Call of the dead

June 29, 2017 § 23 Comments

By the time you read this we’ll have been underway for at least seven hours, and the early travel buzz will be wearing thin. We’ll be east bound and down, loaded up and rolling with a tankard of espresso, a giant plastic bag filled with beef jerky, chocolate, and three huge cigars that none of us knows how to smoke, and we’ll be several hundred miles closer to Austin than we were when I tapped this out.

I got the news that Jack Pritchard had died and they were holding a Gatheration Omnium for him that consisted of a Prologue ride with a few miles of his beloved dirt roads, followed by Stage 1, an early morning breakfast at the Omelletry, the place he frequented like clockwork every morning at 6:45 AM for the better part of forty years. Stage 2 will be a trip to the CAF in San Marcos, where we’ll commune for a bit with the old airplanes that he had such an affinity for, ending with Stage 3 at the Polonia Cemetery.

“Gatheration” is the kind of word Jack would have used, and probably did use. He was a pedaler of bikes and a smith of words, many of which were one-off creations, fitted up for just that one particular sentence, and never used before or since. A gatheration is different from a gathering, those quiet affairs where people in fine clothes and coiffed hair do and say things in hushed tones or listen to elegant music behind paintbrush-thick makeup and beet-red, drunken noses.

A gatheration is a gathering, all right, but the bastard child of a love triangle between demonstration, aggravation, and tarnation. That combination was Jack, through and through, or at least the Jack I knew. Gatheration, indeed. I hope when I die I get a gatheration, too. Jack would have scorned a memorial service. He probably would have scorned a gatheration as well, especially if it were his.

The last time I drove from California to Texas was never, so Jack’s passing seemed like a darned good reason to rent a car, throw the bike in the trunk, and then cajole my two sons to join me. They will take turns keeping me awake, and would utilize the Googlifier to figure out proper cigar smoking technique. We might have some good father-sons discussions, peppered with the occasional argument and tamped down by at least one good roadside plate of Texas barbecue.

You can’t go home again, and it’s a good thing because even though I grew up in Texas I was born in Princeton, and to make that long a haul we’d need something stronger than beef jerky, and something more like a box of cycling performance supplements from Shanghai.

But Jack’s passing made me think about the pivotal time in my life when I bought my first bike, Jack working behind the counter at Freewheeling, and what a short jump it had been, going from bike commuter to full-blown racing addict.

The things I’ve done in life have all stemmed from that first bike and the unusual people it anchored me to. Faces I’ll never see again remain fresh and set in amber; Jack’s is one of them. Others that have cropped up on Facebook, though impossibly old, haven’t erased or even dulled the razor crispness of memories from days gone by, silly days, maybe, worthless days, maybe, wasted days, definitely, but my days nonetheless.

I’m going to Texas to do penance for my cycling sins, to pay homage to a man who deserves it, to stand in the stead of those, far-flung, who can’t go or won’t, to trample out the vintage of some road time with my two sons, and to ride those few dirt miles into Lytton Springs, roads we pounded long before we knew there was anything strange or unusual about putting skinny tires on lumpy roads, before we knew that every road had an end, before we knew that ours did, too.

END

———————–

For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and get none of the news that’s fit to print but all the news that’s fun to read. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

 

Bucket list

May 14, 2017 § 6 Comments

If you ride a bike, you probably have a bucket list. I have a bucket. It sits out on the balcony and I use it to water my scraggly pine tree, which, by the way, survived fine for ten days without being tended to.

I also have a list. It is super long and it contains all of the things I have to do in order to get through the work day.

But a bucket list? I don’t really have one of those. There’s nothing I want to do, no places I want to go, no trinkets I want to decorate my walls with before I die. If I did have a bucket list, though, it would look like this:

  • Roast my own coffee beans in a frying pan.
  • Win Telo.
  • Have a grandkid.
  • Ride my bike a bunch.
  • Quit drinking.

Except for “win Telo,” my bucket list is pretty much ticked off. And the good thing about the list is that it involves things that are repetitive. As soon as I tick off “roast coffee beans” it’s time to roast some more. And of course I get to quit drinking every single day, actually, it’s more like every hour or so. “Hey! Time to not have a beer again!”

But coming back from Mallorca I realized that there are some big ticket items in life that if you can swing, well, they’re worth teeing up for. And the reason I say that is because after hanging around with a bunch of sweaty, testosterone-depleted gentlemen with oozy prostates one thing became super clear: We are about ten years older than we were last year.

