Country roads, take me home

June 30, 2017 § 10 Comments

I don’t suppose Interstate 10 is a country road, much. The first stretch of our drive from Los Angeles was white-knuckled, especially the part outside Palm Springs where three 18-wheelers were tangled up like spaghetti, creating a 10-mile traffic jam in the other direction.

Midnight driving on the Interstate before the July 4 weekend is not for the fainthearted.

Woodrow and I took turns driving, and Hans rode shotgun for 21 straight hours, punctuated with a couple of quick naps, keeping us entertained and awake. He read aloud the entirety of “The Importance of Being Ernest,” replete with hilarious fake accents. Somewhere in New Mexico we took turns reciting our entire family genealogy, American side and Japanese.

That got us well past El Paso, and made me realize that you should tell your kids everything you know about your relations. The story of my granddad Jim and the banana boat from Brownsville to Galveston, and the tale of my great-great grandmother “Ottawa” Jane are ones that will, hopefully, make it down to another generation. We chewed beef jerky, drank coffee, and ate chocolate cigars.

Past Fort Stockton we got out to whizz and were greeted by the balmy 109-degree temperature. “At least it’s a dry heat,” was the running joke.

The whole thing was worthwhile though because, tired and hungry in Austin, we pulled up to Mom’s house and were greeted by huge plates of barbecue. A vegetarian mother hath no love for her son like buying him plates of barbecue, and that was followed by Mom’s homemade berry pie, Mom’s homemade brownies, and Mom’s homemade peach ice cream.

At 5:30 the next morning I got up, shaved, had three cups of coffee, and pedaled off to Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop to meet the dozen or so riders who had assembled for the Prologue Stage of Cactus Jack’s Gatheration. Along the way I detoured by the Red McCombs School of Business at UT Austin, at whose railing I had for the first time in my life, in 1982, locked up my first bike. At the bike shop there were some faces from my dim past, guys like Jay Bond, Greg Hall, Tom Paterson, and Kevin Yates, as well as people from Jack’s cycling past who for some reason or another I had never met.

“It’s not that hot,” I said as we rolled out of town, earning looks of disbelief from my compatriots.

“Just wait,” Kevin said.

Our ride took us out by the old Nuckol’s Crossing race course, where the Tuesday nighters generated bike racing tales for decades until development finally put an end to it. The fields were green, the headwind was stiff, the sky was blue, and we swapped Jack Pritchard stories as we pushed on towards Lytton Springs.

Jack loved a good dirt road, and no ride was complete without one, in his estimation. As we turned off onto the white caliche of the country road leading into Lytton Springs, memories flooded back. Hot, dusty, days out in the Central Texas boonies, no cell phones, hand pumps, racing bikes on skinny sew-ups, low water crossings, dogs that came at you out of nowhere, clouds of white dust that covered you from head to toe, snakes, hawks, buzzards, bone-jarring washboard bottoms, washed out corners, chugholes and “lots of texture” as Greg said, and almost always a cold soda pop at the end of the dirt road adventure.

Hours and hours riding with people, the pleasantries and casual conversation was always gone after the first hour, and you were left with long hours in the saddle in which you actually talked. This day we did, too, reminiscing about races, about the antics of Jeff Fields, Scott and Randy Dickson, John Wike, Terry Wittenberg, Bob Lowe, John Ethridge, Billy and Ruth Riffe, Rick Kent, Jerry Markee, Kevin Callaway the Good, Mike Murray, Mark Endres, John Bartle, John Howard, John Ethridge, Brooke Watts, the Tour of Texas, Will Rotzler, Sue Kidwell, Mark Edwards and his famous Doctor Dad, Marco Vermeij and his lantern rouge interview in the 1994 Tour de France, even a stray story about Roger Worthington, and of course many a memory of Jack Pritchard himself.

We got back into Austin around 1:30 and I had to keep tapping the side of my head to make sure my brains hadn’t melted and drizzled out my ears. It was dizzyingly, achingly, mind-fryingly hot. I reflected on a few hours well-spent in reminiscence, genuflecting, as my friend Robert Doty would say, at the Church of the Spinning Wheel.

I realized that the country road into Lytton Springs didn’t take me home, but it took me back, and that was almost as good.

END

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Rejected by the Uber lady

June 26, 2017 § 60 Comments

“What the fuck do you mean, this is your first ever dirt ride?”

“Yeah,” SOS said, shifting uncomfortably. “Me and Imprint just got new bikes and wanted to practice some.”

I wasn’t smiling. “This is a terrible place to do your first dirt ride. There’s no dishonor in going home now. You have to go to work on Monday. You guys have families. This ride is no joke. People have finished this thing up in the ICU. Do you really want a catheter up your wee-wee because your spine has been broken in four places?”

