November 19, 2017 Comments Off on Pumpkin spice
Every fall, Starbucks pumps out its seasonal offering of pumpkin spice latte. It sounds great and rings in the autumn excesses of too much sugar, too much food, too much booze, and too many prescription medications, but when you think about it, it doesn’t really sound all that great.
Who eats pumpkin? It’s a giant, orange, nasty veggie-fruity thing that stinks and doesn’t taste very good. Pumpkin salad? Pumpkin soup? Pumpkin steak? Pumpkin burger? Ahhh … no, thanks.
Still, you order one anyway because it looks and feels like fall and it’s extra points in your quest to get a free fifty cent drink for every $150 dollars you spend, and you’re usually doing okay until about halfway through, when you start to get queasy from the pure sugar that is 100% sugar and all the completely sugary sugar that fills half the cup, but you keep slurping away, mixing in the whipped cream sugar with the rest of the sugar, until somehow you get to the bottom of the cup, and there it is: A nasty, orange-brown slurry of toxic sludge that suddenly you can’t believe you ate. You stare at it, grossed out, then maybe you fiddle with the end of your straw and suck down a few drops, which are plain old nasty, like drinking the dregs from the sippy cup of a two-year-old who has a bad cold.
In short, you feel terrible. Sugar bombed, 1,200 calories into the red (it’s only 8:00 AM), and, if you’re feeling really guilty you look up the ingredients on the Internet and learn what you already knew. There isn’t even any pumpkin in it, anyway.
Fact is, we have a little seasonal offering like that right here in L.A. It’s called the Dogtown Ride. It’s a special product only sold in fall. You get tagged on Facebag by Tony Manzella, the ride’s progenitor, or you get a private text message if you’re not ‘bagging it anymore, and at 8:00 AM at Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica the fastest cyclists in L.A. show up to do some early season polishing, and you’re gonna be the whetstone.
Like the pumpkin spice latte, I felt a vague attraction to this seasonal offering, even though I’ve done it before and knew that nothing good ever comes from it. I met up at the appointed hour, thankfully getting there an hour earlier so that I could enjoy what truly is the phenomenal brewing of Dogtown Coffee (no pumpkin spice latte there, folks), and so that I could let my stomach settle.
In small groups the riders appeared, each one possessed of the same silly delusion, that they would be able to hold the pace with Tony, Head Down James, Thomas Rennier, Eric B., bearded British dude, ex-cross country champ-turned-tridork, Kate V., Katie D., or any of the other people who were absolutely going to ride away, see ya. I exited Dogtown and paid homage to Tony and his dad, Rich, and noted that Tony had removed his Garmin. I didn’t know if this was his message that he is no longer into data, or a suggestion that he wasn’t going to go that hard, a feint designed to fool us pack fodder into a few moments of satisfaction.
I chatted with Elijah, who was now on his third team in three years, with Casey, with Patrick Barrett, with Josh, with Joe Pugliese, and with a couple of other riders as we pedaled through Santa Monica. It was sunny, beautiful, warm, and promised to be a horrible day on the bike.
The first climb, Bienveneda Avenue, might be a misspelling of the Spanish word “bienvenida,” which means “welcome.” Like the pumpkin spice missing the pumpkin, there was no welcome in Bienveneda, only the shock and awe as clumps of eager cyclists dashed past me, dangled in front for a bit, and then exploded, spectacularly, on the horribly steep climb. I plodded to the top, where the leaders had already finished checking into #socmed and were ready for the next fake ingredient of this foul-tasting fall seasonal “fun” ride.
Next on the ingredient list was Palisades Drive, much longer and much less steep until you got to the last part, which was just as long as just as steep. The Santa Monica/BMW riders shelled the entire field. I hung on for a bit before getting dropped, then got caught by Eric Bruins, who towed me the rest of the way up. Dave Holland, Michael Penta, Chuck Huang, Christina Oi, Tony Sells, David Mack, and countless others reached the top with the done look of a steak left on the grill overnight.