Partly that’s because of the Newton-Einstein Principle of Prostates, which basically says that the older you get the faster everything happens, and not in a good way. And partly it’s because you can experience, deep down in your bones, how difficult it is and how hard it is on your body to ride “sportily” for eight or nine days in a row.

By the way, “sporty” is my new favorite word. I learned it from Jimmy Kight. We were hammering into Selva and had been grinding it out into a headwind, one of those winds that blow so hard you feel like you’re pushing a piano with your pinkie. Then we hit the rollers and the piano became a medium-sized bank vault. Made of concrete.

At the end we sat up and waited for the completely dispirited Norwaylanders and for Russell, whose derailleur had fallen off along with his interval training. “Nice riding,” Jimmy said, as we both barfed hard. “That was sporty.”

So the new word for the year is “sporty.”

But anyway, sporty riding for old people emphasizes how un-sporty you really are, and then it reminds you how few years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds you have before you take that last big pedal off into the gaping black hole of nothingness. I can’t advise you to quit your job, buy a fancy bike travel case, and book a trip to your dream cycling destination.

But I can tell you that if you put in for some deserved vacation time, go with a cardboard box, and go hang out for a few days in Spain, you’ll be glad you did.

END

———————–

For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and get none of the news that’s fit to print but all the news that’s fun to read. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

Les Miserables

May 5, 2017 § 7 Comments

One of the great things about age is the calm and maturity that comes with it, which is why it seemed strange that I would be screaming with more froth than a juice machine at some innocent airline employee just because they had threatened to have me shot and then arrested.

It seemed like my 400-lb. box and iron skillet collection was not going to make the flight to Disneybicycleland, which meant that it was time for Plan C, since Plan B, an identical twin of Plan A, was being sucked out by the septic tank truck and taken off for recycling as drinking water in Pomona.

Yet as I pondered Plan C, which bore an uncanny resemblance to Plans A and B, I couldn’t help going over the start list for the Tour of DisneybicycleLand, wondering how I would conquer this list of athletic champions without my carbon weaponry at my disposal? How?

Well, by plotting it out carefully, identifying the strengths of my opponents (none), and capitalizing on their weaknesses (need a terabyte of memory here). As I waited for the TSA to find a set of handcuffs small enough I carefully memorized the secret list that had been emailed over by Cookie, detailing the Norwayland roster:

Rainman: Former professional Norlandian rider who lived briefly in Texas where he turned profamateur and cashed in 5,000 cents (US) in prize money. Always one to watch on the climbs as he knows exactly when to call for for a pee-break when the real men begin to ride him off their wheel. (Note: Still trying to identify any of the aforementioned real men.)

Full Trond: Can filibuster regardless of topic. Equally at ease discussing the price of oil, as he is discussing how much it costs to buy and sell oil, not to mention a great variety of conversational skills when it comes to exchanging petroleum at market prices. A Cadillac draft, his fierce competitive drive and love of Trump is suppressed only when overtaken by a) a woman, b) a man, c) a stationary object. Evening recollections of the ride in the mirror may be more absurd than they appear.

Sverre: A once great champion, a hero, a descending machine, an expert shopper, a plunderer of victuals and drainer of goblets, the noble Sverre was called away on business at the last minute. Various inquiries were made to the Norweglandian unemployment office to confirm this highly dubious claim of “business.”

Øyster: Another once great champion, he strengthens the Norsedom contingent of ex-somethings, making a re-appearance after having prioritized a new family establishment. Now that the triplets are self-sufficient after his 18 months of sacrifice, he has been able to put in more training than ever before. Questions remain regarding whether donuts = training, but time will tell.

Mini Munch: Rainman the Younger makes his first appearance in the Tour of Disneybicycleland, brought in to dwarf Trojan and rejuvenate the, saggy, droopy, prostate-challenged Norswedian contingent. What Mini Munch lacks in speed, ability, talent, determination, training, discipline, intellect, agility, good looks, bike handling skills, climbing, descending, time trailing, sprunting, and pacelining, he is rumored to make up for a thousand fold behind the wheel of a dinner table.

Surle:  Iffy due to failure to train and fears of being dropped by his younger brother Full Trond, anxiety may  prevent this excellent gourmande from toeing the line.

