End of an error

September 14, 2017 § 40 Comments

The era of organized bike racing is gone and it isn’t coming back. It has been replaced wholesale by Strava, grand fondues, club racing, and fun rides.

In unrelated news, the Kayle LeoGrande doping story got picked up by a news web site that focuses exclusively on Olympic sports. Kayle’s story is now running next to an article on the 2018 and 2024 Olympic host cities and a story about corruption at the very highest level of sport.

How the mighty have risen.

A friend sent me this incredibly sad post, which appears to come from Kayle’s Facebag page.


I think it’s sad because, if you read the story and the interview, you can see that Kayle is denying that he doped to improve his performance, something that the test results and his past behavior conclusively prove. A friend of mine who is a mental health expert and former bike racer identifies Kayle not as someone who should be pilloried, but someone who needs help and should be pitied. Perhaps he’s right. It’s very hard to read this without wincing.

In other, completely, totally, absolutely unrelated news, the last USAC crit of the year in Southern California, America’s hottest hotbed of crit racing, wrapped up last weekend. The men’s Pro 1/2/3 field had seven riders.



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Hairless mammoth

September 13, 2017 § 18 Comments


There are a lot of great rides that go off within striking distance of L.A. One of the legendary and generally airless ones is the Mammoth Grand Fondue. It starts up high with no oxygen and finishes up high with no oxygen. If you think you’re going to do it easy, you’re in for a surprise. If you think you’re going to do it hard, bring an oxygen tank.

A few friends drove up from L.A. the night before, did the ride, and sent me their recaps, which I have edited to enhance confusion and ridiculousnes. All of the errors, omissions, and wild fabrications are mine.

From Joann Z:

I was able to get up and take photos of the 7:00 AM group as they led out but I did the 70-miler an hour and a half later. There was a strong Big Orange showing in addition to a lot of people from the South Bay including Peta Takai and Kate Verroneau.

I had a great time! I started alone and was dreading it, as I’m still recovering from a serious wrist injury that has put my fitness back to square one. At Mile 5 someone passed me and recognized me as Big Orange, a fellow club member who has never ridden with the club. His name was Bill. He was riding with someone else I knew, Chuck, and we ended up doing the rest of the ride together. This is the best thing about doing a ride like Mammoth–you’re never alone, and you’re sure to run into old friends and make new ones.

At about Mile 20, Bill started to get nervous. I told him I had some extra BeachBody Energize and asked if he wanted it. He practically jumped off his bike while it was still rolling to take my bottle. He drank it so quickly I was afraid he might choke, but he didn’t. The BeachBody made him chippy, but I told him that if he got to feeling too frisky he’d have look to Chuck for relief and not to me. Chuck shut that down pretty quick, I might add.

They were both first-timers. Chuck had just got back from Spain and was in the best shape of his life. He is pushing 60 and looked strong as garlic. Bill, on the other hand, started to burp as his body began the slow process of realizing that even the best energy drink in the world wasn’t going generate new muscle tissue. Although 70 miles doesn’t sound that far, at 10,000 feet this ride was no joke.

Bill ended up bonking and getting kind of delirious but Chuck and I wouldn’t leave him. It took us about one hour to go the last 10 miles, which was fine by me. The scenery was so amazing. Bill survived and Chuck looked like hadn’t even ridden his bike. I felt super fresh after the ride, which was nice. Mammoth GF is a ride that you really can finish without feeling like you were a violent crime victim.

The course was well marked and the rest stops were so frequent that we ended up skipping a few. The people were nice and we only saw one crash. The food at the end sucked but the cookies were good. And although everyone can live through a bad meal, nothing makes everything okay like great cookies!

From Michelle R.:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic but the day certainly had its ups and downs. It started out on an up-note with me feeling smug that I was likely the only participant who wasn’t going to freeze their ass off that morning. Over my bike shorts I was sporting leggings with reinforced panels making them cold resistant up to minus 30 (I’m not exaggerating), wool socks, my jersey, a thick cotton hoodie, windbreaker, ski gloves, and a total of seven Little Hotties tucked into key places all over my body. So I was prepared for a late summer cold front from Antarctica.

