What goes around, spins around
January 8, 2021 § 14 Comments
Some bicycles beg to get stolen. Kristie had taken incredible security measures to protect her most treasured possession, in this particular case her Fuji SL with Dura-Ace and the lightest, most durable set of FastForward carbon wheels which were 100% carbon, made fully of carbon and exclusively carbonized through various carbon procedures. To ensure that the bike would never be stolen, she had leaned it up against her garage unlocked, which faces a busy street, for a few hours.
Later that evening, when she went out to bring her beloved bicycle into the house, she was astounded to see it gone, and in its place a beat-up POS Giant hybrid bike with brakes that didn’t work, a chain that barely turned, and gears that were a transmission in name only.
Many tears were shed and many oaths uttered as she marveled at how someone could have ridden by on a broke-down clunker, seen her shiny, beautiful, expensive bike leaning against the garage, and thought “Sweet! Time for a swap-er-oo!” and then ridden off.
It didn’t help when I pointed out that anyone who cared so little about a bike as to leave it out unlocked shouldn’t be too surprised when someone rides away on it.
Fortunately she had another, much less wonderful and less beautiful bike that she was able to continue riding, and she took the junker Giant and chucked it in the garage, where it languished, if dead things can languish.
Last week, when I met Bill who was in need of a bike, I began looking around for something that might work for him. Some people suggested the Salvation Army but that was a bust. Then I remembered the junker Giant and took a look at it. It was carbon and most of the damage could be fixed by someone with a trusty wrench.
So I called up Baby Seal at the Dropout. “Bring ‘er in,” he said, “we’d love to help.” I heard Boozy P. groan in the background as JP said “we” and recounted the dire prognosis of the patient. Boozy P. loves taking horrible, broken, worthless bikes and spending hours in order to make them look simply terrible. But, sixpack! So it’s all good.
We dropped off the bike, and Boozy P. set about refurbishing this distinctly unloved bicycle. When he was done with it, it sparkled. Brakes fixed, transmission fixed, new tars, and lots of bike polish … the junker Giant had been transformed.
Yesterday we took it over to the encampment on Lomita by the 110. Bill was in his tent, and he had great news: His caseworker had gotten him Section 8 housing and he was getting ready to move into a home for the first time in six years. He was so incredibly happy.
“We found you a bike,” I said.
“Yeah, really.” I took it out of Kristie’s car and put the front wheel on, or at least that was my plan. However, the bike had cantilever brakes and I was having difficulty.
Bill looked on sympathetically. I knew what he was thinking: “Must be a pretty sad life to be this old and unable to put on the front wheel of a bicycle.”
I fumbled a bit before he gently took over with hands accustomed to doing, you know, work. “These are cantilever brakes,” he said. “The cable slots out of this barrel adjuster by the brake lever, and it has fallen out. You have to pop it in like this.” He popped it in. “Then the wire between the brake pads has to be squeezed just a touch so that you can connect the cable.” He expertly did just that.
“Wow,” I thought. “Dude knows bikes.”
And it made sense. For one, it’s not that difficult. For another, you have to know things living out there. You can’t really pay people to do them, and they don’t happen on their own.
I gave Bill a lock to go with the bike. He was really happy and thanked us. “No worries,” I said. I told him the story about the stolen bike swap and he had a laugh. Then I told him about the refurbishing by Baby Seal & Co., and about the various people who had donated money for me pass on to others.
“Thanks so much,” he said, repeatedly. We shook hands and left, but not before I handed out tens to the other guys standing around.
We drove up to a break in the median and did a u-turn to head back home. Bill and a bunch of his friends were clustered around the bike, admiring it. Re-cycling, indeed.
Field of (bicycle) dreams
September 1, 2020 § 12 Comments
First time I saw Baby Seal he was huddled up against the edge of the pier, flippers pinned nervously as he waited for the phalanx to roll out. That was seven or eight years ago but it might as well have been a thousand. Baby Seal was such a baby seal that he wasn’t even called “Baby Seal.” Or anything.
He got clubbed pretty badly on that ride and on a bunch of rides after that. I only noticed him because he had The Stick. That’s what some people have. They simply stick it out.
He got better and fitter and faster and eventually I learned his name. “Jon,” he said. “Jonathan Paris.”
His background was murky. He worked somehow or other in the healthcare field and made it clear that he didn’t find it his life’s calling. He exuded a quirkiness that fits cyclists. He was keen, too, observing and keeping his mouth shut, letting his legs pass on whatever it was he had to say. More and more, what he had to say was “hammer.”
Over a couple of short years I took him under my club and taught him everything I knew about cycling, which was 1) Show no mercy and 2) When tempted, show even less.
Since he was a quick learner, he passed it on as quickly as he could to others. Eventually he began showing up to the Pier Ride with a stuffed baby seal under his saddle. He welcomed the clubbing and he welcomed the moniker, and through it all he blossomed as a cyclist.
He learned to quit his job and work in “the industry.” He learned to spend every spare cent on easily broken bike parts. He learned that in the South Bay how you look is what matters. He learned that it’s better to hammer and get shelled than to whimper at the back and get shelled.
He learned to wear his slinky black dress when he was going good, and hide from the world in his fat pants when the Cheez-its took over. And he learned that he had a voice, a voice groomed by an upbringing that many would never have lived through.
The stuffed animal was a counterpoint to the real JP, a guy who had lived on the streets and who despite his gentle smile and skinny bike build knew how to alley fight with his feet, his fists, or any piece of rebar lying around. JP seemed like a nice guy and he was until you mistook kindness and human decency for a pushover. The steely JP never needed to threaten anyone. All he ever had to do was change his gaze ever so slightly so that you could see the jagged broken glass and rusty nails therein. Those glances made you hurry as quickly as you could back to the smiling Baby Seal.
JP did a land-office business at every bike shop he worked for. He turned the Pasadena Performance shop into the region’s top sales outlet. After a year at Bike Palace in San Pedro they had their best year ever by orders of magnitude, and that was before the covids. JP knew how to sell because he understood service because he understood people.
