March 20, 2017 § 24 Comments
Before the race G3, who won it the year before, told me that “It’s the hardest race you’ll ever do.”
The Hun, who was driving, nodded savagely. “Absolute fucking hardest,” he said.
When two good friends, experienced road racers, and all-round tough guys tell you that it’s the hardest race you’ll ever do, my (obvious) reaction was to discount everything they said because they were such soft little cream-filled cupcakes.
“So what’s so hard about it?” I asked, bored and hoping they would fill the rest of the 2-hour drive to Desertmethtrailerville with epic lies about their awesomeness and somewhere along the way I could pick up some good intel that would help me attack my teammates and cover myself in glory at their expense.
“Wind,” said G3.
“Fucking wind,” said the Hun.
“Incredible wind,” said G3.
“Wind so fucking bad you gonna cry your mommy,” cursed the Hun.
“The wind is so ferocious it will destroy everyone who doesn’t have a wheel the entire race.”
“Fucking wind gonna break your balls and you gonna quit right away you don’t ride smart.” He cast a sideways glance indicating that “ride smart” wasn’t something he necessarily credited me with.
We got to the course outside Lancaster, which is part of California, but not the good part. I had made sure to fuel up on a Burger King double bacon cheeseburger and fries when we stopped for gas, so although I was properly nutritionized I was not prepared for …
On the course, way over in a field, four Big Orange teammates were fighting with a team canopy that had blown several hundred yards into the middle of someone’s dirt and plastic trash orchard, where this year’s crop also included used syringes and not-brand-new condoms.
By the start-finish, all the port-a-potties were lying on their side.
The paperwork at registration was on the ground, weighted by thirty-pound rocks.
Everyone was covered in sand, grit, and anger. Lots of anger.
I got on my bike to warm up and unwisely pointed it with the tailwind. Without pedaling I quickly hit 30 mph, then 35, then with a pedal stroke or two was doing 40. By the time I turned around I had gone so far that returning to base camp took almost thirty minutes and I was already tasting bacon.
Head Down James had just finished racing. “How’d it go?”
“Breezy,” he said.
“How was the climb?’
“Headwind. Three miles. Not too steep. You’ll do fine. But watch the downhill.”
“Straight as an arrow with a couple of gentle curves you can hit without touching your brakes. You’ll easily hit 55. Watch out for the potholes and cracks, and big pieces of cactus blown onto the course, and of course the trash and there’s one place where a load of logs spills out into the road. If you hit one of those at speed it won’t be good.”
“No,” I agreed.
“One guy in our race did and took down five other people.”
“Is that what those five ambulances were for?”
“Yes. No one died though.”
“Yeah, and watch out for the puppies. There are so many puppies and people have all driven up from LA to photograph them. Gets dicey at 55 with people running back and forth across the highway and pulling over.”
“Yeah. They’re gorgeous but watch out.”
“How’d you La Grange guys do?”
“We swept the podium.”
At that moment a blast of sand swept in and covered us, sticking to James’s sweaty face and my sunscreened one.
Our race began straight into the headwind up the 3-mile climb, with about twenty very old, very tired, and very apprehensive fellows engaged in a fierce competition to do nothing but hide. Contemptuously I went to the front half a dozen times and tried to up the pace.
G3 pedaled up alongside. “Dude,” he whispered. “Hide. You don’t know what you’re doing.” I spat in reply.
We crested the climb, having culled a few of the weak, sick, and mentally infirm, did a short easy downhill, and then made an easy right-hander. In front was a short 200-meter bump. This was the bump where G3 had warned me to “Be at the front because it’s short and easy but they will race over it and if you have even two bike lengths between you and the group you will never see them again because the second they crest it they will be going 60 with a huge tailwind and your day will be over.”
“More silly exaggeration,” I had thought as I saw the leaders begin to accelerate. “But just in case …”
Horribly positioned at the very back I sprinted with everything I had, which wasn’t much, and just latched on as the leaders crested the bump. The four riders who were a few wheels back were never seen again. It was that instantaneous.
The fear was awful, the chug holes in the road were abysses, and everyone except me seemed fine with the idea of dying, if that’s what it took, to get to the bottom quickly. Before long we began rocketing through corridors of cars and SUVs parked on the road side, with city folks wandering randomly across the road.
“The fucking puppies,” I thought. “The puppies. Where are the puppies? All I see are giant orange fields of poppies.” Then it dawned on me. “Puppies. Poppies.”
Tucked into the back of the group we made a right turn into the worst cross-wind in history. The leaders punched it hard. If you were in the first six wheels you had a draft; everyone else was shoved against the double yellow line in a vicious echelon with no shelter.
The moto ref helpfully yelled and honked at us to “get off the yellow line,” which only made us move farther to the left such that the giant mirrors of pickups passing in the opposite direction at 75 came within inches of our heads. Gaps opened and I began having to close them.
If you’ve never had to close a gap in an echelon with a howling cross-wind, it is like being Sisyphus but instead of pushing a giant rock up a hill you are pushing a giant rock off your head only to have it fall back and spatter more brains when the next gap opens.
