Training crit

March 31, 2016 § 22 Comments

We have a training crit called Telo. No one is sure what it trains anyone for, but on Tuesday at 6:00 PM we do it anyway.

Telo, pronounced “this really fuggin’ sucks,” has one main feature, wind. Huge buckets of it sweep off the coast every afternoon without exception. Yesterday the buckets were Rubbermaid Industrial Sized; I’m guessing 25 mph.

The course is a long tailwind section, a short right-hander, then a long headwind section, a chicane, more headwind, another right-hander, and back to the tailwind part. You would think that the headwind section is the worst part and you would be right.

One of the great things about the Internet and being really famous is that when you announce you’re going to be at Telo a ton of people show up. So I announced my presence and got to see what kind of weight I pull in the South Bay as a tiny group of maybe twenty-five riders appeared.

telo_march_29_2016-2

The only thing that makes Telo harder than huge wind buckets is a small field. Yesterday the field included Evens, Smasher, Fireman, Destroyer, Surfer Dan, SB Baby Seal, Hair, and Family Jules. Clearly the worst thing to do would be to attack from the gun. All I had to do was mark Destroyer and I’d make the split, which is exactly like the old Aesops’ fable of Belling the Cat. All the mice have to do to stop the cat from eating them is put a big bell around his neck. Yep, that’s all.

Junkyard, who showed up to flash lap cards, waved us off. By refusing to participate, he once again proved himself the wisest person there, although as he scampered back and forth across the course with riders whizzing by he almost achieved the Trifecta of Bike Crashes: Falling on the Road, Falling on the Track, and Getting Run Over at a Bike Race While Not Even Riding.

I attacked from the gun, if “attack” is what you call dangling 50 yards ahead of everyone on the neutral lap. However, it served its purpose, which was to make sure I felt droopy and lacticky when the real attacks began, of which there was only one, and which came from Evens, and which was into the headwind, and which everyone could simply look at and drool hangdoggedly “You go.” “Nuh-uh. You go.” “Fugg tha, you go.”

The field had about fifteen people left and they all appeared to be small and thin and useless for my purposes, which was finding a good wheel to gasp onto.

I followed a couple of hapless moves and never slipped back more than fourth wheel, all the while wondering “Where are Destroyer and Smasher? Where are Smasher and Destroyer?” Nothing would happen without them, except what had happened, which was that the winning break of one had morphed into the winning group of five and I wasn’t in it.

Fireman, though, was. He had told me before the race, “Just follow my wheel and you’ll make the split.” So I followed several other wheels while he made the split and I didn’t.

As I took a few ineffectual pulls I kept wondering, “Where are Destroyer and Smasher? Gee I’m tired and exhausted and tasting that salty sour bitter stuff in the back of my throat and my legs have that ‘stop’ feeling but where are they? What are they doing? Smasher is always patient and waits until the first 30 seconds to attack but not today. Is he tired? Weak? Sick? Too much Cal-Mex queso before the ride?”

Of course I could have looked, but it’s hard to turn your head when you’re rollicking through massive pavement cracks dodging oncoming angry cagers and delivery trucks whipping out of industrial park driveways and 25-mph gusts that stand you up when you slam from the sheltered short top section into the wind and your eyes have switched sockets.

If I had looked back I would have seen D&S chillily sitting in the back not having yet pedaled. Which would have been a bad thing to see.

“When are they going to attack and bridge?” I wondered. So I slipped back and got on Smasher’s wheel, who was on Destroyer’s wheel. “Okay fuckers,” I said. “Do your worst and drag me up to the break.”

On cue, Destroyer hopped hard on his pedals and Smasher hopped with him. Surfer Dan slotted in ahead of me and it was just the four of us. First we went fast. Then faster. Then really fast. Once we hit the apex of this-hurts-so-bad-if-we-go-any-faster-my-face-will-come-off, Destroyer started going fast.

Surfer gapped, which was great because now I had an excuse. IF ONLY HE HADN’T GAPPED ME OUT I WOULD HAVE MADE IT. REALLY, MOM!!!

I watched the two of them pedal merrily off, satisfied that I now had an excuse and, since we’d slowed down, could breathe again and uncross my kidneys.

Ten riders came up to us. Everyone else who hadn’t already been dropped got dropped.

We rode the next forty minutes in a single line. Each time you got within three riders of the front the pain was unendurable. My pulls went from weak and ineffectual to lightning-brief cameos where my pull consisted of one pedal stroke, a 5-mph decrease in speed, and a wildly flapping elbow.

One by one the group shrank. Every couple of laps someone shuddered and quit. 11. 10. 9. 8. 7. 6.

