Norwegian wood

May 12, 2017 § 9 Comments

We sat around outside last night and talked before the Norwegians left. It had been an interesting week hanging out with the stolid folk of the Arctic Circle. When it comes to kindness and decency, these are some of the best people I have ever met.

They aren’t real excitable, which makes sense because things up there are predictable. Daily forecast: Snow with 90% chance of darkness.

Nor are Norwegians whiny, which makes sense because everyone has the same 11.5 months of shitty weather to endure. Instead of complaining they stoke the hearth and guzzle another fifth and go ride a hundred miles in the snow and black ice.

All this riding and sitting and pondering and drinking makes them very reflective. And the thing they seemed to reflect on most was, “Why do you Americans come all the way to Mallorca to cycle?”

“Because it’s beautiful.”

“But don’t you have beautiful places for cycling in America?”


“Then why do you come here? It is 24 hours for you.”

“Why do you guys come, then?” [When stumped, interrogate the interrogator.]

“For us it is only three and a half hours and very cheap. We can enjoy the sunshine and cycling. Very convenient.”

“I guess we like coming to Europe.”

“But you only can speak English. It is not as if you are appreciating the local culture.”

“I guess when you think about it, we like hanging out with you Norwegians.”

They looked at us strangely. “Why is that?” We were probably the only people in history who had said such a thing.

“Well, Norwegians are like relaxed Germans. Germans who aren’t punctual. Germans who live and let live. Germans with a sense of humor.”

“But we are not really related to Germans, you know.”

“Oh, bullshit,” said Russell. “If it weren’t for them you wouldn’t even have a language. Norwegian is just German with bad grammar and a drunken accent.”

Because they are not excitable they reflected for a while, which was good because they were so much larger, especially their fists. “Well, we have enjoyed this time with you and cycling. It has been fun. These eight days of sunshine have been our summer.”

We said our good-byes and exchanged man hugs. Man hugging a Norwegian is like hugging a tall tree except the tree hugs back. As they passed me around like a toy I hugged each large wooden Norwegian tree with all my strength. I don’t think they could feel anything, encased as they were in giant folds of muscle. In return they hugged me gently, barely exerting pressure, which was good because even so I could feel my neck, spine, shoulders, and ribs crackle like a fresh bowl of Rice Krispies doused in cold milk. After the final Norwegian man hug I felt like I’d been body-rolfed with a deep tissue baseball bat.

We said good-bye. They climbed into the rental van, which promptly listed like the Titanic. It’s funny how you can go to Spain but end up learning about Norway, how friendship pops up in the oddest places.



May 11, 2017 § 13 Comments

Well, here we are on the last day. You know it’s the last day by looking at the fridge. All semblance of healthy eating is gone. We have only Doritos, Coke, beer, wine, cereal, coffee, and cheesecake.

Man food.

Dinners have become solemn. We stare at our plates like convicts who know that tomorrow will be like today, with the only possible variation being a dropped bar of soap in the shower.

Riding day in and day out has ground us, already feeble, into dust. Even Nikolai, the Norwegian special forces counterintelligence assassin, has begun dreaming of easier days ahead on the Russian border where he only has to worry about two months of darkness, firefights, and guerilla warfare with organized crime.

One of the great things about cycling is mentoring the youth. Nikolai had never ridden a hundred miles before and asked if I would accompany him. “Sure,” I said. “It will be a piece of cake.”

I failed to warn him that it would be nails and broken glass cake.

I traced out a route on the map that looked like it was almost exactly an even century, give or take 50 miles.

“Is it hilly?” he asked. Nikolai is 6′ 4″, 220.

“There is a smallish climb about 20 miles in but you’ll be fine.” Accounting for the rest of the 13,000 feet in elevation would have been problematic so I didn’t try.

In the beginning he yo-yoed a bunch. “Dude quit yo-yoing. Just sit on the wheel and if it’s too fast I’ll slow down.”

