Bakersfield, CA, Hell's Stovetop, Natz. Tandem Time Trial, 22 miles, $90 entry fee (approx. $4.31 per mile, with $1.50 per mile surcharge if using mudflaps, studded tires, or twin tower exhaust pipes). Ten minutes to take-off, MKA under shade tree on trainer above expanding pool of saltwater/sunscreen run-off.
Max Kash looked out across the sun-baked fields and worried. A dust devil was fast approaching. One strong gust, he fretted, and they would go airborne like Dorothy and Toto in a Kansas twister. He glanced at his micro-stoker, Louie the Rican, who was peddling on his trainer furiously just outside the shade perimeter. It was 104 degrees. Louie was not sweating and MKA couldn't remember the last time anything but air had entered the Rican's mouth. Unfiltered air, that is. The Rican was wearing his dual cartridge respirator again, which he often did in order to avoid the inhalation of fibers, mites, dust and particles, which over time could easily add dozens of nanograms to his fat-impoverished frame.
Ballast. We needed ballast. There was still time to remove the seat post and pour sand into the oversized Santana tubing. Instead, MKA offered the Rican a bite of his maple bar and a swig from his bottle of chocolate Yahoo! The Rican politely declined. "I had breakfast." Breakfast, if that's what you called it, consisted of a tic-tac, the skin from a grape, a tablespoon of bird seed, and a whiff of sun-dried sidewinder pituitary extract. Louie was about as soft as a switchblade. Light as pumice, sharp as obsidian, hard as a diamond cutter. His obsession with the "power to weight" ratio bordered on the insane.
MKA rolled his eyes. The Rican knew what I was thinking. "Don't worry, dawg." He pronounced the word "dawg" like "daahhhhgg" with a rumbling, nasal flatness that seemed to roll upward from his diaphragm, smack against his sinus and reroute through the mouth. A former boxer, he had long since lost the ability to breathe through his nose. His eyes were two brown marbles and you could hang a plant from his Adam's apple. The Rican lived his life like a prize fighter who was always about two pounds over the limit with weigh-in looming the next morning. Fat was his avowed enemy, even though MKA reminded him that breasts were made of fat, and large breasts were usually surrounded by lots of happy, eager faces.
At least have some Gatorade, I pleaded. "No dawg". Louie carried about as much excess water as a scorpion. We were about to crawl into a white hot blast furnace and my firewatch was bone naked. Studies show, I pontificated, that athletes can reach and sustain maximal power for longer periods of time at higher ambient temperatures with the aid of an electrolyte-rich sports drink. It was no use. "I'm good dawg, really. I'm from Vegas, this is nothing." The Rican had come prepared. For the past few months every day he had been logging 80 miles of "road work" during midday in the triple digit heat wearing a grey sweatsuit, like the one Rocky made famous, in an effort to callous over his sweat glands so all perspiration would be recycled-or perhaps he was afflicted with Reptile Mutant Syndrome and simply endeavored to transform his skin into scales by force of will. The Rican reminded me that the normal rules of toughness don't apply to those hardnosed souls born of Cuban blood. "Damn, Dawg, I swam over from Cuba as a bambino and I don't even know how to swim."
MKA wasn't finished. Rican was my foxhole partner. We were joined at the hip like Doolittle's Pushmepullyou and I needed assurance Rican wasn't going to blow away, fag out, or start singing show tunes when the air filled with hot metal. Won't starving your body of essential nutrients diminish your power output? "No dawg-if a soldier ant can lift 480 times its weight, the Rican can do at least half that. If a humming bird can flap it's wings 300 times a minute, the Rican can spin at least 150 rpms. If a rattlesnake can go months without water, the Rican can climb Red Rock Canyon 5 times on a cup of sagebrush juice, which as you know is the Nevada State Flower." The Rican had sought to redefine what's "essential." It was starting to make sense. The Rican did not abhor food, nor was he a masochist. The Rican had simply conditioned his body to do more with less, a radically un-American dietary strategy.
More with less. Most Americans see themselves as bulls, or bears, or lions, or tigers-large, burley, powerfully built carnivores, who tend to move only when hunger calls or "The Skins Game" comes on the TV. The Rican wanted none of that. He's always moving. He sees himself basically as an imported fire ant-very tiny, yes, but also very vicious, very disciplined, and very unafraid to attack, pierce and devour any fat and clumsy cow who should step on his brothers. Like the fire ant, he's also impervious to feeble attempts to eradicate his joie d'vivre through poison, snubs or sourness. He remains cheerful, even loveable-more than once I've heard little girls at bike races beg their mommies to bring Louie home with them, or at least buy a Louie Doll. The Buck Bear, long accustomed to bile, smoke and gas from the only male adult in his household, refers to the Rican as "Mr. Happy."
At least wear some sunblock, ferchrist. "No dawg," like I was offering him a bucket of extra-crispy wings from Popeye's. I noticed the Rican was completely shaven, even the knuckles. Apparently the lotion would not only add nanograms, but airborne debris would also cling to the lotion, potentially increasing body mass by .000001 %. MKA was about to blow. Look, this is crazy, what you put in your body, or don't, is your bidness. But we're about to walk across the burning sands and you refuse to wear shoes, you won't carry water and Cuban tough guy or not even a big drooling Arab Camel wouldn't dare pass up a chance to top off his tank before a sub-Saharan guns and opium delivery.
