January 28, 2013 § 35 Comments
Tink came out of the gate hot at the P[u]CK[e]RR, won her first road race of 2013, and gave SPY Liv-Giant its first win of the year.
Which was nice.
Josh Alverson came out smoking the next day at the Meatball crit and won the Cat 3 wankfest in a 7-lap solo break.
Which was nice.
Cannonball Gadhia, propelled into the final 500 meters by the SPY-Giant-RIDE blue train, was launched to victory in the old gentlemen’s tender prostate 45+ category of the Meatball crit.
Which was nice.
Erik the Red, Walshie, Stephen Davis, MMX, Alan Flores, Roald Dahl, Logan Fiedler, and Brian Zink all nailed down high finishing spots in PUCKERR and Meatball.
Which was nice.
And then, at the team meeting on Friday night, much swag was handed out to the liver-spotted and grizzled pro masters racers, each of whom received his new shades and fancy socks and knit caps and other cool goodies with sweaty, grasping palms.
Which was nicest of all, perhaps.
Unntil we sat down on Saturday night for a lecture from Perry Kramer about “Why Your Giant Bicycle is So Kick Ass.”
There is no “I” in TEAM
However, if you add an “e,” there’s most definitely an “Eat me.” And truth be told, for years and years and years, my attitude towards carbon bicycle frames has been just that: “Eat me.”
So when I learned that Giant would be the new gorilla sponsor for the team’s bicycles, I shrugged. “Great. Another nameless Taiwanese manufacturer with no soul, cranking out machine-made bikes at a rate of 1,000 per hour.”
Having ridden Specialized for the last four years, I’d given up on the Eurocentric, hand-crafted mythology that used to accompany bicycles when they were made from Columbus tubing, by hand, in some Italian or Belgian village. I’d accepted that the future of cycling was nameless, interchangeable, soulless, plastic knockoffs made by assembly line workers pushing “start” and “stop” buttons on the Carbon Frame Goop-a-tron: Lighter, faster, stiffer, more aerodynamic…but spiritually dead.
And after experiencing the superiority of the carbon frame over steel, I’d made peace with the trade-off. Carbon frame isn’t more soulful. But it is mo bettah.
You may be wrong (but you may be right)
When Perry stood up to make his presentation, I was ready to let the words flow into the right ear and out of the left one, making minimal contact with the thinking organ in between. The only tingle of curiosity I had was this: Would he explain why my Giant TCX ‘cross bike rode so well?
Although I’m a complete clod when it comes to bikes and the way they perform, and my ignorance is trumped only by my cluelessness of why they perform the way they do, from the first time I rode my TCX I’d been blown away by the way it handled. Of course, I chalked it up to the fact that I’d never raced or ridden a ‘cross bike before, and this was just how ‘cross bikes rode.
What piqued my curiosity, though, was the fact that when I’d had to put road wheels on the TCX and use it for road riding while my Venge was having its radiator replaced and its water pump serviced, the Giant ‘cross bike had handled better and climbed better than the Specialized road unit. What was that all about?
We are the sum of our prejudices
It turns out that I’m not simply dumb about bike handling and performance characteristics and why bike frames are the way they are. From the beginning of the slide show I found out that I knew even less than I’d already thought I didn’t know, which was everything.
For example, I thought you made a carbon bike frame the same way you make a toy set for a Happy Meal, by pouring a bunch of carbon fiber goop into a mold. The mold cools, you slap on a decal and some wheels, and boom! There’s your new Specializedgianttrekwillierscannondalepinarello carbon bike.
I’ll spare you the technical details, mostly because I don’t understand them, but there’s no big Goop-a-tron at the Giant factory, with little people pouring in buckets of goop into a cauldron and stirring it with goop sticks until it’s ready for molding. Here’s the shocking fact about how Giant bikes are made: By hand.
More precisely, by 32 pairs of hands, as sixteen is the number of people involved in the meticulous, piece-by-piece construction of each bike. The bikes are painstakingly built over a mold sort of like those horrendous, smelly, ugly, badly painted papier-mache things you had to do in 3rd Grade art class. Strips of carbon fiber are placed in a specific order over the mold, then hardened with resin which is heated and pressed in an oven.
The secret to the way a carbon bike rides lies in the shape of the mold, the type of carbon fiber used, the size of the fiber strips, the number of the fiber strips, the order in which the strips are placed onto the mold, and most importantly, the “secret sauce,” or proprietary resin mixture that bonds and later hardens the carbon fiber.
Changing any of these variables changes the way the bike behaves. The best combination, or the design + technique, is what makes a carbon frame world class or a spongy piece of bubble gum.
The reason my TCX handles so well
After listening to Perry’s awesome explanation and being imbued with extensive tech specs and production process explanations, I can sum it up like this: “The TCX rides so well because it’s fuckin’ bitchin’ rad and badass.”
Hopefully, once I get on the Giant TCR road frame, I’ll have an equally sophisticated explanation for it, assuming it rides as well as my TCX.
In addition to learning that there was no Goop-a-tron, and no slave labor pouring carbon into a cauldron, I learned why Giant has flown under my radar screen for so many years despite being one of the biggest manufacturers in the world for composite frames, and being the only large manufacturer that controls the entire production process from weaving the carbon fiber to slapping the decal on the finished product.
I had heard countless times that Giant made the frames for Cannondale, Trek, and numerous other big name brands. “Why would they do that for other brands unless the other brands had some kind of superior design that Giant couldn’t equal? Aren’t they using the other dudes’ designs in their bikes? And if so, why buy a bike with Giant on it, when it’s a knock-off of someone else’s superior work?”
Kind of like my Goop-a-tron thinking, this had it back asswards at best, completely wrong at worst. Giant does make bikes for other frame makers according to the specs of those makers.