All the while he planned his escape, and a few days ago I got a text that simply said, “Lease concluded. Shop’s address is 1272 Sartori in Torrance, 90501.”
The Dropout is opening shortly and I hope you’ll go out of your way to patronize it.
For me, I’m looking forward to showing up at The Dropout so that I can make JP’s endeavor a huge success. Here’s my hit list, and I’m sure you can add others:
- Buy something, use it hard, and return it demanding a full refund.
- Ask for a discount.
- When I get the discount, ask for the bro discount.
- When I get the bro discount, ask for the uber-bro discount.
- When I get the uber-bro discount, ask if I can have it on credit.
- When I get it on credit, forget.
- Go to the shop and ask to be put first in the service queue that stretches out to December.
- Ask JP to find me a very rare part then buy it on the Internet.
- Try on all the shoes, then buy them on the Internet.
- Ask JP if he can beat the Internet deal on [xxx]. Then buy it on the Internet even when he does.
- Bring back my bike after being serviced and say it doesn’t work after I fell off a cliff.
- Show up early Saturday afternoon and get JP to stop everything to listen to my awesome ride recap.
- Swing by at 5:59 to see if he can “just check my derailleur” because “it’ll only take a minute.”
- Ask his advice about equipment then ignore it.
- Text him technical questions with lots of pictures of how the screw doesn’t fit the thingy like the whatsit in the YouTube video.
- Argue with him about tires.
- Argue with him about frames.
Anyway, you can do all this and more, and in the process maybe even spend a buck or two. Or at least ask for a discount.
Hats off, JP. You earned it.
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You’ve lost that tingling feeling
April 20, 2020 § 7 Comments
The quarantine was slowly wearing Baby Seal down. Actually, the quarantine had been wearing him down since before the quarantine. He’d gained 45 pounds and was waking up at noon. His fat pants now looked like tights. Every shelf in his walk-in closet was a nest of secret snacks for munching in between his five daily meals. And best of all I mean worst of all, his $19,872.22 all-carbon bike made of 100% carbon and pure carbon everything and electric extra everything, remained untouched, unridden, unloved.
Baby Seal lay on the floor every morning thinking about his post-Colombia Tour de Smuggling, when he had returned triumphantly from the highest, hardest climbs on earth fit as a goat, easily able to crack out NPR and then a Donut loop on top of that. He thought about his skinny pants, about the empty secret snacking shelves, and about how his iron will, fortified as the fitness of a thousand barking seals, carried him gloriously from party to party showing off his skinny legs, his skinny buttocks, his leanly carved face, his scrawny cyclist arms and sexy pencil neck, and his farmer’s tan.
Finally, it got to be too much. Baby Seal threw off the covers, hoisted himself out of floor with the help of a small handicapped railing he’d installed on the wall, and waddled into the bathroom.
“Today,” he barked, “is the return of the Seal. Mark yer fuggin’ calendars, bitches.”
With that oath sworn, and exhausted thereby, he returned to floor and snoozed until it was time for his second lunch.
That night he dialed up Ram-Ram. “Yo.”
“Hey, JP. What’s up?”
“I’m starting my new fitness plan tomorrow. It will be hard. Grueling. Intense. Ordinary riders would crumble. It’s so tough that I need a partner in crime. And you’re he.”
“Uh, sure. What’s up?”
“Here’s the plan. Day 1 we do a loop around the Hill. 22 miles, 1,700 feet.”
“Day 2 we do two loops.”
“Hmmm. Day 3?”
Ram-Ram nodded to himself. “When does this stop?”
“Cumulative loops for seven days till we finish off with 154 miles and 11,900 feet?”
“Exactly.” Then Baby Seal paused stragetically. “Of course if it’s too hard for you I can try to find someone else.”
“No, no. I’m in.”
“K. See you tomorrow at 5:30.” Baby Seal fell back into floor smiling to himself. It was a crazy plan but sure to get him out of his fat pants and back into his slimming t-shirts. Ram-Ram was the perfect sucker partner because he lived 15 miles from the start, so he had an additional 30 miles every day. This would not only compensate for the vast fitness differential between them, as Ram-Ram had never ridden less than 500 miles a week, and it would provide excellent stragety. As the days passed, each ride would finish later, giving Ram-Ram less recovery. Then, since they’d be increasing the number of loops and therefore starting earlier, Ram-Ram would have to keep getting up earlier. If everything went according to plan, Ram-Ram would be a flubbering puddle of Jello-O by Day 5, Day 6 at the very latest, and Baby Seal could bark his way to fitness with the world’s greatest Stravver ‘Gram celebration ever.
Day 1 went great except that Seal found out that all the spigots had been turned off at all the usual stopping places. Of course the cafes weren’t open, except for Angry Lady Cafe in Lunada Bay. Seal had a hate-hate relationship with the angry lady who ran Angry Lady, and it was only partially because he would always dash into the toilet, which had a “Customers Only” sign on it, dump a corn-studded bowl buster, and dash back out without ever buying anything.
Angry Lady could never bust his chops because she was always busy with customers, and by the time she saw him the door would be locked and the log machine would be set at 11.
However, with the quarantine and the Angry Lady Cafe having been designated as an essential business, she was ready for his hijinks. “Oh, no, you don’t!” she yelled, grabbing him by the arm as he ran in. “Pay!”
“I was gonna get, uh, a crossant,” Seal hangdoggedly said. $25 dollars later he was back on his bike, vowing never to return.
Day 2 was uneventful except for all the events. He was still only taking one water bottle and nothing to eat except Barbie food. Ram-Ram was in fine fettle, but they both ran out of water … in front of Angry Lady Cafe. $50 later they were riding again. “This is getting expensive,” said Ram-Ram.
“Yeah,” thought Seal, “but you’re tacking on an extra 30 miles each way and it’s going to get you in the end.”
By the end of Day 3 Ram-Ram was still fine, but their mutual subsistence on Barbie food had begun to play havoc with their bowels. On Lap 3, the moment they got close to the Angry Lady Cafe, their water bottles emptied and their bowels filled with the loose, gummy pieces of all that Barbie food. This time there was a struggle over who’d get to sit down first. Seal won.