“No,” he said authoritatively, “I am following my heart rate.”

“Your heart rate isn’t going to help you 85 miles from now in the headwind.”

“Scientific training is the only way to avoid running out of energy which is why the heart rate monitor is crucial to maintaining awareness of energy conservation so as not to spend time in the zones that will quickly deplete prior to conclusion of the ride.”

“Dude, the only thing that is going to save you when shit gets real is NOT your heart rate monitor.”

“What will, then?”

“A ham and cheese sandwich.”

He laughed nervously. “But don’t you believe in scientific training?”

“Sure, just like I believe in voodoo.”

“But it is proven to work.”

“What works is doping. Everything else is riding, eating, sleeping, rest days, and a good dump before you roll out.”

“So you don’t follow the numbers.”

“Sure I do. I follow them religiously. The number for me is 53. Next year it will be 54. Everything else is an ersatz stat to deflect attention from the fact that I suck.”

After a while it got very hilly and then hillier. Niko began paying less attention to his heart rate monitor and after a while it got hillier. Then, after it got hillier and we were passed by the octogenarians on the tandem, Niko began making strange noises that sounded like “baguette med ost og skinke,” which, it turned out, was Norwegian for “ham and cheese sandwich.”

After about 75 miles the severe climbing gave way to hills and wind. Lots of wind. Buckets of wind. There was little discussion of scientific principles of training as Nikolai became extremely attuned to the scientific principle of sucking wheel and the unscientific principle of suffering like a dog.

After 100 miles we stopped in the town of Anthrax and Niko ate four unscientific ham and cheese sandwiches. As his face turned back from green to healthy third degree sunburn he asked how much farther we had.

“Forty or fifty,” I cheerfully advised.



There was a long unscientific silence. “Well, my goal was a hundred so I’ve achieved my goal.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“I think I’m gonna call a cab.”

“Of course.”

“You don’t think I’m being a bitch for quitting, do you?”

“No. You rode great.”

“It’s already 110 miles and 11,000 feet.”

“That’s a lot,” I agreed.


“Any time.” I left him at the side of the road, somewhat sure he’d make it back, even if he had to live off the land for a day or two and Uber.


Rags ‘n tatters

May 10, 2017 § 14 Comments

It’s Wednesday, six days in, and the only thing you need to know is “no coffee.”

The day before we rode from Lloseta to Cap Formentor, and a number of old man overuse injuries reared their ugly heads. Leiv’s Achilles tendon threw in the towel after five straight days of riding with his saddle so high that each buttock dropped an estimated two inches each pedal stroke relative to the other.

Hector’s cheap-ass Craigsbay Bontrager wheels delaminated prior to the ride, so we switched wheels with Trond’s bike, which was used to the weight-bearing loads of a cement factory.

David got three miles into the ride, pulled over, vomited his oatmeal, and went home.

Russell’s derailleur broke, Tore’s cassette broke, and Jimmy’s electronic drivetrain stopped working.

Everyone else rode with the enthusiasm of a RAAM participant reaching West Virginia.

The route from Lloseta to Cap Formentor was super pretty. We traveled on long country lanes with gorgeous mountain backdrops, no cars, and thousands of cyclists. The weather was again perfect, and we reached the coastal town of Pollenca in fine fettle, which turned to wretched fettle as we left town at the bottom of a huge climb.

From there to the cape lighthouse we experienced spectacular views along a twisting cliffside road that looked down onto coves and inlets with water so blue it resembled an industrial toilet bowl cleaner spill.

One of the reasons everyone was so tired, aside from general issues like weakness, old age, poor preparation, lack of resolve, and absence of talent, was Tore’s iron policy of Seven Hours.

Whether 7 miles or 70, Tore’s rides all last seven hours, minimum. And seven hours out in the sun, even when spent hunched over a beer stein, is exhausting. On the plus side, one by one the group got smaller until by Day 6 it was just like riding by yourself, which is the main reason for group riding with friends anyway.