But it makes its own bikes according to its own top-secret, proprietary specs because Giant’s secret sauce and lay-up processes are better. It sounds kind of like a sex manual, you know, secret sauce and lay-ups, but it isn’t.
The result of all this is simple:
Giants are lighter (which doesn’t mean squat to me, and sounds kind of funny when you put it like that).
Giants are stiffer (which means they climb better, which explains why my TCX goes uphill better than my Venge).
Giants have less flex in the bottom bracket (which, with the stiffer frame, means they track better, which explains the feeling of being on rails, which I like muy mucho a lot takusan viel hen hao).
What this means for you, the consumer
Actually, it doesn’t mean anything. Whether your bike is made of steel or bamboo or carbon fiber (as long as it’s not one of those horrible stomping bike-running monstrosities that combine the worst things about cycling with the worst things about running), as long as you’re riding it and enjoying it, that’s all that matters. Giant, Midget, Specialized, Generalized…whatever.
The guys who are great athletes and who get paid to ride bike brands were winning before that sponsorship and they’ll be winning when they change teams. The bike doesn’t make the rider, or even the ride. It’s just the catalyst, because, you know, the ride is inside you.
However, if you’re going to buy a new bike, and if you’ve never considered Giant as being among the top tier of the very best hand made bikes ever built, you’re doing a disservice to the dollar you’re about to spend and a disservice to your legs. You can also be assured–take it from the Wankmeister–that there’s no Goop-a-tron. Never was. Never will be.
Now get out there and go to the front.
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.
August 30, 2012 § 19 Comments
I walked in the door, took one look at her face, and knew it was bad. Real bad. Real, real, real bad.
“What are you gonna been doing on my t-shirts drawer?”
“I can explain.”
“Lookit at the this one!” She held up two t-shirts, clean ones, that had been unceremoniously lying on the floor. “And what you gonna say about the that one?” She snatched up another.
“Look, honey, what happened is…”
“I don’ wanna hear no ‘This honey happened is’ poop talk! What are you gonna be saying on the this one? Huh?” Now she had moved to the shorts drawer, and there, spilling out of the drawer and onto the carpet were six or seven pairs of shorts.
“I was finishing up at court, see, and…”
“You ain’t gonna do no up court finishing and come home and dump out onna my shirts and shorts! You ain’t gonna touch on my shirts and shorts! You been marrying on me twenty-five years and you don’ never gone in my clothes drawers!”
“Please calm down! There’s no need to shout.”
There was actually a pretty good reason to shout
“I’m gonna tell you onna shouting! What is THIS? You gonna tell me on THIS? What’s onna THIS?” Now she had moved to the panty drawer. The holy, untouchable, perfectly folded, immaculately organized panty drawer was now the focus of my attention. “What’s a gonna been happening on THIS?”
“It does kind of look like a tornado went through it,” I admitted.
“I’m gonna tell on you about some tornado!” she shouted. “That’s a my panties drawer! Why you goin into my panties drawer? You got no business in my panties drawer! I ever gone into your biker tool box with the wrenchy things you don’ can’t use right and always bustin stuff so you take it to a bike shop for fixing and cost a lotta money? I ever mess with that, no I don’t! Why you messin my panties?”
While she caught her breath to get ready for another round of hollering, I took my chance to explain. “Well, what happened is, Brad and Tink had a bike wreck and got hauled off to the hospital in an ambulance. I was gonna go see if they needed anything.”
“What’s a Bradandtink?”
“Brad and Tink. Tinkerbell. They’re biker friends.”
“Ohhhh,” she rolled her eyes. “Itsa dumb biker story again time getting all run over on the car.”
“No, no car. So I’m on the way to the hospital and G3 calls and says ‘Can you get some clothes for Tink?’ and I say ‘Sure.'”
“This Tinks person’s a girl or a boy?”
“Tink is a girl.”
Mrs. WM’s eyes narrowed, which looked pretty gnarly because they’re already pretty narrow. “How come you a boy gettin’ clothes on a girl? How come she ain’t wearin’ on her own clothes?”
“She was, but they cut ‘em off in the ER because she was concussed and shredded with road rash.”
“Why it matters she’s a cussin’?”
“Concussion. Knocked out. Blam-o to the head. So I went to get her a change of clothes so when she got discharged she’d have something to wear. Simple.”
Mrs. WM looked at me. Her eyes widened as it hit her. The color drained from her face.
“Aw fuck,” I thought. “Here it comes.”
Here it did indeed come
She wasn’t angry anymore. She was in a panic. “You gonna gave on my panties to the girl?”
“Now, before you get all excited, honey…”
“Please don’t tell me you gonna gave on my panties to the girl. Please don’ tell me onna that. Please don’ on the Jesus.”
“Honey, I went through the drawer and took out a pair at the bottom. They’re like, practically brand new. They were so clean and sparkly I had to put on my sunglasses when I held ‘em in the light.” That part was actually true. Mrs. WM had a thing about panties being clean enough to eat off of. So to speak.
“What’s a color?”
I could tell she was racing through her inventory. “They were kind of gray. Don’t worry, honey. I’d never give her those big granny things or the skinny little thong-dealie with the fadeaway in the center.”
The mental picture clicked. “They were on a kind of gray with a little pattern speckle, isn’t they?”
“Yep. That’s the pair.”
“I don’t ever wore that hardly once or twice.”
“See? I checked, honey. They was clean enough to run up a flagpole, or plop out on the desk at a job interview. You’re golden. She might not have even worn ‘em.”
Mrs. WM cracked a sharp glance. “What kina girl ain’t wearing on underwears?”
“Biker chicks. They’re all commando half the time anyway. Trust me.” Oop, I thought. Too heavy on that last one.
“How you gonna know onna biker girls underpants or not?”
“Uh, well, you can kind of see there’s no pantyline when you’re riding behind them.”