As Seal stood outdoors waiting for Ram-Ram to finish, Angry Lady come up to him complying with social distancing. “What are you two doing?” she asked suspiciously.
“Riding our bikes, what does it look like?” For $50, Seal thought he was entitled to at least one rude comment.
“It looks like you are both homeless and have lost your minds,” she snapped.
Day 4 and Seal was wrecked. The thought of four laps around that dog-damned hill was more than he could imagine. They’d begun seeing the same people, who had also begun seeing them. Now it was weird, a Groundhog Day within a Groundhog Day. Still not organized enough to take additional water bottles, Baby Seal ran out early and stopped instead at the Yellow Vase Cafe in Malaga Cove, another business essential to the maintenance of life as we know it.
The second time they stopped there, the manager had removed the free water cistern out front, scowlingly, and tacked up a “Customers Only” sign on the bathroom door. Another fifty bucks gone.
Day 5 and no one cared about the cost of water and a poop anymore. “At least my taint doesn’t hurt now,” Seal mused as he took the most expensive leak-poop in history. But a quick glance Down There revealed that there was a reason it didn’t hurt: All of the skin had been ground into a bloody, meaty pulp and the nerve endings were permanently dead. He pulled up his gore-soaked shorts and continued on.
At the end of Day 5, Ram-Ram cheerily waved good-bye. “Have a safe ride home,” Seal muttered, hoping that his fake cheer wouldn’t fail to remind Ram-Ram that he still had another miserable fifteen miles of nasty urban traffic ahead of him.
The day dawned fair and clear on Saturday, Day 6. Seal lay in floor, staring at the ceiling, hoping, praying that Ram-Ram would experience a crisis of confidence. The phone rang. “Thank dog,” Seal said. “Yeah?” he answered.
“Where are you? It’s already six.”
“Uh, my alarm, uh, breakfast, um, flat tire, uh, dirty laundry, ah, be there in a few, uh, almost out the door.”
Seal put on the bloody rags from the day before and drove to the start. “You look fresh,” he growled.
“Yeah,” smiled Ram-Ram. “It’s great to have a nice warm-up before the real riding starts.”
The real riding on Day 6 slowly obliterated Baby Seal. He spent a hundred dollars on coffee and toilets. He bled. He shat his shorts and didn’t care. He stared at his paunch, which had shrunk to the size of a tiny throw pillow, and hardly even cared. (I did say “hardly.”) By the sixth lap, climbing up the wall out of Portuguese Bend, Seal could only whimper as Ram-Ram looked back quizzically.
“You okay, man?”
The final day arrived but Seal didn’t. His phone rang and rang. With each buzz he curled up more tightly in his cozy floor. “No way,” he told himself, “that punk is gonna finish seven laps today. No fuggin’ way.”
July 4 Holiday Ride recap
July 5, 2019 § 9 Comments
- Shut up already about “safety.” You were 1 of 250 idiots racing full speed in an illegal, un-permitted street race, endangering the lives of pedestrians, the lives of fire hydrants, and the lives of each other, all for the glory of getting dropped on Mandeville.
- Yes, that is a traffic light. Like a coop of chickens smelling a fox, every time we approached an intersection, half the wankoton cackled “Light!” “Slowing!” Are you fucking kidding me? Anyone who can’t see a traffic light or notice that people are going from 30 to 10 IS ON A DIFFERENT RIDE. And … “Crack! Hole!” on Vista del Mar?? THAT STREET IS A SOLID 3-MILE CREVASSE, MINEFIELD, AND RUBBLE PILE. Stfu and pedal..
- Start is start. The Holiday Ride starts at CotKU. If you were a hop-in wanker somewhere along the route, please note that on your Stravver.
- Pull like Keith. Shirtless Keith drove the front and blew up repeatedly all the way to San Vicente. I know it sucks to get sweat on your $250.00 custom team jersey, but it sucks even more to be on a bike ride and NOT RIDE YER FUGGIN’ BIKE.
- How the West won. Why were all the South Bay wankers shelled in the first 500 meters up Mandeville? Why was the leaderboard populated exclusively with Westsiders? Because the South Bay is a) Old b) Soft c) Weak. d) All of the above. [Hint: Correct answer is “d.”]
- Kit winner of the day: Shirtless Keith. Of course. Best boots and Pop-Tart strap-on outside a prison work gang.
- Butter on a griddle. That’s what the peloton looked like when Rudy Napolitano took a 23-mph pull all the way up San Vicente. Number of pretty boyz/gurlz who followed his example and took a pull: 0. Number who decided suddenly that this was a rest week: 50% of the peloton.
- Riders killed or horribly maimed because helmetless: 0.
- Blowhard #socmed heroes who were obliterated in the first 1/4 of the climb despite never taking a single fuggin’ pull: All of them.
- Best Gram videos: Baby Seal and Ramon, of course!
January 22, 2019 § 1 Comment
Every serious cyclist in the South Bay has become accustomed, addict-like, to awaiting the Monday morning non-delivery of California’s wittiest, edgiest, funniest, all-things-cycling newsletter, arriving as often as when Mars is in Scorpio and Jupiter sextile Pluto, slamming into your inbox like a serrano pepper enema.
Despite the incredibly prolific nature of his unproductivity, editor and mastermind Baby Seal recently sent me the following email:
Yo, Wanky–I have been snowed under all this rain and unable to non-produce my phantom newsletter lately. Any chance you could help a bro out and publicize the seasons of my discontent? Lots of mackerel piled high on this baby seal’s plate …
JP “Baby Seal”
So like any friend would, I reviewed the latest and most recent goings-on in baby seal-land and offer up the following bulletproof
excuses reasons that he has been unable to non-produce his phantom newsletter for the last little while.
Pinkeye, punk eye. Baby Seal contracted a life-threatening case of pinkeye a couple of days ago, putting him in bed, on an IV, requiring the defib paddles, cortisone shots, EPO, a hip brace, and three bottles of waterproof mascara. Fortunately he is on the way to recovery thanks to the seminal medical tome, “12-hour Cure for Anus to Eyeball Conjunctivitis.”
