Cost of admission
August 30, 2019 § 12 Comments
I hadn’t raced all year. I’d let my license lapse. Done with it.
A buddy invited me to come check out the new vibe at the local sanctioned weekly race in Long Beach, the Eldo crit, so I thought I’d ride over. It’s about an hour and a half from my apartment, through hellish traffic, much of which includes lane sharing, lane switching, and maneuvering with 18-wheelers.
I’m inured to traffic but it was not for the faint.
I got to Eldo and people began giving me shit. “Are you racing?”
“I #fakewon NPR this morning and already rode an hour and a half to get here.”
“You can get a one-day.”
“Here man, I got a spare.”
“They take credit cards.”
“I didn’t bring one.”
“Here’s ten bucks.”
“The race is about to start.”
“They’ll expedite your number and pin you up.”
That’s how I found myself on the starting line next to reigning national champion Justin Williams and ex-national champion Rahsaan Bahati. I deliberately opted not to race the masters, which started a couple of minutes before, because I figured if I entered the fast race I’d get shelled on the first lap and could then quit dishonorably.
The race started hellish fast. I was the final wheel and dangled for dear life. Each time I clawed back the gaps that started to open up, the speed would jump again and there’d be another opening between me and the field.
We approached the start/finish at blitz speed and saw the ref waving us to slow down. “Crash!” he was yelling. A rider was curled up on the left side of the road, but in bike racing you generally take note of crashes in a binary way: Will I clear it or am I going to hit it? If the former, you keep pedaling, only faster. If the latter, you brace for the impact.
The peloton moved over to the right, slowed, and we passed. The moment the leaders cleared the crash they hit the jets again and I resumed survival mode.
On the back side of the course the pack slowed briefly and then someone strung it out again. My legs were screaming, but I’d moved up to the top third. After it relaxed, I was going to hit out once, do a glory attack through the start finish, get caught, dropped, and call it a day. I was so, so done.
But you know? It never happened.
As we came through the start/finish, the ref ordered us to stop. The masters field had been stopped and we were shunted off the course. “We’re calling the race,” he said. I looked over at the fallen rider, now surrounded by half a dozen people, blood coming out of both ears. He wasn’t moving.
Nor did he ever move again. Gerry Gutierrez, 36-years old, teacher, dedicated husband and passionate cyclist, died early Thursday as a result of head injuries sustained in a bike crash.
The grief and shock were immediate, and radiated out from social media channels of every sort. I didn’t know Gerry, just as I didn’t know Chris Cono, the rider who died several years ago after hitting his head in a crash at CBR, leaving behind a wife and tiny child.
What I do know is that bike racing, although incredibly safe, is incomprehensibly risky when things go bad. You can fall at 30 mph in the middle of a pack and walk away with a bit of road rash, or you can fall at half that speed and spend a month in intensive care. Or, as in Gerry’s case, it can simply be life’s end.
We all sign waivers when we enter events, but it is so pro forma that we never really think what “catastrophic injury and death” really mean … for us. And in those rare instances where someone actually dies, the survivors are left wondering “What the hell was that for? What kind of a waste was that?”
We can’t ever know “what it was for” in the mind of the dead person, but I for sure know this: The cost of admission to the party of life is death. No one gets out without paying the full price.
The great majority of people live predictable lives in order to die predictably, in old age, with some sort of pension, hobbling about or mildly active as they degenerate into death. They choose not to burn out, but to rust. Nor do I blame them.
It isn’t my way though, and it isn’t the way of anyone who toes the start line at a mass start bike race.
You can’t get to the sharp, cutting edge of life, the place where life actually happens, without pushing all your chips into the middle of the table. You can’t get it watching sports on TV, reading books, painting, playing music, or by dedicating your life to making money. The only way you get the full thrill and intensity of life is by pushing in the chips.
I won’t say that Gerry died doing what he loved. I didn’t know him; that’s for someone else to say. But I will say this much after cruising his timeline and seeing the total commitment he’d made to racing his bike. Gerry Gutierrez got more out of his life on Tuesdays at 6:00 PM in Long Beach than most people alive will get from anything, ever.
I hope you rest, dude, but not in peace, not if there’s an afterlife, not if there are days of the week where you are now. Rest up for next Tuesday. I have a hunch I know where you’ll be.
Mostly free bike racing
March 17, 2017 § 2 Comments
With Daylight Saving Time comes a reset of your body clock, free weekday bike racing, and apparently for some, death. Whether in traffic collisions, workplace injuries, heart attacks, or the receipt of illegal doping shipments for your drug-free bike racing team, the time change can be hazardous to your health and job security.
And rather than being a victim of circumstance, helplessly awaiting the call from USADA, the tightening of the chest, the rear-ender on the 405, or someone dropping a forklift on your foot, I recommend that you proactively select your hazard, which in this case is free bike racing.