By now the full effect of the pumpkin spice was hitting our digestive tracts, which meant it was perfect timing to descend Palisades at 50+ mph, replete with riders squatting on their top tubes, massive chugholes blowing tires off the rim, Ferraris coming by in the Number One lane at 80, and everyone behaving as if a head-first fall onto the pavement would be “just a scratch.” We reached PCH and Tony, along with the Santa Monica zombies, beat the pedals all the way to Pepperdine Hill. Even tucked onto a wheel I was in pain. Many riders decided that they’d had enough and went home.
Like a fool, I continued.
We charged up Malibu Canyon Road, where hairy English dude dropped everyone, then created a small group of leaders. The rest of us clumped together on the windy, endless climb, wishing it would either end or finish or conclude or terminate, but it didn’t. I took one last pull, and although I failed to bridge, I did manage to ride everyone in the group off my wheel except four others, who, when I swung over, charged past.
One by one I got caught by everyone I had dropped, and was dropped myself; just me and the dregs in the bottom of the pumpkin spice cup, wondering why I’d eaten so much orange vomit. A few hours later I got home, depleted, cramped, and thoroughly looking forward to the next one. After all, Dogtown Ride only comes around a couple of times a year. And who’d want to miss out on that?
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November 17, 2017 Comments Off on Dancing in the dark
Yesterday was new bike day, which is always a sad day for me. It’s sad because once again I have to admit that after decades of riding on numerous bikes, they all feel more or less the same.
No, that’s not right. They feel exactly the same.
Whenever I read about some dude who has hopped on the “new, improved 2018 model” of the Whateverbike, and about how it’s stiffier and turnier and snappier and peppier and sprintier and climbier and time-trialier and aeroier, and about how the dude figured all that out in a 30-minute test ride out in the parking lot, all I can do is look in the mirror and say, “Wanky, you are a bicycling failure in every regard.”
So new bike day is always a stinky disappointment, and yesterday was, too. I had reluctantly climbed off my Cannondale Super 6 Evo All Carbon Bike Made From 100% Carbon because I had ridden it for two years and Team Lizard Collectors had an amazing team deal on a new Fuji bike that was almost like getting it for free except for all the money I had to pay for it.
My old roommate in college, Robert Doty, used to have a maroon Fuji, and we rode all over Austin and San Marcos and his parents’ home in Paris (Texas), him on the Fuji and me on my Nishiki International. My brother Ian’s first road bike, and the bike that got me into cycling, was also a Fuji, a black one. So I had some history with Fuji and was really looking forward to the disappointment.
After I picked up the bike at Veloworx in Santa Monica I took the new Fuji and the old Cannondale over to my trusty mechanic, Boozy P., for a quick swap. Boozy P. has lately gotten out of the bike business, but he was home from work and allowed as he could do a bike build for me if I didn’t mind waiting around. I didn’t.
He got to work right away, which meant taking out a couple of tools, putting the Cannondale up on the stand to haul out its guts, and then cracking open a tall boy to get him through the rough spots. Pretty soon we got to talking about bike racing.
“Destroyer wants to do a Telo Sunday, starting in January,” he said.
“Telo’s been on Tuesday evenings for the last 30 years.”
“Yeah but the course is so busy now with cars and shit. Place is empty on Sunday, and ever since Norris moved off to a log cabin and quit the Wheatgrass, there’s no decent ride on Sunday. Plus if we do it on Sunday morning we can do it all year and don’t have to deal with the time change.”
So we talked about that for a while, and then talked about some other things for a while, and pretty soon the sun had gone down. Boozy P. isn’t fast, but he isn’t slow, either. He’s methodical. And a big part of his method is working through those tall boys, because from my vantage point in the grease-stained chair it looked like he was only about halfway done with the bike but 100% of the way done with half a dozen tall boys.
Every once in a while Boozy would drop a handful of small parts on the floor and they’d roll away, completely invisible in the inky darkness, but he has the night eyes of a cat I guess and he’d pick up most of them on the first stoop.
“What about the other ones?” I asked.
“I think I got ’em all. And if I didn’t we’ll find out later.”
After a while it was plain old night time. I could barely make him out, much less the black Fuji frame, but we kept on talking, and he kept on draining the tall boys until he finally said, “I think that’s got ‘er.”
“I’m scared to ride it,” I said. “You just put the danged bike together in the dark.”
