Sugar blues

September 12, 2017 § 28 Comments

I once had the prettiest girlfriend named Kerry. She had red hair, she was Irish, and she was from the County of Kerry. She was also a ranked tennis player and a really good triathlete. I don’t know what she saw in me and eventually she didn’t either.

One evening I noticed a book next to her bed called “Sugar Blues.” Maybe the fact that I was in her bedroom and checking out her books was part of what was ultimately missing. It was such a good title though that I couldn’t help opening it up. Maybe the fact that I was in her bedroom at night and reading her books was the other part of what ultimately was missing.

The book was all about how sugar was the reason for the downfall of every civilization since the beginning of time, and ours was next. It was a wacky book but attention grabbing. “Hey, look at this!” I excitedly told her as I browsed through the part about Babylon. I still remember her sitting on the edge of the bed in a negligee not looking especially excited about me being especially excited about the role of sugar in ancient Babylon.

“Oh,” I thought, and threw down the book. But it was too late.

I did later buy a copy of the book and read it. It was nutty except for its premise, that refined sugar isn’t very good for you. I tried to quit eating sugar for a few days but, uh, no fuggin’ way.

A couple of months ago a good friend of mine got Keto religion. The Keto diet is like the Paleo diet except even less fun, which is like being depilated with an electric iron, except less fun.

Every time I would check in on my friend, she would report on her Keto diet. Leaving aside the fact that she looked fantastic, the diet had been good for her. Blood sugar had dropped from pre-diabetic to normal, etc. So I was glad for her but also insanely jealous, mostly because I knew there was no way in hell I could ever do a Keto diet. My last foray into weight mismanagement had been several years ago with the infamous kimchi diet, self developed in the laboratory of Seth Davidson, Bicycle Injury Lawyer, and it resulted in significant weight loss accompanied by world class flatulence, notable even for a blogger and bike racer.

So I knew the Keto diet wouldn’t work for me, not only because I’m a Capricorn but also because, at 153 pounds and 5’11”, I’m already what the World Health Organization calls “malnourished.” Yes, we may ideate Jeff Konsmo’s 132 pounds of bone, translucent skin, and subcutaneously visible gristle, but recent data suggest that even he won’t be racing the Tour this year, so, no Keto diet for you, old feller.

But, but, but …

I did like the idea of no refined sugar and I am a touch competitive and what if?

So a couple of months ago I quit eating sweets. And if a thing obviously had sugar added to it, I quit eating that, too. And I haven’t missed any of it. In fact, when I dug into my wife’s blueberry cobbler on Sunday after the Big Day ride, I was done after one small piece. She uses very little sugar, but it was so cloyingly sweet I could barely choke it down. Here’s what I’ve found after this little experiment:

  1. Your sense of taste gets much more acute, just like when you cover your eyes for a few minutes and your hearing immediately sharpens. I think sugar overwhelms all other taste perceptions, and once it’s gone, you actually start to taste more.
  2. Naturally sweet things are sweet beyond belief. Bananas now are almost too sweet to eat. Half a banana sweetens an entire bowl of oatmeal, and I do mean “sweetens.”
  3. No weight loss. Sorry.
  4. I had my one and only physical about 30 years ago, so no idea what effect it’s had on my blood sugar, but I’m guessing it’s less sugary.
  5. No more sugar spikes followed by sugar crashes.
  6. On our Big Day on Saturday, I took a few squares of bread and unsweetened peanut butter. It did just fine. When I finally ran out of gas at Cross Creek, 30 miles from home, I drank a small bottle of whole milk and washed it down with a can of Starbucks espresso. Yes, it had sugar, and yes, I got a quick spike, but the fat in the whole milk is what got me the rest of the way home. Plus I was fuggin’ desperate and Surfer Dan was actually eating a foot-long Subway.
  7. You realize that everything is flavored with sugar.
  8. I enjoy the taste of things that were previously inedible without sweetening, and it reminds me of when I was in Iriomote-jima, where the only vegetables available were tropical vegetables. Tropical vegetables are to vegetables what British cuisine is to cuisine. At the time I couldn’t believe how bad everything tasted. But now I realize that all of those strange things simply had their own taste and if you didn’t spend a lifetime salting and sweetening everything, you’d probably learn to like it. Especially if you were hungry.
  9. Diminished hunger.

