Every Paradise has a little Hell in it. Take Bend, Oregon. Miles of majestic Ponderosa Pines, glacier fed streams, snow patched craggy volcanoes, and smooth, unlittered highways that wrap around sparkling mountain lakes and lush meadows. A few thousand years ago, this was an inferno of ash, fire, smoke and wind. Time tends to heal -- time and a thirst for sunlight and fresh air.
Last year Max Kash was booted out of Paradise. Banned essentially for being Max Kash Agro at the registration table. All Dark Angels want to get back into paradise, especially Dark Angels who have title to real property therein. So while in exile MKA pondered how to get back in good graces with the crossing guards. It was readily apparent that a mental make-over was impossible. So MKA opted for the administrative solution: deputize Darling Wife to undertake all registration transactions. It worked like a charm. MKA was in, bitterness unsweetened, attitude unadjusted.
Pilot Butte Time Trial. 1.1 miles, 430 ft vertical climb up dormant cinder cone. On paper it looked like a breeze. This nonchalance was simply a reflection of MKA's ill-numeracy. The numbers don't lie, it's just how we interpret them. Turns out this was less a "trial" and more an "execution." Every muscle cell was pulverized. Every mucous cell lining the lungs and throat torched. Every brain cell reduced to ash.
Plan was to stand up like Virenque of old the entire climb, working the massive upper body, like pull ups. This worked for about the first half until the shoulders combusted and the fingers singed. MKA sat down and considered stopping, but kept going only out of fear of an all out hackpack lynching.
MKA wobbled across the center line. A blue shirt suddenly appeared from behind a Juniper to issue reprimands and scribble notes. Oh Christ, on top of the physical torment now I've got to deal with another DQ? From a closed course uphill time trial? Sounds implausible, and that's exactly why MKA is concerned. Stranger things have happened here in the devil's playground. Finally, MKA reaches the summit and is ushered home by the sound of two chubbers spewing chunks.
To quote Mercury pro and itinerant Bend resident, Kirk Willet, no stranger to lung-busting mountain passes: "Holy cow that hurt!"
The good news is the blue shirts overcame instinct and didn't DQ or relegate me. The better news is MKA was sitting in 2nd place, 8 seconds from 1st. Defending champ Ed the DemonSeed Beamon was in 7th, about 20 seconds out. The top ten were separated by about 25 seconds.
Sidenote: 83 signed up for the masters cat2/3 race, but only 82 raced, as Labor's Genghis Hahn was left stranded in Santa Barbara when his flight was cancelled at the 11th hour. Genghis, who believes that arriving 12 seconds before a race is wasting time, had arranged to arrive in Bend at about midnite so when the plane abandoned GH was left with no recourse but to harange, threaten and belittle the clerks at the UA ticket counter, who promptly called an emergency board of directors meeting which resolved to add a surcharge all bicycle-toting customers to cover the increase in their workers comp premiums.
Which leads me to this non sequitur, as I sit here over the Pacific in an Alaska Airlines 737 on the day that a Concorde just crashed: is it just me or is anyone else paranoid about planes falling from the sky due to the obesity epidemic in America? Isn't it true that these jets were designed in the 1970's based on a predicted passenger average weight of about 170 lbs, when today your average American waddles in at about 225? Does anyone else walk down the aisle and mentally calculate the average passenger weight load? Any one else wonder about a culture that rewards food abusers by giving them two coach seats for the price of one? Anyone else out there like sitting next to a heaving boiler with the massive body parts invading your precious air space?
Friday Night Twilight Crit. Downtown Bend. Six turns, wide corners, fast. MKA lives for this spectacle of speed, smoked salmon, frothing microbrews and starbucks-fueled lunacy. I could lose every race all year but win this one and die a happy man. A few hours before the showdown at sundown Darling Wife corners me and sheepishly laments that today is her birthday. In his quest to revisit Paradise, MKA had completely forgotten his temporal obligations. I promised to make things right. But first please pin on these four poster sized race numbers, ferchrist.
At about the midpoint of the race they announced a $100 prime. MKA needs another c-spotter like a shark needs another tooth. Normally MKA conserves. And this was my intent but on the backside the skinny runt wearing the yellow jersey elbowed me going into the final turn and instinct just took over. MKA clanked in his 11, bore down and charged onward and upward, snatching the Benji. Relevence: this would come in handy after the race when I chivalrously handed Darling wife the glacine envelope containing said Benji and invited her to "buy something nice -- yaknow, doll yerself up a little bit." Class like this can't be bought.
