May 3, 2017 § 22 Comments
President Trump promised to Make America Great Again. Well, so far at our Telo Tuesday fake crit he sure failed. He not only failed to make America great again, he couldn’t even get the stars ‘n stripes on the fuggin’ podium.
Those honors went to Potatoes Julienne (FRA), Frexit (FRA), followed by Smasher (UK), who is possibly a UK/USA double agent as he rides under dual passports. The First American wasn’t great, and he certainly wasn’t great again. Instead he was leaky, creaky, aged, infirm, wobbling, plodding, doddering, muttering, and badly in need of a diaper change.
In other words, I was fourth again. Was that our president’s election campaign slogan? Make America Fourth Again?
I think not. Not even close.
Anyway, the build-up to the fake race was intense, starting with the morning NPR line-em-up-and-knock-em-down brawl that claimed the nutsack and ribs of Junkyard, and left thirty yards of skin on the asphalt, most of which belonged to P. Jones, a/k/a Crusher. Uncle Junkyard was unable to attend and hold up lap cards due to prescription-strength painkillers, however, the tension was extreme thanks to a high quality video production created afterwards by Heavy D.:
Last week I had been given two key pieces of advice from riders I’ve never beaten:
- Don’t attack at the same place every time on the course from the front, dummy. (Courtesy of Eric A.)
- Don’t tell people your legs are good when they ask, dummy. And at least put your money in a savings account where you get one percent instead of zero in checking, dummy (Courtesy of Derek B.)
The race started rather briskly, with a series of early accelerations softening up the already soft field for the decisive beatings administered sometime around Lap 5 that permanently shed large chunks of the aspiring hopefuls and sent them to bed without any BonkBreaker.
Then there were more accelerations. A dangerous move evolved with Eric and Derek (rhymes), Smasher and Frexit. However, the super dangerous move was made on Lap 2, when Potatoes Julienne attacked early and rode away.
Unwilling to tow everyone around all day, Frexit allowed the break to come back. I’d been crushed and fermented back in the second chase group and was only dragged back up to the action by the head-banging of Daniel Park. Daniel is a junior rider who is getting better every week, unfortunately. He rides aggressively and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in the wind.
Eventually Frexit and Smasher got tired of waiting for the group to chase down Potatoes Julienne, so they launched and I rolled with them. “Rolled” is a cool way of saying “I thought I was going to give birth to various internal organs.”
We had a most excellent trio and after my heart rate settled down to 210 it wasn’t that bad. Then I noticed that Smasher was skipping pulls. Then I noticed that Frexit was slowing down. “I wonder what that’s all about?”
You see, I had been really happy there with my two good friends, pedaling along, happily enjoying the sensation of being in the chase that was going to bring pack Potatoes, and generally enjoying the good friendship and camaraderie of a breakaway. So what if I was pulling a little bit longer and harder into the gnarly 1,000 mph headwind? Isn’t that what good friends do?
Yes, it is.
Until you remember that in bike racing there are no friends, only vicious slit-throats who despise your very existence and seek to castrate you quickly before moving on to the jugular. I swung off just as Smasher smashed, with Frexit in tow. “Hey, fellahs!” I shouted. “Wh-wh-wh-what about m-m-m-me?”
The answer was the howling wind.
The pack caught me after a bunch of lonely laps and a short-lived bridge ‘n batter with Jon D. Absorbed by the group I looked around at all the riders who were going to beat me in the sprunt.
“How are the legs?” Derek asked.
“Terrible,” I said.
“Good answer,” he said. “You’re learning.”
Then instead of rolling to the front and attacking from the front in the same place I always did, I rolled to the back and attacked just before Turn 3, where no one ever attacks. Daniel went with me, and then brought us up to SB Baby Seal, who was in No Seal’s Land. The gap was large and Baby Seal’s flippers were going full paddle. I mean pedal.
As we hit the straightaway, Stathis the Wily Greek gave us the one-to-go signal. I think that’s what it was.
Now it was time to help Daniel hone his race skills. “Daniel,” I cursed. “You gotta pull here or they’ll catch us.”
He charged by, giving it his all, without checking to see if “they” were anywhere in sight.
“Good job!” I said. “Harder!”
He strained like a horse in the traces and tore it up along the backside, dragging me and Baby Seal through Turn 1 and into the ferocious windward side of Turn 2. “Way to go!” I said as I attacked and dropped him, and soloed in for fourth.
