November 14, 2019 § 5 Comments
Of all the reasons to ride a bike everywhere in Southern California, the best reason is the weather. Here it is, mid-November, and all you need is a light sweater, even at night. If you live at the top of a tall hill, as I do, even that might feel too warm.
Last night I rode to Santa Monica, across the street from Helen’s Cycles, to attend a Velo Club La Grange board meeting. It’s a 50-mile round trip, and I was there as a guest to present an award to Joe Duerr, the guy responsible for bringing the LG Grand Prix to the Porsche test track here in Carson.
Leaving Santa Monica at 7:30, things were hopping. But you simply don’t have trouble with cars when you are riding with nine high-beam bike lights. That’s two Diablos on the handlebars, four ApaceVision blinkers strapped to the seat stays, a Cygolite 150 on the seat post, and two more clipped to my rear jeans pockets.
Cars may think you’re in the way and they may think you slow them down, but when you are lit up they avoid you.
Coming home it was really quiet, especially on the bike path. We got passed by a couple of e-bikes. One guy said, “Great lights!” as he sped past. We caught him at a stop light.
“I used to commute on one of those,” he said, pointing to my bicycle. “But I got this for picking up groceries and stuff.”
I looked hard but didn’t see any groceries or any stuff. He sped off again.
In Manhattan Beach we were hungry for ice cream. When you ride your bike everywhere you don’t think twice about stopping for a giant double scoop of ice cream in a waffle cone. We sat outside with some German tourists, who were talking about tipping and how strange it was.
They were drunk-ish and began talking about smoking. “Do you think it’s okay to smoke?” one guy said in German.
“Probably not,” a lady said. “They don’t smoke outside here.”
“I don’t see any signs,” he protested. “And the street is empty except for those two.” The group glanced over at us, weird bicycle people, and I pretended not to understand.
Finally the guy took out his cigarettes, lit up, and started offering cigarettes to everyone else. The lady took one, then said to me in English, “Is smoking allowed here?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “but it’s really nasty to breathe in your smoke.”
“That wasn’t the question,” she snapped.
“Well, it’s your fucking answer.”
Everyone paused in mid-puff, awkwardly. They were in business attire. Then they got up and started moving away. The lady looked at me, then at the group, and said in German “I suppose they are sensitive.” Everyone guffawed.
I looked back at her. “Leck mich doch,” I said, which means “Kiss my ass.”
Her jaw dropped. “What did you say?” she said in English.
I answered in German. “You heard me.”
Confused and embarrassed, the group hurried off, and we had the smoke-free street to ourselves.
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July 29, 2019 § 5 Comments
Zwift’s Social Impact Division has made a very significant financial contribution to support the All Clubs BBQ and 7th Annual South Bay Cycling Awards. This the second year that Zwift has sponsored the event. Last year they provided what was by far the most popular attraction, a Zwift cave where riders could test their legs to win a prize. Naturally, several hundred cyclists wanted nothing more than to flog themselves senseless on a huge TV screen to see who was strongest.
This year, in addition to the same flogging station, Zwift is donating money to defray the cost of food. As with last year, the first 100 plates of barbecue are free, keeping with the event’s long tradition, stretching back to the beer hall days at Naja’s, of giving back to the cycling community. It’s gonna mildly suck if you’re #101 in line, but all the more reason to line up early! And the full plate of loaded grub is still only ten bucks … you can hardly eat at Mickey D’s for that anymore.
Our list of cash sponsors keeps growing: From Origin Cycling Wear, Race for RP, Major Taylor Cycling Club, Velo Club LaGrange, Big Orange Cycling, Kristie Fox, and Methods to Winning, this community based event, only in its second year, is coming close to being completely funded by outside sources thanks to cash sponsors and to the volunteers who are making it happen.
The most rewarding aspect of the support being given by Zwift and our other sponsors is that they are literally asking for nothing in return. They simply believe that diversity and community and fellowship are in and of themselves worthy goals, and they want to support unity, moving forward together.
October 15, 2018 § 2 Comments
It was a sad day for bike racing in SoCal when Robert Efthimos stepped down as president of Velo Club La Grange, but probably not a sad day for President Sausage. After four years of handling the grit, the nit, and the shit that comes with being the figurehead of the biggest racing club in the U.S. and the one with the oldest pedigree on the West Coast, there is no way on earth he can possibly regret not having to deal with emails like this:
Yo, Sausage. My kit that I got two years ago and only have 20,000 miles on has a thread loose on the left inside lower leg panel. Can I get these defective bib shorts replaced?
How do I know he got emails like that? Easy. Because that’s a copy of one I sent.
Of course it’s not true that being El Presidente is thankless. Everyone who knows what the job entails thanks their lucky stars that it was he, not they, who was on a firing line where every shit pistol was loaded, cocked, and aimed at your inbox.
