Taking Milo the boyo to Donuts for Dads, I ran into Tyler, who looked pretty rough.
"Would you be heartbroken if we don't go?" he asked through his nose.
Not really... I guess. But I already had momentum that direction. And I have to admit, I was looking forward to it.
Tyler had approached me a couple of weeks ago about joining him at the Hincapie Gran Fondo. We'd have VIP passes, which included breakfast, the ride, post-ride massages, various other perks, plus entry to the VIP after-party Saturday night.
A pampered 80 mile ride on some beautiful mountain roads? With free beer and food and massages and parties and stuff?
Was I in?
Do noses bleed when you punch them?
When I told a friend what I was up to, they called it the "Dopers' Fondo." And while I should have very strong and vocal opinions about George Hincapie, pro-racing, doping, etc. .... I just don't. Well.... I do... but they're not particularly earth-shattering or vehement. (kids... doping is bad, m'kay?)
Some shit just isn't on my radar. I'm not saying that it's not important.... just that at present, I have stronger opinions about whether you call it "Cilantro" or "Rocket."
Speaking of which:
What are your salad days? Those days you wish had never ended and you'll spend your life remembering and trying to relive?
A pretty heavy portion of mine were the time I lived in Hendersonville, NC.
It wasn't young. It wasn't hip. It wasn't hopping.
But damn, the riding and running was unbeatable. Morning runs on the trails and roads around the Carl Sandburg house. Daily bike rides through Brevard and Saluda. Weekend all-day runs and rides in Dupont Forest.
I wasn't concerned with a social life, and I didn't give a shit what kind of work I was doing... because the playing was epic.
I worked a number of jobs.... among them:
Framing and carpentry work... building super boojie houses in super boojie neighborhoods with names like "Kenmure" and "The Cliffs". It was good work.... Even when it was so cold that the nail gun stuck to my hand like a tongue to a flag-pole.
Interlude: One of my favorite recurrences while at this job was the biweekly delivery of a new porta-potty. Outside of the obvious benefit of a relatively clean place to do one's business... it allowed me the beauty of watching it fill with doodles. Not doody, mind you. Doodles. By the end of the day, the formerly clean walls would be marred with all manner of scribbling, from scathing indictments of fellow workers ("Doug eats fagot pussy"), to well-deep musings on life ("faggs are gay"), to recommendations on where one might find a good time ("Call Keith for you dik suck"), to detailed depictions of the various ways in which two men might be intimate. Even counting the various contractors and sub-contractors who would be on site any given week, there were maybe... 8 of us? And it wasn't me doing the scribbling. So the fun was trying to guess which one of my extremely religious co-workers was responsible for which part.
At a point, I left... to work for Keith's Triathlon Shop in Saluda.
That was a bit of a strange time. And I have more than a few very true stories about that time to strain credulity. The best true stories always do.
Then I worked for Ken at Bikeways for a very brief time, building bikes and not talking to customers.
Then... I got a job at the local health food coop as the Assistant Grocery Buyer (very important stuff.)
When my at-the-time wife applied for and was offered a job at Guilford College, I acquiesced.
But it was an extremely reluctant acquiescence, and I struggle with Greensboro.
But that's a story for another time.
The point being that all I wanted to do was get back to those beautiful roads, ride my bike, drink beer and hang out.
But it was looking like that might not happen.
I considered seeing if there was any space in the Wilkes 100 so I could get beaten by Rich.
And I considered staying home so that I could clean, organize and tackle the list of many many things that I "never get a chance to do"
(ie: never bother to do).
But after much waffling, I finally decided to drive out and do it solo. Tyler called to get everything swapped into my name, and at least four hours later than I intended... I set off down the road in the Adventurewagen, an official representative of the Bikerumor.
I arrived in Greenville, SC to pick up my VIP packet just as they were shutting down... 9pm.
Equipped with a musette of stuff, I headed off to find some food. At the recommendation of the people manning check-in, I made my way to the Poinsett Bar and Grill.
In the parking lot I was approached by a very drunk man who asked me repeatedly if I was "in the band."
My answers to the negative seemingly having no effect, I somehow pieced together that there was a $20 cover charge to get into Poinset that night.
Dejected by my refusal to put him on the guest-list, my drunk friend hung his head.
"You have any weed?" he momentarily rallied.
I did not.
He hung his head again and shuffled off.
