It’s been scientifically demonstrated that when a group of strangers assembles around a blazing campfire in the wilderness surrounded by unlimited beer the evening will result in fisticuffs, fucking, a mind bending hangover, or, if you’re super lucky, all three. Mike and I only achieved the hangover part, and we staggered out of the camper the next morning wildly looking for the water bottle and, on the off chance we might find it and kill it, the cat that had spend the night crapping in our mouths.
“Dude,” I said.
“No beer for me the rest of the weekend. I feel terrible. It’s gonna take a couple of days to recover from that.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I’m done drinking, too.”
We glanced over the embankment to see what had become of our campfire teammates, and they were even worse off than we were. You know that slow staggering zombie gait, half bent-over, that people use the morning after a night that ends with no one even looking anymore at the label on the bottle? Their whole campsite looked like it had been occupied by the zombie apocalypse.
The blonde girl who had spent the night shouting at us and complaining that she “couldn’t understand it why no guy would stay with her for more than a year” was trying to get the zombie campers down to the race course because it had dawned on them that in an hour or so they would all be required to engage their hangover muscles in a vicious, relentless pain fest around the worst ‘cross course ever designed by someone who hates bicycles. Then memory fragments of the previous night came trickling back like pus from a freshly lanced infection.
“What time are you racing?” I had asked the blonde girl, who had looked like she was about thirty.
“I fucking hate bike racing,” she snarled.
“Did you notice you were at a bike race with a bunch of bike racers?”
“You don’t look like a bike racer,” she said, staring at my stomach.
“Good point,” I conceded. “So what are you doing here?”
“I’m the team heckler.”
“The team heckler. I’m the best fucking ‘cross heckler in NorCal and my team takes me everywhere to heckle.”
“You do kind of have a loud voice,” I offered, reflecting on her noisy, grating, and jarring manner of speaking.
“Shut up and keep drinking,” she said, so I did.
Thankfully my race didn’t start until noon, and Hecklebitch and the Zombies (I think they’re also a garage punk band) had gone down to do the women’s race. Mike and I ate several plates of dirt to keep the Gatorade down, cleaned our already clean bikes, and rolled down to the course.
Once there we did what everyone at every cyclocross race does; which is to say we began asking people about tire pressure. In ‘cross it’s all about tire pressure, and even though you run the same TP virtually every race, it’s terribly important to talk about it. At the sign-in table, which was a quarter-mile away from the opposite end of the course, we heard a terrible howling sound, like what you would hear if someone were trying to warn someone about a bank robbery, or if their child had been stolen, or if their balls had been sauteed and drained with a hundred safety pin punctures. It was a yammering, screaming, banshee of a yowl, and despite the distance it made our skin crawl.
“Who’s being tortured?” I asked.
The sign-in gal shook her head. “I don’t know, but it’s been going on all morning.”
“We’d better go take a look and kill it.”
“Kill what?” she asked.
“The poor animal that’s caught in the steel trap. That’s the only thing that could howl so miserably.”
Mike and I pinned on our numbers, asked a few more people about tire pressure and ignored their responses, and then did the only other mandatory thing that you have to do at a ‘cross race. It goes like this. “Hey dude,” you say to a bystander, “is the course open for a pre-ride?”
“No. There’s a race going on. The course is now closed.”
“Okay, thanks.” Then you go to a spot where no one is looking and hop onto the course. We did, and our punishment was immediate. The SLO ‘cross course had been laid out by a blind person. Not the usual blind person who does ‘cross races, but the blind person who, before beginning the all-day job of marking the course with with twelve miles of tape, begins the job with the tools of the trade (hammer, PVC pipe, steel spikes, and post-hole digger) as well as twelve cases of light beer.
This means that after about a quarter of the way through the course the blind dude with the hammer is himself hopelessly hammered, and the course becomes a mishmash of what you’d expect to see after several cases of beer in the hot sun: A fog of senselessly twisted barrier tape.
The course had a turn every twenty or thirty feet, which, of all the weaknesses in my ‘cross skill set, and there are about 3,350 of them, played to the weakest weakness of all — my inability to turn a bicycle. As we pre-rode the course, gradually approaching the backside, the banshee screaming increased and sounded more horrible, until we hit the small series of uphill turns that were pleasantly lined with massive gopher holes that ate your front wheel whole and jarred your bones so hard that it felt like your testicles would jounce out of their sack.