Two best free bike races after the Daylight Hazard Time change:
Telo Street Fake Crit: Pay no money, pound your legs and brains into mush for 60 minutes, watch Grandpa Joe show up late, watch the enthusiastic group of 40 get whittled down to a sad-faced group of 20, then 10, then 3, dodge oncoming cars, idling 18-wheelers, antsy moms in SUVs offloading kids at gymnastic class, celebrate Evens Stievenart’s devastating win accompanied by Colin Croston and Shon Holderbaum, watch Grandpa Joe forget to have ordered the awesome winner’s jerseys, go over to Boozy P.’s place for the party that Grandpa Joe arranged, watch the party disintegrate because Grandpa Joe forgot to arrange it, watch 40 thirsty bikers fight to the death over the four beers in Boozy P.’s fridge, and best of all check the winner’s corner on the Telo World Championship’s TWC page on Facebag where Grandpa Joe still slings the best artwork and graphic design on the Internet.
Eldorado Park Free Fake Crit With Surcharge: Pay a little money, zoom around in circles without having to dodge cars a-la-Telo, and best of all watch Gil Dodson, Dave Wehrley, and a host of other kind people donate free entry fees to junior racers, watch kids who come from rough circumstances race their bikes and experience the joy of flying on two wheels in a pack of nutjobs defying death and calamitous injury as they vie for glory, in other words, nirvana.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and get none of the news that’s fit to print but all the news that’s fun to read. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
Old marines never die, they just dig in
August 27, 2016 § 4 Comments
I haven’t done Eldo in several years because it’s too far away in Los Angeles County miles. A Los Angeles County mile is unrelated to the standard English measurement of 5,280 feet. An LAC mile is measured not in distance but by the hour of the day.
For example, a Texas Panhandle Mile measured between Pampa and Canadian (this unit is kind of like West Texas Intermediate Crude, the world yardstick for oil), which is also 5,280 feet (the mile, not the oil), takes roughly one minute if you are traveling 60 miles per hour. There is some math here but I can’t explain it. Ask your father.
However, the same “mile” in Los Angeles County, although theoretically the same distance as a Texas Panhandle mile, changes drastically based on the hour of the day. An LA County mile between Palos Verdes and Long Beach on Tuesday around 5:00 PM has a time value of about 10 minutes rather than one.
I can’t explain that math either but I can explain this: I haven’t done Eldo in Long Beach in years because even though it’s only 20 minutes away measured in standard Texas Panhandle miles, it take about 300 years in LA County miles. Plus, here in the South Bay every Tuesday at exactly the same time we have the Telo crit which, I’m real sorry to inform you, is a lot fucking harder than Eldo. You can laugh all you want, but that just means you’ve never done both.
Eldo has gone through some changes in ownership, but what has continued without interruption is a first-rate bike race that stretches back decades. The difference in the new management and the old management is that unlike old management, there’s no screaming and cursing and hollering and berating, and more importantly it’s a USAC-sanctioned race where you can get upgrade points and huge bragging rights, and most importantly it attracts some of the best crit racers in SoCal like Charon Smith and Dave Koesel, and most-most importantly it has categories for Cat 4’s who can have their own forum for massive braggage and victory salutage and Facebag postage. Cf. Ivan Fernandez.
But most-most-most importantly, the Eldo Under New Management has, for the last three years, provided a forum for the development of junior bike racers, for which we have two people to thank.
One of them is Gil Dodson, a very old marine who is old enough to be your grandfather’s grandfather. He’s so old that when he takes off his helmet you wonder if he remembers the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But then he puts his helmet back on and drops about half the riders who are one-fifth of his age and you STFU. Gil’s foxhole buddy has been Steve Hegg, gold and silver medalist at the 1984 Olympics and current holder of the Genuinely Nicest Guy in Long Beach Award.
Gil has poured money into Eldo by paying for every single junior rider’s entry fee for three years and ending each season with a free bike frame giveaway to the junior at the top of the standings. It’s been a huge investment and it has paid huge dividends. Eldo provides the only regular venue for young riders to compete, earn upgrade points, and sharpen their skills before being tossed into the shark pit. Thanks to Gil, or rather no thanks to Gil, we now have a crop of young riders who show up at other group rides and smash their elders with glee.
The other person who has made Eldo a success is David Wehrly. Like Gil, he has provided significant financial support, without which the race simply couldn’t continue. Unlike Gil, Dave is so far in the background that you might think he’s with the Israel cyber ops NSO Group. But like all of the good works that David does, although he himself may be deep cover, the results and the beneficiaries are out in the open for all to see.
I’d better stop here. This is starting to sound way too happy.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and support giving credit where credit is due. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
Mommy, can I talk to Daddy?
August 8, 2012 § 8 Comments
Dear Mom and Dad:
Divorce is hard. I love you, Mom. I love you, Dad. Mom, I know you hate Dad. Dad, I know you hate Mom. I wish everyone would get along.
But sometimes relationships won’t work. So Mom, you’re going your way. Dad, you’re going yours. I know, or at least hope, that you’re both better off for it. It’s awkward, and frankly, painful.
Your infamous Eldo Divorce caught us all by surprise, as divorces often do. One day Mom was doing her thing, running Eldo and even turning it into a sanctioned race. The next, Dad was out there, putting up orange cones and handing out numbers. Mommy and Daddy never even told us kids what happened. You went your separate ways.
