April 1, 2015 § 18 Comments
I don’t do the New Pier Ride much anymore. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning a massive group of idiots meets up at Westchester Parkway and races for four laps. The “idiots” part I totally relate to, and the “races” part I relate to even more. But after the ride was suspended last October due to construction, a different routine began for me, and the only thing harder to change than a routine is a well-glued-on tubular. In the freezing rain. Bare-handed.
Simply put, the NPR has its pluses and its minuses.
- Happens punctually twice weekly.
- Lets you suck wheel if you’re too weak to GTTF.
- Lets you get in a solid workout before work.
- Lets you suck wheel if you’re too lazy to GTTF.
- Intense sprunt finish the last 400 yards after sucking wheel for four laps while you refused to GTTF.
- Plentiful opportunities to suck wheel and let others GTTF.
- See your friends.
- See your enemies.
- Hide and cower in the back, sucking wheel as you chat with friends or curse enemies.
- Epic post-coital coffee at the Center of the Known Universe, where you deny ever having sucked wheel and brag about how you incessantly hammered at the front.
- Lets you think you’re getting stronger as you suck & cower at the back.
- Occasional appearance of really good riders who drill it from the gun and shatter the field.
- Occasional appearance of really good riders who drill it from the gun and shatter the field.
- Almost impossible to shake the wheelsuckers due to stoplights.
- Fresh-legged wheelsuckers who try to kill you in the sprunt finish.
- Rare but crashtacular Fred-and-bike-pile-ups.
On Monday I got a special request from Sausage to come do the NPR. Svein the Unhandsome, a Norwegian national masters champ and all-round dickstomper was in town for a vacation. When he lived in LA, Svein the Unhandsome had a policy of “kill the men and sell the women and children into slavery,” and Sausage was hoping that I would come out and relive good old times with the gang, which had never been good.
The morning of the ride there was a bit of nervousness on the Pier as we stood around in the gloom and evaluated each others’ body fat percentages. “Did ya see Hollywood’s Facegag post?” Sausage muttered to me.
“He suggested that the South Bay wankoton should have an extra cup coffee before the NPR.”
On cue, up rolled Hollywood with his mile-high henchman, Mack Cassin. Hollywood had flatted out of the San Dimas Stage Race and had some, uh, excess energy, as we soon found out. The punch up Pershing immediately split the field; only Svein the Unhandsome could hang. Thankfully, a stoplight gave us all a second chance.
With torrid stomping of the dicks and clubbing of the baby seals, by the time we hit the Parkway more than half the field had implemented NPR Strategy #1: race across the street and hop in with the leaders when they came tearing back by. Josh calls these folks “hop-in wankers.”
Hollywood and Mack took turns braining the baby seals, with some hard efforts by the Unhandsome, the Wily Greek, and a single cameo appearance by Sausage, who looked like he’d had the skin removed. Huge gobs of droopy, gooey snot hung up in my mustache and beard, mixed in with flecks of bloody spit and pieces of twice-eaten oatmeal.
The collection of hop-in wankers grew and grew, but the merciless clubbing never abated. Gaps opened. Heads hung. Teeth gnawed stems. Brown stains sprouted in the chamois of many.
On the third lap Hollywood, the Wily Greek, James C., and I sprunted away. After a few moments it was just Hollywood, with me plastered to his rear wheel as he inexorably went faster and faster, his club raining nail-studded blows on my head and balls, the gobs of bloody spit dangling into my chain, and my field of vision shrinking and shrinking until it became a pair of tunnels focused exclusively on the rear wheel and triangle of his bike.
Locked in the lethal hanging-head position I knew that I should look up. What if there was something in the road? What if he was headed straight for a brick wall? What if I died?
None of it mattered. I was so completely filled with pain that I had reached a perfect state of detached consciousness: no anger, no fear, no sadness, no happiness, no future, no past, only pain, the vessel filled up and slopping over with pure pain, a giant body-wide root canal being performed with a hand drill and a rusty pocket knife.
Then we hit a light and reality returned, along with the chasing wankoton.
As Billy Stone would say, some went faster, others slower. Someone won, the rest did not. Svein the Unhandsome was seen crawling back to finish his vacation on his hands and knees. Cat 4 Dave had curled up in a small bush and was chewing on leaves and pieces of bird nest. Chunks of the hop-in wankers were strewn about the Parkway like bits of corn in an explosive bowel evacuation.
