Alice B. Toeclips, who are you?

JP overlooking Bon Tempe Lake, Mt Tam

Belts are sadly underused in racing kit

Alice B. Toeclips is not dead. She wasn’t born, either, come to think of if it. She spontaneously combusted in a corner of my brain that takes in oxygen and water and spits out sparks and really bad wordplay. Toke Lips. Go Lips. Show Tits.

She lives in the corner where Yasser Half-A-Rat and Charlie Cleverbacon live, when they’re not dashing through the snow, in a “one horse soapin’ sleigh”, or taking everything “for granite”. The corner jammed with Tourette’s types, babbling and barking with shocking honesty, fighting for impulse-control during those solemn nuptial moments as the minister asks “is there anyone here who believes that this couple should not wed…:?”, and in the ensuing silence murmurs, “speak now , or forever hold your peace”. I had to use two hands to silence the NO!!!! when Steve Potts married Lynn Morrill. Augh…

Perhaps I inherited my mom’s willful deafness. She Who Never Got Names Straight, who mangled incoming words and cheerfully shared the shredded, reassembled result with her incredulous listeners, the Phelan family. Her Doreenisms made life interesting.

At any rate, “Toeclips” came about the instant my pedal stroke was fortified by the chrome Christophe cage. Until my friend Allan installed them on sharp-teethed metal Lyotards (“now I can’t ride barefoot!” I whined) I rode flat rubbery pedals on my Raleigh girl’s bike. He didn’t call the new foot-baskets “Rat Traps” (a term I’d heard in high school, which I rather liked) but rather “Toe-Clips”. This name instantly invoked one of my cherished literary she-roes, Gertrude Stein’s mustachioed Alice B. Toklas, who like me, was from San Francisco.

I assumed this magic name early on for my alter ego, and instantly enjoyed a bit of advance renown, not to mention exclusivity. If you got the joke, you could be Alice’s friend. If you didn’t, you’d hate Jacquie for boring you with a longwinded explanation about expat life in Paris in the twenties.

Alice B. was quickly drafted into service once I started racing . Since certain folks automatically hate anyone who beats them, and doubly so if the folks are fellas and the winner is a woman, Alice took the heat. While Alice was raising hell, I could stand innocently by, and remain my cheerful, lovable (and of course worthless and undeserving) self at the races. I didn’t want to be like the champions I saw on the road, charmless icons. I wasn’t even sure I was a champion, even though that’s what the jersey said on it.

Alice kicked an awful lot of butt in mountain bike races–well, a few guys were spared– but most weren’t, and she never apologized for it. In fact, she seemed to relish beating the boys. Resentment was rare, but if it surfaced, Alice would shrug it off and say, “All the better to burn ‘em in tomorrow’s time trial.”

There was a rumor going around at the time that her bike’s aluminum tubing, filled with super hot air, was the real reason Alice beat so many guys. Not her braided hairy legs, or laconic limber lungs. Had to be the bike.

Please bear in mind this was happening in the first half of the Flagrant Eighties, when Steel was Real. Alu was almost a communist plot, and the tubing was so big, colorless and dull. How could you drool over something with no shiny paint, or fret over lost luster?

As “Jacquie Phelan”, Alice had tried (and failed spectacularly) to break into the roadie peloton back in 1981…THis was when she learned that the Olympics finally ended the ban on women racing bicycles…or to put it their way, women were welcome to compete for a place on the national road team. There were precious few women racing bikes in the USA then… most of the best racers were also speed skaters in Michigan and Wisconsin. They probably weren’t super thrilled about making room for Californians with their year-round riding climate. But they were the ones that persuaded someone on the Olympic Committee to put a women’s race in the LA Games in 84…
So I strove.

This is actually a different chapter, but let’s just say I was more or less Voted Off The Island by the elite road racers that first impressionable year. Fast forward to 1992, with all my, er, ALice’s success dominating off-road and welcoming thousands of women into the sport..I decided to put together a team to race the Ore-Ida, the (at the time) longest, most grueling road race for women anywhere in the world. Did it matter that it was produced by a guy with Great Intentions but wandering hands? Nother story, that, too. So, we’re at the start of stage three, or was it six, who cares? It was raining. WE were going to ride over Gallina Pass, I think it was ten thou’ but have to check some time…I had swim goggles on, for laughs (“great weather for ducks, eh?” But only teammate Susan DeMattei thought it was funny). The rider in front of me, Louisa Jenkins, but I had a nastier name for her after this, looked back at me and sneered “ That is the UGLIEST bike I have EVER seen!”

This was my ten-year old, sloping top-tubed alu-Cunningham road bike. The roadies had never seen sloper tubes, or ‘compact frames’ yet..(.that “innovation” would come a decade later)
“THANK you!” I replied brightly. “My husband thinks so, too!”
“It wasn’t MEANT to be a compliment ” she retorted.
“Aw, I guess I should feel crushed, huh?” I asked helpfully.
At that point some giggling erupted around me, and I knew we would have a fun race.
Revenge came at the Ketchum/Sun Valley stage, an out-and-back criterium where we all had to hairpin-turn around an orange traffic cone.

