“It’s a what?” Clem asked as Turner sat on the edge of the bed, pulling the thick wool tights up over his legs.
“A time trial.”
“What the fuck is that and why the fuck is it so early and are you out of your fucking mind it’s 30 degrees outside.”
He stood up and pulled the suspenders over his shoulders, then put on his team jersey. His new team jersey. His Vigorelli lycra team jersey. It was purple.
“It’s a timed race, Clem. The riders go off at one minute intervals and the guy with the fastest time wins.”
“While you’re ‘going off’ you know where I’m going? Back to fuckin’ bed.” She rolled over and pulled the blankets under her chin. “Have fun.”
The cold bit through his wool Santini jacket and whistled through his long-fingered gloves. He didn’t mind, because people generally don’t mind physical discomfort when they’re scared out of their minds, and Turner was scared out of his. He had that “going to the principal’s office for a whipping” or “going into the math test for a flunking” or “walking home from the stamp-and-coin shop for an ass beating” feeling, except this was something he’d signed up for.
He had ridden through the winter with White Shoes, and when he finally got up the courage to ask Stijn if he thought he should race, Stijn had looked at him quizzically and said, “What the fuck are you riding your bike all the time with a bunch of bike racers for if you’re not gonna race?”
So he’d joined a club, gotten a license, and signed up for his first race, the Bloor Road to Blue Bluff Time Trial.
Crazy Max, the weatherbeaten, dope-addled mechanic at the bike shop who also organized the club’s annual race, had explained the race to him like this. “What the hell is there to explain? It’s a fuggin’ time trial.”
Turner looked stupidly at the floor. “Yeah,” he said. “But what is it, actually?”
Crazy Max ignored the question, as if Turner had said “What is a penis?” or “What is a bicycle?”
The tall, gangly mechanic known as Slither looked over from the truing stand. “You race against the clock, man. Balls out. Fastest time wins.”
“Oh,” nodded Turner. “So, where is it?”
Crazy Max looked up. “It’s in between Austin and Manor, just off FM 979. Bring your license and five bucks. Race starts at 8:00 AM sharp, riders go off every sixty seconds. It’s gonna be a full fuggin’ field. First race of the year, solid prize list, should sell out. Don’t be late.”
“How long is the race?”
“Four miles, about.”
“Can I ride my bike there? I don’t have a car.”
Crazy Max snorted. “Fugg yes. Everyone will prob’ly ride there except the organizers. That’s me.”
Turner had found Bloor Road on the map and was now pedaling as hard as he could to keep from freezing to death and to avoid missing the start. It took close to an hour, and his hands and feet were completely numb. Before long he saw Crazy Max’s old schrottwagen on the side of the road. “That must be the start.”
There were four or five other cars, but no bikes. Crazy Max was sitting in his car with the windows rolled up, heater on full blast. He cracked the window. “Don’t tell me you rode your fuggin’ bike here? Are you fuggin’ nuts?”
“You said everyone would … ” Turner faltered.
“Yeah, maybe I should have added ‘Unless it’s fuggin’ five degrees outside, or there’s a hurricane, or an earthquake, or the Germans bomb Austin. Jeez.” Crazy Max stuck a sign up sheet out from the cracked window. “Put your name on there and gimme the five bucks.” He rolled the window back up.
Stammering, Turner did as he was told, then tapped on the window. “Where are all the other racers?” he asked, pushing the sign-up sheet and the five-dollar-bill back through the slot.
Crazy Max exhaled a cloud of pot smoke. “Fugg if I know. Home in bed fuggin’ their mothers, prob’ly.”
At 8:00 sharp Crazy Max and the four other riders got out of their vehicles. One of them was Slither, who was also stoned. The other was a sixteen-year-old kid, Mikey Buttress, who they all called “Butthead.” The two others were bundled up like Arctic explorers, and looked to be in their late 20’s.
Turner looked at the riders’ bikes, all of which had knobby tires and funny looking cantilever brakes instead of the standard caliper-type brakes. Turner edged up to Mikey. “Hey,” he said. Mikey nodded back, the first friendly face of the day. “What’s with all the knobby tires?”
“Didn’t Crazy Max tell you this was all over unpaved roads? There’s a couple hundred yards of pavement, but only at the beginning. The first two miles after that are all uphill on pretty gnarly dirt, and the last half is flat, but it’s mostly unpaved too, except for the chugholes.” Mikey eyed Turner’s bike. “Good luck.”
One of the two club volunteers who had apparently ridden over with Crazy Max and agreed to volunteer in exchange for free dope held each rider, then released him at the designated time. Turner went last, and when the holder let him go he shot down the road as if it were a 200-meter sprint.
His bike launched off the crumbled lip of pavement and the tires sort of somehow gripped the loose dirt as pieces of gravel shot off to the side and the rim slammed with raging violence against big slags of rock that Turner didn’t see or couldn’t avoid. Partway up the incline his lungs began to sear, then his legs began to burn, and his bike kept slipping and sliding and bumping and pounding over rocks until he thought his teeth would rattle out of their sockets.
By the top of the climb Turner had overtaken the two polar explorers, and shortly before the finish he overhauled Crazy Max, who got off his bike, reached into his jersey pocket and begin furiously sucking on a joint. Everyone else huddled around the dope except for Turner and Mikey. The timing volunteer did some calculations and declared Turner the winner.
“Shit, man,” he said. “You just won your first bicycle race.”
“Really?” Turner said. It had hurt worse than anything in his life.
“Yeah, man. You killed it.”
Turner felt a wave of exultation roll over him. He’d done it. He wasn’t just a bike racer he was a winner. He couldn’t believe it. The other volunteer had driven up in Crazy Max’s car. “Good job,” Crazy Max said, hurriedly loading his bike into the trunk.
“Thanks,” said Turner. “Where’s my prize for first place?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Crazy Max. “I almost forgot.” He opened the door of the car and rummaged around on the floor, finally pulling out a paper grocery sack. “This is some special shit. It’s gonna be worth big money some day.” Out of the bag he withdrew a brand new Laverne & Shirley board game, still shrink-wrapped in plastic.
“What the hell is this?” asked Turner.
“It’s your prize. Good job out there today.” The other riders laughed, taking additional turns on the joint.
“Don’t spend it all in one place,” one said.
“Welcome to bike racing, sonny,” said Slither. “At least it’s new.”
Turner stuck the board game between his jacket and his back and rode home, livid at having been lied to, livid at having ridden to the race in the cold like an idiot, livid at the lameness of bike racing, and most of all livid at his stupid prize. The temperature had continued to drop, and by the time he arrived he was frozen to the core. He stumbled into the toasty apartment. Clem was watching TV and sipping hot coffee. She glanced up. “How’d you do?”
Her eyes got big. “Really? Your first race?”
“Oh, Turner, that’s so cool! Who’d you beat?”
“Four old stoners and a kid who doesn’t have hair on his balls yet.”
She laughed. “What did you win?”
He pulled out the Laverne & Shirley board game. Clem’s laughter turned hysterical. Turner started laughing too. “I always hated that fucking TV show,” he said.
“Me, too! Stupid fucking miserable little cunts masquerading as happy people.”
“But you know what?”
“If today was any indication, I’m going to win a whole shit-ton of bike races.”
Clem raised an eyebrow. “Oh, goodie. Can I come watch next time?”