Pass the tweezers, please

November 14, 2012 § 48 Comments

There we were, hauling ass down PV Drive North into the sweeping, slightly off-camber right turn up to the reservoir climb, and sitting on the point I swung out as far as possible to 1) hold max speed through the corner and 2) show off my awesome, ‘cross-inspired cornering skills.

‘Cause when you can rip through loose sand and gravel at speed, smooth tarmac ain’t shit.

Just as I reached max lean, the front tire started to slide. “This is exactly what happens to me in ‘cross,” I thought, out-of-body as it was, feeling the pavement grind up into my hip and right elbow. “And it’s gonna hurt.”

Iron Mike, who had been far enough off my wheel to avoid the crash, couldn’t help staring slack-jawed at the carnage, so instead of neatly avoiding the mess he smacked into the median at 2 mph, tumping over like a clunky lamp, one foot unhooked.

I twisted my neck to see who was going to run over my head.

No one. The braking and hollering were in full force. Thank goodness I’d decided to avoid that dangerous ‘cross race in San Diego and stick to the safety of the Sunday Wheatgrass ride.

Timing is everything

I came to rest in the middle of the lane and was surprised to see my good friend Bruce, clad in jeans, leaning over me. “You okay?”

The South Bay Wheelmen were staging their annual club hill climb, and I had arrived just in time give a lesson in safe bike handling. The whole team had paused to watch bits of flesh, tattered kit, and a thin sheen of blood spatter up in the air.

The guy in charge of sign-in said in a loud voice. “See? That’s what I don’t want any of you idiots doing.”

The bike crash on the group ride is a beautiful thing. Everyone’s personality leaps out in high relief at the moment of crisis, and our group was no different. Neumann sprinted away up the hill with another IF wanker, thrilled to finally have a chance at getting KOM and putting into practice his lifelong motto of “All for me, and me for me!”

Patrick sequestered my bike, straightened the brake, and had soon loosened the bolts to straighten the stem. Craig and Bruce were fixing the front flat that had caused the crash, and Bob, after giving me the physical once-over, stood ready to air up the tire. Chris stood at the ready to help, and Fussy, after making sure Iron Mike was okay, provided running commentary highlighting Mike’s awkward fall. Joe stared at my elbow, in the throes of broken-joint flashbacks from the fall that had cost in excess of $75k to rebuild his elbow joint.

As Bruce carefully checked the brand new Gatorskin, he said, “Aha!”

We all looked. “There’s the culprit!” he said.

We couldn’t see anything. “Here, run your hand on the inside of the tire.”

Sure enough, a sharp pin prick was coming through, almost invisible. After more working and worrying, we got it slightly out, but not enough to grip and remove. It was a tiny piece of wire from a car tire.

I tried to pull it out with my teeth, but after scrimshanking a few deep scores into the enamel, gave up. Bruce looked around. “Anyone have a pair of tweezers?”

People guffawed. “Yah, sure, man, right next to my pedicure set.”

“Fuck, Bruce, nobody carries tweezers on a bike ride.”

Bruce surveyed the group, unfazed. “Anybody have a pair of tweezers?”

Silence, and a few more laughs ensued.

Then New Girl said, in her small voice, “I do.”

We were stunned. In a moment she produced a perfect pair of splinter-pulling tweezers, and in another couple of moments the wire was yanked.

I looked at her. “Why in the world are you carrying tweezers on a bike ride?”

“Because…” she said.

“Because what?”

“I thought somebody someday might get a super tiny splinter or piece of glass or wire in their tire and wouldn’t be able to get it out without some tweezers. Isn’t that great?”

“No,” I said. “It isn’t great. It is awesome beyond belief.”

Onward and upward

I pedaled up to Norris, who was glumly waiting for the ride to resume. “Sorry, dude. You okay?”

“That’s gonna cost me.”

“Oh, crap. How come?”

“My front derailleur is broken.”

“Really?” I looked at his front derailleur, which was in pristine condition and appeared to be completely unharmed. “What about you? You okay?”