Tuesday night we got back a thousand times more tired than when we had begun, and were rewarded with a catered meal of veal and potatoes and cheesecake drowned in cases of red wine and beer. Sometime after the fifth slab of cheesecake Hector announced his diet plan for 2018, which was met with howls of derision.

“I’m going to get down to 175,” he declared.

“Like fuck you are! How much do you weigh?”

“230. I’m gonna have veins everywhere, like little Jimmy here. Gonna have veins poppin on my forehead, gonna have ’em on my arse hole!”

The imagery overcame us as he revealed the details of his plan. “After I finish this cheesecake and that leftover steak and eggs for breakfast tomorrow I’m hitting the diet full fuggin’ gas!”

“Dude, you couldn’t lose five pounds if they amputated a leg. You’d eat it back by Thursday.”

Hector’s feelings were hurt, and he found solace by calving off another wall of the cheesecake glacier. “You cake boy fuckers will see,” he said. “Tomorrow.”



Just to spin out the legs

May 8, 2017 § 15 Comments

Cryotherapy. Stretching. Massage. Shaved legs. Chiropractic. 3-week build. Peaking. Working on your core. The gym. Yoga. Vitamins. Salt tabs. Supplements. Cadence. Spinning out the legs. These are just a few of my favorite cycling myths.

Especially spinning out the legs.

What does it even mean, except “compulsively unable to stop riding despite complete mental and physical collapse”?

When Team National Oil Fund announced a short recovery ride to spin out the legs, I knew it was a trap. For one, the Norwanish are a very patient people. They can wait six entire months simply for sunrise. Then, during the six-minute summer (don’t be caught on the pot when it comes or you’ll miss it), they cram in a year’s worth of strenuous activity before winter sports set back in, i.e. vodka.

Despite the repeated beatings we had administered on previous rides, I knew that it was nothing for them to wait a couple of days to exact revenge. “You are not kitting up?” Tore asked, displaying the second most feared Norwegdan national trait, which is kindness. “We are only doing the easy recovery ride. To spin out the legs.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said.

“Why not?”

“Because your lips are moving.”

“It will be very fun and easy, a couple hours, a nice lunch, some pleasant scenery. And to spin out the legs.”

“My legs spun out yesterday. Completely. What they need today is to not move. Preferably in the pool or in bed.”

The other lemmings on Team What Me Worry joined the recovery ride and waved good-bye.

They returned seven hours later but didn’t look so much recovered as they did returnees from Bataan. “How was it?” I asked Hector. “Lots of recovery?”

He collapsed in a chair. “Yeah. We went super easy. For the first ten minutes.”

Tore and Leiv put it in the gutter for a couple of hours, apparently. Then there was a long regroup while search parties went out to rescue Dave, Steve, and others. Then the Norish attacks began again, followed by city limit sprints in which Brian and Russell claimed the lone American gold star before the Nordland beatings resumed.

The 1-hour rest stop became a 2-hour beer stop and they all dribbled in before sunset, wasted. But their legs were thankfully spun out.

For dinner we went into Lloseta to a very nice restaurant, Antonio’s Place. Hector got things started off by toasting the group and draining the green aperitif set next to his plate. “That is some bitter shit,” he scowled.

Before the others could follow suit, Antonio rushed up, panicked. “Senors please do not to drink the finger degreaser!”

We put down the green soap and awaited food. “Senors I have ordered the ocean’s finest, bought fresh from the ocean today.”

First came a massive plate of whole squid, which were promptly renamed “sea penis” due to appearance, thick rubbery texture, and difficulty to choke down without gagging. To add to the ambiance, each giant sea penis came with a side dish of glistening mayonnaise.


Next, Antonio brought a giant plate of bamboo clams. “Muy famoso in Japan,” he assured us. Russell bit hard and lost most of a molar, as each clam was apparently stuffed with sand and grit. “Dude,” said Hector as Russell spit out his tooth, “you just bit into the clam’s poop sack.”