There you have it.

END

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Tennessee drinking water

September 11, 2017 § 30 Comments

I was standing in the shade of a scrubby little oak that was barely wide enough to hide under. Outside the shadow, the sun was doing its best to kill everything that moved, especially cyclists. With one shaky hand I fished out a mashed up tiny square of bread coated with sweaty peanut butter, while with the other I tried to pee. My new white shoes turned orange but I didn’t care.

It was 104 degrees. I was out of water. I was only a few miles into the dreaded Gibraltar climb. I had no gears, no legs, and barely even any will to live. Oh, and I was 110 miles into the ride with another 130-ish to go. Twelve idiots had left Malaga Cove at 5:00 AM in order to knock out a cozy 240-miler and be home in time for dinner. What had seemed like a relatively bad idea at the time now looked positively awful.

I chewed and my spit softened up the bread until there was enough of an energy boost to get one leg over the frame. I pedaled along for a ways, my mouth swollen and sandpapery from thirst. As I approached a turnout I saw a battered Toyota 4Runner with Shelby County, Tennessee plates. “He’s got to have water,” I thought.

Next to the car a man was hunched over a small plastic bucket holding a pair of boxer underwear. He was dipping them into the bucket and wringing them out. The brown discharge with each twist told a dire tale.

I stopped. “Hey, man,” I said. “You got any water?” Dysentery and oral herpes seemed like a small price to pay for a drink.

The scraggly fellow stood up and smiled. “As a matter of fact, young feller, I do.” He dipped his hands in the bucket to wash the brown stuff off with some less brown stuff, then rummaged around in his car. “Here ya go!”

He produced a big plastic jug of Arrowhead. It looked clear, although from the giant spots in front of me, I couldn’t be sure. Then he unscrewed the cap and filled my bottle with dripping hands as I proffered it. “Where you off to?” he asked.

“The top of the climb.”

“You’re doin’ great. You’re almost halfway there.”

Upon hearing the news, I wondered if it would be okay to cry. I numbly drank the water, he refilled my bottle, and I continued on. One of my other ride mates, Ram-Ram, had thrown in the towel and was sitting under a tree. It’s not often that you see super tough, battle-hardened cyclists sitting under trees. “I’m gonna wait and go down with the others,” he said. “My goal today was to only go halfway.” I love it when someone has a ride plan that incorporates quitting. I needed one of those, badly.

“So this is halfway?”

“No. It’s a ways on up.”

After “a ways on up” I stopped pedaling. There was a yard filled with junked cars and some orange pylons and a hand-scrawled sign that said, “No trespassing I shoot.” It might have been the Tennessee guy’s place, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

I turned around and descended back to our rendezvous spot in Santa Barbara. Nichts, Bottles, Ruins, Surfer Dan, Bondage, and Pornstache had all dropped me on the climb, badly. Baby Seal had met up with a friend and was driving home, proving that there was one genius in the group. As we sat in the Starbucks waiting for lunch, Pornstache told me about Ruins’s dark side.

“We were getting near the top and I had run out of water. It was warm up there,” he said.

“You don’t say.”

“I said to Ruins, ‘I’m out of water,’ and so he took out his bottle and had a nice long drink.”

“Strong move.”

“But I wasn’t gonna beg.”

“Of course not.”

“So I offered to let him win the climb.”

“Much better than begging.”

“Yeah. So he was like, ‘Okay.’ And then he handed me his bottle, which still had a couple of sips in it.”

“I bet that tasted good.”

“It did. Then I noticed he had another bottle so I said ‘Hey, Ruins, how much you got left in that other bottle? And he was like, ‘It’s full.'”

“Ruins is a dark, dark man.”

As we stood in line I noticed that Pornstache only had what looked like three quarters in his hand. “What are you planning to buy at Starbucks for seventy-five cents?” I asked.

