Dropped, but Not Forgotten: Coping With Fatal Flail Syndrome. Bully Vard, Mexico
February 9, 2005
....attached photo courtesy of Maggie O'Toons, devoted wife and erstwhile wetnurse to Toons, father of the 12k Dreamer icon and current cramp king of 2005. Per rumor, after he pulled out of the break with hover and Concavo, he was seen writhing on the ground in pain, prompting the schadenfreud soaked chasers to speculate that the labor blackhats must have stuck a tire tool in his spokes.
Bully Vard RR, 67 clicks, Downwind of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea. 35 +.
It's well and good to embrace the savage beauty of Flailing in the abstract. It's quite another to actually find yourself snared in the teeth of the beast, fully aware that your bottom half has been chewed into a paste that is being doused with digestive acids as it slumps down into the boiling pit of the stomach.
It's not pleasant. It doesn't make you stronger. It doesn't build character. It fills you with a sense of dread that shatters your faith, buries your ego and wraps you in a straightjacket of fear and self-loathing that sucks the dreams right out of you. It makes you want to quit, not just the race, but the whole damn stoopid sport. We're not talking about a phlegmatic mental lapse, clumsy tactical mistake, preventable mechanical breakdown or a wimpy lack of will. We're talking about a lack of the vital juice, when the mind and body simply shut down and leave you to stew in a swirling pot of bewilderment, disgust and scorn. The Fatal Flail. MKA knows. He's been there. This is his story.
We begin with the start line. MKA felt good, confident even. He'd won the race before and, surveying the field, there was nothing he couldn't handle. The conditions were excellent, cool and crisp. The legs were warm. Pre-race bladder and colonic evacuation protocols had been meticulously attended. The brain had been freshly infused with 650 mg of uncut, high-caffeine robusta bean beverages.
The pack approached the first dust-up, a long gradual ascent of the genre that MKA normally relished.Normally, this would be a good chopping block to lop off a couple of heads. But something was amiss. MKA's head began to clog. Breathing became labored. A creeping thickness and dryness began to infiltrate the hammies. Within the first 15 minutes of a 3 hour race, MKA's Flail Control Response Mechanisms (FCRMs) had fully engaged: MKA began to sing to himself, alternating between the Partridge Family's "Come on Get Happy" and Elton John's "It's a little bit funny, this feeling inside..."Normally, lyrics of this poetic magnitude would be enough to push MKA through the stale crust of non-specific, idiopathic fatigue.
Not today. Cycling, like parenting, is the art of coping with disappointment. Even when we win, or do well, we find something to complain about. On this day, MKA did not need to manufacture demons, droogs or defects. The suffocating, saturating stoopid-ass suffering was real. For the next three hours, MKA found himself in a free fall of cascading FCRMs, catalogued for your review below.
Flail Control Response No. 1: "Itz All Good."
This is an early warning sign that a leviathan-sized Flail is lurking directly beneath you with jaws fully drawn. We want to believe that we can shake our demons with sweet talk and positive fluff. But anyone who thinks "it's all good" is not paying attention. You are torturing your body. When it fails to keep up with your expectation, you command it to go faster and harder, thus increasing the torture. Even when everything's working well, the seeds of destruction are sprouting. The brain commands the legs to spin faster in a bigger gear. The legs tell the lungs to deliver more oxygen. The heart tells the vessels to push greater volumes of blood to the muscles. The muscles are never satisfied, so the brain pours in a bunch of hormones to douse the fire. Pretty soon the feel-good hormones don't work as well so the brain responds by calcifying arteries, obliterating capillaries, vanquishing neurons, wiping out pain pathways -- in short, the brain responds by killing itself. This cycle of pound/flailing builds strongerathletes.
After twenty years, the organs start to harden. The vessels fill with gunk. The joints lose precious fluids and the voids fill with spurs, rust and mites. The valves develop leaks, which expand with each maximal effort. The heart ventricles and atria grow brittle. The line distinguishing a cardiac patient and an elite cyclist attenuates -- and all of this on a good day -- and we won't even talk about the insidious impact on the prostrate, the melanoma risks, the irritable bowel syndrome, the cumulative stress of navigating the highway gauntlet, or the recurrent genital wart-like rashes.
On a bad day, the body responds to positive thinking like a speeding bullet responds to a peace symbol. MKA realizes it's not all good when he finds himself on the end of the rope behind a 210 pounder with furry forearms and stretch pants, holding on for dear life.
Flail Control Response No. 2: "The legs will freshen up."