An argument ensued over who was the biggest fool, Hector for drinking the detergent, Russell for eating the poop sack, or all of us for being so hungry we were willing to eat sea penis with jizz sauce. To resolve the dispute, Antonio dashed back up with a huge plate of what looked like the world’s fattest goldfish. “Tuna!” he said proudly.

We stared at the goldfish hoping it would eventually start looking like a tuna, or at least not like the family pet, but no. So we ate it.

For dessert Antonio presented us with a spectacular dessert tray. “Catalan specialty!” he crowed, proudly waving his hand with a flourish over the four items that were still wrapped in plastic with expiration dates and bar codes stamped on the side.

“Dude,” said Hector, “he just bought that shit at the convenience store for 72 cents.”

We declined the Catalan specialty and walked home, but not before Nikolai and Jonathan got into a wrestling match on the pavement, pitting a 22 year-old, 6’4″ Nordanian cop against a 50 year-old, 5’8″ Texas restaurateur.

We watched to see how long it would take for Jonathan’s spine to snap, but he used his low center of gravity to put Nikolai into a Mexican testicle hold, which Nikolai got out of by falling on top of Jonathan, who made a sound like a flat tire. Hector was charging spectators ten euros each and made a nice profit.

Back home people went to sleep right away, doubtlessly preparing for another easy day on the bike.


Rest day

May 8, 2017 § 25 Comments


Whatever you’re doing, stop now and get a ticket to Mallorca.

Yesterday was the most amazing day I’ve ever had on a bicycle.

We decided to do a climbing day, beginning with the climb out of Selva, Coll de sa Batalla. It’s about 10k. Some Swiss dude with some kind of champion’s jersey ripped past. I chased him down and he started attacking me on each switchback.

After about ten he started to fade a little so I took the shoe and put it on his other foot, which he didn’t like. Pretty soon he decided it had changed from Drop Old Fart Day to Rest Day.

I have said it before but the amazing thing about Mallorca is that on the climbs you can pass people all day long. It is delusion enhancing beyond any imagination. Guys kept hopping on my wheel and then not. It makes you go way harder, too.

At the top Jonathan, Jimmy, and Doug rolled over together and we pedaled to the jumping off point for Sa Calobra, the legendary  10k climb with 27 switchbacks that dead ends in the Mediterranean. First, though, you have to climb a bitter 2.5k wall before you hit the crazy descent.

At the bottom of the Sa Calobra descent, hands aching and rims smoking, Jonathan and I had a couple of coffees until everyone rejoined us. As we started up Sa Calobra a guy blazed by in a Quick-Step kit. I chased as hard as I could and got his wheel.

He heard me and pedaled faster. In seconds I was pinned, gasping. I checked out the matching everything and team bike and realized I’d hooked a fish way too big for my line. It was as hard as anything I’ve ever done. We were passing people like mopeds and I was attached by the feeblest of meat strings.

Just before the meat string snapped we hit a massive traffic snarl and stopped. I was choke-gasping. He turned and smiled. “You suffering?”

“Like a fucking dog,” I said, eyes crossed as I waited for my heart rate to drop back into the low 300’s. “What’s your fucking name, man? You’re not even breathing.”

He laughed and pointed to his top tube. “Stybar,” he said. We restarted and before long I was pinned again, stuck to the wheel of the 2017 2nd place finisher at Paris-Roubaix.

At 4k the fireworks blew out of my head. “Thanks, man,” I said.

He grinned, not yet breathing. “Have a great day.” And vanished. I could barely turn the pedals, going from super speed to twisted mash of a mess in a second.

With one km to go our Norwaylandish directeur sportif and directeur of beer consumption, Tore, chased me down as I pedaled giant squares, then sat on my wobbly wheel, then kicked me in the face as he sprunted over the top for the glorious victory.