“Nah,” he said. “There’s still plenty of light.”
I held my hand up in front of my face and couldn’t see anything. “Maybe,” I replied, “but not on this side of the globe.”
We went out into the parking lot, but it was so dark I couldn’t even test ride it. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “I can put these things together with my eyes closed.”
“That’s good to know,” I said, “because you just did.”
The next day I took out the new bike and the shifters shifted, the brakes braked, and the handlebars didn’t fall off. Boozy P. had put that bike together tighter than a Republican plan to cut taxes for corporations and raise them for poor people. But I was disappointed anyway. That ol’ bike wasn’t any different from my Cannondale.
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November 16, 2017 Comments Off on “These stories are true.”
With those words, Louis C.K. validated women everywhere who have come forward with accusations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.
In the world of cycling here’s what those words made up for:
Women in pro cycling who get paid a fraction of their male counterparts; local promoters who only offer women’s races when lobbied intensively by women; local promoters who refuse to offer women’s races; lopsided prize lists at the pro level; lopsided prize lists at the local level; coaches who rape their athletes; coaches who demean their women athletes by calling them fat; advice sausages who lecture women about how to ride; men who have no problem getting dropped by other men but give it 110% to not get dropped by a woman; cycling companies that market to women as an afterthought; cycling media that publishes women’s results as the afterthought of an afterthought; clubs that have lots of women members but no women on the board; racing teams for men only; cycling companies that advertise to men using “sexy” or “racy” women models; national cycling organizations that do little to develop women’s cycling; Olympics that have more men’s cycling events than women’s; men who stalk women cyclists on Strava; men who stalk women cyclists on Facebag; men who make unwanted and uninvited sexual comments to women riders; men who touch women riders without permission or invitation; men who give women cyclists a “helpful push” when it’s not wanted; men who tell women that their races are boring; men who give unsolicited racing and riding advice; teams that make their women racer dance with a male pro because “it’s his birthday” while everyone watches; the women’s national team coach not showing up for his athlete’s pro world road victory because had to “coach some (male) juniors”; women racers having to borrow helmets from men and being told they’d be banned if they didn’t return them; the coach who told his athlete to “go away and have a baby”; male pros telling women to “get over it” regarding sexism; the coach who called his women athletes “bitches” and “sheilas”; teams that changed or sabotaged women’s contract negotiations; management failing to honor specified contract terms; women’s contracts being cancelled without due process; women on pro teams being forced to ride for no pay; women receiving mechanical drivetrains while the men received Di2; team’s non-payment for women’s racing services under the contract; teams that fail to provide women with travel costs, staff, and equipment; teams that charge women for ‘team services’ to make up for the team’s failure to provide essential services; teams that fine women riders repeatedly for “infractions” of rules with no previous documentation of those rules; teams that fine women for being “fat”; teams that fine women riders for damaging a pair of sponsored carbon wheels in a race-related crash; coaches and teams that emotionally abuse women racers; coaches that employ body-shaming to manipulate vulnerable riders; coaches that body shame women riders as an excuse to fine them; coaches that body shame women riders to create monetary, behavioral or performance repercussions; coaches that employ yelling, tirades and public humiliation against women riders; team managers who demand complete control over women riders by insisting they move into the team house; men who physically abuse women riders; coaches who force their women riders to dope; men who write misogynistic anonymous comments on the Internet …
Yes, Louis C.K.’s words made up for all of that.
No, they didn’t.
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November 10, 2017 Comments Off on Tasty streets
To be a cyclist is to be a connoisseur of roads.
Unlike the cager, whose connection with the surface is managed with antilock brakes, computerized independent suspension, power steering, and an onboard radio to drown out the chatter from the road, the cyclist’s life changes from moment to moment depending on the street.
When the surfaces constantly change, cycling is at its peak, with the road going from wet to dry to smooth to rough to paved to dirt, and the rider adapting to the endless differences in order to preserve life and limb. Of all the things that have been fun about riding in Vienna, that has been the best, sampling from an endless buffet of streets.
Today what I wanted, from the minute I left, was coffee. It was cold and damp, and after my experiences with the tricky rails-embedded-in-asphalt, I set out to avoid such roads as best I could, which in Vienna, it turns out, is fairly impossible.