Oatmeal: Outcast drinker of soggy oats, grumpy, fierce, angry, ill-tempered, mean, cruel, unforgiving, grudge-holding, intemperate, ill-mannered, tight-fisted, treacherous, and willing to stoop to anything, Oatmeal a/k/a The Stiginator a/k/a Dropped By Wanky On The Big Climb Last Year, Oatmeal will be back with both water bottles filled to the brim with gruel, planning to destroy all with superior cunning, strength, preparation, discipline, firepower, wattage, and intimate knowledge of the local roads. [Kind of glad I won’t have a bike this time.]

Quarter Trond: Several sizes smaller than the Full Trond and also known as Twigmeal, QT lacks the cruelty and vindictive strength of his mentor Oatmeal, but climbs like a goat and despite his smiles and youthful good nature has all of the qualities necessary to decimate the Texamerican contingent.

Cookie: DON’T FUCK WITH THE CHEF.

In between explanations to TSA officials how the clerk had completely misunderstood me and that nothing I had said constituted a felony, I contemplated the Texas roster that would be lining up against the feared Nordanian table breakers. Fortunately, Ol’ Grizzles had sent me a cheat sheet. The report was dire, and I quote:

Here’s a dose of reality, Seth. It’s you and me against all these motherfuckers. At least the Norwegians have the decency to tell you they hate your stinking guts. It’s the lousy, back stabbing Americans you can’t trust. With the exception of you and me, they are all completely worthless wankers and if it weren’t for the traditionally miserable sloth and ill preparation of the Norwegians we’d be more doomed than the first Higgins Boat at Omaha Beach. And, without trying to sound judgmental, quite frankly I’m a bit concerned about your fitness, especially mentally. The physical aspect was always hopeless.

You haven’t met Kight Runner, Keister, or Escargot, but even with my denials and attempts to make you sound halfway okay they already hate your fucking guts. Regardless where they finish on the climbs you’d better break out the blog praise or they will garrote you in your sleep. Trust me on this.
Texas roster:

Ol’ Grizzles: The toughest cupcake in history. Old and ancient, Treebeard-ish, no one is crankier, more cunning, or quicker to seize on and exploit a weakness than Ol’ Grizzles. A fifth-generation rock farmer from Houston, entire generations of failed cyclists have grown up under his tutelage, which mostly consists of shouting “Pull harder you fucking wanker!” from fifth wheel. Ol’ Grizzles, despite his age, can be expected to intimidate, lie, cheat, and loosen your bolts late at night in order to snatch victory from the jaws of the rest stop.

Pup: With three whole years of riding under his belt, Pup has had his development badly stunted by emulating the bad practices and constant drug violations of Ol’ Grizzles. Formerly a 6’0″, 195-lb. healthy male, Pup is now 5’7″, weighs 140 lbs., and delights in miserably hard rotations. Travels with a massive torque wrench.

Keister: Intel withheld, but former participation in earlier Tours of Disneybicycleland indicate possibly professional-level abilities to eat and drink.

The Bank: Independently wealthy, The Bank is one of the richest men to ever race a bike, i.e. he once earned more than $35,000 after taxes. Comfortably retired to a snow farm in Colorado, The Bank spends his time reading multi-volume novels by Wish They Were Great Norwanish Novelists. Make that “all his time.” “The Struggle” is real.

Trojan: Never missed a trip to Spain and one of the originals, he was named after the great Trojan hero Hector who was slain by Achilles and dragged around dead by the heels, which is fitting given the way he rides nowadays. This once-great champion on the bike has transferred his riding prowess to the dinner table and the jug. The caloric battles between him, Full Trond, and Mini Munch will be epic.

J-Lo: Showed up in 2016 with 37.2 training miles and still rode stronger than most of the Northwaylanders. Has put in an additional 54.98 miles for 2017 and can be expected not to bonk again after the first hour.

Kight Runner: Unknown but highly suspect.

Escargot: Unknown but even more highly suspect than Kight Runner.

Texacookie: DON’T FUCK WITH THE CHEF.

END

———————–

For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and get none of the news that’s fit to print but all the news that’s fun to read. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

Disneybicycleland

May 4, 2017 § 34 Comments

I’m leaving tomorrow for Mallorca, or Disneybicycleland as I like to call it. Last year I went with the bike rental thing. It was fine, especially watching everyone have to lug bike carriers, assemble, disassemble, break things, curse, throw shit, and realize that they’d brought everything except the double reverse half-spline Campy BB off-centering tool, and the only one available on the island cost $850. Euros.

The rental bike was fine. It really was. The tires were shitty, though. And it had been rode hard and put away wet. Except the chain, which had been put away dry.

