Monday, May 24, 2010

To Live and Train in L.A. #18 TOUR OF CALIFORNIA EDITION

As you couldn’t have missed last week – at least if you read Cyclingnews and Velonews every day like I do – the Tour of California was rocking and rampaging and doing whatever else the promoters say it was doing all last week in our fair state. Me, I’ve been following the Giro d’Italia bigtime – greatest Giro in years and years – and consequently have avoided paying much attention to the Tour of California (with the exception of the Lance-crashes-the-day-after-Floyd-accuses-him-of-doping part, which was and is still grand theater), but then the Tour of California set up shop on Saturday, a couple of miles from my house. I guess when a Pro Tour event – the individual time trial of a Pro Tour event, no less – takes place a couple of miles from a fellow’s house, and the sun’s out, and there’s not much else to do besides maybe stay home and watch oil leaking into the fucking Gulf of Mexico on TV – well, a fellow has no alternative but to mount his trusty cyclocross bike and take up a viewing position on Olive Street in downtown L.A. In case you’re interested in my attire for this occasion: 420 bib shorts and socks and a very hip red Rouge Roubaix 2007 T-shirt, which I am only now able to wear regularly because it used to be, back in the day, that whenever I wore that T-shirt, my buddy Chief would be wearing the same T-shirt, and the Total Dork Factor was too much to bear. Nevertheless, on Saturday, the word ‘Roubaix’ on my shirt gave me a certain sense of cred? Maybe?

Anyway, I was situated in a fine spot for viewing the races – steep hill, about halfway through the lap (they did two laps). This is Jeremy Hunt, two-time British National Road Race Champion, one of the first riders on the course. He started six minutes before Fabian Cancellera, and I swear to God, Spartacus had almost caught Mr. Hunt by this point in the first lap! Sadly, I didn’t take a picture of Cancellara because I was too busy yelling when the big man rolled by – uphill in the big ring, twenty miles per hour minimum.

Here comes Dutch cyclocross superstar Lars Boom. The crowd went crazy for this guy, no doubt because of his name. I mean, can you possibly have a cooler name than that? It’s so cool that I’m thinking about changing my name to Lars Boom Magnuson. You have to admit: that has a definitely sweet ring to it.

Cyclist segregation was strictly enforced in the crowd. Here we see the crowd across the street from me, on the downhill: all single-speed bike-messenger types, a number of whom looked more Swedish-slash-Midwestern than me and somehow spoke in thick Hispanic accents. The single-speeders didn’t care about the uphill so much; they wanted to see the Pro Tour riders bomb the living shit out of the downhill, which is exactly what the Tour riders did. Awesome, no! So these single-speeders were drinking lots of beer and enjoying 420 products and were excellently rowdy and unruly enough so that eventually, toward the end of the time trial, several beat cops took up a position on the corner nearby, making sure these horrible citizens stayed under control. A famous internet cycling blogger, whose name I won’t mention but whose new book I blurbed, spends about three-quarters of his blog bitching about single-speeders and about how they’re ruining cycling, et cetera. You know what? That’s bullshit. The single-speeders love cycling; they’re having a good time on their bikes; who really cares if they wear jeans while they ride? I guess they could wear helmets, but then again, as we see in the next picture (taken before the time trail began), the famous monster-sprinter Mark Cavendish doesn’t seem to wear a helmet when he’s out for a morning spinner with his teammate.

That’s Mr. Cavendish on the right, of course.

I saw this affixed to a single-speeder's messenger bag. That’s a command sentence, with an implied subject (you). I'm sure the single-speeder was aware of this.

Oh well. Much like my buddy The Champ predicted in a text message before I rolled down to the racecourse, I viewed the race on the Livestrong-loving, recreational-rider side of the street. Nobody drank beer or got into trouble on my side of the hill. When Jens Voight and George Hincapie and Levi and all the rest pounded past, we all did the right thing: we cheered and took pictures and said to each other, “Isn’t this a thrill?” A couple of days later, I feel ashamed of myself a little bit, joining the Livestrong throng to cheer on my heroes from the Tour de France. I don’t feel unique. I feel like everybody else.

But you know what? That’s Jens Voight. What a thrill it was to see him racing!

That is all.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Origins Of This Species

I guess I’ve logged a mile or two on a bicycle over the years and maybe in the process have learned a thing or two, too. Maybe. At least I know who the jackasses are – like the jackass whose wheel I took on the L.A. River Bike Path on Saturday, and he tried to attack me downhill on a small bridge and just about T-boned a woman with a baby carriage at the base of the bridge – and I know who the cool people are: anybody who will take a moment out of their busy cycling lives to say hello to another cyclist; anybody who will adjust their riding style to accommodate another cyclist and share in the fellowship of our sport – and sometimes, when the world spins in the proper way, I think I know where I fit in to all this. My official USA Cycling team is Heckawee, and I’m proud to say I’m one of the founding members of this team, which these days has something like five registered racers and probably another five riders sympathetic to the cause. The jersey pictured above is one of two original Heckawee jerseys – obviously, somebody (me) took magic marker and wrote Heckawee on the back of a perfectly fine Pearl Izumi jersey – and the reason the magic marker was needed was because some of us were traveling from Carbondale to St. Louis every weekend to race cyclocross, and we wanted to be Heckawee and race for Heckawee and the only way to effect this was to make our own jerseys on the spot and wear them proudly on the racecourse.

