a superiority complex and it drives cagers crazy.

“That’s not true!” you holler. “I accept all modes of transportation! I even have a car! I’m not trying to save the world! I just want to make the Flog Ride on time!”

Unfortunately, every act of cycling is a massive middle finger to every cager you encounter, whether they like you, hate you, own a bike, ride a bike, or have never sat on a bike. The reason is simple: At the moment a bike and a car interact, the bicycle is obviously the superior mode of transportation, and no matter what anyone says, roads are all about transportation.

The cyclist you encounter is by definition superior to you in your car as a means of transport: She is healthier than you, spending less money than you, getting where she wants to go more efficiently than you, avoiding the hassles of parking, never in a traffic jam, and when she’s done she gets to have a donut.

You, on the other hand, are in a car. Sorry, in a cage. At that moment in time you are sedentary, sitting on your ever-widening ass. Your blood pressure is already elevated. You have a car payment, insurance, a mostly empty gas tank, and a postcard from Martin Chevrolet telling you it’s time to get screwed in the service department again.

You are in traffic, you have to find a parking space, then pay for it directly or indirectly, and ultimately, indignity of indignities, walk anywhere from a hundred yards to a quarter mile total distance to get to your destination. As a transportation proposition, you lose and you know it. You lose and the cyclist knows it. Ergo, smug.

Rubbing salt into the wound

These facts are outrageous to cagers, but it gets worse. When you are on a bike you can’t really see anything about the driver. But when you’re in a car you get to see the entirety of the cyclist. And you know what you see? If the person is wearing lycra, you see someone with body confidence, and you compare it to yourself.

If the person is wearing jeans and a t-shirt, you see someone casual and comfortable, stretching their limbs as you are crammed inside the cockpit of your badly fitting seat. Worse if you happen to be extremely tall, extremely short, or extremely overweight … you’re in a torture chamber.

Maybe you could live with all that if it weren’t for the fact that, despite the outliers, the average person on a bicycle looks so much better than the average person sitting in traffic. Their legs are toned. Their proportions are normal. They scream “NOT LIKE YOU” as you sag deeper into your driver’s seat.

Oh, and if you’re really unlucky, they’re using lane control and are actually in front of you.

Why this matters

Of course there are advantages to driving a car, for example, you live 50 miles from work, or you don’t like to get rained and snowed on, or you are allergic to sweat, or you carry massive boxes wherever you go, or you have a phobia of being outdoors. There may be other advantages I’ve overlooked. But at the moment you see any given person on a bicycle, they are, by definition, kicking your ass in the transportation battle, and the only defense you have is physical violence.

This of course is why noxious cagers troll up next to you and advise you that “The car always wins, pal.”

Of course if the question is, “Which weapon is more deadly?” then the car certainly wins. That’s why you don’t really have a rejoinder to it. But on the roadway, the competition is to get to your destination efficiently, not to kill people. In fact, killing people in your car is highly inefficient. You have to stop. Talk to the police. Explain how you didn’t see the biker who swerved in front of you while you were texting. Sometimes you even have to pay a modest traffic fine. So even when cagers are killing cyclists, they’re still inefficient losers at the transportation game.

The car always loses, at least when it’s sharing the road with a bike, and when we’re talking about transportation.

This matters because once you realize that cars and bikes are in competition, and cars are always the loser, it explains the rage of so many cagers, a rage they sometimes enact by doing the roadway equivalent of beating you up, i.e., running you over. But just because you’re dead or maimed doesn’t mean that their car is any more efficient. It just means they have to take it to the carwash to sponge off the gore, which, sadly, is yet another inefficiency.

This also explains why so many drivers are impervious to rational explanations about how you’re not really taking away their roadway, their parking, blah blah blah. It’s a lie and they know it. You are not only beating them at the transportation game, but every victory you notch encourages someone else to try it, and pretty soon the ants have carried away the elephant.

Can bikes and cars coexist?

