May 26, 2014 § 16 Comments
One of the things most important to me is helping young folks, especially young bicycle riders. Although I have never coached anyone, whenever I ride I keep an eye out for young, impressionable minds who might need a bit of help with regard to learning the ropes in this complicated and demanding sport.
We started this morning and chugged along towards the base of the reservoir climb. The Wheatgrass Ride, held every Sunday, is an amalgamation of old and slow people who either have an AARP card or soon will. One or two tough guys such as the Wily Greek regularly show up, but for the most part it’s our one chance to beat up on other old people, or to avenge the wounds suffered the day before on the Donut Ride, wounds inflicted by young, strong, fit riders who lack the chub and flab and other indicia of age and inability.
I hit the bottom of the reservoir with a vengeance. Halfway up there was a gaggle of nine or ten riders on my wheel from the original group of about thirty. I swung over and Canyon Bob charged through with a very young rider tucked in behind. A slight gap opened and I hopped in behind Young Pup.
Bob mashed and smashed, shedding a few riders, and swung over. Young Pup swung over, too.
I pulled through and pounded the few IQ points I had left in a mad surge to the top of the climb. At the top I wobbled over to the side, wasted, and Hoof Fixer Man pounded through.
I clawed onto the back and coasted the long downhill all the way to the foot of Better Homes. Hoof Fixer Man accelerated up the hill and there was only a group of five or six left.
Ugly Ankles, who never takes a pull but who is also close to 90, attacked. I strained to bridge, towing the gaggle with me. As I started to fizzle and pop, Young Pup bounded by, dropping us easily, closing the gap, and fastening onto Ugly Ankles’s wheel like a suckerfish attaching itself to a dugong.
Now the chase was in earnest. With four riders on my wheel I pushed and groaned and flailed, and after five desperate elbow flicks Chatty Cathy finally, reluctantly, barely pulled through. He was no match for Ugly Ankles, however, who easily kept the distance.
Young Pup sat tucked in behind the dugong-draft, stick-like legs merrily spinning away.
The climb flattened and then reached the base of the longer, tougher climb to the Domes. Young Pup jumped hard and dropped Ugly Ankles on the first steep ramp, dropped him like a heavy turd from a tall horse.
I jumped too, and was now chasing Young Pup alone. Except for the brief respite by Canyon Bob and Chatty Cathy, I’d been mashing for the entirety of the morning’s climbing. Young Pup couldn’t get any farther away, but I couldn’t claw him back, either. He kept looking back to make sure I was in check, and I was.
Then the Wily Greek came by. He’d spent the better part of the morning twiddling his thumbs, and he overtook the elderly fellows and the elderly me with ease, gliding by on the climb hardly breathing. As he raced up the road, Young Pup jumped on his wheel and held it for a couple of hundred yards before blowing. Still, he’d increased his distance, putting my effort further out of reach, and his insectan recovery rate meant that within a few seconds he was racing off again.
At the top of the climb Young Pup wheeled around to watch us straggle in. I was the next finisher, a long way back. I pedaled up to him.
“Can I give you some advice?”
“Sure.” He was pleased to accept whatever tidbits I had to offer, seeing as how he’d bludgeoned me into a bag of broken dicks.
“When you suck wheel on a gang of old farts, most of whom have children old enough to be your parents, and then at the very end jump by them, fresh as a daisy after they’re worn to shit … no one’s impressed.”
His face fell and his lip quivered.
“If you’re good enough to smush us like a bug — and you are — then you’re good enough to attack early, or take a fuggin’ pull, or do something classier than suck and jump. There’s no honor in strategically out-riding your granddad.”
He looked like he was going to cry, but he didn’t. He clipped in and coasted down the hill.
A buddy came up. “That was a bit harsh, don’t you think?”
“I hope it was. If they learn chickenshit riding when they’re young, they’ll ride chickenshit all their lives.”
“It was pretty good tactical riding.”
“Yeah, except this isn’t a race and there’s no one here on his level except the Wily Greek.”
“He’s just a junior.”
“I’m just an old man.”