SOS and Imprint smiled nervously, unsure whether or not I was serious. “It’s only seventy miles. How hard can it be?”

Jay-Z, whose arm was in a cast, shook her head. “How hard? Look, SOS. It’s going to be the hardest fucking anything you’ve ever done in your life. That’s how hard.”

“Guys,” I said, “you gotta understand. This is no place to do your first ever dirt ride. You can pull the plug now.”

“Why should we?” asked SOS.

“I’ll tell you why,” I said. “Because when you get halfway out and have a bad crash or run out of steam or get a bad case of diaper rash or die, no one fucking cares. Everyone’s just trying to survive. No one fucking cares. Get it? No one. Fucking. Cares. And you will be on your own.”

SOS shrugged. “I’m not scared,” he said.

About that time the motel room door popped open and in came Duct Tape, wheeling her bike into the room. “Hi, everyone!” she said. “Tomorrow’s going to be fun!”

“What the fuck is that?” I asked.

“It’s my bike, silly,” she said. “I haven’t ridden it in nine months, though.”

“And was that last time through a rust pit? What’s that shit on the spoke?”

“Duct tape.”

“Duct tape? On a spoke?”

“Oh, it’s on good, though. I daubed some Gorilla Glue around the spoke holder thingy.”

I looked at her bike, a rusted out $350 Specialized commuter bike with a velcro water bottle cage. “Did any of you people talk to anyone before you decided to come out here?” They shook their heads. “Do you know what the Belgian Waffle Ride is?” I asked.

They shook their heads.

“Do you have prepaid funeral plots?” I asked.

They shook their heads.

I got a splitting migraine. “Okay,” I said. “You’re all going to die.”

“But you’re not hammering tomorrow, right?” asked Duct Tape. “If you’re not hammering I’ll ride with you the whole way.”

“No,” I said, wearily. “I’m not hammering.”

I climbed into the bed, which I was sharing with SOS. “I brought some earplugs,” SOS volunteered. “Do any of you guys snore?”

We all lied and said no and went to sleep. “Me, either,” said SOS. “I lost my septum back in the 90’s.”

Within minutes SOS was snoring like he had a small family of bullfrogs lodged in his chest. Then his alarm went off at 3:30 so I was able to stay up until mine went off at five. Before we left for the ride Jay-Z came into our room. “What time did you guys get up?” she asked.

“3:30,” I said. “SOS’s alarm went off at 3:30.”

“I always get up to go the gym at 4:00,” he said.

Jay-Z looked at him. “You work out?” she asked.

About 120 idiots had shown up to do Joann’s Wafer Re-Do Ride, hosted by Michael Marckx in honor of Jay-Z’s selfless assistance to her teammate who got t-boned by another teammate and wound up in the ICU. However, two weeks before the re-do ride came to pass, Jay-Z shattered her wrist. But of course the show had to go on, and if she couldn’t go as a rider she and Michelle planned to go as sag specialists.

Michael assembled the riders and, posing in front of everyone, surreptitiously ordered that someone “take a picture of my butt.” Then he gave a grand speech. “We’re going to try to keep things together today,” he lied. “Those of you who are more confident and know the course can go on ahead, but the purpose of today’s ride is to stay together as much as possible and get to hang out with our friends.”

This monstrosity of a bold-faced fraudulent utterance went unheeded by the assembled victims, all of whom knew they were dealing with a pathological liar who could no more “stay together” with weaker riders than the sun can orbit around the earth. A few miles into the ride Michael unleashed a vicious attack, splintering the group, which was filled with the weak and infirm, and dashed on to a glorious victory, finishing so far ahead that he was able to shower, shave, and coif before the next finisher even arrived.

It’s thankless work crushing your own re-do training practice friendship ride in honor of a good Samaritan, but someone has to do it.

In addition to winning his training thank-you ride, MMX also arranged for the casual ride to be fully supported in the finest BWR style. Bad Sea Coffee had amazing coffee, hot and cold, throughout the ride, with mobile repairs provided by Velofix, drinks by GQ6, a start-finish venue by the Lost Abbey Brewery, and several sag stations to provide sustenance to the riders.

But back to our story. As Imprint, SOS, and Duct Tape started the first descent, which plunged down a twisting series of soft, awful, suicidal dirt hairpins that had sheer drops on one side and a cliff wall on the other, Jay-Z and Michelle drove up behind them and screamed, “Slow down! You’re going too fast! You’ll kill yourself, you idiots!”

Imprint shrugged and shouted back. “I got disc brakes! I’m good!”

At that moment he lost control and slammed into the cliff wall, which was made of brush and soft dirt, leaving a Wile E. Coyote imprint in the cliff. “Oh my dog!” the sag drivers screamed, as SOS and Duct Tape stopped to see how badly he’d been killed and whether or not they could wrest the gold band off his ring finger before he regained consciousness.