In the long term, I don’t see how. It’s a zero sum game, because the more bike infrastructure that gets planted, the more people ride and the less they want to drive, and they therefore want to provide less space for cars. With the exception of Australia, a nation with an explicit anti-cycling agenda, every country that has become bicycle friendly has had to build more and more bike infrastructure and make cars less and less welcome.

It’s a small step from bike lanes to segregated bike lanes to shutting off the town center to cars.

It’s not because bikes are anti-car, it’s because cars are horribly inefficient and costly and filthy compared to bikes, and when bikes are given even the slightest opening, to say nothing of a level playing field, they completely destroy the car culture. The converse is true, too. It’s no coincidence that Japan and China’s full-gas commitment to cars has exterminated a formerly vibrant and all-encompassing culture of bike transportation.

So the next time someone accuses you of being snobby and superior, the fairest thing you could do is admit they’re right. And keep pedaling.

END

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Phun with Phil

August 7, 2018 § 5 Comments

Every Saturday morning since the late Ice Age, long before bicycles were invented, cyclists have gathered at the spot in the Riviera Village where there now stands a Starbucks but where used to stand a Winchell’s Donuts. The Winchell’s was torn down in a fit of health food fury and the grease-soaked, sugar-caked lard rings, and cheap coffee were replaced by a purveyor of finest healthy items such as the Starbucks Old Fashioned Donut, the Starbucks Frappuccino, and the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.

The donuts are long gone but the Donut Ride remains.

Greasiest Donut of the year

The biggest, oiliest, most sugar-infused Donut Ride of the year always occurs on the Saturday of Wanky Weekend, a/k/a the South Bay Cycling Awards, which beginning this year has combined forces with the All Clubs BBQ to bring together the best two aspects of bicycling: People eating food and not riding their bikes.

This coming Saturday rumor has it that Phil Gaimon will be appearing at the Donut Ride, rolling out at 8:05 pointy-sharp. Phil is the progenitor and grand master of Phil’s Cookie Fondo, the annual grand fondue held in the Santa Monica Mountains that attracts several thousand riders and the occasional 45-mph Santa Ana wind. The route is always beautiful, challenging, and filled with cookies, which nutritionists acknowledge as being far healthier than donuts.

West Side invasion?

Although they generally keep to themselves over on the West Side, having as they do PCH northbound and easy access to innumerable canyon climbs, a couple of times each year the fierce predators from “over there” make their way to the humble South Bay where they are promptly beaten into place, except of course for those times when they aren’t, which is usually.

Although Phil won’t be going for one of his famed KOMs on the legendary Switchbacks, I am pretty sure the pace will be sporty. It’s been over a year since Phil quit his day job as a UCI Pro Tour cyclist, but he still manages to pedal a bike okay. You won’t be able to say you beat him, and you may not be able to say you rode with him for very far, but you will be able to snap a few selfies and say, like I do, “Gaimon? Hell yeah. We used to ride together a whole bunch that one time.”

END

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In the belly of the beast

August 6, 2018 § 7 Comments

I stared at the three fried eggs and sausage dripping in hot grease, bit into the thick slab of toast covered in jam and butter, and savored the pungent coffee. “This,” I thought, “is the best I’m gonna feel all day.”

Last year we did a ride simply called Big Day, in September, 240 miles to Santa Barbara and back, with the feared Gibraltar climb thrown in to separate the living from the dead. As with so many bad ideas, this one, fermented over the course of a year, lost virtually all of its awful overtones so that only a fruity, mellow flavor with overtones of camaraderie and notes of good times remained. The tannins of hatred, rage, depression, pain, loneliness, failure, inadequacy, and collapse had all magically been softened, reduced, and left to drift to the bottom of the barrel, dregs that memory would never touch.

Due to this gradual process of delusion regeneration, we decided to follow Big Day 2017 with (surprise) Big Day 2018. Oddly, many of those who participated in 2017 were unavailable, busy, training for other events, or simply ignored my kind invitation for 2018. I suspect that it is because they had too much fun the previous year, for example lying on the cement at Cross Creek and moaning at 8 PM, with only forty miles or so to go.

