Less than Perfect

Less than Perfect

One of the books I read as a golfer was called “Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect.” There are plenty of books on the swing; this taught the mental approach to the game. The main lesson was how to deal with the mistakes and challenges that are part of most rounds. And that to attempt to perfect the game is to pursue the impossible. What I was able to learn—with some credit due to that read—was to make the most of a bad situation. Golf, and just about anything, can produce a crappy lie, a bad bounce or an unlucky break. It just happens. The idea is to make the best score—or the best result—out of whatever wrong thing happens, whether it was created by the player or not.

This whole train of thought was challenged at a recent Grasshopper Adventure Series event. The Super Sweetwater scorecard called for 73 miles of pedaling and 9000 feet of climbing. Your basic Pebble Beach Golf Links on a windy day. The starter, Miguel Crawford—aka Mr. Grasshopper—got me a tee time and instructed me to ride from the clubhouse in Occidental to the first tee, a park about 13 miles away.


The head count at the start was 110. The first challenging shot of the day was also the namesake of this adventure; the Sweetwater Springs Road climb. The better players took over the front with Giant-Alpecin rider Laurens ten Dam in the bunch. He has a 9th in the 2014 Tour de France. It felt like Pro-Am day with Ten Dam in the field. A front group 50 had separated from the rest as we rolled toward the steeper slopes of the first fairway. And when the double digit pitches took hold, that group was broken into smaller parts. I found riders with similar handicaps and settled in. My foursome crested the first climb and we blitzed the descent into the Sonoma County town of Guerneville.

The next climb came in the time it takes to eat half a Bonk Breaker bar. It was a familiar to those who played the first Grasshopper Tournament, Old Cazadero. The climb was not the concern, it was the descent that had me amped.  Loose dirt with a creek at the bottom and I had decided that a road bike was the club to put in the bag. As we headed for the first dirt section, it felt like I had a driver in my hands when I needed a wedge. But I surprised myself with how well I was able to handle the sketch of the Old Caz. My 28mm tubeless Hutchinsons with 80 psi dug into the Sonoma County soil. We dashed across the creek at the bottom, climbed out and headed for the signature hole, the eastern climb of Fort Ross Rd. It is 9 miles and goes up 14-hundred feet. A long par-5 that bates players into going for the green in two but the smart play is to lay up.

It was on the slopes of Fort Ross Rd. that my golf psychology was tested.  The mental key to golf and just about any sport is to stay in the moment. Play one shot at a time. My playing partner estimated that we were in the top 30. I violated psychology rule #1 and started thinking about my final score. I let my mind drift to the 18th hole, the finish line.  Could I go under par? Could I break four hours? And then my rear-shift cable broke. With one swing (or shift) I went from podium thoughts to the weeds.


My playing partner rode away. I pulled to the side and considered my options. There was another 25 miles to go and about 2000 feet of climbing. I had two gears and no cell phone. I was in a hazard with no shot at the green. A double-bogey on Fort Ross Road seemed certain.

My lowest gear was now a 34×12. I needed lower just to get out of this mess without taking a penalty stroke. Then, a moment of clarity. I turned the high limit screw in as far as it would go and got the chain onto the 14, where it would stay for the remainder of this ride. The move was akin to a nice punch out from the trees to get back on the fairway.

Near the top of Fort Ross, a group caught me and I joined them. It was nice to have someone to follow, nice until we missed a turn. Instead of going left onto Meyers Grade, we veered right and descended Fort Ross to the coast. The errant shot would cost us about 8 miles. After recovering from one bad swing, I had made another. Back in the weeds.

So I am off course with two gears. On the horizon, Coleman Valley Road. It has less than a thousand feet of climbing but hits 14 percent in spots. A Brut of a finishing hole.  My goal was to be in a car before reaching the 18th tee at Highway 1 and Coleman Valley. I figured there would be a feed zone or race support vehicle along the way, I would call my crew at the 19th hole and they would come to my rescue. It never happened. I arrived at the lower slopes of Coleman Valley, out of water and out of energy. What now?

Solutions came quickly. First, another rider—with a cell phone—stopped and we called my wife. She didn’t pick up but we left a voice mail and text message describing my trouble and location. Then a local couple in a pickup offered a ride. I took it. They were trusting and understanding and willing to listen to my day of mistakes. Pulling my bike out of the bed of that truck at the top of the finishing climb must have been a picture of defeat.

But here’s the kicker: I had a great day. My scorecard said “DNF” but my mind was complete. There’s part of me that wishes I had changed my cables weeks ago, loaded a course file into my Garmin and somehow managed to get up Coleman Valley but the day would have still come short of perfect. I did not get a finishing time but I still got my adventure.


A note on that broken cable:

As soon as I got home I started looking up ways to deal with a snapped rear derailleur cable. Mine broke in the shift body. One road side fix said to pull out the cable, then tie several knots in it close to the barrel adjuster of the rear mech. (it was a British video). Next it said to loosen the pinch bolt, push the derailleur up to the lowest or second lowest cog, pull the cable tight and tighten the pinch bolt. Finally, coil up the extra, loose cable and get it anchored away from any spinning components. This should put the victim in a better climbing gear.

We would love to hear about your roadside cable fixes in the comments below. It could get one of us up Coleman Valley Rd. on a tough day.


First three images: Scott Lynch

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  1. miles archer

    Coleman Rd is a beast for me in my granny gear. Calling it a day was the way to go.

    My fix would have been to use my cell phone.

  2. Velocat

    Loosen a bottle cage bolt, wrap the cable around it and under the washer then tighten the bolt. This should allow you to have enough tension for the gear of your choice. It’s always worked for me.

  3. Fuzz

    Silly as it sounds, I carry a spare rear cable on both my MB and RB. It weighs nothing, and for me it’s a real deal breaker to lose those gears on a long ride. So far I’ve never had to use either, as I’ve usually had some warning ahead of any breakage. With most systems the shifting gets balky as the broken strands accumulate in the shifter body.

  4. Peter

    Love that book by Dr Rotella. Golf was my first sport and the only one I’ve found success with at a higher level. But the common ground between cycling and golf is very much the mental aspect, as you pointed out. Great reference!

  5. Mike C

    I agree with Fuzz. Put a ziplock with a pair of spare cables in your EPMS. In a pinch, they can be used as brake cables also. Pre cut them to their desired length and add a tiny touch of your favorite lube to the bag. Makes installing them easier.

  6. Miguel Crawford

    very entertaining tale Michael; without adversity there would be no story. Never read a golf analogy-cycling story that hit home. Nailed it! Hope to see you back for more.

  7. Russ

    I put 3-4 wraps of duct tape on co2 bottles. Cuts down on seat bag noise, and you can fix anything with duct tape.

  8. Chris

    Michael – reading your story I immediately thought of the limit screw tip, but your researched tip about knotting the cable, and Velocat’s bottle cage solution are great. Hope I have never have to use either, but I’ll keep them in the mental quiver.

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