This is what it must have been like to be stuck in a life raft with nothing to eat but each other, and nothing to drink but blood, salt water, and urine. When SB Baby Seal melted into a wet stain and slithered off the back with only a couple of laps to go I knew things were bad. With Hair, Boozy P., Jay L., and Surfer Dan the only people left in our pitiful chase group that wasn’t really a chase group so much as it was a don’t-get-lapped group, and with us all broken the only thing left of the glorious dreams from 60 minutes earlier, we each struggled across the line, downcast, downtrodden, filled with futility, defeat, and the reality that no matter how bad you are on a bike, racing will make you worse.

Up ahead the shenanigans had been vicious. Heavy D. and Brokeback Brokeleg had been ridden out of the break. Fireman had been worked over. Family Jules had been denied his second Telo victory despite cagey wheelsucking, sagging, pull skipping, and work avoidance of every kind. Evens had ground everyone up into fine powder. Destroyer and Smasher had attacked every lap the last five laps until one of them beat everyone else.

However, I finally realized that I had gotten it all wrong. Telo isn’t a training race. It’s a funeral train. And you’re the guest of honor.

END

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Then and NOW

April 5, 2015 § 12 Comments

I am lying in bed. It is noon. My eyes are wide open. I am extremely tired and would go to sleep, except I cannot. My legs are pulsing with pain. I am missing a toenail. My shorts have a shart in them and my dick has dried out. I get up out of bed and try to pee again. There is a terrible burning pain. It is not gonorrhea. I hope. A few drops of dark yellow come out. My dick is dry. Very, very dry.

I lie back down in the bed. Blood breaks through the fresh scab on my big toe and flows onto the white sheets. My wife isn’t angry. She doesn’t know about it yet. I close my eyes but only see my conversation from last night. Everyone sits around the table. They are happy. They are talking about school, about work, about the delicious dinner.

I nod and smile but I only think about my bike. Are the right cogs on? Of course they are. I only have one cog set. Is my helmet aero enough? Hollywood says that the right helmet saves 25 watts.

Someone asks me about the fried rice I am eating. I am not listening so I guess that they are not asking me if it is good because half of it is gone. They must be asking if they can have some. I say yes. This answer will fit both questions. They take away my plate and eat it but I do not care. Half of that plate is about 400 calories, I estimate, and I do not need them. I am a SoCal masters diet pro bicycle rider weekend hacker racer wanker so I count calories, one by one.

I worry about my handlebars. Sausage says the NOW ride planned for tomorrow is very fast. I think about Hollywood, Svein the Unhandsome, Erik the Red, Manzilla and perhaps others who are very fast. I am afraid my handlebars are not aero enough. Hollywood says that for a mere $465 I can buy 65 watts of flat handlebar. I try to remember how much money is in my PayPal account that my wife does not know about. I think it is $389.76. That is almost enough. Where can I get the extra $75.24. Where do my boys keep their wallets? They are sneaky and excellent at hiding their money but perhaps I can empty their wallets after they go to bed.

Someone is talking to me again. It must be about the bill. I know this because all of the plates look like they have been run through an industrial dishwasher. My family clearly belongs to the Acrididae and they are in their swarming phase. They are looking at me because they think I am going to pay for dinner and they have that look of the Acrididae in their swarming phase that says they will also want to swarm somewhere for dessert. I pay the bill.

On the way home people continue talking to me but it is dark inside the car and all I have to do is nod. I will wear the speed suit with the long sleeves. That saves me 15 watts, maybe 20. But the long sleeves may also kill me because the weather report says 90 degrees. Death or 15 watts? That is easy. I decide on the long sleeves.

I have an excellent plan. Cower, then hide. I only have a few matches in my matchbox. They are short matches and appear to be damp.

I wake up and pedal quickly to the corner of Catalina and Torrance. Hollywood is there. Erik the Red is there. Toronto is there. Kansas City Steak is there. Beeswax is there. Representative Murtha is there. Prez comes flying by. “Hey, Prez!” I shout. There are no cars on the street. It is a big, wide, empty street with four lanes. Prez does a 180. Prez does not check behind him. The street is empty except for a lone cyclist behind Prez. Prez and the lone cyclist now approach each other head-on.

Prez swerves again. He goes over a curb. His water bottle goes flying. The cyclist swerves and clips a car mirror. No one dies. Everyone laughs. “That Prez,” we say laughing in silent terror.

We meet the NOW Ride on PCH. I see Sausage. Sausage has 200% more aero than I do. I check his chain links, which are aero. His manicure, aero. I ask him how the ride goes because it is my first time. Sausage says we go easy until Cross Creek and the ride goes hard at Pepperdine Hill.

