PV surf ride

July 15, 2017 § 24 Comments

The phone call was for 11:30, and I couldn’t be late.

“Hey, dad, let’s go for a quick ride!” my son said.

I bit my lip. I had to be back by 11:30. And “quick” wasn’t how he’d been riding. Two years off the bike and our first pedal together a couple of days ago … 14.8 miles in an hour and a half.

Still, father-son time beckoned. “Okay,” I said.

We jumped on our bikes and sailed down the hill.

He lagged as we whooshed down Silver Spur. It’s steep and quick, and although you never forget how to ride a bicycle, you do forget how to ride it downhill fast. We downhilled some more along PV Drive North, turned off onto the Flog route, and headed up by the golf course. It was a gorgeous morning.

I was starting to worry a bit about the time because we were going up the flog hill pretty slowly. How slowly? Some lady in a Big Orange kit came racing by and shouted “Damn Strava!” as she passed us.

“What did she say?” Hans asked.

“Damn Strava,” I said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I dunno. Maybe it’s her way of saying ‘I have to pass you like you’re chained to a stump because I’m after this QOM.'”

“Maybe it’s her way of saying ‘You guys suck.'”

“Could be,” I agreed.

We dropped down to the beach club. “Hey,” Hans said. “Let’s check out Haggerty’s!”

“The surf spot? There aren’t any waves today, I bet.”

“No,” he agreed. “But it’s gorgeous.” We got off our bikes and looked out over the bay. It was.


We took in the view until I realized we were not doing great on time. “Let’s go.” We left the church parking lot and started up the long grade, up towards The Cove.

As we reached The Cove, the second of PV’s big three surf spots, it was too beautiful not to pull over and take in the view. “You know,” I said, “all the times I’ve ridden up here I’ve never stopped.”

“Me, either,” said Hans. It was a postcard day.

Suddenly I was looking at my watch again. “Come on, let’s go.” We hopped on the bikes and pedaled lukewarm quickly until we came to the infamous Lunada Bay. There were no Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch, or anywhere else that I could see. But Hans’s saddle was too low and needed some professional fiddling with. So I fiddled for a while until it was exactly sort of right. The place was deserted.


The fiddling took longer than I thought it would. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s go.”

We were going to pedal straight home but suddenly decided to go up the alley. It’s steep and fun. Well, steep anyway. Hans cussed a little. Later we passed the Skcubrats at Golden Cove. Hans had that covfefe look on his face. “Want to grab a quick one?” I asked.

“Sure!” he brightened. Inside the coffee shop a big dude walked over to the staff and held up his iPad. Never said a word. Stuck it in their faces to read while they mutely filled the order.

“Did that guy just order coffee without saying anything?” I said.

Hans nodded.

“I guess the ultimate goal of computing is almost here. You don’t even have to talk to people.”

“That’s not the ultimate goal,” Hans said.

“What is?”

“To replace them.”

We got coffee and were going to slam it and run but instead we sat outside and took in the view. “Just for a sec,” I said. There was a table of Chinese ladies and I tried to listen in.

“What are they saying?” Hans asked.

“Something about coffee,” I said.

He looked at me skeptically.

Somehow it took longer than I thought it would to drink that tiny cup of coffee. The Chinese ladies weren’t actually talking about coffee, it turned out, rather, they were talking about shopping. Or maybe about religion. With each attempt to interpret, Hans got more quizzical. Finally one of the ladies blurted out in perfect English, “You have to take charge of your life! You are the only one who can!”

“Let’s go,” I said.

We started up Hawthorne and it was taking forever. I was going to miss my phone call if we didn’t kill it. “Come on,” I said, speeding away from him.

“No, it’s okay,” he said. “Go on without me. I know the way home.”

It was a super beautiful day and we had been talking about Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory, and about the time I drove Pete Seeger from the airport in Amarillo to the hootinanny in Pampa for a performance, and how Pete had told me about coming to Pampa with Woody in the 1940s and how Woody had climbed a pumpjack. “He told me to follow him,” Pete had said, “but I wouldn’t. Woody was crazy.”