Having done a few five-star climbs on different rides, my goal was to cobble them all together into a single route. Somewhere along the way I’d pull over and get a hot cup of cappuccino; that was the plan. The street buffet was scrumptious! The cobbled, 3k climb up Hoehenstrasse, the crazy door zones-and-rails getting out of town, the steep walls, the twisting climbs, the manicured bike paths, and then … the end of the road.
Or was it?
At road’s end there was a curb and beyond the curb a tiny dirt track, more mud than dirt. “Should I try it? What would MMX do?”
I hopped the curb and plunged down the trail; what looked foreboding turned out to be a beautiful wooded trail with a lush forest on the right and people’s backyards on the left. Off in the distance I could see the end of the trail and the re-start of a gravel road.
Just as I thrilled at having successfully sampled a piece of off-road mud, I swung ’round a bend and ran into a front loader that was bulldozing mud, shrubbery, and undergrowth onto the trail. I was blocked.
“Go ahead? Turn back? What about my white shoes? And what would Surfer Dan do?”
I got off, shouldered my bike, sank my foot shin-deep in freezing mud, and began bushwhacking. The ground sloped away and if my legs hadn’t plunged so far down into the mud I would have fallen down the hill, but I slogged and grunted and thrashed for a couple of hundred yards until I could climb back onto the widened gravel road.
My shoes were caked in mud frosting and my cleats wouldn’t fit into the pedals, so I found a stick and began cleaning off the shoes. I should have been pissed, but I wasn’t. This was total street dessert, a rare vintage with a muddy bouquet and overtones of manure and shrubbery.
Several miles and a couple of hard climbs later I was back in Vienna, rolling along the Donau bike path, still craving that hot cup of coffee, when I blew by a little place called “Radlertreff” with a bike rack out in front. There was also a hanging sign that said “Kaffee.” Since “radler” means “cyclist” and “treff” means “meet” and since bike racks mean “bros” and since “kaffee” means “Fugg’ yeah!” I pulled over and entered the cafe.
As soon as the door slammed shut I realized that this wasn’t a cyclist meet-up joint. It was noon on Thursday, everyone was already hammered, and let’s just say that there wasn’t a lot of lycra, nor was there anything that could have easily fit into any.
Turns out that “radler” is also a kind of alcoholic drink, and what I’d thought was a cyclist cafe was an old boy bar. I ordered a coffee. The guy next to me asked, “Where are you going?”
“Where are you from?”
Everybody thought about that for a minute. “It’s warm in California now, isn’t it?” the guy asked.
“And it’s cold here, isn’t it?”
“And rainy and shitty, too, eh?”
“So what the hell are you doing here?”
“My son is getting married and we’re here for his wedding.”
A chorus of groans broke out from the others. “Married? Oh, no! Stop him! It’s not too late!”
I laughed. “She’s a wonderful local girl.”
They groaned even louder. “So why’s he stealing our women?”
“He’s not,” I said. “He’s staying here.”
The guy next to me brightened up. “Well that’s good, at least. Hey boys,” he said. “Let’s get this nice fellow a couple of drinks to speed him home.”
The drunks all cheered and thumped the table with their fists, big hammy fists that looked like they could hammer posts into dry cement. “Beer and schnapps for the Californian!”
“Oh, thanks, guys, but I can’t. I’m still riding.”
The guy next to me was crestfallen. “What’s that got to do with anything? It’s on us.”
“I’d hate to crash into the river and drown.”
“But it would delay the marriage!” the drunkest guy shouted, and everyone cheered.
“Beer and schnapps and a bath in the Donau for the Californian!” Everyone cheered some more, emptied their glasses, which were already empty, and clamored for refills.
“If you don’t want to damage the bike we can throw you in by yourself and fish you out after you’ve gotten good and mostly drowned,” the guy next to me offered. More cheers.
“Why don’t I come back this summer when the water’s warmer?” I suggested. Everyone cheered.
“That’s a better idea,” he said. “We will all be here. We’re here every day.”
“I’d never have guessed,” I said.
“Here, California. The coffee is on me. Now go and enjoy the boy’s funeral, I mean wedding.”