Even though every member of the Heckawee holds an advanced university degree, this doesn’t mean we can spell worth a shit. The origin of Heckawee owes to F Troop, the classic TV show, where the Indian tribe was known as the Heckawi, because they were once lost and when they wondered Where the Heck Are We, they got their name. Which was our idea, too, except we didn’t spell the word the same way. We used to head out on long, long rides on Sundays in the summer, with the idea being we would explore the vast network of empty roads in southern Illinois and we wouldn’t care if we got lost or if we essentially had no idea where we were going. To the jackass cyclist, and maybe to most cyclists - particularly the type with the Joel Friel training programs complete with downloaded power-meter data and various effort-level zones that have as much to do with joy on a bicycle as Chicken McNuggets have to do with fine dining – yes, indeed, to the by-the-numbers jackass the idea of a ride with no purpose, a ride where the idea is to get lost, is stupid at best. But you know what happens to people when they get older? They get in ruts. They will only eat their spaghetti cooked in a certain way. They only like to watch their TV shows while sitting in a certain chair. They will only ride bicycles on a certain route on Tuesday evenings because by God that’s the route they always take on Tuesday. Et cetera. And Heckawee’s master plan, as it were, was to ride in a way that took the ruts out of life’s road, I guess. We didn’t give a shit where we were. We just wanted to ask the question: Where the heck are we?

Here’s something amusing about cyclists, by the way. I saw this video floating around on Facebook last week – probably it’s a few years old but it seemed like number of other folks were seeing it for the first time. I certainly hadn't seen it before. It’s really fucking funny, too. No doubt. I watched it a few times and laughed my ass off. When the guy gets away? Awesome! Then I started reading what cyclists were posting about the video on Facebook. Like this: “This video is obviously a fake. Nobody could ride a bicycle that fast.” Or: “This clip proves that many cyclists have no respect for the law.” Heckawee says, “No shit, Sherlock.”

Anyway, the Giro is on TV. Heckawee thinks that nobody can ride a bicycle that fast.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Aliens in the Sun

I dreamed a spaceship travelled to Earth from a lifetime away in the starry void of my cycling past and landed in Southern California and began sending me messages in strange, crackly languages that somehow, when I listened to them carefully, I could understand. The messages said the Heckawee Chief himself had arrived from Illinois and he wanted to ride bikes along the beach and to be inspired by the West Coast way of pedaling.

But I worried I had fallen far from the Cyclist’s Code since leaving Carbondale. I worried The Chief might not appreciate my new attitude toward our sport. For example, I had trained my dog to chase bicycle commuters.

And I had been storing bottles of urine in my freezer. J

And boo-hoo-hoo, I had been working too much at my desk and not riding enough and instead staring too many French cheeses in the eye and eating them and in general whining constantly about not caring enough to send my very best in life, which is to say, whoa, look at my freezer, people. Is that not a sign of something profoundly wrong, or what?

I met with The Chief, in any case, and we had an inspiring ride. Really. We rode from Manhattan Beach to Venice Beach and drank coffee and ate French Fries and then rode back.

This is a video approximation of the ride’s vibe:

Pretty fucking awesome, no?

The next day, after The Chief had left Southern California on his spaceship of happiness and goodwill, I couldn’t remember much about the ride I had taken with him. I knew there had been music and laughter and I had a vague sense that my cross bike was thumping along with the music during the whole ride, thumping on the every-tire-revolution basis, in fact. It so happened that I had hauled the cross bike in to the shop just prior to The Chief’s arrival – I had snapped a cable and was too lazy to fix it myself and while I was in the process of being lazy (enjoyable, really) I handed the shop mechanic four Ritchey brake pads for my Frogleg brakes.

The mechanic did a good job with the installation, except for the fact that he obviously had never installed pads on Froglegs before, and he set them up essentially like road bike brakes – tight to the rim and with the assumption that the rider would be running maximum rock-hard tire pressure at all times, et cetera.

Obviously, I am an aging citizen who is incapable of rock-hard tire pressure (aren’t you impressed with my openness and honesty?), which means that if the brake pads are mounted too tight to the rim, the pads will rub against the soft, flaccid, cushy tire.

And if the brake pads rub against the tire’s sidewall, the sidewall tears all to hell. Is this sidewall tear not equally as disturbing as the nightmare scenario in my freezer?

It is a miracle that this tire didn’t completely blow out during my ride with the Chief but maybe because The Chief was here, things turned out okay.

The luck of the Heckawee, they say, is with you wherever you go.

Oh well. Corny as it may sound, there’s nothing better than riding bikes with old friends.

The Chief has returned to his haunts now – to group rides and races and out-and-back rides to Von Jakob’s in a quiet countryside a half a country away.

And I have returned to my haunts along the Los Angeles River.