He pointed to his shin, where he had already affixed a small band-aid, covering up the tiniest of nicks. “Wow, dude. Heal up.”

I felt a horrible stabbing pain in my right leg, and finally looked at the gaping hole in my shorts. The skin facing the hole didn’t look so bad, but I peeked under the fabric higher up and saw a nasty strawberry smear that was going to be oozing and draining and scabbing all over my pants for the next week or two.

Then I took a deep breath and looked at my elbow. I’d gone down so fast at such a deep lean that the fall had peeled my long jersey sleeve right up to mid-bicep. The road, or something, had ground a neat hole through the armwarmer I’d been wearing under the sleeve. I bent my arm and looked. Down in the hole was something kind of white and pale looking, along with big clots of blood and bigger flaps of skin.

Did I mention I’m a wimp?

There are wimps, and then there are wimps

I have the pain threshold of a 2 year-old. The dentist has to give me morphine just to clean my teeth. I hate the sight of blood. I feel waves of pain at even the thought of broken bones, stitches, surgery, needles, you name it.

The time I got my thumb caught in my track bike chain and ground off the tip was as horrible to me as if someone had slowly burned out my eyes with coals, or forced me to vote Republican. When I had a tiny cavity drilled out in Japan, the dentist sternly told me to “stop quivering like a child.”

Yeah. I’m a gutless wuss.

Fortunately, so are most other male cyclists. No matter how brave and tough they are when attacking, or climbing, or sprinting, the minute they get a boo-boo they whine and wail and complain as if they’d lost a leg to an IED. With the exception of my buddy who broke his neck, spent five months in a halo, and then had screws bolted into his neck and never said anything other than, “I’m fine,” when asked about his condition, most cyclists are whiny hypochondriacs who milk their injuries, minor or major, into the finest whiny cream.

Nonetheless, there was a ride to finish. So we set off up the hill, and I noticed for the first time that we had a new member. He was riding an orange steel Volkcycle with cantilever brakes, rakish chromed steel forks, lazy brakes, and bar-end shifters. He was a teenager, and this was his first group ride, apparently.

“Yeah, dude,” I thought. “Welcome to cycling. We crash on the first turn, it’s just how we roll.”

Craig, Bob, Paul, Vince, and I  emerged together from Homes and Gardens, and then Bob and Craig towed me to the top of the Domes. I went down to the bottom of the Switchbacks alone and checked out my elbow again. “What’s that white shit down there?” I thought. “Blood isn’t white, is it? Unless those are white blood cells…” I wished I knew more about biology.

Glass Church and home

Bob, Craig, and I escaped on the Glass Church roller, were brought back for the sprunt, and I turned off at the top of Hawthorne to go home.

“How was a ride?” Mrs. WM asked.

“It was awesome.”

“It don’t look on no awesome. How come you butt meat hanging outta that biker flap?”

“I took a little spill.”

“Don’t get all those blood pieces onna bed and carpet. How come you always falling offa bike? Every since cyclingcross you coming home all bruising and cutting and bleeding and falling offa bike. And tearing up onna biker outfit butt flaps and that’s costing big money.”

“But ‘cross is really upping my skills.”

“It’s upping onna doctor repair bills, that’s what it’s upping on. Oh goodness! What’s onna elbow?”

“That’s just road rash, but it’s a little deep.”

“Here lemme see onna that. Oh goodness! You get onna doctor now! That’s blooding everywhere!”

“I think it’ll be fine with some Tegaderm and a little peroxide.”

“You musta hit onna head with a hammer. Thatsa blood hole with a bone pieces inside I can see white bone pieces! Oh goodness!”

“Will you give me a ride?”

“Onna doctor? You fall offa your bike without none of my help, you can get onna doctor without none of my help.”

She had a point, so I showered, doused the hole with peroxide, slapped on some Tegaderm, ate lunch, and went to the Doc in a Box.