We regrouped at the bottom of the Switchbacks and the group rolled at a stiff pace to the bottom of the Glass Church hill. Davy ramped it up the long roller with Young Pup on his wheel. Davy swung over and Young Pup charged ahead. It was a vicious, long, thoroughly nasty headwind pull that instantly put everyone into the red.
He swung over and I came through, trying to match his effort. When I finished my turn, I looked at his face as he hit the front again. His mouth was twisted open in agony. Chunks of spit caulked his cheeks and face. He was gasping as if he’d been harpooned.
Still he hit the front and, after stuffing us in the hurt locker, punted the hurt locker off the cliff.
I would have told him “good job.” But I couldn’t.
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November 14, 2012 § 48 Comments
There we were, hauling ass down PV Drive North into the sweeping, slightly off-camber right turn up to the reservoir climb, and sitting on the point I swung out as far as possible to 1) hold max speed through the corner and 2) show off my awesome, ‘cross-inspired cornering skills.
‘Cause when you can rip through loose sand and gravel at speed, smooth tarmac ain’t shit.
Just as I reached max lean, the front tire started to slide. “This is exactly what happens to me in ‘cross,” I thought, out-of-body as it was, feeling the pavement grind up into my hip and right elbow. “And it’s gonna hurt.”
Iron Mike, who had been far enough off my wheel to avoid the crash, couldn’t help staring slack-jawed at the carnage, so instead of neatly avoiding the mess he smacked into the median at 2 mph, tumping over like a clunky lamp, one foot unhooked.
I twisted my neck to see who was going to run over my head.
No one. The braking and hollering were in full force. Thank goodness I’d decided to avoid that dangerous ‘cross race in San Diego and stick to the safety of the Sunday Wheatgrass ride.
Timing is everything
I came to rest in the middle of the lane and was surprised to see my good friend Bruce, clad in jeans, leaning over me. “You okay?”
The South Bay Wheelmen were staging their annual club hill climb, and I had arrived just in time give a lesson in safe bike handling. The whole team had paused to watch bits of flesh, tattered kit, and a thin sheen of blood spatter up in the air.
The guy in charge of sign-in said in a loud voice. “See? That’s what I don’t want any of you idiots doing.”
The bike crash on the group ride is a beautiful thing. Everyone’s personality leaps out in high relief at the moment of crisis, and our group was no different. Neumann sprinted away up the hill with another IF wanker, thrilled to finally have a chance at getting KOM and putting into practice his lifelong motto of “All for me, and me for me!”
Patrick sequestered my bike, straightened the brake, and had soon loosened the bolts to straighten the stem. Craig and Bruce were fixing the front flat that had caused the crash, and Bob, after giving me the physical once-over, stood ready to air up the tire. Chris stood at the ready to help, and Fussy, after making sure Iron Mike was okay, provided running commentary highlighting Mike’s awkward fall. Joe stared at my elbow, in the throes of broken-joint flashbacks from the fall that had cost in excess of $75k to rebuild his elbow joint.
As Bruce carefully checked the brand new Gatorskin, he said, “Aha!”
We all looked. “There’s the culprit!” he said.
We couldn’t see anything. “Here, run your hand on the inside of the tire.”
Sure enough, a sharp pin prick was coming through, almost invisible. After more working and worrying, we got it slightly out, but not enough to grip and remove. It was a tiny piece of wire from a car tire.
I tried to pull it out with my teeth, but after scrimshanking a few deep scores into the enamel, gave up. Bruce looked around. “Anyone have a pair of tweezers?”
People guffawed. “Yah, sure, man, right next to my pedicure set.”
“Fuck, Bruce, nobody carries tweezers on a bike ride.”
Bruce surveyed the group, unfazed. “Anybody have a pair of tweezers?”
Silence, and a few more laughs ensued.
Then New Girl said, in her small voice, “I do.”
We were stunned. In a moment she produced a perfect pair of splinter-pulling tweezers, and in another couple of moments the wire was yanked.
I looked at her. “Why in the world are you carrying tweezers on a bike ride?”
“Because…” she said.
“I thought somebody someday might get a super tiny splinter or piece of glass or wire in their tire and wouldn’t be able to get it out without some tweezers. Isn’t that great?”