Different people will appreciate different aspects of what Robert brought to the job. Some will praise his diplomacy, pointing out that in four years he never shouted, screamed, pulled hair (his own or others), or tossed anyone out of a window.
A different executive would have had heads on platters if someone had tanked up the bitchin’ Mercedes-Benz Sprinter customized race van with gasoline instead of diesel, but not President Sausage. He realized that to err is human, but to colossally fuck up is simply in the nature of bike racers borrowing someone else’s car/bike/race wheels/spouse/etc.
Others will point to President Sausage’s skillful ability to manage and organize teams. Under his watch VCLG’s racing results skyrocketed and race participation blossomed. The women’s racing squad got every bit as much attention as the men’s, and more when it was called for.
Robert always knew how and when to say “thank you,” how to give credit to others, how to leverage the goodwill and dollars of sponsors, how to make sure that the club contributed to broader social and cycling advocacy issues, how to integrate safety and education into the know-it-all culture of competitive cycling, how to have opinions without being judgmental, how to pump up club events like the legendary La Grange Cup, how to accommodate non-racers in a racing club, and how to show respect and appreciation to every member regardless of how fast they rode or what kind of rig they pedaled. Oh, and he was a kick-ass herder of cats.
That’s all well and good. So thank you, President Sausage.
But for my part I appreciated something else.
Watt’s it all about, Alfie?
Robert Efthimos was — and is — a fuggin’ bike racer.
He is a nice guy, sure. Diplomatic, yes. Sharper than any razor. Hell, yes.
But in the competitive sphere he always brought his very best, and as president of a racing club, that is what made the difference. Whether on NPR, Amalfi, the NOW ride, sojourns to the South Bay’s Donut Ride, Telo, or racing the weekend crits, Robert was a fuggin’ bike racer, and a good one.
My best recent memory of him was this year when he magically appeared on the Flog Ride after a 2-year absence. Unbeknownst to me, he was a week away from a state TT attempt and wanted to put the final edge on his blade. He shredded the course (and us) and set a top-10 overall time on a segment that has been raced full gas by national champions.
Not sure how he did in the TT, but I don’t care. He never hesitated to do the hard rides and do his cutthroat best to win.
In my opinion this is part of why he had such credibility and respect among racers and non-racers alike. Ultimately if you are the head of a racing club and you don’t race, everything you say will be heard with an asterisk.
When President Sausage spoke–always in a normal tone of voice, with patience and perspective, there was invariably an exclamation mark at the end, the explanation mark that you can only write with your legs.
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July 18, 2017 § 20 Comments
I had finished dinner and put my foot in a steel mixing bowl with a cup of vinegar and some baking soda, which foamed like a high school chemistry experiment gone awry. “What are you doing?” my son asked.
“Killing my toenail fungus,” I said.
“Yeccch,” he said. “How’d you get that?”
“Damp cycling feet,” I said.
Mrs. WM piped up. “Jitensha norisugi!” she said.
“Yep,” said my son. “Jitensha norisugi.”
This is Japanese and means “too much cycling.” Everything around my apartment is apparently the result of jitensha norisugi.
“I’m so tired.” Jitensha norisugi.
“My back hurts.” Jitensha norisugi.
“I’m not hungry.” Jitensha norisugi.
“I’m starving.” Jitensha norisugi.
“I’m broke.” Jitensha norisugi.
“I’m still living with my parents.” Jitensha norisugi.
“I’m unemployed.” Jitensha norisugi.
“My wife left me.” Jitensha norisugi.
“I left my wife.” Jitensha norisugi.
“I can’t sleep.” Jitensha norisugi.
“I overslept.” Jitensha norisugi.
“My balls hurt.” Jitensha norisugi.
So I wasn’t surprised that my rotting toenails were chalked up to jitensha norisugi. I didn’t defend against the claim. After all, when I’d gotten up in the morning my big toenail, which is greenish brown, covered in white fungus, and thicker than a Trump voter had oozed a full teaspoon of dark smelly liquid out from around the cuticle. That couldn’t be healthy. And then the toe itself hurt a little bit.
“How bad your foot toe hurtin’?” Mrs. WM asked.
“Not too bad.”
“How onna bad is not too onna bad?”
“Tolerable,” I said.
“Scale of one to ten?” my son asked.
“Shit,” he said.
So anyway there I was soaking my toe and watching a bunch of non-blood materials seep forth into the foaming vinegar-and-baking-soda brine, but I didn’t think any of it had to do with jitensha norisugi. I think the culprit was Raymond Fouquet.
He’s the dude who founded Velo Club LaGrange back in 1967 and two years later came up with the Nichols Ride, a Westside institution replete with Nurse Ratched and a lobotomy with all the trimmings. “Hey, dude,” Sausage had said. “We’re having a memorial ride for Raymond Fouquet to mark the second anniversary of the founding of Fouquet Square, why don’t you come?”
Never mind that “Fouquet” sounds a lot like “fucked” if you speak bad French, which I do, as in “You’re Fouquet on the Nichols Ride.”