The pack approaches the second moderate climb. Normally, MKA would regard this as a launching pad for a blistering attack. Not today. Labor's Donovan "Concavo" and a cluster of fungible Amgen homogoblins are on the front, stringing it out. MKA's brain is registering pain from the lungs and legs, but the ego quickly dismisses the signal. It's too early, and there's too much pack fodder ahead and around me. A soothing Mr. Roger's voice counsels: "This discomfort will pass. Go ahead. Stand up. Shake out cobwebs." MKA responds by jumping out of the saddle, as if to show the body's who's boss. MKA quickly sits down and tucks back in behind the double wide. Do the legs freshen up? Does an unpeeled banana exposed to the air turn green? No. It turns black, just like MKA's lungs, which have taken on all the freshness of an eviscerated feral pig's innards teeming with black flies. The more oxygen MKA tries to deliver to the legs, the more they choke and sputter, as if the left main stem bronchus has been clogged by a wad of gauze.
This is not going well.
Disaster Control Response No. 3: "They must be on Drugs."
The thinned down pel reaches the base of the first major climb. MKA is now barely holding on, about 30 back. Concavo has shot up the road, a very wiry, very freckled, stubbornly rebellious man on a mission. Toons is a few seconds back, pulling a small chase group, which includes the always stealthy Hovercraft and a polka-dotted homogoblin. They looked exceedingly comfortable. That's where I should be. What am I doing back here? Buck up soldier! The fog of panic begins to roll in, but MKA is having trouble processing the data, which seems foreign to him -- a mistake of cosmic proportions -- for which he is ill prepared.
Then, from a dark deep spider hole in the cerebral cortex, out crawls a new voice, a scratchy, scraping, snearing voice. It's Nietzsche''s tarantula. It whispers, conspiratorially: "They must be on drugs." MKA confesses he wanted to believe that. He dearly wanted to believe that the only way a pack of 30 riders, which included sewer dwellers like the rancid Desert Rat and Mumbles the milk-white marble-mouth, could casually ride away from him was if they were all doped up. Sure, the Amgen team, which boldly advertises EPO on its jersey, was not above suspicion.
But it just didn't add up. More likely, the entire pel had divorced their wives, disowned their children and/or pets, quit their jobs, and en masse rented a hotel in the middle of Death Valley where they'd spent the last two months daily climbing Mt. McKinley, sleeping in O2 tents, eating nothing but lentils and kipper snacks and generally living the life in a shroud of blessedly strategic secrecy.
MKA had to fess up that he was mired in a pathetic state of moral weakness, a state in which the loser categorically rejects the superiority of his competition. He had not come to grips entirely with the inescapable fact that he had become a useless load of detritus. He had become one of those Hueys being pushed off the deck of the USS Midway in the Gulf of Tonkin to make room for foreigners. Excreted, like a heaping garbage scow offloaded at Fresh Kills. Dumped, like a wise guy hands bound, feet encased in cement with a couple 'o pills to the head crashing through the thin ice over the Hudson. Dropped, like a depth charge with a short fuse. Ugly, from any angle.
Disaster Control Response No. 4: "I've been Drugged."
Wait a second. Dropped? The ego tends to respond to such vile rebukes like the infamously loyal Nipponese soldier on the uncharted malaria-infested New Guinea island long after The Little Boy had been dropped on Hiroshima: it fights to the death. MKA refused to believe his woeful destiny. He wasn't going to walk around with the "D" word printed on his forehead, humiliated and bereft. If the pack wasn't lousy with drugs, then it had to be true that MKA himself had been drugged.
Stricky. Before the race, Stricky was slinking around the Labor Camp, rifling through Labor's swag, filching loose gu's and poaching the precious go-go powders. Strangely, he offered to fill up MKA's bottle. Stricky had never done MKA any favors when he was on Labor, why the turn of heart? That bastard slipped a benzo in my gatorade. A lortab! No wonder this all seems like a dream, I'm stoned, ferchrist!
Wait. Stricky's not in this race. He's innocent. Note to self: triple the bounty on Stricky's head on account he was a suspect. MKA needed a more plausible theory. He had not been drugged, he had been poisoned. Note that before kick-off he had slathered on his usual heat balm, but instead of the usual yellow tube of Toast, he opted for the blazing hot red tube, which contained essentially the same chemicals used to flush out freedom-hating terrorists in the jungles of 'Nam. Note also that MKA had the night before sheared the wool off his sticks, leaving them smooth, supple and dangerously amenable to the quick absorption of balms, creams and potions. Note finally that come to think MKA had not topped off his tank with the usual triple flusher -- he had dared enter the race based on a single blowdown at or about the crack of dawn, thus leaving stranded in his lower colon fist-sized rocks of unvented waste product. It was entirely possible that the kerosene-based balm had mixed with the festering raw sewage to create a volatile toxic sludge that had selectively targeted the few million teeming pools of lactic acid that had been stewing throughout MKA's legs, producing what amounted to a really F-ed up situation. This made more sense.
FCRM No. 5: "I've been kidnapped by Space Aliens."