I slowed down and we kept talking.

We got home and I dashed into the bedroom where it was quiet and I could talk uninterrupted. I pulled out my phone and the calendar notification came on. I was an hour early.



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Gapped out

July 14, 2017 § 48 Comments

I was talking to this bike racer about a bike race that the bike racer had raced. During the bike race, the bike racer hadn’t raced very well; he had had all kinds of race problems that prevented his bike race from resulting in trinkets and socks.

“So, what happened?” I asked. “Before the race you were pretty confident.”

“Yeah, my legs were great.”

“That’s what you said.”

“I had finished up a block of hard training, three weeks, did my rest week, had a good one-hour warm-up on the trainer, did a few leg openers the day before the race at 80%, this was a good course for me, a hard man’s course, that’s what I’m good at, really hard courses.”

“So what happened?”

“I was going great and then I got gapped out.”


“Yeah. The pace had picked up on the hill and this dude in front of me gapped me out.”

“Then what?”

“There was no ‘then what.’ That dude caused me to lose the race. I got gapped out. The peloton got away.”

I walked back to my car and thought about this bike racer’s pithy analysis. I’ve heard it often enough. Everything would have been so peachy if he just hadn’t gotten gapped out. By someone else. Someone too weak to hold a wheel. Some wanker.

Then I realized that what he was trying to say was “I got dropped,” but was using this time-honored phrase to blame it on someone else. And I understand. Getting dropped is horrible. It is the equivalent of getting culled from the herd and being pulled down by a cheetah, who sinks its fangs into your throat.

Getting dropped is ostracism.



It is the symbol and expression of failing to keep the pace and suffering the blow of the heavy club against your soft and luxurious baby seal pelt.

Cycling has lots of interesting words and phrases, so I decided to put them all down here for easy reference. The next time someone uses one of them you’ll know exactly what the rider means.

  1. I got gapped out = I got dropped
  2. It’s a rest week = I got dropped
  3. Those idiots had no idea how to do a paceline = I got dropped
  4. I did intervals yesterday = I got dropped
  5. I’m on a new diet = I got dropped
  6. I’m training with power now = I got dropped
  7. This dude took me off the back = I got dropped
  8. I took a super hard pull into the wind = I got dropped
  9. I’m in a build phase = I got dropped
  10. It’s the off season = I got dropped
  11. Coach told me to stay in Zone 3 = I got dropped
  12. People kept surging = I got dropped
  13. Guys were taking way too many risks in the turns = I got dropped
  14. Their whole team was working against me = I got dropped
  15. I was just there to help my teammates = I got dropped
  16. I’m a sprinter = I got dropped
  17. It’s a stupid training race = I got dropped
  18. They’re all doping = I got dropped
  19. I don’t see anyone pinning on a number = I got dropped
  20. I got dropped [never before heard, meaning indeterminate]



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July 9, 2017 § 10 Comments




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Imaginary schedules

July 7, 2017 § 13 Comments

Oh, come on, admit it. At some point in your cycling life you have made up an imaginary training schedule. It was delusional the moment you wrote down miles or watts or anything definitive that could be measured. If you synched to a training program or shared it with your coach, or worse, fabricated it in conjunction with one, it transcended fantasy and became pure science fiction.

That’s okay. Like masturbation, we’ve all done it. And like masturbation, some things are better left done in private and not discussed. No one wants to see a picture of it. Really.

The last time I wrote down a fake training schedule it lasted two weeks. That was back when I had a power meter, which I suppose is worse than admitting to the aforementioned unmentionable activity.

Anyway, last night I made a riding calendar. It’s not based on what I plan to do, but loosely on what I have done in the past. It doesn’t have miles or watts or hours or time or anything that you can hold me to. Also, it’s purely speculative. It’s what I was thinking of LAST NIGHT. Next Thursday I will be thinking of something different, trust me.

Most importantly, this schedule, in addition to being set in sand, isn’t designed to do anything. It won’t make me faster, better, tougher, better looking, richer, or better endowed. Here it is. Read it and shake your head.



