J. Geils Was Right

A Note from Fatty: Jim — the Unholy Roleur — brings an aggressive, testosterone-laden, hilarious perspective to cycling. Also, we both like to eat, where the word “like” can be defined as “think about it whenever I’m not doing it, and often plan what I’m going to eat next even while I’m eating now.” I’m excited to have Jim as my guest poster today.

Yes, this post is a little long. That’s Jim’s way. My advice? Pace yourself. Stick with it. You’ll be glad you did.

Oh, and for you kids under the age of 35: I recommend you watch this before going any further.

When Fatty offered me the chance to be a guest blogger, I leapt at it. It’s not often that somebody who could inadvertently eat you mid-binge asks for favors. But since he asked, I couldn’t resist.

My normal blogging is probably a little too off-color for a lot of you. I talk about my experiences racing as a Clydesdale, with an emphasis on the rear end of the horse; food; booze; or whatever strikes my fancy. So what could possibly be suitable for the (mostly) kind-hearted folk who read Elden’s site? A love story, I guess.

But this is no ordinary love story. It is a story about falling in love with the modern-day Marquis de Sade. It is an abusive love story, of love that is requited only in the regular abuse that the Marquis doles out to me. The Marquis never treats me well, yet I love him. Worst of all, he makes me pay to visit him, in spite of the fact that I’m the one prostituting myself. It is a terrible love affair, if you ask me. But I’m pretty happy with it, and the worse it treats me, the more I seem to like it.

It’s my affair with Mountain Biking.

A bunch of guys ride out of my local shop. They ride okay on the road, and have helped turn me from an obese sofa rat into a merely really fat bike racer through mere peer pressure, and making me ride to the point of unconsciousness. Yet in the woods, they are serious mountain bikers.

The winter before last they got me out on my old 26” wheeled rigid Kona MTB, converted down to a single speed. When you have the human equivalent of a one-track cockroach brain, it’s advisable to limit the number of inputs that it has to deal with. For my first ride, they took me down to Rosaryville, a lovely local park that has a lot of twisty but very smooth single track, in a flowing 8 mile loop. There are a few logs (like Giant redwoods, the first time I rode them) and a few creek crossings (veritable crossing-the-Rhine-under-German-fire-in-1945 type deals, I thought at the time) and scenic vistas (aka long drops to your death down steep hills).

We dropped out of the parking lot, pedaled smoothly down the trail, got into a rhythm, and within 20 yards of starting, I stacked it hard into a tree. It hurt like mad, I was nearly unconscious and I was dripping blood, but a persistent back pain I had been suffering all fall simply disappeared. The rest of the ride was uneventful, since they had to stop so often and wait for me as I braked hard for every corner, died riding up the hills on that brutal single speed, and generally terrified the wildlife with my ability to ride up to logs, stop, tip over, then hurdle over them on foot.

Hard to have an event at 5 MPH average speed, right? Yet it was a blast! Quicker than you could notice the blood running down the front of my jersey, I was falling in love.

You love her, but she loves him
And he loves somebody else
You just can’t win
And so it goes, ‘t the day you die
This thing they call love it’s gonna make you cry
I’ve had the blues. the reds and the pinks
One thing for sure
(Love stinks)
Love stinks yeah yeah
(Love stinks)

A few times that winter I got out on the shop’s demo bike, a nice rigid Soma 29’er. It was light, responsive to my touch, a pleasure to ride… Still, my sights were set on roadracing. But it seemed to me I could get a nice cheap rigid 29’er and work in some mountain biking somewhere along the line. I kept thinking about it all summer. I started reading that collection of dirt perversion, Dirt Rag. I started noticing cars with bike racks on top that had disc brake adaptors attached to the fork mounts.

There was a definite itch.

So I put some money down on a Redline Monocog Flight. It doesn’t have a lot of cachet, but it’s a nice, inexpensive, light, smooth rolling 29’er, perfect for a roadie who plays dirty once in a while. It took forever to come in, but just after Thanksgiving last year, I took it for a virgin ride. It was great. I stacked it so hard about a week after that that I thought I was going to die. It was truly love. It really hurt.