Friday, April 30, 2010

To Live and Train in L.A. #17

I have to admit that things are improving here at the Mag’s Sentence compound despite the picture above, which illustrates the aftermath of an amusing front-brake-cable-snap incident on the cross bike Tuesday afternoon, the sort of mechanical disaster that I totally knew was coming: right brake lever felt mushy for a few days (on all my bikes, the right lever activates the front brake) and I kept reminding myself to take a look at the brake situation but I guess I didn’t and the goddam cable snapped and there I was, like Sonny Corleone’s worst fears come true, Mikey coming out of that bathroom with just his dick in his hands. My attitude has been horseshit lately, worse than horseshit, and I should have thrown a tantrum, mooned the passersby, pissed on the roadway in disgust or whatever, but instead, when this cable snapped, something really beautiful snapped inside me. If a part on your bike breaks, this means the rider has been riding the bike; therefore, boy and girls, I can conclude that I have been riding my bike! And I had a party to celebrate this!

So after the sudsy period of whoop-whoop, or whatever the kids say when they party these days, I regained a form of consciousness the next afternoon, on my road bike, on the L.A. River Bike Path (where else?), during a rousing session of hunter-seeker intervals. The idea for this kind of interval is to spin really easy on the bikeway and enjoy the view and the sounds and the smells, and when some jackass blasts by on his single speed without saying “On your left,” then I ramp it up, catch the wheel, announce my presence, and counter-attack. On Wednesday when this happened, when a dipshit on his single speed blew by, I had about 4 miles to go till the turnaround on Victory Boulevard and I followed procedure, caught the guy, announced my presence, and of course the guy didn’t acknowledge me whatsoever because obviously once a person’s riding a bike a person has to act like an asshole, right? I mean, does this make any goddam sense whatsoever? Fuck no, it doesn’t. We should ride bikes so we don’t act like assholes, but I guess bicycle civilization has a long way to go before we reach peace and love and understanding and so forth. So the guy on the single speed was clearly a dick; and I was clearly a dick because I wanted to prove to him he’s a dick; and the only solution to this? I didn’t get out of the saddle when I attacked him. I merely said, “Coming around on your left” and kept my hands on the handlebar tops and lowered my head and picked it up. And I kept picking it up and kept picking it up till I thought I was going to puke and I had tears streaming down my face and I was having waking hallucinations about having sex with Mother Theresa and eating New York Strips with Mahatma Gandhi and discussing full-suspension mountain bike options with Henry David Thoreau and setting up a cyclocross course on the White House Lawn because wouldn’t that be the answer to world peace, to set up cyclocross courses in the front yards of every head of state in the whole world? Ah, you get the picture. I was putting in a rather hard effort. At the turnaround, at Victory Boulevard, I couldn’t see the single speed guy, which didn’t surprise me at all, and I resumed pedaling easily back from whence I came. Eight minutes later, I finally saw the single speed guy pedaling toward me at the same exact rate he was rolling when he rudely blew by me. I wanted to say, “In the future, Weenie Boy, why don’t you try being more polite to your superiors?” But instead I smiled and waved. He didn’t look up. I hadn’t achieved world peace with him.

I came home a while later and watched Traffic and wrote some poems by hand. They were bad. But Traffic was really good. My old buddy the Chief will be in L.A. this weekend. We’re going out for a spinner and maybe, just maybe, we’ll find the answer to world peace. If anybody can do it, we can.

Monday, April 26, 2010

To Live and Train in L.A. #16 Long Miserable Week Edition

I keep trying to find a way to say this with a sense of dignity and a level of articulation that befits a person with a top-notch education like I have because whining is bad, as we all know, and because even worse than whining is a horseshit, turd-class, below-one’s-dignity, guttural use of our blessed English language, but the essential fact remains the same and the only precise way to say this is like this: I had a motherfucking awful week on the bike. The weather, of course, was fine, despite the storm clouds pictured above and below, and my bicycles were in perfect working order with the possible exception that what both of my bikes need is to become brand-new bikes. The problem was simply that I didn’t give enough of a fuck to send my very best from my ass to my knees to my ankles to my feet and into the pedals. Not once did I feel suiting up and rolling down the hill and rolling along the river path to grandma’s house and up to the top of the climb in Griffith Park or however the song goes or wherever the route off the bikeway might lead. I have forgotten. These days – and you have to understand this, now matter how fanatically excellent your cycling year has been going (and I know you’re having a fanatically great year: good for you) – I’m a lot more interested in my life away from the bike than actually riding, which means when I’m riding my bike I’m thinking, fuck, fuck, fuck, I should be working instead of having fun, but then again, if I keep working and don’t go out on my bike, I keep thinking fuck, fuck, fuck, I’m turning into the Michelin Man here at the desk.

So I’ve been agitated. You understand how this works? Used to be I thought that if I were to win the big lotto I would never work again and would ride my bike all day, every day, all year long; now I’m kind of thinking if I were to win the lotto, I could afford to do some nifty things with my writing? In any case, I’m enjoying my work at the expense of my riding and I’m feeling like my riding is make my work suffer.