It descended okay and passed the only test that mattered, which was beating Oatmeal and Twigmeal on the big climb that one day.

But this year I knew that Oatmeal and Twigmeal would be riding bigger miles, faster miles, uphillier miles, and they would be thirsting for revenge so I decided that this year I’d take my own Cannodale EVO Super Six Extra Plus Carbon a-la-carbone Elektroshift SRAM full carbon FastForward F-4 100% carbon wheels and new tires and clean chain and of course my boss South Bay Cycling handlebar tape.

I was going to need every advantage I could get to avoid being skinned alive by Oatmeal and Twigmeal, the avenging Norwegian norsemen from Norselandia who hated Karl Ove Knausgaard.

But first I needed a bike carrier. The Internet shattered my budget of $40 after a few hours of scouring, so I went to the next best thing, Boozy P., ace mechanic and hops specialist.

“Hey, Boozy, how can I ship my bike to Mallorca on the cheap?”

“That’s easy. We’ll use a bike box.”

“Like one of those things they have at the bike shop?”

“Sure.”

“Do they work? Won’t my bike get crushed?”

“Wanky, bike companies ship eleventy hundred thousand bikes a day in those things. You’ll be fine.”

“What’ll it run me?”

“The box, tape, zip ties, hub protectors, and Boozy P. Bike Boxing Special is only available today at the low, low, low price of $40.”

“Done,” I said.

Boozy P. packed up the bike just fine, although he had to take out my water bottle and tool bottle for a couple of minutes. “There’s just one thing to look out for when you pack it for the return trip,” he said.

“What?”

“Don’t forget the pedals or the saddle. People always forget stuff when they box a bike, and wind up at their destination missing something really important.”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

I got home and called Boozy. “Hey, I can’t find my toolkit and water bottle.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot to put them back on the bike. I’ll leave them outside for ya. Lucky you’re not in Mallorca.”

Next, as part of my careful planning, I checked the KLM web site to find out how much they were going to gouge me for the bike box. My daughter had told me to get that squared away weeks ago, but I was busy with Telo.

The web site, obviously mistaken, said that “No sports equipment, including bicycles, shall be accepted as baggage on the day of departure. All such specialized baggage must be checked, priced, and cleared at least 48 hours prior to departure. No exceptions.”

I was pretty sure they were bluffing, so I tweeted them a message after wiping up the rivers of sweat coursing down my forehead. They responded, saying that my request had been received and my online booking would be updated.

When the update failed either up or to date, I called the service center. Amir the customer service specialist was having a bad week and I was apparently the exclamation to his curse-filled day. “Your trip has not been updated because it cannot be done. No bicycles except with 48 hours prior clearance. No exceptions. So please do not go to the trouble to pack your bicycle and bring it to the check-in counter, as it will be refused. No exceptions. I will also enter into your trip record the details of this conversation in which I explicitly told you no bicycle.”

So it was looking like Plan B, which was mostly identical to Plan A, that is, show up with the bike and dare them to turn me away.

In the meantime, as a bit of insurance, I got online to find out about booking a bike rental in Mallorca. What could be easier than renting a bike in Disneybicycleland?

Then I remembered that last year I’d had to book six months in advance. Surely things had improved since then.

END

———————–

For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and get none of the news that’s fit to print but all the news that’s fun to read. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

Please take my trip for me

March 13, 2017 § 27 Comments

I got a brochure in the mail from Trek Travel, a company that sells bike tours. And I understand why people hire other people to do their travel planning for them. One reason is safety. No one wants to go to France and get murdered. But all of the other reasons are subsumed in this one reason: People hate travel.

As soon as I hear someone say, “I love travel,” I know they hate it. And when I hear someone say, “I hate travel,” I know they’re being honest. Travel is the most disgusting, demeaning, stressful, awful activity known to man, aside from time trailing and core workouts in the gym. And the indoor trainer. And Zwift.

But in order to get from one far place to the next you have to travel. There’s no getting around it. People like to moan about how bad it’s gotten with tiny airplane seats and cardboard snacks on Southwest handed out from a trash bag, but BITD travel meant that your ship was probably going to sink or get boarded by pirates who would cut your throat, rape you, sell you off into slavery, or all three.

If your ship didn’t sink, your caravan would be attacked and the savages would cut your throat, rape you, sell you off into slavery, or all three. Or your hydrogen-filled airship would blow up and you’d be incinerated. So no, travel isn’t worse than it used to be, unless you’re trying to leave Syria or Ethiopia or North Korea or about 200 other countries, in which case you still stand a real good chance of getting your throat cut, raped, sold off into slavery, or all three. If you’re an American, you only think you have it rough, even though, as Louis CK will tell you, you’re sitting in a flying chair that goes 500 mph through the air, which is amazingly awesome no matter how many bad cups of coffee you swill.