Imprint staggered to his feet and waved his friends on, who were in fact, like all cyclist friends, no friends at all. “I’m fine, he mumbled,” as large brain clots formed inside his skull.

“Maybe,” said Jay-Z, “but your tire’s flat. Get in the car. You’re done for the day.”

“No!” he resisted. “I gotta keep going!”

“Okay, well change the flat then.”

Imprint sighed. “I don’t know how to take the wheel off.”

“How can you not know how to take the wheel off your own fucking bike?”

“It’s new,” Implant said, “and I don’t know how to take off the disc brake axle and thing.”

Jay-Z, who was wearing her best 5-inch platform heels, floppy summer hat, and stripper’s negligee, got out in the knee-high sand and pulled the through-axle, changed the flat, aired it up with the floor pump, then cleaned the rubble out of the disc before pushing him back on his way, all with a shattered wrist in a cast. Having left the starting gate promptly at 7:30 AM, Imprint would not be seen again until almost eleven hours later.

In the meantime, Duct Tape began what would be a series of bicycle-falling-off incidents, some related to the wheel that wouldn’t go around in circles, others to the massive rocks and obstacles in her path, and her final, game-ending crash the result of plain old gravity. She finally gave up and lay on the road side with her hands above her head, in a sort of horizontal victory pose if you will, where the podium is the ground. Jay-Z and Michelle scooped her up and deposited her back at the brewery as they got yet another call, this time from SOS.

“Who is it now?” asked Jay-Z as Michelle’s phone lit up.

“It’s SOS,” she said.

“What does he want?”

“All he texted is a map and the words ‘SOS.’ For reals.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

They raced to the pindropped location, where SOS was seated at the roadside, bonked, sunstroked, and mumbling incoherently. “Uber lady,” he said. “That fucking Uber lady.”

“What Uber lady?” asked Jay-Z.

“You know how Wanky told me to pull the plug last night if things got gnarly?”

“Yes?”

“Well, I had an emergency.”

“Oh, no. What happened?”

“I got a cramp.”

Jay-Z and Michelle looked at each other. “So?”

“It was a cramp,” he said. “And it really hurt. And that motherfucker Wanky and Patrick and that German girl, when I shouted out ‘Cramp!’ you know what they did?”

“What?”

“They just kept riding away. They rode away, those fuckers!”

“Wait a minute,” said Jay-Z. “Wanky told you about this last night. I was there. What part of ‘No one gives a fuck about you’ did you not understand?”

“But I thought he was kidding. And then that Uber lady.”

“What Uber lady?”

“So I pulled the plug after I cramped like Wanky said to do and I called Uber XL and the lady came, this black lady in a really nice brand new sedan with leather seats, it was perfect for me and my bike.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, and she took one look at me and she was like, ‘Hell no, I ain’t putting your nasty ass in my car, hell no,’ and then she fucking drove off. That bitch!”

Jay-Z looked at SOS. “Well, you’re covered in white salt that looks like jizz stains and you’re as filthy as if you’d been riding for fifty miles in a sewer, and your bike is covered from stem to stern with grease and dirt, who the fuck would want to put you in their nice car? Except me, of course.”

SOS saw the logic, loaded his bike on the rack, and crawled into the car. “I can’t believe that sonofabitch Wanky left me for dead. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he mumbled.

“Yeah,” Jay-Z said. “Until next year.”

END

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Pre-ride

June 25, 2017 § 18 Comments

Out of town: Wake in strange bed shower shave brush teeth put on bibs armwarmers jersey socks put credit card and cash in ziplock strap on wristwatch fill water bottles with WATER grab two of Yasuko’s granola bars attach front light rear light jersey light air up tars affix helmet shoes gloves put in glasses stick phone in pocket pedal over to Sckubrats coffee oatmeal and ride.

e-Tap and Wanky Tech Review

June 24, 2017 § 24 Comments

In the overall scheme of things, “scheme” being “since time began,” I haven’t seen all that much. In cycling I have seen exactly three technical changes since 1982 that were really significant, things that changed cycling a lot for the better. I’m sure you will disagree with my Big Three, but here they are:

CLIPLESS PEDALS

What they replaced: Toe cages, toe straps, and heavy alloy pedals.

How they made cycling better: They got rid of purple toes and dead toenails and hotspots a mile wide unless you happen to wear Bonts, in which case you pay extra for those things. Instead of falling over at lights because you couldn’t reach down and undo the strap in time, now you fall over because you can’t twist out in time. They eliminated the constant repurchase of worn out Alfredo Binda straps ($25/each), and now require the replacement of worn out cleats ($35/each), and highly specialized and technical shoes ($435/pair). But seriously, clipless pedals made pedaling easier, less painful, and more efficient. Game changer.