As soon as Sausage says that we go easy at the beginning, Miller attacks. I follow. We have a breakaway but it is only to Topanga. We stop at the light. We are gassed and our 100-yard advantage is erased. 100 riders are behind us. They foam and stamp.

Hollywood takes off. None can follow. The pack of 100 immediately becomes a pack of 50. We catch Hollywood . He is not pedaling. A strange beast on a TT bike takes off at Las Flores. Foolishly I follow him. He rides very fast and I hang on very fast. He tires like the giant lummox he is. His giant elbow swings like a barn door. I refuse to come around. He eyes me angrily. I come around, slowly and with great weakness.

The field catches us because he is large and I am slow. Hollywood splits off 15 more riders from the back with a searing acceleration. My toe begins to hurt. We have a clump of about 30 approaching Cross Creek. Everyone is tired beyond words and my shart is peeking out of the exit pipe. We are fifteen minutes into the ride.

Manzilla launches away from the pack. Foolishly I follow him. He eyes me with contempt and jumps again, but he has the draft of a fully-laden oxcart. I tuck in. He is fresh, I am spent. We zoom past the bridge for the first champion-ish sprunt which I am too weak and slow and tired and fearful to contest. In front of us looms Mt. Pepperdine. Manzilla dashes for the light. If we make the light everyone behind us will stop. If they stop we do not have to go full gas up Mt. Pepperdine. That is good because I have no more gas, full or otherwise.

We do not make the light. The locusts catch us. The light is long. More locusts catch us. Our ranks swell to 40 or 50. Some look like cadavers, only more dead. Others such as Keven look fresh and rested. They have done nothing. Perky has done nothing. They lick their chops as I lick the long string of drool and snot that dangles from my mustache. “The ride starts now,” Perky says with an evil grin.

Indeed it does. The light turns green. We launch up Mt. Pepperdine. The fresh people go very hard. The cadavers die a second death and are gone. I am the last rider over. My shart matures and the toenail comes off. I feel the squirt of blood. From my toe. I think.

Hollywood punches repeatedly along the road. Riders who are too clever to pull through cleverly get dropped. Riders who manfully pull through get manfully dropped. A tiny contingent of perhaps fifteen riders survives to Trancas. My shorts are now squishy. My toe hurts. I do not drink any water because I forget to.

We stop at the filling station and I forget to drink more water. We jump back on our bicycles. Beeswax is in the bathroom and returns to an empty parking lot. This is a cruel fate. The brief wait has allowed the group to re-merge. We are now perhaps 40 riders strong.

“This part of the ride is slower,” says Manzilla.

“Good,” says Hollywood . “That way we can roll into it gently.”

I attack as hard as I can and ride away. I come to Cher’s Alley. I have to decide whether to drop down and take the fast way or stay on PCH and tackle the two climbs. If I take the easy way and they take the hard way they will say I am weak. Then I recall that they are all weak. If I take the easy way and they take the hard way they will say I am a cheater. Then I recall that they are all cheaters.

I take the hard way.

At Cross Creek we intersect. They have cheated and taken the easy way. Of course. I am spent like the allowance of a small child.

Now Hollywood and Eric and Sam take successive pulls that break the group into a smaller group. Then Sam melts and is gone. Hollywood pulls some more and more people go away. Eric pulls some more and more people decide not to ride their bicycles fast anymore today. Sausage pulls through, and then pulls through again with prodding. Fireman pulls through. Kansas City Steak pulls through. Remaining wankers do not pull through, mostly.

There is a very fast sprunt that I observe from far away. As Billy Stone says, one person was faster than the others, who were slower. We ride down the bike path. We stop at the Center of the Known Universe for coffee and CPR. Nancy of Red Kite Bore pulls up, but she doesn’t say anything to me. She is still angry but she will calm down in a few years.

We ride our bicycles home. Hollywood needs extra miles to add to the day’s total of 90, so he pedals around the hill and climbs a lot more. I climb onto the couch.

Mrs. WM peels a banana for me which I dip in peanut butter. Then I hop around the room with very painful cramps and howling. Mrs. WM fries some eggs for me which I top with avocado and salsa. Then I hop around some more. Then I drink a lot of milk and coffee and ice cream and cookies and olives and hopping.

“What is that smell?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say and go lie down.

END

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Slow learner

December 13, 2014 § 8 Comments

In thirty-three years of riding and racing, I’ve gotten two good pieces of advice, which makes for an average of one about every seventeen years.

The first one was from the Fireman. I was pounding my brains out on the front of some stupid group ride. A few people got unhitched, but most didn’t. Towards the end I faded and could barely struggle home, much less contest the sprunts. The fresher rides beat me like a rug on cleaning day.