Because people despise travel so much they hire Trek Travel to do the actual traveling. All the customers have to do is show up. They don’t even have to be particularly fit because Trek has tours for everyone, including for people who just want to “ride” an electric bike. The only thing you need to have is money and an overwhelming sense of insecurity and fear of failure.

Bike tours are an especial genre of crazy. Why would anyone join a group of complete idiots in Italy simply so they can ride together? Why not just drive to the neighboring big city and do their Saturday group ride? It will be the exact same assortment of insane people, only at the end of the ride you’ll be able to go home, whereas in Italy the guy who farts too much and bores you to tears about his power output will be your roomie for the next twelve days.

Most importantly, if you’re going to travel a long way to do something fun, you should be really stressed out and miserable getting there, because that makes the fun part more fun. Every time I hear that someone flew 15 hours in first class I feel sorry for them, waking up all refreshed and ready to hit the ground running and such.

They’ll never know the awesomeness of staggering off the plane with deep vein thrombosis only to learn that your bike has been shipped to Kalimantan and won’t be back until February. They’ll never know coach. And for sure they’ll never know coach toilets, those claustrophobic hell holes modeled after parking lot crit porta-potties with paper-thin doors so the flight attendants can hear you grunt and howl as your feet slosh around in the muck on floor and you try to keep your parts from touching the toilet rim.

What’s more world-changing than two days of hard flying, only to end up at a hotel that has lost your reservation and the whole town is booked for the month and the president declared a state of emergency and there’s no hot water? How can you possibly do better than getting the runs, pneumonia, or rickets en route to your destination?

Are you going to remember that seamless Trek Travel itinerary ten years from now, where you were pampered by a wonderful multilingual guide, quaffed perfect cappucino every day, and were encouraged every single pedalstroke of the way up the Mortirolo, or are you going to remember the mugging you got in downtown Palermo when you flatted, couldn’t understand directions to the bike shop, went down a dark alley, got beaten with a tire iron, and had your travel documents stolen along with all your money and your fingerprints?

I guess I’m making the case that, like riding yer fuggin’ bike, it counts to have to overcome stuff. If all you ever eat is dessert, it will sooner or later turn into a surfeit. A bit of nails and broken glass mixed in with your morning gruel never hurt anybody. Being spit on by locals, ripped off by grimy street urchins, solicited by diseased hookers, and harassed by paramilitary narcotraffickers is better than the finest gourmet meal in Tuscany, especially when squeezed in between horribly hard days on the bike that leave you whimpering in a bedbug-infested cabin abutting a freeway.

Travel, real travel, is always an adventure, you can’t pay someone to do it for you, and the only difference between an adventure and a complete fucking catastrophe is the ending.

END

———————–

For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and get none of the news that’s fit to print but all the news that’s fun to read. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

 

Mule train or, zipless f*ck

May 10, 2016 § 23 Comments

Having alienated everyone in the tour group and being pointedly asked whether or not I needed to go back to my office, today seemed like a great day to take a break from the group dynamic of an 80-mile ride starting at 11:00 AM and spread over ten hours. Fact is, my fuse is five hours long, whether I’m sitting in a lawn chair or sitting on the rivet. Moreover, Team America was at 12,876,400 points to Team Breivik’s -56. They had gone into negative points after failing to finish within the time cutoff the day before, instead of doing another marathon ride I left the race in the hands of my lieutenants and headed out by myself to explore.

I had the best ride of my life.
Mallorca is the global focal point for wankers. Some club decides to take what is euphemistically called a “cycle holiday” but in reality is an extended group ride where the club’s alpha male flays the shit out of everyone else. It’s cage fighting without a door.

These mule trains litter the island. No one is under 40, and most mules are 50 and over, if not waaaay over. What makes it so incredible is that in a very compact area you have hundreds of trains, each one led by an alpha mule. By simply pedaling slowly on any given road at any given time you will be passed by a mule train. It’s terribly rude to hop on because each little mule has forked out precious money to kit up and hang with their alpha mule for seven days, as “back home” they only see alpha mule at the beginning of the ride and in the club’s private Facegag page.

However, if you’re going to anger all of Europe one country at a time you have to be methodical, and terrible etiquette is a great place to start.