Currently, I search through yonder black clouds for the solution set to this equation and the only answer that comes to mind is cyclocross season.

Oh well. A couple of amusing events did occur during my horrible week on the bike. The cloudy/stormy day, especially. So after I stood in Frogtown and snapped those pictures above I mounted up and started pedaling toward the rain because 1) that’s where I was headed anyway and 2) I love riding in the rain. About a half mile from here, around that first corner, I glanced to my left, into a cul de sac, and saw a long-haired kid on a mountain bike rolling at speed toward a black plastic garbage can and he totally pegged that garbage can and went flying through the air. Of course, I skidded to a stop and dismounted and ran in that direction to see if the kid was okay. Turns out, he was back on his feet and jumping back on his bike and laughing and just then a fat guy with tattoos emerged from the house to which the can belonged and start yelling at the kid in Spanish. I think I had just witnessed a very cool form of urban cyclocross: smack garbage can with bike and fly through air, then remount in time to avoid your ass kicked by an angry fat dude.

So all was well and I rode toward the rain. When I neared the rain, I could see the sheets of it along the 5, where the cars were completely halted owing to the Southern California fear of water, and I also saw a number of cyclists hammering toward me on the path, and when they would approach me, they would hold up their hands and point their thumbs behind them and scream, “Rain!” As if they were outrunning a firestorm! I kept on. I got wet. I was happy. Maybe that’s enough to keep a person going out riding every day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Read and Ridden: 420 Edition

Hello. My name is Mike. I am a cyclist and these are a few of my books. I don’t keep them in alphabetical order anymore because I’ve lost that keen sense of red-sphinctered, anal-retentive pride I used to feel when I had my titles lined up neatly for my houseguests to see. These days, it’s some Harry Crews, some Elmore Leonard, E.E. Cummings, Samuel Beckett, Julio Cortazar, Alberto Moravia (that would be the book with the ripped binding) and so on. In the middle, sandwiched between Harry Crews and Sylvia Plath, you’ll see Cyclocross: Training and Technique by Simon Burney. My father, who was a great marathoner and a thinker of considerable prowess, used to say, “There is a relationship between diet and exercise.” I used to say, “But there’s a relationship between everything.” Harry Crews and Sylvia Plath and Cyclocross: Training and Technique. I live this way, relating things with each other.

I wrote a poem one time. Here it is.

"Amelia Gives Head"

I ask what you're thinking.

You say, Love is so easy to understand.

I'm okay with this.

Got anything in the fridge?

I wish I were hip. This music is. I can’t stop listening to this song. It is my life right now. It was a hit in 2001, I think. I heard it the first time last week Wednesday. Better late than never, right? Or if you’re always late, you’ll never be hip?

Happy 4/20, friends.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

To Live and Train in L.A. #15

The 15th post of this type on the 15th day of the cruelest month but I’ve got my mind already clearly focused on the upcoming 4/20 holiday. What a joyous day that is, 4/20, full of peace and love and understanding and hope for a clearer, mellow-headed future for humanity! Fuck yeah!

In the meantime, with these 420wear bibshorts on, I am finding peace and understanding every afternoon on the L.A. River Bike Path. When I pass gangbangers, I say hello. When I approach small children, I slow down. When I pass the homeless dudes between Fletcher and Los Feliz, I keep my hands on the brake-lever hoods and prepare for an instant cyclocross dismount and subsequent use of my Gunnar Crosshairs as a weapon that has sharp 46-tooth chain rings on its not-soft underbelly. And I am trying to be to the cyclists of the Bike Path what Mother Theresa once was to the poor – well, maybe not that extreme: I’m trying to be a friendly cycling citizen, in any case. Not surprisingly, it’s easier to have a pleasant exchange with a gangbanger than it is with a 40-year-old roadie on a Trek Madone. The gangbanger, you see, is chilling and enjoying the views and gentle sounds of the river, the seasonal water fowl and the varied riverbed foliage and the mighty mountains looming everywhere on the horizon. The gangbanger loves this neighborhood. It’s his. The person on the Trek Madone, on the other hand, is thinking that the bike path in this neighborhood has been designed for cyclists in Livestrong jerseys to use at ‘blistering’ constant speeds of 21.5 miles per hour; in other words, the Madone owner thinks the Bike Path is an exercise machine built exclusively for his personal use. The Madone owner does not ride for love of his surroundings but instead for relentless personal advancement that can be expressed probably in numbers that he sends via email to his coach at Carmichael Training Systems. If the Madone owner encounters gangbangers or small children or old couples or fishermen or people walking their dogs, the Madone owner expresses outrage: “Don’t these people have any respect for bikes on the bikeway?”