“Is it gonna be mellow?” I foolishly asked. “Because the last time I did that stupid ride I got obliterated and couldn’t stand for three days. It’s the worst ride in America.”
Sausage nodded sympathetically. “It was your off season that day when you got gapped out. This time it will be easy. We’re riding in Ray’s memory.”
It sounded vaguely like a complete fucking lie but Sausage has a bit of the snake charmer about him so I assented. The ride was huge; over a hundred idiots who thought they were going to make it over the Nichols Wall with the leaders, when the leaders consisted of people like Frexit, Moonstone, Storm, and five or six other small people built mainly of skin and held together by water and meat strings.
The pace at the bottom of Nichols was so torrid that I immediately melted and got dropped, later to be caught by Okie, Strava Jr., and a couple of other much better riders who had chosen to start slowly and pray for a stoplight.
Thanks to great luck we did in fact catch the leaders at a stop light; for the first time in the history of the Nichols Ride someone had actually obeyed a traffic signal. Naturally it was Frexit who hadn’t yet learned the traffic laws of street racing, a/k/a breakaway rules a/k/a pedal until you win or someone kills you.
I tucked in for a moment then jumped away, eliciting much hilarity, and was hunted down and squished, then caught and dropped by a dozen other people, then straggled in forty-ish minutes later to the Preen Point, where everyone sweated a lot and tried to look stylish while panting in ugly spandex clothes.
The point of this is that all of the sweating and heat and exertion caused massive liquid pooling in my shoes, which exacerbated my toenail rot, which led to the excruciating pain in the morning and toejam discharge, culminating in a vinegar foot bath.
You say jitensha norisugi.
I say I’m Fouquet.
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June 19, 2017 § 62 Comments
The longest I ever rode my bike was 150 miles, when a couple of guys snookered me into riding from Utsunomiya to Inubozaki and back. I still remember being miles and miles and hours and hours from home when the guy who had arranged it said “I quit” and checked into a hotel with everyone else except Saito-san, the lone guy who knew the route home.
I never spoke to any of them again.
Riding long distances is fun for some people, but not for me, although every year I do the French Toast Ride, which is 118 miles, and in the past I did four editions of the Belgian Waffle Ride, which is 130-ish, and I recently did 140-ish in Mallorca with a nice young man who wanted to do his first century. I think he gave up at 100 miles and 11k of climbing and called his uncle for a ride home.
But every time people suggest I do a long ride with them I politely decline, usually by saying “No fucking way.” In fact, my rando friends had an intervention earlier this year in which they tried to get me to commit to riding my bike for a long time for no particular reason.
“No fucking way,” I said.
So it stands to reason that on Saturday I rode 240 miles.
Then on Sunday I spent Father’s Day eating without pause and unsuccessfully rolling around in bed trying to find an angle at which everything didn’t hurt at once. The whole disaster was my own fault, as usual, and it started with the same lie that every big bike ride starts with: “This is a no-drop ride.”
It had seemed like a great idea at the time. There was a sagged ride that would pedal from Brentwood to Santa Barbara, with some riders leaving from Van Nuys to get the even century, and then we’d all take the train home. We’d chat along the way, have a jolly time, eat lunch in SB, and do something different from the usual Death Cab for Roadie that these things always devolve into.
The obvious deception in this well-worn package of lies became apparent in Brentwood, when James Cowan, Leo, Nigel, Reeven, and Steven all showed up ready to do the ride after having already done a quick 30-mile “warm-up” loop that included climbing Las Flores Canyon Rd.
Strava it, is all I can say, and if that still sounds like a warm-up for anything besides a funeral, you are insane. Then they said that they would be riding back from Santa Barbara to make it a solid 200+ day. Of course all this was done with much preening, flexing, and Rapha-ing.
I rolled my eyes. “You guys are complete idiots,” I said.
Five miles into the ride, we found out who the idiot was as the leisurely no-drop ride had it pinned at 30 on PCH. Although it was easy sitting in the group, I was wondering about the handful of riders who looked like that speed might be a formula for early detonation. I turned to Larry. “I’m going to float to the back for a minute and see how folks are doing,” I said.
Larry laughed. “We are the back, dude.”
In the distance I saw my friend Debbie vanishing behind into a tiny speck, about to spend the next six very sociable hours plodding alone into a headwind on the coast road. I dropped back to her and watched the group furiously pound away.
“They’ll wait for us,” Debbie said, confidently.
“Yes, they will,” I agreed, knowing cyclists perhaps better than she did. “In Santa Barbara.”
Debbie, who is slim and fit, slipped in behind me, I throttled it back to about 18 mph, and we pedaled the next ten thousand hours into a battering headwind until we got to Carpinteria, by which time I’d gone through most of my single water bottle and both of Yasuko’s homemade granola bars.