My elation at riding behind Stybar turned to instant despair at having been crushed by Tore, followed by extreme bonk. And after Sa Calobra we still had a half hour’s climb to the tunnel that marked the 20k descent into Soller and lunch.

Jimmy flew by, followed by Doug, Jonathan, and Leiv. I barely hung on as Doug pounded up climb. Jimmy had finally decided to ride his bike and was gone. Over the top the descenders took over. Leiv dropped like a stone and pretty soon was passing tour buses. I hung back, terrified and unwilling to die on the 100kph straights that slammed into perfectly banked turns.

At Puerto Soller I bonked deep. Propped up in my chair I waited for lunch, unable to conceive how I was going to get over the massive Coll de Soller followed by the equally awful climb out of Bunyola.

I looked at the other patrons, normal happy people enjoying lunch together while we, salt stained, exhausted, miserable, and broken, were still miles and mountains from home. “Let’s take the fucking train back,” Hector sobbed. Everyone agreed but was too ashamed to say anything, especially since giant plates of olives, olive tapenade, bread, mayonnaise, pasta, and paella began arriving.

The grease and salt took hold and suddenly instead of envying the normal happy people I began despising them for smiling, spending time with loved ones, and enjoying life. In short, I became a cyclist again and could focus only on revenge.

We left the town and started up the long straight grade out of Soller. Tore and Jonathan chased and caught me at the base of the endless switchbacks on the Coll de Soller.

Tore, swollen with confidence after Sa Calobra, began attacking in the turns. “Now, motherfucker,” I said while doing my cuticles and checking Facebook, “you will find out what it’s like to have a worthless wheelsucker stuck to you like a tapeworm as you are forced to do all the work.”

Like a cheap tire with a slow leak Tore slowly deflated, much like the Norwegian economy during an oil slump, until, a few turns from the top, he was reduced to trying to make fake conversation about the nice roads.

I stonily ignored him, awaiting the end. When it happened, he rolled over like a bleeding, gasping whale in Moby Dick as Queequeg drove the sharpened point through his side, piercing his heart in a spray of unhappy gore. It was this moment more than any other that made me realize how fun cycling was, and what an amazing way it was to make lifelong friendships.

I got to Bunyola, had a coke, and laid down on the bus bench to enjoy the scenery and my racking legs cramps.

Bruce fell again on the back side of the Coll de Soller, and when we regrouped everyone mutinied at the threat of doing the big climb out of Bunyola. Instead we took the screaming downhill + rollers, with Hector, Brian, and Tore taking turns to see who could pedal hardest.

With only 10k to go we turned off onto a rutted, cracked, walled, incredibly narrow lane and the madness began anew. Had there been a car coming the other direction we would have died instantly, but since we were in our 50s with jobs and dependents and life insurance, and therefore every reason to die, we just went faster.

Hector kept it at an insane 32, and the speed was intensified by being propelled, blur-like, through this rocky, tree-lined chute. After riding all day at the back, Leiv finally found the front and we went faster and faster until the dreaded shriek of “Car!” was heard.

Everyone but Jimmy shit a blue streak as bikes skidded, careened, and jolted, narrowly squeaking through with an inch to spare as the driver looked on, horrified. Chastened and thankful at having survived, and now seeing the error of our ways, Hector attacked again, opening a gap and forcing the handful of remainers to chase.

I closed the gap, accelerated through the blind turn, jumped a small moat, and blazed around a stone outcropping in time to meet another car head-on. All I could do was roar “Car!” shoot for the tiny gap and hope Hector was killed instead of me.

Two turns later I had open pavement, Hector and Russell stormed by, and the Norwegians suffered yet another bruising defeat at the hands of Team Make America Even Greater. I fell off my bike and was engulfed in body cramps and ass rash worse than a Catholic schoolboy after his first meeting with the head priest.