I hurried out, feeling pretty lucky that I’d avoided a dunking, and even luckier that the coffee was tasty, scalding hot, and had thoroughly warmed me up. The streets had been tasty, but on reflection, the coffee even tastier.
November 9, 2017 Comments Off on In the pink
The lady at the hotel desk looked at me as if I were crazy, leaving in the rain and cold to go “enjoy some cycling.”
“What is to enjoy?” she asked. “It is like saying I going to dentist for enjoyment. It’s crazy.”
“Crazy can be its own kind of fun,” I replied.
I only had an hour and a half because I’d been informed that we were taking a day trip to Bratislava and we had to leave no later than 10:30. I didn’t want to go to Bratislava. I wanted to ride in the rain.
Every time I’ve climbed Johann-Staud Strasse, I’ve gone down this insane descent called Ulmenstrasse. If I were still on Strava I could tell you all the stats but using a non-#socmed description it is long AF, twisty AF, steep AF, and begging to be climbed.
The problem is that I’m not the kind of person who will go down a hill then flip a u-turn and go back up it. I have to actually be using the road as part of a route. I know, stupid.
So today’s stupid involved finding the base of Ulmenstrasse without going out Johann-Staud Strasse. After plenty of map recon to boost my hippocampus I headed out a major street, the rain soaking through to my feet pretty quickly but everything else staying dry. Ish.
You always hear about how good Euros are handling their bikes, and it’s when you get out in the rain on a day like today that you understand why. The street had two sets of streetcar rails laid into the asphalt, and the gaps parallel to the rails were just the right width to devour a bike tire and bring you down on your skull.
Next to the gaps was a section of concrete, not very wide, that had bolts drilled down into it. If you were riding on this section it was bumpy, not a good sensation so close to the deep, wheel-eating grooves. It also put me far enough out into the lane to back up traffic and I could feel the anger. The next section of pavement, further to the right, was very smooth but also very narrow, maybe two feet wide, and it ran flush against a row of parked cars. People were forever getting in and out, so the risk of being doored was constant, and people were pulling away from the curb, so you also had the risk of getting hit. My blazing strobe headlight saved me over and over.
Then, every kilometer or less there would be a traffic island for the streetcars to pull up at. The island ate up the street side parking lane and therefore the parked cars, which was fine, but also the narrow strip of good pavement, narrowing suddenly into just the rails and bolt-studded strip of concrete next to them. So I had to hop over onto the bolt-concrete, which was now flush up against the streetcar island, which itself was a good four or five-inch curb, about the right height to catch a pedal and send your front wheel into the crevice of death next to the streetcar rails.
It was tense going and I made a mental note to find a different route the next time, on a street that didn’t have streetcars. Eventually I got to the street I was looking for, Rosentalergasse. I think it means Pink Valley Street.
Turning up this street was wholly unnecessary, by the way, but it looked twisty on the map and twisty around here usually means a climb. Who doesn’t like to start their ride with a climb?
The road jerked straight up and suddenly I was away from all the traffic and noise. I could hear myself pant as the road got steeper until I was going at that speed where, when you pass a pedestrian, you can see the bloodshot in their eyeballs. No attaboys in Austria, but lots of “Whatthe fukkerya doin’ ridin’ up here?” looks.
Riding a new climb, sort of found, but also sort of lost because you don’t know when the climb will end, I slowed to whatever is slower than a crawl because Rosentalergasse is nasty. Will you think there’s something wrong with me if I tell you I was wet and it was cold and I was inching my way up a steep-ass hill and I was happy?
I made some guess-turns and the climb dumped me out 3/4 of the way up my old buddy Johann-Staud Strasse, but if I continued it would take me down the street I wanted to go up, Ulmenstrasse, so I turned around and got lost trying to find my way out.
And “found” is what I got. Cue second best feeling known to man.
Eventually I reached the base of Ulmenstrasse and after a few minutes I could only think “Dan Cobley.” Dan would love this climb. It was hard beyond belief and long and steep and the oncoming bus filled the whole road so I had to hop the cobbled curb and thread a utility pole and a stone wall and a parked car and then hop back into the lane, all the while struggling uphill.