I checked my service revolver so that I could quickly shoot the trapped animal until we saw that it wasn’t a trapped animal at all, rather it was Hecklebitch. The noise was deafening. She had built her own heckling bell contraption, two thick pieces of metal that had giant steel cans welded to them. She would clang the cans together and it was so frightening that your first urge was to crap, your second to run away. Accompanied by a howling yell to “Pedal your ass faster!” and “Get at it, goddammit!” it was scary enough.
But what was truly beyond the pale was Hecklebitch’s incredible physical strength. Standing between the lanes on the sharp uphill section of the course, she would run parallel to her riders and scream at them while clanging the crazy cans of hell. Clanging the crazy cans took amazing Amazon strength, but doing that while repeatedly running a 4-minute uphill mile over a vale of gopher-style sinkholes and screaming like a drill sergeant easily made her the fittest person at the event.
To top it off she was dressed in black yoga pants and wearing a huge black floppy hat that obscured everything except her beady, red crazy eyes so that you actually thought hell had opened its gates and let out its worst denizen to suck your blood and eat you for lunch if you didn’t “Pedal faster, goddammit!”
And her teammates did in fact pedal faster; by the look on their faces it was evident that she was the best legal performance enhancer anyone in the race had.
“I’m not surprised she has trouble keeping a guy for more than a year,” said Mike.
“I’m surprised she’s ever kept one for more than a day,” I agreed. “If only because it probably takes her a full day to eat them.”
My race began and I attacked off the back, figuring I would catch everyone on the final lap and pass them in the beer tent. This course was so terrible that my technique of brake-hard-in-the-middle-of-the-turn-while-taking-the-widest-line put me way, way OTB. This was good because it meant I didn’t have to worry about being near any other pesky riders, but it was bad because my conspicuousness brought me to the attention of Hecklebitch.
By now she had been yelling and running and clanging nonstop for hours, and she was worked up into a frothy, sweating rage, making her earlier exhortations look like the peeping of mice. “Pedal your fucking bike you lazy, candy-assed sandbagging sonofabitch!” she cursed as I casually pedaled by combing my hair.
Unfortunately the taping meant I had to go back and forth like in a queue at Disneyland, passing her five or six times before advancing down the course. With each passing her rage mounted, and her teammates, who had finished, joined her in a knot of screaming abusers. They were so amazed at my slowness and apparent lack of effort that they reached new heights in insults and abuse, many of which were inventive and funny to everyone except me.
“Hashtag don’twannasweat!” screamed one.
“Hashtag don’tgetmyglassesdirty!” howled another.
“Hashtag allsmacknosack!” roared Hecklebitch.
As the abuse got more intense I began to fume, until on the third lap as they took their collective breath to heap additional insults on my head, I slipped in “Hashtag whycan’tIkeepaguyformorethanone year, and Hashtag becauseI’mbatshitcrazy.”
That shut up the entire heckling section for one full lap, but their lusty insults had provoked such amusement that a small clot of other hecklers had formed farther up. One guy kept yelling, “It will go faster if you pedal it!” until the final lap he offered up the worst insult ever as I rode by — because it was so sincere. “Quit sandbagging!” he said. Then he said “Hey, dude you’re just warming up, aren’t you? Sorry for all the heckling.”
By then I was moments away from being lapped and getting to beer early.
After the races were done for the day we regrouped at the campsite with T-Dub and Rob only to realize that we’d forgotten about our morning hangover, we’d forgotten our promise to stay sober, and most importantly we’d forgotten to re-provision the beer and wood for the campfire.
We jumped into T-Dub’s minivan. “This is a great bike race car,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said, “but it’s not so hot when you’re meeting a chick for the first time who you met on Match.com.”
In SLO we drove around looking for cold beer and toured the city’s main attraction, a couple of walls down a narrow alley that were covered in chewing gum. Apparently people chew their gum and stick it to the wall so in addition to being nasty it is really, really nasty. “Do they have a booger wall here, too?” I asked.
No one answered because we had found the liquor store.
Back at the campsite we ate dinner, stoked the fire, settled into our chairs, and expressed our gratitude that Hecklebitch and the Zombies had gotten butthurt by my hashtag comment. As night closed in, a different group of crazy people began to trickle in, lured by the warmth of the flames and the enticement of free beer.
And shortly thereafter shit got, as they say, real. Very, very real.
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