“How come you ridin onna girl’s behind? You always tellin’ me about you’re going on the fast and can’t no one stay on your behind. Now you’re tellin’ me about a girls underwear panties line ridin’ on her behind?”
“Here, honey,” I said. “Let me help you pick this stuff up.”
She glowered. “You thinkin’ about touching on my panties again and we’re gonna have to be another big problems.”
“Yes, dear,” I said, and slowly backed away.
August 18, 2012 § 2 Comments
Once upon a time there was a city mouse named Wanky. He was snooty, and he thought that Big City was the best place in the whole world. He was even conceited enough to think that one of his local coffee shops was the center of the known universe. He owned a fancy bicycle and only wore designer bicycle clothing.
Wanky had a poor country cousin mouse from Bakersfield named Lem, who had a cousin named Cletus. Although Lem and Cletus were cousins, like most Bakersfield mice one never inquired too closely as to the consanguinity because it often turned out that “cousin” was a euphemism for “illegal relationship in the lower 48 except Texas.”
One day Wanky called up Lem on the Twitter. “Lem, why don’t you come down and do our Donut Ride. You country mice will learn a thing or two about how to ride your bicycles.”
“Why thanky, Wanky,” said Lem the country mouse. “That’s mighty nice of you. Do you mind if I bring Cousin Cletus?”
“Cletus? Is he the one with the saggy tummy and stumpy tail?”
“That’s him,” said Lem. “But he would like to come and see what all that Big City riding is like. He don’t get out much, except for when him and me get over to Fresno ever now and agin for chain lube and clean underwear.”
“How often is that, Cousin Lem?”
“Oncet or twice a year, for sure.”
“That would be fine,” said Wanky. “Be sure to tell him that our Donut Ride is the most glorious and fame-inducing ride in Big City. All the Big City mice will be there, as well as one or two Big City rats. They will more than likely gnaw out his entrails.”
Glory or fitness? Glory.
“Will us’n get a good piece of training on your Big City donut?” asked Lem.
“No,” said Wanky. “My third cousin twice removed on Uncle Theodosius’s sister’s side, Jack from Illinois (not his real name), says that the Donut Ride is the dumbest and worst preenfest of wankers he’s ever seen. And he’s from Illinois, so he knows a thing or two about wankers.”
“Me and Cletus was hopin for some training.”
“We have lots of training in Big City,” Wanky said snootily. “You can train with Roadchamp at 3:00 AM and break every Strava record known to mice and men.”
“I kinda think we’d like to do that ride,” squeaked Lem.
“Only problem is that no one will ever see you. You’ll be invisible, eating your pre-ride cheese at Peet’s Cheeseshop in the dark. You’ll have done a hundred and ten with 8k of climbing by the time we even get started on the Donut Ride.”
“What do mean by ‘glory’?”
“Glory?” Wanky said with a condescending squeak. “When you roll out on the Donut Ride in Big City, you’ll be surrounded by rodentia royalty. The Italian Stallion might even be there.”
“You might as well ask me ‘Who was Ratty?’ in the Wind in the Willows,” Wanky said. “Or ‘Who was Stuart Little?’ Or ‘Who was Mickey?’ Crikey, Lem, the Italian Stallion is the most famous rat in Big City. When he shows up on the Donut Ride, it’s Katie bar the door.”
All aboard for the Pussy Riot
“Katie bar the door?”
“Yep. Katie Donovan, a/k/a Razor, will slice you into thin little ribbons of mouse meat and feed you to the cats. She did the Leadville 100 walking all the descents and still finished in under four hours. She even carries around an ego bag.”
“A what?” Lem’s voice quivered on the other end of the Twitter.
“And ego bag. It’s a giant bag hooked up underneath her saddle. Bigger than Dallas, even.”
“What’s it for?”
“She fills it up with all the broken male mouse egos that get shattered on the Donut Ride. Starts the ride empty, goes home full to busting.”
“But she’s a girl mouse?”
“Not a girl mouse like you have out in the country, Lem. She’s a Big City mouse. She’s pretty, and smart, and well educated, and knows how to use a napkin, and only blows snot out of her nose when there’s no one on her wheel.”
“Holy Gouda!” squeaked Lem admiringly.
“But when the hammer comes down, she’s the one with her fingers wrapped around the handle. And it’s all the little boy mice’s testicles who get smushed.”
Lem squeaked in terror. “Are you sure she’ll be there?”
“Pretty sure. And even if she’s not, Tink will be.”
“Who’s Tink?” Lem’s squeak was so soft that Wanky could hardly hear it.
“She’s the climbingest mouse in the South Bay after Razor. Lots of big tough boy mice have tried to pin her in a trap, but the only way to get Tink’s attention is to finish with her on the top of a climb. And none of the boy mice have been able to do that yet.”
Beware of fools bearing gifts
On the day of the big ride, Lem and Cletus showed up at the Cheese Bean and Cheese Leaf in Big City. Wanky met them and introduced them to much of the Big City royalty. New Mouse was there. Sparkly Mouse was there. Polly Mouse, Douggie Mouse, Jensie Mouse, Gussy Mouse, Junkyard Mouse, Friedrich Mouse, Pilot Mouse, and a host of other rodents assembled to greet the out of towners. The only big rat missing was G$ Rat and Mighty Mouse herself.
Lem reached into his homespun carryall and pulled out a pair of pink unicorn socks. “Here y’go, Cousin Wanky. These here magic unicorn socks will give you extra special riding powers. Plus they are so loud and ugly and bright that I will be able to find you no matter how far back I am.”
Wanky pulled on the magic unicorn socks and felt a special strength surge up into his incisors. “Thank you, Cousin Lem and Cousin Cletus!” His long and greasy and hairless tail quivered in anticipation.
All rats great and small rolled out, an armada of rodents more than one hundred strong. Even the evil and nasty Big City police cats and Deputy Knox cat were afraid to approach the rolling entourage of cheese eaters.