Things took a turn for the worse as soon as we actually started moving, though. I’d rather not put this in writing, but in the spirit of full disclosure I have to report that I managed to get dropped on a neutral start. That’s right. I am so inexperienced in group rides that close quarters with folks jockeying for position makes me feel sketchy, so as a safety precaution for myself and those within five hundred yards, I slowly drifted toward the back of the peloton where I had a little more space in case I was riding next to, say, an aircraft carrier.

It was then that I realized that this was going to be a solo ride. My dreams of riding in a pace line and enjoying that elusive thing called “drafting” that real cyclists get so excited about were dashed. I guess it’s a good thing that solo riding is all I do.

The ride down Highway 395 was uneventful and I was anxious to make the turn onto Highway 120. I skipped the first rest stop and enjoyed the first big descent by myself. Then I started Sage Hen climb, one of the highlights of the day. The landscape was beautiful, the climb long but gradual, and the wind hadn’t yet started. It was on that climb that the day’s pattern developed. I would spin past many a cyclist on the way up, and the longer and steeper the better. Then I would watch many a cyclist speed past me on the way down. How did they do that?? Given that I had shed nothing but my gloves at that point, perhaps being as bundled up and bulky as Frosty the Snowman didn’t help my aerodynamics. But let’s get real. I could be naked and still not be anywhere near “aero.”  Maybe my next Peloton 101 class can give me a few pointers. In any case, pedaling as fast as I could, I still got my ass handed to me by virtually everyone I had passed on the way up. Depressing. Like seriously depressing.

Miles 50 though 65 were where things got challenging. An endless route of flat(ish) road and that freaking WIND. There’s something torturous about being able to see the road stretch out for miles and miles while battling headwinds and crosswinds and pedaling at your threshold power going all of 12 miles an hour. You do the math. It’s gonna be a long, long day. Another factor that came into play at this point was my nutrition challenge. I started off the day with a bowl of cereal. Good job. During the first two hours I drank two bottles of water with the BeachBody packets that Joann had given me at the start line. Excellent. Way to hydrate.

Two-point-five hours in, however, when I had my first Cliff gel thingy, my stomach protested. From that point forward everything that I put into my mouth, including water, ended causing a terrible sharp pain in what felt like my right ovary. Okay, spleen maybe? I don’t know, I’m an accountant not an internist. The point is that I had virtually nothing to eat all day. I kept up as best I could (which wasn’t all that great) while drinking BeachBody and hoping for the best.

I kept asking myself, “What would Kristie say?”

Kristie is my best friend and my worst friend all rolled into one. Well, what she would say is, “Wind, and flat tires for that matter, are good, they make you stronger.” Or, “So what if you can’t eat, that forces your body to burn fat for fuel.  You should be thankful for that pain.” The landscape in this part of the ride was sublime. Truly majestic. And even with all of the challenges I was dealing with, being out there all by myself in that spectacular setting evoked an overwhelming sense of gratitude and awe and humility.

Once the climbs started again, things got a little better. All things considered, I actually enjoyed that section. But the windy flats had taken a lot out of me. Around Mile 70, out of sheer desperation, I asked some rider with a La Grange jersey if I could follow him. I have no idea of the protocol of this drafting thing. Do you ask permission? Do you pretend that you have the strength to take a turn in front? I had a good ten minutes on his wheel and it was wonderful! I could do this all day! Then a little descent came and he was gone. But not forgotten. Never, ever forgotten.

By the time I got to the last rest stop, my lack of fuel had caught up with me so I had a bite of watermelon. Bad choice. I must have looked as bad as I felt because random people were giving me pep talks. “Come, on!  You got this!” The bike mechanic guy said, “It’s only like five more miles!”

Me: “REALLY? Can you please confirm that?”

Him: “Oh, my bad, make that 10.”