Lessons learned

If there is one thing I have learned in a lifetime of cycling, it is that I haven’t learned anything. But it seemed like a good idea to set up a few training rides before the Big Day, so I emailed the seventeen riders on the start list. “160 miles, leaving PV at 5:00, CotKU at 5:30, pointy-sharp.”

The only person I heard back from was Frexit. “Sounds good,” he said. “Will we be back by noon?”

“You will,” I said. “We won’t.”

At the appointed time and place I was pleased to see Fancytires, Noquit, and Baby Seal. I was displeased to see no one else, because it meant a hard ride with hardly anywhere to cower.

“If I get dropped, just leave me alone. I don’t want you waiting for me,” said Noquit.

“What makes you think I would wait?”

“Nothing, actually.”

Then Frexit rode up and everyone began muttering under their breath. “This is gonna suck,” said Noquit.

“It is strange,” said Frexit as we got going. “I think that people like me as a person, but no one likes it when I come along on their bicycle ride.”

“Wonder why?”

Wonder no longer

Leaving Manhattan Beach, Frexit, who was on his TT bike, got it up to speed, which just happened to be my threshold. Normally you relish sitting on someone’s wheel because it means you will go faster with less work, and they will tire themselves out dragging you around, but with Frexit all it means is that you will go faster with more work and you will exhaust yourself being dragged around before you get to Santa Monica.

This is basically what happened, until we hit PCH and Frexit picked it up a notch. The horrible knowledge that you are an hour into a 160-mile ride, and already toast, is awful.

We hit the Rock at Pt. Mugu at 7:45. Frexit dragged us to the end of PCH then sat up. “I’m very sorry I can’t go with you all the way,” he said, “but I have a meeting at noon.”

None of us could speak, but we were ecstatic to see him go as it meant we could go really slow and not hurt so much. We started taking five-minute pulls, with Fancytires pounding extra hard, perhaps to make us feel nostalgic about our special time with Frexit. In Oxnard we needed to make a turn while Baby Seal was on the front, but he was wearing earphones, so despite our screams, yells, and shrieks, he motored away. I contemplated making the turn and leaving him to his own devices, normally a smooth move, but then realized it would be one less wheel to suck, so we chased him down, berated him for riding with earphones, and continued on to Ventura.

Noquit had “QUIT” written all over her face when we pulled into the coffee shop.

White walls and all

“Do you know this place?” I asked Baby Seal, who had found it.

“No.”

“How’d you find it? It looks like it’s gonna have good coffee.”

“It’s gonna have great coffee.”

“How do you know?”

“I googled ‘coffee in Ventura’ and they came up; the walls inside are white. Any place with white walls is gonna be off the hook.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Dude,” he said. “Think about it. White walls in a fucking coffee shop? Meth heads leaning against the wall with their greasy hair, kids smearing feces on the wall, people dropping black coffee and it spattering the baseboards? You know how much time and money it costs to keep white walls clean in a coffee shop?”

“So?”

“So they’re obviously insane. And even though they’ll be out of business by March, insane, idealistic people make the best coffee. Insane about the walls, insane about the beans.”

We stood in line forever, noting that the coffee shop had perfected the art of making a lot of people wait a long time for a simple beverage, but when it came, Baby Seal was right. It was lights out coffee.

On the road again

We got back on our bikes, surprised to find that a 30-minute stop fueled with coffee and pastries had taken away most of the pain from our four-hour time trial. It didn’t take long for the sugar-and-caffeine rush to burn off, though, and by the time we hit PCH I was fried and Noquit was deep fried. Fancytires and Baby Seal were feeling sporty, turning the screws with every pull.

Just as things looked pretty dim for the home team, Fancytires got a massive blowout. The gunshot from behind made me hope he’d need to Uber home. Unfortunately it was a sidewall gash that could be fixed with a boot.

However, before that happened Fancytires would have to get his rear wheel off, and he set about changing his tire in a most unusual way, i.e. flipping his bike upside down. We looked at each other as he engaged in a wrestling match with the rear wheel, and despite his prodigious forearms, the wheel was winning.