Remember, there are about 150 of us…

Because of my bike’s geometry (or maybe my lack of fear about braking extremely hard, because the bike could take the forces) I would sproing from the dead-rear of the peloton when I reached the cone. Then I’d whip around (on the inside line) and somehow–miracle–I was at the front! For about two seconds, when the rest of the gang would surge around me, like the sea around a rock, and I’d resume chasing until the next time we had to deal with the cone. In 92 I was 37 years old, a good 10-15 yrs older than the other girls. But that is sort of excuse-y, huh? Besides, Penny from South Africa was forty, and she was dropping me too..
On the dirt, Alice was always happy–her face wore a wicked smile–to the point that Carl Weymann, a representative of the company sponsoring her (“Funtour”, let’s call it) repeatedly called from the sidelines “SHOW SOME PAIN!”.

I didn’t have time to stop and explain my position (usually lapping Cindy Whitehead yet again)
a)Life is good: I!m winning a race.
b) In scenic Oregon!
c) Instead of just yammering away on the PA, someone is spinning classical music over the loudspeaker! Maybe I’m actually dead, and in heaven…

As Jacquie, I was Alice’s ugly sister. Alice was a pure, proud hussy soaking up all the attention, then hosing it back on the beer and sun-soaked crowd. Remember, this is the chick that not only needs to know her fan’s names, but their Entire Medical History, plus a little about their family.

On the other hand, she could be a major jerk. With Authority Issues, Rule Adherence Issues, Exhibitionist Issues ( just wait til I’m, er…’we’…are eighty). Alice acknowledged the rules… and stretched ’em.

Like the time in 1984 Funtour failed to send race uniforms in time for the biggest race of the era, the “Rockhopper 4 Lungs”, a benefit for the American Lung Association. The week prior to the big (400 riders) race, Me, Rad-mona D’Viola and Casey Patterson had put on a women’s night out for Mother’s Day weekend. Of the fifteen of us (the largest aggregation of women on fat tires ever, and a record that would endure for years and years. For comparison, the NORBA Championship had six women in 1984) , half of us went topless when it got hot mid-day. In 84 you could ride all day and see no one. Besides, what are they (hikers, rangers) going to do? Ticket us?

“If I don’t get my team kit by next Friday, I’m gonna do this again” I told them. “Be sure to come and race or at least cheer me on”. Heh heh. Make a clean breast of it. Colleen (Ross’s wife) stencilled “Cunningham” on my back in yellow acrylic paint. A racer never overlooks the fabulous machine which is their partner…and in my case, always seemed to deliver me to the top of the podium. Oh, sorry, there never were podia in those days. A podium is an indicator that a certain activity has an audience in the millions, and that hadn’t happened yet…not would it for years. So five miles from the finish, all by myself in the woods at the top of a winding descent, I rolled down the top of my onepiece swimsuit and as I came into view down the long straing straight finish, people weren’t certain…”it’s a guy. No, it’s a girl. No, you were right.. No, wait….”

At the time, the NORBA rulebook was, um, maybe a double spaced typed page or two’s worth of commandments along the lines of “finish on the same bike you started on” and “don’t cheat–kind of a shame we forgot to put “No Whining” in there, huh? In contrast, the USCF road racing rulebook had sections, subheadings, decimal points, the whole nine yards. Rules dictated everything from the degree of cleanliness of one’s race jersey, to the whiteness of one’s (mandatory) socks.

If the promoter had been anyone other than the Lung Association’s Lynne Woznycki, a gal who appreciated a good gag, I probably would have been permanently excommunicated from the Church of the Rotating Mass. As it was, s ten years later, over fondue in Metabief France, Darryl Price, my US National Teammate, leaned close and yelled over the din of thirty starved riders feeding themselves “You permanently warped me, Jacquie. I was only fourteen.” He then complained about the fondue (which I had ordered, in French, secretly, because I was getting tired of pathetic versions of “burrito” here in the heart of the Jura).

I let Alice take the blame. After all, she’s the rad one, not that brown-haired bore over there, eyeing the pile of leftover cubed bread and “la religieuse” – that web of chewy cheese at the bottom of the pot.

The life and thymes of Alice B. Toeclips

~ by jacquiephelan on September 25, 2007.

4 Responses to “Alice B. Toeclips, who are you?”

  1. Your amazing influence has left an indelible mark on my life…and I can’t thank you enough!

  2. I don’t know if you know this but there has been a great woman-owned cyclery shop in Helena, Montana, called Alice B. Toeclips for about twenty years.

  3. […] You may have many questions like I did when I first saw this map, like, “How was there a Boston Bike map in 1978 when the city’s very first bike lane didn’t appear until 2008?” and “who is Alice B. Toeclips?” […]

    • My attention-starved fellow pioneer, isn’t it amazing how we all keep carving out a fresh and new rendition of Fat Tire history…that train left the station a long time ago…We never quite measured up to the self-promotional excellence of the Fishy Breeze comin’ out of Marin…no matter, there was never a fortune to be made by the “little people” anyhow. Lance and Gary got 90% of the cycling pot and look where it delivered them. Bodfish Bicycles enters the twentieth year on April 1st and we continue to pay the electric bill. Lisa Jo has one more year to make thirty with the Federal Gov’t. I’m happy to find you here…next time you wander thru Chester I’m looking forward to two hugs. Chuck E

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