“Dude,” said Fireman, “just remember. You race like you train.”

“Huh?” I said.

“Yeah. You train like an idiot, and you’re gonna race like an idiot.”

I thought about that, and he was right. Fireman trains smart, and every year he wins a couple of very hard races. The races that he targets, he almost always places in. He’s not the best climber, the best sprinter, the best breakaway rider, or the best time trialist. But he trains smart, and he races even smarter.

It was good advice, but useless, because I love to pound on training rides. “Everyone gets shelled,” is my motto, so when it’s my turn I accept my beating, almost joyfully. Almost.

The second good piece of advice I got was from three-time national crit champion and all-around hammer and good guy, Daniel Holloway. I had watched Daniel work over the Gritters brothers earlier this year on the third day of the 805 Crit series put on by Mike Hecker. It was two against one in a three-up breakaway. Daniel had to go fast enough to stave off a lightning fast pro field, but not so fast that he burned himself out when it came time for the sprunt. With one lap to go he attacked the Gritterses and soloed.

“How’d you do that?” I asked one day when we were coming back from the NPR.

“Easy,” he said. “I followed the breakaway rule.”

“The breakaway rule? As in, ‘Don’t ever be in one?'”

He laughed. “No, that’s the wankaway rule. The breakaway rule is ‘Don’t ever be the strongest guy in the break.'”

“Huh?”

“Yeah. If you feel great, don’t ever show that you’re the strongest. If you’ve got the legs to win and you’re up the road with three or four other guys, always be the second strongest guy in the break. Never the strongest.”

“What does that mean, you know, like, in reality?”

“Don’t take the hardest pull, take the second hardest pull. Don’t take the longest pull, take the second longest pull. When the ‘strongest’ guy takes a monster pull, show that it hurt you and rotate to the back, even quickly.”

“Then what?”

“You saw the 805 Crit, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s the ‘then what.’ When it’s time, you go. And the ‘strongest’ guy who’s been out there crushing it for the last hour suddenly isn’t the strongest guy anymore. You are.”

I memorized every line of this conversation and swore I would put it into practice. On a few of the Donut Rides I’ve managed not to completely spend myself in the first ten minutes and have actually done respectably on the climbs. One time I even beat Dave Jaeger. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Daniel showed up for our new Thursday AM beatdown ride on the Flog Course around the Palos Verdes golf club.

On the first lap the Wily Greek strung it out, dropped all but ten people, and stuffed the rest of us deep into the hurt locker. After hanging out for a few moments in that close, uncomfortable space without enough air, I got dropped. Then I felt a hand on my ass and a strong push. It was Daniel, grinning, and the fucker wasn’t even breathing hard. “Suffer, old man,” he laughed, easily throwing me back up to the leaders.

On the second lap he attacked and only Wily and Derek could answer. The rest of us melted into a loose coalition of hapless chasers. Forgetting everything he’d told me, I rode like a madman, the strongest guy in the four-man chase. By the sixth and last lap I was a puddle of guts. When I hit the 20% final climb up La Cuesta, my chase group companions roared past. Daniel was coming down the hill. He saw me, turned around, and rode up next to me, about to offer me some key advice.

“Don’t say it,” I said.

“Don’t say what?” he asked.

“Advice. Don’t give me any more advice.”

“How come?” he said, grinning.

“Because it’s not seventeen years yet.”

He looked at me funny and easily pedaled away.

END

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The strange pull of cycling

November 19, 2014 § 20 Comments

I first saw the old elephant about three years ago. He was gray-headed and busting out at the seams as we flew past him on the Donut Ride. He’d gotten a good ten-minute head start but we overhauled him long before the first big climb. He huffed and puffed and mashed for about ten pedal strokes, trying to hang on before he was blown out the back.

As we passed him someone said, “Good job, Bill,” and then we were gone.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s Backintheday Bill,” the other rider said as he filled me in on Bill’s career as a top local pro and general two-wheeled wrecking ball.

“He looks terrible,” I said. “He’s gotta weigh over 250.”

“Yeah, I haven’t seen him in fifteen years, maybe more. His race weight was 140.” From that Saturday on I saw Bill every weekend and always said hello when we passed. Over time he stopped taking head starts and began rolling out with the group. And he was getting smaller.

At the beginning of the year I noticed that he was sticking with us up the first hard surge, and although he was still a pretty big fella, he was certainly under 200, and his kits didn’t look like they were about to unravel and kill someone with the force of the exploding seams. Now he’s visibly getting thinner by the month, and sticks with a much younger grupetto all the way over the first big climb. All of his kits are new because the old ones flat out don’t fit anymore.