I closed four gaps and then almost ran over the red cones before the next turn, a right-hander that went straight into the wind, back through the start-finish and up the climb. After two minutes of sitting at the back cursing the dirt, the puppies, the poppies, G3 and the Hun for telling the truth, the wind, the tumped-over toilets, and praying the moto ref would DQ me, I gave up.
One lap, quit, wobbled into the start-finish area where I was cheered by no one except my good friend Kristie. “What are you quitting for?” she said. “Finish the race!”
“I double flatted,” I said.
“Oh my dog! That’s terrible!”
“Yeah,” I said.
She looked at my tires. “Your tires are fine, Seth.”
“Yeah, but it was a right flat and a left flat.”
Two small children who were there to watch their dad race quizzed me in great detail about my weakness, why I had quit, why I had come if I only rode one lap, whether I usually quit, whether my kids also quit, whether quitting was okay (their teacher said never quit), did I like quitting, did my dad know I had quit, did I know their dad wasn’t gonna quit, had I ever beaten their dad and if so how come I had quit and couldn’t beat him today, and did I want to try and beat them playing Gorgonzola Space Destruction Zombie Catchers.
Next, I got to sit on the side of the road for another hour and a half and watch the miserable faces of the racers come by in gradually reduced numbers until they slow-motion sprunted across the line, faces caked in salt and grit and misery. “One lap to go!” I shouted as they finished, Cruelty Thy Name Is Bicycle Racing.
G3 got second and the Hun got third, which was awesome because before they even dismounted I demanded my share of their winnings. “You couldn’t have done it without all that work I did on the first lap.”
Too tired to resist, they staggered to the car and deflated, thousand-yard stares pasted on their drawn faces while the wind howled and moaned.
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March 5, 2016 § 50 Comments
Sitting up here high and mighty atop Mt. Palos Verdes, I look down upon you in the South Bay and can say that I am truly worried for your souls.
Not your immortal souls that are going to be consigned to the hell of eternal angel harps and no coffee and a ban on masturbation, or those immortal souls that are going to burn in the other hell where I’m told we will have to watch the Republican candidates debate naked for eternity, no …
I’m worried about your mortal soul. Yes, yours. It’s the one that gets cobbled together by nerves and genes and environment, and then crumbles and dies with the rest of you at an average age of 82.1 for women and 78.3 for men.
Your mortal soul, after about age 12, is fed on and grows by only two things: The books you read and the people you meet. And I’ve concluded that you’re not reading many books these days. This is the only reason any of us could have watched any of the proceedings affiliated with the current presidential campaign. We simply don’t read enough books.
Not just any books. Hard books. Wrinkle-in-your-forehead-forming books. Books with long words, complicated ideas, and page numbers that go up to 600 and beyond. Those books, dear friend, are the only possible salvation for your withering mortal soul, a soul that is slowly drying, cracking, and peeling off like an old scab from the incessant diet of Facegag, Instaham, Netflix, and, yes, insipid little blogs like this one.
There’s a fix, though. It was offered up to me by a 11-year-old. Here it is:
About a year ago I stopped reading. The book on my nightstand, Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” was so boring, dry, dense, and crammed with tiny print that each attempt to complete it was like the third lap of Boulevard RR in the snow on two flats.
The problem was simple. Even thinking about plodding through that book to the end made me want to never read anything again. Of course I couldn’t throw it away, admit defeat, and move onto “40 Years of Mad Magazine: Anthology.” Nope. I’d paid for it, started it, and put it next to my bed. So I kept it there, lying to myself that I’d finish it one day.
A year passed and that day never arrived. And the problem was that I had a big Rubbermaid storage container out on the balcony filled with books, unread. And I couldn’t open it up and grab a new one until I had evolved through Darwin’s albatross atop my nightstand.
Everything ground to a halt. I even began reading Internet news.
Then one day I was coming back from the Tuttle Creek Road Race with Attila the Hun. We were talking about his precocious daughter, who is twelve. “She writes down in her diary every day that she read 25 pages. That’s her daily book diet. 25 pages a day.”
It was so brilliant! I didn’t have to finish Darwin, or Ulysses, or Gravity’s Rainbow, or any of the other 3,000-lb. books lurking in the rubber tub. All I had to do was read 25 pages a day.
So I did. And the beauty of 25-a-day is that since everything is a multiple of 25, you always know where you left off. After a very short while I’d read all of Darwin, understood a tiny fraction of it, and moved on. Meursault: Contre-Enquete followed, then Le Feu, and finally I mounted Ulysses for the first time in almost thirty years. In 28 days I’ll be done with that, too, and it’s all thanks to a 12-year-old daughter of a bike racer.
We can do this. Your mortal soul is worth it. I’m even thinking about coming up with a new app called “Vellum.” It will have KOB’s (King of the Book) for people who have read the most in a week, and will have KOP’s (King of the Passage) for people who have read a particularly gnarly segment in the least amount of time. I could even have Joe Yule design some loose-fitting reading kits with “Seth Davidson Book Injury Lawyer” emblazoned on the pink smoking jacket lapels, and get FastForward to come up with some full carbon e-Readers that are 100% carbon.