Country mice squeak strongly
On the dreaded Switchbacks, the selection occurred with the Italian Stallion, Razor, Tink, Dentist, Stathis the Wily Greek, John Mouse Hall, and Petey Mouse. Lem lasted for a while and was then fed to the cats. Cletus had his entrails gnawed out. Wanky wanked in no-mouse-land after getting his head caught in the mousetrap after the third turn.
Lem rode well through Homes and Gardens, finished mousefully on the Domes, sprunted well at Hawthorne, and dusted Wanky on the final climb up Zumaya. Cletus was honored at a roadside burial later that afternoon.
Back at the cheese shop in Big City, Lem and Wanky talked over the day’s events. “You Big City mice sure ride hard.”
“You country mice are no slouches.”
“My tail and haunches are pretty sore.”
“Wait ’til tomorrow.”
“What was that big lake thing on the left the first part of our ride? Was it the Big City sewage pond? Only body of water that big in Bakersfield is the sewage pond.”
“It’s called the Pacific Ocean, but China calls it their sewage pond.”
“Well, someday soon we hope you’ll make it up to the country so’s we can return the favor. Big City mice was shore nice to us. That John Mouse Hall feller told me where the turns was. And that Polly Mouse feller did the same thing for Cletus afore he up and died on us.”
“I’d like nothing better, Lem. When’s a good time?”
“In December it gets down to the low hundreds. Which is good because the sewage pond don’t smell so rich.”
“I’ll put it on my calendar.”
“And bring some Big City mice with you. We’d like to see if they ride as quick on our roads as they do on yours.”
August 5, 2012 § Leave a comment
Every pre-race team meeting this year by every team in Southern California began with the same question. “How’re we gonna beat Meeker?”
Everyone would then kind of stand around and draw circles in the dust with their big toe. “Uh, let’s attack him early and win out of a break.”
“He always marks those.”
“Let’s take him with us in the break, then.”
“He can outsprint anyone in the break.”
“Let’s chase all the breaks, including his, and lead our guy out for a field sprint.”
“He always wins the field sprint, remember? He’s the fastest guy in the nation for his age group in the crit.”
“Well, let’s let him dangle off the front, then run him down towards the end when he’s all tired from working in the break, and then we’ll crush him in the sprint.”
“We tried that at the states road race, remember? He was off the front for 45 miles, we brought him back, and he still won the sprint.”
“Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s send him to London for a few weeks!”
So Rich went off to London to watch the Olympics with his pal Chris Horner, and while he was gone other good riders got to shine. Then he came back.
The secret to beating Rich Meeker in a crit
Today we learned that the secret weapon in stopping Rich from winning is by getting to the guy who glues on his front tire. If you can get to that guy, you’ve suddenly got a chance.
The Brentwood Grand Prix takes place in the global center of hot chicks, fake boobs, guys in Ferraris, Schwarzeneggers, OJ Simpson (before he got life without parole), and the full on West LA vibe. Is your region’s signature event in a place called Hooterville? Is your best crit of the year in an office park?
Brentwood GP happens along a tight, technical little course with a couple of grinding bumps, fast tailwind, hard headwind, and oh-fuckit turns that test your ability to actually handle a bike. Of course, there’s always at least one guy in any crit who is so terrible, jerky, sketchy, twitchy, and unable to control his bike that I’m terrified shitless throughout the race. To make matters worse, that guy is invariably me.
John Hatchitt, our strategy guru, chaired the team pre-race planning session. “We got seven guys. Alan won San Marcos last weekend convincingly. If we play our cards right we can win this one, too.”
“What about Meeker?” I asked.
“Here’s the plan. Wanky, you will get dropped after the first couple of laps, then pulled. So we need to make maximal use of your 150-watts of incredible power. When the gun goes off, hit the front and string it out.”
“It will give you a chance to crash on the first or second turn before people have gotten too tired to avoid you. Rondash, Frias, Harry, and I will stay towards the front, cover any moves, and keep Alan in position in case Meeker rolls off.”
“How’s he gonna beat Meeker?” I asked.
Several dudes glowered at me. “Then, with two or three to go, we’ll get Taylor up into position for the finish, along with Alan if he’s not off the front.”
“But what about…”
I never finished the question, as my teammates sped off to the line.
Breaking bad. Really, really bad.
The race started at a torrid pace, with everyone hustling to get to the first turn, a 180-degree pivot that went up a little bump and then dove down through a chicane and onto a wide straightaway. As we went through the first turn I heard behind me the grinding, skidding, cursing, smashing, banging, whanging, panic-inducing sound of some wanker falling on his ass.
The sound scared me so badly I jumped hard and raced away, dragging the pack behind me for a solid forty or fifty amazing yards. As I swung over, Meeker came through breathing fire and hand grenades at a speed normally reserved for things with large internal combustion engines.
Fifteen minutes into the 50-minute event I was hauling through the start-finish with Hatchitt in hot pursuit of a $150 prime. Steve Klasna, who needed gas money just as badly as I did, powered by with a hard surge. “Fuck,” I thought. “He can have the money, because I got cheered by Christine Reilly, who distinctly yelled ‘Dig deep, Wanky!’ as I zipped through the turn before the finish.”
I had wanted to tell her that if I dug any deeper I’d be in China, but the recent shortage of oxygen in the Brentwood area made that impossible.
The peloton paused after Klasna took the prime, and I rocketed 75 slots back to check on some of my good friends and make sure they were okay. One of them was a dude in a black kit with a giant red license tag hanging from his seat rails that said “Handicapped.” Some shit even I can’t make up.
Meeker then “rolled off the front,” which is what people say when someone jacks away from the wankoton so hot and hard that you couldn’t catch them with 200-lb. test and a fishhook prime of hookers and blow. It was classic Meeker: you take the prime, I’ll take the vee.