Next I hit up a Mexican restaurant, but upon entering and finding the establishment reeking of smoke, I once again said "Fuck that" and turned around to try the Italian restaurant I'd seen.
By this time I was starting to lose it a little, as I had failed to eat lunch, was ravenously hungry, was running hours behind "schedule", still had absolutely no clue where I was going, and wasn't sure where I was even going to sleep that night.
Walking into Bocca, the host informed me that the kitchen was closed.
"Fuck!" I said, all to audibly, at the exact moment that there was a lull in every conversation the various patrons were having.
I got more than a few looks and conversations began anew... this time with the unsavory tattooed fellow dropping f-bombs as the preferred topic.
"Look. Sorry.....I just....Ugh...Where should I go? What's open and where? Just point me in a direction because I have no idea where I am. And I really need to eat."
He was clueless, and as I was getting ready to shuffle my despondent ass back to the camper eat a cardboard box and cry, the owner came out and said they could serve me.
I sat down and had two delicious Thomas Creek River Falls Red Ales in quick succession. Bread and herbed olive oil, Caprese Salad and some killer Ravioli with Bolognese sauce followed. I was beyond happy that the other options hadn't worked out. The owner came out and talked to me a little about my Adventurewagen, his many children, riding bicycles, this pro-racer guy who eats there sometimes ("Columbian fellow") and life.... then said I was welcome to camp in the parking lot that night.
Things were finally falling into place.
I drank more delicious beers until they were ready to close, then climbed into the wagen and tried to drift off.
|My nest, complete with therapeutic massage ball for my old, tweaked back.|
|Ug as a bug.|
They did. But barely.
At one point I crawled out of the van to purge the many beers and managed to step in a particularly fragrant pile of dog shit.
I did my best to wipe it off, but it was late, I was tired, and it was too cold to leave my only shoes outside. So I woke up the next morning to a cold, horrible smelling van.
I hadn't slept particularly well, drifting off to dreams of local hoodlums rocking my van back and forth (I think it was a dream.), but I pulled myself out of my layered cocoon and headed up to the Hotel Domestique.
|I used to ride by this place all the time but had no idea what it was.|
Pulling into the VIP parking area, I inadvertently did my best to park like a total dick.
|Who's this asshole?|
I had no clue what to expect, as I had yet to actually read anything about the Fondo outside of a cursory look at the schedule.
9am start. That's what I knew.
Inside I found a big spread with actual coffee (and Sugar in the Raw, which is typically a good barometer on the bean side of things.)
Having forgotten my camera charger, I was stuck with the iPhone as my primary weapon. And if my photography skills are weak at best when equipped with an actual camera, I pretty much suck at the iPhone. Milo the boy is an expert with it, naturally. I should have brought him.
I admit to being curious about the mix of folks who would make up the VIP's.
What did they do?
Where had they come from?
What motivated them to make the trek to this Fondo in particular?
|Bill and Len, from Colorado.|
|Greg and Brian.|
|Karen and Ward from DC.|
Them: "I'm sorry... what magazine are you with again?"
|Shit... I don't know their names. I was just snapping pictures.|
Let's see... uh... "Pablo", "Drake", "Scooty", and "Reagan-Grace"... from... Delaware.
|Zach from NY, humoring the strange, apparently drunk man asking him who his favorite member of the Justice League is.|
"Iss Hawk Girl, innit?"
|Rich Hincapie and Co. talking logistics.|
"And this is where some dingus is going to overshoot a turn."
|Watts and some guy.|
Whoever took this was even worse with my iPhone than me.
You mean you don't remember me from this intimate little party we attended called Interbike?
|What should I do with my hands?|
At a point, I tore myself away from the food and coffee and tried to do at least a modicum of what Tyler asked.
"If you can, take some pictures of the pro's bikes... or something" seemed to stand out.
So I used my media credentials to push my way into the room where the pro's bikes were being stored, and tried to snap some shots of things that seemed noteworthy. Honestly, the room was such a clusterfuck of bikes leaning against bikes leaning against walls, that making it photogenically striking was beyond my less-than-stellar abilities. And as far as rad tech on the pro's bikes goes.... you've seen it all before... in better focus. The new SRAM RED hydraulic.... SRM Powermeters.... OSYMETRIC rings....
I don't know. Look at Bikerumor or something.
Nothing particularly stood out to my jaded mind.... but I found a few things.