I began trolling for mules the second I turned out of the drive and caught a nice fat train in ONE MINUTE. There were eight of them, all locals, though, which brings up an important point: When mule trolling you have to know how to read a jersey. Locals have local sponsors, tourists have club names from Norway or Holland. Rapha wankers are always British.

This mule train whipped by me as we started the little climb and they hated having me there so the two alpha mules turned the screws and immediately dumped all but one of their riders. It is awesome when you can sow disharmony among friends in a few seconds. I like to call it talent.

I cruised along until their heads began to sag. We were 500 yards from the top. “Go!” Said the alpha mule #2, and #1 kicked it, but as an expert wheelsucker I flew up and over fresh as a pool of vomit the first night of Rush Week as they gnashed their teeth at my vanishing blinding orange kit.

I turned towards Bunyola, clueless as to what I’d find. Within two minutes I was passed by a massive Dutch mule train, De Zuwaluwen, which, given their bird mascot, meant “The Swallows.” I started at the back, and a sad-sack looking bunch of mules it was indeed, with the strong riders up front and the cadavers stacked up in the rear.

The road rose and the mules began cracking immediately as their alpha mule laid into them with might and main. I cruised through about 30 riders and bridged to alpha mule and his alpha mulette. He was a big strong Stig-like sonofabitch, so I knew he could be easily beaten. I sucked wheel for a couple of miles and then came past, but there was a Swallow on my wheel who had bridged and he was going full gas. I latched on and did a mule analysis, and like jersey interpretation, the correct aging of mules is crucial.

Whereas old alpha mules are stupid and convinced they can simply ride you off their wheel like they do everyone else in their club, young alpha mules actually can. So first check their legs. If the skin is young and fresh, look out. If you can’t tell from leg skin, check the nape. Old mules have craggy, deeply lined napes and cancerous growths on their ear tops; young mules have smooth skin. If you’re still unsure and the mule is in short sleeves, look at the arms for liver spots or saggy, wrinkled forearm skin.

This young mule required a lot of tenacity because he flogged the shit out of me. However, he couldn’t drop me, so he finally resigned himself to having a giant orange blob on his wheel for about five more miles of gnarly climbing. He crushed me like a twig in a stump shredder. At the top I thanked him and kept going.

After a long descent the road went up again so I slowed and went into trolling mode. This time I was caught by another of the Swallows, but he was on their C squad. Apparently had everyone regrouped at the pass, and Mr. C Teamer went ahead like Jim Bowles to “beat” his fellow mules with a 20-minute head start. He dragged me for about a mile and then exploded. Still I just sat as he floundered in the hell of being blown with someone on your wheel and not knowing if they are blown too or are waiting to pounce.

I pounced and pedaled over the pass into an endless descent into Bunyola that went on for mile after mile, passing well over a thousand cyclists going the other direction and seeing less than a dozen cars. One thing I noticed as I inspected each climbing rider’s face: No one was smiling. Every single mule looked dour, sour, and thoroughly angry at the world for forcing him to ride his bike in paradise. “This really epitomizes roadies,” I thought–so serious, so self-important, and so engaged in such a heroic humanitarian endeavor.

I on the other hand was grinning from ear to ear at the sheer joy of the whole thing that I began shouting “Allez! Allez!” at each flailing Eddy Merckx. When they heard that cheer each rider would invariably smile, and many would even wave. It’s as if hearing that time-honored cycling exhortation in the middle of a brutal climb reminded them that they really were in Disneycycleland.
Plus, it sounded better than, “You fucking suck, you stupid Dutch bastard!”

In Bunyola I gassed up with a quick coffee and headed towards the legendary Soller Pass. I set my rod to troll and immediately hooked a live one. It was a tad troubling, though, because he was solo, young, and wearing a local Belgian race kit, and he was going pretty fast. On the other hand he was short and stocky and had “kermesse” written all over him so I figured I could leech on, suck him dry, and drop him when the going got tougher. We hit the first swifchbacks and he accelerated but eventually cracked.
“Danke!” I said in my politest Fuckyou, and happily pedaled away, his groaning and creaking saddle receding out of earshot. After a couple of minutes though I disturbingly heard the creaky saddle approaching from the rear at a high rate of speed. But it wasn’t the Belgian, it was young Dave from East Yorkshire in a yellow Rapha kit with a long trailing loose thread and he blew by. Unfortunately I caught his wheel and he gave me the worst beating I’ve ever had.