They don’t make Yugos any more
This was the critical moment in every race where the contenders, the wannabes, the couldbeens, the oughtahaves, the shouldacouldas had to either man up, put their heads down, and close the gap in the teeth of a headwind or do what bike racers do best: look at each other and say, “You go!”
To which the other dude says, “Fuck that. You go.”
By which time the 30mph gap means you will have to go 32mph without the cozy protection of all the people whose wheels you’ve been sucking for the entirety of the race.
Alan, never a fan of the Yugo, instead hopped into his Igo, and bridged. Klasna tried, but was winded from his gas money effort. Various other riders tried, but in a flash Hatchitt and Meeker’s teammate Roger Worthington came to the front and began doing “efforts” that were just slower than the break, allowing their teammates to establish and then build on their lead, but going fast enough that no one wanted to chase.
Although the gap yo-yoed, at one point getting down to ten seconds when Frank Schroeder and his merry band of assassins tried to close the gap, the constant teamwork of SPY and Amgen, and the iron legs of Flores and Meeker, meant that the break succeeded.
With five laps to go I knew it was my turn to move to the front so I could help with a last lap lead-out. I sprinted down the straightaway as hard as I could, using my last ounce of power, and in a flash had moved up from 76th to 73rd. So much for that. The only thing that remained was for Meeker to beat Alan in the sprint and for someone else to close the field sprint clusterfuck.
When tires go bad
On the bell lap, however, a miracle happened. The closer, the state road champ, the state crit champ, the national crit champ, the badass who doesn’t just bring home the bacon but brings home the entire pig, Rich Meeker himself came red-hot into the next to last turn and rolled a tire.
Fortunately, although Rich is now five pounds lighter from skin loss, he wasn’t badly hurt. Even more fortunately for team SPY, it meant that our closer, Alan Flores, got to roll across the start-finish first, hands held high for a zillion meters.
1. Suze Sonye cracked out an impressive win in the Pro/1/2/3 race, capping her season with win number 389. Apparently all those beatdowns on the NPR are paying off. Oh, waitaminnit. She’s been one of the winningest chick bike racers in SoCal since she was in kindergarten.
2. Emily Georgeson nailed down an awesome win in the women’s Cat 3 race. What a badass. And a cuteass.
3. Shai Oved, the La Grange dude who discovered all those flying snakes in Austin, got 2nd in his Cat 4 race for two weeks in a row. Props!
4. There’s some club called FFKR Architects Racing. Like, how do they pronounce that? “Yo, we ride for fucker archictets,” or something?
5. Rider Unknown took first in the Cat 3 race. Way to go, Rider!
6. Teammate Tait Campbell got second behind Rider. Nice weekend for SPY!
7. Monster Media snagged four out of the top ten in the 35+. I watched it for a couple of laps but it made me ill to watch, they were going so fast. My buddy Aaron Wimberley got eleventh, after telling me on Thursday, “Dude, your attacks are like watching a big blue bus leave the bus stop. They’re slow as shit and everybody’s on it, including the fat guy with a walker. You need to learn how to accelerate.”
8. My other buddy, Josh Alverson, who normally rides for Bike Palace, raced the 35+ event for team Poor Number Placement. I hope they have a good bro deal or something.
9. Amy Hutner gave me an awesome hug after my race. It’s so wrong that bigamy is illegal in California.
10. Pischon Jones was one of the few big boy sprinters to gut out this tough course in the Cat 3 race. Nice job, even though you were cramping like a dog.
11. Tink learned that when you have no teammates, and the course is relatively flat, you can’t ride fifty good racers off your wheel. She did, however, put on a toughness clinic.
12. Today’s race was marked by the absence of Greg Leibert. If he’d been in the 45+ race, there’s no doubt that he or Klasna would have made the break with Rich and Alan.
13. Greg St. Johns showed up and shot photos. This is like having Picasso show up and sketch the fruitbowl on your dining room table.
14. CyclingIllustrated.com was there in force and with live HD streaming of the race. This will become a standard before long. JB is always on the cutting edge, and not happy unless it’s the best.
15. The people and machines who put on the BWGP did a phenomenal job. If every crit were like this–challenging course, beautiful little village with restaurants and shops so that people could watch the action up close while eating a hamburger gut bomb–cycling would p*wn NASCAR like pole dancing p*wns curling.
August 2, 2012 § 4 Comments
This morning’s New Pier Ride was a wankfest deluxe, replete with a dozen different flats, a founding NPR wanker who tumped over on his side at 2mph and trashed his frame, a cement mixer swooping by at warp speed, four hundred thousand medium-sized rocks scattered along the 2.5 mile western leg on the Parkway, bar-bumping, shoulder-rubbing, hollering, hiding, sprunting, attacking, crumpling, wheelsucking, and of course Going to the Front.
The clarion sounded last night, announcing on the Internets that MMX would be coming up from North County to work off his hangover; that Fukdude would be gracing us with his national champion presence; that Prez would be there in a new lime green kit; that Erik the Red would be on a scalp-collecting mission, and that every newbie, oldbie, dumby, and Gumbie would be flailing and flogging in a mad attempt to not get kicked out the back on the first lap.
The wankers answered the call in force. Promises of an audience with the Godfather, promises of sunny weather, and promises of a merciless beatdown resulted in seventy wankers rolling out from the Pier, with an additional 30-40 getting picked up along Pershing.
How was it, then…?
“Today was a dynamic one for me, filled with highs and some lows. I slept three hours and rolled up to the Pier still drunk. I was pumped at the prospect of an exciting, solid ride.”
“I got there early and rode up the bike path. There were lots of people. and they kept coming and coming, like roaches to a pile of fresh puke.”
“Wow, a big ride for Marc’s birthday. Not that anyone knew.”