“I was thinking of maybe getting a sandwich.”

Normally I would have let him starve, then bonk, then leave him on the side of the road, especially since he had been driving the pace since 5:00 AM that morning and would likely murder us all on the 120 miles left to get home. “Let me pay for it,” I said. That brief moment of pity would come back to haunt me, as the favor would only be returned with pitilessness.

As we saddled up, Nichts and Bottles appeared to be quite satisfied at having crushed me on the climb, a stellar performance that was greatly enhanced by my weakness and by their canny avoidance of the front on the way out. Each time we would hit a stop sign or a stop light or make a turn, they would magically rotate back a couple of slots so that they were often near the front, but only rarely actually on it. It was clever and it worked, as I could see from the last-place position in the peloton I guarded jealously all day long. I even think there’s a phrase for their method in bike racing. “Smart riding” or something like that.

But their trick was not going to be repeated on the return trip to LA, where the rules were different. On the way out it had been:

  1. Ride as fast as we can.
  2. As far as we can.
  3. With as many people as we can.

On the way back it was:

  1. Good luck.

At the 180-mile mark our first casualty was Turbo Tom. Leo the Kitten had put in a gnarly pull, one in a series of awful efforts that he’d been sprinkling throughout the ride. Ruins came up, pretending sympathy and concern. “We dropped Turbo and Foxy. You guys were getting all surgy up there. I was doing 300 watts just sitting in.”

This was the same Ruins who crushed my soul on Gibraltar, now feigning concern for people who were struggling. Bondage, who had also ridden like a beast all day, appeared to be worried about his friends. “Sucks to be them,” I said.

“It’s a long way from home,” Bondage said.

“Uber,” I replied.

Suddenly there was a large group discussion going on behind. The gentlemen whose motto had been “Kill Wanky Now” were now discussing the best way to deal with what ostensibly were dropped friends, but in reality was the realization that the ride was about to get harsh and in our group of horribly impoverished Avid Recreational Cyclists, no one made enough money to afford an Uber ride home from Oxnard.

Nichts and Bottles, both shamed into taking exactly two pulls since we had left Santa Barbara, were studiously silent. Our droppees were brought back into the fold, where they remained until we crossed the Ventura County Line into LA. Leo hammered the first roller and the only ones to make it over were Surfer Dan, Pornstache, and Ram-Ram. We came through Trancas intact and hit the Zuma wall.

Leo began to smoke, and not in a good, legalized marijuana way. Pornstache and Ram-Ram appeared to be in difficulty. Only Surfer Dan looked okay, and he inexplicably went to the front to slow the pace. This wasn’t the Surfer Dan I knew and loved. My Surfer Dan would, when given the chance, always kill the weak. So I surged. If there were ever a chance to dispatch Ram-Ram and Pornstache, this was it. If either were allowed to recover, they’d kill me later.

“Don’t be stupid!” Surfer Dan said, by which he meant, well, I don’t know what he meant. But I slowed down, and once we got over Zuma it was game over. We rolled into Malibu a few miles later and I got to watch Surfer Dan eat an entire foot-long Subway sandwich with three meats, four cheeses, and twelve condiments in ninety seconds. At one point he was chewing so fast I was afraid he’d gnawed off a thumb. I was so hungry I wondered if he would let me lick the stump. Pornstache drank some water and breathed some air and was good to go.

We raced back to Santa Monica until the fumes evaporated. Surfer, Pornstache, and Ram-Ram blasted me out the back shortly after we passed Temescal. Luckily, I only had another twenty miles and a 1,000-foot climb at the end, so I was almost home, “almost” being a word I repeated over and over as if it would make up for utter internal collapse.

With each passing mile I went slower and slower until, reaching Redondo Beach, I had to get off and fish around in my back pocket for a banana I’d bought in Santa Barbara. When I bought it, it was already brown and cracking, and the effort of the last six hours, combined with much sweat, hadn’t made it any younger or better looking.