Fuck me.

I felt better than expected when I got back on my bike. But then the last mile came. That one mile 3%-ish “climb” made me want to cry. It felt like a cruel trick by the race organizers and hate might not be too strong a word for what I was feeling. Then it was over. Finally, over. And, in retrospect, after a good night’s sleep and a big bowl of oatmeal, my thought this morning was that it was one of the most awe-inspiring rides I’ve ever done. I can’t really find the words to describe the impact that landscape and that solitude had on me. And I actually look forward to doing it again next year. Maybe better prepared, but who’s fooling who? Most probably not.

From Geoff L.:

The Start: “Holy crap it’s cold!  Can you feel your fingers? Me, neither. I should have remembered my winter gloves.”

That’s how everyone starts the Mammoth Gran Fondo, with a jolting cold “neutral” descent and a big pack of cyclists and rolling road hazards all gripping their brakes, shivering and whining in the cold shadows of the early morning following a slow set of police pace cars gliding down Highway 203 towards the main road of 395.

After a few minutes of this, I was shivering so much that my front wheel started to shimmy from my arms trembling uncontrollably and I pulled to the side to keep my ridiculous wobbly line from taking anyone else down. Other maniacs totally disregarded the “neutral” idea and bombed headlong down the left side median strip to get to the front for the upcoming climb. A gang of us tried to stay together as we weaved past the wanker with full panniers, the psychos on hybrids and CX bikes, and the rich businessmen with shiny new Pinarello Dogmas who couldn’t hold a line to save their lives as we tried to find our way to a safer part of the crowd.

Finally, we made a big left turn as one big, sketchy, meandering mob onto highway 395 and things started to sort themselves out. We picked up the pace on the friendly 4% climb and everyone got happier as they got warmer. The pack stretched out, we formed long pacelines and found strangers matching our own meager ability levels who seemed a bit less strange as we got familiar with how they rode.

The scenery was gorgeous: National park-level backdrops throughout the entire ride.  The moon was still out alongside a big blue sky that was getting brighter each minute as the day opened up. It was still a little chilly, but now the pacing was solid and my teammates and I were trading pulls with a group from Las Vegas and another team from Northridge. The group from Northridge kept yelling at one of their big guys to “Slow down, Tommy! Pace yourself!” as Tommy repeatedly took pulls up the left side and away from the group, then fell back down the side. Apparently, Tommy was more of a crit guy and I thought to myself that we wouldn’t be seeing Tommy for long. Sure enough, Tommy started to fade back over the next few climbs. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but this just wasn’t a 400-watt effort kind of ride, at least not for us in the thin air at 8000 feet.

And so the day began as we rolled along through a beautiful day of Eastern Sierra roads far away from everything we were used to in the LA beach towns filled with honking, angry motorists and stoplights. Our day was pine trees, granite peaks, clean highway and long stretches of country roads which were blocked off for just for us.  It felt like we were travelling thru a Hollywood western movie set and Little Joe and Hoss were going to come riding along at any moment. Just for fun, a few of us started singing the theme song for Gunsmoke, or as much as we could remember, and we had a good laugh as we pedaled along. Later in the ride, we actually passed a family of wild mustang with four adults and two colts feeding on grass alongside the road.

The Mayor’s Daughter, a/k/a “Jonesie”: One of our teammates is a ski instructor in the winter and spent fifteen years of her life in Mammoth. Even more than that, her godmother has lived here for over thirty years is the unofficial mayor of the town. So we started referring to her as the mayor’s daughter because whenever we pulled up to a stop, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, knew her and stopped to ask how she was doing now that she lives in LA. The locals couldn’t have been any friendlier to us. As we rolled along, “Jonesie” was also recognized by all the local riders and many pull into our paceline as they said hello and gave her grief at the same time.

“Hey, when is Jonesie gonna take a pull?” etc.