“WM has cultivated an impressive ride. Blew me away how it kept growing and swelling all the way to Pershing and then along the Parkway.”
“It was cool to see people I haven’t seen in a while.”
“This ride and Wankmeister’s crazy blog got me back into cycling. I’ve been doing this ride for two months and it just gets harder even though I’m getting fitter. Today was the fastest ever.”
“From Pershing I left the wankoton and moved to the front of the class. Got in a nice hard slap at the front after the overpass.”
“Had Wankmeister on my wheel for a long stretch, pulling into the wind. At the front I felt fantastic and never anaerobic, I could have danced all night.”
“I kept waiting for the pace to quicken, but it never did.”
“Did a few rotations and drifted back five or ten wheels, then repeat.”
“Seemed like the first first real acceleration was the second lap, when one or twenty numb nuts let Eric and a couple others go down the road. I had to chase like a motherfucker.”
“Is this ride always this hard? I used to be a bowler. Bowling’s just not this hard.”
“King Harold did a wonderful flat back pull up toward the u-turn, start of Lap 3. I was third wheel. Harold flicked an elbow and the second wheel sat up and moved right, like a total fucking wanker, leaving me to bridge that little gap and then pull all the way up to the turn. Fucking wankers. Don’t they read your blog? Go to the fucking front.”
“Finishing up the 3rd lap I hit a huge rock no one pointed out and nearly lost control. Pinch flatted, which took me out toward the start of the last lap. Major bummer; I was so primed and ready turn on the jets. I think there were twelve flats today.”
“Is there a slower B ride?”
“I kept trying to Go to the Front, but just ended up Going out the Back.”
“Strava flail. How hard was this ride, anyway?”
“The New Pier Ride is incredible. Props to Douggie, Trey, and the other wankers who thought this up. Never seen a regular ride like it, or even heard of one. Fantastic stuff.”
“This ride is a fredfest. Saw two fucking freds almost murder each other and take me out.”
“Won’t be doing this again. Fast enough to tire you out, but not fast enough to make you faster. Fucking trucks and rocks and lights and traffic and crazy people on their first bike ride. This NPR shit blows.”
“People of all stripes come from all over. Its amazing. Really inclusive, which is unusual for road cycling.”
“I didn’t get my coffee this morning because we had a power outage at my apartment. Needless to say, OTB.”
“There were the usual fast guys and lots of new guys who think they are fast until they get near the front and melt like ice cream in a reactor core. I watched a number of guys near me who never took a pull. Now, granted, some of these guys are the guys who were waiting for the sprint (as though this was a race)–we know who they are. But there were others who never got to the front but would linger near it, kind of like a dude with a naked chick who sticks his face down near her crotch and sniffs but won’t drop trou and start humping. I don’t like these people. Hump or go home.”
“I noticed you on the front numerous times, Wankmeister, but I think your legs were zapped. Good posing, though, even though you slowed us down every time you pulled through, you wanker.”
“I saw Eric on the front a few times, including that attack I had to chase down. He’s a badass.”
“The guy in the SBW was awesome. Is that the Dennis Herrera dude you were telling me about? Driving the front. I loved riding with him.”
“Awesome all the other girls out. Makes me feel good to have other girls riding nearby. And they’re strong and getting stronger.”
“Bull would pull but he would get so gassed he’d let gaps open up after, only to come back to the front for another pull. Relentless = awesome.”
“Returning to the South Bay, you had the typical wankers hitting the gas, even though they had all been wearing invisibility cloaks on the Parkway. WTF?”
“Fucking endless list of riders who never pulled, not even once. That Pischon dude took a monster hit westbound on Lap One. Beastly. Prez got the bit between his teeth once, too.”
“Fast guys are fast: Lonergan, Hair, Davy, Eric, Big Steve.”
“So many people do this ride, get dropped and jump back in make it scary. I especially don’t like the guys who get dropped and then when the lead group catches them they feel compelled to jump towards, but never on, the front. Scary bunch of wankers.”
“Ride is awesome because when you get shelled you can hop back in. I’ve gotten hella stronger in six months and can almost finish the ride.”
“Post ride festivities indicate there is a real community feel that has developed from this ride. Kudos.”
“People taking care of each other is a good sign. The camaraderie is apparent and it’s contagious. This is beautiful. Saw people always stopping to help with mechanicals and flats. Just don’t see that much.”
“I wish I could do NPR more often!”
“Thanks to all the SB wankers for creating such a great ride and for making me feel a part of it.”
“Is this a regular ride? What time does it start?”
“Can you dig all the westsiders who come down for this? Legit.”
“Huge turnout, largest I’ve ever seen. Wanker to hammer ratio was decent.”
“Lots of fresh faced wankers I don’t know. Not so fresh faced at the end, just rent with shrapnel and had the look of the black plague about ‘em. They’ll toughen up.”
“Does this ride always have all these rocks? I fricking flatted. Yo, wankers, point shit out and help thy fellow rider, that is if you’re not riding over your head and can remove your hands from the bars without crashing out thirty people.”
“Great pace, not too fast, not too slow.”
“Fireman brought it home over Hair in a nail biter.”
“Great to see MMX out and briefly catch up. Dude’s riding strong.”
“Fuck that was a giant group festering at the pier before ride. The last time I saw that many idiots in one place was when I watched a joint session of Congress.”
“Every lap I poked my nose in the wind and soon thereafter thought I would be dropped.”
“The ride was incredibly hard. However I noticed several dingleberries at the ass end who were neither poo nor hair yet were stubbornly there. Someone oughta shake them loose.”
“Post ride coffee looked like a class reunion. I almost got a phone number. These biker chicks are smokin’ hot.”
“Dave Perez likes having his picture taken. And why was he lying on the ground at Fukdude’s feet?”