I pulled out the soggy mush, which oozed all over my fingers, disintegrating as I tried to disentangle the peel from the tan paste I was desperately trying to stuff into my mouth. I licked everything off my fingers and continued on, satisfied at my efficient consumption of sugar and salt and glove material all in one thorough licking. Eventually I got home, where a text from a friend was waiting, and it said this: “Dude, I saw you on Vista del Mar, looked like you couldn’t even pedal in a straight line. Are you okay?”

The answer, of course, was “No.” But it had nothing to do with the ride.

That evening, messages of joy began to trickle in. “Made it,” “Home,” “Great ride,” “You suck,” “Can’t wait ’til next year!” and of course my favorite one of all, “Thanks.”

Photos used with kind permission of Leo the Kitten. Baby Seal’s permission was asked and refused. Oh, well. Used ’em anyway. So sue me.

END

 

A thorny issue

September 9, 2017 § 33 Comments

I had rented a pickup; we’d loaded up at 4:00 AM and were on the road to Santa Barbara. It’s not a bad time to be on the freeway in LA, especially if you’ve had plenty of coffee, which I had.

My youngest was moving into an apartment for the first time, and we cut the darkness of the cab with easy conversation, or rather with a monologue that was triggered by “Do you remember your first apartment, Dad?”

Did. I. Ever.

The Village Glen on Burton Drive, off of Riverside. Then one semester later an apartment across from the HEB up on Red River. Then two semesters at the Villa Orleans on 34th. Then a little place on Duval, not too far from Speedway. Then employee housing at Keystone, in Dillon, a long way from Texas. Then back in Austin on a couch in Joey Orr’s place, across from the tennis courts on 24th and Lamar. Then a room in Jeff and Sue’s place on Pearwood Place.

Each one of those places brought back a menagerie of faces and a circus of events, selectively recounted to a son who seemed to be listening.

Somewhere way past Ventura I ran out of apartment stories and he switched on what I would have called the radio but was in reality a playlist. That’s the first time I’ve ever written “playlist.” I had to think for a minute what it was called … you know, the radio.

The first lick was “Hard Travelin’,” and it was a Woody Guthrie album, which is kind of appropriate since my son’s name is in fact Woodrow. Those were the same songs I played on my CD player when he was tiny and we were living in the Panhandle; early imprinting. They were the same songs my dad played on our record player at our house in Galveston back in the late 60’s. Three generations of imprinting, you might say.

When it came to “Boll Weevil Blues” I asked him if he knew what a boll weevil was. He didn’t. I guess you had to have read a lot about the Great Depression or sharecropping or have grown up in the South, but as I told him what a boll weevil was and what Woody meant when he sang that the boll weevil would “get your Cadillac 8” I reflected that words we don’t know are a deep insight into our lives.

Kind of like the day a couple of weeks ago when I was in the bike shop. A pale overweight guy came in with his pale overweight kid and handed the bike to the mechanic. “Flat tire,” the dad said, without even a howdoyoudo. This is how grown-ups speak to each other now, I guess.

It occurred to me that a grown man who couldn’t fix a flat was unthinkable when I was a kid. You had bikes so you had flats. And nobody “fixed” them for you. You peeled off the tire with a screwdriver, you filled a bucket with water, you pumped some air into the tube to find the hole, you dried the tube and you patched it. Then you stuffed it back in, flipped the bead back onto the rim with the screwdriver, aired it up and went on about your business, which generally involved ramps and scrapes and direct blows to the head and no helmets or gloves and often no shoes.

But the mechanic wasn’t surprised at all. He popped off the front wheel and looked at the tire. “Here it is,” he said. “You got a thorn.”

The kid, who was fifteen at least, deadpanned. “What’s a thorn?”

I got ready to laugh at the joke when I noticed the dad wasn’t smiling. The mechanic paused for a second. This was new, even for him. “You know,” he said. “A thorn.” It was as if the kid had said “What’s a head?” and the mechanic had said, “You know, your head. That thing on top of your neck.”

“What’s a thorn?” repeated the kid, who was pretty much almost a grown man.