It sounds crazy. It is crazy. But force-feed yourself those 25 pages, starting today. You’ll grow muscles in parts of your brain you never even knew you had.
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February 8, 2016 § 21 Comments
I hate getting beat and since there were only six people in the Tuttle Creek Road Race yesterday my prospects were good to avoid the single biggest thing I wanted to avoid, which was getting second again.
I got second.
My teammate Attila picked me up at 7:00 AM pointy-sharp. The first time I ever met him I wondered, “Who the fuck names their kid ‘Attila?'” Then it turned out that he was Hungarian, and if you lopped off the “garian” he truly was Attila the Hun.
His job at Tuttle Creek was simple. “Look, fucker, you’re working for me.”
“Okay!” he said.
“I got second in this lousy stinking no-good far-ass road race last year when there were only two entrants, and this year I’m here to win.”
“Okay!” he said.
“So do what I tell you and don’t fuck up.”
“Okay!” he said happily. He didn’t sound very Hun-like for somebody with such a ferocious name.
Before the race Wide-Eyed Cat 5 Josh came up to us. “Any advice?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said sternly. “The race has so few riders that Steve will start us all together. That means we’ll begin with the P/1/2 guys, who will be disgusted at having to ride within scent of the Leaky Prostate and Wide-Eyed Wanker categories. So they will drop everyone in the first two minutes of the race.”
“How?” asked Josh.
“By pedaling harder than the rest of us.”
“Will this happen on a climb?”
“Yes. The first one, which is where the race starts. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life and within 30 seconds you’ll be buried in the red and trying to puke up your testes.”
“But I like to climb,” he protested.
“Let me put it this way: They will drop everyone in the first two minutes of the race.”
“Everyone?” he said, but what he meant was “Me, too?”
“Yes,” I said. “Everyone. You, too.”
The race began and two minutes in, the P/1/2 racers had dropped everyone. Attila and I were in the second group, if two is a group. Everyone else was alone and wondering what part of their Internet training plan had gone wrong, and why the leaders weren’t staying within what Coach had told them was their maximum prescribed heartrate for the day.
Tuttle Creek is is the hardest road race on the calendar by far. It begins with a 12-minute climb that has about 30 short, hilly, 100%-effort accelerations. After those twelve minutes there is a 3-mile false flat that is only false if you are a complete idiot, as you can see it gradually rising up beneath you and you’re pedaling in your weenie gear, unable to breathe and in great pain.
Then the course gets really hard because you turn right and go up another gradual incline whose purpose is to remind you only of this: At 5,700 feet there is no oxygen, especially in your lungs. The Hun and I shared the work evenly. I would count off three minutes for each one of his pulls and shout, “Ease up, wanker!”
Then he would swing over and I would come through at about half his speed and pull for 30 seconds. The plan was to tire him out so that he would do all the work and I could drop him on the last lap. It became apparent soon that he wasn’t properly up to speed on the plan, because he pulled so long and went so fast that he not only caught one of the Cat 1 riders who had gotten shelled out of the leading break, but my legs and vision began to fail.
The second time through the punchy (as in rabbit punch) section he never bothered to swing over while Cat 1 and I desperately clung to his wheel. Cat 1 did some work on the downhill while I shouted instructions from the back.
On the third lap Cat 1, who had recovered somewhat, ripped it so hard through Rabbit Punch Canyon that I repeatedly got dropped and had to claw back on with abnormal pedaling motions and odd sounds that you typically only hear from small animals in mortal distress. Attila sipped from his water bottle and occasionally looked back, shouting encouragement. “C’mon, Wanky,” he’d say. “Don’t drop your eyeballs out of the sockets like that.”
Having sat in the entire race and not having done a lick of work we approached the final lap and suddenly I was feeling pretty good. “Okay, Attila,” I said, sternly. “Although you owe me this win because I’m older than you and I got second last year and it’s somebody’s kid’s birthday somewhere and I came up with the winning plan and I helped you by pushing from the rear and frankly if it comes down to a sprunt you don’t have a chance, we’re gonna race this out.”
“Really? You mean like, race? You and me?” Suddenly his face went from friendly to, well, different. “I thought I was racing for you, man.”
“You tried your best, and before I crush you like a fucking gnat I want to at least give you a chance.”
“I really don’t care if you win. Especially after last year and everything. You’re my friend, man.”
“Nope,” I said. “There are no friends in bike racing. And no gifts. If you want this you’re gonna have to earn it like a man. I may have done all the work the whole race but I’m at least gonna give you a chance.”
“Okay,” he said. “If that’s what you want to do. Thanks, man.” His face then changed from friendly to, well, Hun-like. It was still a smile, but with a few brushstrokes you could easily imagine a bloody club in one hand, a battle-axe in the other, and a few dozen enemy heads stuck on a pike.
At that moment we entered Rabbit Punch Canyon. Attila stood on the pedals, hard, and the next time I saw him was at the finish. He was really happy. Wide-Eyed Cat 5 Josh, of course, won his race too.
On the plus side, I won $20. If Steve’s check doesn’t bounce, that is.
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