We stopped at the Starbucks and I had a bag of chips, some water, and an espresso. We remounted and shortly out of Carpinteria ran into Chris Hahn, who was going the other direction. He turned around and guided us into Santa Barbara, and we were able to chat and catch up on the latest masters crashout polemic and doping gossip.
At the rendezvous restaurant we expected to see our group but they weren’t there. Apparently they had rested at a park, gotten some flats, and made a bunch of unplanned stops, so Debbie and I actually rode there faster even at our modest pace. All I knew is that I was exhausted and looking forward to the train ride home. I’d been wearing that rotting kit since 6:00 AM.
We killed an hour at Handlebar Coffee, rode around Santa Barbara, and finally joined everyone at the restaurant. I was sitting there in my smelly kit, very hungry and picking away at a vegetable tostada I’d ordered that consisted of lettuce and tomato and a piece of avocado, while also eating baskets of chips and salsa. It briefly crossed my mind that this wasn’t the best day to embark on vegetarianism, but I’d finished the last part of a collection of stories by Miyazawa Kenji in which he had written about a vegetarian convention in Newfoundland in the 30’s that was crashed by lobbyists from the Chicago Slaughterhouse Union, and was inspired to try and live without meat for at least a day.
The beer began to flow and I fell into that morose alcoholic sobriety where you’re watching everyone enjoy their delicious beer, and I started thinking about the train ride back and how everyone would be happily drunk and I’d be sour as a bad pickle about having busted the wind all day and then gotten nothing but sobriety as my reward.
About this time the Cowan group began egging me on to join them for the ride back, and even though I was tired and had zero interest in the endeavor, I was in a foul and sadistic enough mood to want to observe such a friendly, confident, happy group of bleating sheep get delivered into the bloodthirsty jaws of Head Down James.
You see, Head Down James, although a relatively new cyclist with little understanding of the nuances of bike racing, is a relatively new cyclist with little understanding of the nuances of bike racing. Although devoid of tactics or guile, he is on the other hand devoid of tactics or guile. And whereas a beginner might mistakenly approach a 240-mile ride with a reckless display of murderous smashing, James approaches every 240-mile ride with a reckless display of murderous smashing.
I say “every 240-mile” because unlike randos, James sees no need to conjure rather long distances into impossibly longer-sounding stretches by use of metric conversion. Head Down James rides 300-milers, 400-milers, whatever-milers, and does it at one speed: Full smash.
We set out from Santa Barbara with plump tummies, and the vegetarian tostada + fried chips diet looked okay, at least initially. Several brave young bunnies gamely hopped to the front and set a very brisk tempo, proudly showing their youthful legs, happy optimism, and excited fluffy tails at getting the chance to do such a big ride with Head Down James. In my estimation they were all about to get their skin torn off in narrow strips and have the remaining flesh charred live over an open flame.
The only rider who looked like he would not immediately have his head hoisted on a pike was Reese, a 40-ish dude with tri-bars who is fiendishly strong and more importantly, wide enough to give me a good draft. You could tell he was for real because his team kit, which was only six months old, already looked like it had been used to wash the undercarriage of a Peterbilt. I tucked in while the bunnies frolicked, awaiting the inevitable, which happened at about the 30-mile mark.
People were starting to get that funny look of twice-tasted Mexican food; Steven had already been shelled once on the 101; Reeven had opined that “5 minute pulls were optimal,” Leo was deathly silent, and everyone else was huddling at the back only to find that with eight riders in a sidewind THERE IS NO BACK.
Somewhere on RV Alley, Head Down James took a pull. I don’t know how fast it was. I don’t know how long it was. But I know that the faces of the riders were twisted in pain, and short little bunny gasps were in plentiful supply. After a very long time that seemed much longer, Reese rolled to the front. It made the pull of Head Down James looked like the efforts of a kindergarten tug-o-war team. After a while, but before he was done, I decided to make a brief excursion to the fore of the ship to see what all the ruckus was about. My acceleration might have been a bit brisk, brisker even, than, say, the already brisk pace of Reese.
By the time I flicked my elbow the only two sailors left on HMS Idiots were Reese and Head Down James. This was good because the bunnies had been set free from the clutches of vivisectionist James. It was bad because it was fairly obvious that I was now going to be the next rabbit on the operating table.
I’ve never done a rando, but if, at mile 183, they’re still doing 28 mph, I don’t ever want to. Reese mercifully flatted. I lay down in the parking lot of Surf A Hoy and hoped he never got the flat fixed or that North Korea had targeted its first nuclear launch for Oxnard. James did donuts to keep his mileage up.
We got going again, but the “we” part evaporated on Hueneme Road. “Guys,” I said, “I’m done.” Although I had sat on, refused to pull, and hidden like a mouse running from a boa in an aquarium, the combination of speed and total absence of draft from Head Down James ground me into bits.