I waited for the father to turn red from embarrassment, or to leap into the breach and do the fatherly job of explaining, but he stood there as if the state of his son’s mind was someone else’s job, certainly not his. The mechanic pulled out the thorn and held it up for the young adult to see, the young adult who had reached puberty and was almost old enough to vote and join the army and kill people, without ever having met Mr. Thorn. “This is a thorn. It grows on plants. Then it dies and falls off. It’s real sharp. See?” He gently poked his own finger with it. “It’ll go through your skin. Or a tire. So try not to ride over them if you can avoid it, which you sometimes can’t.”

The kid looked with mild interest at this incredible discovery and the even more complex explanation, and nodded. “Wow,” he said. I figured the mechanic would save the mysteries of the inner tube for another time.

As I rode home I reverse engineered the life of a kid who didn’t know what a thorn was. He’d never run barefoot in a field, that’s for sure. He’d never howled in pain, flopped on the grass, and jerked his foot up to dig out a stickerburr, which is what we called them in Texas. He might have never even sniffed his own stinky feet. He’d never spent June hopping and yelling over hot tar and asphalt only to walk calmly over it in August after a summer spent building up calluses tougher than any shoe leather. I figured there were probably a lot of other things he hadn’t done.

He’d never walked along the railroad tracks picking dewberries and blackberries and eating them fresh off the vine, that’s for sure. If he had, he’d be more intimate with thorns than that mechanic was with flat tires. He’d never handled a rose, let alone had to trim a rose bush, which meant he’d never had his nose shoved up against one of the sweetest smells on earth, free for the breathing.

He’d never gardened with his hands covered in dirt, pushing moist soil over the shallow indentation that housed a freshly planted seed, and he’d certainly never watched it grow into a cucumber or a radish or a strawberry, then picked it before it was ready to eat out of excitement. He’d probably never thrown rocks at a nest of yellow jackets, played with a garter snake, filled up a styrofoam cup with night crawlers to use for fishing, stuck his hand down a dark, dank post hole to rummage for toads, cut his finger trimming his nails with a blunt pocketknife, made firefly lanterns, been stung by a scorpion, or watched to see how long it would take a doodle bug to unroll. I doubt he had ever caught a lizard, filled a jar up with ladybugs, chased and caught a butterfly, or been bitten after learning the hard way that you never try to take a bone out of a dog’s mouth, even if it’s your dog. He’d probably never stepped in dog shit in his new sneakers and had to dig the shit out of the treads with a stick. He’d probably never played Truth or Dare in the woods, been scared by an owl’s hoot, or tossed a lit firecracker off a bridge.

Suddenly it was silent in the pickup as the last song ended. “Well, we’re here, I guess,” I said.

I moved him in. It took fifteen minutes. We hugged. “Thanks, Dad,” he said, and he backed it up with one of those strong hugs you ache for. I pointed the car onto the highway but didn’t bother turning on the radio.

The passenger seat in the cab was empty now, but actually, it wasn’t.

END

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Pointy-sharp

September 7, 2017 § 16 Comments

I had lunch with a guy today. He’s sixty-two years old and looks like most 62-year-old dudes. Not in the best of shape, maybe drinks a bit more than he should, doing okay but definitely on the down side of the power curve.

He was talking about young people, a favorite topic of old people. Young people, however, don’t ever talk about old people. In fact, they hardly are even aware we exist. “Yeah,” he said, “I tell my kids that if they can just show up on time and look presentable, they’ve already won more than half the battle. Don’t matter what the battle even is.”

It made me think about my bike rides, which always start on time. I’m fond of telling people the start time and then adding “pointy-sharp.” With few exceptions, when it’s time to ride, I ride. If you get left behind because you had a flat or an extra cup of coffee or got up late or changed arm warmers at the last minute, well, hopefully you know the route and are familiar with something called “chase.”

In cycling, it’s funny how people who show up on time with their equipment and clothes in superb order often correlate with people who ride well. Lots of examples come to mind. Daniel Holloway, for instance. He’s always early, his kit is always spiffy, and his bike is always immaculate. Or Evens Stievenart, the lokalmotor who just set the world-fucking-record for 24-hour racing … he’s another person who’s punctual, and whose equipment always looks like it just got cleaned. I suspect this is because his equipment just got cleaned.