Back at the Center of the Known Universe, we all bragged about how great we were. “You coming out again on Thursday?” Sausage asked.
“No,” I said. “This ride is too easy for me.”
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August 14, 2014 § 28 Comments
I had been faithful to her for years. There have been other girls who I’ve looked at, sure, but she was the one to whom I remained true.
Then a couple of years ago Sausage whispered to me that there was a smoking hot babe over on his side of town, told me she was “really special” and that she would “really get your pulse up.” I didn’t pay much attention at first, but over time I couldn’t resist the temptation. After all, one woman, no matter how wonderful, can’t satisfy you all the time. It’s natural to want variety, to do things a little differently, to feel the touch of someone different and new.
Sure, I knew it was wrong. But today I snapped. I felt terrible as I sneaked out of the house extra early this morning. My wife must have known something was up, because she said, “Isn’t it too early for the NPR?”
I mumbled something, got dressed, and switched off the light as I made my guilty escape. After a frenzied ride up the bike path, I met her. There on 26th and San Vicente, the morning not yet fully broken, there she was, ready for the taking if only I was man enough to handle her.
Sausage was in the middle of the group that whizzed by. He winked. “Finally came to get some, eh?” he said.
I nodded, no longer guilty, no longer afraid of the treachery I was about to commit. To the contrary, I was burning, on fire, the blood pounding through my veins as we met for the first time. The way she roared downhill on San Vicente, so smooth, so fast, so racy, it was a dream.
Then it all changed in an instant. Suddenly she was going up, up, up, with Manzila blasting at the front, shattering the group as it launched up her curving, sloping surface. I was panting from the exertion, exploring her, feeling her out, looking for that rhythm that comes when two bodies, in synch, pulsate with the pounding.
The first time it was awkward, I’ll admit it. I’d been so accustomed to my lover of all those Tuesday and Thursday mornings that I had a hard time adjusting to her raw, jagged uphill contours. I’m embarrassed to say that I was so excited that I finished too quickly the first time, giving out before I should have, with a dozen or so riders ahead of me. I knew she was unsatisfied.
We sat on the corner at Sunset and regrouped. I looked at Gareth, still out of breath. “What’s her name?” I asked.
“Amalfi,” he said. “Her name is Amalfi.”
“What a beautiful name,” I thought to myself, but before I could repeat it we were off again. This second time around, a group of three wankers launched on San Vincente. I followed. This time I wasn’t going to finish early; no, I’d hold it strong and steady and even, driving her and driving her until she was satisfied, too.
We hit Chainbreaker Corner and I pounded with a frenzy. My breakaway companions sagged and heaved their shoulders. Their wad was shot. Alone I soldiered on until Gareth caught me, then dropped me. I struggled back on, grinding away, not done yet. Then Manzilla came by. I latched onto him and he dragged us to the final hundred meters, when a gaggle of four or five riders swarmed by us at the end.
I was wasted, wrecked, spent, and she was, too. I know she liked it, but as we waited again at Sunset to regroup I could tell she wanted it one more time. And I promised that I’d give it to her.
Again on San Vicente I launched with three others, except this time Gareth went with us. By Chainbreaker it was “just the two of us,” and it was this final effort that was most exhausting, most painful, yet most beautiful and satisfying of all.
“Oh, Amalfi,” I said, as I pounded and pushed and thrashed, sweat pouring off my face, grunting and gasping and moaning, amazed that I had this third effort in me, amazed that Gareth hadn’t spit me out the back and left me for dead, amazed at Amalfi’s grace.
And that was the end, just Gareth and I sweating and heaving atop her.
On the way home I was flooded with guilt, but also with a sense of love and, yes, conquest. I would never abandon my dear old lover NPR; Tuesday mornings at 6:40 were still for her and her alone. But now that I had tasted the forbidden fruit of the Amalfi Ride, now that I had buried myself in the triple climax of her six minutes and thirty seconds of pure ecstasy, I knew I would be back for more.
Would NPR understand? I hope she will. I’m only human.
March 7, 2014 § 29 Comments
Wankmeister’s ass hurt, the kind of butthurt that felt like his saddle had been forcefully wedged somewhere between L1 and T9 for an hour or so. Even though he was curled up in bed, coughing chunks of dark green phlegm, his legs still ached the deep ache of “you are too old and weak to exert yourself in this fashion and expect anything other than collapse.” The roots of his teeth hurt, always a bad sign. Most worrisome, his headache had sunk down below his brain and had morphed into a deep throbbing at the back of his eyeballs.
