Dave Gonyer. The name even sounds big. And it is. Two hundred pounds of big. “Gonyer.” Makes me think of a huge dump truck loaded with slabs of rebar.
“Hey, bubba. Back up the Gonyer a couple more feet so we can unload the concrete.”
“I almost got run off the fuckin’ road by a Gonyer. Damn operator didn’t even see me.”
Gonyer. It’s actually an Americanization of the French surname “Gagne.” But lest you think it’s French as in “Those wusses who drink lattes and discuss poetry on the Left Bank,”…nuh-uh.
The Gagne clan are from the Central Massif Departement of France, which means “Region of Massive Testicles.” They worked for generations in the mines, where their hereditary occupation was “prendre le merdre pendeleuse,” or “carrying heavy shit.”
The Gonyers are big people. Heavy people. Stoic draggers of useless things without complaint.
How’d our roles get reversed?
I had driven down to North County San Diego for the Swami’s Poker Ride. It’s a 51-mile, four-person team time trial. You get the time of your slowest rider. The only other rule is that there are no rules.
Over the last year or so I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with North County, but haven’t yet discovered the “love” part of the equation. My trips there follow a pattern.
Good buddy MMX: “Hey WM, why don’t you come down to North County next weekend? We’re having the [insert name of awful-sounding ride] and you could ride with us. It will be fun.”
Me: “Uh, okay. Sure. Thanks for the invitation.”
Once I get there I find out that the “fun” consists of MMX and the other North County zombies tearing my legs off, shelling me forty miles from home, and leaving me adrift in a sea of endless, stabbing rollers.
This time, though I’d been put on the Team from Hell with MMX and David Anderson, I was relieved to see that there was another rider on our team, Gonyer, clearly unfit for duty and in comparison with whom I would appear fit and fast, for a change.
Before the ride started, Jim Miller came up to me. “How you feeling, WM?”
“Great,” I said. “We might actually have a shot at winning this if it weren’t for the weak link.”
I nodded over at Gonyer.
Jim looked at me quizzically. “Gonyer? He’ll do fine.”
I shook my head. “Not with this crowd. MMX is loaded for bear. David is coming off a state win in ‘cross. I’m as lean as I’ve ever been. Dude’s going to peg out on the climbs, and since our time is based on the slowest rider, Team Nemesis will beat us. Looks like I’ll be dragging weak link’s ass all over San Diego County.”
Jim laughed. “You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you, buddy? Ride safe.”
Warming up, then getting into a rhythm
We were the next-to-last-team to start, just in front of Team Nemesis, which consisted of Slasher, Assassin, The Hand of God, and Dandy. We rolled out and MMX slowly brought up the pace so that we had a chance to get good and warmed up.
Then, after those first 200 yards were completed, he sprinted away. One after another we clawed our way to his wheel as he continually looked back to see if Team Nemesis was gaining.
By the end of Mile One we’d overhauled Team Stefanovich. MMX and David took turns attacking the group. By the end of Mile Two I was done, hardly able to hold a wheel. Gonyer was gassed, too.
By Mile Ten we’d shed Team Stefanovich and passed Team Nemesis, who had taken a shortcut to get ahead of us but had gotten three flats courtesy of Karma, who is a bitch.
After the first checkpoint, at Mile Fifteen, I was unable to pull through. It had become clear that although Gonyer was equally gassed, his ample width meant that getting on his wheel was the Cadillac draft. “What the hell,” I thought. “He can tow me for a while. I’ll be towing him soon enough.”
Sharing the work by not working
Now my three teammates were doing all the work, and as we whizzed down one long descent Gonyer, who wasn’t very good at pointing shit out, rolled over a manhole cover. The civil engineers in North County had all decided that the best place to put big manholes with 2-inch lips was in the middle of the bike lane, so when Gonyer hit this one, his rear bottle popped out of the cage and exploded.
Karma Bitch paid me for my suckery when the contents of the bottle coated me from helmet to foot. This was the bottle in which Gonyer had put his triple-thick mixture of Fanta grape soda pop, with a viscosity of approximately 250 Pa·s, the same as peanut butter.
My glasses were immediately coated with grape goop, and long sticky goopcicles hung from my nose and helmet and chin. Everyone thought it was hilarious, but I was having a hard time getting the joke, so I figured if I sat in some more I would perhaps understand it better.