There are exceptions, of course. I have one friend who is lethally good but who is the enemy of the punctual and whose gear isn’t always in the finest working order. But even he, when it’s race day, gets there on time and makes sure his stuff is race ready. And in his day job he’s invariably on time for meetings and looks like the professional he is.

At the extreme end of the spectrum there are people like Iron Mike and Smasher and Stern-O, for whom timeliness and especially cleanliness are religions. Hair and Charon are two other riders who always look GQ and who ride even better.

Of course showing up on time and having clean equipment doesn’t magically equate to great riding skills. But on the other hand, it’s hard to have great riding skills and also be careless about time and the condition of your junk. Possible, but hard.

Being on time sounds easy, but it isn’t. All the stuff has to be in order. You have to get up early enough to eat, to covfefe, to have the right clothes on. Air in the tires. Kayle Sauce in the bottles. In short, you have to be organized, which is exactly one of the things that it takes to ride well, having the ability to do a bunch of things simultaneously in a group of people also doing a bunch of things simultaneously and not wind up on the pavement or off the back. In other words, if you can’t get your shit together enough to roll out the door on time, how well will you be able to perform in something like the individual pursuit, where meaningful differences are fractions of a second?

I’m continually amazed by people who are always late, and who regularly show up with mismatched socks, threadbare tires, uncharged batteries, helmet askew, empty bottles, and who are totally unprepared for all the totally predictable things that happen when you ride a bike. Even when they ride me off their wheel I can’t help but observe how much better they’d be if their tires actually had air in them.

Jeff Fields, the guy who invented bike racing in Texas, was a detail fiend when it came to showing up early, having his bike in perfect working order, and looking like he just stepped out of a cycling fashion catalog.

And you know what? He won a whole bunch of races.

END

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Are you German?

September 2, 2017 § 25 Comments

I got up at 5:00 AM and went downstairs to buy my $6 latte. But first I had to run the pre-dawn gauntlet.

I was fresh and washed and crisp and ready for a full day of conference naps, but the gaming tables were dusted with the crumbs of Mr. Wynn’s winnings from the night before. A young man sprawled desperately over the dice muttering curse-prayers, his face pounded into whiskey bender mush while his one friend tried to encourage him with vacant words, none of which was going to bring the money back. His other friend was a Sphinx, black beard stubble in high relief on his fat, sallow face, a beet red node glowing in the middle of his face.

I stood and watched him get ready to throw. “You got this,” said the encourager, weaving unsteadily.

“I told you to quit back when you were completely fuckin’ broke,” said the Sphinx.

The roller was so intent he heard no one and nothing but the call faintly echoing out from the depths of the maw. The croupier was a surgeon, clinically cutting away the last bleeding pieces that remained. He saw everything, felt nothing. He glanced at me. “So?” he seemed to say.

I couldn’t watch and continued on. Workmen had pulled up a pair of tiles while cleaning crews worked in a controlled frenzy. The machine never stopped grinding and so it had to be oiled on low speed, which was delicate and ruthlessly efficient work.

A fat man slumped precariously on a barstool and talked at his hired hand. Her long legs dangled deliciously. His glass was almost empty, hers untouched. Her eyes met mine. “So?” she seemed to say.

Two Chinese women had been the victims of some kind of crime, and the police interviewed them while Mr. Wynn’s security staff stood off to the side, distraught at the possibility that donors would see police and a crime scene here in Disneyland. “This whole casino is a crime scene,” I thought. I got my coffee and walked back to the elevators. The trio had been flushed down the sewer and was gone and the croupier caught my eye for a second.

“So?” he seemed to say.

Outside the casino it was cool and dead. I walked down the Strip for a short distance, mostly unpeopled. A homeless man with one arm approached me. His wretchedness was almost too much to bear, a toothless face drawn tight like a shrunken head on a living skull.

“Are you German?” he asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

“Geld, bitte sehr,” he said.