“No,” I said. “It isn’t great. It is awesome beyond belief.”
Onward and upward
I pedaled up to Norris, who was glumly waiting for the ride to resume. “Sorry, dude. You okay?”
“That’s gonna cost me.”
“Oh, crap. How come?”
“My front derailleur is broken.”
“Really?” I looked at his front derailleur, which was in pristine condition and appeared to be completely unharmed. “What about you? You okay?”
He pointed to his shin, where he had already affixed a small band-aid, covering up the tiniest of nicks. “Wow, dude. Heal up.”
I felt a horrible stabbing pain in my right leg, and finally looked at the gaping hole in my shorts. The skin facing the hole didn’t look so bad, but I peeked under the fabric higher up and saw a nasty strawberry smear that was going to be oozing and draining and scabbing all over my pants for the next week or two.
Then I took a deep breath and looked at my elbow. I’d gone down so fast at such a deep lean that the fall had peeled my long jersey sleeve right up to mid-bicep. The road, or something, had ground a neat hole through the armwarmer I’d been wearing under the sleeve. I bent my arm and looked. Down in the hole was something kind of white and pale looking, along with big clots of blood and bigger flaps of skin.
Did I mention I’m a wimp?
There are wimps, and then there are wimps
I have the pain threshold of a 2 year-old. The dentist has to give me morphine just to clean my teeth. I hate the sight of blood. I feel waves of pain at even the thought of broken bones, stitches, surgery, needles, you name it.
The time I got my thumb caught in my track bike chain and ground off the tip was as horrible to me as if someone had slowly burned out my eyes with coals, or forced me to vote Republican. When I had a tiny cavity drilled out in Japan, the dentist sternly told me to “stop quivering like a child.”
Yeah. I’m a gutless wuss.
Fortunately, so are most other male cyclists. No matter how brave and tough they are when attacking, or climbing, or sprinting, the minute they get a boo-boo they whine and wail and complain as if they’d lost a leg to an IED. With the exception of my buddy who broke his neck, spent five months in a halo, and then had screws bolted into his neck and never said anything other than, “I’m fine,” when asked about his condition, most cyclists are whiny hypochondriacs who milk their injuries, minor or major, into the finest whiny cream.
Nonetheless, there was a ride to finish. So we set off up the hill, and I noticed for the first time that we had a new member. He was riding an orange steel Volkcycle with cantilever brakes, rakish chromed steel forks, lazy brakes, and bar-end shifters. He was a teenager, and this was his first group ride, apparently.
“Yeah, dude,” I thought. “Welcome to cycling. We crash on the first turn, it’s just how we roll.”
Craig, Bob, Paul, Vince, and I emerged together from Homes and Gardens, and then Bob and Craig towed me to the top of the Domes. I went down to the bottom of the Switchbacks alone and checked out my elbow again. “What’s that white shit down there?” I thought. “Blood isn’t white, is it? Unless those are white blood cells…” I wished I knew more about biology.
Glass Church and home
Bob, Craig, and I escaped on the Glass Church roller, were brought back for the sprunt, and I turned off at the top of Hawthorne to go home.
“How was a ride?” Mrs. WM asked.
“It was awesome.”
“It don’t look on no awesome. How come you butt meat hanging outta that biker flap?”
“I took a little spill.”
“Don’t get all those blood pieces onna bed and carpet. How come you always falling offa bike? Every since cyclingcross you coming home all bruising and cutting and bleeding and falling offa bike. And tearing up onna biker outfit butt flaps and that’s costing big money.”
“But ‘cross is really upping my skills.”
“It’s upping onna doctor repair bills, that’s what it’s upping on. Oh goodness! What’s onna elbow?”
“That’s just road rash, but it’s a little deep.”
“Here lemme see onna that. Oh goodness! You get onna doctor now! That’s blooding everywhere!”
“I think it’ll be fine with some Tegaderm and a little peroxide.”
“You musta hit onna head with a hammer. Thatsa blood hole with a bone pieces inside I can see white bone pieces! Oh goodness!”