Rican relented. He agreed to bring one bottle of water, plain, but only after promising himself that for supper that night he would eat a bowl of cabbage porridge, a cup of dry puffed rice (tends to expand in stomach, giving illusion of fullness) and six corn kernels, unpopped. "Excuse me, Dawg," Rican had impeccable manners, "number 7's on its way," as he headed for the crapper. Rican is the only human on record who discharges more biomass than he consumes (mental note: do "Breathenarians have BMs?). Which raises the question whether the Rican drops stools, or pellets.
Labor's competition was the Ratfink/OscarMeyer duo (four time defending champs) and Gods Gift/Gumby, who won States apparently without pedaling. Rumors were flying that Ratfink bought a foundry in Vermont for the sole purpose of forging a polybalsam-titanium frame with components so space-age light and breakable he had to retrieve the ultra-fragile wind cheater personally in his chrome bullet hot air ballon. MKA didn't have time to inspect the marvel as he was busy duct taping his handlebars, removing the saddlebags and wiring fed-ex envelopes to his rear wheel spokes.
About 10 minutes down the road MKA's throat began to blister, but my yearning for the water bottle was trumped by the need to maintain the aero position. Must not let my stoker down. Brother Rican smelled burning smoke and like manna from heaven suddenly a torrent of cool water splashed on my back. The Rican had brought water not to drink but to douse. There was no time for guilt (that water belongs in Rican's kidney pumps not on my back). MKA accepted the gift and continued churning. MKA did feel guilty however about not stopping to pick up the tomatoes strewn across the road, apparently stowaways from full up veggie trailers. Mother taught MK not to waste.
We hit the turn around but again MKA couldn't spare the time to read the split times. The speedometer began dropping below 30 mph. Panic setting in. Instinct is to drop the neck and pummel brutishly, but specter of tail of my aero helmet pointing up like a goose's ass smacking the wind costing us valuable seconds too chilling. I am a robot: chin up, nose forward, elbows tucked, pushing the big boulder. But evil thoughts invade: MKA knows he's at his breaking point, but how can I get more work out of my stoker? Didn't Dr. Mengele's zeal for peak human performance in the concentration camps propel him to undertake unspeakably cruel experiments, like seeing how long humans could survive buck naked in the snow while copulating?
MKA resorts to trickery. "Bury it Mother F'er! 5k to go!" We actually have about 9k to go. MKA can feel a surge. We climb back up above 31 mph. We blow by God's Gift's garbage barge, which appears to be listing badly. At about the 5k mark, Rican gasps: "How far?" MKA: "3k! Burn baby burn!" MKA can't bear the thought of losing by a few seconds. Every pedal stroke matters. The Rican knows, and MKA knows, that if we lose, we'll always wonder about the other's investment.
We come up on a sign that reads "3k". Oops. Busted. I'll explain it to Rican later. He'll understand. Again, Brother Rican senses spiritual disharmony. I feel a blast of scalding hot water on my back and want to tell the MF'er to back off jack but remind myself it's the thought that counts. The stoker knows the boiler is about to blow. We lurch to the 1k sign. The muscles around my eyeballs hurt. My hips feel rusty. My throat is a sinkhole in the desert. The Rican taunts his demons like a blood-spattered pugilist: "I wish the MotherF'er would..." I don't know what this means, but the incantation transforms Rican into a full-on, butterfly-floating, bee-stinging heavyweight champion of the world. He is the cock of the walk. He is not bobbing and weaving. He is all teeth, bone and bitterness. Cross the Rican and spend eternity under one. My brother is "small" only like a 5 megaton nuclear bomb that fits in a suitcase.
We hit the line as the clock strikes 43.59. MKA is no longer an unfeeling automaton. The pain shoots from my hamstrings and crashes into my skull like an ice pick. A good Samaritan helps me unclip from my pedals. The Rican crawls over to a faucet and attempts to quench the fires under a feeble trickle of salty water.. We don't need to say it, but we both know if we lost we got beat by a better team. We left it all out there.
Naturally, the USCF-stix added a few minutes to our time. When MKA asked the chief official to check the times, he reacted like I was trying to steal one of his chocolate donuts. He reminded me that "it was all in the computer and the computer doesn't lie." MKA reminded our big-as-a-boat Bluecoat that we paid $90 to race 22 minutes, we didn't emit any sulphur or rototil the blacktop and their mistake would deprive us of the gold medal so if he could please at least go through the motions of providing some level of service, I mean even self-service gas stations have outhouses and I'm not asking you to wipe me down or anything. He waddles back a few minutes later, looks at me with a "are you satisfied now?" smirk, hands me a note with the correct time and the gold is ours (calling the USCF "incompetent" is like calling an Ogre "ugly"-merely stating the obvious). Labor beat Ratfink/OscarMeyer by 1 minute 23 seconds.
MKA was in a mood to celebrate. I knew how much the Rican adored ultra-lean, mega- cold water fish oozing with omega 3 fatty acids so we drove down to Chinatown to a little seafood eatery renown for it's bizzare if not fictitious menu of deep sea freakazoids like baked anglerfish (aka "triplewart sea devil" with the dangling lantern lure), sauteed umbrellamouth gulper (aka "pelican eel," scavenges the oceans depths with jaws agape at 6,500 feet), and the menacing but oh so tasty breaded viperfish. These beauties were loaded with the good stuff-amino acids that kill cancer, proteins that devour LDLs, and happy fats that enrich blood and purify the brain. Eat up! It's on Labor. Order anything you want -- we're not leaving until our bill passes the three digit mark.
The Rican ordered green tea, bamboo soup and a cup of steamed brown rice and left the fortune cookie uncracked.