Call of the dead

June 29, 2017 § 23 Comments

By the time you read this we’ll have been underway for at least seven hours, and the early travel buzz will be wearing thin. We’ll be east bound and down, loaded up and rolling with a tankard of espresso, a giant plastic bag filled with beef jerky, chocolate, and three huge cigars that none of us knows how to smoke, and we’ll be several hundred miles closer to Austin than we were when I tapped this out.

I got the news that Jack Pritchard had died and they were holding a Gatheration Omnium for him that consisted of a Prologue ride with a few miles of his beloved dirt roads, followed by Stage 1, an early morning breakfast at the Omelletry, the place he frequented like clockwork every morning at 6:45 AM for the better part of forty years. Stage 2 will be a trip to the CAF in San Marcos, where we’ll commune for a bit with the old airplanes that he had such an affinity for, ending with Stage 3 at the Polonia Cemetery.

“Gatheration” is the kind of word Jack would have used, and probably did use. He was a pedaler of bikes and a smith of words, many of which were one-off creations, fitted up for just that one particular sentence, and never used before or since. A gatheration is different from a gathering, those quiet affairs where people in fine clothes and coiffed hair do and say things in hushed tones or listen to elegant music behind paintbrush-thick makeup and beet-red, drunken noses.

A gatheration is a gathering, all right, but the bastard child of a love triangle between demonstration, aggravation, and tarnation. That combination was Jack, through and through, or at least the Jack I knew. Gatheration, indeed. I hope when I die I get a gatheration, too. Jack would have scorned a memorial service. He probably would have scorned a gatheration as well, especially if it were his.

The last time I drove from California to Texas was never, so Jack’s passing seemed like a darned good reason to rent a car, throw the bike in the trunk, and then cajole my two sons to join me. They will take turns keeping me awake, and would utilize the Googlifier to figure out proper cigar smoking technique. We might have some good father-sons discussions, peppered with the occasional argument and tamped down by at least one good roadside plate of Texas barbecue.

You can’t go home again, and it’s a good thing because even though I grew up in Texas I was born in Princeton, and to make that long a haul we’d need something stronger than beef jerky, and something more like a box of cycling performance supplements from Shanghai.

But Jack’s passing made me think about the pivotal time in my life when I bought my first bike, Jack working behind the counter at Freewheeling, and what a short jump it had been, going from bike commuter to full-blown racing addict.

The things I’ve done in life have all stemmed from that first bike and the unusual people it anchored me to. Faces I’ll never see again remain fresh and set in amber; Jack’s is one of them. Others that have cropped up on Facebook, though impossibly old, haven’t erased or even dulled the razor crispness of memories from days gone by, silly days, maybe, worthless days, maybe, wasted days, definitely, but my days nonetheless.

I’m going to Texas to do penance for my cycling sins, to pay homage to a man who deserves it, to stand in the stead of those, far-flung, who can’t go or won’t, to trample out the vintage of some road time with my two sons, and to ride those few dirt miles into Lytton Springs, roads we pounded long before we knew there was anything strange or unusual about putting skinny tires on lumpy roads, before we knew that every road had an end, before we knew that ours did, too.



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Bloor Road to Blue Bluff TT: Back to the future

February 27, 2011 § 8 Comments

The first USCF race I ever entered was one of the very, very few USCF races I ever won. It was February, 1984. I had just gotten my Cat 4 license and joined the Violet Crown Sports Association in Austin after six or seven months doing their weekend training rides, the highlight of which were the “dirt road low water crossing sprints.” Jack and Phil and Mike knew every dirt road within a 100-mile radius of Austin, and every weekend ride featured numerous detours down roads that weren’t even on a map. Every time we’d hit a low water crossing, which was about every fifteen minutes, the peloton would slam on the brakes, throw the bikes onto the roadside, and pass around a massive joint.

I inhaled lots, not because I ever smoked but because the conflagration would send up plumes of smoke so thick that you couldn’t not partake. The group would then leap back on their bikes, and anyone who thinks pot isn’t a performance enhancing drug should have been on one of those rides. The pace would go from zero to hammer-forty in ten seconds, strung out into a line of dust eating, big ring churning, full-on pedal floggers.

No more than two or three minutes later, however, the hammer euphoria of the drug would morph into the wow, dude, mellow phase and the pace line of raw meat eating musclemen would become a slow, meandering, peaceful aggregation of happy riders. But those first two minutes…what performance!

Only the hard men need apply

In order to keep its USCF club license, the Violet Crown, snidely referred to by the envious as the “Violent Clowns” would annually throw together a “race,” usually announced a week or two in advance. In 1984 it was the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial, in between Austin and Manor just off FM 973. Total distance was 4 miles.

I still remember the excitement, getting up at 6:00 a.m., eating a bowl of yogurt and granola, airing up the tires in my bright purple Picchio Rigida, pulling on my Detto Pietra shoes and pedaling from campus out to the course on that freezing February morning. By the time I got there I was frozen solid, and to my surprise, which should have been no surprise, Bloor Road was all dirt, and it began at the bottom of a steep hill. I wondered what would happen if there were a low water crossing.