I encountered one of these people yesterday. The scene couldn’t have been more classic: Livestrong jersey, Performance bike shorts, Lance-Armstrong shoes, iPod blasting so loud I could hear the Nine Inch Nails two bike lengths behind him when I was following him next to the freeway! The two bike lengths, of course, were necessary because I had pulled up on the guy and said, “On your wheel!” But his iPod prevented him from hearing me and if a rider can’t hear you, the wise move is to give that rider some room. His speed: 21.5 miles per hour. I don’t know why the rec roadies all ride at that speed – always in the big ring, always pedaling at 75 rpm – it’s like if they love Lance Armstrong so much, why have they never noticed that the man’s signature pedaling style is HIGH RPMs? Anyways, I tailed the Madone owner all the way to Griffith Park – for five miles or so – and at one point he realized I was behind him and he put in a monstrous acceleration and ramped the speed to 24.5 miles a hour, but after a few hundred yards of that kind of hammering, he dropped back to 21.5. When the path ended, I stopped and had some water and watched a Great Blue Heron searching for food in the river shallows. I sipped from my water bottle. I heard cars on the highway and helicopters in the air and dogs yipping in the nearby dog park, and I could smell the cottonwoods and the eucalyptus and feel the drifting, shifting-direction breeze of this great city. The time was 4:20. I was on a bicycle and I was happy. I hope the Livestrong guy was, too, but I have my doubts. He had long since hammered off in the direction of the Los Angeles Zoo.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


This was the scene Sunday night at the Mag’s Sentence compound. Heavy rain. High winds. Lightning. Thunder. The atmosphere brought to mind a combination of Vietnam, the jungles of Chiapas, and the darkest, swampiest recesses of Gainesville, Florida. For a while there, I was considering strapping my meager belongings on to the back of my burro and making way for high ground, but then I realized, whoa, I was already on high ground – honestly, I mean elevation-wise I live on high ground, as in near to the top of a hill from whence, on a typical dry Southern California night, I can gaze down at the streetlights of Glendale Boulevard or gaze forward at the police helicopters circling over criminals like English professors over an opportunity to get a poem published in an online literary journal.

So yeah, the rain pounded down for a long, long time. I was naked when I took this picture, and all soaped up – there ain’t nothing like a cold shower, right? – and I was singing a little song Shakespeare used in a couple of his plays: “With a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain/ and the rain, it raineth every day.”

This is to say when there’s standing water on your patio in California, something truly special has occurred. Does this not make you want to put your nose to the ground and take a drink? I mean, if the thought of me running around soapy and naked in my backyard in a rainstorm hasn’t made you too nauseated to take in fluids?

As along as we’re on the topic of fluids and nausea, check out how much water these people have at their disposal. This is a photo I lifted from Facebook. It depicts a panel presentation at the AWP Conference in Denver last weekend. I’m not sure what the presentation was about: the lyric poem? Miniature fiction? Techniques for teaching graduate students the art of networking and nurturing? The panelists, in any case, obviously have some prepared statements on a subject pertaining to creative writing, and they are here pictured during the grueling, heart-pounding hour of their presentation: my thought is this is during the Q & A period because all the panelists have their mouths shut in a tight, I-know-you’re-talking-but-I-am-supposed-to-be-talking-now grimace. And this is all wonderful. Comical to me. But wonderful anyway. But why the fuck do they need all that water? And why has it come to pass that people can’t make a short presentation in front of a small audience without slugging a full liter or more of water? These panelists aren’t even standing up! Hell, in a cyclocross race, the racers wail the tar out of their bodies for anywhere between 35 minutes to an hour, with no bottles on the bike, with no hand-ups allowed, and you think it’s remotely possible that a cross racer’s need for water is slightly in excess of a seated panelist at AWP?

I know, I know. Creative writing is a tough job. I’m glad I have cyclocross to remind me just how hard the writing life is.

And heigh-ho, I’m doubly glad to have the rain.

Friday, April 9, 2010

To Live and Train in L.A. #14

(You notice something is fucked up with the font size? Me, too. Oh well. I can’t fix it. When I can, I will. NOTE: PROBLEM FIXED on 4/11/10)

First order of business: Best of luck to my Heckawee brethren this Saturday at the Hillsboro Roubaix in Hillsboro, Illinois. That’s a special race. No doubt. And I hope everybody does well. Professor Sherkat, that means you, buddy. You can win that fucker.

Okay then. Pictured above is my Gunnar Crosshairs, Wednesday afternoon, on the downside of old Mt. Hollywood Drive (closed to traffic!), not too far from the Observatory. Ideal place for a cross bike and 42.o pounds of pressure in the tires, which is what I run at all times.

So I have to tell you a really disgusting story about what happened before riding the Crosshairs to the spot where I took this picture. Wednesday morning, I decided to do a little bike yoga, as my friend Chief Reimbold calls it, because when you’re tense, when you’re run down and flocked around by the world or whatever the line is from Moby Dick, the best way to calm yourself is to place bike in the work stand and put on some swanky music and show your bike some love.

My Crosshairs has not known love for a long time, only neglect followed by occasional periods of ruthless abuse – like I’m pretty sure I haven’t installed new handlebar tape for two full years. In this picture, you can see that the handlebar tape is fucked up, peeling, held onto the bars in some places with electrical tape, and this picture was taken four months ago.

I need another picture now, right? I don’t have any. One tries to avoid photographic evidence of one’s ongoing shame.