Sorry, I’m just a licensed physician with 20 years of training

The Doc in a Box wrinkled her nose. “Ewwwww!” she said, peeling back the Tegaderm. “When did you do that?”

“This morning around 8:30.”

“Why didn’t you come right here? It’s almost one o’clock.”

“I wanted to finish the ride.”

She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Didn’t it hurt?”

“Hell yes it hurt. Canyon Bob and Craig were ripping my legs off the whole way up to the Domes.”

“I mean your elbow. Didn’t it hurt?”

“Oh, that. Yeah, it hurt like hell. That’s why I’m here.”

“But if it hurt so much why didn’t you come directly here?”

“Because I don’t like pain. And I knew that whatever you were going to do, it was going to hurt.”

She shook her head. “No, it’s actually not. This wound is too deep for me to suture, especially because of all the gravel and grease down in the puncture. I’m sending you to the ER where someone with more experience can sew you up.”

On to the next one

Doc #2 didn’t flinch. “Yep, that’s going to need a deep scrub. Lie down.”

I lay down.

“If it really hurts let me know and we’ll anesthetize it for cleaning.”

“It hurts like a mofo.”

“But I haven’t touched it yet.”

“So it’ll hurt even worse once you do. Shoot me up, doc.”

“Okay. This is going to hurt a little bit.”

He lied, of course. It hurt like having a needle plunged into your elbow joint.

The numbness took over and he started to scrub. I could feel the pieces of meat being soaked and rubbed and washed and sponged. Even though it didn’t hurt, I imagined how much it would have hurt without the painkiller, which made it hurt awful bad.

“Okay, we’re done.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes. You did great.”

“I didn’t feel a thing!”

“That’s why we use anesthetic, you know.”

Crash. Bleed. Publicize.

Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to take grisly photos before the suturing and post them on Facebook. The comments came rolling in, from the heartfelt “Get well soon!” to the “Wanker!” to the prize-winning reminiscence of Marco Vermeij about the time at the Kenosha crit in ’89 when he sewed up Randy Dickson’s gaping wound with a needle and thread from a tubular patch kit. Randy, of course, needed the quick repair so that he could do the next race.

I reflected on my own frailty when compared with the broken necks, shattered elbows, snapped femurs, and on-site surgeries performed with nothing more than spit, callused fingers, and the implements found in a cyclist’s toolbox. I reflected on the faux toughness of the modern rider, equipped with all the latest stuff, but sorely lacking in the oldest stuff: Grit, tolerance of real pain, the will to keep going, and the tight-lipped contempt that tough guys have for acknowledging injury or pain.

I never had been, and never would be, one of those few men who Fields used to approvingly nod towards and declare that they were “made of stern stuff.” But maybe one day, if I kept falling off my bike and doing those nightmarish ‘cross races, I’d at least be made out of semi-stern stuff.

That would be something to brag about, wouldn’t it? And no one would have to know that I’d gone out and bought myself a nifty little set of ladies’ eyebrow tweezers…would they?

South Bay weekend roll call

September 17, 2012 § 6 Comments

Let’s start with the big stuff…

Mighty Mouse: Brought her NPR-honed dick stomping skills to the Nautica Malibu Tri and left a trail of shattered members all up and down PCH. CalTrans garbage truck overheated and broke down on Zuma Hill due to overloading with broken dicks. Wore her Big O tee on the podium’s second step.

Wankomodo: Got a public tongue lashing, laughed it off in the spirit it was intended, gave thanks for his new nickname, and refused to take the Wankmeister seriously. You are now officially part of the gang!

Italian Stallion: Came out for the Donut, rode off into the sunset in a marvelous pink outfit after telling G3 to shut-the-fuck-up about the crazy old lady trying to kill us in Portuguese Bend. Tony almost fell off his bike laughing, just as some wanker touched a wheel and flopped down in the middle of the road. Italian Stallion gives us a great write-up of his national championship road race here.

Crown Jules: Stomped everyone except Stathis the Wily Greek and the Italian Stallion on the Switchbacks, outsprinted John “Dillinger” Hall, who kicked me out the back like a pro roadie’s under-the-armpit snotblow.