Perhaps it was the altitude, or the high desert dryness, or maybe it was just the relentless speed, but MKA was forced to retreat to the tail of the beast and recover. Finally, with about 3 laps to go, MKA returns to the front. Showtime. A leaner but not meaner Ed Roberts (your basic fun loving crogmagnon who lives in a cave somewhere near Tumalo Falls) is hovering (not "meaner" only because a junkyard dog cannot possible get "nicer"). Before the race Big Ed boasted: "I am flying right now." Which didn't concern me, as cavemen generally don't have wings. He probably could chew my arm off at the shoulder though.
On the last lap MKA is second through the start/finish when this 50 year old wearing a space alien helmet goes ripping by. MKA latches on and we're winding through the turns. We come to the back stretch when Auker's boosters flame out. MKA is about to jump when a flash of bones and freckles wiffs by me like I'm standing at the urinal. He's got 10 meters on me at the final corner. The thrill of reeling in a pretender commandeers me. But MKA succeeds only in catapulting Caveman Ed to the line ahead of me. MKA third, more baffled than embittered. "Who is that guy?" We have a new leader. Goes by the name Maplethorpe. Add in the fact that he's a freakishly skeletal albino wrapped in blue-white skin and you've got all the makings of a sleepless night at the Labor Lodge for a beleagured Max Kash whose max was two dollars short.
70 Mile Road Race. 10 laps x 7 miles, 470 ft climbing per lap. MKA dropped to third on the GC. Krabowski from UC Davis in 2nd (winner of the hill climb). MKA feeling puny. Settle in for the first two laps, consciously conserving. Not feeling agro, but not panicking either. In racing, you tend to mutate, over and again. You can start out weak and punkish but end strong and invincible. MKA is willing the magical transformation. Can Agro be summoned?
Yes. On the third lap MKA vaguely "attacks" with the Demon, who is looking larger than life in his matching Navigator blues, bladed Litespeed and Cane Creek aero wheels. I'm not sure what the Finland Express looks like, or even if it exists, but this is what the Demon reminds me of. Cross Olympic great and blood doping pioneer Lasse Viren with the Terminator and you'll know what I mean. We ramp it up the climb, a four man breakaway, which includes Bend's Bob "Big Boy" Brady, who could probably play both ways for any Arena Football team. Big body, big heart. He's also in 5th place in the GC and very motivated.
Demonseed takes over on the backside flat section. He's pulling through so hard MKA is sprinting out of the saddle to return to the pace line. About a lap later Demonseed gives the order to pause to let a dogged chase group catch on, which consists of George's Rump (no nickname necessary, 4th place on the GC), Krabowski (2nd GC) and Maplethorpe (the albino wearing the jersey d' omelette).
Beautiful things start to happen. First, MKA wins the 6 second time bonus on lap 5, which puts me into the overall lead. Second, Krabowski falls in behind a fully engorged Demonseed in the pace line. Every time Demon uncorks his patented pecker-pounding power pull, Krabowski is forced to expend buckets of mitochondria to hold on and come through. Ever see a hermit crab clamp on to a Great White? Same thing. But something more beautiful is unfolding: the youngsters dare not disobey Demon's exhortations to "Roll it!" It's like they all want to earn a birth on the big Navigator Pro Team, and are willing to sacrafice everything to impress The Coach. And, as a result, the obedient fingerlings never live to see adulthood.
On the next lap, after Rump blows a tube, we ramp it up the climb and Krabowski and Albino fall back, withered, weathered and washed up. We accelerate their decay by throttling down at the top. Demon absorbs the souls of the suddenly departed and breaks out the Chariot of Fire. Christ! What's he got planned? Is he going to dump MKA, too? Must be cautious. We still have 5 laps to go and only a 1 minute cushion on the pel. This calls for negotiation. MKA: "Uh, Ed, my brother, how bouts you not f'ing with me on the next time bonus? I'll give it all I've got to pound the peckers in the pel and promise to turn the other cheek on the finale. By the way, I would normally be sitting right now but the prospect of two elderly Hackpackers pouding the young squirts is irresistable."