Anyway, Wednesday morning, work was going not great at my desk and I needed something relaxing to do, so I decided to put new tape on the bars. Felt like the proper course of action for some reason. Bike yoga. Mellow times. I gathered the necessary items – new bar tape, electrical tape, scissors, and so on – and began peeling off the old tape, starting from the top, near the stem. I peeled the right side open and I kid you not, at least ¼ cup of grayish-green, powderized salt poured out and formed a cloud in the air on its way to the ground. Really nasty. Stank, too. Like rancid cat piss mixed with Coppertone Sport Sunscreen #50 and rotten convenience-store egg salad sandwich. I was like “Where’s my fucking HAZMAT suit?” And the farther I pulled off tape, the more salt poured out. Salt was in heaps, literally, underneath the cables and in the brake-lever housings and on and on and on and on. I almost barfed. Then goddammit I had to unwrap the left side, wherein I discovered something about the used of hands cycling I hadn’t known before. Check it out: Because most of the shifting on a road shifter setup is performed with the right hand, the left hand spends more time on the handlebar tops than the right hand does because the right hand is shifting. Right hand shifts, left hand stays on the tops. See what I’m saying? There was at least ten times more grayish-green powderized salt on the left side. I totally lost my gluten-free lunch. Matter of fact, I’m gonna puke right now if I don’t stop thinking about this.

I went for the hose. I went for the mop. I got the 409 out. And the ammonia. And the kerosene. And the heavy-duty rubber gloves I use when my literary buddies come over to make meth –

End result: the bars are pitted and mauled in a manner that brings to mind the Forest of Ardennes when folks were contesting issues with tanks and bombs instead of carbon-fiber bikes. Huge craters. Devastation on an unimaginable scale. Et cetera. Those handlebars are gonna snap if I don’t replace them soon. Still, after a brutal hour of scrubbing and sterilizing and lubing and such, I went ahead and wrapped the bars (shop-quality work, sort of) and suited up and mounted up and would you know it? My crankset was creaking almost as badly as my intestines do when I eat bran muffins. So I dismounted and pulled the crank and –

I’ll stop. I need a new crankset, too. Who doesn’t? Meantime, I’m running my shit as is.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My 2578 Facebook Friends: Repost In Honor of the AWP Convention

Right now in Denver, thousands of thousands of variations of this same conversation are going on at the Associated Writing Programs Convention. I sure wish I were there! Actually, if I were there, I would probably get all the bitching out of my system on the first night and would end up having a great time, but hey, I'm not there, so I hereby repost this Xtranormal vid I made on the subject a few months back.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Good Shit #2

I like today’s title very much, partly because you can almost sing it to the tune of “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” and partly because a certain delightful repetition obtains in the words Good Shit Number Two. Shit, in any case, is the true focus of my life and not because I believe shit is amusing (not that I don’t) but because my Celiac situation forces me to assess my life with an intake-and-output mindset, whish is to say if I intake the correct gluten-free things, the consequent gluten-free output generates occasion for happiness, contentment, spiritual centering, and bunch of other wonderful conditions both mental and physical.

Look, I know this kind of talk drives you crazy but we’re friends and with whom can I share my problems but my friends?

So pictured above is the hog trough area at Whole Foods in Glendale, California. Predictably enough, we see skinny women situated in front of the vegan selections and we see a non-skinny fellow, alone, in the arms-folded Mussolini posture of thought, contemplating the chicken salad with mayonnaise. Me, the guy taking this poor photograph with a cell phone, I was in line for a 24 ounce iced coffee – black, no sugar – because I wanted the experience of spending my life savings in one shopping trip to be really speedy and really electric, which is the problem with Whole Foods: It’s too fucking expensive, right? It’s Whole Paycheck. It’s Hole in Your Wallet. And so on. And for sure if you purchase items from the hog trough or if you get three pounds of sashimi-grade tuna from the seafood department or if you buy an assortment of fancy cheeses or jellies or soap – and on and on. Obviously, you have to think carefully at Whole Foods if you want to leave with your personal finances intact. But if you have celiac disease, Whole Foods is without question the finest source for gluten-free items you will ever find. On their website, for instance, to which I won’t post the link because I figure you’re smart enough to get there on your own, they have huge lists of gluten-free items that are in stock at each Whole Foods location and these gluten-free items will not leave you with a functioning shit system and an appointment with a bankruptcy attorney.

This being said, because I’m not rich in the first place, I wandered the store for about a hour examining the gluten-free selections – breads, pastas, cookies, flours, and even gluten-free gluten! – and I ended up only purchasing a three-dollar bag of gluten-free petite madeleines because what middleage man with a sickness doesn’t want to revisit Marcel Proust? (I’m not explaining that, if you don’t get it.) The madeleines were definitely some good shit.