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The thrill is not gone

July 5, 2017 § 28 Comments

One of the things about getting old is that the thrill goes away. What thrill? Every thrill.

You see it in your relatives, for example, who go batshit crazy about religion, or they become rabid racists, or they become recalcitrant conservatives who subscribe to the philosophy of “Everything for me, nothing for you.”


This is why I love riding my bike with other crazy people. It is flat fucking thrilling. If you don’t do it you won’t ever understand it.

Take today, Independence Day. It started with an NPR smashfest of epic proportions. Rumor had it that numerous baby seals had gotten too big for their pelts and needed a good skinning. Sure enough, on Lap 1 vast numbers of bleating pinnipeds got shucked out the back, only to play Hop-In-Wanker, reattach on the flip-flop, and get shelled again.

Rather than seventy baby seals sprunting vigorously for the win after sitting in and munching fresh sardines for four laps, at the end there was a tiny group of about fifteen, of whom only five or six had any legs at all. The clubbing and skinning were epic as Charon ended the hopes and dreams of all the sad-faced baby seals.

Then we did the Holiday Ride, 150-strong from the Center of the Known Universe, hooking up with another 100+ group in Marina del Rey, and barreling through Santa Monica to San Vicente. But today those of us who had smashed on the NPR moved the finish line from the top of Mandeville to the top of San Vicente, and the seal pups were denied the leisurely pedal to which they have become accustomed.

Instead, Cory Williams, Smasher, G3, and one or two other clubbers began crushing skulls at the bottom of San Vicente, skinning well over a hundred baby seals before we reached the top of San Vicente.

After the left-hander, a shameless group of La Grunge Hop-In-Wankers jumped into the mix and turned a 30-mile race to the bottom of Mandeville into a 1-mile downhill pedal followed by a 15-minute smash up the hill on fresh legs. They were crowned glorious winners, sweeping the imaginary podium and getting six out of the top ten fake slots, but their hop-in antics earned no approbation from the clubbers who’d been at it from the beginning of the ride.

Was that all the excitement and thrill? No!

Next was a bitter, hand-to-hand fight to the death at the annual Helen’s Cycles July 4th Sale, where cyclists poured through the doors and battled tooth and toenail to get unbelievable discounts on shoes, socks, BonkBreakers, bikes, helmets, and other useless stuff. The KOM was won by some dude from Malibu, who spent $15,000 in fifteen minutes.

Bar bumping, seal pelt skinning, vicious motoring, Mandeville uphill time trailing, it was a morning filled with adrenaline, testosterone (natural and added), and more fireworks than the Chinese New Year. But was that all? No that was not all!

We got home to find out that Mark Cavendish, sprinter extraordinaire, had been tutored by our very own James Doyle, the local wanker who squeezed through a non-existent slot and took out veteran Johnny Walsh. Unlike the UCI, however, who quickly reached a decision on the matter, USAC continues to drag its feet, twiddle its thumbs, review the tapes, and stick their thumb up a dark smelly place, paralyzed and unable to make a simple disciplinary decision about an outrageous move.

All of that and it wasn’t even noon …

The thrill? It’s alive and well and going strong. You can save your religious tirades for someone who GAF … because it ain’t me.



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Cactus Jack

July 1, 2017 § 25 Comments

Phil Tomlin, one of the people who knew Jack Pritchard best, put it this way: “Everyone knew a small piece of Jack, but no one knew the whole.”

“Cactus” Jack died of leukemia on June 11, aged more than most fine wines at 70. I heard it through the Facevine, yeah, heard it through the Facevine.

No one knew what to make of Jack, certainly not I, who met him when I was 18 and he was 35, or, in teenager eyes, so old that it hardly made sense that he wasn’t already dead. Jack was prickly, but I don’t think that’s the origin of the nickname that fit him better than any shoe made on a custom Sidi last.

His original nickname was Graftek Jack, because in 1975 or thereabouts he was the first guy in Austin to own an aluminum-carbon fiber composite bike, precursor to the 100% pure carbon bikes of today that are made of carbon and exclusively have nothing but carbon in them.