My history with Eldo
I’ve got lots of bad memories of Eldo. It was the very first race I did in California. Roger Worthington dragged me out there the year following his new hip attachment and bionic leg surgery, in 2008. All I remember is thinking that nothing takes the fun out of anything more than being forced to do it with an overbearing boss.
The race itself was hideously fast. I raced the 1/2/3 category and we averaged close to 30mph for the hour. The pack was tightly bunched and the race was a nonstop slugfest of people hammering off the front, and the pack chasing them back. Ashley Knights was especially speedy that year, but Charon Smith, Rahsaan Bahati, and various other guys showed up every single week to ride and ride hard.
For me, being fit at Eldo meant being able to take a couple of pulls at the front over the course of an hour.
Chris ran a tight ship. The races were safe, the categories were usually full or close to full, and aside from the usual whining and complaining for which bicyclers are so famous, I thought it was a model mid-week race. The only reason I quit doing it is because it meant leaving the office at 4:30, sitting on the 405 for almost an hour, and getting home at eight or later. With TELO just around the corner and in riding distance, it didn’t make sense to race Eldo. So I didn’t.
Come check us out!
When Martin sent me an email inviting me to come see the Under New Management Eldo, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I like Martin and respect the hell out of him. He and his core group of Long Beach Freddies have done more than any group I know to help revolutionize the city of Long Beach with regard to cycling. It’s now one of the friendliest cycling communities in the U.S., and Martin has been a big part of that change.
He’s a tireless advocate for positive community change, and is the driving force behind the Mark Bixby Foundation, an organization set up to honor its namesake, who died in an air accident a couple of years ago. Martin also has a lot of the characteristics that everyone, everywhere, associates with bike race promoters: Loud. Has an opinion on everything. Loves to share it with everyone, and if no one’s around, is happy to give advice to the rocks and shrubs.
And, lest I forget, he’s an accomplished cyclist and former national team member. If you ever want to know how good he was, ask him if he’s ever been on the podium with Greg Lemond. Actually, you don’t even have to ask. Just walk up to him, introduce yourself, and wait ten minutes.
Can’t we all just get along?
I went to Eldo last night with mixed feelings because I also like Chris Lotts…a lot. I respect the work he’s done as a bike race promoter. I thought he did a great job at Eldo. Most of all, I like him because he is forthright and because of his politics. If you want to know what he thinks, ask him. If you don’t want to know what he thinks, well…don’t friend him on Facebook.
What I dislike is the fact that the Eldo Divorce was the result of bad blood between two people I like and respect. Since anything I say is guaranteed to offend them both, let me get that out of the way, right away: You both are a couple of fucking numbskulls not to be able to get along.
There. I’ve said it. Sue me. Unfriend me. Disinvite me. I don’t care. The cycling community is tiny and I hate this kind of conflict.
Can’t we all just get along?
Of course not. That would make too much sense and deprive the bystanders of too much drama.
Now, about Eldo Under New and Improved Management
I can’t say the management has improved, because as far as I’m concerned there was nothing wrong with the old management. The fields last night were smaller. The race was slower. There was very little team diversity, which meant that any break with three riders was almost guaranteed to cause everyone else to block.
On the other hand, the race had a great feel to it. Martin and his crew of Freddies were smiling and enthusiastic and obviously committed to making this work. The field size was a function of changing horses in midstream. With better promotion and with more people understanding that Eldo is here to stay, 2013 should start to see much bigger fields. To their credit, the race already has enough people showing up to break even.
In two years’ time, as more people put the race on their schedule, I have no doubt that Eldo will be back up to full force, if not sooner. Getting listed on SocalCycling.com, CyclingIllustrated.com, and some of the other local websites will pay benefits in terms of participation.
Though last night’s race was slower than anything I’d ever done at Eldo, it was still legbreakingly hard. Somewhere around twenty riders finished out of a field of 35-40, and that’s because there was nowhere to hide. The Shroeder Iron guys dominated in numbers and ability, and they missed no opportunity to continually send riders up the road.
I was either chasing, or riding in short-lived breaks, or hanging on for dear life as a Velo Allego or Pinnaclife rider (those were the three biggest teams) strung it out. At race’s end I was every bit as hammered as from the days of 2008. The vibe was also great. The Shroeder guys are super friendly, and after they’ve kicked your face in are always glad to shoot the breeze.
Although I can’t compare, it seemed like there were a lot of junior racers. That’s a good thing, and augurs well for development. Of course the Long Beach La Habra contingent was there in good numbers as well, though there were only two or three in our race.
Although I still love Mommy, I love Daddy, too, and I’m going to do Eldo once more this year despite the commute if Daddy will let me. I encourage you to come out and see what it’s all about, if you’re like me, a rider who gave it up because of the commute, or if you’ve never done it. You can’t beat the course, and the speedwork is fantastic if you want to do more than sit on wheels.
What between finishing up the year with CBR and Eldo, I hope Mom and Dad see I’m making the best out of being stuck in the middle.
Love you both,