Over the course of the winter, I mountain biked probably once every ten days. I managed to crash hard in all the local parks, biting it on logs at Rosaryville, crashing in grass at one of the regional ballparks, and wadding it up repeatedly on a corduroy road section at Patapsco, a moderately technical local state park with some serious rocky and root-ey climbs.

This was all mere courtship though.

Around the middle of last winter, the bug really bit and we consummated our unhealthy relationship. I was riding along at Patapsco on a balmy 35 degree day. We were flying through this non-technical section that is a transit loop between a couple more challenging bits. I was swooping along, spun out, and I was in the groove, feeling a flow for the first time and hanging on with the group. About 15 seconds after I arrived in the zone, my front wheel hit a tiny stump in the middle of the trail, wrenched the bars from my hands, and flung me into a 6” sapling head first. All this at a speed of maybe 18 or 20 MPH. I was knocked out briefly, sprung to my feet, then fell right back down, probably in some poison ivy.

So this must have been love. My head was spinning. I was nauseous. When somebody suggested I get back on the bike I suddenly felt shy and coy. Eventually I did get back on, and we rode to a friend’s house. He gave me some aspirin and an espresso, while his wife – also a mountain biker – advised me not to bleed on the floor, or there would be consequences.

So I sat there for a while in a daze, with paper towels stanching the flow of blood from my ear, pondering how much I really was enjoying the ride right up to the point where I wasn’t. On the way out I thanked my friend, used the bathroom to wash some of the excess blood off, and stole his Blackberry. Or maybe it was his Palm. I’m not sure, I was seeing double and the difference between the monochrome screen and the color screen that distinguished that generation of handhelds would not have been eminently clear to me at that point.

Two by two and side by side
Love’s gonna find you, you just can’t hide
You’ll hear it call, your heart will fall
Then love will fly,
It’s gonna soar, I don’t care for any casanova thing
All I can say is…
Love stinks
(Love stinks)
Love stinks yeah yeah
(Love stinks) yeah yeah

You see, love makes you do stupid things. Like getting right back on the bike and signing up for the 12 Hours of Lodi, an endurance race near Fredericksburg VA that starts at midnight, and traverses a steeply rising and descending, muddy postage stamp of a course peppered with loose rocks, slippery roots, big holes, mud, dropoffs, and poison ivy.

Love also makes you tell people stupid things about how great your significant other is. If they have any sense, they tell you to go away until you’re over it. Unfortunately, most of my roadie friends are equally senseless. This resulted in a couple of my roadie friends joining me to form a 3 man team for the race, something I cannot apologize to them enough about.

We raced it, and I found out that while you may pride yourself on your ability to crash a bike repeatedly and hard, you don’t know anything about crashing repeatedly and hard until you’ve spent an entire night on highly technical terrain wadding the bike up. It was painful on the rigid frame, and adding to the humility some guys on fixed gears were doing laps about 50% faster than we were.

The apogee for me was crashing in this hole just on the other side of this two foot high root. I was able to get my front wheel up and over the root each time, but the drop down the other side, into a hole, ate the wheel each time and I ate the ground each time. I crashed exactly there on each lap. It was awful. On the final lap I decided to get off the bike, hoist it over and walk past. I stuck my foot in the hole and fell over, with my bike landing on top of me, biting my neck. A horrible experience. A truly horrible experience.

On the drive home, scratching my newfound poison ivy rash and looking at my wrists, which were swollen up like eggplants and about as purple, I decided to race some more.

But first I dropped some coin on a set of forks. If you’re going to have an ill-fated love affair, it’s no good for it to be brief. The pain has to be dragged on, and by lowering the pain threshold a bit, suspension forks allow your beloved to really, really torture you over an extended period of time before throwing you to the ground.

This led to more regular mountain bike rides. I crashed pretty much once a week, and on some lucky rides, I crashed three or four times. At a race at Granogue, hosted by my friend Fat Marc, I attempted to dodge a downed rider by riding into some innocuous-looking bushes.