Head Down James look back for a brief second, swerved and took me through a giant pothole that almost shattered my rims and spine, and looked kindly at me, kindly as in “the way a shark rolls its eyes back into its head before sinking its razor-sharp teeth into your soft gut, which spills out a trail of soft intestine and foamy gore.”
“Okay,” he said, and they vanished.
Or so it seemed.
A couple of miles later Reese was standing up against a fence in a playground with a dazed look on his face. “Dude,” I said, with insincere concern, “are you okay?”
“My toe is cracked and I have to restraighten it,” he said, or some other gibberish, which I instantly understood as “Head Down James bored a hole into my skull so please let my brains dribble out in peace.”
“Okay,” I said, without stopping to make a fake offer of help, although I made sure he could hear me downshift.
For a very long time I rode alone. Although there are a lot of unique physiological changes that your body goes through when you are stretched that thin on a few leaves of lettuce and parts of a tomato, the major one is The Feeling Of Stupid. “Why am I here? Where am I? When will this end? Whose fault is this? Who do I know who lives nearby?”
These and a million other variations of “You are a complete fucking idiot” played in an infinite loop until Reese passed me somewhere around the Rock. “All better?” I asked, grateful for the draft.
“Yeah,” he said, blasting by. For a while I sat on his wheel until, faster and faster, I couldn’t. He vanished.
It had been overcast all day and now I was alone in a dense fog on PCH and freezing cold. I hated everyone, especially my rando friends in Sacramento who had made me do this, and my wrists hurt. My neck hurt. My back hurt. My ass had been grated with chunks of razor coral. My glasses were fogged over. Then, around Neptune’s Net, I saw a red blinky light–it was Reese again.
“Dude,” I said, “I didn’t think I was going to see you again.”
“It’s my heart,” he said. “Every so often when I go too hard for too long it starts spiking.”
“What’s it at?”
“201,” he said.
“You’ll be fine. I think as long as it’s not your age plus 400 you’re golden.”
“I have to dial it back until it drops back into the 180’s.”
“Okay,” I said, attacking him on the small roller and leaving him for the defib crew.
Many more miles went by and Reese caught me again. Now we were both too tired to attack. We laughed at how stupid we were. We cursed Head Down James, silently and in the open. We compared notes on the trail of burrito and salsa puke that the bunnies had left in their wake. And we finally got to Trancas.
Trancas, holy Trancas! Home of the Chevron and Saint Dr. Pepper and His Bottled Holiness Frappucino and Father Snickers, the divine and dogly Father Snickers, ambrosia of the dogs!
I had gone through my second water bottle for the day and was thirsty. We ate as much sugar as we could and then, horror of horrors, as we left the gas station we saw the most gruesome thing imaginable: The bunnies were pulling in as we were pulling out.
“Want to wait for them?” Reese asked.
“Fuck no,” I snarled. We pretended we didn’t know them and raced on.
With renewed energy and sugar in our veins we flew through the pitch-dark fog of PCH as stoned surfers, drunk beachgoers, and horny teenagers pulled out of the Zuma Beach parking and headed for more drugs at Moonshadows. Reese and I took turns until somewhere after Cross Creek, where he sat up and gave me the thousand-yard stare.
“I’m done,” he said. “Good riding with you.”
A wave of kindness and camaraderie flowed over me. I don’t know if it was the distance, the exhaustion, the fact that we’d already disproved whatever it was we set out to prove, or maybe it was simply a kinder and gentler me who wanted to show respect to a stronger, superior rider and all-round decent guy.
I smiled and sat up. “Okay, man. Hope you make it home.” I downshifted and rode off. [Editor’s note: I never heard from him again. If anyone knows what happened to Reese, please send condolences to his next of kin.]
After Temescal Canyon Rd. the traffic on PCH became bumper-to-bumper, and my speed was about that of the cars. As I cruised along peeking in the windows I saw normal people drinking beer, texting, and having a nice life although they admittedly killed the odd pedestrian or cyclist here and there. They seemed peaceful and happy. None of them could fathom that of all the people on PCH at that very moment, I was the dumbest.
By the time I got to Manhattan Beach I had made a list of all the people whose homes I was going to stop by and from whom I’d beg a ride home. I had rehearsed my speech, which went like this: “Hi, Derek, I know this is weird it being 9:30 PM on Saturday night and all and the baby is probably asleep and you and the missus are naked but could you drive me home? I’m very tired and am on Mile 230. Please? I have ten bucks and half of a smushed BonkBreaker as payment.”
What I couldn’t get past was how I’d explain having left on an all-day ride without my phone. If there was one thing Derek liked to say it was, “The great thing about Uber is you never have to call a friend to bail you out.” Who would understand it? Not even Manslaughter, although I pedaled by his house to see if the lights were on. They were, which meant he was watching NASCAR and so, no chance there, either.