Rico Suave: Got badly shredded on the Switchbacks, roared back on Wheatgrass to smash everyone up to the Domes, busted up the field on the Glass Church, towed WM to the line, beat him with a bike throw. I hope Rico never discovers drugs.

Erik the Red: Dropped all but a handful on Better Homes, took the sprunt at Hawthorne by a country mile after bridging with JLR. Formally announced his engagement to SPY Elite Team for 2013…yee-haw!

Tink: Returned to the mix, but was under coach’s orders not to engage in any nonsense for a couple more weeks. The sun shone in happiness at her return!

New Girl: Ignored flu symptoms, West Nile virus, superbug, and early onset pneumonia to lace up and ride to the Rock and then Wheatgrass before coming undone at the seams. Dr. Wanky has ordered bed rest until further notice.

Crit Champ: Showed up on the Donut after bringing home a silver medal from nationals, attacked the field on Paseo del Mar, followed all the moves until gravity took over. Also, wrote a fantastic piece about his season vs. the national championships. Read it here.

Surfer Dan: Displayed fine form that comes with his recent 899-mile weeks in preparation for the Everest Challenge, where he and a few other hardy souls will climb the highest mountains in California on a dog sled. Did three repeats up Crenshaw prior to showing up on Wheatgrass and smacking the snot out of us.

Ms. Abs: Was spied sunning herself on the strand in RB this morning, so we got to chat about life and Pen CX; she also updated me on Steve B.’s 198-mile, 11k of climbing ride that he did immediately prior to the Life Flight and coma resuscitation team.

Suze: Pushed several struggling wankers up through Portuguese Bend, and got a nice push on the tush by the Italian Stallion just past Terranea. Like the eye of Mordor, Wankmeister sees it all!

G3: Out for an easy noodle ride, set the fifth best overall time on the short Donut Loop. Ouch. Glad he wasn’t riding in earnest. Toured with WM along the Esplanade on his boss cruiser, with world’s cutest Ava in tow. When you see a kid that cute riding with G3, it makes you sure of this much: She takes after her mother.

Pilot: Noticed my general bonkishness and loaded me up with a full tankard of iced coffee atop the Hill. I owe you one; actually, I owe you several.

Lake(r): New inter-galactic rep for Lake Cycling showed up to taste the Donut despite being HQ’d in San Diego. Give him a welcome the next time he comes around. If there is a next time, as he sat with Wankmeister out at CotKU and learned that the South Bay is essentially an insane asylum without proper walls.

Iron Mike: Treated another passel of ingrates to $400 worth of nasty, foul-smelling, barely potable wheat grass, which made my front two teeth fall out and turned the others deep green. So at least they all match.

Junkyard: Spent Saturday in the 200-degree heat climbing Latigo, Piuma, Crownview, Anchovy, Deer Creek, Decker, and Questhaven, then couldn’t figure out why his legs were flat on the Wheatgrass Ride. I promised to draw him a diagram to explain it, as he’s a visual person.

Sparkles and VV: Rode the Wheatgrass in halter tops due to predictions of high heat, causing several neck strains in the field and aggressive fighting in the wankoton to ride next to them.

Casey Stengel: While he was noodling up to the Domes and I was chasing Rico Suave with all my might, he hopped out of the saddle and gave me a massive tow to within spitting distance of my quarry. The spit didn’t carry, though, and I never closed the gap.

Dude in Antique Sidis: I don’t know if you remember the Sidi Revolution, the first cycling shoe to use velcro, but Dude was wearing a pair and it looked like he hadn’t taken them off since 1986, including his hike across the Himalayas and the year he spent marching across a field of cow manure. We made him sit downwind at the Jamba Juice, where he killed a small flock of starlings with the smell.

Softmen and the kittens of Flanders

April 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

Early yesterday morning, California time, the hardmen were fighting for glory on the roads to Roubaix as the heir to the mantle of “Lion of Flanders” equaled Roger deVlaeminck’s four wins in the Hell of the North.

