Everything was going fine. There we were, whizzing along at 46 mph in a tightly grouped bunch of grizzled codgers, when we rounded a modestly tight bend. Zing! Perky floated across the center line (bad), locked up the brakes (worse), and went flying headfirst into a tree (worstest).
A collective “Thank God it’s not me” shuddered through the peloton, as some of his Big Orange teammates looked caringly, with great briefness, in the direction of his crumpled body.
Suddenly, things no longer seemed fine, and a concatenation of worries flashed across my mind. “What am I doing here? Why are elderly men with prostate issues crashing their bikes into trees at just under 50 miles per hour? How am I going to get that embrocation off my balls?”
Then I realized: weird shit always happens at the Boulevard Social Hour.
Take a chance on me
The race stages a mile or so down the hill from the Golden Acorn Casino, which is a good name to symbolize the opportunities that await at the road race. The acorn is a tiny little booger, and even if it were solid gold would barely be worth a couple hundred bucks–about the prize money you could expect to win for one of the road race events if you took all top ten placings. And of course, for most of the 70 some-odd idiots who signed up for the 45+ race, the chance of winning was slimmer than getting a $25 payout at the Golden Acorn.
Unlike last year, where I planned a convincing win but instead got dropped halfway up the four-mile climb on the first lap, my goals for 2012 were more modest: finish the first lap with the leaders. Everything else would be gravy. And after watching Perky climb that tree on his bike, I added “finish without hitting a tree” to the list.
In the staging area, wedged between the double-wides and the single toilet for all 300 racers that had a 30-minute wait and a 2-year smell coming out of it, I took stock of the competition. There was the short fat guy in the painted on skinsuit. “What the fuck is that wanker doing here? Didn’t he get the memo about the 6-mile climb followed by the 4-mile climb followed by the paramedic tent? Idiot.”
There was the big, tall, fat guy lathered in tattoos and wearing a half-polka dotted maroon kit from Team Dude Chick. “Did he take a wrong turn looking for the transvestite bar? This is a fucking road race. A hard one. For hard men. Jesus.”
Over there was a gnome with crooked legs and triple-bent spine. “Fuck. The nursing home is back in El Cajon. Maybe they let him out of the Alzheimer’s ward for the day to play the slots and he wandered down here by mistake.”
These few minutes of rolling around in the bright sunshine reminded me that, sunshine or not we were still at 4,000 feet and it wouldn’t take much for the 60-degree weather to drop. Something like, say, a howling wind. Which there was.
The roar of a hundred men
Moments before the gun sounded, a Breakaway from Cancer rider shouted to us. “Hey! Listen up! Today is Glass Hip’s birthday! Let’s sing him a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday!'”
At first everyone thought it was a joke, and then the wisecracks started. “What about a chorus of ‘Hungry Like the Wolf” or “Nasty by Janet Jackson?”
After the jeers subsided, the 70 raspy voices broke into a half-hearted rendition of the birthday classic. Glass Hip, touched all the way down to his artificial joint, allowed as how he’d “never been more prettily serenaded by an uglier group of post-menopausal men.”
And off we went, about 30 of us to a bike race, another 39 of us to a one-or-two lap beatdown, and me to my doom.
A note to the makers of BonkBreaker
When we hit the bottom of the long climb on the first lap my legs felt great. A nasty acceleration at the front strung us out and summarily dropped everyone who hadn’t already quit or run into a tree. I smiled to myself. “Is this the best these alleged national and former world champions have? Puh-leeze.”
Halfway up the climb, almost exactly where I’d come off the year before, a rather unpleasant sensation began building up in my legs. In seconds it had spread to my lungs, throat, head, and finally my eyes. In a few more seconds I watched the lead group ride away.
It came to my attention that, without the shelter of the group, there was a vicious, horribly cold headwind. I crumpled as the long line of shellees pushed on by. After the world’s longest mile we reattached to the lead, and I remembered that part of my pre-game nutrition plan had been to eat one peanut butter BonkBreaker per lap.