Fourth place, by the way, isn’t all that great. So Donald needn’t bother with any more of his Making America Fourth. I’ll settle for third.
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June 19, 2015 § 20 Comments
My way just happened to be wrong.
From the moment that Junkyard announced the creation of the Flog Ride, everything was messed up. First of all there was the name he’d given it, “Love and Thursday.” Then there was the length, only four laps. Worse, the first lap was neutral. To cap off the mess, we were supposed to descend with care, especially around the two hairpins.
With a little bit of effort, though, we got all of that fixed. We changed the name to the Flog Ride. We lengthened it to five, then six laps. We reduced the neutral section to the first 25 feet, and we descended the hairpins at the razor edge of physics where speed, friction, and tire pressure all come together in a terrifying blur of clenched sphincters.
It was glorious. We’d do the 25-foot warm-up and then hit PV Drive North full gas. The uninitiated were typically shelled in the first 500 yards. Those who managed to hang on for the first lap, survive the kamikaze downhill sweepers, avoid the peacocks wandering in the road, and keep from slamming into the side of fast moving traffic when we right-hooked back onto PV Drive North were reduced to puddles on Lap 2.
By Lap 4 there were never more than five riders in the lead, and everyone else was busted out the back and struggling around the golf course alone, in the dark, angry, hurt, broken, and wondering why they’d gotten up at 5:30 AM for a 6:35 group ride that had lasted thirty seconds.
Each time up the 7-minute climb was a terrible infusion of pain, and hardly anyone ever came back to do the ride more than twice. The Flog Ride was the sadistic bully at the end of the block whose house you’d go three miles out of your way not to have to walk by. It was the barometer for how badly you sucked, how low your pain threshold was, and how poorly your self-image comported with reality.
On the plus side, the graduates of the Flog Class of 2014-2015 racked up wins at Boulevard and numerous other races. The fitness that came from doing six eyeball-extracting intervals was superlative; if you could do all six laps with the lead group and finish on the 20% grade up La Cuesta, you were race ready.
The fact that hardly anyone ever showed up was no problem. All it took was two other idiots bent on mayhem to get the training effect we sought.
The fact that dozens of eager riders showed up, got instantly shelled, and never came back was no problem. Welcome to life, suckers!
But despite the ride’s near perfection in every way, it did have one minor complication: In a few short months three riders went down in the hairpins, and thanks only to dumb luck, when they slid out across the yellow line there was no oncoming traffic. Had there been, people would have died or been catastrophically injured.
After the third bicycle falling off incident, we decided that no ride was worth this kind of risk, even though such a decision clearly called our insanity into question. The options were to cancel the ride or to modify it so that it comported with the wise architecture sketched out by Junkyard in the first place. So instead of racing up the hill and then racing back down, we raced up the hill and coasted down, taking the hairpins at slow, fully controlled velocity.
Not only were shelled riders able to regroup without racing down the descent, but slow coasting on the downhill meant that the uphill intervals were even harder, if such a thing is possible. There’s no way to make a bicycle ride safe, but sometimes you really can take out the sharpest fangs without killing the fun. Just don’t call it Love and Thursday.
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December 5, 2014 § 26 Comments
Rides come and go, mostly go. When the New Pier Ride was ruined by construction on Westchester Parkway, a new ride was subbed in. Dreamed up by local rider Junkyard, the new Thursday ride has now reached a point of such viciousness that its founder not only gets shelled in the first three minutes, but it’s gotten so hard that he can’t even get out of bed.
Now that, friends, is a hard bicycle ride.
The Thursday ride leaves at 6:35 AM sharp from the fountain in Malaga Cove. The route is simple:
- Right on PV Drive.
- Right on Paso del Campo.
- Right on Via Campesina.
- Right on Via Chico, through the arch, and back to PV Drive.
- On the sixth lap, left on La Cuesta, where the ride terminates at the top and you vomit.
- Back to Riviera Village for coffee and lies.
The awesomeness of the ride is expressed by the fact that it immediately starts with a climb, so people immediately get shelled. No imagining, no hoping, no fantasy that you actually had sort of a good ride. You start and if you don’t have the legs you’re gone. There is something beautiful about this type of summary execution, where the usual habit of lingering, wheelsucking, and flailing by at the end becomes a nasty sort of trial, judgment, and punishment within the first few hundred yards.