Wanky wondered if he’d ever had sore eyeballs before from a bike ride. He hadn’t.
Don’t roll NPR when you’re droopypants
The morning had begun with the most ill of omens, an incredulous interrogation by Mrs. WM. “You not goin onna NPR?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“You crazy? You been droopy alla week with cold and coughin and fluin and spittin onna washbasin and onna toilet seat. Why you goin onna ride so soon after bein droopypants?”
“I’m better now. I need to ride.”
“You ain’t better now you still all sick and still coughin because you woke me up alla night spittin, you was spittin an chokin like a cat spittin four hairballs outta his butt.”
“That would be shitting, then, not spitting.”
“You was doin that too and you wasn’t turnin on the high fan because it stinked up alla hallway and even inna kitchen.”
“Honey, I’ve been off the bike for a week. I’m losing fitness.”
“What you’re losin, you’re losin onna your mind. An you’re gonna come back home even bigger droopypants you watch, an askin onna “hot tea” this anna “leg rubbin'” that but I ain’t doin it.”
Etymology of the South Bay seal hunt
Few know that the concept of baby seal clubbing on the New Pier Ride was invented by Bull Seivert, also known as “KitchenAid” for his thrashing, mashing, mixing, heaving, whaling, pig-fucking-a-greased-football pedaling style that, when observed up close, makes you wonder whether the bike wouldn’t go faster if he flipped over on his back and rowed the thing in the air with his giant hams. Bull is known far and wide for his fearless, senseless, single-minded charges to the front, charges so filled with fury and strength that he typically explodes halfway through the ride like a giant blood sausage overstuffed with snot, sweat, and sputum.
However, by the time that KitchenAid rolls over like a great, bleeding, wheezing harpooned whale, the hangers-on, suckers-of-wheels, waiters-for-the-sprunt, and all other manner of lower life forms have been beaten into a lumpy pulp of quivering flesh and bone. It was after one particularly memorable thrashing that Bull compared the pack fodder to a raft of baby harp seals, innocent, bleating, helpless, chubby, doe-eyed and defenseless in the face of the murderous, blood covered drunks swinging their hooked clubs, matted as they were with the blood, gore, and fleshy pieces of their victims.
The baby seal analogy stuck, and the truism of the analogy was such that entire contingents of NPR riders began referring to themselves as “baby seals.” Like their namesakes, they relived the brutal clubbing of their furry friends each and every Tuesday. Only a few of the most daring pinnipeds, creatures with names like Sausage and Poopsie, ever raised their flippers in victory at the NPR. The passion play remained forever writ in stone: The giants clubbed and the baby seals rolled over in a bloody trough of shame, pain, and defeat.
Carrying the hunter’s club to the seal’s own demise
Winter before last, on a cold and rainy morning that had less than twenty riders on the NPR, Wanky had stopped at the alleyway exit to take off his rain jacket. The pack kept going but one baby seal stopped. It was a weak and barely developed juvenile seal, Phoque de Paris, who was in his second season of riding. Phoque accepted his place in the clubbing hierarchy so completely that he had purchased a baby stuffed seal and strapped it beneath his saddle, just in case there were ever any doubt. There wasn’t.
Wanky fumbled with his jacket, got it stuffed in his jersey, and the pair, hunter and prey, set off in chase of the peloton. Wankmeister wasn’t feeling great, and his less-than-great sensations were enhanced by Phoque’s madman time-trial mode along Vista del Mar, battering into a nasty, miserably cold crosswind. “What the Phoque?” he wondered at this sudden display of speed and power by a heretofore undistinguished baby seal.
Phoque never swung over, and barreled for several miles until the pack was in sight. With one huge final effort he got to within a couple of hundred yards. By now Wankmeister was quite warmed up and he noted Phoque’s shoulders as they swayed and sagged, his head beginning to evince the tell-tale “cranial droop” of a tired rider. Thankful and profoundly appreciative for Phoque’s selfless effort, Wanky took out his club, inspected the shiny, sparkling, unblooded tip, and jumped as hard as he could around Phoque to close the gap. Unable to follow the sudden burst, the hapless baby seal, after doing all that hard word for a friend, found himself alone, shelled, and hopelessly dropped as the pack rode away.