What I miss about the old stuff: Nothing, except not having old straps lying around to strap stuff under my seat with, and being able to buy a pair of Dettos for $39.

INDEX SHIFTING

What it replaced: Friction shifting.

How it made cycling better: It eliminated wing-and-a-prayer shifting. It eliminated the 12-year apprenticeship required to learn how to find the right cog. It led to handlebar shift levers, which made shifting faster, safer, and more efficient, especially since the number of cogs climbed in a few short years from six to eleven. Now it goes to eleven.

What I miss about the old stuff: Simplex friction shifters were silent and perfect once you learned how to use them. Index shifting killed downtube shifting, which was good, but at the expense of heavier, clunkier hoods and bars. That’s pretty much it.

ELECTRONIC/WIRELESS SHIFTING

What it replaced: Mechanical shifting done with wires.

How it made cycling better: It eliminated the “shifting penalty” that kept you in the wrong gear a lot of the time. Before wireless shifting you had to always consider the effort it was going to take to shift plus the fact that you might put it in the wrong gear, mistakenly thinking, for example, that you needed to be in the 11 rather than the 28. With the mechanical stuff, when you shifted into an inappropriate gear, you then had to shift again to get into the right one, which meant at least one wasted shift effort, more if you were a complete goober. Since all cyclists are lazy, even when it comes to something as effortless as modern mechanical index shifting, which basically requires the effort of pushing around a warm stick of butter, most cyclists would rather pedal along in a gear that’s slightly too hard or slightly too easy than shift twice, or, dog forbid, go up and down several cogs to find the right gear. This inherent laziness caused by the effort required to mechanically shift is the “shifting penalty” that keeps you in the wrong gear a lot of the time. However, with e-Tap and its ilk you just clickety-clickety-click and it doesn’t fuggin’ matter how wrong your gear selection is. You can mis-shift entering a turn and be in the right gear before you’re even through it. You can mis-shift on a climb when someone is attacking and be in the right gear even after being in a couple of wrong ones.

What I miss about the old stuff: Nothing. I hated those fat hoods with a passion, to say nothing of the droopy tentacle-design favored by Shimano’s earlier versions, where the wires came out of bar tape like bug guts.

Of course, along with the three best improvements ever, there are also the three worst things ever to happen to cycling. In order of repulsiveness:

TT BIKES AND EQUIPMENT

What they replaced: Regular bikes, good looks, common sense.

How they made cycling worse: You look like an idiot on one; they make really slow people think they are fast; they discourage thousands and thousands of people from ever getting into TTs; they are twitchy and crash easier than drunk unicyclists; they add exponentially to the cost of what is already a fake sport even on a good day; they make terrible clothes hangers, which is what they end up as. Or the world’s ugliest wall art and/or garage filler. Also, an old TT bike ages about as well as an old ass tattoo.

What I miss about the old stuff: Everything. One bike no matter what kind of race; affordability of one bike versus two; knowing that apples were being compared to apples; sharing the lineage of Eddy.

ONBOARD COMPUTERS AND POWER METERS

What they replaced: Brains. Fun.

How they made cycling worse: No one knows anything anymore. People just read and memorize data. Cyclists, who are already the world’s most boring people, when armed with ride data become duller than a year-old razor blade.

What I miss about the old stuff: I liked my brain a lot. It was soft in spots but worked pretty well in others.

STRAVA, PHONES, AND ANYTHING CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET

What they replaced: Freedom.

How they made cycling worse: You have no more excuses for escaping from the drudgery of work, family, or life. Cycling, especially when combined with “data” items above, becomes just more drudgery.

What I miss about the old stuff: Freedom. Duh.

END

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And then some

June 23, 2017 § 39 Comments

For years and years if you showed up to ride at the Manhattan Beach Pier any time after about 7:00 AM, you’d see Joe Charles working his boot camp.

The MB moms, dads, youngsters, and adepts of all ages would be spread out on the sand grunting and groaning as G.I. Joe put them through the wringer. His voice was unmistakable, deep, resonant, authoritative, encouraging, challenging, always friendly.

Sometimes, if you were there early for the Wednesday ride, he’d be taking a break and would always chat you up. “Why don’t you come on down and take my push-up challenge?” he’d ask with a grin.

“It looks too hard,” you’d say.

“It is hard,” he’d shoot back. “And then some!”

“Not today, Joe,” you’d say.

“All right, then, what about tomorrow?”

“I don’t know, Joe, looks like a pretty tough boot camp down there.”

“It is,” he’d say. “And then some!”

G.I. Joe wasn’t a fixture, he was an installation. Never missed a day, and never anything but a kind word and a handshake or a fist bump.