“Will you give me a ride?”
“Onna doctor? You fall offa your bike without none of my help, you can get onna doctor without none of my help.”
She had a point, so I showered, doused the hole with peroxide, slapped on some Tegaderm, ate lunch, and went to the Doc in a Box.
Sorry, I’m just a licensed physician with 20 years of training
The Doc in a Box wrinkled her nose. “Ewwwww!” she said, peeling back the Tegaderm. “When did you do that?”
“This morning around 8:30.”
“Why didn’t you come right here? It’s almost one o’clock.”
“I wanted to finish the ride.”
She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Didn’t it hurt?”
“Hell yes it hurt. Canyon Bob and Craig were ripping my legs off the whole way up to the Domes.”
“I mean your elbow. Didn’t it hurt?”
“Oh, that. Yeah, it hurt like hell. That’s why I’m here.”
“But if it hurt so much why didn’t you come directly here?”
“Because I don’t like pain. And I knew that whatever you were going to do, it was going to hurt.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s actually not. This wound is too deep for me to suture, especially because of all the gravel and grease down in the puncture. I’m sending you to the ER where someone with more experience can sew you up.”
On to the next one
Doc #2 didn’t flinch. “Yep, that’s going to need a deep scrub. Lie down.”
I lay down.
“If it really hurts let me know and we’ll anesthetize it for cleaning.”
“It hurts like a mofo.”
“But I haven’t touched it yet.”
“So it’ll hurt even worse once you do. Shoot me up, doc.”
“Okay. This is going to hurt a little bit.”
He lied, of course. It hurt like having a needle plunged into your elbow joint.
The numbness took over and he started to scrub. I could feel the pieces of meat being soaked and rubbed and washed and sponged. Even though it didn’t hurt, I imagined how much it would have hurt without the painkiller, which made it hurt awful bad.
“Okay, we’re done.”
“Yes. You did great.”
“I didn’t feel a thing!”
“That’s why we use anesthetic, you know.”
Crash. Bleed. Publicize.
Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to take grisly photos before the suturing and post them on Facebook. The comments came rolling in, from the heartfelt “Get well soon!” to the “Wanker!” to the prize-winning reminiscence of Marco Vermeij about the time at the Kenosha crit in ’89 when he sewed up Randy Dickson’s gaping wound with a needle and thread from a tubular patch kit. Randy, of course, needed the quick repair so that he could do the next race.
I reflected on my own frailty when compared with the broken necks, shattered elbows, snapped femurs, and on-site surgeries performed with nothing more than spit, callused fingers, and the implements found in a cyclist’s toolbox. I reflected on the faux toughness of the modern rider, equipped with all the latest stuff, but sorely lacking in the oldest stuff: Grit, tolerance of real pain, the will to keep going, and the tight-lipped contempt that tough guys have for acknowledging injury or pain.
I never had been, and never would be, one of those few men who Fields used to approvingly nod towards and declare that they were “made of stern stuff.” But maybe one day, if I kept falling off my bike and doing those nightmarish ‘cross races, I’d at least be made out of semi-stern stuff.
That would be something to brag about, wouldn’t it? And no one would have to know that I’d gone out and bought myself a nifty little set of ladies’ eyebrow tweezers…would they?
April 9, 2012 § 1 Comment
Early yesterday morning, California time, the hardmen were fighting for glory on the roads to Roubaix as the heir to the mantle of “Lion of Flanders” equaled Roger deVlaeminck’s four wins in the Hell of the North.
As Tom Boonen rode a star-studded field of classics specialists off his wheel in a stunning attack 50km from the finish, a different group of cyclists, still bleary from the early hour, sat around the TV at StageOne Sports World HQ in Redondo Beach. Cheeks pooching out with chewy, tender, sugary muffins, tummies expanding just a tad bit further with each swallow of the buttery croissants, we, the softmen of SoCal, represented the kittens of Flanders. At our feet bounded Zeke the Wonder Dog, snarfling up whatever scraps hit the floor, clearing the table with his 40-lb. tail, nuzzling the crotches of the embarrassed ladies, emitting periodic blasts of wonderdogfarts, and feeling generally pleased that so many people had showed up at such an early hour to scratch his back, rub his head, and titillate his olfactories.