Wankmeister wiped off his club and went on to a glorious NPR victory that day, which he dedicated to “that little phoquer who waited for me.”
When the club swings full circle
Now, many moons later, Wanky reached the Center of the Known Universe and greeted his fellow riders. The chief talk that morning was whether or not the angry psychotic homeless person would be waiting to ambush them in the alley, and what the best response would be if he challenged the group again with his fists. Most agreed that the bragging rights attached to 60 healthy grown athletic men beating the snot out of an insane poor person were minimal, and although a certain “fun” quotient was mentioned by one or two, the consensus was to take evasive action if he appeared.
Wankmeister’s cold/flu/bronchial infection/ovarian cyst reminded him how bad he felt, how right his wife had been, and how he should have stayed in bed. When the group turned onto Vista del Mar, he realized that in his current condition the only sane thing to do would be, of course, to attack. So he did.
Unbeknownst to our hero, however, there is a sacred rule espoused by those who are famed for never attacking anywhere, ever: “Thou shalt not attack on Vista del Mar.” In retrospect, when he was curled up in bed, Wanky wished that he had known about the rule if only so that he could have enjoyed breaking it. By the time he passed Imperial, a nascent break had formed including Bull, Phoque, Lamchops, Brewmaster, and Ronan the Mini-Barbarian. The first time that Phoque pulled through, Wankmeister noticed something that surprised him. Beneath Phoque’s saddle there no longer dangled a stuffed baby seal.
After a few rotations Lamchop had been seasoned, fried in the pan, and served up with a sprig of parsley. Mini-Barbarian decided to go back to the pack and get civilized. Brewmaster’s yeast infection had gummed up his pedalworks, and there were soon only three riders left. After one rotation KitchenAid began to suck and heave, and each time Phoque swung over for Wanky to pull through, he couldn’t. “Hey, fucker!” yelled Wanky. “I can’t pull through if you don’t slow down!” Shrugging, Phoque kept the gas on.
Dragging the corpse
They raced up the small hill on Pershing, with Bull still hanging on for dear life, unable to take a pull. In his pain-besotted misery, Wankmeister cursed his friend and teammate. “Pull through you sorry fucker, I don’t care how much you’re hurting,” he muttered to himself between mighty exhalations of snot that were immediately absorbed by his dripping mustache, then drooled into his mouth or into his beard.
By the time they hit the Parkway, KitchenAid’s beaters had been reattached and he started to pull through. The peloton was a distant memory as Poopsie, Sausage, Hallpass, and Finnhead bitterly complained and gnashed their teeth about the early attack while they had been discussing gear-inches, motorcycle protective clothing, and drag coefficients. They angrily made plans to impugn the integrity of the breakaways, people who had none, on Facebook. “Just remember,” Finnhead said to Poopsie, “it’s easier to complain about a breakaway on FB than it is to chase it down in real life.” Then they all went to the back and Instagrammed each other’s kits.
The three-man breakaway, however, was completely unconcerned with Finnhead’s gnashing teeth or with the long, detailed complaint that Sausage and Poopsie would draft and mail to the New Pier Ride Advisory Board and its director, “Toofs” Prettytree, one of the staunchest advocates for fair, honest, riding on the NPR and dental work and wheelsucking. The breakaway was concerned with something much more important: Not becoming a one-man breakaway, as Phoque was drilling and grilling like an insane combination of dentist-turned-Texas-BBQ-chef.
Phoque kept the torrid pace up for minutes at a time, pausing only to catch his breath while Wanky leaked tears and prostate juice all over his bike and while KitchenAid kept staring mindlessly at his Garmin, hoping that it would say something other than YOU ARE COMPLETELY FUCKED NOW. It didn’t, but deep in the throes of cranial droop KitchenAid slammed into Phoque’s rear wheel, creating a nice brown stain in Wanky’s shorts that would take several hours of hard scrubbing to remove. “Keep your fucking head up and quit looking at your fucking computer!” Wanky roared, but it wasn’t a roar, it was more of a whimper, as Phoque was driving the pace into the wind again and the two cabooses needed every bit of oxygen to pedal.
Swing. Thud. Swing. Thud. Swing. Thud.