Joe wasn’t tall, but he wasn’t short, either. He was a little on the heavy side with a bald head, a broad chest, powerful legs, and massive forearms capped by thick, muscled hands. “See ya, Joe,” I’d say as I rolled off down the bike path.

“Yes, sir!” he’d say with a big yell and a wave. He probably never knew who I was; we club cyclists all looked alike with the helmets and glasses and orange clown suits.

Then one day Joe was gone. I figured he’d moved or was doing something else. People come and go, after all.

A long while later I saw him again. He was leaning on a cane over by the railing and a woman was helping him try to walk. He could barely put one foot in front of the other and the entire right side of his body looked like it wasn’t connected to anything at all.

I rolled over. “Hey, Joe,” I said. “What happened to you?”

He looked at me, confused, and tried to talk, a task made more difficult because he had never really known me to start off with. The massive stroke had pulverized everything.

“I’m hurt,” he finally said.

With my one foot on the ground and the other clipped in, I didn’t know what to say. “Heal up, man,” I said, or something stupid like that. I was stricken as we looked at each other for a few moments, him trying to figure out who I was and me disbelieving. I rode off.

Another long time went by.

Then yesterday I was drinking a cup of coffee and I heard Joe’s voice behind me. He was by himself, picking up a burrito.

“Hey, Joe,” I said. “How are you doing?”

He walked over to my table, slowly, trying to figure out who I was. “I’m doing good, man, trying hard every day, every day.”

“Sit down if you have a minute,” I said. He did. “How have you been?” I asked.

“Every day I gotta try,” he said. “I had to let the lady go,” he said.

“The lady who was helping you?”

“Yes,” he said. “She didn’t want me doing things by myself. Kept telling me I can’t do this I can’t do that, don’t go here, don’t go there. I kept telling her I gotta do it myself. I gotta do it myself. I can’t have her be doing it for me. I was too much for her.”

“You look so much better, Joe,” I said. “You’re walking, man, no cane or anything.”

His eyes flickered for a minute. “Yes, every day I’m doing it,” he said. “I’ve got a lot going on, getting my boot camp going again, walking every day, I’m doing it. I have to do it myself. I’m going down to the pier right now.”

“Can I go with you?”

“Sure,” he said.

We walked slowly, so slowly, and as we passed the shops he’d wave and shout hello to all the people he knew, which, it seemed, was everyone. “I do this four times a day when I can,” he said, “try to walk up to Valley and back.”

We were at the bottom of the hill and were both sweating. “That’s some hard walking, Joe.”

He nodded his agreement, his brow wrinkled. He looked at me and it went deep. “Yes, it is hard. And then some.”

1

END

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240 whats?

June 19, 2017 § 62 Comments

The longest I ever rode my bike was 150 miles, when a couple of guys snookered me into riding from Utsunomiya to Inubozaki and back. I still remember being miles and miles and hours and hours from home when the guy who had arranged it said “I quit” and checked into a hotel with everyone else except Saito-san, the lone guy who knew the route home.

I never spoke to any of them again.

Riding long distances is fun for some people, but not for me, although every year I do the French Toast Ride, which is 118 miles, and in the past I did four editions of the Belgian Waffle Ride, which is 130-ish, and I recently did 140-ish in Mallorca with a nice young man who wanted to do his first century. I think he gave up at 100 miles and 11k of climbing and called his uncle for a ride home.

But every time people suggest I do a long ride with them I politely decline, usually by saying “No fucking way.” In fact, my rando friends had an intervention earlier this year in which they tried to get me to commit to riding my bike for a long time for no particular reason.

“No fucking way,” I said.

So it stands to reason that on Saturday I rode 240 miles.

Then on Sunday I spent Father’s Day eating without pause and unsuccessfully rolling around in bed trying to find an angle at which everything didn’t hurt at once. The whole disaster was my own fault, as usual, and it started with the same lie that every big bike ride starts with: “This is a no-drop ride.”

It had seemed like a great idea at the time. There was a sagged ride that would pedal from Brentwood to Santa Barbara, with some riders leaving from Van Nuys to get the even century, and then we’d all take the train home. We’d chat along the way, have a jolly time, eat lunch in SB, and do something different from the usual Death Cab for Roadie that these things always devolve into.

The obvious deception in this well-worn package of lies became apparent in Brentwood, when James Cowan, Leo, Nigel, Reeven, and Steven all showed up ready to do the ride after having already done a quick 30-mile “warm-up” loop that included climbing Las Flores Canyon Rd.

Strava it, is all I can say, and if that still sounds like a warm-up for anything besides a funeral, you are insane. Then they said that they would be riding back from Santa Barbara to make it a solid 200+ day. Of course all this was done with much preening, flexing, and Rapha-ing.

I rolled my eyes. “You guys are complete idiots,” I said.