Jonesie herself had kind of a rough start to the day with a horrible gremlin messing with her bike the night before so that she woke up to two flat tires, a dead Garmin, and a half dead Di2 shifter even before leaving the house. So now she had to get through the whole 102 miles in just her small chain ring. Fortunately, she was hella’ strong as a state champion mountain biker, so she kept up with us just fine despite spinning out on the downhills. Finally, towards the end of the day, her remaining Di2 charge gave out and she was stuck in third cog, yelling “Hey Geoff, I’m onna fixie now!!!”

She was still smiling her huge smile and laughing as the booth announcer recognized her and cheered her as she crossed the finish line. It was really fun to ride with the mayor’s daughter!

“We had an agreement”: We had a married couple on our team who always ride together. They constantly lead group rides up GMR and stuff like that. They are a solid couple, but every so often they don’t totally connect, just like any other couple on the planet. This can be kind of entertaining when it happens on a 100-mile ride. Here is how this one played out:

  • Act One: Hubby is anxious to get going, so he runs up to the front for the neutral start, while Wifey loses his trail and starts back in the pack with the rest of us.
  • Act Two: As we expected, we catch Hubby about an hour or so down the road as our paceline is passing his paceline which got kinda burnt going out a little hard for a long ride at altitude. Hubby and Wife are back together.
  • Act Three: We stop to help another cyclist with a flat and tell Hubby and Wifey to roll on to the next rest stop and we’ll catch up.
  • Act Four: As we approach the rest stop, we see Hubby hopping on his bike and he joins our paceline. We ask about Wifey and Hubby replies that she’s fine, she knows he was going to catch us as we came by. Hubby says “we had an agreement”.
  • Act Five: We stop at the final rest stop to have a beer at the Sierra Nevada counter featured at the rest stop and we ask again about Wifey. Hubby tells us again “we had an agreement” that she knew he was going to join back up with us when we rolled by. We ask where Wifey is, and Hubby says “Oh, yeah, I think she was back in the porta potty when we came by.” We’re a little stunned and give Hubby his rightful amount of shit about leaving her at mile 77 in the crapper. Hubby stands by his “we had an agreement” statement but looks a little sheepish the more we talk about it over beer.
  • Final Act: Wifey finally pulls up. As everyone suspected, the “agreement” wasn’t nearly so clear to her. Apparently, after exiting the porta potty and not seeing Hubby, Wifey spent a bunch of time checking around the rest stop for Hubby and looking thru the bike racks for his bike before leaving. Awkward laughter ensues and the rest of us retreat to the beer counter and bathrooms for some air.

Things worked outt fine as Wifey was very understanding and knew that Hubby was just kind of a goofball and didn’t mean any harm. “We had an agreement” became the running joke of the rest of the ride. I figured Hubby is stuck for a solid week of “Yes, dear” because that’s how marriage goes, regardless of the “agreement.” The real agreement was something called “marriage vows.”

The Finish Line: After sucking down more of our beer, we set off on the final climb back up to the Village at Mammoth where we started. Not much more about riding at this point; we were all kinda done with the ride part and the idea of relaxing in a chair at the finish was really calling to us. Mercifully, the final grade wasn’t that tough, at 4% to 5%, so we just spun steadily back up to the village. We pulled into the finish line and the MC announced each of our names from the reader at the finish line. It was very nice touch!

We grabbed food, our swag t-shirts (gotta show off something back home) and beer at the finish. The food was forgettable, but the beer was excellent and the music and seating in front of the stage were just great! We ran into our team president who was with the fast old guy group and got 7th overall, as well as his BonkBreaker teammates who together were the fastest team at the fondo. Awards were all given out by Wooley the Mammoth, of course. It was a really fun day, with great memories and a few quirky adventures. A perfect fondo.

From Meagan J.:

As a Mammoth local for twelve years I’ve ridden the Gran Fondo course at least a half-dozen times. We used to do it as a club ride in the fall the same direction it follows now and it was called the “reverse century” because the actual Mammoth Century started at the green church and went the opposite way a couple of weeks later.