So check THIS out!
|A bunch of... bikes!|
|Look! Blurry people! And a table!|
OMG! Are those pros?! Maybe! Some of them!
|Who's Gouge Rincapple?|
|THE Jay Dunbar?!!|
|I don't actually know Jay, but his wheels were pretty kewl.|
|I can't even read what that says. Who's bike? Why'd I take this?|
Why did Tyler think I was a marginally appropriate choice for this?
Did I care?
|More kewl wheels.|
I couldn't miss Taylor Phinney, however, who is a tall drink of water.
|Did I ever tell you about the time I saw your dad punch someone? That was great.|
I'd brought the Raleigh International, for some reason thinking it was better geared for hill climbing. Turns out that it was not... but despite the fact that the dropouts make it ill-suited for sprinting...
|Note the orientation of the dropout.|
|Under the (coughcough) massive torque (coughcough) of my sprint, the wheel has been known to eject said dropout.|
|In case you were wondering, Fondo people.|
|Equipped with DuraAce 7800 from 2007.|
Totally the first person at Bikerumor to get THIS scoop.
Shouldn't a shop owner have the latest and greatest?
So I'm told... So go buy that stuff from my shop.
In lieu of Revolution Cycles kit, I'd brought my EVIL CYCLING (psst. Guys. The website) gear and AHTBM/Hodala warmers.
I have so many great jerseys and kits that I rarely get to wear, because I'm always busy pimping the shop. So sometimes it's refreshing to go somewhere else and wear whatever.
Evil seemed appropriate.... dressing as the anti-pro in a sea of people dressing like pros.
Or dressing as the anti-VIP that I really am.
(Watts who? With Bikewhatty?)
As it were, with my VIP credentials, I got to line up somewhere near the front, which was nice. Especially because it meant that I was behind this guy:
I think this is that twerking thing the kids are all talking about.
|Photo cred: Brian Hodes|
|Taylor Phinney, Tom Danielson and Christian Vande Velde, who I barely recognized as they marched around in civvies.|
(as opposed to their skivvies)
photo cred: Brian Hodes
It was pretty cold and in the massive crowd of 1200+ riders, my numb fingers were working overtime on the brakes.
|Photo cred: Brian Hodes|
Finally things began to space out a little, and soon enough, we were going up.
Skyuka. Climb one of the day.
I have to admit, I felt pretty good. I won't say I'm a good climber, but in a rare twist, it's one of the few things I don't totally suck at in life.
I stayed with most of the big dogs, even when my dehydrated and undertrained legs began giving pre-cramp twitches.
Unlike other big rides I've done, when we hit the aid-station, everyone stopped. Maybe a few folks blazed on through, but the PROS stopped. And so did I. It was a nice change. Bottles were refilled, pockets were stuffed, and we rolled on.
While the climbing was hard, and while I fell apart on Howard Gap, trying to stave off the cramps a little longer and not caring as I fell into a "make-your-own-switchbacks" Fredly McFredster climbing style..... for the majority of the 80 miles I kept thinking "Man....road riding is EASY! I love this!"
I mean... naturally if the front group had really started rolling, I'd have felt differently... and I've certainly seen my share of stars trying to stay with some fast folks... But compared to hauling my ass up some mountains on a rigid singlespeed, riding my road bike was a treat.
The scenery was amazing, and as hoped, kept hitting that long neglected G-spot over and over and over.
|Photo cred: Brian Hodes|
|Look! Far right! I'd recognize those wheels anywhere! It's Jay Dunbar!|
Photo cred: Brian Hodes
|Photo cred: Brian Hodes|
On the other side I lost touch with the main group of pros, and was happy to solo it for a bit... riding along in my own nostalgic reverie.
Eventually I caught up with a group of riders and we rolled in together, splintering a bit as we approached the finish.
Coming across the line, it would appear that my timing chip was too buried in a pocket to be read.
Oh well. 4:45? 4:54?
Something like that.
I don't really care. I had fun riding beautiful roads, and that's all I wanted.
There was tons of free food and free beer from New Belgium, and I wasted no time imbibing.
