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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August 19, 2016 § 13 Comments
In addition to being born in the foreign nation of Kenya and/or Hawai’i and being therefore an ineligible and illegitimate president, in addition to perpetuating the hoax that global warming is caused by humans, in addition to causing 9/11 when he was a state legislator in the Illinois Senate, in addition to being a founding member of ISIS, and in addition to repealing the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Consution, I blame Obama for beating me at the Telo training crit, him and Head Down James.
“Surely, Wanky, you don’t mean that.”
“No, no, no. What you mean is that Obama put in place the policies, procedures, funding, and geopolitical landscape that caused you to lose at Telo last Tuesday. That’s what you mean, isn’t it?”
“No. I mean what I said. I blame Obama for beating me at Telo. Him and Head Down James. And Pegleg Barrett for hosting the conspiracy on his private server and sending out classified emails to all of Velo Club La Grange to incite them to pile into the team van, drive down to Telo, and smash us into bits.”
“How is that Obama’s fault?”
“Glad you asked!”
It happened like this: There I was, giving a polite and courteous and harmonious speech to the raving NIMBY lunatics in RPV who want to promote bike safety by banning cyclists from public roads, and I was covered in dried spit and snot and sweat and smelled like an old hunks and was shaking from exhaustion and on the verge of collapse because I’d driven straight from Telo to the city council meeting.
Everyone was looking at my slobber in awe and a bit fearful of Zika and etc., but I couldn’t collect my thoughts because of Obama and Head Down James.
Right before the race began, Destroyer had sidled up to me. “You want to win?”
“Of course,” I said, reflecting on my Chevy Volt and therefore a bit suspicious of his as-yet unuttered advice.
“Follow Head Down James.”
“Okay,” I said, having no intention of doing it and fulfilling the first law of bike racing strategy, which is Lie At All Times. I mean, there was no way Head Down James and Obama could stay away from the beginning, and if there’s one thing more certain than that we need to make America great again, it’s that Head Down James was going to attack from the gun, which he did, so why should I follow him in a hopeless attempt?
“Go!” said Destroyer as Head Down James attacked at the beginning.
“Okay!” I said and drifted back.
Head Down James pounded away and won but not before Obama completely messed up the chase. All I really remember is that there was some poor schmo in a Texas Aggies pair of pants and another dude with a green jersey and Texas flag and they got completely shelled and lapped along with all but about seven people, welcome to California and Obama and socialism.
I followed wheels and did zero anything until I found myself in a break with Destroyer and Frenchy Jr. They almost dislocated their elbows trying to get me to take a pull, but with Obama working against me, and Frenchy Jr. being 22, and Destroyer being the champion sprunter, I didn’t see what sense it made for me to do a lick of work plus I’m lazy that way.
Although Big Orange started out with five guys we were Little Orange by the end with everyone but me and Skinny Dave having been shelled and lapped, and Velo Club La Grange only had Surfer Dan left but since Head Down James was up the road all he had to do was wheelsurf, which he did, plus pull me up the group the one time I got dropped which was around the time that Bahati literally tore off a crank arm he was pedaling so hard to bring back Head Down James.
But Obama carried the day with ISIS, and Head Down James closed the deal and got his first Brexit Winner’s Tunic. I can’t wait until Trump is president and implements Making Wanky Great Again and I finally have a chance.
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