Car theft #2. Baby Seal’s car was stolen AGAIN right out from under his nose. This time it was found backed up to Performance Bankruptcy Liquidation Warehouse, filled with $250,000 in unsold merchandise. “So weird,” said Baby Seal. “But I’m glad the police found it.”
FTR training. Baby Seal has been putting in countless miles getting ready for the last ever Dave Jaeger French Toast Ride, an epic beatdown covering 117 miles of Ventura County’s toughest climbs. “I’m up before dawn grinding out the miles; no rest, no screwing around, all business all the time. Just got no time for not writing the phantom newsletter.”
Christmas sale season. Even though Christmas was a month ago, Baby Seal has been working overtime at the shop putting away stuffed toy decorations and glittery yuletide sale tags. “You spend four or five hour untying those little wire twisty thingies and man, you are done. Non writing on top of that? No way.”
Tap dance lessons. “This year I’m upping my game, not just strengthening my core in the gym but strengthening my vesicles for those power-sprint-thrusts by tap dancing. Crazy how wrecked you are after an hour of tap dancing. No time for not penning another non-edition of the newsletter after that, unfortunately.”
Mental exhaustion: A huge part of Baby Seal’s work duties involve regaling customers about his glory cycling days, i.e. that one time he rode to Santa Barbara and back without taking the train like he did that other time. “And customers,” Baby Seal says, “can be demanding AF.”
Posterior ache: Whereas most people think the life of a seal is a bed of mackerel, it also involves lots of field testing, for example, for the new ergonometric women’s saddle from Specialized. “People think I’m not qualified because I’m a man,” says Baby Seal. “That is sexist bullshit.”
Carpal tunnel syndrome: Despite juggling such a heavy load, things got cray-cray when Baby Seal bought the new Specialized Pink Bike. Hundreds of hours of Google searches for socks that are a perfect Pantone match for the new pink bike and the new pink eye have left his already scarce free time all booked up with doctor’s appointments to relieve the pain in his finger joints.
So, there you have it. Once Baby Seal gets some of this mess cleared away, he will be back doing what he doesn’t do best, non-producing the best phantom cycling newsletter never written.
August 29, 2018 § 8 Comments
It’s been a while since I’ve done NPR. This morning I got there and was met by Denis. “Dude!” he said. “I attacked early last week and put a 2-minute gap on the field!”
“That’s awesome,” I replied. “Did you win?”
“Evens and Rudy came by me and I didn’t know to get on.”
“Yeah, I have a similar problem with those guys, too. They come by and I know to get on, but don’t know how.”
Denis nodded. “Yeah.”
“Kind of like they came by and you melted like an old wad of chewing gum on a summer pavement?”
If at first you don’t succeed
We pulled out onto Vista del Mar and Denis took off. He was on fire to win the NPR which I sympathized with despite the fact that you technically can’t win a #fakerace. Fact is, the NPR has a generally agreed upon imaginary line on lap four where everyone, whether they hopped in, cut the course, or dropped in from outer space, is trying to get to first.
Less imaginary is the hardest fact of a #fakewin at NPR: The same people win it, more or less, every time. That’s because if it’s a slower day and ends in a bunch sprunt, the bunch sprunters, of which there are a small handful, always win.
If it’s a fast day and ends in a break, the breakaway riders, of which there are a small handful, always win.
If it’s an insane day and someone #fakewins solo, well, that basically narrows it down to two people, neither of which is you.
So the great unwashed raft of NPR baby seals has zero chance of ever scoring a #fakewin, no matter how eagerly they pound off the front, and it’s this rarity that makes the glory so alluring. Think about it: There are countless baby seals who have done the ride hundreds of time, some over decades, and never scored a #fakewin. And they never will.
“If only …!” and “What if … !” and “Maybe today …!” all crumple and fold in the end, but at least at the Manhattan Beach Pier every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:40 AM pointy-sharp there is hope, and on NPR, it springs eternal.
I don’t know how many times I’ve #fakewon the NPR, but it isn’t many, less than ten since 2006. Once in a sprunt, three times solo, and the other times out of a collapsing break. As I get older, the returns diminish, and the probability starts to look more and more like that of getting hit on the thumb by a green asteroid.
I watched Denis disappear, saw the peloton closing, and sped up. He got hung up at the light at Imperial, I caught him, and suddenly we had a two-man #fakeaway.
I didn’t get too excited by the time we hit Dr. Cziko’s videocam on Pershing, where, instead of joining in the tomfoolery, Gary sits above us and documents the ride from the window of his duplex. Denis, though, was excited. This was where he notched his “amazing” 2-minute gap last week. I thought about telling him to quit surging, but why? It would go in one ear and out the other.
After exiting World Way ramp we saw the peloton. Our gap was not sustainable, but it wasn’t dead yet. They were chasing hard but the group only had about thirty riders. I figured we’d keep pouring on coal and see where we were at the first turnaround. On Westchester Parkway we were met by a howling headwind, which was good because it would blunt the chase, but bad because it would blunt us, too.
At the first turnaround we were only barely ahead, and Denis’s enthusiasm had given way to somewhat squarish pedaling. “We aren’t caught yet,” I thought, and picked up the pace with what seemed like ever longer pulls and ever shorter rests.
Giving the gift
I’ve let someone beat me for an NPR #fakewin exactly once, the time I gave the vee to SB Baby Seal and chronicled it here, back in 2014.
As we hit lap three and our gap had increased ever so slightly, I began thinking about how to finish this one off. Denis had the passion. He wanted it so bad he could taste it, whereas I only wanted it so bad I could smell it.
He had won Wanker of the Year at the South Bay Cycling Awards in 2016, and since then had proven a deserving recipient. There was the one time he’d taken a good pull in our break on the Donut this year before self-immolating in Lunada Bay, and most importantly there was the huge cash sponsorship that his employer ponied up every year to support the mission of Team Lizard Collectors.
At that moment I made up my mind to give him the win if we didn’t get hauled back, fully aware that it would likely change his life forever, and not in a good way, since his poor wife would have to hear about every pedal stroke from now until his next #fakewin, which would be eternity.