“Dude,” I said, “let me help you with that.” I flipped the bike over, removed the rear wheel, booted the tire, and changed the flat. “Don’t ever tell anyone that I changed your tire.”

“Why’s that?”

“It’s like admitting you had your brain surgery done by your car mechanic.”

We examined Fancytires’s tires, and they were really fancy, high-end Vittorias. “Don’t bring these on the Big Day,” I said.

“They’re new,” he protested.

“Yeah,” said Baby Seal “they’re supple and they ride great. Problem is that if you look at them too hard they flat.”

I handed the wheel back to Fancytires, and he proceeded to turn his bike upside down again and challenge the rear wheel to another wrestling match. Baby Seal intervened. “Who teaches people to do it like that?” he mused aloud. “We gotta find that guy and break his thumbs.” Re-flipping the bike, he put on the wheel, aligned it, and off we went.

Everyone gets a break

Although Noquit and I had benefited from the respite, so had Fancytires and Baby Seal, who proceeded to start pounding us on the rollers. Fancytires ground us on the roller at LA County Line, then really ground us coming up from Leo Carillo. Noquit quit.

I dropped back to see if she was going to need CPR or maybe just a discouraging word or two. Baby Seal saw us in difficulty and sprinted off with Fancytires, which frankly is the best preparation of all of Big Day, i.e. killing them off when they falter.

“Just leave me,” Noquit said. She was dripping in sweat, covered in misery, and barely turning the pedals.

“But then I won’t get to enjoy your suffering,” I said.

We fell into a steady pace. After a mile or so, Fancytires dropped back, perhaps guilty about leaving me after I’d changed his tire, perhaps guilty about leaving a friend to die, but most likely curious as to whether he could have my wallet after I expired. “Go on,” I told him. “Noquit has quit, I’m burnt toast.”

He nodded.

“And tell Baby Seal he’s an asshole for attacking his friends!”

Fancytires nodded and sprinted away.

The Big Day Rule

There is only one Big Day rule, and it is this: When you feel really strong towards the end, you’re about to implode.

Fancytires clawed his way back up to Baby Seal, who throttled it hard and shelled Fancytires coming out of Zuma. As Noquit and I straggled into Cross Creek, we saw Fancytires weaving ahead of us, and then saw him veer off into the Chevron for a drink, a snack, an i.v., and a defib. We continued at a brisk clip. For us.

A mile before Temescal Canyon I saw Baby Seal’s water bottle on the roadside. “That’s a good sign,” I said. “Means he’s out of water and so delirious he can’t be bothered to pick up a $40 Camelback.”

“Are you going to stop and get it for him?”

“Fuck no,” I said.

Sure enough, at the Temescal Canyon light we saw Baby Seal, his pelt no longer shiny and his flippers sagging greatly. We sprinted by him without so much as a “hello,” which turned out to be a mistake because as tired as he was, he wasn’t nearly tired enough to be dumped by a grandpa and a shuddering Noquit.

We raced into Santa Monica, where I finally had to tap out. “Starbucks,” I begged.

Love in a cup

I never drink/eat frappucinos, but I ordered a huge one with an extra shot and I can say that it was the finest culinary experience of my life, comprised as it was of pure sugar, ice, and caffeine.

As we sat there collecting our thoughts and thinking how we might get home without riding our bikes, Fancytires shot by. We never saw him again.

Baby Seal felt better the closer we got to home, which made Noquit and I feel that much worse. As we approached the turnoff to Silver Spur, Baby Seal made as if to go left, where he had parked his car.

“Nun-uh,” I said. “We go up Basswood-Shorewood, you go up Basswood-Shorewood.”

“But I don’t live up there!” he protested.

“Quit bragging,” I said.

Baby Seal hung his head, then attacked and dropped us with minimal effort.

Back home my everything hurt. “How was it?” Yasuko asked.

“Awful,” I said.

“Really? Why?”

“Because right now, at 163 miles, completely broken and unable to stand, when it’s the Big Day, there will still be 80 miles to go.”