However, the fun doesn’t stop there because the beginning climb isn’t that steep, and the following climb up around the golf course isn’t that steep. So with practice you can get strong enough to hang on, although the humiliation and crushing sense of defeat that comes from getting repeatedly shelled the first few times you do the ride is usually enough to make people go away and never come back. The net effect is that after a few laps are three groups.
- Stathis the Wily Greek.
- Everyone else.
- The fragments.
But it gets better because there are no stoplights. On the NPR, indeed every group ride in L.A., the ride is controlled partially by stoplights, and largely by stoplight whiners. Essentially, when you’re off the front on the NPR with one other wanker and you have a pack of 85 chasing with a tailwind and you’re pedaling harder than teakwood and you approach a red light and you run it, at the end of the ride all the wheelsuckers and never-seen-the-fronters and wait-til-the-end-sprunters and why-are-we-hammering-it’s-Novemberers will berate you for scofflawing. Never mind that there was never any danger, and never mind that the whiners are the very people who will pull the craziest death-shit in the middle of a pack fighting for a wheel. The point is that they want to detract from your awesomesauceness and your heroic brokeaway antics. Plus, they’re pissed that their sprunt didn’t count because you had already crossed the imaginary line in a fantasy victory.
Not so with the Thursday ride! There are no stoplights to run, only stop signs, and the stoplight whiners never, ever, ever show up for the ride. It’s like killing two birds with one stone, then fricasseeing them and eating them for dinner.
The ride offers up lots more goodness, for example racing tactics. There is always one idiot or two who will attack from the gun and establish a healthy gap. Said idiot, who often writes a daily blog, then gets reeled in and crushed. But rather than simply floating to the back to regroup and attack again, the torrid pace and the constant rolling climb punish the would-be attacker to such an extent that the next hard acceleration, typically unleashed by Derek, or by EA Sports, Inc., or by 26, obliterates the hangers-on so that Sausage, Spivey, Fireman, and I wank along until they shell me, too.
In short, you can get all the misery and failure of a race every single week without paying a nickel or driving a mile.
But wait, there’s more! Repeat riders get stronger (can you imagine that?) so the ride gets even harder. 26, who never finished without getting shelled, put the wood to everyone yesterday. When a big boy like that gets as comfortable on rolling power climbs as he is in sprints, it’s going to mean mayhem.
Best of all, with the exception of the time that Sausage got dropped, turned around, and hopped back in with us as we came by, there is no cheating. Once you get unhitched, you’re on your own to struggle and suffer and try to catch the little red blinking light in front of you. Or you pair up with another wanker and suffer in tandem.
The ride is short; just under one hour long, and after finishing the climb on the last lap you jog left and go up La Cuesta. It’s only a little more than a quarter-mile long, but at 12 or 13 percent it feels like a light-year. Now if we can just get the ride’s founder to start showing up again.
January 18, 2013 § 11 Comments
As of today I’m free at last, free at last, thank Dog almighty I’m free at last. “Why?” you ask. Because henceforth when I get asked The Question(s) about The Cyclist I get to say, after thoughtfully furrowing my brow, this: “Well, it’s a good question. I suggest you go out and ride your bicycle in order to answer it.”
Elbow testing: Junkyard thwacked his rebuilt elbow yesterday at the start of the NPR, right where the electronic circuitry connected to the shoulder bone, which was connected to the brain bone, which was connected to the new PV Kit bone, which got shredded and tore a hole bigger than Dallas. The ‘bow, however, is rock solid minus a touch of cosmetic road wear. They DID build him better than he was before.
Bellyflop: Neumann/aka Hockeystick/now known as “Belly” did a track stand at the turnaround on the NPR, had his wheel chopped, and tumbled off his bicycle. No harm done, and he was quickly helped by Rahsaan. He did, however, bounce when he hit. I’ve never seen that before. Belly, time to try the South Bay Wanker Diet. It’s painful, but it works and it’s free. PS: Track stands in the middle of swirling roadie packs = Numbskullish.
First blood: Charon Smith scored his first win of the year at Ontario last week, finishing so far ahead of the field that he had time to completely recover from his sprint effort and shave his head by the time he crossed the line. The finish photo shows everyone with teeth gritted, faces twisted, bodies hunched over the bars looking like they’re running from a zombie army, and Charon with arms raised, mouth closed, and no visible signs of exertion as he cruises to the win. I’m pretty sure there were some intense post-race team huddles at MRI/Monster Media, and they went like this:
“Don’t ever let it finish in a bunch sprint again, dogdammit!”
