"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer

24.6.07

The Dragon

I shouted for the dragon to turn around, and he whirled his giant head around to face me. He looked shocked to see that I had talked back to him.

"Take me somewhere different," I demanded.

He looked at me understandingly, and with what I thought was a smile, he turned back around, and I grabbed his tail and we flew off into the night.

How can the beginning of a day end so drastically different. My mood at approximate 9:55 am was of disappointment and disillusion . Tonight, I feel like I have traveled the breadths of human existence, at least in my world. Tonight I learned never to pass up an opportunity. To never fear saying "hi" to a complete stranger. That those you feel most different from are, in fact, the closest people you know. Who make you You.

I never thought I could spin that fast. Even while up there I felt like my knees were cinder blocks. But every time, Red emerged the winner. The first time I went up I got lucky. I was really powering away at the crank. But I won. Kirby gave me a hand slap and a shout. He said to me, "It's got nothing to do with power, it's all spin." You got to get your feet moving in sync with the pedal. The contact between the foot and the crank. It's pushed along only after gravity has done it's job.

I watched Jeff mow everybody down, even the Big New York Messenger (and I mean that in no disparaging terms - for the Chicago crowd, he was more of a concept). While everyone else was wrenched down over the handlebars, losing out to entropy through their shoulders and neck and elbows, Jeff was the picture of efficiency. He never broke a grimace, never once moved above the waist. Every calorie was being used to make the muscles in his legs form perfect circles as though he were absentmindedly knitting a sweater. The concentration never broke.

After finishing the first time, I felt dinner lurching a little. I was probably a little dehydrated. After the race this morning, I first rode to Ukrainian Village and then up to Evanston to have dinner with my bandmates Jan and Tami. Then it was back to Ukrainian Village for the spin party. I forced everything on that first one and was lucky to win. I climbed up onto the bike the second time, and approached the next heat 180 degrees differently.

I no longer slowed at the end and I wasn't nearly out of breath as before. I barely looked up, spinning like water, and won again. It wasn't supposed to happen this way.

Arriving from Evanston, the day had already been long enough, and I wanted to head over to the other party I was going to pretty soon. This party was abuzz with the events of the day. It had been racing in Kenosha at the velodrome for nearly everyone there. Andrew and Jen from the team had won tickets to Dublin to compete in the World Championships. We stood outside of the garage, chatting and downing PBR and told each other the tales of the day.

Val asked if I wanted to complete in the night's sprints. No thanks, I said. My legs are shot. She said OK, but her look said, "D'uh! Who's here aren't?!" The bikes stood inside on a makeshift wooden platform bathed in two bright floodlights. An office projector splashed light and sponsor logos against the wall. I planned to stick around and see a couple heats and then head over to meet Mat at Shane's party. It seemed like a lot of people were passing on sprinting. A lot of time was going by as the bikes lorded above everyone, glinting mischievously. I felt nervous about getting up in front of so many messengers and revealing my true self. What a way to find out you have a terrible spin.

photo courtesy of ffonst


I don't know what made me decide to sign up when Val returned and added pressure. Not many people were signed up yet, she said, and everyone's been at the track all day. Nobody's got fresh legs. My main goal this year is not to pass up any opportunity based on intimidation, so I guess my subconscious spoke up and gave her my name. In any case, I figured I'd be one and done and on my way to the other party. It was quite a wait until the first sprint, and then another until my name came up, but there I was an hour later, working my way up the standings.

The riders would climb on and after a few minutes of seat adjustments, the crowd would begin to chant along with the count down on the display on the wall. The "zero" moment would be silent as the DJ's finger hovered over the play button, the pressure building, and then boiling over the top with an explosion of music, screaming, whistling, and the buzzing of the bike chains. The progress was for all to see on the wall, looking like the Tron LightCycle game. In close heats I'd scream myself dizzy as blue and red ran neck and neck around the oval to the finish line.

Gradually as the night got older more people began to leave. I came up for my fourth sprint and the room was half-empty. I'd really no idea how I got this far. Even though I was winning, and spinning without a lot of effort, it certainly didn't feel like I was going very fast. The computer software and connection to the bikes was somewhat makeshift and there were several false starts as one or both bikes wouldn't register on the screen. We'd start spinning madly only to stop a few seconds later.