“Gerne,” I replied, gave him a ten, and walked on. Off to my right the early morning sun covered the Trump Hotel in a blinding sheen of gold.

END

Life in hell

September 1, 2017 § 27 Comments

My cycling year ended yesterday, and this morning I got up, packed the car, and began penance.

When I got to Vegas I left my car with the valet lady and checked into Mr. Wynn’s motel. A group of sad faced people were leaving as I was arriving. One of them made eye contact. “Don’t worry,” she said. “We made sure there’s plenty of money left for you.”

It was early but the thieving tables were already going strong. I breathed in the cigarette smoke and looked at the donors. “I could beat most of ’em on the Donut,” I told myself smugly.

It was noon but before going down to the convention I had to eat, and I wasn’t about to spend thirty bucks on a meal so I took out my knife, my jar of peanut butter, and a loaf of Mrs. WM’s bread wrapped in tinfoil. “$300 room, $1.75 lunch,” I smugly muttered.

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I went down to the ballroom where they were holding the trial lawyer’s convention. I was going to take a bunch of seminars to learn how to be a better lawyer and I had convention fever. This is that feeling you have the first day of a conference, excitement, anticipation, and most of all a blood oath that you will study hard, pay attention, ask intelligent questions, take good notes, and be an Excellent Conference Attendee.

I sat down to learn about defamation and was fascinated by the incredible speaker. However, when I woke up the room was empty and the lights were off. Who knew two hours could pass so quickly?

I wandered into the exhibit area, which was packed with lawyers and vendors. “I can take every one of you fuckers at Telo,” I thought smugly.

Being off the bike for September and already worried about losing fitness, I decided to do a big walk around Mr. Wynn’s motel and alcohol-therapy center. Plus, I had an hour to kill before my next nap.

Countless couples wandered glassy-eyed through the center, which was fine, and many had their small children in tow, which was not. Over the way from Mr. Wynn’s fake waterfall was the fake Venice, and people from all over the world snapped pictures of the fake gondoliers in the fake canal. I looked hard but didn’t see a single person who could beat me in the NPR sprint.

I returned to the conference and attended a scintillating nap on damages. Afterwards I made detailed notes about what I had learned. “Thank you all for coming today,” I wrote, but couldn’t recall anything else.

Back in the exhibit hall one of the vendors was raffling a Rolex. “Sign up for your chance to win a Rolex!” the booth dude said excitedly.

I thrust my Timex into his face. “What are you trying to say?”

He laughed, nervously. “Oh, nothing!” Then he showed me his Casio. “Me, too,” he blushed.

Another vendor tried to ensnare me in a raffle for a $500 bottle of wine. “No, thanks.”

“It’s a very fine wine!”

“And I’m a very fine alcoholic.”

On the way back to my motel room I spied scads of lawyers furiously gambling and slamming hard liquor. It occurred to me that the abandon and freedom I feel on the Donut, they feel at the thieving table.

It was late, really late, almost 7:00 PM. I grabbed a $5 espresso and watched as the evening ramped up all around me. Everyone was so sure that this was their night, guys shouting boldly one failed bet after another, Chinese trophy wives grimly betting on the wheel, gambloholics stonily swirling around the drain.

And it was amidst this horror and illness and industrialized theft that my colleagues felt happiest and most at home. I dined on more bread and water, slipped between the sheets, and dreamed of Donuts.

END

Build it and they will leave

August 31, 2017 § 12 Comments

When Junkyard came up with the idea of an alternative Thursday ride to the NPR due to massive construction on Westchester Parkway, it was a doozy: One warm-up lap followed by four hard efforts around the PV Golf Course, finishing on the monster climb of La Cuesta.

We skipped the warm-up that first ride and got straight to business. By the end, the group was in tatters. I think the day was November 6, 2014. The next week we also skipped the warm-up and added a lap. It was horrible beyond belief. No one could believe that anyone would voluntarily do such a thing.

As the months went by, one by one riders heard about The Flog. They came, they sampled, they never came back. From a training perspective, the ride was worse than useless. But far more awful was the damage it did to your ego. Always dropped and left to ride alone.