I felt pretty Euro-ish, and my legs felt great. If Dan had been with me he would have kicked it at the halfway mark and I would have mounted a futile chase and he would have looked back and laughed and either pedaled away or sat up and waited, depending on his mood. But he would have loved this climb, the kind of road that even the locals seem to give a wide berth. And Dan would always be down for it. He wouldn’t care if it were raining or colding or pointlessing as long as it was gritty and hard and steep and it fuggin’ hurt.
I bombed the forested descent back into town, fairly scared because of that carbon-on-carbon, not-so-great-braking feel that fancy wheels have when wet. I navigated back streets to the hotel, avoiding all of the streetcars named desire as well as the ones named knock-down-the-cyclist.
The chunky hotel lady was taking a cigarette break. “Where have you been?”
“Where is there here to ride around? It is nothing but cold and wet and cars and shitty. To ride a bicycle in Vienna is what I think of when I think of hell.”
“I climbed up Rosentalergasse and Ulmenstrasse. Do you know them?”
She shook her head in reply, pulling happily on the warm cigarette. “Should I?”
“Nope,” I said.
November 8, 2017 Comments Off on Lost and found
Today’s rain never materialized so I got to ride in the hills again without the misery of treacherously wet descents and a spinning back wheel on the steeps. The always-wrong weather app says it’s 100% going to rain tomorrow so maybe I can count on a dry ride then, too.
There are a lot of great reasons to ride in a foreign country but one of the best is so that you can find your new best friend. If you ride a lot you have best friend routes, ones that feel more comfortable to you than others. Usually, one route is your favorite. Riding in Vienna I think I’ve discovered my favorite route out of town, up the wall called Johann-Staud Strasse and then through the woods to the tower and then down Ulmenstrasse with its crazy twisting endless hairpins through a fricking neighborhood.
Today everything was going great until I turned onto an arterial that was going to take me to the turnoff to the Exelberg, which is the highest peak near Vienna at about 530m. The arterial was choked with commuter traffic into the city and it was uphill and fairly steep so I had all kinds of vehicles passing me within inches and I was crowded onto a little strip about six inches wide.
However, the cars didn’t pass that fast and there was a good foot or eighteen inches between me and them so it was mostly mutual annoyance rather than chamois-browning fear. The low 40s turned into high 30s up in the hills and it was a damp cold, one that cut right through to your fingertips, but as soon as I turned off towards the Exelberg the traffic vanished and it was steady, heat-generating climbing.
Since getting to Austria I’ve refused to use GPS navigation and have instead bought maps, studied them, and then gone out and gotten lost AF. The most exciting thing about riding without GPS is getting lost and found. Remember when you were a kid and you used to get lost? Or when you started riding and you would get lost AF and you’d be out of food and water and nowhere near a store?
Turns out that was good for you, and reliance on GPS is brain-eating poison. Studies show that if you use GPS you automatically shut off a crucial part of your brain, the hippocampus, and if you continually use GPS your hippocampus will shrivel up into a wizened little nub, useless for anything more complex than finding your way to the fridge. Before GPS the brain had a pretty good system for getting around, but now that everyone uses a dumbphone it’s totally common to run into people who have no sense of direction at all. The more wayfinding technology they have, the more lost they become.
I, on the other hand, have been getting lost AF but then hitting the dopamine high of getting found. Getting found is the best feeling a person can feel. Okay, the second. And you can’t ever get found with GPS because GPS connects a bunch of dots and when you get to the final dot, your destination, you just eat the cheeseburger, but when you get found in cognitive brain mapping, a picture clicks into place.
Paper maps are far superior to GPS mapping as far as the human brain goes because they accelerate the development of your actual cognitive map. You know what I’m talking about; it’s when a particular location becomes part of an existing mental picture, like when a missing puzzle piece clicks perfectly into place. Like I said, second best feeling ever.
In a sense, I’ve been getting lost every few minutes here in Vienna, especially in the beginning, because the existing cognitive map was so tiny and it took so much work to plug in the pieces. The exhaustion behind getting lost occurs when your brain is overwhelmed by the landscape such that it recognizes nothing and you don’t see any part of the picture.