Five miles into the ride, we found out who the idiot was as the leisurely no-drop ride had it pinned at 30 on PCH. Although it was easy sitting in the group, I was wondering about the handful of riders who looked like that speed might be a formula for early detonation. I turned to Larry. “I’m going to float to the back for a minute and see how folks are doing,” I said.

Larry laughed. “We are the back, dude.”

In the distance I saw my friend Debbie vanishing behind into a tiny speck, about to spend the next six very sociable hours plodding alone into a headwind on the coast road. I dropped back to her and watched the group furiously pound away.

“They’ll wait for us,” Debbie said, confidently.

“Yes, they will,” I agreed, knowing cyclists perhaps better than she did. “In Santa Barbara.”

Debbie, who is slim and fit, slipped in behind me, I throttled it back to about 18 mph, and we pedaled the next ten thousand hours into a battering headwind until we got to Carpinteria, by which time I’d gone through most of my single water bottle and both of Yasuko’s homemade granola bars.

We stopped at the Starbucks and I had a bag of chips, some water, and an espresso. We remounted and shortly out of Carpinteria ran into Chris Hahn, who was going the other direction. He turned around and guided us into Santa Barbara, and we were able to chat and catch up on the latest masters crashout polemic and doping gossip.

At the rendezvous restaurant we expected to see our group but they weren’t there. Apparently they had rested at a park, gotten some flats, and made a bunch of unplanned stops, so Debbie and I actually rode there faster even at our modest pace. All I knew is that I was exhausted and looking forward to the train ride home. I’d been wearing that rotting kit since 6:00 AM.

We killed an hour at Handlebar Coffee, rode around Santa Barbara, and finally joined everyone at the restaurant. I was sitting there in my smelly kit, very hungry and picking away at a vegetable tostada I’d ordered that consisted of lettuce and tomato and a piece of avocado, while also eating baskets of chips and salsa. It briefly crossed my mind that this wasn’t the best day to embark on vegetarianism, but I’d finished the last part of a collection of stories by Miyazawa Kenji in which he had written about a vegetarian convention in Newfoundland in the 30’s that was crashed by lobbyists from the Chicago Slaughterhouse Union, and was inspired to try and live without meat for at least a day.

The beer began to flow and I fell into that morose alcoholic sobriety where you’re watching everyone enjoy their delicious beer, and I started thinking about the train ride back and how everyone would be happily drunk and I’d be sour as a bad pickle about having busted the wind all day and then gotten nothing but sobriety as my reward.

About this time the Cowan group began egging me on to join them for the ride back, and even though I was tired and had zero interest in the endeavor, I was in a foul and sadistic enough mood to want to observe such a friendly, confident, happy group of bleating sheep get delivered into the bloodthirsty jaws of Head Down James.

You see, Head Down James, although a relatively new cyclist with little understanding of the nuances of bike racing, is a relatively new cyclist with little understanding of the nuances of bike racing. Although devoid of tactics or guile, he is on the other hand devoid of tactics or guile. And whereas a beginner might mistakenly approach a 240-mile ride with a reckless display of murderous smashing, James approaches every 240-mile ride with a reckless display of murderous smashing.

I say “every 240-mile” because unlike randos, James sees no need to conjure rather long distances into impossibly longer-sounding stretches by use of metric conversion. Head Down James rides 300-milers, 400-milers, whatever-milers, and does it at one speed: Full smash.

We set out from Santa Barbara with plump tummies, and the vegetarian tostada + fried chips diet looked okay, at least initially. Several brave young bunnies gamely hopped to the front and set a very brisk tempo, proudly showing their youthful legs, happy optimism, and excited fluffy tails at getting the chance to do such a big ride with Head Down James. In my estimation they were all about to get their skin torn off in narrow strips and have the remaining flesh charred live over an open flame.

The only rider who looked like he would not immediately have his head hoisted on a pike was Reese, a 40-ish dude with tri-bars who is fiendishly strong and more importantly, wide enough to give me a good draft. You could tell he was for real because his team kit, which was only six months old, already looked like it had been used to wash the undercarriage of a Peterbilt. I tucked in while the bunnies frolicked, awaiting the inevitable, which happened at about the 30-mile mark.

People were starting to get that funny look of twice-tasted Mexican food; Steven had already been shelled once on the 101; Reeven had opined that “5 minute pulls were optimal,” Leo was deathly silent, and everyone else was huddling at the back only to find that with eight riders in a sidewind THERE IS NO BACK.

Somewhere on RV Alley, Head Down James took a pull. I don’t know how fast it was. I don’t know how long it was. But I know that the faces of the riders were twisted in pain, and short little bunny gasps were in plentiful supply. After a very long time that seemed much longer, Reese rolled to the front. It made the pull of Head Down James looked like the efforts of a kindergarten tug-o-war team. After a while, but before he was done, I decided to make a brief excursion to the fore of the ship to see what all the ruckus was about. My acceleration might have been a bit brisk, brisker even, than, say, the already brisk pace of Reese.

