Tea and strumpets

6:15 strikes early. First thought: that 25-mile hammer into Santa Cruz yesterday was a terrible idea. Second thought: that huge serving of banana cream coconut pie after dinner was even worse. Third thought: Jekyll, my roomie, doesn’t snore, stink, fart, wake up in the middle of the night and crump a hairy beet, talk in his sleep, use my toothbrush, splatter piss on the bathroom floor, sleepwalk, or sleep in a dress. He fucking rocks, such that he’s 12% forgiven for the beatdown he administered on yesterday’s climb.

It’s funny how, when forty guys wearing ManTour t-shirts walk into an airport or restaurant, some curious person will ask the magic question: “What is this man tour thing?” Last night the curious questioners were a pair of very pretty women in their 50’s.

Fuckdude helped them out. “We’re riding down to LA. Annual thing.” They were so impressed they took our names, and got the hotel we are staying at. We got their badge numbers and promised to be more quiet.

Morning of Day 2 we walk down to Zachary’s breakfast joint and get there at 6:30 to make sure we have plenty of time to eat and digest. It’s locked up tighter than a drum. We see a guy and bang the window. He ignores us. It’s cold outside so bang harder. He ignores us harder. Hockey Stick whips out his phone and we dial them up.

Dude answers the phone. “Zachary’s.” Surprised.

“Hey, man, I got forty guys shivering on the sidewalk hungry enough to eat shoe leather. Big tips all around if you’ll let us in early.”

Dude looks directly at us through the window glass. “Gotcha!” I say. Dude lets us in and we settle in for a light snack of pancakes, bacon, butter, eggs, sausage, hash browns, butter, heavy cream, migas, and a healthy sliver of fruit on top.

While waiting for the food to arrive, the conversation inevitably turns to tales of Stern-O. Someone regales a Holiday Ride story where one participant turns to the other and says, “Jesus Christ, we’re ten fucking miles into the ride and Stern-O’s already been screamed at by a cop, almost arrested, chased down by a track rider, almost beaten up, and body checked into a gutter.”

“Yeah,” the other guy says, “but the day is still young.”

We roll out for the 8:00 start promptly at 8:37. It’s ratsass cold, 42 degrees, and it doesn’t take long before Hockey Stick augments his star in the Hall of Shame from yesterday by doing a misdirection on the bike path out of Santa Cruz, missing the path and winding up on the railroad tracks. We cross the tracks farther down just in time to see him banging the holy fuck out of his frame against these giant wooden cross ties, each one big enough to crack the axle on a truck. He finally falls off, but at the last moment invokes the protection that god reserves for small children and idiots, and escapes unscathed.

It’s not long before our first casualty of the day occurs when we take a sharp left-hander at the bottom of a steep little stinger at the edge of town. Canyon Bob, who religiously replaces his Huffy-grade components every 200,000 miles whether he needs to or not, shears off his derailleur hanger and thrusts it into the spokes.

His bike explodes, he bounces off the pavement, and since it looks like he won’t be able to continue, several voice the opinion that we should do the humane thing and shoot him right there. Cooler heads fail to prevail, and he’s bundled into the paddywagon with his crippled steed.

Douggie begins calling all the bike shops in a 100-mile radius for a replacement Suntour ’82 rear dérailleur but surprisingly none are in stock. We regroup and pound out a stunning 40-mile route into Monterey. Suddenly, we look around and realize that Stahlberg’s absent this year.

The significance of his absence electrifies the group: we now all have a chance at the week-old shelf in Monterey’s Paris Bakery. Cadillac roars to the front, followed by Woodenhead, Fishnchips, and Hockey Stick. The speed hits 40 with violent, aggressive bumping as each hero knows that the honey-draped week-old bearclaw is up for grabs.

With one block to go, Cadillac makes a wrong turn and takes half the Weight Watchers crew with him. Suddenly I’m in the clear and I lunge for the finish. Alas, it’s not to be, as Hockey Stick slips through, leaps off his bike, and scoops up the old bearclaws at one dollar each.

We finish our snack and go out to the paddywagon, where Douggie has miraculously located an antique N.I.B. derailleur and hanger. Unfortunately it’s three feet long and no one knows how to put it on, and as everyone is staring at it like a pack of chimps trying to disassemble a semiconductor, Hairball comes up and saves the day.