After a year, Michael Hines suggested we stop and regroup after each lap, effectively turning it from a race into interval training. We agreed. The ride only got harder, and the non-benefits even more pronounced. A two-fingered handful of riders soldiered on, but by then the ride’s reputation was so bad that new faces were few and far between.

The ride wrapped up its 35th edition for 2017, to resume again in January. I love this ride more than any other. It represents the best that competitive cycling has to offer: A small group of friends who take care of each other, who are safe and respectful, who go all out, and who make progress in whatever way they’re trying to improve. And at the end, if things work out, covfefe.

This ride has so many great memories for me! The day that Daniel Holloway and his crew showed up and destroyed the course record. The countless times that Stathis blasted the group apart, effortlessly, it always seemed. Amazing feats of speed on La Cuesta (and everywhere else) by Chris Tregillis. The continual, never-say-die efforts of Michelle Landes, one of the toughest riders around. Evergreen Mike Hines, reliable and hard as nails. Greg Lonergan who always made the hardest efforts even harder. Derek Brauch, always raising everyone’s game. Emily and Aaron, the happiest couple in the world! Lauren Mulwitz and the times she has come out and smashed. Josh Alverson, fearsome, funny, friendly, and quick to show us how Stanley O’Grande gets things done.

David Wells and his countless antics, videos, and photos. Luke Rokuta, dependable and smiling and thrashing it with his Pioneer power meter. Bill Klahr and Stacy Hill, two regulars, and of course Tim Vaughan and Steve Shriver!

And there were the handful of incidents! Marc’s fall in the hairpin, Emily’s fall in the hairpin, Kroboth’s fall in the hairpin, Michelle’s wheel-tap, Hines’s chain snap, the incident with the jogger, and Rico’s collision with the curb. For a ride that has gone off more than 140 high-intensity times, that’s an enviable record–and there have been no serious injuries.

Of course what I miss most are the people who used to come and don’t any more. The ride is too far, too early, too painful, too stupid, too pointless, or just too boring. Robert Efthimos, one of the best people I know and a tough competitor, Stathis and Chris, Stacy, Eric Anderson, Greg Seyranian, Greg Lonergan, and Head Down James, who I once screamed at for taking the hairpin at lightspeed.

“You crazy sonofabitch!” I yelled. “You can’t take the wet downhill hairpin like that! People will follow you and get killed, for fuck’s sake!”

Head Down James didn’t shout back. He looked at the ground and said quietly, “But I was only going 35.” That was his last flogging; our loss.

Jon Davy, Bob Spalding, Major Bob, and the immortal Francis Hardiman! Riding with him and Alex Barnes was such a low point in terms of ego but a high point of humanity … so many fine riders and good people have moved on to other and better things, which I get. But I miss them all anyway! Turbo Tom Duong, and remember Peyton Cooke? I do! He used to be there every time, along with Eric Anderson.

And of course the people who showed up once or twice, delivered their message or had it delivered, and never came back. Michael Smith, Dan Cobley, Greg Leibert, Jeff Konsmo, Dave Jaeger, even Dan Sievert, “the Bull.” Dave Holland came and dished it out once, Gussy did half-a-Flog, and our Dear Leader, Junkyard Joe, comes once a year whether he wants to or not. The one or two cameo appearances of Evens Stievenart and Julien Bourdevaire were never to be forgotten.

Between the “been there” and the “done that” there are all the people on the Facebag Flog page who’ve never ventured forth. Please come! We will be gentle, and if not gentle, at least respectful. That’s my promise.

And I’m grateful to those pedalers who still make this ride a part of their lives. Josh Dorfman, the eternally happy Michelle Landes, Kristie Fox, Mike Hines, Emily and Aaron Wimberley when they can swing it, Luke Rokuta, Bill Klahr … thank you all.

It was a great year of flogging. 2018 will be our fifth anniversary, the make or break date for most marriages. Let’s keep this love affair alive.

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END

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PS: Don’t forget the Wanky’s. As if you could.

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