END

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Tour de Wife

July 26, 2018 § 15 Comments

Just imagine what she could do with a real coach.

We are eight months into the Wanky Training Program, a carefully detailed, well thought out physical and mental preparation regimen based on the following principles:

  1. I don’t know.
  2. I made it up.
  3. Ask someone else.

Along with these principles I appended a few sub-rules to help Yasuko be the best she can be. They are:

  1. Don’t overdo it.
  2. Rest.
  3. Have fun later.

After our second Euro ride here in Vienna, I can report that she is killing it, not me.

Bike control

As I reported earlier, the key to good cycling has little to do with fitness and everything to do with not getting killed or catastrophically injured. Summed up in this post, CC&E has been the key to Yasuko’s success. It hasn’t always been fun, as I’m not much fun, but the results? Out-fucking-standing.

She rides in a straight line, bar-to-bar, at about the right cadence, and never half-wheels. What more could you ever ask out of anyone, much less your wife/SO? That’s printable, I mean.

I am amazed that in eight months she rides better than people who have been doing it decades, lifetimes, generations. In addition to the wonder of her bike control, it has reduced my fear/terror quotient to almost zero.

Fitness

We all know that the biggest enemy of new cyclists is fitness, not that they don’t get fit, but that they get fit too quickly and never get any better. How many people do you know who made radical improvement their first year and then stayed stuck there, like a worm on a hook?

The biggest cause of this is riding too much, because few (I said “few”) things are as pleasurable as seeing quick gains in strength, speed, and endurance. But we all know about rapid gains among newly addicted riders: They are followed by massive acquisition of carbon, Strava, and a power meter, then followed by burn out and injury and golf, not necessarily in that order.

Yasuko meticulously followed my specifically vague and minimalist regime for eight months. Here’s what a typical week training plan looks like. Note that this training plan meets the single most important for any plan, that is, it doesn’t take more than 60 seconds to write it out in its entirety.

Monday: No Ride

Tuesday: No Ride

Wednesday: Ride 40 minutes

Thursday: Ride 80 minutes

Friday: Coffee Ride to Dogtown and back

Saturday: Ride of some sort.

Sunday: No Ride

You can see that there is a lot of emphasis on not riding; what you can’t see is the emphasis on eating a lot, sleeping a lot, and the fact that the 40-minute loop includes Whitley-Collins twice, the 80-minute loop includes Abbottswood thrice, and Friday is a big spin day of 3.5 hours.

The result? Yesterday we cracked out a 4-hour ride and she felt great. Today we did another 4-hour effort and she felt great. Pro contract in the works? Not yet. On track to continued, gradual increases in endurance and speed without overuse injuries or burnout? YEP.

Cessation of spousal hostilities

As anyone who’s been married for more than fifteen minutes knows, marriage involves lots of battling. Most guys lose all the major ones by the end of Month 1, and after thirty years you are lucky if you can even win a moderate skirmish over the scent of the bath soap, lucky as in “won the Powerball” lucky.

And although cycling would seem to offer lots of opportunities for continued battling (“Slow down!” “Where are we going?” “Are we there yet?” “I’m tired!” “Let’s go home now,” “I’m hungry,” “My bike is making a funny noise!” “I forgot food, can I have yours?”), in our case it has resulted in the opposite, that is, two very tired old people who are grateful to have made it home in one piece while having had a wonderful time together.

END

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The Croatian Hammer

July 17, 2018 § 8 Comments

In more than seven years I’ve never skipped three days of blogging due to exhaustion. BWR? I blogged it the following day, every time. FTR? Aw, hell yes. Big Day, with 240 miles round-trip to Santa Barbara plus as much of Gibraltar as I could stomach? Yep.

But these last three days finally got the best of me, culminating with a little 108-mile pedal from Vienna to Slovakia, up into the mountains, and back. The distance was doable. The route was doable. But the wind and the Croatian Hammer were not.

Damir Fister is my biking friend here in Vienna. He arranged my rental bike, hand-delivered it, and has ridden with me every day since we got here. It is always hard to compare cyclists, since everyone has their own strengths, characteristics, and weaknesses, but suffice it to say he is easily one of the best two or three I’ve ever had the honor to ride with.