If riders were amazed by his unobtainium bike frame, Cactus Jack blew minds again the day he showed up in Lycra bike shorts. “What the fool are those?” wondered the left-behinds, no longer proud of their brand new wool Santinis with real chamois leather pads for extra softness or crotch grinding, depending on whether they’d been properly cleaned, dried, and prepped.

When others were still content to finish a ride with their brains on the outside of the skull, Cactus Jack eschewed style and common sense and the 110-degree Austin heat by wearing a hard-shell helmet. That was when the hairnet reigned supreme and the bare head reigned supremer. Jack didn’t need a helmet law to convince him that helmets were good. He was satisfied with the laws of physics.

For all his forward thinkingness, Jack was introverted and reserved. No one knew him well, especially the people who knew him well. To people like me, who knew him only through the shop or through the club or on rides or at the races, he was just “Jack.”

After I got my Nishiki International in 1982, sold to me by Uncle Phil, who was the service manager and who oversaw the work of Cactus Jack, some time went by before I began riding for no reason other than boredom, i.e. I was eventually going to be a bike racer. Jack suggested I do the after-work group ride that left from the shop at 5:00 PM, so I showed up and was immediately intimidated.

Mike Murray, the current state road champ, my hero Kevin Yates, and all the other hitters were there. After a while it turned single file, and the file seemed to continually shorten. Each time I pulled through, Jack would yell at me but I couldn’t understand him because of the howling wind and my own labored breath.

As the file got shortened down to five or six, and we got down to the bloody work of killing in earnest, and I got ready to do another pull, Jack got close enough and yelled loud enough that I could hear him. I knew it was going to be something good, encouraging me to keep going and complimenting me for working hard and making it this far on my first hammerfest ride.

“Slow down, goddammit!” he shouted.

I almost slammed on my brakes I was so scared. That was an epiphany for me. It was the moment I realized that I could go so fast on a bike that people who were a lot better and more experienced would get mad and curse me. It made me love cycling.

Jack did more than tell me through the creative use of invective that I could ride fast. In addition to being the hard-to-know mystery guy, a mystery rider, he was also the Mystery Writer. That was Jack’s pen name for the club newsletter in which he wrote monthly columns about bike racing. Those columns were the first time I had ever read someone write well and idiosyncratically, with what Michael Marckx called a “point of view,” about local bike racing.

If you had asked me a month ago whether or not Jack had influenced me, I would have looked at you funny. But re-reading some his columns, which were shared by Jack’s friend Greg Hall, I see how profoundly he did affect me, and how unconsciously I imitated some of the best aspects of his writing — even now.

Jack’s columns were eerie and weird and odd and true and mostly funny, hilarious in their pithy synthesis of “the stupid sport.” Here are a few gems:

  • The pros get paid and glorified to race. We’re amateurs and so what should we do when we race? Have fun. What to do when we chase? Have fun. What about losing? Have fun! Have fun even if you win.
  • Rider wasn’t there to have his tendinitis treated, or to have his blood pressure checked, cholesterol measured or body analyzed, although the latter services were available for a token fee. Rider knew he ate too many eggs and he could feel that fried chicken already in his system.
  • “Hello my name is Mr. Rider,” he blurted out, “and I’m on the Velvet Couch Club Staff. That’s why I’m dirty and have hay sticking out of my pockets.”
  • These talks much soothed Rider, who having been blinded by science, now fell into the rhythm of the snake charmers. You can see and even handle snakes without being bitten, as snakes are living entities too and not machines. The other two speakers reminded Rider that while the motor is more important than the machine, the motor is controlled by the mind and that’s where things get pretty mystic.
  • So Rider came out of clinic rejuvenated, ready to eat and drink carbos, to think about training and peaking correctly and to focus on projecting winning. Naturally, he got last place in his races the next two days.
  • Off-season alternatives to cycling: (a) Run – only under doctor’s orders. (b) Ride a mountain bike – only under psychiatric super­vision.

In addition to his penchant for being ahead of the curve, Cactus Jack loved gravel grinders before there was such a thing. His Sunday rides included off-road dirt meanderings that went on for miles and miles of dusty roads, punctuated every now and then by a low water crossing which was the unspoken signal for all, or at least many, to dismount and enjoy a burnt herbal refreshment.