“My favorite part of the ride: Some wanker shouting ‘Stop riding on the rocks,’ as if those little pebbles were a problem. Pussy needs to ride a few miles in rural Madison County. He’d be praying for rocks. Our roads are paved with possum teeth, the bones of Republicans, and small bore bullets.”
“This Cancellara looking dude I’ve never seen in my life goes, ‘Hey is this the last lap?’ and I go ‘Yeah,’ and he goes ‘Then you lead it out, I’ll jump on your wheel and take the vee, ok?’ Uh yeah, sure, and you wanna pork me in the ass afterwards as well?”
“It was the fastest NPR to date, 24mph + average speed, not counting the boulders flying everywhere, fucking pachinko cycling at its finest as Trey flailed in the corner and broke his bike. Not that he cares, ’cause now he has an excuse to get a new one.”
“My legs are still sore in weird places from racing San Marcos with my fit all fucked up!”
“Can you introduce me to that cute chick I was riding behind? She is so hot.”
“I came to ‘sit-in on a social ride,’ because ya, SPY MMX is here, let’s be social because they are the BEST!”
“Ride started out super chill…seemed extra slow to the base of Pershing. Then people started flying and others started gasping, I was like, wow, do these hackers have medical clearance to be out here?”
“Can you introduce me to MMX after the ride? I’ve always wanted to meet him.”
“I set a PR on the whole ramp section meaning it was the fastest in a long time.”
“This just wasn’t even a social ride, I mean nobody really seemed to be in social mode unless that meant look to the person behind you and give them the ‘Noooo, you go!’ look or look ahead at where you can go to make everyone else have to go faster.”
“What’s wrong with people? Might as well attempt to take a pull, why not?”
“Surfer Dan told me to go to the front today and tell people he told me to. Of course he wasn’t there. Surfing.”
“I took a short pull that clearly seemed slow to everyone else because someone quickly came by me. Thanks.”
“Everyone seemed to be hurting a lot after about Lap 1. Wankers!”
“I went to the front when I could. Problem was that I kept jumping on wheels of people that liked to act like they were going to the front and then slow down like five wheels before it. Guyyyysss, that’s not the front!”
“After four laps we had completed what Strava records as the fastest total time for the four laps I have ever done with two laps being the fastest ever. So it was a damn fast four laps. Anybody who thinks it wasn’t hard was in the caboose.”
“I actually wanted to sprint, but I had never heard so much yelling, cursing, and wheels going squiggly! But, I was close enough to the front to see the people that were legitimately sprinting and I must say it was damn impressive!”
“When we turned off the Parkway a SPY guy, Perez, and a couple others went back to hammering. I followed. Another PR.”
“Ramp…fastest ever. Four laps…fastest ever. Return to Imperial…fastest ever. There was no fucking break.”
“They should call this the Lots of Rocks, Flats, Yelling, and Gasping Ride.”
“It was a huge ride that became much smaller once the gas got turned on. Props to everyone who kept getting back in the mix!”
“I felt like my head was a giant pimple that was about to burst!”
“What a bunch of whiners! Why would you come on a ride that is supposed to be a total beatdown and then complain when you get an awesome workout?”
“I say thank you to people after they get me through a workout that I never could have done alone. You just got stronger without asking for it!”
“Wanker crashed out turning onto Imperial on the way back. It looked like he pulled a Tink and just fell over. Hope he was okay.”
“NPR as of late and especially today: more LADIES, and all the ones that have been coming regularly are getting stronger and stronger!”
“The Pier almost sank from the weight…of bodies, not bikes.”
“NPR participants will lobby Manhattan Beach planning committee to widen the alley.”
“More horsepower today than the Arkansas Tractor Pull Championships. But not as many IQ points.”
“Big names, astonishing jerseys, 110 wankers. Doesn’t get much better than this!”
“Can your Tuesday AM ride do this?”
“Burlap Jack, Mountain Mouse, Pippy Aus-Stocking, the SPYfia family shooting the place up, guns blazing, bodies everywhere, blood gushing from new orifices, but afterwards everybody friendly as hell. Even Daniel.”
“In order to make the World Way overpass in the top 10 required having the tip of the saddle touching the lower intestine. Fuck that hurt.”
“Getting back to Westchester, the tip of the saddle was now rubbing the pancreas.”
“First lap was like a fuck’n MMA cage fight, with 20 dudes in the cage at once who only knew how to groin kick and eye stab. Nasty shit.”
“Second lap, beside the white boulders… there were flashes of white light…and fifty wankers pedaling triangles in the gutter as their heads spun around like Linda Blair. Hope they got their demons outed.”
“The so-called sprint was more like Custer’s Last Stand, minus the surprise. All the wankers knew the killing was going to happen. Scary shit.”
“Wankmeister, you’ve taught a lot of people that beatdowns are to be valued. Now could you teach them to Go to the Front?”
June 27, 2012 § 22 Comments
Yesterday’s New Pier Ride was dedicated to my brother, who took his life on June 16, 2012. Slightly more than seventy people rolled out from the Manhattan Beach Pier at 6:40 AM. By the time we turned onto Westchester Parkway, the peloton was easily a hundred strong.
Christine Reilly, Stella Tong, Greg Leibert, Lauren Mulwitz, Joe Yule, Vickie VanOs Castaldi, Izzie VanOs Castaldi, Chris Gregory, Tink, Suze Sonye, Jay Yoshizumi, Brian Perkins, Gus Bayle, Rahsaan Bahati, Cary Alpert, Sarah Mattes, Greg Seyranian, Dara Richman, and David Perez brainstormed and got the word out so that people were at the Pier well in advance of the start time. Vickie and Greg took the sixty-five handmade armbands, beautifully lettered by Izzie with “R.I.P. Ian, ’62-’12” and tied one to each person’s arm. Then Dave Kramer introduced Greg, who made a short, moving, and beautiful speech about my brother, someone he had never met.
