I'm not a cyclist, but I collect them like some people collect Hummel figures or Lladro pieces. I follow their blogs and I speak their language. I know about stage races and criterium races. I understand the categories into which the racers are placed. I get the flavor of the angst when a racer writes, "I worry that my 39x27 gearing might not be low enough for the challenge." I know how and where to buy the best clothing and accessories for the cyclist and I behold the beauty of the lost art of handmade wheels. If I were a churchgoer, I'd worship at the Church of the Big Ring, and all of this is saying something, because my own bicycle experiences and adventures have tended to be unpleasant ones.
I know one of the collected cyclists better and for longer than any of the others. We met in 1968. I know the provenance and the history of his single-minded fascination with the bicycle and racing with it. I know that he was dubbed The Badger by a racer who couldn't shake him back in the day . . . that ferocious tenacity hasn't diminished over 30 years, either. Badger is an appropriate appellation. With this cyclist, I made my bones as an official racing supporter and all-around cheerleader, hander-up of water while running, hander-up of water from a moving vehicle, waiter at the finish line. For this cyclist, I have driven his personal follow vehicle at the Skull Valley race two years in a row, driving 12 feet off of his back wheel for most of the 58 miles (obviously, I had to drive ahead and get out of the car to hand up water). At one memorable race, the cyclists were gathered at the starting line as the promoter was loudly promoting and hollered out, "Could we get a volunteer to drive my van and transport the race officials . . ." I was very surprised to hear my voice exclaim, "I'll do it. I'm experienced, too!" The Badger was pretty startled when I ran to the starting line to say, "I'm driving the Official Vehicle!" I followed him at very close quarters throughout that race, while pulling cyclists out for penalties whenever the official sounded the bullhorn. If it intrigues the reader, I've written many times on this blog about cycling races and one would look for the post label "races".
I won't try to tell you what cycling means to him. He does that very well himself on his own grand cycling blog. [One does not want to miss his fine photography blog, either.] A quick look at his last couple of posts will reveal that he is about to race in the granddaddy of all races, the Mt. Whitney Stage Race. Since the 1980s he has wanted to race this course of more than 50 miles at 10,000 feet of elevation. It finishes on the uphill, which will require him then to descend on some 180-degree switchbacks, but at least not at racing speed. And if all that is just a little too much about cycling, I'm nearly done going on about the race. Although it runs a bit long, the Fly By video will give one a tiny bit of insight into what is required for this endeavor. Simply follow the link and click on "Watch Course Fly-By Video". Drag the button a ways into the video and watch the drops off the sides and the switchbacks! Yes, those are running rivers - at one point he'll race across a bridge. Have I mentioned he is 60 years old?
The first epic race of this season - the dreaded/much anticipated Boulevard Road Race - was causing the Badger some anxiety. I wanted to have some fun and enlisted other bloggers to help me collaborate on a poem or a song or a whatever it turned out to be. The contributions began to pour in and it was wonderful to string snippets of words into a poem, crediting all the bloggers with what they had sent me. The result was a thing of great fun and beauty. His Wi-Fi was so erratic in the motel, he couldn't watch the poem develop on my blog. I read it to him at various stages on the phone and he finally got to take it in deeply when he arrived home. In his own words, the Badger stated it was "one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me." That production was simply a "Rah!" theme for a racing cyclist. I'm feeling playful again, and I have a little more experience than on my maiden voyage. So, who's in? We're going to have some fun!
Once again, I'm not sure what we can cobble together ~ a poem? An ode? I'd love to write a really good/bad country song if enough words are sent my way. It might even find its way to YouTube! So, here it is: all contributions will be accepted and used with joy. Send four rhyming lines, or two, or a repeating chorus or stream of consciousness. It doesn't matter. It will be received with gratitude. We'll need a title! Everyone will be credited. I will not edit, except to correct misspellings. Of course, we want to "Yay!" him to the finish line, but there's another theme I'd like to touch on - the ubiquitous shitty race weekend motel room. Imagine your own worst motel experiences and square them. Typically, these races aren't held in locations where fine lodging is available.