The pace had slowed and I reached into my jersey and fished one out. I’m not sure why, but they are housed in ceramic-titanium wrapping, which is easy to open with a blowtorch, but impossible to tear into with your teeth.
Starving, terrified that a bonk was near, and too tightly wedged into the pack to take both hands off the bars (I could see the headline now: Cat 4 Wanker Loses Control of Bike Trying to Open Candy Wrapper, Kills Great American Cycling God Thurlow Rogers) I began to wrestle with the packaging.
The harder I bit and pulled, the more it didn’t open, until in desperation I was jerking so hard that I could feel my back molars start to give in their sockets. This headline wasn’t much better: 45+ Wanker Pulls All Rear Teeth Out of Gums in Epic Battle for Lump of Peanut Butter.
All this pulling with my teeth meant that no air had been getting to my lungs. Now it was either open the package or pass out. Miraculously the wrapper tore and in a flash I had half the thick, dry, lumpy treat in my mouth. A simultaneously massive inhalation almost rammed it down my windpipe, but at the last second I wrestled it over to the side of my mouth with my tongue.
The oxygen debt from the wrapper battle was huge, and I began gasping as I tried to gulp down enough air. Unable to chew, the spit soaked the brown lump and dissolved part of it. Before I could swallow the liquified part of the goop we hit the sharp climb through the aptly named “feed zone.”
Now on the tail of the lead and coming unhitched, it was impossible to do anything but gasp for air. Having gone to this much effort to get the BonkBreaker into my mouth, I wasn’t about to spit it out. Instead, the violent exhalations forced the dark brown spitgoop out of my mouth, along my cheeks and down my chin.
Thrust up against the line of shouting spectators, each person saw me from mere inches as I labored by. “Oh my God,” I heard one horrified woman say. “He’s vomiting up his own shit!”
The people in front of her on the hill looked as I came by, my face contorted in pain. A little boy looked, fascinated and happy, as the brown chunks began to spill out. “And he’s trying to swallow it back down, too!” This was perhaps the grimmest headline of all: 45+ Wanker Pukes up Own Feces, Re-Eats it to Survive Mindlessly Hard Road Race.”
That’s Mr. Gnome to you, Wanky
At the top of the feed zone the pack had left me. Again. And unlike last year, when I’d had a few dropaway companions to slog along with, this time I was alone with 42 miles to go and an impossibly freezing headwind to contend with. Suddenly, who should whiz by but the wizened gnome from the staging area. He was on a mission, and unbeknownst to him, part of his mission was about to include me.
I hopped onto his wheel and he lit into the downhill. The leaders were in sight and he was determined to catch. We raced into the stretch where the road began to rise again and there on the side of the road was a poor hapless sod from Big Orange, JF, changing a rear wheel on the side of the road. “Poor bastard,”I thought. “Gonna be flailing by himself the rest of the race. He’s never catching us.”
Mr. Gnomes railed us to within a couple of hundred yards of the pack and then swung over for me to close the last bit of pavement. I pulled heroically for a few seconds before my legs returned to their former rubbery state. He came through and charged as hard as he could, then popped, and the leaders vanished ’round the bend.
It was going to be a very long day, and I started thinking about starting up a conversation with Mr. Gnomes. Just as I’d hit upon an icebreaker, I heard the sound of whizzing carbon rims. In a flash we were passed by JF. I leaped for his wheel, realizing that he, too was on a mission, and it too, if properly utilized, could include me. Mr. Gnomes, after nobly helping me this far and sacrificing himself for a complete stranger, was left pitilessly behind.
We made it!
JF was going fast when he came by, but upon hitting the downhill he opened up the jets. Occasionally looking back to see if I would help with the effort, he soon realized that he was carrying the deadest of deadwood. Somehow Mr. Gnomes time trialed back on, and the two of them smashed and bashed and beat the pedals to a fare-thee-well, while I thanked them from the bottom of my heart.