As I milled about, I ran into a bunch of folks.
|Beav Crackwell of SCRAM and other folks.|
|Cris Williams and Thomas Craven, whose 7-Eleven kit we have hanging in the shop.|
|"Man... we totally took the shortcut."|
Spotting some Ritte kits, I sat down and spoke with these gents. They were all part of the Rogue Velo crew out of Maryland, plus brother Danny, who was the distributor for RITTE in Japan. He'd come a long way to ride.
|Danny and Eric.|
|One of Danny's racers from Japan.|
I wandered around some more, my bottomless cup of Fat Tire ever emptying and refilling.
|"You're no VIP," her gaze said.|
Damn your eyes, baby!
I turned and saw a familiar face. It was Hank, who I'd raced against at a few of the NUE series events.
We talked about racing and the day for a bit, then about the Adventurewagen... which led to wear I was staying.
(Haha....Really? Wear? Wear?! I'm leaving that for posterity.)
"Man... I have no clue," I said. "Reckon I'll figure something out."
"Rich will totally let you camp out here. I'll talk to him."
Perfect... because from what Tyler told me of the VIP after-party that I'd be attending, walking out to the van and passing out would be ideal.
Soon enough, it was a sure thing. I could stay on site.
I thanked Hank and Rich and wandered off to get my free VIP massage.
I somehow got two.
Wandering up to a tent, with massage tables and chairs, I had two women working on me at once, one instructing the other. In another setting and with different players, that could have been a different scenario. Right? Right? Am I right? (Shut up, Watts.)
As it was, it was an incredible massage.
Afterward, discovering that this free massage was not my actual free VIP massage, I wandered inside for more.
Sadly, this one didn't measure up. My timing in the queue had me on an elderly woman's table who just couldn't muster up much pressure. It was like having a warm, wet towel draped across my back. Which
Oh well. It was free, and while not awesome, wasn't horrible.
I snuck into the Hotel Domestique showers reserved for the pros and cleaned up.
Then hung out until the party, the bar being open already.
I admit to being pretty well drunk by the time the party proper started.... enough so that I wasn't shy about going up and inserting myself into conversations with people I didn't know.
Awkward and shy?
Unsure how to join the party?
Being social is easier than ever with Watts Dixon's 4 point program.
It's easy! Just follow these steps!
1)Find a group of people standing in a tight circle talking to one another.
2)Without any introduction or polite excuses, cut into the circle and stand dead in the center.
3)Act as if you're totally unaware that there are people surrounding you, or that there is a conversation now being obstructed by your presence.
4)And finally, stare into space, as if you're not quite right... or as if there's something equal parts fascinating and terrifying dangling from the ceiling.
(oh, and be sure to laugh when they laugh... but a little louder than necessary)
Now you try!
Michael Schar, however, seemed at the cusp of something great.
I don't know what he'd had to drink before, but the bottle of Schnapps in his pocket was nearly empty.
I liked it more when after pouring the last of his schnapps into one victim's mouth, he kissed him forcibly on the lips.
Everyone cheered and laughed.
It was a great moment. I'd been wondering when the party was going to start.
Afterward, I made the mistake of asking the kissee if I could get his name for the "article(?)" I was writing.
He started to..... when his girlfriend butted in petulantly.
"No!" she said, pointing a finger at me. "You can NOT get his name! Leave him out of this. Michael Schar may be a public figure but he is not!"
Which I guess means... what?...her boyfriend was a nobody? (...yawn...)
"You cannot have his name, and as his legal council (?), I'm telling you to back off!!!"
Her still shell-shocked boyfriend nodded and thanked her for "coming to his rescue"..... and baffled by both of their histrionics, I commended her for being so "on it," (my sarcasm being missed completely.)
I mean.... really? Who gives a shit?
Was this really going to ruin him as a man?
Would people now think less of him?
Was his obviously stellar social status now going to plummet because an awesomely drunk pro-racer kissed him?
Was he that insecure in his own sexuality (as his girlfriend obviously was)?
You know who isn't insecure about it? Michael fucking Schar, that's who.
Fuck.... if Michael Schar had kissed me I would have owned that shit. It was awesome.
At a point, people started disappearing and I decided it would be best to go collapse in the camper.
I somehow managed to fold down the bed and crawl in, clothes and all.
And then passed out.
I woke up the next morning, organized the van and got moving back to Greensboro.
|Not a bad place to wake up.|
I admit to not being well steeped in the world of Gran Fondo's....but I had a pretty awesome time at this one. The spread was great and the riding was amazing. What else do you need?
I'll do my best to come back next year, even if Bikerumor deems me an ill-suited representative.
(I'll make you soooo proud!)