It’s hard to know what makes a person tick, but the gossip was that that Jack’s father had been a famous physician, “Black Jack” Pritchard, who made clear early on in the negotiations that nothing the son ever did would live up to the wonderfulness of the dad. Jack gravitated with this burden to Austin, or rather with this cauterization, and just missed out on hitting the Vietnam lottery jackpot. Whereas his father performed difficult obstetrical surgeries, Jack rebuilt houses as a carpenter … and he was an excellent one.

A regular customer at the University Co-Op bike shop, he somehow got hired to help with the build-out of Freewheeling Bicycles, which originally occupied the fashionable but vacant premises of a dress shop. By the time the dust settled and the bikes were moved back in, Jack the Carpenter had become Jack the Bike Shop Employee.

Skilled and smart, he eventually became that thing Freewheeling was known for: A damned good wheel builder. And he transitioned from young guy who loved to ride and race into an old “veteran” who looked askance at newfangled ideas and who was hard to penetrate behind the tinted prescription glasses, bicycle cap, and beard maintained with the care and order of a jungle.

In any sense of the word, Jack was a lonely man. He had friends but almost none with whom he was intimate. As a kid getting initiated into the mysteries of the Fraternal Order of the Bicycle Racer, he was forbidding. We had no Internetweb, and thus the only way we got information was through what we saw, what we did, and what we were told.

Jack knew strange names like Merckx and Anquetil, Dauphine and Roubaix, Simplex and Campagnolo, Tommasini and De Rosa and Colnago. However inexpert he may have been at the execution, Jack knew a tremendous amount about racing tactics, and as a new cyclist listening to him explain what was really going on, well, it was wonderful. Jack was respected for his wheelbuilding, for the races he promoted, for the tireless work he did to keep the Violet Crown Sports Association healthy and robust, but most importantly everyone who raced in Austin eventually paid obeisance to Cactus Jack because he was the Demi-Dog of the Sewup.

Back then you didn’t own clinchers and sewups. There were sewups for racers and clinchers for everybody else. And when you got a flat, it hurt your wallet hard, so instead of tossing them in the trash (unthinkable), or finding the hole, snipping the thread, opening the casing, patching the tube, and sewing it back up (unthinkable to the nth power), you would take the five or six flatted sewups that you’d been collecting and drop them off at the shop.

Then Jack would take them home and you wouldn’t hear from him again until three months or six months or a year later when all of your patched tires would magically reappear, your name tagged to the batch, the tires perfectly repaired, and the princely sum of $5 per tire charged to your account. Most people sometimes paid, and those who passed on special herbal offerings got there tires repaired for free. Famously, Jack booted the repairs with tiny strips cut off from the bottom of his living room curtains, and over the decades the curtains got shorter and shorter and shorter.

Jack’s curse or his blessing was that he always moved on. Carpenter, bike racer, wheel builder, race promoter, writer, club organizer, photographer, aviation buff, he went from thing to thing within the narrow world of cycling until he eventually left it altogether. His orbit took him into acupuncture and, even more alien and strange, back to Lubbock and Dallas, until after a few years he contracted the cancer that eventually claimed him.

As a kid saddled with his own demons, I dimly knew Jack was a lonely guy, but it was those sewup tires that made me understand, unseeing as I was, how alone he truly was. It was a scorching Sunday after the morning ride and Jack had told me to come to his house to pick up my tires. We pedaled over to his small clapboard house on Sinclair. Jack opened the door and we entered the darkened living room.

There was a couch, a dining room table off to the side, and in the middle of the room there was an old Singer pedal-operated sewing machine. And throughout that room there were hung, draped, tossed, folded, stacked, stuck, laid, and arranged hundreds of tires, each one awaiting its surgical redemption, the attention of Jack’s careful and skilled and delicate hands to open the body, repair the broken heart, and make it whole again. At that moment I understood that the stories were true, that Jack’s father was a surgeon, and Jack, toiling alone in a dim room to no acclaim, was too.



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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.



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