Verdict: Whole Foods rocks. Study up before you shop, and of course make sure you have an high-income job if you want to shop there regularly.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Blown Mind

Eventually, if you’re the right kind of crazy person – which I am and have been and pray to the Iranian Redneck’s Unholy Goat that I will continue being – the  top of the your noggin won’t be able to hold in the brownish, reddish matter inside your skull and whammo, that shit will splatter upward into the bathroom ceiling, all the bad shit, all the misery, all the regrets, all the angers, all the little tiny aggravations that make life a tedious drag, an agonizing slog involving being nice to jackasses who think their shit doesn’t stink or worse, who think the shit they’re saying has any value in the first place, and what you’ll have left in your head is a pleasant bike ride in the sunshine at 4:20 in the afternoon, the hour when joy itself spreads across the countryside like a patient etherized upon T. S. Eliot’s motherfucking table, I guess.  So yeah, my mind’s blown.  I hope yours is, too, though I’m sure it hasn’t been blown by me.  I mean to say I hope you’re not sweating the little shit or paying attention to the little-minded people of the world.

Me, I’m rehabilitated.  This week in Denver marks the annual convention of the Associated Writing Programs.  I used to be pissed about it and become worked into total outrage about it:  how thousands of people taking creative classes and teaching creative classes come together to celebrate the idea that if they snuffle at each other’s crotches in enough interesting ways they can publish each other’s books of poetry and not get paid one dime for it, et cetera.  See?  I can’t keep going.  I have to stop myself from the rest of the rant because 1) nobody gives a fuck about AWP except people in AWP and 2) who gives a damn if a bunch of creative writing professors and graduate students want to pay a lot of money to get together for four days and schmooze?  Will this hurt me if they do?  Hell fucking no!  So they can have my blessing this year.  I’m sure they have been waiting eagerly for it.  I’m sure lots of people will get laid, too.  Maybe they’ll send postcards.

Meantime, there are far more important events looming on the horizon.  The great and peaceful and wonderful hippie holiday of 4/20 is rapidly approaching and there’s no sense taking off work on 4/20 and heading out for your annual 4/20 ride without being attired in the proper uniform.  Here’s a link to the finest source on the internets for 4/20 cycling kit.  I wear it.  And this is why my mind is blown in such a positive way.  420Wear

Happy riding, people.  I’m cutting out of work early to go on a long one.

Monday, April 5, 2010

To Live and Train in L.A. #13

That, my friends, is Earl Street. If it doesn’t look that steep to you, if it looks like I have employed some fiendish photographic devilment in order to make you believe that the hills in my neighborhood kick the shit out of the hills in your neighborhood, you’re wrong: Earl Street is one steep motherfucker. The photograph actually makes the hill look considerably flatter than it does when you’re standing at the base of it. I’m guessing the grade is approaching 30%, and even though it’s not exactly the longest hill in the world, probably about a couple hundred meters at most, I don’t think many cyclists possess either the moxie or the lack of intelligence to try riding up it. I’m surprised people drive up this bitch, to tell you the truth. I walk up Earl Street on occasion with my dog, just to do a metal wrap-around of what it might be like to ride a bike up it but always, without exception, I conclude that I’ve got better things in life to do other than attempt to break my cranks and give myself a hernia just because, like all steep places are, Earl Street is there.

Okay. I’m going to admit something to you right now if you promise not to tell anybody (and seriously, if you tell, I’m going to be totally pissed): Last week, I did in fact give Earl Street a go on my road bike because work at my desk was going poorly and it struck me that my life would suddenly improve and acquire meaning were I to roll out the door and roll down the street and point my bike up Earl Street and reef on the cranks all the way to the top. I figured I would stand at the crest and lift my bike over my head and shout something on the order of “Are you not entertained?” Then I don’t what I expected would happen: a fancy person would emerge from one of the fancy houses at the top of Earl Street and present me with a bottle of 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape, a backstage access pass to his gorgeous, neglected, out-of-work-actress girlfriend, and a pair of season tickets to the Dodgers games, right behind home plate! Because climbing the big one is all about rewards, right? So there I was, on Glendale Boulevard, spinning happily, and I turned right on to Earl and rose from my saddle and began stamping my way toward my just reward in heaven.

You know what? I think I could have made it but I got a few yards past that black garbage can and something in me snapped, not physically but in my brain, and I effected a smooth dismount and shouldered my bike and walked back down the hill and took a picture.

Do you think I’m a pussy?

I sometimes do. I rolled away from Earl Street and went home and with a strange new angle went back to work:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

To Live and Train in L.A. #12

I’m somewhere else, I guess, pedaling on the lone-dog circuit, training on the it-doesn’t-matter plan, exploring a landscape of potholed roads and renegade trails that end somewhere but not anywhere I yet know. Most cyclists I know are ramping into road season – racing or doing centuries or multi-day tours or what have you – or they’re ramping into a yet another kickass summer of mountain biking on trails so pristine and spectral that it’s difficult to ride them without pausing along the trailside to touch one’s self. Me, the only ramping-up I have in my future is months and months and months away, in the fall, cyclocross season, and aside from torturing myself (not touching myself) with two-hour dead-flat spinners on the L.A. River Path, what’s left to do but roll out the door and go on the urban version of the classic Heckawee ride. That means I ride to get lost and to find myself. I ride to say, “Where the Heckawee?” Even though we is just me and me is just a fellow who likes to lower the pressure on this cross-bike tires and enjoy all the mellowness that comes with it. I’ve got corks in my handlebars, too. Both from 2003.