Bill’s one of many, many riders who come and go and then come back. They leave for all the right reasons — racing is dumb, cycling is costly, pedaling is dangerous. Some leave for all the wrong reasons, too. My buddy J.C. had found Miss Right through cycling.

“Can you imagine anything better?” he had said. “A girlfriend who loves to bike?”

I didn’t say anything, because I could imagine a lot of things better, like a girlfriend who loves to cook, who earns seven figures, and who loves you to bike while she perfects her home brewing recipe. But I didn’t say anything except “Nope.”

They married and six months later she quit cycling. Then six more months later she told him to quit cycling. Then six more months later he was single again, and back, of course, on his bike.

Some dudes quit for spiritual enlightenment, like The Buddha. Tony used to be one of the most feared racers in SoCal. Then he started growing a big bushy beard, and worse, reading books, long books with hard words. They ruined him, of course, and one day he announced on Facebag that he was “done.” Now he’s a Buddhist adept, spreading love instead of dishing out the pain, but mark my words, he’ll be back. As nice as it is to make the world a better place, it’s even nicer to watch people crumble.

Sometimes when a guy sells his bikes and is “done” you’re kind of glad, but other times it’s a sinking feeling of genuine loss, like when Todd quit coming to the rides, then sold his bike, then vanished from view. Everybody loved Todd. He never had a bad word to say, he was one of the funniest guys alive, and he was always up for a beer. If you had a problem he’d give you the shirt off your back, even if what you really needed was a pair of trousers.

But as a cyclist, he was the guy who made your ride fun. You know how when someone pedals up and everyone kind of moans inwardly, as in “Why’d that buzzkill show up?” Todd was the opposite. Punctual-departure-Nazis would sit around for ten, fifteen minutes, gladly waiting for him even though he was always late and didn’t show up despite blood pacts the night before about “being there no matter what.” Todd was the brightest jewel in the crown of South Bay cycling fun, and then one day he was gone except for the occasional post on Facebag, which always made me sad.

Then yesterday Fireman texted me a photo. “Just finished our ride,” the message said, and next to the words was a picture of him and Todd draining a fermented recovery drink. There was a huge smile on Todd’s face, and I bet it was mostly from being back on his bike.

But his smile wasn’t nearly as big as mine.

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Look before you wipe

November 5, 2014 § 23 Comments

Generally, bike maintenance is a sign of weakness. Anyone who has enough time to work on his own bike is clearly not training hard enough. The only thing worse than a well-maintained bike is a clean one. Clean bikes are much worse than perfectly functioning ones, because they prove not only that you weren’t out training at 8:00 PM, but rather than rub down your S.O. you preferred to rub down your ride.

When we hit the descent down Yerba Buena yesterday on the Nosco Ride, I noticed that my front wheel was out of true. It was kind of a bummer, because these were practically new Mavic Open Pro 32-whole aluminum rims and they only had about 32,000 miles on them, including two BWR’s and hundreds of off-road miles. It really angered me because I specifically bought these rims because of their supposed durability. I hate it when I pay good money for a product and they fall to shit when they’re still pretty much fresh out of the box.

Of course, in addition to the crime of bike maintenance there is the greater evil of stopping a ride en route to jiggle with a mechanical. Are the wheels still rolling? Are you still seated on the bike? Air in the tires? Then it can wait for later, and don’t whine to me about your derailleur having fallen off. Back in the day they didn’t even have derailleurs, and it was good enough for them.

The wheel wobble got pretty bad, so I went to my next mid-ride diagnostic test: How likely am I to die? If death probability > 50%, I will usually take it to the shop the next day. If death probability < 50%, we can wait until it breaks, which it probably won’t any time soon or at least until the ride finishes.

I sort of kept an eye on the wobble as I hurtled down the next 50-mph descent on Mulholland. Funny how when a wheel’s not running true it looks like it’s about to fall apart, but doesn’t. So I used my final diagnostic test: Is the rim hitting the brake pad? No? Pedal harder. Yes? Reach down and open the little brake-opener-thingy, then pedal harder.

On the final descent down Latigo and the full-gas run-in to Dos Vientos Community Park, the stupid wheel took on a life of its own. It was flappier than an old breast. This is when you need to hunker down and really hammer. All of those rim, hub, and spoke parts are made of steel and aluminum and hard stuff and they are made to last, plus it’s all practically new and, if it does break, it’s probably under warranty maybe.

Of course everything ended perfectly fine. I have been doing this a long time and know how to deal with mechanicals. In a few weeks I planned to take it into the shop, where they’d try to adjust the spoke tension and say some crap like, “The nipples are corroded from being left outdoors and never maintained and the wheel can’t be trued and you need a new wheel.” I knew the drill.