Thoughts determine words. Words determine actions. Actions determine character.
The only thing that anyone with a brain could possibly think after watching Boonen’s tour de force was, “I’m a weak pussy.” In that vein, our small group that included Sparkles, Junkyard, Toronto, Big Bowles, Hockeystick, and VV pedaled up to Malaga Cove to hook up with the Wheatgrass Ride.
We met up with Iron Mike, Clodhopper, Wild Carrot, Ihatetherain, Mephistostaphipapadopoulous, Nimrod, Canyon Bob, Pilot, Sumo, Cutiepies, Psycho Mike, Dutchy, and Fishnchips. And although we were prepared for an epic pedal, we weren’t prepared for the tire.
By tire, I mean Big Bowles’s tire. We had started the pell-mell dash towards the glass church, with Clodhopper bulling away on the downhill like a giant load of dirt that had been dumped off a cliff. Clodhopper’s former self is a waif-like shadow of his current self, as sitting on his wheel is affectionately known as the “Cadillac draft.” The only down side is his backside, which peers out from beneath the threadbare lycra shorts whose expiration date passed in ’97 to reveal the unblinking evil eye of Mordor, so awful to look at but from which it is so impossible to avert your gaze.
Why it’s worthwhile to endure the stare of the hairy eye
In addition to the gigantic swath he cuts through the wind, Clodhopper is a great wheel because when the going gets nasty, no one can suffer like he can. Beneath the layers of walrus-ite and packed into the chest cavity of this enormous lunk are the heart and lungs of a former world record holder in the 1600m relay. You can see the video here.
Now I know that you’re really proud of that podium in the Cat 4’s, and I know that it really meant a lot when you got that colorful jersey in the masters road race, but can we please put your lameness in perspective? Clodhopper once held the fastest time over 1600 meters ever recorded by any human being who ever ran.
Unlike bicycling, which is available at the elite competitive level only for people who can afford to spend on their bicycle a sum equal to the average annual income of the average human being in 2012, running is available to everyone with two legs. Whereas the competitive pool for cycling is a tiny genre within a microscopic niche inside a practically invisible crevice, the competitive pool for runners puts the poorest on a par with the richest. Got legs? You can play the game.
So you can forgive (maybe) Clodhopper’s pennypinching on the shorts, you can forgive his slightly expanded waistline, and most of all, you can appreciate the strength, power, and ability to suffer of this pedal-mashing, hairy-assed, cupcake-snorting leviathan.
It seemed like a good idea at the time
As Clodhopper drove us through Portuguese Bend, the ragged line of desperate wheelsucks clawed and gasped as they clung to whatever vestiges of Clodhopper’s draft were still available after about sixth wheel. And as the menu always dictates, Big Bowles had found shelter against the wind nestled in behind the portly protection of Fishnchips.
This time, however, Big Bowles’s recipe for survival hit a snag. The protection afforded by Fishnchips’s posterior was so vast that it blocked out Big Bowles’s view of the road. It blocked the shoulder, the hillsides, the Pacific Ocean, and, if you had sat behind him long enough, it would have eventually caused a solar eclipse, so total, wide, and complete was the gigantitude of the Welshman’s gluteus maximus fatticus.
Somewhere near the turnoff to Artiste’s house, everyone swerved to avoid a giant piece of asphalt lying atop the tarmac. Big Bowles, blinded by the hugeormity of Fishnchips, discovered the asphalt piece by striking it at 32 mph with his front wheel. Oh, how quickly the joys of a snug draft turn to terror and destruction! He managed not to crash, and for a brief moment those who hadn’t cared enough to alert him to the asphalt voiced concern regarding his wheel. “You okay, dude?” they asked just before they accelerated over the final hump, dropping him completely.
“I’m fine,” Big Bowles wailed. “These are self-sealing tubeless tires!”
