Wankmeister stared, almost unseeing, at the big greasy leg of chicken that dripped enormous globs of grease onto his fingers and hands. With each mechanical thrust of the chicken leg into his mouth, the grease drizzled down into his beard and slowly congealed there until the whole thing looked matted and sticky as it shone repulsively in the burning afternoon sun.
He didn’t care.
At the next table over, two chatty ladies from Seattle were proudly detailing each pedal stroke of their successful assault on the Solvang metric century. They had already changed into matching orange tops and miniskirts, and seated across the way with legs slightly parted Wankmeister duly noted that the most animated of the two was full commando and completely shaven. “Holy shit!” whispered Squishy. “Check that out!”
Wankmeister didn’t care.
Big Bowles came cheerfully over with a foaming cup of Firestone I.P.A. and set it affectionately down in front of him, patting him on the back. “Take some of this, pal. You’ll feel better.” Wankmeister tilted the cup back until the holy liquid poured down his parched throat, but the magical reaction of fresh beer in dehydrated body never happened. All he tasted was bitter. Bowles was concerned. “You look awful.”
He didn’t care.
The sun kept beating down on his exposed neck as various South Bay riders trickled in. There was Gussy, happy and backslapping. There was Toronto and Mrs. Toronto, she pleased with her Metric 100 and he displeased with multiple tire blowouts and flats and various issues. There was Major Bob who looked like he hadn’t yet ridden a bike this day. And of course the contingent of FTR DS Jaeger, King Harold, Bull, Squishy, Checkerbutt, Luscious Lucious, Tub Top, sat around enjoying the day and the beer and their completion of the full hundred miles.
Wankmeister didn’t care about anything, and more melted rivulets of fat trickled down into his beard.
A baby dolphin hunt gone terribly wrong
Cycling, when done properly, is a series of poor decisions culminating in despair. Having paid the $90 entry fee for the Madera stage race, Wankmeister bailed the night before due to incomplete recovery from his bubonic plague and ovarian cyst. Overcome with guilt, he decided that rather than staying home and doing the Donut he would instead go to Solvang for the annual baby dolphin hunt.
In the beginning it had been glorious. Jaeger, Wanky, Bull, King Harold, and the Long Beach freddies had engaged in a wonderful morning of gaffing and filleting the baby Solvang dolphins by the hundreds. At one point DS Jaeger flatted. Imperiously handing his bike over to Tub Top to change the tire, he waded out into a field and happily pissed on the vegetables. Tub Top got his revenge by improperly seating the bead, which meant that despite the record-setting tire change DS Jaeger was soon enough standing on the side of the road wasting more of other people’s CO2 cartridges as he tried to do right the fifth time what he’d been too lazy to do right the first.
The one happy outcome of so many unplanned stops was that it allowed hundreds of baby dolphins to pass by the hunters with snide baby dolphin smirks, as if to say “You thought you were so fast, but who’s passing whom now?” Actually, none of them said “whom.” Baby dolphins don’t know how to use the objective case.
It was a happy outcome for the hunters because it simply meant that rather than a one-time dolphin slaughter, the brave predators were engaged in a catch-and-reclub program whereby the dolphins were caught, clubbed, released, and the clubbed again. By the time they reached the 60-mile-mark at Santa Maria, it looked like it would be a day for the record books. At least a thousand baby dolphins, countless “we can hang with this train” flailers, and even a pair of triathletes were clubbed, gaffed, gutted, and filleted.
Don’t count your baby dolphins before they’re gored
On the first set of rollers outside of Santa Maria, however, FTR DS Jaeger, forgetting all of the CO2 cartridges he had shamelessly borrowed, forgetting the quick wheel change he was given while he urinated in the field, and forgetting the camaraderie of the great sport of Solvang Century Ride Dolphin Clubbing, accelerated hard and kicked Bull out the back. Next to go, despite a last minute push from Checkerbutt, was Wanky. Then, a few miles later, Tub Top was clubbed. Shortly thereafter, Squishy got squished. One by one DS Jaeger disemboweled each of his friends, soloing in to the Solvang finishing tent and beer garden with no one in sight.
Last to finish were Bull and Wanky, the former tired, the latter barely able to stand.
“How was the ride?” a vaguely familiar person asked, but what was there to say, except this, and he was too tired to say it …
Nothing is as lonely and miserable as getting dropped by your “friends” 35 miles from beer, and then, over the course of the next miserable hour and a half, getting passed by slow people, old people, young people, male people, female people, triathlete people, tourists, first-timers, last-timers, riders on their last legs, riders getting their second wind, the strong, weak, rich, poor, handsome, ugly, lovely, pitted, proud, sympathetic, gloating, oblivious, in short, everyone and everything on two wheels. Finishing a ride such as this imparts no sense of accomplishment, no feeling of pride, no joy at a job well done but rather a profound sense of worthlessness and failure, a recognition that the icy hand of death is laid fast upon your balls and has begun its final squeeze, a grim glimpse into the near future where everyone is younger and stronger and your trajectory is moving from quickly downward to flatline, the beauty and nobility of the human spirit nothing more than a willful suspension of disbelief that got us through our youth and, now devoid of all magic, that we can angrily cast aside, or gently lay to rest as a sweet nothing no longer worthy of whispering in the ear of fate and no longer holding any power to deny or delay or even momentarily forget that rust never sleeps. Other than that, it was a great day, one of those moments in time where each passing hour erases a little more of the awfulness until in retrospect, like a terrible disease from which you only barely recovered to avoid death, the pain becomes blurred and forgotten except as a historical fact, and you have forgotten the sweat-encrusted, laboring grunts of the riders who suffered with you, the fiery burning in your feet from shoes that fit perfectly until mile 80, what felt like fiery shards of glass being shoved up your rectum from too many hours on a hard, narrow ass hatchet, the crackling and contorted neck, aching from holding the watermelon in a distended position for hours on end, the shivering stings of muscular cramps, the dull and primeval message of “You’re going to die soon” that comes from dehydration, and worst of all the frenzy of feeding and sugary faux hydration at the feeding stations that neither replenish nor hydrate but instead caulk your muscles in stiffness so that when you remount it’s worse than if you had never stopped, while all around friendly volunteers are telling you “good job” and offering you another stale chunk of p-b sandwich, or a quarter of a green banana as you hate them to their very bones for being cheerful and kind and even more because at the last way station, with its famished riders and the one or two geniuses who have conned their way into the ambulance and a free ride back to beer by claiming heat prostration, some well-meaning sadist says “Only 12 miles to go!” In your own little hell, of course the only thing worse than not knowing you only have 12 miles to go is knowing that you have exactly 12 miles to go because you know what a mile is and how long it takes, and twelve of them, stacked up like this at the end of five hours of unmitigated misery are unendurable to contemplate, let alone complete, it’s as if the dentist gently reminded you that after the root canal he would be operating on your brain with pliers and a screwdriver, but you continue slogging away because as much as you’d love to lie down in the road or, yes, call the Solvang taxi, there is something inexplicably stupid about people in trouble on bikes that makes them continue on for no good reason other than the best reason of all, which is that they are impervious to the normal operation of a rational mind.
Wankmeister looked at his vaguely familiar friend and didn’t say anything. With the grease in his beard and the sunburn and the haggard eyes, he didn’t have to.