If you’ve ever been in a break on the NPR with four laps to go, you know the meaning of hell. 99 times out of 100, you’re going to get caught and when you do, you will be wrecked. However, Phoque didn’t appear to care, and he swung his club at Wanky and Bull with abandon. The blood flowed.
“So,” squealed Bull. “This is how it feels.”
“Ouchies,” whined Wankmeister. “My prostate juice is sopping my shorts.”
“Oh, did that hurt?” Phoque asked solicitously. “Let me give you another one.” And he’d pound away. Occasionally the chasing peloton would come into view, with Sausage and Finnhead and Toofs seated comfortably at the back, adding new points and sub-points to their detailed legal polemic that would be posted after the ride. Poopsie tried to drive the pace, but as an inveterate baby seal his efforts were for naught, and anyway, while the chasers got hung up at the occasional red light Phoque & Co. had full advantage of the NPR’s Three Breakaway Rules, which are as follows:
- Never stop.
- Do not stop.
- Stopping is prohibited.
Finnhead and Toofs made note of this and added it to the long list of infractions being compiled, to wit: “Faux breakaway cheaters and early attackers in neutral zone furthermore didn’t stop but we had to stop at all the lights so there.”
“Be sure to add that we almost caught them anyway,” said Finnhead, comfortably sitting in the very back as the break continued to put huge amounts of time on the pack.
It pays to have friends in high places
Even with their gargantuan lead, the breakaway would have succumbed had Wankmeister’s SPY teammates not sat at the back of the peloton and refused to assist with Poopsie’s doomed chase. Before long even Poopsie, he of the detailed report to be submitted to the Rules Committee, threw in the towel. Finnhead, realizing that his usual zero probability of winning had been reduced to negative numbers, focused instead on the 38 mph max speed that he would reach by sitting on others’ wheels, and chalked it up as a win. Sausage planned to purchase the Parkway in his next M&A acquisition and jail all future rule breakers.
As they sped up towards the bridge on the finishing lap, Phoque finally swung over. He was starting to look winded and well-tenderized for a late attack, the kind that would be quick and hard enough for him not to respond to, and the kind that would leave him gasping for air as Wankmeister claimed another glorious victory. It would be a nice “don’t forget your elders” touch to pay Phoque back for the relentless clubbing he’d administered the entire morning.
“Hey, man,” Wanky said as he passed.
“You ever won the NPR?”
Phoque shook his head. “No.”
“Well, wanker, you will today.”
And he did.
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November 14, 2013 § 33 Comments
This is really simple. A white C-Class Mercedes-Benz, with a license number we couldn’t confirm due to problems with the GoPro video that captured the scene, buzzed the Tuesday NPR group going an estimated 75 – 80 mph. No one was hurt. Lots of people were scared.
The driver is a repeat offender, and westbound on Westchester Parkway around 7:30 AM seems to be the time of his daily commute. I first became aware of him several months ago, sometime in June. A Texas Aggie cyclist had shown up on the ride and proceeded to crush it. Being a Texas grad, I waited for the interloper to exhibit the famed Aggie traits of doofishness, flaildom, and crackage.
This guy rode like a champ, kept pushing it at the front, and really stood out for his strength and work ethic and solid skills. I didn’t want to admit it, but he was damned good. Just before the finish a white Mercedes came roaring by in excess of 80 mph, buzzing the finishing sprinters. The Aggie took the win, and as I shook my head in respect I noticed that the rapidly receding asshat in the Benz had his alma mater emblazoned on the back.
It was a silver metallic Texas Longhorn.
When we turned left on Pershing, asshat had gotten hung up at the light, and we exchanged words. He sped in front of us, then threw on the brakes, as if to get out and fight. When he realized that the approaching mob contained about fifty grown athletic men, he flipped us off and sped away.
Ever since then he has periodically buzzed our group, and one day he’s going to kill someone.
This is what we put up with in order to ride our bikes on the streets of L.A.: Morons from Texas who are too chicken to get out and confront us, and instead risk our lives by trying to intimidate us with crazy, high speed games. Fortunately, since this repeated harassment has occurred in the City of Los Angeles, we have a remedy, because the city has passed an anti-harassment ordinance that specifically protects cyclists from life-threatening harassment such as the kind that this asshat regularly engages in.
Stay tuned. This one isn’t over yet by a long shot.