There is no such thing as a self-sealing bicycle tire
The romp up by the Glass Church resulted in a shattering of sorts, with me pedaling an itsy bit, Ihatetherain taking a dig, and Clodhopper making one massive, cetacean-like pull all the way to the next-to-last bump. Ihatetherain jumped away, followed by Iron Mike, and then all were sent packing by El Peruano, who had joined us in Portuguese Bend and decided to put the group to the sword.
I sucked wheel as long as possible before ditching El Peruano and racing first to the sign, ahead of Sumo and Mephistostaphipapadopoulous, only to find that our finish-line “No Parking” sign on a wooden post had been replaced by four “No Parking” signs on metal posts. I reached the first sign and sat up, declaring victory.
By the time Big Bowles limped up to the group, his self-sealing tire wasn’t sealing all that great. “Gimme a shot, Bobby,” he said to Canyon Bob, who always carries a hand pump so that he can bail out the other wankers who use all twelve C02 cartridges on their first flat. Canyon Bob gave him the shot, and Big Bowles’s self-sealing tire continued its leaking frenzy.
“What’s with this darned thing?” Bowles asked. “I’d better go ahead and put in a tube. These tubeless tires can be ridden with a tube if you have to. They’re pretty cool that way.”
What was with that darned thing
The next thing I knew, Big Bowles had taken off the wheel and removed the tire from the rim, and the green slime tire sealant was covering his hands, quickly spreading to his face and then even his feet so that he looked like Brer Rabbit cagefighting with the Green Tar Baby from Mars.
The green slime sealant picked up bits of glass, rock, gravel, dirt, gum wrappers, cigarette butts, used condoms, and even an old gas cap, so that by the time Big Bowles was finished with the surgery he looked like a punk rock Christmas tree. We stuck him back on his bike and continued the plod up Hawthorne.
Clodhopper and I got mostly up the climb and then pulled over next to the bus stop across from the Ralph’s to wait for the others. As we stood there, up whizzed one of those Chevy’s that they made to look like a PT Cruiser, only with better velour seats. Out jumped a fellow in a three-piece suit and red necktie, stopping his car smack in the lane of traffic, and dashed over to the trash can next to the bus stop.
After a few quick rustles and dives, he ran back to his car, hands filled with a few bottles and a couple of cans. “That’s a hard way to earn seven and a half cents,” I marveled.
“After subtracting the cost of gas he’s losing money,” mused Clod. “Massively.”
We watched as the PT Chevy zoomed up to the next bus stop and repeated his cash collection, marveling at how unbelievably cheap and poor the rich people were in RPV, and how you’d never see such a thing in PVE, as they do it late at night.
After a while we got to the Jamba Juice, where Iron Mike and Psycho Mike treated everyone to multiple rounds of wheatgrass, a foul concoction that “cleanses the blood,” which is another way of saying that your turds are bright green for the next few days.
Psycho Mike had brought along a buddy, Cap’n Jim, pilot of a San Pedro tugboat, who almost caused StageOne to have an aneurysm by wearing a pair of Bike Palace shorts and a white/green/brown jersey that had the outline of a human skeleton (front and back) with all the organs in perfect Gray’s Anatomy placement.
We savored our wheatgrass, and called it a day. Big Bowles called a cab.
November 20, 2011 § 5 Comments
People ride for different reasons. I ride for the pleasure that I get from the pain.
I marvel at people who enjoy riding simply for the beauty and pleasure of turning the pedals on a sunny day. I envy those for whom cycling is a weapon among their arsenal of fitness tools. I’m awed by those who discovered the bike hard on the heels of an illness or a condition like alcoholism, obesity or diabetes, and have used cycling as a pathway to health.
Most of all I wish I were like the people who can look out the window on a cold, wet day with squalls and lower temperatures in the forecast and just say, “Fuck it. I’m going back to bed.”
The sting of the lash
By today’s standards, I was an abused child. By Texas standards in the 1960’s, I was a little miscreant who deserved every whipping I got, and probably a few hundred that I didn’t. By the Davidson family standards, which originated in frontier Tennessee, fought and somehow survived the Civil War, and ended up in West Texas ranching a corner of barren desert scrub, I got off easy.
