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Wheels on the bike go round and round 15: First Day
by Mike Jennett
2009-06-24 09:13:15
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I would not like Tracy’s job today.

I wouldn’t like it on any day but, on a day where anything and everything can happen, I would not want to be the person in charge. I am not overly patient and freely admit that I would be more irritated at disruptions to my arrangements, than concerned about lost riders, injuries and the possibility of death.

25 of us started together at Manhattan Beach and, by the end of the day, 2 were involved in accidents that could have been serious but fortunately were not. 3, if you view one rider crashing into another as a double hit.

Rich fell onto Willie’s bike at the pier and damaged it and a driver turning right struck Barbie. I learned of both incidents by gossip during the day and had no idea of the circumstances, so can make no judgments.

Anyway, I was not involved in accidents, I got no flats, and I did not get de-hydrated. I also did not pedal the entire distance, as my under-trained legs gave up at the 55 mile mark.

After leaving the beach, my day goes thus….

The hill from the pier becomes an immediate struggle. Perhaps those 10 up-and-overs on Blanton hill in Florida (elevation gain 324 feet) did not constitute proper training.

Once the grade lessens, plenty of riders pass and their fluttering orange safety flags provide an easy clue about direction. Looking down at the cue sheet when you’re standing on the pedals and expending 100% of your energy just to move forward is a good way to fall off.

What can you say about suburban roads passing through suburban parts of suburbia? I pass gas stations, odd stores, people pushing stolen shopping carts on sidewalks and poorly behaved traffic. It really doesn’t matter where I am – the ride has begun and, for the foreseeable future, I am free.

I frequently find myself adopted by passing groups and become part of the “Hole” verbal warning chain which, with the relayed arm thrustings, becomes strangely hypnotic. It’s like becoming attracted to the rhythmic slapping of windshield wipers on a rainy night on a long drive when you’re tired. After a while, I have to choose between watching the arms and not falling off my bike, so I drop back to be able to inspect the road myself.

Riding in isolation lets my mind wander and allows the freedom to change pace or stop at will. In a group, you have to keep up with them, stop when they stop, go when they go, turn when they turn – all dictated by the guy at the front. I feel obliged to not stop for a scenery photo or adjust my gears or go for a wee or do any of the myriad things that need attention without warning.

Orientation with cue sheets isn’t exactly rocket science, but does require having the right page upwards. In a group, there’s often no time to turn it and I worry about riding blind and trusting people who are all following someone who doesn't actually know where they’re going.

I’m riding alone and putting the world to rights in my head, when a shout of ‘Hi Mike,” stops my heart and almost throws me off my bike. Coming back to reality, I discover that I have become cocooned and am now part of yet another group. How many of these people are there? How much effort does it take to be last?

As to how long I have had company, I cannot tell, so I do not know if they witnessed me riding along on mental auto pilot. They can see as much of my head under my helmet as I can of theirs so, if my zombie state is mentioned later at dinner, I can simply pretend to be someone else.

From the names on their flags, I can see that I am now riding with George, who shares the back with me and reminds me of Robocop, Karen and Charlie, who take up the middle and Harry, the Brit with the Liverpool accent, who is leading us on at a pace more suited to the Indy Five Hundred.

Charlie’s chain remains, for most of the time, diagonally stretched across the smallest chain wheel to the smallest rear cog. The constant grating from this mechanical nightmare threatens to loosen the nuts in my brain and I feel obliged to mention it in case he doesn’t know. It’s like pointing out the spinach in a stranger’s teeth. Do you – or don’t you?

Harry keeps asking if I am alright. Is the pace OK? Do I have enough water? Am I drinking enough fluids? Maybe it’s a Liverpudlian trait, caring for the sick. I didn’t think I looked ill, but perhaps he is a doctor. Despite being in the lead, he has no usable cue sheet and needs to be told where and when to turn. This creates an obvious possibility of getting lost and further strengthens my desire to break away.

I’m mentally ready for a break and dying for a piss when the first SAG stop comes up at 28 miles, with both Tracy and Margaret present. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to do that besides behind Tracy’s luggage truck or against a tree. It’s a public park, so I am dissuaded and have to go another mile for a ‘bathroom break’, as American coyly call it.

Shortly afterwards, my group realize that I am hardly Lance Armstrong and I regain the freedom to ride along in my own universe again. It’s at around the 50-mile mark, when suburbia has given way to countryside, that I discover, on a quite modest incline, that my legs are expired. There remains less than 30 miles to go, it’s a nice day, I have plenty of water and my bike is functioning perfectly – but I am not going to make it.

The second SAG, run by Mack, is 5 miles away. The spectre of giving up and riding in the van is like the anticipation of taking green medicine when you’re a child. All you can do is put the moment off a little – but it’s coming.

At more or less the same moment that I realize I am through, Rick arrives on his bike. I did not know he was riding sweep and I am quite pleased to see him. As we pull off together and he sees that I have no more energy, it will be his decision that puts me in the van. Perfect.

We pass through a splendid park that really should be the subject of a many photos, but I have lost the desire to do anything except get into air conditioning and sit on something not triangular. With frequent stopping to regain a modicum of strength, It takes several attempts to climb even the shortest hill into the SAG, which seems to prove the point that I’m done.

Fuck today, fuck tomorrow and fuck the Mojave Desert.

I’m ready for a beer.

Read more at: www.mikeonwheels.com OR www.wheelsonthebikegoroundandround.blogspot.com    

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