As Tom Boonen rode a star-studded field of classics specialists off his wheel in a stunning attack 50km from the finish, a different group of cyclists, still bleary from the early hour, sat around the TV at StageOne Sports World HQ in Redondo Beach. Cheeks pooching out with chewy, tender, sugary muffins, tummies expanding just a tad bit further with each swallow of the buttery croissants, we, the softmen of SoCal, represented the kittens of Flanders. At our feet bounded Zeke the Wonder Dog, snarfling up whatever scraps hit the floor, clearing the table with his 40-lb. tail, nuzzling the crotches of the embarrassed ladies, emitting periodic blasts of wonderdogfarts, and feeling generally pleased that so many people had showed up at such an early hour to scratch his back, rub his head, and titillate his olfactories.

Thoughts determine words. Words determine actions. Actions determine character.

The only thing that anyone with a brain could possibly think after watching Boonen’s tour de force was, “I’m a weak pussy.” In that vein, our small group that included Sparkles, Junkyard, Toronto, Big Bowles, Hockeystick, and VV pedaled up to Malaga Cove to hook up with the Wheatgrass Ride.

We met up with Iron Mike, Clodhopper, Wild Carrot, Ihatetherain, Mephistostaphipapadopoulous, Nimrod, Canyon Bob, Pilot, Sumo, Cutiepies, Psycho Mike, Dutchy, and Fishnchips. And although we were prepared for an epic pedal, we weren’t prepared for the tire.

By tire, I mean Big Bowles’s tire. We had started the pell-mell dash towards the glass church, with Clodhopper bulling away on the downhill like a giant load of dirt that had been dumped off a cliff. Clodhopper’s former self is a waif-like shadow of his current self, as sitting on his wheel is affectionately known as the “Cadillac draft.” The only down side is his backside, which peers out from beneath the threadbare lycra shorts whose expiration date passed in ’97 to reveal the unblinking evil eye of Mordor, so awful to look at but from which it is so impossible to avert your gaze.

Why it’s worthwhile to endure the stare of the hairy eye

In addition to the gigantic swath he cuts through the wind, Clodhopper is a great wheel because when the going gets nasty, no one can suffer like he can. Beneath the layers of walrus-ite and packed into the chest cavity of this enormous lunk are the heart and lungs of a former world record holder in the 1600m relay. You can see the video here.

Now I know that you’re really proud of that podium in the Cat 4’s, and I know that it really meant a lot when you got that colorful jersey in the masters road race, but can we please put your lameness in perspective? Clodhopper once held the fastest time over 1600 meters ever recorded by any human being who ever ran.

Unlike bicycling, which is available at the elite competitive level only for people who can afford to spend on their bicycle a sum equal to the average annual income of the average human being in 2012, running is available to everyone with two legs. Whereas the competitive pool for cycling is a tiny genre within a microscopic niche inside a practically invisible crevice, the competitive pool for runners puts the poorest on a par with the richest. Got legs? You can play the game.

So you can forgive (maybe) Clodhopper’s pennypinching on the shorts, you can forgive his slightly expanded waistline, and most of all, you can appreciate the strength, power, and ability to suffer of this pedal-mashing, hairy-assed, cupcake-snorting leviathan.

It seemed like a good idea at the time

As Clodhopper drove us through Portuguese Bend, the ragged line of desperate wheelsucks clawed and gasped as they clung to whatever vestiges of Clodhopper’s draft were still available after about sixth wheel. And as the menu always dictates, Big Bowles had found shelter against the wind nestled in behind the portly protection of Fishnchips.

This time, however, Big Bowles’s recipe for survival hit a snag. The protection afforded by Fishnchips’s posterior was so vast that it blocked out Big Bowles’s view of the road. It blocked the shoulder, the hillsides, the Pacific Ocean, and, if you had sat behind him long enough, it would have eventually caused a solar eclipse, so total, wide, and complete was the gigantitude of the Welshman’s gluteus maximus fatticus.