The next day I put the bike up on the repair stand. I have a repair stand so that when my friends come over and drink all my beer they can look out on the balcony and see that there is the potential for bike repair and take their minds off the poisonous homebrew they’re drinking. With an old pair of underwear I wiped down the bike, and when I got to wiping the front hub, this is what I saw (note stylishly retro faux-rust on the quick release which is very pro):

Duct tape and some bondo and Fireman says I'll be good to go.

Duct tape and some bondo and Fireman says I’ll be good to go.

Of course this is nothing major and I’ve already called my pal Fireman, who can fix anything. He says that he can make it as good as new, and if not it’s probably a warranty issue since the hubs have only been in use since 2009. They’ve only had two sets of wheels built on them, have been overhauled a mere three times, and have less than 75,000 miles on them, so if Chris King doesn’t want to warranty them and cover the cost to have the wheels rebuilt I should probably sue them in small claims court for products liability, fraud, breach of implied warranty, defamation, and violation of my civil rights.

Anyway … anybody out there have a spare front wheel?

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Where was Bull?

November 22, 2013 § 9 Comments

It was 2:30 AM on the morning of the mythical running of the baby seals. The rain was lashing the roof as a chill wind blustered and blew. I lay in bed, knowing what awaited.

When my alarm went off at five, a text message from Bull popped up. “Wetsy Betsy,” it said. “I’m sleeping in.” This was in contrast to the bravado of last night’s email exchange, in which he had exhorted Skeletor to join him for a “warm-up” climb prior to the ritual running and clubbing of the baby seals.

I rolled down the hill and reached the Center of the Known Universe thoroughly wet. The first selection occurred at 6:40, as only a small group of riders had shown up. When we hit the bottom of Pershing, Skeletor broke apart the small group of about twenty, most of whom would never recover from this initial vicious clubbing. At the top of Pershing, where the Lazybones & Neverpulls typically wait to hop in with the fast-moving group, further avoiding any chance of having to do any work, we were surprised to see no one there.

The combination of rain, mud, filth, chill, and the two beasts of prey from North County had shriveled the already smallish dicks of the usual pack fodder, and they had rightly concluded that the proper place for them was, like Bull, snuggled up at home with their Teddy Bear.

Nasty beginning, nasty ending

Every time prior to leaving North County at 4:00 AM to collect a brace of seal pelts, Stefanovich had been bravely told by various would-be San Diego clubbers, “I want to go down there with you to see what that NPR is all about.”

But come four o’clock on Thursday morning, as usual, the only thing in the passenger seat was Stefanovich’s helmet and shoes.

The blows were swift and the carnage was immediate. The final selection consisted of Hair, Sausage, Skeletor, Fireman, Stefanovich, Boozy, and me, with Hair claiming muddy victory after a one-mile lead out by Skeletor. Video of the silliness is posted here.

Junkyard found himself spit mercilessly out the back, his legs throbbing and his his lungs rasping, cursing like a crazy homeless person as he pointlessly screamed for a light to change. In sum, this was no spiffy little Rapha, suit and tie ride for gentlemen, it was a filthy, ugly shit-covered club-fest where the only tie was a noose.

Toronto, who was clubbed and tossed almost immediately, later shook his bedraggled, scum-covered head at the coffee shop. “I thought that maybe because of the rain, you know, it would be easy.”

What started out as a clump of seal ground beef collected more maimed baby pinnipeds, each one vainly trying to swim its way back up to the disappearing break of blood-stained clubbers. As Junkyard later explained in the coffee shop, body dripping with grime and face aglow with the happiness of having gotten his dick stomped and head staved in, “We were like a clump of defective sperm swimming, hopelessly, for the fast-retreating egg.”

Movember chimed in. “Yeah, some had a tail that was too short, others a tail that was too weak to paddle, whereas others had no tails at all and were just floundering in the sperm-goo, never to reach the egg.”

“It was Darwinian,” agreed Skeletor in the coffee shop, his fangs dripping gore and the head of his club matted with the bone, gristle, tendon, and brain spatter of the hapless seals. “If you believe in that evolution stuff.”

Junkyard nodded. “It was Darwinian, but there was an element of religion in it, believe me. I was seeing the face of Dog on Toronto’s ass.”

Movember shook his head. “We were like a bunch of metal shavings on a weak magnet, some would stand up and tip over, others would hang on, others would fall off … reminded me of an 8th Grade science experiment gone bad.”

Junkyard thought for a moment. “Yeah, it was kind of like a failed science experiment, like where they try to attach a cat’s head to an elephant. Or, I suppose it might have also looked like an Aztec temple, with all those heads rolling down, and everything covered in blood and body parts, and people wailing and gnashing their teeth and shitting their shorts.”

