I got out of bed at 5:00 this morning and it hit me like a thunderbolt: “I gotta feel the wind in my hair.” Unprotected cycling, like its procreative counterpart, has fallen out of fashion in the last twenty-five years.
For good reason, as AIDS and catastrophic head injuries just aren’t that much fun.
Or for good reasons, all of which roared their loudest to drown out the perfectly on-pitch note of bad judgment urging me to ditch the lid.
Voice of prior opinions: “You’ve blogged on the wisdom and necessity of helmets, you hypocrite!”
Voice of prior criticism: “You repeatedly hassled Knoll for riding without a lid! Repeatedly!”
Voice of insurance coverage: “Comparative negligence for failure to wear a helmet will greatly reduce your recovery in litigation when you get whacked by Mr. Mom on her way to church.”
Voice of aggravation: “Where’s your fucking helmet, dude?” [Repeated by friends a thousand times.]
Voice of love: “Your family depends on you!”
Voice of vanity: “How you gonna blog with the back of your head staved in?”
Voice of experience: “Which nursing home would MMX et al. be in today without one?”
Voice of responsibility: “Think of the message you’re conveying to beginners!”
Voice of derision: “You going to be the new CC, or the new Guillermo on the block? What’s next, a penis piercing and full-body tattoo?”
Voice of fear: “This is gonna be the day you go down. On your head. You dumbass.”
And of course the Voice of Fear was shrillest of all.
The only voice that counts
With a rapidity that only comes from practice, I ignored the cacophony of reason and sound judgment and listened only to the on-pitch note, which sounded exactly like Martin H. You see, a couple of weeks back I’d posted an old photo of myself on FB, happily zinging helmetless down a hill in 1987. Martin’s comment? “Damn I loved riding without a helmet.” Oh, siren, how you do call.
From the moment I read his comment and looked at the picture, the memory of the wind whistling through my hair grew stronger and stronger. Then, out of nowhere, came the Supreme Court’s ruling that it is reasonable to strip search and probe the anus/vagina of anyone in custody, even people in custody for terroristic crimes like walking a dog without a leash, or driving with an expired license.
The justification for dispensing with the Fourth Amendment is the same one we’ve used to jettison the right to habeas corpus and other trivial rights that have been around since the time of the Magna Carta: safety, or more properly, safety in the jails. That pesky Fourth Amendment, like riding without a helmet, makes us unsafe. And which would you rather have? Freedom or safety? Wind whistling through your hair…or safety?
One order of wind whistling through my hair, over easy, with bacon on the side, please. And kindly shove the safety up your ass. They’ll pull it out the next time you’re in custody.
This morning it was plain as day. I wanted wind through my hair. Why? Because people like Prez and Howard Hughes and Glass Hip and Leo Castillo don’t have any. They could take their helmets off all day long and never have the flow of the wind broken by anything rougher than a glass ball.
And truth be told, like most of the other fellers in the peloton, each year my acreage is getting rockier. Patches of dirt are cropping up where there once was nothing but thick vegetation. Danger and recklessness and bad morals and disapproving stares be damned, this morning I was going helmetless.
Are you really?
Someone left the apartment hallway window open last night, and a 40 mph breeze almost blew me off my feet as I waited for the elevator. So let me get this straight, Mr. Meister. You’re going out in a monsoon to participate in the South Bay’s iconic idiot parade and fredfest, i.e. the Donut Ride, and you’re doing it without a helmet? Is that right?
Yes. And I actually shook with a little bit of fear. That’s how deeply I’ve been enslimed in the protective coating of Safety At All Costs.
Once I actually began bolting downhill at 35 mph, however, I realized that the helmetless thing was totally unnecessarily, at least for today, as the wind was so strong it would have blown through my hair in a full facemask moto GP helmet.
But as the descent kept descending and the wind kept howling and my hair kept whistling and my scalp kept tingling, I knew that I’d done the right thing. There’s something about unprotected cycling…if you grew up on it, it’s still down in your bones.
Unprotected cycling is no magic talisman
The Donut was pretty small, less than 70 wankers, probably due to the incredible wind storm. When Major Bob and I caught the group, which had left while we were watching Rodley spill coffee on his crotch at the Bean & Leaf and listening to Fussy tell us about the guy with the little penis who showered five times a day and the monster Caddy that Joe B. and his Vietnamese buddy used to drive to races that had a trunk so big that they could put both bikes in it without taking off the wheels…
When we caught the group I noticed that Sergio Hernandez was with us. Sergio on ride bad. Sergio on ride much big pain. Sergio on ride you get droppy-droppy quicky-quicky, after ride no braggy-braggy, dick draggy-draggy in dirty-dirty.
Out of Malaga, Sergio heaped on the coals and towed us to Paseo del Mar. Josh from PVCC took a two-mile pull that decimated the group, as the effort was into a howling, and I mean howling, crosswind. Sergio kicked it through Lunada Bay and rode away with Josh. They got stopped at the Hawthorne light. We caught them and waited three minutes. Only then did the tattered remnants of the ride catch up.
Sergio began flogging the dog again through Terranea. I kept looking down at my legs, wondering why I was getting dropped, wondering why everyone was riding single file, wondering why there was no everyone. I kept getting almost dropped on the downhill to Portuguese Bend, and then, just as I thought I couldn’t possibly get dropped any more, Sergio took out the whip and beat us all into another single file of crackage and droppage.
Now there was hardly anybody left, and shortly past the PB Beach Club, Tom M., Marco C., and others just sat up, giving me the “Fuck this shit,” look. Major Bob and I hung onto Sergio briefly, until he dropped us, taking Josh and Backpack Eric with him. They was gone.
On the Switchbacks I chased down Kurt A., who dropped me after getting caught, and we went back and forth all the way to the top, when just after the final turn he imploded, coughed up a lung and a kidney, and went from pedaling squares to pedaling something made with a Spirograph.
My Donut was harder than yours
I know that each week the Donut is harder than the week before, with the absolutely hardest and most epic and most incomprehensibly hideous ones always being the ones I wasn’t on. So I heard that last week it was so hard that they’re thinking of accepting Strava times as substitutes for a race resume if you’re trying to get a wildcard into the TdF, and even so, this week’s was even harder.
As the shards from the group staggered in, minutes, hours, days, sidereal months later, it was clear that the main thing on everyone’s mind was “How do we make sure we don’t have to do this again with a legit UCI pro?”
Unsafe maneuver safely executed
I’m happy to report that I survived the death-defying stunt of riding without a helmet, much as I survived it for most of the years I’ve been cycling. I’m also happy to report that next time I go out, it will almost certainly be with a helmet. Almost.