All that toxic firepower, and yet no mushroom cloud. The legs kept going, albeit at a slovenly, thick cadence. Probably not poisoned. The answer was more fundamental. MKA did not feel like himself, so it followed that he wasn't himself. Could it be? Yes. MKA had been kidnapped by space aliens. It added up. He had retained his unflappable sanity and his trademark mental clarity, but his high-end body had been swapped out for a cheap K-mart blue light imitation. MKA had now entered the deep space of denial. This is not my burning body. This is not my beautiful house. I am up the road, flying with the eagles, inflicting pain, not taking it. MKA studied the situation. Shaved legs? MKA doesnt have shaved legs. White handle bar tape? The only guys entitled to wear white are Broadway Joe Namath, Reggie "Mr October" Jackson and Johnny O-Show. Who is this craven imposter?
Then it struck MKA. Tragically, he had indeed shaved, and he had indeed allowed teammate Psycho Wiko to strip off the perfectly worn black electrical tape for the spongy virgin white stuff. Enter the mocking cackles from the crescent shaped, gnarled and scarred mug of Der Hippster: "You idiooottt! See what happens when you elevate pritty above gritty? Everything was fine but you had to girl it up. You deserve this!" About then a putrid ball of gas from way deep down was liberated. The riffraff scattered. No mistaking that signature garlic-Kettles crinkle cut combo, it could emanate only from the rank underbelly of MKA. Damn. I am me.
FCRM No. 6: "Bronchitis."
Having exhausted pep talks, withering self abuse, drugs, poisoning, and body snatching, MKA was in need. A fellow outcast, noticing the disconnect between MKA's resume and his current global positioning, offered up a welcome escape hatch. "Are you sick?" MKA pondered. No, I'm not. In fact, pulling out of the KFC before the race with a bucket I even told my compatriots I felt great. But that's too many words and emotions, and I don't want to talk much right now. So MKA lied. "Yeah, feeling sick over here boss, all week with the bronchitis and what not..antibiotics...kids...viral sponges, yaknow...". He aked a cough. In case the other flailers hadn't heard, MKA straightened up and formally declared"Clevestein Barr" to erase any doubts. The noodlers nodded sympathetically.
Was it really a lie? The fact that MKA's ego refused to accept the humiliation of trudging along with the reeks and wrecks 15 minutes behind the leaders was certainly evidence of some kind of deep seated neurological disorder.
FCRM no. 7: "Just have fun."
Having decided to soldier on, MKA tried to summon up some encouragement for his fellow flailers. "Let's just keep it steady and get a good work out." This was a bitter pill to swallow. MKA had long ridiculed dreamers who dismissed crappy results by invoking the "I was just training" fib. It got worse. One bloke wanted to abandon. "C'mon," MKA said, "let's just have fun and finish." Gads. MKA had reached the nadir of his fall from fitness. He had reached the waterline. He had to bust out before he became one of them, a chatty, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed hobbyist.
So on the final climb of the final lap, still down by 15 minutes, MKA drilled down deep in search of the precious bitterness, found a tiny pocket, tapped it, and rode away from the wrecks. He angrily hunted down the cat V stragglers dead ahead and forced himself to think that with one epic surge he would catch the thoroughbreds, who of course by now were poolside with the wine and cheese. MKA blew by a Blutarsky with love handles that would make the Fridge cringe. Next up, a skinny "playa" who would not relent. MKA chased him down -- tenaciously -- and decided to shave him close to mark the scalp. The playa jumped on. Ok, that's it. MKA's got a reputation after all. MKA opened up with a white hot barrage of obscenities, replete with all the comforting references to skull-caving, A -F'ing, and skum jakking, just like MKA of old. It felt good.
The Bully Vee Labor Leader Bored
1. HooDee Huvva Kraft, Labor Power (scone free diet not enforced, gots lots more)
2. Donovan "Concavo" Douglas, Labor Power (redheaded man in long black coat)
3. Mumbles, Amgen Homogoblins (brmmm mmpph plmph smirful)
4. Michael Anker Sore, Homogoblins (No quotes, MKA never got close)
5. Fennel Seed, Semper Fi (assumed bone wrapped in sinew and tendons,MKA never within snotshot)
6. Benny the Desert Rat, Cabana Pool Products (it's gonna take a lotta love, to get you through the night)
7. Johnny O-Show, Hoffy's Heroes (big air)
10. Jeff Flail-o-Way, Labor Power (cat 4 post philly cheese blimpo-cum-labor lawyer with big dreams)
13 Kimberly Anderson (Columbia) (sundialers rejoice! MKA wasted by a split tail)
Get busy living.
Post script: Labor's multi-national champion Chris Vampire Walker spent the offseason volunteering at the Goleta Blood Bank and his late night filching paid off. He's leaner and lighter, if that's possible, besides which he's taken an accelerated course in smackdown attitude. He will not be worked or jerked by the rump riding dingleberries. After a Monex euro-widget dangled off the front, Vampy chased it down with once and future laborite JB (del fuy x 3), attacked the fresh kill and almost soloed in for the Bully Vee. MKA can't vouch for the accuracy of the latter but is going with it. KB duly gave up the props (verifiable).