Toronto rued this miserable day, on which he’d opened up more gaps than a broken down picket fence. “I must have swallowed three pounds of grit,” he said, spitting out a four-pound blob grime. “I think I chewed so much of that stuff it’s gotten underneath my fillings.”

“Sand is good for your gizzard,” Junkyard opined. “Helps you digest food, just like a chicken.”

“Then my gizzard is full to busting,” chimed in Erik the Red, who was sitting in a pool of his own sweat, dirty water, and mud. Everyone looked at the gooey seat and thought the same thing: “Hope the next customer isn’t wearing white pants.”

“All I can say,” said Junkyard, “is that was some Class A sphincter snapping.”

Because it was.

Hard man’s cookies

December 1, 2012 § 31 Comments

New Girl’s eyes flexed open at 5:00 AM, beating her alarm clock to the punch by half an hour. A broad smile crept over her face.

She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and reached for the elastic band on her nightstand, quickly tying her hair into a ponytail. She pulled the ponytail tight and smiled again.

Her clothes were neatly laid out on the cedar chest at the foot of the bed. She’d chosen all Donut, and not just because it was the Donut Ride, and not just because it was her favorite kit, and not just because Junkyard, who’d designed it, would be riding with her. She had also chosen it because rain was not only in the forecast, but it was lightly beating down outside her bedroom window, and she’d learned the hard way not to wear white kits on rainy days.

She smiled again.

In a few minutes the oatmeal was bubbling on the stove. It had that roasted smell, like coffee, but more wholesome, with a creamy foaming and bubbling on the top. She loved to watch it swirl and make patterns, but most of all she loved to laugh at it, because oatmeal was so funny.

Here she was, starting each and every day with oatmeal, even though she’d gone out of her way to poke fun at Wankmeister’s FB posts that regularly featured images of gray-as-death oatmeal with raisins bubbling in the top like rabbit pellets. Oatmeal was funny, she decided again, and smiled at the pan. It foamed and bubbled in a way that, if you cocked your head right, looked kind of like it was smiling back at you.

The meeting place

New Girl kitted up and pulled on her clear plastic rain cape. She’d spent thirty minutes in the bike shop picking a rain cape, and went with this one because even though it wasn’t very snazzy, it was clear, and clear was what she wanted so that the Donut Ride logo would shine through, even in the rain.

She went into the garage and ran a cloth over Princess. She’d cleaned it the night before, and she smiled at the sparkling cogs and well oiled chain. “Enough to lubricate it, not bathe it,” Junkyard had told her. It sparkled, just in time to get covered with muck and filth and grime and fun, especially covered with fun.

She rolled out of the garage, each foot clicking with that solid life-affirming lock of pedal on cleat, binding her to the machine, making them one, turning their mutual admiration into codependency. Now, the decisions she made were binding. Now, whatever happened to Princess would also happen to her.

The simple rain beat harder against her, but inside her three skins she was dry and warm and smiling at the shiny, muffled world. The thought of meeting her mates made her push just a little harder. As she came up the slight bump, eagerly looking into the parking lot at Catalina Coffee, her smile fell. The lot was empty.

Calling in sick

New Girl got off her bike and stood under the concrete arch. She looked at her phone; Tumbleweed and Madeline had texted to say they were opting for less rain and more bed. New Girl smiled again and texted back, “OK! I’m at CC and pedaling anyway! HAGD!”

She sat back to wait, realizing that she was early, as usual. Very early, as usual. Her first surprise came when Tumbleweed and Madeline appeared. “Not going to let you ride alone!” said Madeline.

Then Gussy appeared from out of the light rainy fog, his jersey halfway unzipped and carpets of wet chest hair spilling out. He was already laughing. “You can call me ‘Gorilla in the Mist,'” he said, and everyone laughed.

As the other riders appeared, Gussy’s monologue of jokes, tales from the old days, observations on Krispy Kreme, and predictions about how the Donut Ride beatdown would unfold kept everyone grinning. But New Girl grinned biggest, because she was smiling on the inside, too.

With Toronto and Junkyard in formation, they all rolled out for a pre-loop, destined to get them to the start of the Donut with just enough time for coffee and a bathroom break.

Warming up for a beatdown

New Girl loved the pre-loop best of all, even in the rain when everything was shiny and trying hard to jerk her wheels out from under her. The road striping, the BOTS dots, the oily runoff, the slicky leaves and fallen pine cones and magnolia cones all conspired to knock her over, but she smiled her way through it, so happy to be pushing up the little kicker by the golf course that she forgot to talk or chat or do anything other than grin.