We reached the final turnaround and Denis’s baby pulls, which had become infant pulls, became fetus pulls, concluding with “Does life begin before conception?” pulls. Our gap was healthy as I slid back and got on his wheel.
“You’re gonna have to dig,” I said.
And dig he did. So deep, in fact, that when we got to the top of the golf course he actually whimpered. “I can’t,” he mumbled.
I giggled, towed him up the final bump, told him he was gonna win, and watched the terror on his face when I told him “They’re coming!” even though they weren’t. The rest is history, including his query regarding the location of the finish line and his near-fatal “hands-up” victory wobble.
But even better than being history, it’s on video, too. And yes, those things on his jersey are … hams.
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In the belly of the beast
August 6, 2018 § 7 Comments
I stared at the three fried eggs and sausage dripping in hot grease, bit into the thick slab of toast covered in jam and butter, and savored the pungent coffee. “This,” I thought, “is the best I’m gonna feel all day.”
Last year we did a ride simply called Big Day, in September, 240 miles to Santa Barbara and back, with the feared Gibraltar climb thrown in to separate the living from the dead. As with so many bad ideas, this one, fermented over the course of a year, lost virtually all of its awful overtones so that only a fruity, mellow flavor with overtones of camaraderie and notes of good times remained. The tannins of hatred, rage, depression, pain, loneliness, failure, inadequacy, and collapse had all magically been softened, reduced, and left to drift to the bottom of the barrel, dregs that memory would never touch.
Due to this gradual process of delusion regeneration, we decided to follow Big Day 2017 with (surprise) Big Day 2018. Oddly, many of those who participated in 2017 were unavailable, busy, training for other events, or simply ignored my kind invitation for 2018. I suspect that it is because they had too much fun the previous year, for example lying on the cement at Cross Creek and moaning at 8 PM, with only forty miles or so to go.
If there is one thing I have learned in a lifetime of cycling, it is that I haven’t learned anything. But it seemed like a good idea to set up a few training rides before the Big Day, so I emailed the seventeen riders on the start list. “160 miles, leaving PV at 5:00, CotKU at 5:30, pointy-sharp.”
The only person I heard back from was Frexit. “Sounds good,” he said. “Will we be back by noon?”
“You will,” I said. “We won’t.”
At the appointed time and place I was pleased to see Fancytires, Noquit, and Baby Seal. I was displeased to see no one else, because it meant a hard ride with hardly anywhere to cower.
“If I get dropped, just leave me alone. I don’t want you waiting for me,” said Noquit.
“What makes you think I would wait?”
Then Frexit rode up and everyone began muttering under their breath. “This is gonna suck,” said Noquit.
“It is strange,” said Frexit as we got going. “I think that people like me as a person, but no one likes it when I come along on their bicycle ride.”
Wonder no longer
Leaving Manhattan Beach, Frexit, who was on his TT bike, got it up to speed, which just happened to be my threshold. Normally you relish sitting on someone’s wheel because it means you will go faster with less work, and they will tire themselves out dragging you around, but with Frexit all it means is that you will go faster with more work and you will exhaust yourself being dragged around before you get to Santa Monica.
This is basically what happened, until we hit PCH and Frexit picked it up a notch. The horrible knowledge that you are an hour into a 160-mile ride, and already toast, is awful.
We hit the Rock at Pt. Mugu at 7:45. Frexit dragged us to the end of PCH then sat up. “I’m very sorry I can’t go with you all the way,” he said, “but I have a meeting at noon.”
None of us could speak, but we were ecstatic to see him go as it meant we could go really slow and not hurt so much. We started taking five-minute pulls, with Fancytires pounding extra hard, perhaps to make us feel nostalgic about our special time with Frexit. In Oxnard we needed to make a turn while Baby Seal was on the front, but he was wearing earphones, so despite our screams, yells, and shrieks, he motored away. I contemplated making the turn and leaving him to his own devices, normally a smooth move, but then realized it would be one less wheel to suck, so we chased him down, berated him for riding with earphones, and continued on to Ventura.
Noquit had “QUIT” written all over her face when we pulled into the coffee shop.
White walls and all
“Do you know this place?” I asked Baby Seal, who had found it.
“How’d you find it? It looks like it’s gonna have good coffee.”
“It’s gonna have great coffee.”
“How do you know?”
“I googled ‘coffee in Ventura’ and they came up; the walls inside are white. Any place with white walls is gonna be off the hook.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Dude,” he said. “Think about it. White walls in a fucking coffee shop? Meth heads leaning against the wall with their greasy hair, kids smearing feces on the wall, people dropping black coffee and it spattering the baseboards? You know how much time and money it costs to keep white walls clean in a coffee shop?”
“So they’re obviously insane. And even though they’ll be out of business by March, insane, idealistic people make the best coffee. Insane about the walls, insane about the beans.”
We stood in line forever, noting that the coffee shop had perfected the art of making a lot of people wait a long time for a simple beverage, but when it came, Baby Seal was right. It was lights out coffee.
On the road again
We got back on our bikes, surprised to find that a 30-minute stop fueled with coffee and pastries had taken away most of the pain from our four-hour time trial. It didn’t take long for the sugar-and-caffeine rush to burn off, though, and by the time we hit PCH I was fried and Noquit was deep fried. Fancytires and Baby Seal were feeling sporty, turning the screws with every pull.
Just as things looked pretty dim for the home team, Fancytires got a massive blowout. The gunshot from behind made me hope he’d need to Uber home. Unfortunately it was a sidewall gash that could be fixed with a boot.
However, before that happened Fancytires would have to get his rear wheel off, and he set about changing his tire in a most unusual way, i.e. flipping his bike upside down. We looked at each other as he engaged in a wrestling match with the rear wheel, and despite his prodigious forearms, the wheel was winning.
“Dude,” I said, “let me help you with that.” I flipped the bike over, removed the rear wheel, booted the tire, and changed the flat. “Don’t ever tell anyone that I changed your tire.”
“It’s like admitting you had your brain surgery done by your car mechanic.”
We examined Fancytires’s tires, and they were really fancy, high-end Vittorias. “Don’t bring these on the Big Day,” I said.