Charging every single turn he kept a pace that had me at my absolute pain threshold and there it stayed for every single mile of the climb. Just before the peak his teammate in a Sun Velo kit caught us and sprinted by. It was the kind of beating you get for ten minutes once a week on the Donut back home, and it was the second mauling I’d had in less than two hours.

More than anything else, this is the true Fear of Flying zipless fuck beauty of Mallorca. Exceptional riders are everywhere, every road, all day long, and you can pummel and get pummeled by one mule after another until you puke and your legs seize up. You never get dropped because there’s always another mule train, you never win because some fucker is always better, and no one takes anything personally because you never see each other again.

Descending into Soller along a road that left me speechless with its beauty, I made a right turn up MA10 that would turn out to be a 20km climb. I stopped a couple of minutes in to snap a photo of the picturesque town below and while holstering my camera a three-man Danish mule train went by. I sprinted up and the alpha mule quickly dispatched his buddies. He had that lean, grizzled look of a mid-50’s pedal beater and my legs quickly pegged out, so I started gasping loudly, hoping that he was on the rivet and that my death rattle would encourage him to go just a tad harder and put himself in the red.

As an old mule accustomed to shredding all comers, he heard me gasp and pushed harder. I gasped more with my special hacking noise. He pushed harder. I made a shuddering moan, and he tipped off the ledge, suddenly in trouble. At that moment, after towing me for 19 of the 20km, he popped and one of the UK monsters from Sun Velo came by. I scooted onto his wheel and waved at the hapless Dane as we sped away.

The rest of the crew did a spectacular ride to Cap Formentor with spectacular scenery and great food at a scenic restaurant. When we got together at the villa people had mostly forgiven me until Full-Tron, a new Norwegian different in all respects from Posi-Tron, showed up and delivered a rousing dinner table speech for Trump.

I tried to hold my tongue and failed.

Sigh.

I tried so hard to be good …

END

Brokeleg mountain

May 9, 2016 § 14 Comments

Overnight there was a huge shuffle in the 2016 Tour de Mallorca Leaky Prostate standings. Ol’ Grizzles almost died in his sleep after losing three units of blood to a scrape that he got from tipping over at a stoplight when he couldn’t unclip in time. Stig and most of Team Helicopter Crash tried to abandon by sneaking away under cover of darkness due to the beatings administered the day before and the grim realization that they would probably not get the 12,000,000 bonus points required to get them out of last place.

Iberian Airlines had finally found Ol’ Grizzles’s full carbon Ritchie Breakintopieces folding tricycle and shipped it from the Wal-Mart Children’s Toy Distribution Center to sunny Mallorca, which was being doused in another massive rainstorm. By now everyone on Team Trump knew that the key to victory lay in drinking all the coffee and eating all the eggs and letting the air out of the Norwegians’ tires before they got up. Bruce and Steve had found Stig’s I.V. drip bags and swapped out the fresh blood with coffee grounds, spit, and chicken skin.

We had a quick team meeting in which we planned to isolate Stiginator. Suddenly Shit in the Lane piped up. “Hey guys, Team Norway has a new recruit. They’re picking him up this morning.”

“What’s wrong with those motherfuckers? Don’t they know they can’t sub in riders?”

“This new guy is supposedly better than Stigtastic,” said Shit in the Lane.

“That’s not saying much,” said Dan.

“Stig who?” said Ol’ Grizzles.

The ride route was decided. We would ride to Palma and from there do the four hardest climbs on the island, the Col de Fuckthishurts, the Col de Endless Misery, the Col de Wedroppedstigagain, and the Col de Deadlegs for a total of 13,000 feet over 100 miles. In the rain.

First though we had to go to the local bike shop to get some rain gear. What had started as a quick rain cape purchase turned into a free-for-all the second that Brian and Shit in the Lane found the discount clothing bin; they looked like gypsies at a rag bazaar the way they pounced on that shit.

Soon enough the ride began and since we were cozily situated in a gorgeous corner of a true island paradise the Norwegians routed us along the the freeway feeder road into Palma, an ugly, diesel-choked hellhole that looked like it had been shot with a shit cannon. “To get more miles,” Munch explained, since getting dropped repeatedly the day before for 165km was apparently not enough.

On the first climb out of Palma, a 7km leg softener, Stigosaurus got ready to teach a climbing clinic but he lost the lesson plan again as Ol’ Grizzles attacked early and was not seen again. “That didn’t count,” the Norwegians complained, but since we were in charge of bonus points, unfortunately for them it did.