I ran out of supplies in Hermosa Beach and stopped to buy another Dr. Pepper. I totted up my expenses for the day:
- Ms. WM’s granola bars: $ .25 each
- Coffee at Peet’s: $1.85
- Ride fee: $20.00
- Coffee and chips in Carpinteria: Free
- Piece of lettuce in Santa Barbara: Free
- Unused train ticket home: $36.00
- Donated BonkBreaker: Free
- Dr. Pepper & Frapp & Holy Snickers in Trancas: Free
- Dr. Pepper in Hermosa: $1.85
The closer I got to home the more my mind tried to figure out ways to not have to pedal there. But my legs were okay, my blinkies were still working, and my raging case of fire in the hole had subsided just enough to throw a leg back over.
I got to the bottom of the hill in PV and girded my loins for the final 30-minute climb. There were no streetlights and no traffic. I was swallowed up by a silence so complete that all I could hear was my gritty chain. At the bluff overlook on Via Del Monte I gazed at the brilliant city below. A young couple was standing there holding hands, oblivious to the filthy and tired old man laboring by with a raw ass and defective mental condition.
Eventually, like all colonic obstructions, the miserable climb passed. My wife greeted me at the door. “What happened to you?” she asked in horror, having expected me home hours earlier.
“What happened to me? James happened. Head Down James.”
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October 21, 2016 § 41 Comments
I first met Dan Chapman about a year and a half ago. He had been riding since 1996 and was a well-known cyclist on the West Side of LA, most especially as a climber who knew every bend, turn, crack, pebble, and fence post in the Santa Monica Mountains. Somehow, we never crossed paths, which is shorthand for “He was a lot faster than me.”
By the time we met, Dan no longer rode. He had been hit by a truck and the resulting injuries to his neck and spine prevented him from ever riding again. Dan never volunteered any details about his collision and I never asked. He occasionally made oblique references to it, but still, I never asked.
Then, about a year ago, I suggested that he write something and I’d publish it. Here it is, breathtaking, powerful, gripping, horrific, and humbling, a year in the writing but a lifetime in the making.
Before and After
By Dan Chapman
When you ride, you don’t think about after. You just ride, have fun and don’t think a lot about dying. I had been riding on PCH since the early 80’s and it gradually became a place where I felt at ease, even though the cars were buzzing by just beyond my elbow. I usually left early to avoid traffic and went as fast as possible in certain areas to avoid the cars and also to trash my friends. I’ve done a lot of solo rides up and down PCH with both road and TT bike. My wheels touched every climb from Santa Monica to Oxnard many times. PCH and that endless ocean felt like home.
Here began the after as well. I awoke in the hospital two and a half weeks after being run over by a pickup truck I think near the base of Pepperdine Hill. The driver was speeding and lost control. Where the hell am I? I tried to lift my left arm but it wouldn’t move and I thought something was wrong with it. I looked over to see what was wrong and saw multiple tubes plugged into the back of my hand and realized somehow that I was in a hospital. I wasn’t capable of thinking much about anything and looked up in the cool dim dawn and saw a row of doctors looking at me. It seemed absurd but I could not muster even a tiny joke. I can clearly remember leaving my house and then waking up that morning, but in between is blank. It’s very strange to loose time. It took a month and a half to understand what had happened to me and my body.
A year after the incident, I talked my wife and son into driving to the fire station in Malibu. They helped me after the incident and transported me to the hospital. I usually visit them once a year on the anniversary to give thanks. I knocked on the door of the station and a fireman opened the door and invited us in. I told him my story so he checked on who was on duty that day so I could thank them personally. He found that he was the one who had responded. I gave him a hug and we gave them some cookies. On the drive back home, I cried.
I found participating in cycling exhilarating. At a certain point, it seemed to become less painful and more fun where I could ride and train for pleasure. I had spent a lot of time in the hills and had developed a crazy climb heavy program that enabled me to semi-comfortably enjoy the long weekend rides, (or so I imagined). I particularly enjoyed the Nichols ride, with its long casual cruise up and eventual explosion on the hill then holding with the front pack on Mulholland. It’s nice to be strong and comfortable. It’s even harder to leave it behind.
To be able to ride at a high level isn’t just being able to place well, but as we all know, it’s more about the people and landscape. Cycling is a way to visit a road, a place, the sky, the fog, and the environment. It’s difficult to lose this because these places, like Fernwood and Tuna, were like friends. I’ve driven up and down some of my old haunts a few times but it’s not the same. It never will be.
Almost four years later, I’m finally starting to visit where I rode. It was hard initially as the injuries were severe and I had trouble walking for almost a year. I also had trouble with my stamina as I was forced to do nothing, on doctors’ orders for seven months. All of the fine tuned muscles vanished. The place where I noticed the most was in my lungs. My whole style was about breathing in rhythm to the cadence and it, like my mountain bike, wheelsets, trainer and rollers soon vanished as I sold or gave them away. It was also very emotional and this was hard to overcome, particularly when I realized that I would have to retract from almost everything to heal. Not only did I have to heal, but I had to heal from healing.
