The old whales

The other morning I was out riding around the Hill with a bunch of people in a hurry. In the other direction came a small group of riders who didn’t look like they were in a hurry. They looked like they were out for a pleasant ride. I glanced twice and recognized most of them. They were people I used to ride with all the time.

Donut beatdown? They never missed it. Five-day smashfests from San Francisco to LA? Present and accounted for. Piuma-Stunt from PV and head north after that? Sure! NPR? Twice weekly, baby. Telo? Yaaaah. Then go long to the Rock on Sunday, dragging the peloton behind ’em for 120 miles? Uh-huh.

What happened?

Moby Dick

I only read Moby Dick a couple of times but the thing I remember most about it is that there are no women in it, anywhere. Maybe there was a woman in the church scene, or something. Other than that, it’s 400,000 pages of guys doing guy things like sailing to the South Pacific and spearing whales bare-handed.

The best part in the whole book is the description of life in the sperm whale pod. It was simply the best life ever. When I get run over by a chubby Lunada Bay Boy on Mom’s Couch, I hope to be reincarnated as a sperm whale in the South Seas 10,000 years ago. Those whales had it good.

But kind of like bike racing, they only had it really good until they didn’t. And the didn’t part came when a young bull would take on the boss of the pod and run him out of office. Once you got run away from the pod and all your cows got taken away, life pretty much sucked. You swam alone by yourself, grazing on plankton or whatever sperm whales eat, and you lived forever being miserable.

The whales of the Hill

Now don’t get me wrong. These dudes aren’t sperm whales cast out from the pod. They are old whales who have their own old whale rides and they ride along at old whale speeds and chat about old whale things. It’s wholly unobjectionable.

But I wonder what it is that triggers them to turn away from the mayhem of the full-gas Saturday and decide to ride around having slowpoke fun? They used to crave the adrenaline and enjoy the beatdown. They used to turn their noses up at hobby bikers. What happens in a whale to make him say, “Done with that nonsense. I’m going to do this nonsense instead.”

Part of it is probably always getting dropped. You reach a point where you get tired of starting with the group and saying “adios” after fifteen minutes or less. What was the point of that?

Another part of it is probably exhaustion. You can’t do those big efforts and recover like you used to.

And I guess it sucks being surround by young whales who are better than you even though they don’t even train and were up until 3:00 AM drinking cigars and smoking tequila.

Risk has got to be part of the equation as well. The older you get the greedier you get for the few years that are left, even if hanging on means poking around. Better to poke on the pavement than rot under it? Is that it?

Likely, boredom is a factor. When you’ve done the Donut 500 times you know how it’s going to end. You were getting dropped in ’97, you were getting dropped in ’07, come on, already. And beatdown rides aren’t much for conversation, either, when you’re just staring at some dude’s sweaty ass and skinny tire and trying to blot out the pain, unsuccessfully.

Sad face

Whatever the reasons, and they’re all good ones I’m sure, it makes me sad. I’ll be talking to some whippersnapper and we’ll pass a whale. “See that whale?” I’ll point. “He used to wait until we got halfway up the Switchbacks, start from the rear, and ride everyone off his wheel.”

“That old fart?”

“Yep. That one.”

The whippersnapper will shake his head, not buying any of it.

I look around now and I’m not the oldest guy lining up to get his weekly dose of humiliation, but I’m close to it. I miss those old whales and wish they’d come back. Or I wish I didn’t feel compelled to go do that which I’m clearly unfit for, kind of like those geezers in the 70’s who tried to horn in on the disco craze and just looked silly, polyester shirts unbuttoned to their navels, white chest hair spilling out like somebody tumped over the can of Comet.

Maybe the whale life isn’t so bad. Maybe they know something I don’t. Maybe.

END

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25 thoughts on “The old whales”

  1. That risk thing weighs heavy on your mind after you’ve been really hurt. Really hurt, not like 6 weeks with a collarbone hurt. Especially when a bunch of people rely on you. Of course, I’m pretty comfortable being the old guy dropped fast too, so….

    1. Agreed. But the risk of the spinal fusion is low; small comfort to those who have one. The risk of disease from sedentary lifestyles is high. In the end … we all arrive at the same place. Just a question of how you want to make the journey.

  2. Ouch. Currently quite close to home for me and some of my pals. It’s the ceaseless passing of time, and my race to resist it.

  3. Definitely starting to feel like a whale. There is a huge difference between the small groups that I ride with and the giant beat down rides that you write about, but I guess in the important aspects, they are similar. I am either leading or following while internally I digest my organs. It still feels good to keep up, but I did just find out that the one group is not 3 or 4 years my junior, but 9 and 10. And some new comers are only in their 30’s.

    I have to acknowledge that it is more likely that my risk lies with them a lot more than the errant cager, though while driving my daughter to the ferry this morning, I spied two cagers that were driving just feet behind some cyclists while they waited for their opportunity to pass. It looked scary. I don’t want to have the falling off bicycle hurt again, but I can’t imagine not riding my bike. I just need to learn to do it at a more moderate pace.

  4. I’ve ridden with a lot of old whales, and I can say that there is more than one variety. After riding with the variety that I like, I knew that I had not suffered through a beatdown, but my legs were telling me that it was definitely not a aroma-therapy infused delicate massage either. They were moving at a good, healthy pace, just not race speed. It was… (wait for it)… fun!

      1. I’m an omnivore, commuting, tri dorks, gravel rides, bwr but that’s hard on the stomach, G2HHR.

  5. Purely a natural evolutionary component to cycling. At some point, you either hang it up or gravitate towards a pod of your peers (unless you are THOG). The Konsmo/King Harold group (to which I believe you are referencing) has been doing their own thing for at least a decade now. It works for them. As you know, I have recently cashed out my Donut Ride chips and ‘joined’ a Sat AM group of like-minded (and like-haired) gritty, cranky, trash-talking bastards who still rip my legs off every week. I’m not sure which is better. I am way short on excuses now –
    since they are all my age!

  6. https://goo.gl/images/WQJA2t

    The greatest cycling image of all-time. God knows how many hours and KMs, rain, no helmets, Soviet Bloc, Stars and Stripes, Kelly, dudes that look like athletes instead of emaciated prisoners of war – you can’t improve on this.

      1. Yes. Love Hampstein. Especially since he stuck up for LeManster when time were tough. His effort here in the Giro was something only a true pro (as in cycling is his JOB) with huge Senna like balls could accomplish.

  7. Set…sorry Wanker, I’m guessing you know of this site? Great pics but the captions are what make it count http://bigringriding.com/. I especially like the Cipollini pic with the caption, “If this is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.” – somewhere in the archives.

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