“I told you we’re going to have to break away to win! Only way to outsprint Charon is by making him do the 1/2 races, where he belongs.”
“We can’t have him in a break, ever!”
“At CBR we’ll attack the entire race until we get away!”
“If we work together with the other 99 riders in the race, we might have a chance!”
By the way, good luck with that plan!
Get ready for CBR: The first South Bay crit of the year happens on Sunday when Chris Lotts puts on the Dominguez Hills Anger Crit Thingy. Please show up to support local road racing in SoCal. Yes, you’ll be pack meat, just like last year. So what?
Winter’s over: The South Bay endured seven (some say eight) days of brutal winter this month, where early temperatures got down to 39, and the highs never crested 65. Thankfully, the bitter temperatures are over, and we’re slowly returning to lows in the high 40’s, highs in the high 70’s. Don’t put away your heavy winter clothing yet, but for sure rotate it to the back of the closet.
Bad wind news: G$ is in Scottsdale testing his bike position in a wind tunnel. Great. A faster G$. Just what those of us in the Elderly Fellows category need.
Gitcher waffle on: The Belgian Waffle Ride is set for April 7, 2013. It will be the hardest one-day ride of the year, where chicken tactics, wheelsucking, and letting others do all the work will earn you nothing more than infamy and a purple card. This will be first and foremost a contest between you and the road. Finish it and you’ll know satisfaction!
Mad props to Dorothy: The 2012 cyclocross season has ended in SoCal, and it couldn’t have gone better or been done without the extraordinary efforts and work and innovation and enthusiasm of Dorothy Wong. I bailed after about ten races. That shit is hard. Next year, which I suppose would be this year, I’ll be in for the whole season now that I know what I’m in for. Thanks to Dorothy for making ‘cross such a success.
Equipment flail: After dissing on my Night Rider lighting system and replacing it with the tube-shaped Serfas light, I can happily report that the Serfas is far superior except that it shuts off every time I hit a bump, and after about four or five bumps it won’t restart without a 1-minute pause or longer. That’s a long-ass time when you’re bombing down VdM on Bull’s wheel at dark-thirty. For $150.00 you’d almost expect something that would work, but then you remember, “It’s an elite cycling product, so of course it’s a pile of shit unless you spend at least $500.00.”
Smooth looking skin: Since incorporating kimchi into my diet, Mrs. Wankmeister has advised me that my skin is softer, more lustrous, and gradually shedding the leathery, scaly, rough, scabbed-over look that comes with road cycling. Though I don’t give a rat’s ass about the beauty aspect, I do believe that healthier skin will stave off the skin cancer in my future for at least a year or two, and Professor Google confirms that kimchi is the wonderfood for healthy skin. The downside of course are the kimchi farts. Those things are vicious, however, they too have a beneficial effect on skin, as anyone on your wheel gets an instant facial dermal peel when one of those suckers rips into their face. You have to be careful, though, because they can also melt the polarizing slits on your expensive cycling glasses.
December 31, 2012 § 9 Comments
Yah, yesterday was hard enough so today Slim played hooky at the back, then hooky off the back as the pack rolled up the reservoir climb without him, then plowed up Homes & Domes without him, then bombed down the Switchbacks without him, then let him slide on by while they were filling up water bottles, then overhauled him again in Portuguese Bend.
Slim didn’t care. He wasn’t going to do anything except sit. Let the others suffer if that’s how they wanted to spend their Sunday morning.
At the glass church Marco, Mark, and Jay rolled off the front. Thirty or forty riders watched them go, waiting for Slim to surge from the pack and tow or bridge. But Slim sat and let their indecision fester. He knew every inch of this road and they all measured “pain.” Today, hurting was for someone else.
A few riders took turns at the front, but no one wanted to push it. The Glass Church hill is unforgiving. If you fire too hard too early, you’ll be watching your erstwhile friends recede into the distance.
Slim nestled into the center of the group. He’d found his wheel, and he wasn’t letting go. Marco & Co. were gone and not coming back anyway, not with this gang of “No, dude, YOU pull” types.
Slim had glued onto Old Fox, owner of the ugliest, nastiest pedal stroke in Southern California. It was a horrible, repulsive pedaling style, jerky, elliptical, toe on the left leg bent awkwardly in towards the crank, every spin of the legs looking like a bad piece of Aggie engineering that had been redrawn by Rube Goldberg.