After a couple of miles we started seeing the taillights from the motor just around the next curve, and another mile later the entire 45+ field was right there. A more beautiful sight I have never seen, and to make matters sweeter I had been dragged back up without having to do a lick of work. Mr. Gnomes was starting to pedal squares, but I figured I’d wait until they were proper triangles before relieving him.
We caught just at the railroad tracks, and the final effort up that sharp bump was too much for Mr. Gnomes, who shattered and fell back, never to see the leaders again. I felt deeply for him as I straggled onto the rear. Poor Mr. Gnomes. He was such a good fellow. And a hard worker. To be dumped mercilessly by a freeloading freddie just at the moment of success…it was almost too much for me to think about. So I didn’t.
A few seconds passed and the road began the first rise. The Tragedy of Gnomes evaporated from my mind and the Execution of Wanky, Act II, came to the fore. JF had caught his breath and then shot to the front. “That,” I said, “is exactly what I must do. Shoot to the front. Because it’s dangerous back here.”
I shot to the front, and relaxed in safety amongst the rainbow jersey and red-white-blue collars and sleeves. The road rose slightly. With a power and speed that amazed even me, I shot backwards again. And kept shooting, all the way out the back. For good. The pack rolled away.
Pleased to make your acquaintance
In the next few miles I became acquainted with a kindly gentleman who by day is a sociologist and statistician. We exchanged pleasantries before he dropped me and rode away. Two other riders came by. I tried to engage them in conversation, but they had better places to be than a windswept, barren desert climb with the sun quickly going down and hypothermia in the offing. On the long climb I was even passed by Ol’ Grizzles, the aged, mustachioed chap with densely furred legs. He encouraged me with a “Come on, buddy!” but he would have gotten a better reaction from one of the large boulders on the side of the road.
Back in the feed zone people eyed me strangely. I crested the hill and by came Mr. Gnomes. “Fuck this shit,” he said. “I’m done.”
With one whole lap to go, I was next passed by the leaders in the pro-1-2 field. Going up the next grade, the referee slowed down his motor. “The 1-2 field is coming.”
“Am I the last 45+?”
“What number is that? 500’s? Nah, they’re all over the course behind you.”
This was the shot in the arm that would get me around the course. With a hard enough effort I might place 26th! I sprinted up the climb and dropped into the long downhill. Along came the 1-2 field and the follow motor. Behind the follow motor was the short fat guy with the painted on skinsuit. I hopped on. We drafted the motor as long as we could, which wasn’t nearly long enough.
We crossed the railroad tracks and the fat guy dropped me. Next to come along was the tattooed rider from Team Dude Chick. He was in dude mode. Although he looked too big to get up the grade without a helium balloon, he was amazingly fast. Or I was amazingly slow. Or both. He, too, left me by myself before we could get a good lively conversation going. Quite unfriendly of him, it seemed.
About a thousand years later I finished. Incredibly, there were eight people slower and dumber than I. By now I was frozen to the bone, but not too frozen to stop and ask Glass Hip, who was changing a flat on his car, about the race that I had been in but not really been in.
Thurlow had won. G$ second. Glass Hip destroyed the remnants for third. JF got 8th. Glass Hip looked fresh and happy and relaxed, not like someone who’d just been to hell and decided to live there. “You okay, buddy? What’s that brown stuff all over your face? You need a doctor?”
“I’ll be fine. Thanks.” The temperature had fallen into the 30’s with the wind chill. It was almost dark. I stripped down in front of a double-wide then hopped into the car, cranking the heater full blast. I’d taken my two chances in the race, Mr. Slim and Mr. None, and wound up with the latter. I took that as an omen and rolled on past the Golden Acorn, sorely tempted as I was to try my luck there. It was a long drive home.