Five other riders showed up, including Mike B., who was a junior and who had the first cyclocross bike I’d ever seen. Also present were  Jack P. and maybe Tom P. When the results were tabulated, I was the winner over Mike by a few seconds. The organizers had either found a low water crossing or temporarily dispensed with the requirement, and in between giggles I was awarded first prize: an unopened Laverne and Shirley board game, complete with the plastic wrapping. Just in case you think I’m making that last part up, you can see it by clicking this link. It still remains the most valuable thing I’ve ever won in a bike race, and it has appreciated greatly in value: a vintage game will set you back $77 on Ebay.

PV Hillclimb 2011

Fast forward 27 years. I’m still a Cat 4 for those who idiotically believe that if you persevere at cycling you’ll eventually get better. The PV Hillclimb series (is two a series?) is sponsored by local promoter Brad H., Big Orange Cycling member, bicycle activist, endurance racer, elbow flapper, and 2009 state time trial champion in the category of mixed tandem combined age 90+ (of the four teams, one was disqualified because the guy had an expired license and the gal had “no license info available”). Brad has shown his thirst for the kill on numerous occasions, most memorably when he wrecked me at last year’s Devil’s Punchbowl. I’ve mentioned this in previous blog postings, but not because it bothers me. I barely remember it, in fact. I also hardly remember him regaling Rod G. with the race outcome by saying, “I don’t know what happened to Seth. He just crumbled. So I rode away.” For the record I’m not even slightly bitter, because I’m bigger than that.

I got up excitedly at 6:00 a.m., ate a bowl of yogurt and granola, aired up the tires in my white Specialized, pulled on my Sidi shoes, and pedaled from home out to the course on what was a freezing February morning, replete with hail along PV Drive from last night’s hailstorm. I rolled along on fire as the Mad Alchemy “Madness” high heat embrocation cream had gotten smeared up high and inside the chamois, and my parts were simply smoking.

Prices have gone up since 1984, when it cost me $5 to enter the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff TT. Brad’s PV Hillclimb set me back $25, but it would prove to be worth every penny. Although there was no Laverne and Shirley board game on offer, the winner would have his name engraved in a PDF file and permanently uploaded to the World Wide Web. I shelled out my money and  continued up the hill to warm up.

Cycling on the Palos Verdes Peninsula has several iconic climbs, and this course is one of them. It’s six miles long, starts at the nature center at the bottom of the reservoir, and goes up Palos Verdes Drive to Marymount College. At the college you turn right and head up Crest to the radar domes. The total distance is six miles, with about .5 mile of downhill halfway up the climb. The first three miles are a gradual grade, no more than 4 or 5%. After the downhill the road tilts back up, and then you go right at the college where there’s a short but steep section before the road settles down into a gradual climb up to the finish. It’s easy to come out too hot on this course and run out of gas once you hit the college. It’s also easy to hold too much in reserve and finish with gas in the tank. My goal was to hold 310-315 watts for the entirety of the climb.

When the cat’s away

This weekend bragged an absence of the South Bay hammerati due to the Callville Bay Classic in Nevada and the Ontario crit. Other lightning fast climbers had gone north, where they could pedal as many long hills as they wanted without having to pay for it. The absence of a Laverne and Shirley board game, the cold weather, competing events, and common sense meant that when sign-up closed only 37 idiots had penned their names and paid their money.

Teammates Kevin, Jon, Bob, Greg, Alan H., and Alan M. toed the line and went off on schedule. Kevin won the 35+, and Jon got second. A couple of minutes into my ride I started to remember why it had been 27 years since the last uphill time trial: they really hurt. My category included 6 other riders, so it was bigger than the entire field in 1984. Moreover, one of the hungry Hard Men against whom I had to prove my mettle was Big Brad, the glare from his white state champion’s mixed tandem 90+ TT jersey blinding in its refulgence.

The sweet taste of victory

My minute man was a furry Freddie, and I overtook him with ease. My two minute man was furry Freddie’s furrier cousin, and I devoured him as well. At the finish I turned in a 22:31, which was good enough to put me atop the 45+ category, relegating the six other pretenders to the ash heap of defeat. In the course of human endeavor, has anyone ever achieved more? In the annals of cycling, has a more glorious chapter ever been written?

I stood at the roadside, sucking in the winter smog and reflecting on my accomplishment. How did this compare to Merckx’s Mexico City hour record in ’72? To his Giro TT victory in ’73? To Boardman in ’96? Surely those events, noteworthy as they were, couldn’t compare to this field of six that I had so totally dominated. Did Merckx, Moser, or Rominger ever have Brad H. snapping at their heels? Were any of those titans ever hardened by the spoils of victory in their early years by a Laverne and Shirley board game? I doubt it.

Race results here:

Race WKO+ power file here:

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