The Demon was sitting in 7th on the GC. He could've declined and opted to try to drop me (about as likely as a loan shark forgetting a marker). Or he couldv'e agreed but exploited the loop hole (i.e., try to get away before the next time bonus, which was on lap 7). Or he couldv'e agreed but breached the deal, like his father with the forked tongue and horns taught him. Of the three options, the third was less likely -- as he would have incurred the wrath of the bloodthirsty Hackpack, an assault that even the most hardened scoundrel could scarcely endure.
With about two to go, we drop the 4th rider, a gutsy little turdball who accepted his fate without complaint. Brady is pulling through like a reliable log truck. MKA is taking the climbs top to bottom, and starting to feel a little crampy. Shut it out. The feedzone becomes a trauma center. MKA enters depleted and shocky but after Darling Wife's cold, sweet pick-me-up I'm ready for another round. On the last lap Darling Wife offers something more than mere fluid. I've got that drained, world-weary climber face on, acutely self-aware of the brave soldier image, when Ann yells out: "You big stud!" You have to understand, Darling Wife is from Wisconsin. This stoic breed operates on a "need to flatter" basis only. This is the first accolade of this magnitude from Darling Wife in a bike racing context. I am energized if not cocksure, as my thoughts drift towards the next milestone, as in, what's it going to take to generate that kind of hero worship in the love sack?
But I regress. Back to stupid bike racing. On the final climb Bob's Big Boy has battled enough demons and boiling sulphur pots and decides it's time to retreat to greener pastures. Demonseed and MKA cross the finish line, ten seconds up on Big Boy, and just over 1 minute on the pelaton. MKA assumes a comfortable lead on the GC, with Demonseed about 17 seconds back, and Brady in third.
Final Criterium. MKA is comfortable, but not too comfortable. After all, a few years ago MKA in Altoona went into the final crit stage ahead of Demon all fat and happy only to get burned alive. Demonseed's only salvation is your basic one lap flyer, get a gap, win the 15 second first place time bonus and proceed to forever remind MKA that comfortable cockiness is the Mother of Epic Flaildom.
Early on MKA is contemplating playing it safe. Chasing. Sitting. Very boring. Besides which we've got Punch in the pit crew with his labor colors, nursing a cold coffee and batch of jo-jos from the 7-11 over in Sisters. The cagey old boxer-cum-bow hunter had to leave Keizer at 5 am to scale Santiam Pass to get here, just passing through on his way down to the Coyote Hills where he and a bunch of Gassers will spend the next 3 days swilling Burgies and bolt-cutting barbed wire fences so that the Elk and Antelope may once again roam free. Bottom line: Labor must close. On account there are baby deers out there tangled up in barbed wire, bleeding...
On the final lap Labor beats the bushes, trying to scare up a rabbit. Sure enough Big Boy -- a rather large Rabbit (more of a Texas sized Jack A Lope really) -- takes the bait and scoots. Caveman Ed, who chews Eastern Oregon Bitterbrush to cheer him up, comes around and tucks in behind his teammate (both from Hutch's). "C'mon, I'll give you a lead out," said the Fox to the chicken. MKA trusted sprinter Roberts about as much as I'd trust my son to a pederast in a rain coat on parole. The train is on the backside approaching the final turn but Big Boy at 6'2'' 190 is locking up and Caveman will not come around -- so much for the ballyhooed lead out. MKA takes matters into his own hands (Cromwell said "God helps those who help themselves"), whips around my club footed friend and punctuates the GC win with a final stage Vee.
Reminder to all the fathers out there: do not celebrate to excess. MKA crossed the line, raising both arms. Ten minutes later, Bucky Bear crossed the line in the 7 and under sprint, went to raise both arms, wobbled violently and fortunately had to settle for a single-fist air-punch, life and limb in tact.
Kudos to everyone in Bend for putting on a great race without trying to save souls or improve manners. I encourage everyone to visit Paradise next year -- emphasis on "visit". Also thanks to neighbors Paul and Joanne for motivating me to bury my demons, to Labor recruit Greg Zadow from Adelia Down Under for blunting the Demon's edge, and to the Demonseed himself for bargaining with the Devil.
Praise Hell, Get to Heaven, as per.