Once you leave Palma, Mallorca is beautiful beyond any words. It’s not simply the secluded roads where, over the course of an hour you’ll see 500 cyclists and two cars, it’s the knowledge that you are seen, respected, and treated like you belong. After a few hours on the roads here it sinks in; your presence is accepted and welcomed, and that’s when you realize what a burden of fear and low-level anxiety you’ve been carrying around. And as that dissolves the true wonder of cycling sets in, in ways big and small.

For example, every road is suitable for a rotating paceline, a blobbish peloton, a single commuter … it doesn’t matter, you belong and have the right of way. Or for example, when you are out-sprinting Stig on the first climb, walkers at the top if the pass clap–they get it. Or for example, when you ride Stig off your wheel after he tells you “You’re no fucking good,” the cars behind give you plenty of room to suck his wheel and pretend you’re gassed just before blowing by like a $2,500 hooker.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the magic of the place resides in its acceptance of bicycles. All along any route you choose can find cafes with bike racks and menu boards with “Cyclist Specials.” If I ever ran across a place like that in LA my poor heart wouldn’t stand the shock. That being said, the magic dissipated markedly at about hour five, far from home, high in the mountains, and with the prospects of another long climb less than appealing.
Ol’ Grizzles was already thinking about how he’d care for the scabs he’d gotten from dragging his dick up all the climbs. Shit in the Lane had packed it in along with Steve, Dan, and Bruce and when we reached the scenic town of Anthrax the rest of us were famished. Since nutrition is super important for cyclists, Stig took a swig from his bottle filled with water and raw oats while everyone else piled in and loaded up on bacon and egg burgers with fries and coffee.

It is generally a great idea after eating a huge lunch and sitting for half an hour to immediately attack a 10km climb, especially if you like the taste of vomit. Since Team Norway had lost every sprint and climb for the last two days, they had to throw everything they had into the climb out of Anthrax.

Munch immediately went off the back to block and I was left isolated with Posi-Tron and Stiginator, who had earlier in the day had said, “You talk too much.”

“I will use simpler words,” I’d responded, but he remained unmollified and attacked the shit out if me.

When I followed he began to jeer. “How you like it now, tough guy? Tired already enough?”

“You talk too much,” I said hanging on for dear life as he unleashed some more tremendous power which was really filled with power.

Since this unleashing failed to dislodge me, he began giving me orders. “No ride behind. Ride over dere,” he said, pointing to an unsheltered spot off to the side.

“OVER DERE!” he shouted again.

“You talk too much,” I said, hunkering down as more tremendous power was unleashed.

A long time later we got close to what looked like the top, and it appeared to me that his feet were moving in a geometrical shape generally referred to as a “square,” so I rode off and did a victory salute to the English hikers standing at the summit.

After he got to the top I gave him some encouragement. “With a lot of practice and a good coach and a cheeseburger you might be mediocre someday. You have something similar to talent, kind of.”

But some people can’t accept praise and he snarled, “You are no fucking good.”

I wholeheartedly agreed. “It’s true, yet I’m ahead of you. Weird, huh?”

Many miles later Chef Leiv, the revelation of the Tour, continued to smash and pound, as Ol’ Grizzles took another mountaintop win from Stiggles. What had started as a rout became total defeat for Team Norway. At the last climb, Posi-Tron tried a sneak mountaintop sprunt but lost that as well.

Six hours into the ride, Team America was exhausted, and Munch was finally coming into his element. At the fork in the road he announced, “Short way dere, long way dere.”

“How long is long?”

“Hour and half to climb, hour up climb, hour and half home.”

“Dude, it will be night.”

“Dude, I’m very tired.”

“Dude, I’m very weak.”

“Dude, my prostate just broke.”

The Norwegians looked at us contemptuously, and with obvious relief that we wouldn’t be humiliating them on another climb. While they soldiered on to ride more heroic miles as they gently touched each other’s tremendous power, we descended to a cake and pastry and pizza and beer and coffee shop and admitted that all in all we were really sorry that we had passed on the opportunity to ride with people who hated us.

Back at home Steve and Chef Leiv had shown the kind of international cooperation that never happens at the U.N. They made an astonishing meal of pasta with meatballs and gallons of wine, garnished with excuses about why Team Norway was unable to win anything attended by an American. Afterwards we sat around and looked each other’s phone porn. Team America won that competition, too, as most of the Norwegian porn was of goats.

END

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Travel category at Cycling in the South Bay.