By the time I flicked my elbow the only two sailors left on HMS Idiots were Reese and Head Down James. This was good because the bunnies had been set free from the clutches of vivisectionist James. It was bad because it was fairly obvious that I was now going to be the next rabbit on the operating table.

I’ve never done a rando, but if, at mile 183, they’re still doing 28 mph, I don’t ever want to. Reese mercifully flatted. I lay down in the parking lot of Surf A Hoy and hoped he never got the flat fixed or that North Korea had targeted its first nuclear launch for Oxnard. James did donuts to keep his mileage up.

We got going again, but the “we” part evaporated on Hueneme Road. “Guys,” I said, “I’m done.” Although I had sat on, refused to pull, and hidden like a mouse running from a boa in an aquarium, the combination of speed and total absence of draft from Head Down James ground me into bits.

Head Down James look back for a brief second, swerved and took me through a giant pothole that almost shattered my rims and spine, and looked kindly at me, kindly as in “the way a shark rolls its eyes back into its head before sinking its razor-sharp teeth into your soft gut, which spills out a trail of soft intestine and foamy gore.”

“Okay,” he said, and they vanished.

Or so it seemed.

A couple of miles later Reese was standing up against a fence in a playground with a dazed look on his face. “Dude,” I said, with insincere concern, “are you okay?”

“My toe is cracked and I have to restraighten it,” he said, or some other gibberish, which I instantly understood as “Head Down James bored a hole into my skull so please let my brains dribble out in peace.”

“Okay,” I said, without stopping to make a fake offer of help, although I made sure he could hear me downshift.

For a very long time I rode alone. Although there are a lot of unique physiological changes that your body goes through when you are stretched that thin on a few leaves of lettuce and parts of a tomato, the major one is The Feeling Of Stupid. “Why am I here? Where am I? When will this end? Whose fault is this? Who do I know who lives nearby?”

These and a million other variations of “You are a complete fucking idiot” played in an infinite loop until Reese passed me somewhere around the Rock. “All better?” I asked, grateful for the draft.

“Yeah,” he said, blasting by. For a while I sat on his wheel until, faster and faster, I couldn’t. He vanished.

It had been overcast all day and now I was alone in a dense fog on PCH and freezing cold. I hated everyone, especially my rando friends in Sacramento who had made me do this, and my wrists hurt. My neck hurt. My back hurt. My ass had been grated with chunks of razor coral. My glasses were fogged over. Then, around Neptune’s Net, I saw a red blinky light–it was Reese again.

“Dude,” I said, “I didn’t think I was going to see you again.”

“It’s my heart,” he said. “Every so often when I go too hard for too long it starts spiking.”

“What’s it at?”

“201,” he said.

“You’ll be fine. I think as long as it’s not your age plus 400 you’re golden.”

“I have to dial it back until it drops back into the 180’s.”

“Okay,” I said, attacking him on the small roller and leaving him for the defib crew.

Many more miles went by and Reese caught me again. Now we were both too tired to attack. We laughed at how stupid we were. We cursed Head Down James, silently and in the open. We compared notes on the trail of burrito and salsa puke that the bunnies had left in their wake. And we finally got to Trancas.

Trancas, holy Trancas! Home of the Chevron and Saint Dr. Pepper and His Bottled Holiness Frappucino and Father Snickers, the divine and dogly Father Snickers, ambrosia of the dogs!

I had gone through my second water bottle for the day and was thirsty. We ate as much sugar as we could and then, horror of horrors, as we left the gas station we saw the most gruesome thing imaginable: The bunnies were pulling in as we were pulling out.

“Want to wait for them?” Reese asked.

“Fuck no,” I snarled. We pretended we didn’t know them and raced on.

With renewed energy and sugar in our veins we flew through the pitch-dark fog of PCH as stoned surfers, drunk beachgoers, and horny teenagers pulled out of the Zuma Beach parking and headed for more drugs at Moonshadows. Reese and I took turns until somewhere after Cross Creek, where he sat up and gave me the thousand-yard stare.

“I’m done,” he said. “Good riding with you.”

A wave of kindness and camaraderie flowed over me. I don’t know if it was the distance, the exhaustion, the fact that we’d already disproved whatever it was we set out to prove, or maybe it was simply a kinder and gentler me who wanted to show respect to a stronger, superior rider and all-round decent guy.

I smiled and sat up. “Okay, man. Hope you make it home.” I downshifted and rode off. [Editor’s note: I never heard from him again. If anyone knows what happened to Reese, please send condolences to his next of kin.]