Let me tell you something about Damir. He is hard. You know how when people talk about “hard man” this and “hard man” that? Damir is next level. Fifty-two years old, he’s been riding all his life, knows every trick in the book, and has that chief characteristic of every badass everywhere: No one will ride with him just two-up, or at least not more than once. You go out with this guy, it is going to hurt.

Operation obliteration

The first day he dropped off my bike and said, “Do you want to ride?”

I’d been in Vienna for two hours and hadn’t even moved into our apartment. “Sure,” I said.

We got going and he asked, “How far today? 120?”

“No, dude. I’m pretty tired.”

“100?”

“Can we do 80?”

“Okay,” he said.

Damir rides at about 100-110 cadence, and after the ride I was shellacked, but I chalked it up to jet lag, days on the road, not being on my bike since Tuesday, rental frame, etc. We finished with 90km. He barely looked like he had ridden.

“Tomorrow?” he asked.

“Yes, but I am pretty busy so can we just do two hours?”

“Yes, of course,” he said.

The next day we did two hours and I was even more tired than I had been the day before. I couldn’t figure it out, and then I could: It was the fucking wind. When we left Bratislava for Vienna by bus I noticed that the freeway was essentially a nonstop wind farm. Hundreds of windmills everywhere, and having lived in the Great Plains I knew that they do wind studies for several years before planting a wind farm. Those turbines go where there is all wind all the time, and in these windiest of places, the wind on the farm sites is windiest of all.

In short, it is windy.

We were finishing the ride and Damir asked, “Why were you in Slovakia?”

“It seemed like an interesting place to visit,” I said.

“You want to go back?”

“Sure. When?”

“Tomorrow.”

“How far is it”

“180km.”

“I don’t think I can. My German class starts at 2:00.”

“I will have you home by one.”

It seemed like a great idea with overtones of horrible, a hint of nasty, and earthen notes of flat fucking miserable. Local tour with a local who knew the roads. Plus, Damir also spoke Slovak so we’d never get lost. “Okay,” I said.

“You will like this ride. Sometimes it is a little windy. I often ask my friends to do it with me, but … ”

“But what?”

“Bah,” he said. “Only whiners.”

Color me whiner

We left at 5:15. Damir didn’t believe that I was going to be ready, so he called me at 4:45. “Are you really coming?”

“Yes. Just finishing my coffee.”

“Okay, you crazy Californian. I’ll be there shortly.”

As soon as we got out of town we hit the crosswind, but it was a little to the rear and not so bad. The wind turbines were barely moving, and many not at all. After an hour Damir said, “Seth, not too hard. We have a long day ahead. Save it for the return. We may have a big tailwind, but we may have a small headwind.”

I wondered what he meant by “small.” Those turbine blades didn’t look like they were built for “small.”

I backed off and dropped onto Damir’s wheel. I would stay there for another seven hours.

After a while we came to a small river, more like a fat brook. On the far side was a ferry that only held about ten cars; the ferry was powered by a 4-hp outboard motor. A surly Slovak was at the helm. “What’s this?” I asked.

“Border crossing,” said Damir.

I greeted the ferryman in Slovak but he only snarled. The Slovaks hate the Austrians. On the other side we entered another world. The roads went from Austrian Manicure to Slovak Shit. The houses and buildings were dilapidated; it was like crossing the tracks in a small Texas town.

But the good side was that there were no cars. We had the entire road to ourselves, and it was beautiful. Without cars, factories, or industry, the air was so clean, it actually had a fresh and sweet taste as you breathed it in. I sat on Damir’s wheel, endlessly.

“There,” he pointed off into the distance. “We are going there.”

I looked. “There” was a small range of mountains.

See ya and beer

My water bottle was running low. “Hey Damir,” I said. “Can we stop and get water?”

He shook his head as he handed me his bottle. “We cannot stop yet.”

“Why?”

“We only stop when all the bottles are empty and all the pockets are bare.”