Suddenly Fuckdude’s decision to hold up the group for Hairball’s late plane arrival seems like genius, as Hairball owns a bike shop and is an expert mechanic. In one fell swoop Hairball earns a star in the Hall of Fame, the first on on this year’s tour, for completing the most complex repair job and simultaneously saving the participation of a Man. The Karma goddess works her magic again.

Twenty more miles of unspeakably scenic beauty roll by and a man tourist remarks as we pass through Pebble Beach, “The only thing that would make this bike ride better is if we could get a blow job while we were doing it.”

Everyone nods in agreement.

At the Carmel supermarket we stop and takeon much needed calories. “Ya gotta keep eatin if ya wanna keep goin.” I have a full-sized roast beef sub and a Dr. Pepper. As everyone is sitting on the curb Bluebeard rips off a 9.7 on the MT fart scale at the very moment a woman is walking by with her cart. The bananas turn brown, the lettuce wilts, and the woman gives us the stinkeye of all stinkeyes. The children fall over laughing, and just before the police arrive we decide to roll out.

“Where’s Iron Mike?” someone says. At that moment he is waiting for the can inside the store, but he has a long wait because Fishnchips is doing stress testing on the ceramic bowl. As he’s waiting a lady comes out of the ladies’ room with a fully loaded cart.

Now it’s not often that you see someone push a fully-loaded cart into the toilet, and Iron Mine offers to help as the cart wedges in the door. Her jacket is bulging and it looks like there has been some rearrangement of the price labels. He gets her out of the toilet without being arrested as an accomplice in a shoplifting scheme, and we hit the road.

As we leave we see the sign to Big Sur: 26 miles. A photo op is staged 5 miles down the road, after which it is game on all the way to Big Sur.

We snap the group photo, jump on our bikes and blast off. Davy Dog splits the field as we pound up the first of a series of endless, windy hills exposed to the gale coming off the sea. After the first climb the group has been whittled down to Jekyll, Fuckdude, Davy Dawg, Fireman, Triple, me, and Woodenhead. Jekyll punches it up the next roller and Woodenhead explodes in a shower of toasted butter.

Mile after mile we churn on, gradually wearing ourselves down into beaten mush, and Fireman unleashes an attack from hell. Triple and Jekyll decide to go back and check their email as Fuckfude, Fireman, Dawg, and I soldier on. Fireman goes again and none follow. Dawg picks up the whip and flogs himself up to Fireman’s wheel.

I kick, everyone follows, and around the bend we shoot into a tunnel of redwoods. At the far end is the Big Sur sign. I sputter, flog, flail, and beat the dead chicken to a fare the well. Dawg hits the gas but it’s too late: the dead chicken sticks its beak across the line and 20,000 miles of training since August are rewarded with the trophy of trophies: the two-hand throw at Big Sur.

Hairball and TomCollins make up the next group, followed by Toronto and Coolhand, who had chased two-up the entire way. As part of my spoils of victory, the lady selling ugly hats and

Mexican blankets tells me to get away from her shop as I was “scaring off the customers.”

In the chase group, M8 is living through his own personal hell as Chief turns on the jets and begins to grind him into tiny little bits of pulp. The shame and pain of the flogging are enhanced by Chief reminding M8 that he’s old enough to be M8’s great-grandfather.

Finally in rolls Methuselah. We prepare to drape a star for the Hall of Fame due to the suffering he’s endured with his broken hand, but it has swollen up so much the ribbon won’t go around it. He has now completed two hundred miles and over 7,000 feet of climbing with his smashed hand.

“Jesus, Methuselah, how’s your hand?” someone asks.

“Well, it’s not any worse.” he says.

“Of course it is, you crazy fuck. It’s bigger than your goddamned head.”

“Ah well, fuck it. Gimme a beer.”

A quick shower later I go down to the Big Sur River and drink a bottle of water while Bill the Lumberjack runs a giant wood chipper to perfect the bucolic mood. Coolhand climbs into the river up to his nether parts for “hydrotherapy,” which benefits the body by freezing his nuts blue.

One by one the mantourists gravitate to the bar, and the night of revelry begins. Plus, we have an easy day after today’s 92.5-mile death match: the first 55 miles are a grueling slog to Ragged Point, followed by another 50 long miles to Morro Bay.

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