TTT tactics for people who hate TTT’s
Although we were nominally called “Team MMX,” in reality we were doing ITT MMX. As we rolled up one long climb, popping Gonyer off the back, I remarked to MMX, “You dropped Gonyer.”
MMX shrugged. “He knows how to chase.”
“But we’re only as fast as our slowest guy.”
“He’d better hurry, then.”
Unlike other teams, whose strategy revolved around sheltering the weak in order to maintain the highest average speed by keeping the group together and benefiting from the draft, MMX’s strategy was to destroy his teammates and make them go faster through fear, humiliation, and pain.
Gonyer caught back on. It was working.
Somewhat disappointed that his own team was still together, despite chasing down and dropping half a dozen of the teams in front of us, MMX gave the next set of death commands. “We will take the dirt.”
The ride had a “dirt” option where you could get an extra card for your poker hand by taking a “short” and “easy” off road section. At the Thirty Mile checkpoint we got our card plus an extra card for the dirt, and pounded on.
MMX and David shot off down the dirt trail, which was studded with boulders, gravel, a creek sporting 2-feet of soft mud on either bank, steep successions of sandy walls, plunging descents through off-camber corners with sheer drops and mined with sharp stones and numerous other “interesting features.” We passed countless dead and wounded Swamis in various states of bike carrying, bike dragging, flat repairing, or just holding each other and sobbing.
Before vanishing, David had admonished Gonyer to “ride lightly in the saddle” as he wasn’t a ‘crosser.
“WTF?” he said. “Two hundred pounds don’t ride anything light.”
I felt sorry for him, briefly, until my own self-preservation needs took over.
The last thing I heard him say, just before plunging into the mud pit, was “What the…..?”
Bring out your dead
Thankfully, MMX had flatted at the end of the dirt road. I staggered over to a fence and peed. Rummaging through my jersey pocket I pulled out a handful of GU gels and crammed them down my throat. We still had fifteen miles to go and I was done. Dead. Bonked. Cratered. Finished. Waxed.
“Where’s Gonyer?” asked David.
“Hell if I know. A long ass way back.”
“No he isn’t,” said Dave. “There he is!”
Gonyer whipped off the dirt just as MMX finished changing the flat. The other four-man SPY-Giant team was there too, and we left together.
“How you doing?” asked MMX. He had a thin smile cut across his face that said many things, but of all the things it said, none of them was “I hope you’re doing okay and if not I will help you.”
“I’m done,” I said.
“No, you’re not. Just one more climb and then you’re done. Questhaven.”
He punched ahead as the other riders accelerated up a short roller.
At the mention of Questhaven, my legs seized. Just one more climb. Questhaven. That’s like saying “Just one more island to hop: Iwo Jima. Oh, and you’ll be landing in the first wave. With a bow and arrow.”
Gonyer came undone ahead of me and I toiled up to his rear wheel. In more than thirty years of cycling I’ve never been so undone so far from the car. This was a level of emptiness, of bonk, of mental and physical collapse that could only be explained by the fact that I had been eating a diet to sustain a squirrel while making the physiological demands of a professional rock climber. I wasn’t going to make it.
“You okay, buddy?” asked Gonyer.
“Just sit on, then.”
I nodded, licking the strings of grape shrapnel from my face, thankful for the carbs.
The tow truck
Gonyer proceeded to haul me up hill, down dale, and along straightaways at blistering speeds. Never flicking an elbow for me to come through, easing up each of the several dozen times I came off, waiting for me atop every climb, patiently signaling the turns and coaxing me along, he showed more grit and teamwork and camaraderie in those fifteen miles than I’d shown since 1982.
Somehow I got over Questhaven. “It’s all downhill from here,” he said. “Sit tight.”
Momentarily elated, I soon realized that in North County when they say “downhill” they also mean “uphill.” Dropped, reattached, repeat…
As we got close to the barn, he turned to me. “You just having a bad day?”
“Did you do a lot of high intensity miles this week?”
“Just getting back on the bike?”
“What’s the problem, then?”
Gonyer shook his head. “Well, good effort, anyway. If you have four dudes, someone’s got to be the weak link. No shame in that.”
No shame, indeed.