After a false start on the latest sprint, we went off again once everything was reset. Not sure what happened, but I was way out to a big lead again when he gave up halfway through. Maybe he thought it was another misfire, but they scored the race for me. Someone told me later he got sick. It was rough starting like that only to have to go again seconds later. We took a long break while the computer cooled down, and then woman's final was decided. The night was called at that point. I was set for a match against Jeff, my inspiration and teammate, but thankfully he was just as tired and unmotivated to continue as I was. I really didn't want to have to compete against a teammate, and I was glad to leave it at a draw.

I said my goodbyes, wheeled my bike outside, and rode off north to meet Mat, still reeling from the last 20 hours. It's the days where you give in to the word "yes" that you find the most within yourself.

The dragon had always called the shots before now. Never giving a second thought to my desires. He seemed to have a constant look of disappointment on his visage, snorting with resentment as we never diverted from the plan.

But tonight we glided with a new fire, lit within by an awakening desire. To leave Regret behind.

We dove for the ground. He looked back me, as the lights grew closer and closer.

"Yes," I said.

I left for the Ali G. Cat on Friday evening, taking my usual route downtown. The meeting point was under Michigan Avenue, at Grand, just up from the Billy Goat. An Alley Cat is race popular among messengers on live city streets. This was no different, except for the Ali G. theme. I knew I had to do this race when I found a second pair of sunglasses at Kozy's that day. I was buying new helmet and sunglasses, replacing the ones ruined in my accident the week before. The Ali G. in me was coming out and it was the perfect way to get back in the groove.

There were several of us down there, even Leonard. We milled about after getting registered, waiting to get our first number. It was an out and back race to five separate checkpoints: Upgrade Cycles at Milwaukee and Chicago, Division and Wells, Wacker/Franklin/Harrison, the Hip Hop Globe at the Museum Campus, and the Diversey Harbor overpass at the Lake Front Path.

I would never have had the motivation to ride that hard had I not teamed up with Kirby, again proving the rule to never ride alone when you have a goal in sight. We flew all over the city. Not sure of the mileage, but assuming was about an average of 3 and a half each way, you can safely assume 35 - 40 city miles total, in less than two hours. I saw for the first time ever a track skid. I heard it at first - a "pop! chhhhhht! pop! chhhhhhht" and then looked to see it happen again almost to fast to register. The fixie messengers shot in between cars like a shark feeding in a school of fish and I saw some moves I would never have the balls to pull off. Heavy, steel balls.

Kirby made the prime at Upgrade Cycles with me right behind him. He snuck in ahead when Adam made the mistake of trying to come in to the check point from Milwaukee just north Chicago. Kirby and I shot through the intersection behind an SUV running a red light and came in through the front.

On the way back I saw the same skidding messenger take the intersection of Milwaukee/Halsted/Grand at about 25 on the red light, hitting a gap of about 2 seconds in the Halsted line of traffic. I just stood at the red light, unable to ever get it up to pull a move like that. Kirby and I were probably the among the fastest riders there that night, but we just couldn't hit the red lights that aggressively and recklessly. In fact, I was probably slowing Kirby down much of the time at the cross streets, and I hung on like hell through some clever moves.

"Be the ball, Danny."

We hit the loop checkpoint second and took Lower Wacker Drive the whole way there. We took turns pulling through and holding 30mph for a bit. I let out a huge and barbaric "yawp" and listened as it bounced and echoed among the concrete walls and fell into my wake behind and followed back up into the sunset and cool summer air. We got our card signed and headed back beneath into Chicago's guts as quickly as we arrived. Kirby pulled me about 100 yards and then grabbed another rider's wheel. I pulled immediately through, slapping my right butt cheek, and we dropped the other guy quickly.

photo coutesy of Alforque


The rest of the evening saw us getting lost in the Millennium Park Garage, hoofing it up the stairs like a cross race, and riding as far north as Diversey. It was there that Kirby and I got separated looking for that last checkpoint. It finally dawned on me that he was headed back downtown as I went back looking for him after getting my card signed on my own. I took the lake front path all the way back. The tailwind grabbed me and I flew quickly along on the curving line to get my manifest signed for the last time.