This time, I'm going to provide a few factoids that might help the reader form some thoughts:
- His mighty steed is the white Cervelo R3 with an orange saddle and handmade wheels. Encircling his chest will be the heart monitor and on his wrist, the Garmin will give up all the data he needs.
- He'll be wearing his Paramount racing kit as seen in the photos, black Rapha knee warmers, a Galstudio handmade winter racing cap, a red helmet, red SiDi cycling shoes, Assos jacket and full-fingered gloves. (It's cold at 10,000 feet!)
- At races he wears a leather bracelet that says "Live Your Dream" on a silver plate and sports a tiny pewter badger.
- Names of races run this year: Boulevard Road Race (Did not finish - stopped by weather after 45 grueling miles), Callville Stage Race (2nd place in his category), Howard Hughes Ranch Road Race (4th place in his category), UCLA Road Race (17th place, but judged with everyone age 45+), San Diego Omnium (3rd place in his category).
- Crappy motel annoyances: no stopper for the bathtub (the man likes to soak in Epsom salts after riding hard), Wi-Fi that shimmies in and out like a hula dancer, rarely any cell phone signal, coffee-making devices or not, microwave or not, sagging chair seats, holes in the walls, paper-thin walls, insufficient heat or air conditioning, no paper products, no drinking glasses, no pillows.
- He has often commented that he nearly drove the wheels off of his Prius the first three months he owned it from chasing after races.
So, bloggers, let's do it! Certainly make comments on this post, as usual. But please drop your wordy offerings in the e-mail attached to my Blogger Profile. I'll start compiling the goods, and I'm certain we'll come up with a marvelous collaboration . . . . . If anyone wants to see the work-in-progress, let me know and I'll share it by e-mail.
It is a wonderful tech-forward age we live in. As he drove west across Nevada and California, we e-mailed frequently. He always "takes me" to the races. "I'm on the floor of Death Valley now." "If I'd raced that one contest I considered, this course would have broken me in two, now that I've seen it!" His mother and I e-mailed in the same time period, churning about the altitude and climb in this race. He mentioned yesterday his concern that he'll blow out a knee. I often get an e-mail just before the gun goes off - "We're off in 30 seconds!" Or, " *%&#, it's snowing and sticking to the ground here at the start!" I never fail to get the e-mail or phone call at the end of the race: "I think I took second - they haven't posted the results yet." Today will be a long wait. Once he runs the race, he'll have the long, frightening return. Who knows if there will be signal on the mountaintop? Reader, I can attest: it is far better to go to the race, where one can always find some occupation, than to sit home and w-a-i-t.
Yesterday we were communing deeply and he wrote, "I sometimes wonder why I am doing this kind of thing. Not in the sense of not continuing, but what is it that has appeared after all these years driving me to do things that have nothing to do with survival?" I laughed out loud at my desk. I typed a response to the effect that I had some thoughts on the matter, but couldn't possibly put them in good order for presentation on e-mail. That is a conversation that will take an hour. But I - the wordy woman - can encapsulate it! "Because that's just what you are meant to do, Badger." Does anyone besides me enjoy watching ice on fire? Flaming passion tempered by steely, cold consideration? I thank the reader for his or her indulgence today. That man deserves a party! And have I mentioned he is 60 years old?
In my ears right now: Friend Tag reminded me of the Beach Boys yesterday. They're era-appropriate to me and I liked them well enough. Their best known tunes were OK enough. But I prefer their take on things that have nothing to do with surfing or racing cars.
Something that charmed me: One e-mail I got yesterday contained an assessment of the race course, once he'd viewed it, and his ability to ride it. The words startled me because I've never heard him utter anything remotely similar to what he had to say about this course. I paced awhile. Soon came the next e-mail. He was steely. "I'm going to do this!" Well, sure, Badge. That's what you went there for.
According to my watch, he's been pedaling for 38 minutes. I've seen the pictures of the road. I imagine by now he's been up out of the saddle (pedaling while standing up) a time or two . . . . he'll have to do that a lot today and tomorrow.