Now they were soaked and back in Redondo’s Riviera Village for the final call-up before the massacre. New Girl wheeled up to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and smiled some more as she saw more of her buddies. There’s the Pilot; there’s the Bull; there’s Arkansas Traveler; there’s Sparkles; and oh! Look! Over in the corner looking all sour and out of sorts but really not sour or out of sorts at all…it’s Wankmeister! She smiled big, and he smiled back in his finest Donut morning scowl.

The group pushed out, the rain had stopped, and fifty or so riders filled out the peloton. New Girl smiled at Suze, at Wolfe, at JP, at Dawg, at Marco, at Erik, and at Prez! She thought she might run out of smiles before they hit the first climb out of Malaga Cove, but she didn’t.

New Girl didn’t know it in words, but this is the secret of the congregants of the Church of the Spinning Wheel: The faces, and backs, and bikes, and legs are as familiar to you as you are to them, and with familiarity comes trust and with trust comes the elemental core of us to the surface, our humanity, in other words our belonging to and place in the tribe.

Legs to brain: We’re not part of the tribe anymore

Up the climb out of Malaga Cove, New Girl felt the sting and then the throb and then the fire in her lungs. She wasn’t smiling anymore as she locked onto the wheel in front of her, praying she’d make the climb with the group, hoping that her ride wouldn’t end here as it sometimes did, before it even started.

A split second of inattention and she wobbled, smacking into Junkyard who was alongside her. He gave her a friendly smile, but she was terrified. She’d almost knocked down her best buddy, what was she doing here, she was redlining, she was a hazard to the group, the road was incredibly slick and it had started raining again.

She’d been kicked out the back so hard the week before that by the time she reached Hawthorne, alone, she’d had to pull over into the parking lot of the 7-11 and sob, and here she was again about to get her ticket punched. At the moment of disconnecting, Wolfe, who’d watched the whole mini-drama, reached over and gave her a hard push, gloved in five words of encouragement and faith: “You can do it, dig.”

She dug as hard as she ever had, hanging on by a thread until she was over the bump. She caught her breath as the sucking of the peloton dragged her through Paseo, along the bluffs and the billion dollar mansions with the trillion dollar views that they all got to enjoy for the price of a bike and some pain, until she found herself on Pilot’s wheel. The next big acceleration came through Lunada Bay, and this time the kick was hard and sharp and on top of the several jumps already in the account which meant it was every man and woman for herself, and so New Girl was out of the neighborhood and by herself.

She was still smiling, though, and when Madeline and Sparkles came by they rode a steady paceline up to Trump National, the gateway to the Switchbacks.

As she gathered herself for the big push, New Girl felt her rear tire go soft, then flat. The rain had started up again. The group atop the Switchbacks wouldn’t know she’d flatted and they’d continue on. For the first time that morning her inside smile frowned.

If you have to grow up, be like the Fireman

A handful of people in the South Bay are larger than life. The Fireman is one of them. He looks gruff and road-hardened and ready to take whatever the hell you can dish out and pay you back double then drink you under the table plus beat you in the sprint or give you the lead-out from hell that you’ll remember for a thousand years if you ever manage to come around it, but it doesn’t take anything at all to get underneath the callused exterior and find a heart as large and kind and generous as any, anywhere.

Maybe it’s because his day job involves roadside visits to catastrophic freeway collisions, or because his night job takes him to blazing infernos venting poisonous gas and smoke and death, or because his summer holidays take him to raging wildfires throughout LA County, maybe that’s what explains him, but I think there’s more to it than that; I think there’s something of the man, the husband, the father, the patriarch who opens his door to friends and feeds them from his table until they can eat no more and swallow not another single drop, this is what explains him, he is a throwback to the days of the tribe, he would have been the leader of the clan, the first one to throw the spear or lead the charge or repulse the invading horde, the first one to christen the infant or bless the newly wedded couple or mark the newly conquered ground as hallowed, it’s this, his Stone Age mantle of hunter, gatherer, and leader of the tribe that makes him what he is, the one we all look up to without knowing why.

Which is a fancy, long-ass way of saying he stopped to help New Girl change her flat.

In a flat fucking jiffy.

Then he paced her up the Switchbacks to a new personal Strava record.

Then he continued on his way after perfecting her day and restoring her smile before she could even say “Thanks.”

Mud stockings

New Girl got home from her Donut, legs covered in mud, and after cleaning up she got to work.

An hour and a half later she was knocking on the firehouse door. A burly fireman answered. “Yes?”

“Here,” she said. “These are for you guys.”

“Oh,” said the fireman. “Is it something we said?”

She laughed. “It’s something you DID, silly.”

“You gonna let me in on the secret?”

“No,” she said with the biggest of smiles.

The firehouse dude smiled big, too, the circle now complete.

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