And in fact, the bushes were innocuous…but the tree they hid was not. I hit it head first, stopped instantly, had clear fluid running out of my nose and a broken helmet. I compensated for this fairly obvious concussion by crashing twice in the rock garden, including an endo that somehow put me face and shin first (simultaneously) into some sharp rocks. I’ve been out on the bike since then and have tried to duplicate that particularly stimulating position, but we haven’t been able to achieve it together since that time. On the way up toward the start/finish line, I took a beer handup and decided to call it a day.

Nor were my romantic interludes over for the summer.

The thing about love is it’s addictive; the ones we love can hurt us but we keep coming back.

I’ve been through diamonds, I’ve been through minks
I’ve been through it all. . .
Love stinks
(Love stinks)
Love stinks yeah yeah
(Love stinks)
Love stinks yeah yeah

So I raced in the local cross country Wednesday night series. This introduced me to the idea that change in a relationship is a good thing. It also kills when you realize your beloved has changed radically, and you were unaware of it. Like if your wife / husband came home with a new person and suddenly announced that it was an open marriage, and by the way, the new person is also going to put everybody in the house, including the dog and the fish, on a macrobiotic diet, and the jogging regime starts tomorrow morning at 5:30 AM.

That’s what it’s like to go from a rigid frame to a frame with forks.

So I spent most of the summer Wednesday night series getting thrown off the bike violently at this creek crossing where the forks would bottom out, I’d go over the handlebars, the front wheel would taco, and the bike would jump on my back and bite me, while making eyes at all the other racers who were passing me by.

Those forks represented the open relationship phase of this love affair, and it was tough on me to realize I’d have to be a little more understanding of my beloved’s newfound flexibility and her wandering front end if I wanted to hang on to her. She didn’t want me if I couldn’t handle her new bounce.

Then the love really bit me. Some of the guys I ride with are real countercultural fellows. Not content to ride singlespeed, they have to ride fixed, or combine booze with fast MTB riding. Or hang out with people for whom mountain biking and sporting interesting facial hair is not an ironic statement, but a way of life. They kidnapped me and took me to an underground single speed MTB decathlon. I wasn’t the slowest guy everywhere – we had an insane gravel road descent where I was utterly in my element, but the uphill TTT and the technical stuff killed me. I mean, the chicks were kicking my butt even on flat ground and technical downhills.

It was rough.

But then I found my event: Bike Derby! It turns out there’s an underground mountain biking sport where you just ride around in a tight circle and knock people down! Having specialized in this in my crit racing days, I’d found my place in life. I didn’t worry about the front wheel tacoing – if it wanted to taco, we’d do that. I didn’t worry about the forks cutting under – it only meant I’d fall on top of somebody, which is good for laughs and style points in a derby. Most of all, I didn’t mind that it hurt, since I could pass on the pain to somebody else! Like settling in after a honeymoon, I understood my bike, and it understood me.

So the other week I was out at Patapsco with my friends, and we were pretty much jamming around the place on a three hour ride that wiped me out. I was thinking about this long hill that I can never clear. We were going up it and for a change, I thought I’d be able to get all the way up cleanly, past the steep rocky / rooty section right near the top. It didn’t happen, of course. My front wheel hit this big, tall root that always thwarts me, I stopped dead, and slowly tipped over, landing full in a bunch of poison ivy and some rocks. It’s what always happens, of the maybe 20 times I’ve tried to climb that hill.

But on the drive back, as I was scratching at my poison ivy rash, I had the last laugh. The second time we climbed that ridiculous hill, at the very end of the ride, I did manage to clear it. I got to the top clean for the first time ever, and felt like I’ve never felt before. The bike and I have a new understanding. Sure, she still tries to throw me off and stomp on me. All the time. But I understand that if I respect her boundaries, she’ll reward me with her little favors once in a while, and it feels great. Even without that I’d stick it out, but those rewards make it a lot sweeter.

Because of what it does to you, love still stinks. But once in a while, it’s the best thing in the world.

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