But the beauty of the brain is that it spins overtime even when you’re lost to create coherence, and after each ride I’ve returned to the hotel, studied the map, retraced my route, and locked huge chunks of the puzzle into my mental map. After a few days I have a very perfectly rough picture of the city, and granular maps of the area I’ve now ridden in three separate times. That would never have happened with GPS or by simply following along on a group ride. The anxiety of staying found, getting lost, getting found, and getting lost again keeps me on my toes in a way that GPS never could have.
In fact, I got found two days ago when, at the end of my rope, utterly turned around, frustrated and legs wrecked, I recognized a bank of trash cans that I’d tried to throw a banana peel into on my first ride. The can lids had been locked and I cussed pretty good. The second I saw those garbage receptacles, the whole surrounding area clicked into place including the buildings, the road, the crosswalk, and most importantly, the route back to the hotel. With GPS I might have gotten back more quickly, but no cognitive anything would have remained. Instead I’ve cemented a large section of the city into my head.
This cycle of lost-found-lost-found breeds “found-ness,” but also confidence. How many tourists spend a few days in this city and never remember anything at all about its layout or the location of its important streets, monuments, buildings, and natural features? Most, I’d guess.
Today’s getting-lost event happened between Tulln and the village of Muckendorf in the micro-village of Wipfing as I tried to find the Donau bike path. I interrupted two gabbing housewives to ask directions and they happily obliged, but the local dialect overpowered me and all I could do was nod as if I understood and soldier on. Austria has so many local dialects and they are crazy-hard to understand.
I found another woman and asked her the same thing. “I don’t know, sorry,” she said, which was kind of incredible since as it turned out we were only about 200 yards from the giant Donau River. Finally I asked some dude walking his dog on a berm and he answered in glass clear German that I understood perfectly, and then he translated it into even more perfect English. That feeling of mild panic I’d been having, the feeling of lost, was hitting a crescendo.
I followed his directions and magically reached the base of the levee, exactly where he said it would be. My brain stepped out and took a quick dopamine bath; this was the trail I’d been on a couple of days earlier. However, the bike path was on top, about 30 feet above where I was standing. Luckily there were stairs, and even more luckily they were covered in thick, slick mud. When I got to the top it was worth it, though, because I had a slight tailwind, a deserted bike path, a gentle downhill slope all the way to Vienna, and a massive piece of cognitive mapping had materialized like sculpture from a lump of clay.
With GPS I would have been back on the bike path, but with brain mapping I was both building out the chart and filling it in with crucial details made up of landmarks, distances, the curvature of the river, and all the other things that our brains have used for thousands of years to place us within our environment so that we can get home again.
Back in town I cleaned up and headed off to the bookstore. Vienna is busting out with them, real bookstores filled with actual books, not the Barnes & Ignoble-type places that carry fifty bestsellers, a rack of kids’ books, and a wall of schlock on travel. The bookstore I’ve been hanging out most at is Thalia, at the Wien-Mitte subway stop. It is filled with people browsing and the shop has lots of chairs for you to sit down in and read. Plus, it’s warm, which suits my t-shirt attire perfectly.
I curled up in one of the chairs with a stack of maps and other items. You can’t have too many maps. Really, you can’t.
November 6, 2017 Comments Off on Lesson time
When you get all excited and pumped about schooling the Austrians on the finer points of beatdown riding, it is important to follow the One Rule: Don’t be late.
The ride went off at 9:30 but at 9:00 I was just waking up, you know, that panicked “fuck” feeling when you’re going to miss a ride and you do the hammer math that calculates no matter how hard you hammer you aren’t going to make it. I was disappointed until I got underway at ten and my legs felt like jet-lead, heavy as concrete, a nice combo of biorhythms doing the fandango and having woken up at 1:30 and not nodding off again until half past three.
The day was cold and overcast and I meticulously retraced my route from the day before, figuring I’d meet up with someone somewhere, but meticulous turned to sloppy AF and soon enough I was lost leaving town. That’s when I followed my Wayfinding Rule Number One: If you can choose between flat, down, and up, always choose up.