I shuddered. The road had been gently going up for miles, but Damir’s pace never slackened. I could feel my heart pounding against my ribcage simply sitting in his small slipstream. He weighs about 145 pounds and has nothing on his frame except muscles that help the bike move forward. You know how demoralizing it is to sit for hours on a wheel, watching the pistons go up and down, never changing cadence, with only the rarest change in gears?

No stop lights, no intersections, no pausing … and of course no fashion cyclists, no people out on $19k bikes promoting the “brand” on “the Gram.” No fucking nothing but pavement and pain.

After a long while we hit the base of the climb. I exploded the moment the road kicked up. Damir hesitated for a moment. “Go on,” I said. “I’m done. See you at the top.”

He nodded and sped off.

Several miles up the endless 15% grade I got to the top. There was nothing to blame it on except weakness. Thankfully there was a cafe at the top, just opening up for the day, but I was fearful because even though my bottle was empty, my pockets weren’t bare.

“Water?” I said hopefully.

“Sure,” he said. “And beer.”

I filled my bottle and tore into my baggie, which had a giant slab of Austrian rye sourdough and a stick of cheese. I washed it down while Damir chugged a beer and nibbled on some air.

“Shall we descend the other side and then climb back up and go home? Or turn around here?”

“Dude,” I said. “I am completely fucking done.”

“Okay, then we will not go down the other side. It is very long and steep.”

I wondered what he thought of the wall we’d just climbed. Obviously not long and not steep.

Wind legs

The rest and food did me good, and I resisted the urge to take a pull. Damir sat on the front and churned into the wind, and when I say wind, I mean unbelievable fucking maelstrom of churning air blowing a horrific crosswind from the depths of hell.

Finding the draft was an art in and of itself because it constantly changed with the undulations and turns of the road. Most of the time the best draft was the deadliest spot; my bars a couple of inches from his hip, putting my wheel dangerously close to his pedal. With the blustering and movement caused by the wind, it was a constant game of “how close can I get without putting his pedal in my front wheel,” scary as shit but worth the risk because the wind was so awful.

He never flicked me through or suggested I pull; he just churned on. No wonder no one wanted to ride up into the Slovak mountains with him. A Damir Day was like a lifetime sentence of hard labor and no food.

We came into a small town and realized we were lost. Damir stopped to ask directions. Simply sitting on his wheel I had been riding at threshold for an hour. We couldn’t have been going more than ten miles per hour. I was panting.

We remounted and got lost some more. Each person he asked gave him different directions until we wound up on an isolated farm road. “Isolated” in Slovakia means no cars have been on the road for a month. We got a respite from the wind and actually had a tailwind for about thirty minutes, the only time the entire day I could hear myself think.

“Too bad about the tailwind,” Damir said.

“Why?”

“Because I think we are going back to the mountains.”

I wanted to cry but somehow didn’t. Miraculously through an amazing sixth sense of direction, Damir got us back to the ferry landing. I didn’t know whether to be happy about seeing Austria again, or broken because I had been watching the wind turbines and they were spinning like a kid’s pinwheel stuck out of a car window at 60.

Home in pieces

The next two hours proved Einstein’s theory of relativity. Time is indeed relative. When you are gazing at a pretty woman, an hour goes by in seconds. When you are stuck on the hip of the Croatian Hammer, grinding into the crosswind from hell, each minute becomes twelve hours.

I finally couldn’t hold his hip any longer, and he rode away. He dropped back, cut his speed down to about 8 mph, and I struggled for another hour or so until we stopped at a gas station, out of water.

I gobbled what was left of my almonds and dates, drank a liter of water, and resumed the torture. Damir dropped me off at my apartment, wrung out, wasted, sopping in sweat and stained with salt. He looked tired but only as tired as if he had, say, walked briskly up ten flights of stairs. I could barely stand.

“Thanks, Damir,” I said.

“Nice job today,” he said. “You rode well.”

I gazed at him for an extra second to see if he was joking, as I hadn’t taken a pull for seven straight hours.

He wasn’t.

END

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