After Temescal Canyon Rd. the traffic on PCH became bumper-to-bumper, and my speed was about that of the cars. As I cruised along peeking in the windows I saw normal people drinking beer, texting, and having a nice life although they admittedly killed the odd pedestrian or cyclist here and there. They seemed peaceful and happy. None of them could fathom that of all the people on PCH at that very moment, I was the dumbest.

By the time I got to Manhattan Beach I had made a list of all the people whose homes I was going to stop by and from whom I’d beg a ride home. I had rehearsed my speech, which went like this: “Hi, Derek, I know this is weird it being 9:30 PM on Saturday night and all and the baby is probably asleep and you and the missus are naked but could you drive me home? I’m very tired and am on Mile 230. Please? I have ten bucks and half of a smushed BonkBreaker as payment.”

What I couldn’t get past was how I’d explain having left on an all-day ride without my phone. If there was one thing Derek liked to say it was, “The great thing about Uber is you never have to call a friend to bail you out.” Who would understand it? Not even Manslaughter, although I pedaled by his house to see if the lights were on. They were, which meant he was watching NASCAR and so, no chance there, either.

I ran out of supplies in Hermosa Beach and stopped to buy another Dr. Pepper. I totted up my expenses for the day:

  • Ms. WM’s granola bars: $ .25 each
  • Coffee at Peet’s: $1.85
  • Ride fee: $20.00
  • Coffee and chips in Carpinteria: Free
  • Piece of lettuce in Santa Barbara: Free
  • Unused train ticket home: $36.00
  • Donated BonkBreaker: Free
  • Dr. Pepper & Frapp & Holy Snickers in Trancas: Free
  • Dr. Pepper in Hermosa: $1.85

The closer I got to home the more my mind tried to figure out ways to not have to pedal there. But my legs were okay, my blinkies were still working, and my raging case of fire in the hole had subsided just enough to throw a leg back over.

I got to the bottom of the hill in PV and girded my loins for the final 30-minute climb. There were no streetlights and no traffic. I was swallowed up by a silence so complete that all I could hear was my gritty chain. At the bluff overlook on Via Del Monte I gazed at the brilliant city below. A young couple was standing there holding hands, oblivious to the filthy and tired old man laboring by with a raw ass and defective mental condition.

Eventually, like all colonic obstructions, the miserable climb passed. My wife greeted me at the door. “What happened to you?” she asked in horror, having expected me home hours earlier.

“What happened to me? James happened. Head Down James.”

END

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Sacrifice one to the bike dogs

June 17, 2017 § 25 Comments

Yesterday I went to pick up my son who had finished his freshman year of college. It was a hugely successful year and hit the trifecta of no arrests, no drug dependencies, and no paternity. His straight A’s and etcetera were icing on an otherwise perfectly baked cake.

I recalled that when we had moved him in, he didn’t have much. Everything plus him and two parents had all fit into the Volt. But after school started he added a small fridge and a bike so when I made plans to pick him up I knew that we’d need a different vehicle because of the bike.

I called Enterprise and rented a Ford F-150 for $36.00. It had a quarter tank of gas in it, and it cost another $36.00 to fill it up. My eldest son is home for a few weeks from Vienna so we left at 5:00 AM pointy-sharp to beat the traffic.

“You know,” he said, “when you have to leave somewhere at five o’clock to miss traffic, that somewhere hasn’t really figured out the transportation thing very well.”

He had a point.

Shortly before we got to Santa Barbara I called my youngest. “You got your stuff ready?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s all out here on the curb.”

“Is it a lot of stuff?”

“Not too much, but I don’t have the bike.”

“You don’t?”

“No. I lost the key and one of my friends is going to cut off the lock this weekend.”

“But you’ll be back in LA.”

“I was thinking about hanging out here for the weekend to, uh, you know, hang out with my friends and stuff. I’ll take the train back to LA on Monday and take the bus to PV.”

The “stuff” part had me mildly concerned, but what could I say? He’d made straight A’s. “If I’d known you didn’t have a bike I wouldn’t have rented this truck.”

“What truck?”

“We rented a truck to bring back all your stuff.”

He was apologetic, even though it was my fault for not having checked. “I’m sorry, Dad. And there’s not a lot of stuff, actually.”

“No worries,” I said as we pulled up to the dorm. There he was, with all of his earthly belongings on the sidewalk. “We’re not going to have any trouble with that.” I was pretty sure you don’t need a full-sized pickup for six books, a shoe box, and a bag of dirty laundry.

We drove over to the Bagel Cafe in Isla Vista and ate. Coffee and breakfast with your two grown sons is a pleasure unlike any on earth. We laughed and enjoyed the early morning sunshine. Then we dropped him back off at the dorm and were back in LA before eleven, handily beating the traffic.

I never did find out what was going to happen to the bike.

END

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