The Urge to Break Away
Yesterday I awoke in a strange bed, a tacky hotel bed.
If I’m not waking up under flannel sheets warmed by my 300-watt Ectomorph, to a chorus of birdsong, pickup truck engines, and howling dogs, I require a minute.
I’m in a hotel. In Davis, California.
Oh, right–the Gran Dopening festivities at the Hollow Fame.
Whose bike is that, leaning against the TV?
The grand fondo!
I make out the name: “Roubaix”.
Extravagant carbon fiber frame and handlebars.
Her alarming weight: negative three pounds.
Can she hold up to rough play?
WORDINESS ALERT: This is the unedited story of a one-night stand which morphed into something else.
A sick need. A distraction. Or true love.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Saturday I was with Peter Rich in Davis to celebrate a new brick an’ mortar home for The US Bicycling Hall of Fame, which had been looking for a permanent home, possibly not in New Jersey where it was created.
George Mount, Old Neverend and Cheri Elliott the BMX child star, as well as all the directors of the board were there. I whispered to mayor Ruth Asmundsen (who doesn’t ride a bike–yet!) that I would be her Personal Coach.
Then we broke for lunch, fanning out across the square. I landed at “Burgers and Fries” with Peter and Jan Johnson, Peter Rich and Smilin’ George Mount. They blabbed, I listened. Really. I automatically finished everyone’s left over fries. All those fries landed on a juicy cheeseburger, which was drowning in an India Pale Ale of unknown parentage –do I really care what kind? No. I pretend to. One small problem: to hold it all I should have been born with two stomachs. I was glad my fine trousers had an elastic waistband.
Outside, a 50-foot cherry red Specialized Schleppmobile pulled into view, and circled the block in search of a space (in downtown Davis? Dream on!)
Out in the town park, after the farmer’s market closed down, a much bigger event was warming up.
One that no one had told me about.
Since I had five hours to kill before the hall of fame “reception”, I stretched out on the grass and learned about the Breaking Away From Cancer Amgen SPecialized Pacific Sports GranFondo. Mega hills, at least three of them, plus full support, aid stations, and even friendly police. The spiel was delivered each half hour and by late afternoon I realized I needed to do that ride. It sounded like a lot of fun, and besides, I had to work off lunch (sound of numbers crunching): eight hours in the saddle.
Yes, you can categorize me with People Who Sometimes Ride For Incredibly Stupid Reasons.
Little hurdles: I didn’t have a bike, helmet or shoes to go with the ambition that I could ride 115 miles on a whim.
Over at the cherry red Specialtruck, Chris and Patrick cheerfully kitted me with the drooliest Roubaix, tossing in helmet and shoes when it was clear that my go-go boots wouldn’t do.
I called Charlie to say that I was going to do “some ride” the next day (why tell him I was going to do a century, sorry a ‘fondo’? He’d question my good sense). I told Peter I’d ‘find a way back to Marin’ when I arrived halfway across the state, in Santa Rosa.
There’s a sort of retardation where you can’t think things through because the possibilities/combos/ scenarios are endless –to a mind like mine–and inevitably they work out OK. Rather than committing any one thing, chance’s myriad options roll around like shipdeck cannons, banging and sliding, conjugating–each one as plausible as…tail lights on a dinosaur.
Small wonder I was worthless at chess as a child, eh?
I rolled around the very quiet streets of Davis, testing the interesting new shoes with Shimano step-in cleats. How different it was on the fourth of July 1981, that forgettable five month blemish on my career when I raced criteriums. Thousands of cyclists in town, marshalls and haybale monitors, announcers, music. Palpable excitement. Temperatures in the nineties and climbing.
Today was different, it being full-on springtime, and me being full-on fogey.
Kids, take it from me: aging may not be for sissies, but if you’re willing to just roll along with time’s punches, things get better and better. Well, it is more true if you discover cycling in your fifties. I discovered it at nine, and became scary-strong, so I can never be that fast. But luckily, like someone with dementia, whatever speed I’m going feels fast to me. I still think I’m a supershero.