But really, it was too emotional. I thought I would break down again if I went to one of my former rides. I couldn’t handle it because what really bothered me was the sound. I had cried so many times, not from pain, but the anguish of losing so many things that I could no longer do – basically anything athletic. My family heard me cry, the nurses, and probably the mailman. I’m making myself cry now just thinking about my crying.
Actually, riding is to be in a cocoon of noise, spinning sprockets, gears, wheels and the occasional unbelievable squeak. “I’m sorry, but did you ever think of oiling that black mess in the back of your bike”? The sound says so many things and I can identify what and who is where. Then there is the yelling at dunderheads, who like Pavlov’s Dog, continue to do the same stupid thing every week. I have no bike sound anymore. There is no one to yell at now. It’s too quiet. Then there is the silent noise, a look in the eyes and nod of the head, a pat on the shoulder as you pass an old friend, or a fist bump after a nice sprint. No one is there anymore to fist bump at thirty miles per hour.
The thing I went for a ride on that fateful day was a new pair of shoes. My wife gave me a bag after I returned from the hospital with my bloody cut up kit and at the bottom, my new shoes, perfectly unblemished. They still looked brand new and lasted exactly one half of a ride. They looked so good. I put them on and wiggled my toes. I laughed at the irony of it. I finally get a new pair of shoes and am almost killed trying them out. I had imagined myself showing up at a ride and handing out some punishment like it was easy. I would ride off the front and hear wheezing and choking sounds plus loud curses. “Do you ever fucking slow down”. However, I had no choice but to sell them. A club member responded and he came over. I showed him the shoes and then he talked me down in price. When the buyer left, it seemed many old dreams walked out with him.
It was the first week of January when I finally met the surgeon, Dr. Anthony Virella. Two things he said will stick with me forever. The first was that I was extraordinarily lucky to be alive. My face went white and I wanted desperately to go out to the hallway and stare out the window. The only problem is I could barely walk and I wasn’t sure if I could make it to the door. The second was that I could never ride a bike again. Ever.
Goodbye Golf Course (there are several), Marina, Mandeville, Three Bitches, Nichols, Amalfi, Donut, Simi, Latigo, Circle X, San Vincente, Piuma, Stunt, Mulholland, Cold Canyon, Fernwood, Tuna, Vista del Mar, NPR, Mandeville, Working Man’s Ride, Chainbreak, The Wall (again several), Topanga, Old Topanga, New Topanga, TOPS, Mulholland, Twisties, Switchbacks, Rock Store, Lake Malibou and that blazing hot day when I felt like a million dollars on Stunt, popped over the top then in to the glorious bosom of Tuna, sweating through every pore in my body. God that ocean breeze felt good. I can still feel it.
The deep well I was trapped in to recover from was also accompanied by a vicious concussion. I can’t really describe what I am inside but I was unprepared for the headaches and sleepiness that accompanied it. Three naps a day where I fell into a deep sleep and awoke to resume work became a habit. I was given medication that caused me to be confused, which cured the headaches but left me dependent on Liz to remember my tasks. It was frightening and disorienting. I was weaned off the medication and, yet again, struggled to recover myself again. My psyche is a giant wad of tissue paper that I slowly strip off to reveal yet another layer. There is no reward in the middle, just more paper. The headaches are still there on occasion and just as confounding.
We went to see the surgeon again in February 2013. He said I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the hardware in your lower back is fine. The bad news is that the hardware in your neck has failed. We need to get you into the hospital as soon as possible to fix this. Come to the hospital tonight and we will prepare you for surgery. He said that there was nothing holding up my neck and that if I fell, I could become permanently paralyzed. Liz and I looked at each other, scared to death.
That night we returned to the hospital and after 24 sleepless hours, I was in the operating room again. I toured the room and asked a few questions about the procedure them laid down on the operating table and counted, one, two, three…
I awoke and found a bigger, tighter neck brace on. Instead of four screws, there were now twelve and two pieces of hardware, one in front and one in back of the cervical spinal column. They had to move the entire throat out of the way to get to the spine then delicately place it back. How did they do that? On the back of my head was a giant scar and the entire area was now numb. Now, when I get a haircut, I can’t feel the blades moving over this area.
This time, to make sure the fragile smashed bones would heal, I would not be able to do any exercise or lift more than ten pounds for four months. This was after going through the prior three months with the same precautions. Liz licked her chops at being able to yell at me some more. Oh boy, more atrophy. This time it was serious. Time and memory became fuzzy again as I clearly struggled to maintain my equilibrium. I had a much bigger neck brace on this time that caused people to stare at me, raking their eyes up an down on me like laser beams. My biggest accomplishment was making it to Trader Joes to go shopping. Liz led me around tenderly, making sure I didn’t fall or trip. Like the route of the Marina ride, I knew every pothole in the aisles, the angle to make the turn-around at the milk station and how to smoothly brake when you get in line.