Off Thalianstrasse I hooked a left up a formidable-looking bump called Johann Staud Strasse, and it went up hard, but since there aren’t any big hills in Vienna I knew it would end soon. It did, but not “soon.” It climbed for a couple of miles, with the last half-mile incredibly steep, and most of the entire route ensconced in the forest with carpets of orange and yellow leaves littering the road. I got passed by two cars in half an hour.
On the descent I heard my brakes making funny noises because there was hardly any brake pad left, front or back. I recalled a couple of Sundays ago when Joey Cooney was behind me making smartass remarks about my worn-down brakes and I how I’d gone out of my way not to replace them JUST BECAUSE. The descent was screaming, hairy, twisty, and skinning the last shreds of carbon off the pads, but I didn’t dare use them full gas because that might trash my full carbon 100% all carbon rims which were made of pure carbon and nothing but carbon and if you have to choose between rims and a cracked skull, that’s easy.
At the bottom I made some wrong turns, proving that no matter how closely you study the map you will always go the wrong way when there’s a choice, and after a couple of kilometers I stopped to read a bus stop map at the very moment a cyclist whizzed by. I chased him down and asked where I was.
“In Austria,” he replied, helpfully.
“Where does this road go?”
“Where would you like it to go?” he asked. I was learning that Austrians are dialectical rather than didactic.
“I’m trying to get in two or three hours and want to end up in Wien.”
“Ah,” he said, and pulled over. Then he gave me very explicit directions, repeated them slowly three times, and watched my blank stare as I tried to repeat the impossible place name of “Tulbingerkogel.” He nodded sadly, I thanked him, and continued on.
There was one small climb to get to the top of the unpronounceable Tulbingerkogel, then an infinite downhill on perfectly paved roads that twisted and rushed to the river’s floodplain, and from there it was an easy 10k to the city of Tulln an der Donau. I found the bike path and no sooner had I gotten on it than I spied a chunky dude in an ancient Gerolsteiner kit up ahead.
I didn’t want to chase him and pass him but I didn’t want him dangling out ahead forever, either, so after a couple of km I rolled slowly by, slapped my ass in the universal biker speak of “grab my wheel” and started to roll. He was about my age and had that flatland hammer look to him.
The bike path along the Donau is flat fucking amazing. The river is so beautiful and the path is paved like the autobahn with zero traffic. There was a pretty solid headwind and it was slightly uphill, but with Walter on my wheel it was easy to put my head down and pound. The only problem of course is that I didn’t know how far Tulln was from Wien (hint: 50km), and after about an hour I was completely shot.
Walter pulled up alongside me. “Thank you for the excellent pacemaking! Where are you going?”
“I don’t really know,” I said. “Where are we?”
“On the Donau,” he said helpfully. And then more helpfully, “Let me show you how to get into Wien from here.” I was wrecked from the wind and the pace and he was pretty pooped just sitting on, so we had a great time going slowly and talking. Cycling is the world’s best friend maker. First you try to beat the shit out of the other person, then they try to beat the shit out of you, then you trade names and have a great friendly chat.
Walter dropped me off so that there was no way I could get lost, which I promptly did despite knowing the city like the back of my hand. In retrospect, I hope I never have to pick the back of my hand out of a lineup. The forecast for tomorrow is rain with a 100% chance of exhausted legs. So it will be my day off, a good time to replace my carbon brakes, do some laundry, and explore the city some more, this time on foot.
Touristy write-up of the A&O Hotel Hostel, or home for wayward hostel youth:
Our nightly rate was about $80 for two people in a tiny broom closet with a double bed. That’s a crazy good price for Vienna as long as you’re not one of those people for whom luxury is an external thing. If a big part of your trip is name dropping when you get back home, this probably isn’t the place for you, as it’s the kind of name that, when you drop it, lands on your foot like a brick.
Anyway, I took a bunch of photos and put little descriptions in them. A&O has two hostel hotels in Vienna, one downtown and one in Stadthalle. We stayed in Stadthalle which is a lot quieter than downtown, with only 3.2 screaming drunken fistfights per night out on the sidewalk as opposed to 4.8 downtown. As I mentioned before, the deal of the century is the breakfast buffet, but there’s actually a better way to eat than that for even less. More about that later.