“They’re new,” he protested.
“Yeah,” said Baby Seal “they’re supple and they ride great. Problem is that if you look at them too hard they flat.”
I handed the wheel back to Fancytires, and he proceeded to turn his bike upside down again and challenge the rear wheel to another wrestling match. Baby Seal intervened. “Who teaches people to do it like that?” he mused aloud. “We gotta find that guy and break his thumbs.” Re-flipping the bike, he put on the wheel, aligned it, and off we went.
Everyone gets a break
Although Noquit and I had benefited from the respite, so had Fancytires and Baby Seal, who proceeded to start pounding us on the rollers. Fancytires ground us on the roller at LA County Line, then really ground us coming up from Leo Carillo. Noquit quit.
I dropped back to see if she was going to need CPR or maybe just a discouraging word or two. Baby Seal saw us in difficulty and sprinted off with Fancytires, which frankly is the best preparation of all of Big Day, i.e. killing them off when they falter.
“Just leave me,” Noquit said. She was dripping in sweat, covered in misery, and barely turning the pedals.
“But then I won’t get to enjoy your suffering,” I said.
We fell into a steady pace. After a mile or so, Fancytires dropped back, perhaps guilty about leaving me after I’d changed his tire, perhaps guilty about leaving a friend to die, but most likely curious as to whether he could have my wallet after I expired. “Go on,” I told him. “Noquit has quit, I’m burnt toast.”
“And tell Baby Seal he’s an asshole for attacking his friends!”
Fancytires nodded and sprinted away.
The Big Day Rule
There is only one Big Day rule, and it is this: When you feel really strong towards the end, you’re about to implode.
Fancytires clawed his way back up to Baby Seal, who throttled it hard and shelled Fancytires coming out of Zuma. As Noquit and I straggled into Cross Creek, we saw Fancytires weaving ahead of us, and then saw him veer off into the Chevron for a drink, a snack, an i.v., and a defib. We continued at a brisk clip. For us.
A mile before Temescal Canyon I saw Baby Seal’s water bottle on the roadside. “That’s a good sign,” I said. “Means he’s out of water and so delirious he can’t be bothered to pick up a $40 Camelback.”
“Are you going to stop and get it for him?”
“Fuck no,” I said.
Sure enough, at the Temescal Canyon light we saw Baby Seal, his pelt no longer shiny and his flippers sagging greatly. We sprinted by him without so much as a “hello,” which turned out to be a mistake because as tired as he was, he wasn’t nearly tired enough to be dumped by a grandpa and a shuddering Noquit.
We raced into Santa Monica, where I finally had to tap out. “Starbucks,” I begged.
Love in a cup
I never drink/eat frappucinos, but I ordered a huge one with an extra shot and I can say that it was the finest culinary experience of my life, comprised as it was of pure sugar, ice, and caffeine.
As we sat there collecting our thoughts and thinking how we might get home without riding our bikes, Fancytires shot by. We never saw him again.
Baby Seal felt better the closer we got to home, which made Noquit and I feel that much worse. As we approached the turnoff to Silver Spur, Baby Seal made as if to go left, where he had parked his car.
“Nun-uh,” I said. “We go up Basswood-Shorewood, you go up Basswood-Shorewood.”
“But I don’t live up there!” he protested.
“Quit bragging,” I said.
Baby Seal hung his head, then attacked and dropped us with minimal effort.
Back home my everything hurt. “How was it?” Yasuko asked.
“Awful,” I said.
“Because right now, at 163 miles, completely broken and unable to stand, when it’s the Big Day, there will still be 80 miles to go.”
Baby Seal’s big adventure
February 15, 2018 § 3 Comments
Baby Seal got up on Saturday in an untimely fashion. He had set his alarm for 6:30 AM so that he would have plenty of time to veganize, shave, and leisurely pedal to the Donut Ride in an immaculate sealskin, where he would be admired by all and sundry prior to tearing their legs off.
The alarm did its job but Baby Seal didn’t do his, and made the fatal mistake of lying back in bed for “just five minutes” only to awake with a mere twenty minutes to make it to the start on time. No longer having time to veganize or become immaculate or even ride his bicycle, Baby Seal tore through the dirty clothes hamper, threw on a minimally skid-marked pair of shorts, mismatched a jersey, mis-mismatched vest, and dashed out the front door.
In mid-dash he noted, carefully coiled on the kitchen table, a very expensive and fancy tool wrap, no lame saddle bag for Baby Seal! Instead it was a canvas, multi-slotted tool wrap not unlike the offerings of a fine sushi shop, packed with tube, tools, and other goodies in case he flatted or mechanicaled. “Arf!” Baby Seal barked to himself, “it’s the fuggin’ Donut Ride. I won’t flat!” He threw his bike into the van and sped off to the start.
Parking at Malaga Cove, Baby Seal leaped on his bike just as the wankoton roared by. He’d made it in the nick of time!
As the ride heated up and the group began suffering on the rise just past Terranea, Baby Seal heated up, too. No worries! Now was where Baby Seal stamped his authority on the wankoton with the famed Vest Removal In Mid-Pack Maneuver, whereby the sweaty rider unzips, immobilizes both hands behind his back while off the bars in defiance of the other idiots wobbling and packed together within inches, causing the entire group to gasp and stare in terror as it waits to see whether the vest removal will result in a disrobing or a colossal pile-up.
Baby Seal was on it, though, and seated erectly he proudly stripped off the vest and then, pro-like, balled it up for stowage. But rather than stuffing it into his rear jersey pocket like the typical clueless clodhopper, Baby Seal went All Pro and stuffed it up under his jersey, saving valuable pocket space and exhibiting amazing stuffing skills. “Look ma! No hands!”
At that very moment, however, Baby Seal’s twisting up of the bottom jersey hem caused his $12,000, mahogany paneled iPhone with RuggedMaxx II logo to squirt out of the jersey pocket and into the maw of the wankoton. The sound of tires running over the bouncing iPhone were like the sound of one’s offspring being murdered, and no amount of swerving could save the phone from the relentless battery of carbon-on-carbon crime.