I only had one dark moment, but it scared me. I can still feel it and I carry it with me everyday. I thought I wouldn’t be able to be there for Tab, that I would have to ask friends to help me raise him, to help him become an Eagle Scout and to finish high school. I could not do it, I thought, I was incapable of doing anything. I could not even care for myself. I was so frozen by fear in my hospital bed that I thought about if I had died. It’s not like Ghost, where there is a big white staircase and a bunch of cool people who really want to help you. No, it’s just dark, cold and colorless. I could feel my soul, aching. I can see it with my eyes wide open, in the early dawn, when my mind is still saying to me, better get up and get ready for the ride. And that’s what saved me.
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September 17, 2016 § 18 Comments
Velo Club La Grange has an annual mass start bike race called the Piuma Hill Climb. It’s a club race and there’s nothing on the line except bragging rights, which means everything is on the line.
Every bike club in America should emulate VCLG. There were ninety-nine starters, none of whom had any hope at all of doing anything other than getting their tender parts beaten into mush.
At the top of the climb, which was 8.1 miles long, La Grange and Helen’s Cycles had set up tents and CPR stations complete with defibrillators and Joe Pugliese. I’d call Joe the Annie Liebovitz of cycling photography but that’s a disservice to his amazing ability. Better to call Annie the Joe Pugliese of celeb photography.
Back in Santa Monica the club had catered a massive, all you can eat gourmet buffet by Rick Friedman. Rick is the Joe Pugliese of cycling food buffets, and my photo of the food, which is an awful picture, reflects my lack of camera prowess, not the presentation or taste. Need I say more?
The ride itself was an out-of-body experience. Piuma is a legendary Santa Monica climb. It starts with a vicious little wall, and today the starter was none other than Tony Manzella, who pegged the first few minutes at 500 watts to make sure that everyone was blown to bits at the gun. Which they were.
In general I hate Strava because people who tout their KOMs rarely have much prowess in real life, head-to-head competition. Tony is not that way. He’s a complete Strava dork and he backs it up with performances like he did today, shelling 90 people in the first hundred yards, towing the fastest riders up the hill like they were hooked to a ski rope, detonating halfway up, and still getting one of the fastest times of the day.
My ride was unexceptional except that it began with the typical delusions. “Today I’m going to hang with Tony and Chad and Matt,” and “Today I’m going to stomp the dicks off Jaycee and Cowan,” and “I’m just going to hang tough and suffer like a dog.”
The suffer part happened at least.
In the first fifty feet Matt Wikstrom, the relentless engine of pain and winner of the climb in some inhuman time or another, eased up next to me. “Let me in, buddy,” he said, motioning for Tony’s wheel. Interpretation: “I don’t want you to gap me out, wanker.”
I know my betters and slid back.
After a few minutes some kid named Sean attacked the lead group, and I stayed with the acceleration until I didn’t. Then I was alone. I looked back and in those first few minutes we had gone so fast that the road behind was completely empty, like my legs.
Jaycee Carey, who is older than last year’s carbon wheelset, blew past me, motioning me to get on his wheel. He is friendly that way, kind of like the guy in the sawmill who says, “Put your hand on this rotating blade that we use to saw through fat trees, you will like it.”
I followed him as he dragged me up and past a couple of other riders who had been puked out the back. We formed a small group, Jaycee caught his breath, then rode off. (Note: James Cowan, who I had vowed to bury, buried all but two or three other riders in another amazing performance by Head Down James.)
My foursome grupetto hung together until the top of Piuma, when Roberto and the dude who had done most of the work jumped away. The two dudes I was with looked like they were trying to swallow a shovelful of salt, and I’m not kidding, all the way up Piuma guys were actually moaning. Not grunting, moaning, like what you do when your thumb is caught in a sewing machine that is stuck on overlock. I heard more moaning going up that fucking hill than in a cheap porn flick.
Roberto and I were alone on Schueren until he dumped me on the last turn, which sort of made up for his whimpering. I straggled in for ninth place, 37:30, which involved more brutality and sadness than I can ever remember.
At the top of Scheuren we got our pictures taken by Joe, filled our water bottles, watched the other corpses stagger in on their hands and knees, and lied about how we did all the work, how we almost hung with Matt and Tony and Cowan, etc., and how next year instead of being older, slower, dumber, and uglier, we’ll really turn in a stellar performance.
The camaraderie was amazing and everyone was happy at having participated. There were no ridiculously overpriced entry fees, there was free food at the end, there was amazing sag at the top, there was amazing photography to commemorate our tummies (Dan Champan shot a ton of pixels as well), there was gorgeous weather, and it was all part of a normal Saturday on the bike–no need to drive out of town, get a room, or do anything other than show up, pin on a number, and get your dick pounded off.
I’m going back to Piuma tomorrow to see if I can find mine.
Thanks VC La Grange for a truly miserable morning of fun!
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