The combined dehydration headaches, leg seizures, near-death experiences, throttling by Stybar, beating by Tore, and eviscerating bonk as I lay writhing in the grass, were so worth it.



Alone in the villa

May 6, 2017 § 8 Comments

5:00 AM is a great time. Quiet. Birdsong coming in through the window. Cool morning breeze. Hum of the fridge. Smell of the coffee. No shattering glass or howls of Norwegian mirth.

And no one on the wi-fi.

Yesterday Leiv cooked another amazing dinner, halibut in curry sauce with fresh spinach. Not second class fresh, either.

And Steve closed out the day with a massive kitchen sink omelette that would be ready for the entire crew in the morning, at least those who were alive. It only takes a day to realize that a villa full of men only needs an endless supply of booze to be happy.

And morning coffee.

Everything else is surplusage.

Our first day was sold to us by DS Tore as a leg-loosener but I wasn’t fooled. We would me miserable and broken when we returned, which we were seven hours later. Mallorca’s legendary sunny skies delivered, as did Tore’s uncanny ability to put us on gravel, chughole filled roads.

We were joined along the way by Trond, who, when moving downhill collects significant momentum not unlike a falling building along with said building’s handling characteristics. Trond clipped Russell at about 30 but felt nothing, which is more than Russell could say as he pingponged through the group like a cue ball shot from a cannon.

We made it to the first climb, a 6-km ascent to a monastery. Russell’s heart palpitations set in early, but Jimmy, Leiv, and Doug raced to the top. The gravitationally challenged brought up the rear with oaths. As a leg loosener it worked but it loosened a lot of other things, too. Kidneys, Islets of Langerhans, etc.

On the flats we enjoyed a howling tailwind and the illusion of fitness, never really thinking about the other half of every tailwind equation. Hector and Tore took turns smashing on the front while the rest of us plotted lunch.

In the town of Petra we had sanwuches, beer, spaghetti, beer, coffee, beer, almond cake, and beer. This is the hometown of St. Junipero Serra, the founder of missions San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, San Diego, and the 405.

After lunch Nikolai flatted again and Bruce booted the massive slash that we all accused Nikolai of self-inflicting so that he could Uber back to the villa. It seemed a shame to be on gorgeous roads with no traffic in extraordinary weather yet to only be aware of the ass in front of you, groveling in the gutter, but that’s exactly what we did.

Before getting home we made a detour up one more leg-opener in case our legs were still closed, another switchback-riddled climb to Jesus that resulted in much prayer along the way. Doug had been dieting since ’09 in preparation for the trip and he lit it up. By the fifth or eleventh switchback though he had burned all of his matches, or rather match, including the box and that striky strip thingy on the side, so Jimmy slowly pushed the 12-inch knife through his eyes and pedaled away.

We got back to the villa, legs very loose, and had cans of recovery sugar-coated peanuts, recovery chips, recovery ham, and of course I watched in astonishment as even more recovery beer was swilled.

*Pro travel tip: Don’t get into a beer recovery contest with anyone named Oystein, Trond, Tore, etc. You will not raise your hands in victory at the end unless it is to drape them around the edge of the toilet bowl.

As we discussed the next day’s ride it seemed clear that the group’s general lack of fitness and proclivity to drink mandated a rest day, but DS Tore decided instead to punish the drunks with a combination of big miles (120), and the island’s hardest climbs: Sa Colabra, Coller, Puig Major, and the climb to Bunyola.

Either he had forgotten that he was one of the drunks who would be awaking with a brass band beating cymbals between his temples, or it was his attempt at atonement. As I sneaked off to bed at 10:00 PM, Leiv buttonholed me and insisted I ride civilly and refrain from repeated attacks, which is how he characterized the meek, 159-watt “accelerations” I had displayed earlier in the day.

“Of course,” I said. “Now that our legs are loose.”


Race day

May 5, 2017 § 8 Comments

Ol’ Grizzles and Texacookie picked me up at the airport. My $40 bike box was intact except for a giant hole in the side and some rattles.