As Baby Seal swung over to retrieve the phone, his friends in the group, which was everyone, accelerated hard to force a chase should he try to reconnect.
But lo! Miracle of miracles! The iPhone was only barely scratched and worked perfectly! Baby Seal hopped back on his mount and dug deep as his good friends dug deeper, until he caught them at the base of the climb. They were all glad to see him so they attacked the moment he rejoined. Baby Seal rejoiced that he had made the ride!
Many miles later as Baby Seal ascended Via Zumaya, the final punishing Donut climb, he ran over a razor blade and sliced his rear tire to the bone. Fortunately, riding tubeless, he was able to cover his leg in Baby Sealant, which made him happy, but not nearly as happy as Brooks, who was riding directly behind him, and who got his goggles and face also covered in Baby Sealant. Baby Seal’s flippers sunk as he thought how silly he had been not to take the extra four seconds to grab the sushi tool wrap!!
But lo! Miracle of miracles! Though 98% of the Baby Sealant only sealed Baby Seal’s leg, shoe, and Brooks’s eyes, the remaining 2% sealed the tire despite the slash and Baby Seal continued onward to the cafe at the end of the rainbow. Once there, in celebration of his big adventure, he ordered food for all the friends who had worked so hard to drop him, and when it came time to pay he discovered that his credit card, which lived in his iPhone case, had fallen out way back at Terranea.
So Baby Seal jumped on his bike and raced out along the roadway, on an empty tummy no less, where several thousand cars and bikes had already been since his mishap.
But lo! Miracle of miracles! There on the roadside was Baby Seal’s credit card, the one that hadn’t been declined yet! He scooped it up and went back to pay the bill, but his good friends had already left and paid. Like extra mackerel tossed from the food bucket, Baby Seal contemplated the joy of a free lunch!
The following day, Baby Seal, legs tired from the day before, showed up for the Telo World Championship Fake Training Race, where he promptly got dropped from the lead group. He put his head down and pedaled mightily as the leaders appeared to disappear.
But lo! Miracle of miracles! Baby Seal caught the break and won the sprunt for his first Telo victory ever, after which he was awarded the coveted Telo’s winner jersey ($75, cheap!) and a loaf of fresh bread. Most of the bread didn’t make it home from the big adventure … but Baby Seal did!
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February 25, 2017 § 18 Comments
We pulled up at the world infamous Rosena Ranch race course, where teammate Dave Ellis had just finished racing. “How’d it go?” I asked.
“Great,” he said. “I was in a good position the whole race, stayed out of the wind, and didn’t kill that guy.”
“The guy who fell down in front of me.”
“Dude had a bicycle falling off incident and put his head in front of my front wheel going 35. I had to bunnyhop it.
“What happened after that?”
“I’m not sure. I think the other riders all ran him over.”
“Oh yeah, I think I saw the emergency medical services U-Haul rental pickup.”
“The one with the hay bales in back and the loose bottle of cheap tequila bouncing around in the bed?”
“That one,” I said.
Major Bob, Surfer Dan, Baby Seal, Congressional Quarterly, the Hun and I had driven up in Major’s unmarked Mercedes van. We were champing at the bit to race our bicycles and hopefully not fall off of them.
My race, the combined 45+/50+ leaky prostate division (raced together, scored separately), went off at a torrid pace, so torrid in fact that after my first fruitless flail I fell back into the pack, caught my breath, and then moved back up by conveniently hopping over the bright yellow line.
I think that even may have been the yellow line we were advised about by the moto ref prior to the start. “Gentlemen [lie], do not cross the yellow line or you will be immediately dq’ed. No exceptions. This means YOU.”
No sooner had I moved over the yellow line and advanced fifty places than the moto ref came up next to me and screamed, pointed, and sent me to the back without any supper. Was I dq’ed? Who knew? What I knew was that Klasna, Kirk Bausch, and the Hun were dashing up the road in the first serious move of the day, and it was time to chase after them.
Soon enough we had a break of nine, including Major Bob, which was fortunate because it meant that he now had a reason not to drive home without us. We lost a rider, and after much pedaling Klasna and KB pedaled harder than we did and pedaled away up a hill and around a corner and they were not seen again until many laps later, a/k/a after the race finished.
However, unlike other sports where the first person across the line is the winner and everyone who is not the first person across the line is a loser, leaky prostate bicycle racing has a number of clever conventions to make sure that many people can be winners even if they technically are losers. The most perfect of the conventions is the “raced together, scored separately” convention.
This means (and you will need a notebook here) that if you have a 45+ and a 50+ race together, some people will register as 45+ and others as 50+, and the first person in each of those categories is the winner, in other words, you could have a situation where you had, for example, a breakaway of eight people, and seven of them were 45+, and they all finished ahead of the 50+ entrant, but since the 50+ entrant was the first 50+ entrant he would be declared the winner of his race and get fame, acclaim, worship, and the $45 winner’s check while the 45+ riders who finished in places 2-7 would all be losers even though they finished ahead of the 50+ winner.
If this seems simple, there is something wrong with you (number one), and you should get a job as a bike race official (number two) because a scrum of people rushing past is hard enough to score in the proper finishing order, much less the proper age category. This is actually great because it allows for the second great thing about leaky prostate bicycle racing, which is known as the “results protest.” Experienced masters racers always bring extra wheels, gasoline, and a pitchfork. More about that later after you wake up.
Anyway, there I was in a chase group of six while Klasna, who is over the age of 50, and KB, who is older than 45 but less than 50, were up the road. So it seemed like the best I could hope for was 2nd place in the 50+ category, since everyone else in the chase group was in the 45+ category.
However, another great thing about leaky prostate bicycle racing, in addition to its multiple opportunities to declare yourself the victor, is the odd fact that you will occasionally have a rider who is over 50 and racing in a combined 45+/50+ field, but who has registered as a “45+” rider. So just because a rider is over fifty and riding in the 45+/50+ race, it doesn’t necessarily mean he has registered for the 50+ category, since by definition anyone who is over 50 is also over 45 and can therefore choose either category.