No matter. As a child I lived through horrible beatings that I still can’t square with my reality, the reality of a parent who, after a handful of halfhearted spankings administered to my daughter when she was very young, never struck a child again. Something about the ferocity of my childhood whippings has been beaten so deeply into me that they are inextricably bound up in the sinew and muscle of my very being.
The big black beard, the flashing angry eyes, the powerful arms, the fury, the terror, the crazy attempts to escape, the submission, and the sting of the lash. Over and over, until the pain engulfed my frail body, until the sobs and screams were so deep and racking that they sucked even the primitive will to survive out of my dancing legs, just standing there limp and blind, absorbing the biting, angry, relentless sting of the lash.
That terrible pain, pain so sharp and awful, inflicted by the person I loved and admired and wanted to be like most, can for me only truly be exorcised a few moments at a time, on two wheels, during those fleeting seconds when everything is screaming stop, but the waves of hurt roll on, shutting out everything else.
Am I the only one?
The rain of pain falls mainly on your brain
For me, then, the wind and the rain and the cold aren’t deterrents. They are, rather, accelerators that get me quickly to the pleasure zone, where effort becomes work, and the work then becomes discomfort, and the discomfort morphs into either the extreme exhaustion of a long ride or the searing pain of a bad climb or a hellish rotation or a solo chase in no-man’s-land with no hope of ever latching back on.
This morning I hooked up with Iron Mike’s Wheatgrass Ride after fielding a torrent of texts and emails about the weather. Is it raining up on the Hill? It’s gonna worse, isn’t it? I don’t know if I should go, are you going? Etc.
Of course I’m going. Look at all that pain out there, waiting to be harvested. I have to.
We pulled out of Malaga Cove under threatening skies and a few drops of rain. The sunny riders had already drawn their line in the sand. “If it gets any worse, I’m going home.” Which it did, and which they did.
Soon we hit the turn at the bottom of the reservoir and began the climb up to Homes and Domes. The rain began to really fall, not stylish and well-dressed rain that’s too cool to come down hard, but like Texas rain. Thick, wet, hard, and cold. I shuddered from the pleasure as the wet drizzled down into my shoes and as the thick, greasy layer of embrocation pumped the heat down into the soles of my feet.
Here I was, again, riding with ten stalwart friends tucked on my wheel, their faces splattered with the dirty rain kicked up from my rear wheel. Were they having as much fun as I was? Why were they out here on a day like this? But even with them I was alone, falling into that old place, the place that started out as gentle ripples but promising something worse, something better, something infinitely more, piercing some black secret if only a second so that I could peer into the void and understand how. Understand why. Why?
Wiping away the hurt
There’s a 4.9-mile stretch on the Wheatgrass Ride that takes you from the bottom of the Switchbacks to the church on the right just before Hawthorne. It has a little of everything. It rolls, it has a couple of sharp, short kickers, it has a terribly deceptive gradual uphill, it has a gentle, long screaming downhill, it has a few twists, and on Strava it has a record set by my good friend Douggie on January 8, 2010.
I’ve been trying to break that record for months. I’ve assaulted it with ten other guys riding a paceline, with a handful of 3-4 engines, as a duo, and even solo. No matter what the configuration, the closest I’ve ever gotten is about a minute from his record of 9:57. When we dropped off the Switchbacks this morning I felt the howling tailwind that everyone had assured me was the key ingredient missing from all of our previous failed attempts.
I went. There were three riders in front of me: Fisherman, Clodhopper, and Frankendave. I passed them and kept up the heat through Portuguese Bend. The ripples turned into waves. At the glass church Fisherman and Clodhopper flashed by, then blew. I soldiered up the roller, never thinking I had a chance. And all the while I saw it coming, the white hot sting of the lash.
Over and over and over until there was no Strava, no Wheatgrass, no bike, just a snotslick strip of pavement and a tunnelled blur and the raging flush of the fury and the terror and the pain choking off everything except the silent scream within begging for it all to stop.
And bam. It stopped. And I had the new record by eleven seconds.
To the happy lovers exiting the Hawthorne Starbucks I was covered in snot and grit and grime and filth. But to me, I was cleansed from within. Again.