Slim had first run into Old Fox on the reservoir climb six years ago. Slim had been fast and fit, and Old Fox had been clunky, chunky, and already older than most naturally occurring rock formations. Slim passed him. Old Fox hopped on. Slim upped the ante to threshold. Old Fox hung on. Slim pushed the needle into red. Old Fox started to wheeze. Slim punched once, hard. Old Fox took it on the chin and blew.
The whole thing had disturbed Slim because Old Fox was so old, so ungainly, so out of shape, but had held on for so long. Nothing grates on the ego of a cyclist like having a plainly inferior rider hang on when you’re going all out.
The next time they met, it was on Old Fox’s turf. Flat. Four corners. A big bunch. A fast finish.
Old Fox took second, coming out of nowhere, beating a dozen contenders who were twenty or thirty years his junior. Slim learned that Old Fox had gotten silver in the national crit championships as a younger racer. Those awkward, ugly strokes only looked inefficient. When you stopped staring at the ankles and the knees, you noticed the high cadence and the smoothness between the knee and hip.
In dozens of head to head encounters, Slim had taken Old Fox once, and that was with the lead-out of all lead-outs from the Fireman, uphill and after a hundred miles…and even so Slim had edged Old Fox only by the width of a tire.
Slim took stock of the group’s remnants as they crested the Glass Church hill. Maybe a dozen riders remained, even though the pace had been anemic at best. Junkyard, Pilot, Canyon Bob, Mike B., and one or two others took turns revving the downhill as they approached the first of two bumps that preceded the uphill sprint. A gang of over-excited Velo Allegro wankers had melded with the group a few miles back, and they jostled for position.
Old Fox did nothing. Slim hated the way he never worked, never took a pull, never went to the front, but he admired him, too. Old Fox’s conservation of energy was an art form. His easily spinning legs had yet to make any effort at all, even as those around him made withdrawals, some larger, some smaller, from their rapidly dwindling accounts.
Slim would beat Old Fox at his own game today. Slim hadn’t cracked a sweat. He hadn’t budged from the wheel. He let Old Fox guide him easily through the group. Old Fox’s clunky pedaling was a decoy for more than his efficient, high-cadence stroke. It also took your attention off the fact that he negotiated the cracks and crevices in the peloton with utter mastery and ease.
Halfway up the first bump Pilot moved to the outside and shot forward. Old Fox pushed the pedals hard and followed, still perfectly protected. Slim was right there. Over the first bump, down the screaming backside and approaching the second and final bump, Old Fox showed another one of his cards, the expert sprinter’s ace of spades: The card of patience.
This close to the line and Slim, if left to his own devices, would have been panicking and hitting the gas full-on. Not Old Fox. He knew it wasn’t time. It was close, but not close enough. A little more pavement, and it was still close, but not close enough. A few more yards till and it was close, closer, and then showtime.
The old man kicked the pedals so hard that his bike shot like a rearing pony, and only pure attentiveness kept Slim on his wheel. As the peloton was hesitating to see who would lead it out, Old Fox was shooting free and clear, none of the remaining riders having a snowball’s chance. He’d launched from the far outside, from a fast, strong wheel, mid-way up the pack, and with such ferocity that the only other rider who could grab his draft was Slim.
They were free, Slim could feel it without looking back. the chaos of the jostling and the whining of the wheels had been replaced by silence. No long shadow throwing forward. Just Slim and Old Fox, and Old Fox was about to get spanked.
“This is how the lion feels before it sinks its teeth into the soft, warm neck of the kicking gazelle,” Slim laughed to himself. “Now tell me how you like these fangs, fucker.”
Legs fresh, with plenty of gas in the tank, Slim kicked as the finishing sprint sign approached.
But…surprise, surprise. Old Fox had some fumes left to cook off as well. Slim came off the wheel and hit the wall of wind. At the same time, Old Fox gathered his powerful shoulders and arms, coiled his entire body, and kicked the pedals one last time. Through the sucking gasps Slim saw the old man’s legs move perfectly around in that final lunge. Nothing ugly, or ungainly, or wasted, just one last complete effort.
Old Fox by a bike length.
The panting, lazy dogs came scrambling up after, frothing and foaming with frustration and proffering the best and most practiced of excuses.
“Dude it was too squirrely back there, I just let it go,” barked one.
“I was gonna lead you out,” panted another.
“I got boxed in,” yapped a third.
Old Fox just smiled and let them roll past.
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.”
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.