It was a training ride and somebody’s nice wife or significant other would drive out to several locations along the way and leave a few gallons of water for us at various locations, but it was self supported. It was ALWAYS hard, the wind in Mammoth is always howling in the afternoon, sometimes in your favor, but uncannily it always seems to be a headwind!

This was the first opportunity I’ve had to ride the “Gran Fondo” as it’s evolved today. What a difference from my first “mammoth fall century” with Eastside Velo. Instead of  150 club riders and a fewfriends casually rolling out of Benton Crossing Road at 8:00 AM, over 800 riders lined up at 6:45 in 35-degree temps for a 7:00 AM rollout down Main Street! Every road in Mammoth either goes up or down, there’s nothing flat. The first five miles descending down Highway 203 offered the view of 800 cyclists swarming the neutral vehicle like a plague of locusts.

The lack of oxygen got my crew of Oranges to agree that this was a scenic ride, and although we would ride fast and hard, at the end of the day there were no egos to be crushed. Only legs …

The teeth-chattering descent out of Mammoth quickly changed pace as we started climbing toward June Lake, the gradual climb interrupted only by a few punchy rollers and then a climb to Deadman’s Summit. It’s truly not as horrible as its name, but it significantly weeded out the downhill heroes who had bombed to the front on the 5-mile descent out of Mammoth. At this point we were more of a small mob than a peloton. We had mixed colors, teams, guys with panniers on their bikes blasting music from their iPod, (think Burning Man on bikes without the fire).

Like a remora I attached myself to the largest, steadiest wheel I could find. I was not loyal! If another bigger, faster wheel came up, I would latch on without hesitation.
Finally we were free of the locusts, and had organized Oranges in a rotating pace line, my happy place. Eric Arentsen took control of the pace, taking the longest pulls known to man, and also reeling in anyone with more oxygenated blood who would blast off the front.

We hit our stride as a team and consistently started passing small gangs. Every now and then we would come up upon a group of locals, and I’d get a shout out “Is that Jonesy?” I’ve not lived in Mammoth for four years, and I’ll admit, my ego swelled to know that I was still remembered by my skiing nickname. My old Mammoth friends happily climbed onto our Orange train and went to the front to give us a break in the vicious headwind that had been steadily picking up. They pulled for several miles, and then broke off to turn around and go back to ride with their wives. I later got a text message that read “So much fun to run into you and your man slaves today.”

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere we came upon a guy fixing a flat; he had already used his spare tube and needed help. Oranges stop, it wasn’t even a question. We were not going for a record breaking time, or a podium, so we helped. Juniper was the guy’s name, and he was strong, so he showed his thanks for the roadside assistance by taking long pulls on the front until he flatted again. We took matters into our own hands, assessed the situation, and decided he was SOL. He had metal shards embedded in his sidewall; we should have vetted the situation more carefully from the beginning! We were five miles from the next SAG and Juniper thanked us and waited for one of the Velofix vehicles.

The ride back up highways 395 and 203 into Mammoth gave us a welcome tailwind. We were tired but not broken. Of the times I’ve done this route, this was the freshest I’d ever felt at the end, no doubt thanks to the teamwork. At Mile 75 I had started shouting a countdown from memory, as I was riding without a computer. “25 miles til finish,” “Once we hit the campground it’s only 20 miles,” “The 395, 10 miles,” “The 203, 5 miles.” I wanted a Nutella crepe from a place in the village so badly I could taste it!

Also, adding to my desire to finish and finish quickly, I had been having technological issues all day. My Garmin failed at the start, forty miles in my Di2 flashed low battery despite being charged two days before, I lost use of my big ring at Mile 50, and at Mile 90 my rear derailleur went into its neutral gear when the battery went completely out. I went into sewing machine leg-mode for my anti climatic finish, but the announcer and long time friend was shouting into the mic “And she’s in, Jonesy’s in, I’ve been asking where she was, but now she’s in!”

So awesome and such a great homecoming day!



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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.



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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.



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.



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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.



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


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.


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