October 9, 2013 § 32 Comments
Several baby seals, confused by the vicious clubbing and strewing of brain matter about the Parkway, have sent me emails requesting to know the “rules” by which the NPR is organized. Although the typical answer to such inquiries is a vicious blow to the head and skinning, I’ve decided to answer. Here they are.
- There are no rules.
- There is no off season.
- If you didn’t go to the front repeatedly until you aspirated your own shit, you didn’t do the NPR.
- First wanker to cross the plane of the starting point of the third island on the fourth lap wins.
- The group must obey all traffic laws.
- The break must break all traffic laws.
- If you are repeatedly towards the front but rarely on it, you are a baby seal, worthless except for clubbing.
- If you are towards the front and don’t pull through, you are a baby seal, worthless except for clubbing.
- If you won the sprunt and didn’t take at least five shit-aspirating pulls, you are a baby seal, worthless except for clubbing.
- Do not let your head droop, lest you become a baby seal, worthless except for clubbing.
- NPR is terrible training, therefore you must do it to win or to aspirate your own shit.
- One point for the win; most points by the annual South Bay Cycling Awards is crowned Champion of the NPR.
- The noblest NPR win is solo.
- The second noblest win is out of a break.
- The third noblest win is by beating another team’s leadout train.
- The most ignoble win is by following wheels.
- All wins are equal.
- On the NPR, Strava is for shit.
- Better to dig, blow, and get shelled than to follow and finish with the group.
- Everyone knows the wheelsucks.
- One all-out effort at the front equals an entire year of FB wheelsuckery.
- The nastier the weather, the greater the cred.
- The highest form of NPR-ism is pushing the weak when you’re gassed.
- Advice is better spoken than screamed with flecks of spit and snot dribbling around your mouth.
- No one forgets.
- NPR-ists always forgive.
- Thou shalt never brag about taking a pull. Those who matter saw it. Those who didn’t, think you’re a lying sack of shit.
- The only thing lower than a baby seal is a shrimpdick who chops a chick’s wheel.
- If you “join the group” after the bump up Pershing, you are a baby seal, worthless except for clubbing.
- If you reach World Way Ramp without having aspirated your own shit, you are a baby seal, worthless except for clubbing.
- When in doubt, go to the front.
That is all.
September 18, 2013 § 35 Comments
When you have a WordPress blog you can find out which search terms people use to discover your clever, amazing writing. It’s a great litmus test for the quality of your work and the quality of your readers. By examining the terms that people use to find your blog you can also get great insight into the ideas, thoughts, and concepts that stimulate your audience.
So I was honored (yet again) to review the search terms used to find “Cycling in the South Bay” over the last seven days, search terms like:
sam warford pictures
hey fuckface pvc
death pch bike newport beach
gas room heating flandria switch on
women spying on wankers
why don’t cyclists eat pig
And my favorite …
coach fucks cyclist in lycra videos
But it’s not all bad news
Aside from the rather depressing realization that the very best creative writing I have to offer attracts the lowest gutter-scum of the Internet, I continue to be buoyed by the things I witness while riding my bike. For example, I saw something really cool this morning on the NPR.
I’m now deep into the off season, which means that for the next ten days I’m only riding nine of them. My regular services at the Church of the New Pier Ride were curtailed this morning. Rather than trying to hammer for four laps I decided to suck wheel at the very back for two, after which I’d quit and pedal into work.
As I sat on the back I noticed one big ol’ wanker huffing and puffing to stay on the with the group. He’s a new NPR rider and has never made it the four full laps, typically getting shelled with the first hard surge up the Parkway. We were halfway done with the second lap and he was still there.
As the group accelerated up the modest rise to the bridge, he started to come off. That’s when I heard a somewhat stern voice say “Push harder!” It was Rider X, one of the bosses of the peloton.
Struggling Sam grunted his way back onto a wheel. “Good job,” said Rider X. “Now keep your damned head up. Don’t drop your head when you get tired or you’ll crash.”
Struggling Sam jerked his head up. “Okay,” he wheezed. The pace had slowed and he was firmly latched onto the back.
Another couple of minutes went by as Rider X, the dude who’s stonily silent most of the time and who strikes terror into the hearts of his enemies, gave helpful and friendly tips to Struggling Sam, which was just enough encouragement for him to hang on. “Never made it this far!” said Sam with an elated grin as the group hit the turnaround and I glided on alone, heading to the office, my day started with search terms like “happy.”