We got to the villa, unloaded the bike, and began racing immediately. Hardest race of my life. The Norwegians were already there and kitted out, and between them and the Americans I was left scrapping hard, bumping bars, and throwing elbows for 13th.

I swept wide into the last turn putting the final guys behind me into the banister, but they came around me at the end and scored the last two available beds. I was now looking at ten days on a steel cot in the broom closet, out on the patio. DFL is tough.

“Let’s go for a leg loosener,” said Ol’ Grizzles, “to get the airline kinks out of your legs.” The others had already left to do tequila sprints in the nearby town of Lloseta, and I rolled out with Ol’ Grizzles, Texacookie, Cookie, The Bank, and Atl-Atl, a last minute Norwegian addition named after an aboriginal throwing weapon.

“Okay, fucker,” I said, “but easy. My legs are fucking concrete.”

This was a lie. I could barely walk. I had gone to the wrong gate in Amsterdam, and only made my flight by running the two miles from B-75 to gate F-90. Although my sub-10-minute miles weren’t record setting, it was the first time I’d jogged since October 1982, and upon reaching the gate I collapsed.

By the time I got to Lloseta everything had seized. Running uses horribly painful muscles and internal organs not found in cyclists, and the jouncing carry-ons had stretched my knee flexors, hip polluctors, and cervical cervix. My thoracic and lumbar cervices were prolapsing.

Fortunately, our ride began easily, with a gentle climb over to the neighboring town of Alaro. That’s where shit went sideways. Texacookie and Atl-Atl, seeking pancake flat roads that would finish in tequila, got turned around. Then Ol’ Grizzles made a wrong turn and we started going up.

“As long as we see those two landmark peaks we’re never lost!” Texacookie said brightly as we got horribly lost on the toughest climb I have ever done. By the tenth switchback with 18% ramps my concrete legs had turned to Jell-O. The pavement was so cracked and shattered that it would have been deemed unfit for the BWR.

I stopped at a fork and waited. Ol’ Grizzles rode up and snapped his chain. Many of the expletives were new to the English language. Then in the crazy, rocky, treacherously narrow descent we burned our brakes down to the calipers and The Bank hit a car and tumbled fifty feet off the cliff. We hoped he lived.

Back at the villa the recovery gin had begun in earnest; we were destroyed from our 15-mile, 2-hour “leg loosener” but soon were put to work by Cookie shelling 15 pounds of boiled shrimp. By dinner time my fingers were skinless and bleeding and the crew had already gone through four vats of beer and three wheelbarrows of gin. I hadn’t eaten since the previous day but it didn’t matter because the Amsterdam airport jog had seized my jaw muscles and the descent had caused my hands to cramp from braking so that the only recovery item I could eat was a bag of chips.

The shrimp dinner was a complete success until the eighth bottle of wine, when one of the chairs slipped backwards off a 3-inch lip, throwing Ol’ Grizzles onto his head, wrist, elbow, and spine, but more importantly, breaking the bowl with the shrimp in it.

Until you have seen fourteen starving drunks crawling under a table fighting over shrimp heads and mayonnaise you haven’t witnessed the workings of an insane asylum. And I hope you never do.

After having a hearty meal of four shrimp and iced water I went to bed, knowing how key a good night’s sleep would be to winning the coffee and peanut butter battle the next morning. Old, tired, weak, my cervices all stretched sideways, there was one advantage I nonetheless held over the Norwegians: My ability to get up early.

In Norway, due to the long winter, the denizens never get out of bed before April, and then only at noon, in time to collect their generous unemployment benefits or show up for an hour or two at their ghost jobs. The Texans were all too drunk and/or nursing wounds to arise early, so as I curled up in the broom closet I plotted my revenge, which revolved mostly around getting up early enough to snatch the bread crusts left over from dinner and the jar of peanut butter.


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