So why would an older rider choose a younger category? Can you say “vanity”? The answer is simple: To the leaky prostate racer himself, there appears to be a huge difference in age between 45 and 50, and even though the rest of the world simply sees a bunch of wrinkly old balls going slowly around in circles, the wrinkly old balls would rather be 45+ than 50+ because it seems younger and not quite as wrinkly and potentially in need of fewer illegal testosterone supplements.
Therefore, the only way to tell whether a particular racer is 45+ wrinkly balls or 50+ wrinkly balls is by looking at his race number, since the clever race officials give a different number series to the 45+ to distinguish them from the 50+. In our race the 45+ number series began with prime numbers divisible by seven, and increased in half-integers up to the square root of pi. The 50+ numbers all began with the number 8 billion. So it was pretty easy to tell the difference if you were paying attention and had an advanced degree in math.
Unhappily, when Klasna and KB rolled I neglected to look at Klasna’s number, but rightly assumed that he was an aged 50+ wrinkly balls like me and therefore he would win and I would get second, since all the remaining numbers in the chase were prime numbers divisible by seven. We continued to race, which is another way of saying that everyone screamed at everyone else to “work together,” invoking the spirit of Jack from Illinois (not his real name) as no one worked, and certainly not together.
I finished the race and went over to Klasna to congratulate him on his win, only to notice that his number was a prime number divisible by seven, which meant that I, who had finished last in the chase group, was the only rider who had a number that began with 8 billion, making me the winner of the 50+ race. It was a glorious if complicated victory indeed and I savored the thought of how I would spend my $45, minus the $35 entry fee, minus the $15 fee for the second race, minus the $15,000 in gear.
So I sauntered over to the stinky toilets, which was appropriately where they posted the race results, and saw that I was nowhere on the result sheet, and that Dandy Andy, who had finished in the second chase group, had been declared the glorious winner and was entitled to the $45 emoluments appertaining to race victor.
Now the real race began, otherwise known as the “results protest.” I and fifteen other disappointed riders went over to the officials’ station to complain about having been left off, misplaced, or given 56th place instead of 57 1/2. Many tantrums were thrown, grown men challenged one another to duels, statements were made about various people’s mothers, and the obligatory money changed hands in order to make sure that the integrity of the process was properly respected.
In other words, I was crowned 8th place finisher champion winner, given the $45, and went proudly back to Major Bob’s van only to see that in his race Surfer had experienced a bicycle falling off incident so severe that it left his 100% carbon bicycle, made of pure carbon, broken into fifteen pieces, seven of which were the fork alone.
Much sadness and gnashing of teeth were had, particularly since all agreed that the shards and remnants qualified as “Even Fireman Can’t Tape That Back Together And Resell It On Craigslist As Like New.”
Eventually someone asked Surfer Dan how he was, and of course he was fine since he only landed on his head at about 40 mph. Baby Seal’s race had been uneventful, and Congressional Quarterly had decided after eight laps that he should probably return to the van and check to make sure his coffee thermos was still there, which thankfully it was.
Happy and brimming with confidence at my eighth place championship victory I started the 35+ race and immediately made my mark by quitting some few hundred yards after the starting line. It was just as well, since Karl Bordine was feeling particularly ill-tempered and rode by himself for 15 laps until he won and everyone else did not.
I returned to the stinky toilets and took the obligatory podium photo with Dandy Andy, who is also a strict adherent of “Don’t Raise Your Arms On The Podium Unless You’re Holding A Bouquet And Are Surrounded By 100,000 Screaming Fans On The Champs-Elysees After Winning The Tour.”
We piled back into Major Bob’s van, promised to send him gas money through PayPal, never did, and got home tired and hungry and happy, except for Surfer Dan, who had agreed to list the bike’s condition as “Fair” after he got it back from Fireman.
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The subscription thing
November 27, 2015 § 42 Comments
So, there’s this weird thing every month where PayPal notifies me of each $2.99 subscription. When I browse through I see people I know and people I don’t. The whole thing is so impersonal, people sending me money and me just going on about my business without acknowledging it.
Here’s why I feel guilty every time I see one of those notices and just go on about my day: Every single subscription is a personal affirmation that what I’m doing matters somewhere, to someone. You may not think $2.99 is a lot, but it is to me because it represents your voice that you’d rather pay than read for free. I struggle with this—how do I let people know how grateful I am?
So I take a stab at it from time to time, randomly emailing people what I hope aren’t form “Thanks you’s” even though they pretty much are, trying to let them know that I appreciate their support. It’s support of the financial, emotional, and spiritual kind, and even the Catholic-Jewish guilt kind because when I get bogged down in “What am I going to write today?” I get sustenance from the guilt of knowing that people expect me to produce something since they’re paying me to do it.
Yesterday I sent out a form thank-you to a buddy whose identity I’ve sworn not to reveal but who used to ride with a white baby harp seal under his seat. “Hey, Baby Seal,” I wrote, “thanks again for your support. I really appreciate it.” Then I hit “send” and went on about my business of carefully picking around the scabby edges of my road rash.
A couple of hours later I got an answer. It’s not the best email I’ve ever gotten–it’s the best email ever written in the history of the Internet. And I’m sharing it with you now.
You kidding me? You have any idea how much nonsense I’ve learned thanks to that blog?!?
I mean, despite every rational judgment telling me otherwise I’ve gone through periods of eating nothing but kimchi, only breathing through my nose, being made fun of at the gym, weighing my food to the gram, loving power meters, hating power meters, spending thousands on carbon, selling hundreds in carbon, re-buying thousands in carbon (this time ensuring it was the correct 100% carbon-carbon kind of carbon), riding only at the front, riding only off the front, realizing there is no off season, refusing to take any recovery days, learning to hide in a group, pulling through without ever pulling through, learning the importance of recovery days, caffeine only diets, 3 meals a day – no snacks! And of course, finding glory in the time I dropped Stathis…while he was on a beach cruiser in a pooofy jacket and jeans.
I’ve also learned to be a better partner, a better friend, a better father than I was planing on being and the best grandfather with a strained ball sack.
And the very best part has been watching you find your sobriety.
One day I’ll sue you for all those 2.99’s but for now, thank you.
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