Somewhere near the turnoff to Artiste’s house, everyone swerved to avoid a giant piece of asphalt lying atop the tarmac. Big Bowles, blinded by the hugeormity of Fishnchips, discovered the asphalt piece by striking it at 32 mph with his front wheel. Oh, how quickly the joys of a snug draft turn to terror and destruction! He managed not to crash, and for a brief moment those who hadn’t cared enough to alert him to the asphalt voiced concern regarding his wheel. “You okay, dude?” they asked just before they accelerated over the final hump, dropping him completely.

“I’m fine,” Big Bowles wailed. “These are self-sealing tubeless tires!”

There is no such thing as a self-sealing bicycle tire

The romp up by the Glass Church resulted in a shattering of sorts, with me pedaling an itsy bit, Ihatetherain taking a dig, and Clodhopper making one massive, cetacean-like pull all the way to the next-to-last bump. Ihatetherain jumped away, followed by Iron Mike, and then all were sent packing by El Peruano, who had joined us in Portuguese Bend and decided to put the group to the sword.

I sucked wheel as long as possible before ditching El Peruano and racing first to the sign, ahead of Sumo and Mephistostaphipapadopoulous, only to find that our finish-line “No Parking” sign on a wooden post had been replaced by four “No Parking” signs on metal posts. I reached the first sign and sat up, declaring victory.

By the time Big Bowles limped up to the group, his self-sealing tire wasn’t sealing all that great. “Gimme a shot, Bobby,” he said to Canyon Bob, who always carries a hand pump so that he can bail out the other wankers who use all twelve C02 cartridges on their first flat. Canyon Bob gave him the shot, and Big Bowles’s self-sealing tire continued its leaking frenzy.

“What’s with this darned thing?” Bowles asked. “I’d better go ahead and put in a tube. These tubeless tires can be ridden with a tube if you have to. They’re pretty cool that way.”

What was with that darned thing

The next thing I knew, Big Bowles had taken off the wheel and removed the tire from the rim, and the green slime tire sealant was covering his hands, quickly spreading to his face and then even his feet so that he looked like Brer Rabbit cagefighting with the Green Tar Baby from Mars.

The green slime sealant picked up bits of glass, rock, gravel, dirt, gum wrappers, cigarette butts, used condoms, and even an old gas cap, so that by the time Big Bowles was finished with the surgery he looked like a punk rock Christmas tree. We stuck him back on his bike and continued the plod up Hawthorne.

Clodhopper and I got mostly up the climb and then pulled over next to the bus stop across from the Ralph’s to wait for the others. As we stood there, up whizzed one of those Chevy’s that they made to look like a PT Cruiser, only with better velour seats. Out jumped a fellow in a three-piece suit and red necktie, stopping his car smack in the lane of traffic, and dashed over to the trash can next to the bus stop.

After a few quick rustles and dives, he ran back to his car, hands filled with a few bottles and a couple of cans. “That’s a hard way to earn seven and a half cents,” I marveled.

“After subtracting the cost of gas he’s losing money,” mused Clod. “Massively.”

We watched as the PT Chevy zoomed up to the next bus stop and repeated his cash collection, marveling at how unbelievably cheap and poor the rich people were in RPV, and how you’d never see such a thing in PVE, as they do it late at night.

After a while we got to the Jamba Juice, where Iron Mike and Psycho Mike treated everyone to multiple rounds of wheatgrass, a foul concoction that “cleanses the blood,” which is another way of saying that your turds are bright green for the next few days.

Psycho Mike had brought along a buddy, Cap’n Jim, pilot of a San Pedro tugboat, who almost caused StageOne to have an aneurysm by wearing a pair of Bike Palace shorts and a white/green/brown jersey that had the outline of a human skeleton (front and back) with all the organs in perfect Gray’s Anatomy placement.

We savored our wheatgrass, and called it a day. Big Bowles called a cab.

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