I then clipped in and led us out onto the bike path. Once I pulled off and floated to the back, I was overcome by the sight of the countless yellow armbands fluttering in the breeze. My friends had done this for me, as well as people I’d never even met, like Emily and her boyfriend Chris, who came over from the west side just to be there. Others who couldn’t make it like Dara and Laurie were there in spirit, and still others showed up at TELO in the evening and shared their sympathies and condolence. I’ll never be able to repay any of them.
It’s a very good debt to owe, forever.
Girls and bikes
I got into cycling as a result of my brother, indirectly. His second year of high school he got in a horrific fight with my mom about the car. Our parents had divorced a couple of years before, and it was the kind of hateful, acrimonious, bitter divorce that paralyzes the kids and poisons your life for the next few decades, like battery acid in the ice cream. Ian was tired of fighting over the car and one day he went out and bought a black
Fuji touring bike. It cost $300, an incomprehensible amount of money.
Going from a Jeep Golden Eagle Cherokee to a bicycle? I had one conclusion: “Dork.”
Within a couple of weeks, though, I discovered the source of his inspiration. His girlfriend was a cyclist, and they biked everywhere together. “Whatever,” I thought. “He’s still a dork.”
Then a couple of weeks after that I began to hear moaning and groaning coming out of his bedroom. This was way before Internet porn. This was awesome, and he was a dork no more. “What a stud!” I thought. “That bike deal is pretty cool!”
Buses and bikes
Although I didn’t rush out and get a bike to aid in the quick dispatch of my virginity, the idea remained that bikes were cool. This was partly because Ian had let me test ride his Fuji a few times, and it was so different from the rusted out Murray that I’d used for three years to commute to Jane Long Junior High that it hardly felt like a bicycle.
My freshman year in college at the University of Texas, 1982, my parents refused to let me have a car. I lived in the Village Glen Apartments out on Burton, six or seven miles from campus, and had to take the shuttle bus, which in those days was run by union-busting Laidlaw. They employed only hippy stoners from the 60’s and 70’s to drive the buses, and paid just enough to keep the hippies in weed, ensuring that there would never be any unionizing.
The Village Glen was one of the last bus stops on the Riverside Route before getting on I-35 and going to campus, so in the morning the buses were often full. That meant having to get out to the bus stop extra early, as the first bus or two rarely had room for even one more passenger. One morning in October I was standing in the rain waiting for the bus. The first one passed me and splashed me. The second one passed me. The third one roared by with an “Out of Service” sign on the front.
I screamed at the driver and flipped him off. He braked. I’d never seen a whole bus go sideways. Out bounded the raging hippy, fists balled and murder in his eyes. If I hadn’t been so tiny and petrified he would have killed me. Instead he screamed. “How about I beat you into a fucking pulp you snotnosed little fuck?” he roared.
“Uh, I, I, I’m really sorry. Please don’t kill me!” I begged.
“You ever fucking give me any attitude on a bus I’m driving I’ll break you in half you little prick. They don’t pay me enough in this shit job to put up with bullshit from spoiled little assholes like you!”
“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.
[To crack dealer] “So, should I start using crack?”
I had to wait another twenty minutes in the cold, pelting rain. During those twenty minutes I went from being grateful that I’d get to school with all of my teeth to angry at being a bus sheep. My resentment built throughout morning classes and exploded in an epiphany when my last course finished at noon. “I’m gonna buy a fucking bike, just like my brother did! Fuck Laidlaw! Fuck that hippy stoner fucker! Fuck the rain!”
I practically ran down 24th Street to Freewheeling Bicycles and Crackhouse, where I realized something else after walking the aisle. “Fuck, I’m broke!”
Fortunately, Uncle Phil Tomlin had just the bike for me, a Nishiki International with Suntour derailleurs, Dia Compe brakes, and Sugino cranks. At a paltry $375.00, I’d be able to easily afford it as long as I didn’t eat in November. Food or bike? It was an easy choice, especially with Uncle Phil kindly and professionally assisting me with my first bikecrack purchase.
The rest is history, and a year later I’d already been voted “Most Likely to be Killed by a Car or Truck” by my riding buddies. 1984 was my breakout year, when I dominated the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial and won a coveted Laverne and Shirley board game for first place. The thirty years after buying that first bike have flown by, and somehow I’m still riding with the same happiness and joy as the day I pedaled that Nishiki out of the Freewheeling parking lot.
This is gonna hurt me and it’s gonna hurt you
So this thing that has given me more joy and happiness, this thing that has surrounded me with friends who are often closer than family, is a gift from my brother. I thought about that while Greg spoke. He paid me the ultimate compliment in the process, saying that they had come to honor my brother because without him, I wouldn’t be part of their community.
There’s no other way to say this than to say I felt more loved than I have ever felt in my life. Sweaty, muscled men threw their arms around me, and sweaty, muscled, beautiful women did, too, each one saying something that sounded like love, regardless of the words. And as proof that these weren’t just empty phrases, when we hit the bottom of Pershing they went so hard so fast that I was almost blinded by the pain.
“This one,” Jaeger said as he came by with the ferocity of a jungle beast, “is for Ian.”
There’s a place for gentleness and for camaraderie; it’s called the bricks on the Manhattan Beach Starbucks after the ride. The New Pier Ride itself is a place for the unbridled beatdown, the relentless attacking into the wind, the crushing of the weak by the strong.
“Memorial lap in silence?”
“Fuck you, dude.”
“Give ol’ Wankmeister the win?”
“Over my dead body. He wouldn’t want it and I wouldn’t give it.”
Suffice it to say that today I was the weak, and others were the strong, and the law of the jungle prevailed, as it always should. But even though I was the weak and struggled at the end, I didn’t get crushed. I got carried along by the unlikeliest thing of all, a raft of soft yellow ribbons floating in the breeze.