We all do.
In our heart of hearts, we’re Eddy Merckx in the Ardennes forest.
Ah, reality. At the start, I found a couple of kiwifruit sitting on a park bench. Bonus breakfast! Yesterday’s lunch was still quite ‘there'; I didn’t need a proper breakfast.
a) dark brown wool hand-tailored, silk-lined men’s jacket from the 1930’s. A Brooks Bros. longsleeve pinpoint oxford button down shirt under the jacket, and a base layer of cotton teeshirt. My secret weapon for a hot day. Cotton! Good ol’ clammy, damp, air-conditiony cotton. Works like a charm. But when/if the sun goes down…danger.
How many fashion crimes so far? Let me continue.
b) white tea gloves, fingers chewed off
c) silk/cotton pinstripe black pants, beige cotton socks not quite long enough to contain the pants hem.
d) a handkerchief around my right leg to keep the right pant leg from entraining in the chainring. It is unprofessional to suffer a sartorial mishap. Uh, sorry…I wrecked your bike when the pants got caught in the chain and stopped me cold.
These thoughts trouble me before epic rides, or when I’m on a borrowed (=unknown) bike.
TWO variables, you have to square the fear/excitement.
800 excitable riders stood listening (hey, they were billing it as a race…people don’t listen at a century but woe to the non-listener at the starting line of a race!) The announcer welcomed us to the ‘Breaking Away From Cancer” race–and I felt a stab of something…I can’t say what..but a feeling for all these people,touched if not whalloped by cancer.
I decided to ride in honor of me (as opposed to just Burning Off Flab).
I coulda been felled back in 2000 when Charlie’s partners were relieving him of the business he founded and I was knock-knock-knocking on cancer ‘s door.
The first fifteen miles were flat, but as we reached the dam at Lake Berryessa I realized I had no idea how to shift my SRAM shifters–single lever..I’ve always had bar-end (1950’s technology) shifters, and no amount of calm explanation from the guy next to me that had almost the same brakes–except his had TWO levers as well as the brake lever (think of it: three levers per hand…the mind writhes). I finally got it: push inboard lightly to shift into mashy gear, and push more emphatically to get it into an easier gear.
Many asked why I was dressed so funny.
“I’m a professional biker. Don’t I look professional?”
It was funny to be on a new bike, with utterly novel features…somehow the absence of weight didn’t register, except that I was never breathing hard as I glided (seated) past all these people in matching outfits.
The sky was blue, the air was cool.
The sun sparkled through the wildflowers. The aforementioned jacket eventually wound up tied around my waist.
Why not rely on sunscream?
Dude, nanoparticles and cosme-ceuticals are today’s asbestos/DDT .
Even if you don’t buy ’em, they come in like atomic ball bearings of doom, from someone else’s skin, or your new clothing. Being The Greatest Country On Earth (for big business) , manufacturers aren’t required to share doubt-inducing, inconvenient facts.
A bunch of (very old, used) clothing is less carcinogenic. Yes, I admit my skin was pink all day long under those layers, but that’s normal blood cooling strategy… I didn’t suffer.
The funny screw-on shoes were mega comfy. That is huge news. Only the last ten miles did my feet have to do push-ups to ward off dead foot disease.
I met (roughly) a dozen people–Gaby, Todd, Fred, Gerry, Don, uh…and the rest–
Some I just I rode with, others I couldn’t resist coaching': “the helmet’s on upside down, by the way”
Other topics: “Yes, I’m comfortable in these clothes” or: “I’m not usually this fast, but I stole this bike…”.
Over and over again, I’d find myself getting dropped (just a little surge would do it) and rather than respond, I held my pace until the next gang came along. Hence, I went my pace nearly all the time, with pack-protection much of the time. I even got to ‘race’ Gerry E, a long-ago friend, for the finish.