I arrived at the finish at the Milwaukee and Division Triangle to see a crowd of maybe 15 riders who'd finished before me. I was completely beat as I took off my helmet and wangster do-rag and ran my fingers through my drenched hair. I now realized I'd probably taken way too much out of the bank for the night before a criterium race, but it was too hard and no fun not to ride all out. It was the most fun I'd had since the Spring Prairie road race over two weeks ago. Thursday was the first real day back on my bike since the wreck and even that was on the trainer. So I felt I needed some real "real" time. But regardless, damage done, no way back. So I just headed home to get as many calories back in by pigging out and heading straight to bed.

I didn't get a whole lot of sleep. I was pretty jacked from the race, and I was getting picked up by Chris at 6am. Luckily I'd packed everything before heading out as my wangster alter ego the afternoon before, so I could sleep walk my way through smoothie preparation and cheerios consumption.

It was a quick drive out to Kankakee and we were disappointed to find it pouring rain at the course. And it was a beautiful course. The pavement was fresh and new, but it was drenched and slick. We registered and while Chris warmed up on the trainer, umbrella in one hand and an apple in the other I got changed in the car. He had to give up after a few minutes because the wheel couldn't get any traction on the trainer's roller. I did a few laps, hitting it and sprinting as hard as I dared and then came to the line.

The race was a disaster from the start. A younger rider whom I met while taking a shit in the bathroom, who said today was his first race, crowded me as we got rolling and I lost my concentration clipping in. It's already an issue for me and now is getting psychological. I started to panic as more riders passed me. Everything was wet and I kept slipping on the pedal. By time I was attached to my bike I was already gapped and the race was over.

The pack was already stringing out by the first turn and weaker riders were popping off the back. I was trying to pass them and take the first wet turn at the same time. Soon I was on the back stretch and it was just soaked pavement between me and the 8 or 9 riders up ahead. They teased me for the next 4 laps, and at one point I was gaining. I though for a moment that I would reach the oasis of their draft, but it was too fast a pace. I was hammering for a good 5 minutes on my own at about at least 27mph, and finally when I couldn't see them ahead as I rounded the turn, I gave up trying to bridge and settled in to avoid getting lapped.

Towards the end of the race I grabbed the wheel of a South Chicago Wheelman who'd just gotten dropped and we teamed up to the finish. At one point we took the wide turn into the remnants of the crash that had just happened. One rider was picking himself off the grass between the pavement and the river, and another was headed to the wheel pit. I found out later this was what caused the breakaway that ended up lapping us on our second to last time around. The race marshal told us it was over but I was determined to finish the allotted distance and not have the morning finish on a completely embarrassing note.

It was too hard to get it back up to put the wet kit back on after our break before the Master's race. And I'm not too proud to admit it. I just felt cold and wet and tired and very unmotivated. And perfectly happy to rationalize my additional $13 as payment for the free muffins, sandwiches, and the chance to ring the bell on the last lap.

I could blame it all on the car that hit me, my time off the bike, lack of focus, or the lack of sex lately. And it was all of those things, and none of them. They really all come under just hanging on too tight. I get so amped before a race I rob myself of my suppleness, my clarity of thought, my suplesse. As I rode home that night I had all of it. I was going at good speed and feeling as if I were walking. I felt the day working it's way out of my body, flowing from my muscles, and calmness settling in. I could feel the heat escaping from my eyeballs.

I'm always hypersensitive to group dynamics, especially at parties where I'm under an influence, and I can get stressed by any sort of negativity - I absorb it like a sponge. I see the unspoken communications between people about people and it hurts. It wasn't as though the next party was bad...I was just tired, queasy from the sprints, and a little paranoid (guess why.) We listened to great music and everyone was dressed to the theme of the party: Miami Vice. But there is nothing like a solemn bike ride home to put me at ease. My brain just reshuffles itself back into order as I focus on the here and now of making my way to bed safely.

I need to loosen my grip. At race day. Loosen up and merge with the self I find at riding at 3am on the tail end of a journey of self-discovery.

And I grabbed onto his tail, and we flew into the night.



4 comments:

Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.

The Car Whisperer said...

Hey thanks for the kind words, Rodrigo (I think...I guess this is Portuguese - and I translated it via Babelfish...so, it was a bit garbled.)

What was that about t-shirts?

Steven Vance said...

Nice shirt, lol.

Which bike did you ride?

The Car Whisperer said...

Rode my vintage steel horse, the Cilo...I love that bike.