You may recall me mentioning busy streets, insane drivers, and constant madness hereabouts? This street doesn’t qualify and my buddy the Champ would throw his hands heavenward and say, “See, Mag is making shit up again.” It’s true, though. In my neighborhood – Silver Lake, Echo Park – if you don’t mind 20+% grades and constant teeth-gritting even at ultra-slow speeds, the selection of traffic-free roads is almost limitless. Also, for the cyclocrosser, there are dozens of natural skill-building areas which, like all good skill-building areas, you don’t have to hammer up to enjoy their benefits. This road, for instance, after rising a long, long way up from the freeway overpass, peters out into a nice set of stairs. And what self-respecting cyclocrosser doesn’t like to dismount, shoulder the old bike, and bound up a few sets of stairs?

The reverse view after the first flight: You can get an idea of the grades you encounter while you’re pedaling your way up to this fun, amusing, very Heckawee staircase.

Each flight is 11 stairs and ideally you scale these stairs two steps at a time – you don’t have to run them, if you don’t want to, okay? because they are still going to hurt you – and the best method for the two-step-at-a-time method, in my humble and correct opinion, is to alternate your lead leg for each new flight. I have a great reason for this, too, and this is it: Why the fuck wouldn’t you?

Of course, the answer to why the fuck wouldn’t you lies in what lies ahead. Looks like there are more than a couple of 11-step flights up this sumbitch.

Reverse view for further emphasis: Just looking at these stairs puts a deep-tissue misery into my thighs.

At the top, looking back, you can see the Baxter Street in the foreground and Hollywood sign on the ridge in the distance. If you’re insane, which believe it or not I am not, you can try to ride your bike up and down Baxter Street. The inclines run between 25 and 30 percent – brutal going up and you’re almost certain to die on the way down (there are stop signs at the bottom).

Look the other way from the top of the stairs: Cesar Chavez Ravine in Elysian Park. This is the focus of all my Heckawee riding efforts, to learn the ins and outs of this park. Lots of scary people in here: gangbangers, et al. But maybe at 4:20 in the afternoon, I can ride through here without coming to grief. Wish me luck, hey.

Monday, March 29, 2010

To Live and Train in L.A. #11

High on my list of complaints these days, as you well know, is a whiny version of boo-hoo, I always have to ride alone; nobody talks to me when I’m riding my bike; everybody’s such an asshole. The correct response to whining of this nature, as you also well know, is this: “Shut the fuck up, Magnuson.” Whining is bullshit. No denying it. But here I am, in full knowledge of this essential human fact, and I’m whining! There will be no goddam profit in this, folks.

So this weekend I classically underperformed on my bicycle and overperformed on my quest to eat lots cheese and watch basketball and become the most relaxed person in Los Angeles. (I was damned successful with the stay-mellow part, I’ll have you know). Still, because daily cycling is a religious obligation of sorts, I rolled a couple of times down the hill to make an appearance on the L.A. bike path. Saturday’s plan was mellow spinner, wave at other cyclists and also at the families and at the homeless people and the gangbangers and even at the L.A. Bicycle Police, who were for some reason rolling along the bikeway with air support. Couldn’t have asked for better weather, either. Perfectly sunny. Eighty degrees. No wind. And it turned out that during last week a miracle has occurred on the bikeway between the Fletcher Avenue Bridge and Figueroa. The City has laid new asphalt the whole way: three miles of new buttery black asphalt. Can a person whine about that? And will a person speculate where the City acquired the money for such a project? Fuck no. The new surface is fantastic, the kind of surface that when you’re spinning in your 34-tooth weenie ring (that’s a bike term, for those of you who aren’t bike-term savvy; not a naughty term) you can literally feel your nether eye winking at the joyously smooth texture of the pavement down below. I was so happy I was singing. My nether eye was singing. Small birds followed me along the path and I felt myself realizing my lifelong dream of transforming one Saturday afternoon into Snow White, the fairest maiden ever to pedal a bicycle through paradise….

Yep. It was that good. I mean, why ride bikes if you can’t feel like that? And why feel like that if you can’t share your experience with somebody else?

The following is not the answer but may be a part of it. I did talk to a cyclist on Sunday, in front of Rick’s Diner on the corner of Fletcher and Riverside. He was an old man riding a mountain bike and wearing a highway-worker yellow vest and he was shouting, “Stop, stop.” So I stopped and asked if everything was okay. He said, “Have you been on the new asphalt all the way down to Figueroa?” I told him that I had and that I was rolling there directly. He seemed to tear up with joy at the thought. I started to tear up, too. Why not? Twenty-five minutes later, when I was still standing in front of Rick’s Diner talking with this old man, I wasn’t just tearing up, I was weeping: This guy has been riding in L.A. for the last forty years: he’s been doored, hit by cars, beaten, robbed, spit at, shot at, chased by crazy people, his blood has become literally enmeshed the bituminous elements of the asphalt over which we roll. When I took my leave of this guy, he said, “Nice to meet you, Mike. You’re going to love it here.”

Wow. For the rest of Lent, I’m giving up whining.

See you out there this afternoon.