Broken Bones, Bad Gas and a Bad Ass Lead Out: Kool Aid Graduates from Caricature to Hard Core Mo-Fo

Hood River, Oregon

May 21, 2008

A few years ago MKA raced up at the Hood River classic and vowed never to return. Stuff broke, and then more stuff broke, and then the fingers froze which prevented him from breaking on the icy wet moss-covered BLM roads, which threatened to break more and even more important stuff. It was pretty much the perfect storm for an epically ugly experience. MKA is far too shallow to wade very deep into the paranormal but if a doctor with a touch of grey had diagnosed me as being cursed by Mt. Hood's cave-dwelling gumbaroos, I would have paid his bill.

And then a few months ago Kool Aid made an offer. He would supply all the yogurt covered pretzels, cinnamon infused organic oatmeal and King Salmon steaks I could eat, if I would just race my bike with him and his daffy sidekick, Domo. Of course MKA being a seasoned negotiator rejected the first offer and after several rounds of give and take Kool Aid finally agreed to sweeten the pot with dark chocolate almond turtles, pure Vermont maple syrup and Paul Newman's cream-filled Ginger-Os. 

It's not that MKA's a vegan wannabe, far from it, I'll hog down a slab of buffalo steak faster than a pack of wolves but when it comes to slimming down nothing makes the medicine go down like a spoonful of sugar. The deal was done.

Feed Me! 
Four eyed mutant arthropod in need of a sugar fix -- organic sugar. "If I had a soigneur, I'd be hooked up to a cherry soda IV right now, instead of begging for Gu's," laments our unpampered hero.
Teach Your Children Well

MKA's only obligation was to set a decent example and cast a few pearls. So I tried real hard not to urinate in public, or pass gas whenever I pleased, or attack stupidly like a blind rattlesnake in a room full of mongeese. Kool Aid after all was an up and coming but impressionable cat IV who generally took advice from The Celebrity Mutant and at least two or three paid medical professionals. MKA didn't want to sabotage their fine work with his bad habits, vices or odors, at least not intentionally. 

You may remember Kool Aid as the modern day Proteus who's not easily boxed in by the usual downers, like ignorance, ego, apathy, anger, a law license or even gravity. If he wants something, he generally won't let go until he gets it. It's not that he's brave or unafraid. I'd say he has a healthy respect for fear and that's probably why he tries harder than most to avoid it. And because of that -- what, call it tenacity, he's an easy target for parody, especially by those of us who privately envy a guy who at least tries to do what most of us only dream of. Yes, MKA has entertained his readers with outlandish spoofs about the private jet, the magic bus, the payroll, the gold flake encrusted parfaits, and the gourmet coffees, but putting all that silliness aside, and it was silly, MKA's interest in Kool Aid had been mainly clinical. 

That is, can one of the best trial lawyers in the country, tipping the scales three years ago at 220 pounds, a monomaniacal monkish machine who could work 20 hours a day fro 20 days straight, whose physical exercise consisted of popping open a Red Bull and hoisting a pound cake into his pie hole, completely transform himself into not just a single day wham-bam criterium rider but a full on, leaned out, sunken-cheeked stage racer?

And if so, how? How would this transformation be achieved? Would it require, as he posited, fancy lightweight gadgets, hi-tech power meters, and a team of yoda-like zen masters who could teach all the short cuts? Or would it require the brutal trashing of the inflated self, the denial of all trappings of luxury and advantage, and the hardening of one's heart, soul, belly and spirit? Or, perhaps some combination of the two? MKA was curious, as he himself after a year off had begun to ponder the wisdom of the old Labor Power mantra: Gritty not Pritty.

Hired Guns. These guys killed it so MKA could live. From Right to Left: Billy Inxs, Craig "Black 'n Blue Balls" Roemer (50 miles solo off the front will do that to a man), The Chosen One (nice gloves), Marco Hellboy and Somebody's Kid. Not pictured: Rob "Hurt Locker" Anderson, off somewhere driving stakes through his mits.
Broken Bones, Bad Gas: Halfway Home

The early season had not been kind to Kool Aid. After notching his first win, he then snapped a c-bone in a dumbass crit, a medical malady which in retrospect though inconvenient certainly increased his odds of induction into the 12k Dream Club. He rebounded with consistent money placings in the cat IV ranks and last week his stock began to rise as he took runner up to his sidekick Domo in the notoriously unforgiving Tour of the Gila. 

Body wise, Kool Aid’s transformation was progressing. Three years ago he could've been mistaken for Baloo, the loveable bumble-bear of Jungle Book lore. Now, 50 pounds lighter, he's not exactly Baloo's old nemesis, Shere Khan, the lean and very grouchy tiger, but he's growing sabers. The funny thing about losing big weight, I've noticed, is the skin doesn't always shrink commensurately. So our cool cat, even with the respectable 6% body fat, was still sporting a somewhat floppy epidermal coat which of course his lab wonks remedied with a full body Oxysox compression suit. And the funnier thing about the "sucking it in" strategy is it gives one the impression that one can eat an entire carton of Ginger-0s and two garlic pizzas without bloating, which then creates a vicious cycle of scarfing and cinching and of course the inevitable venting of sour gas. 

Mentally, Kool Aid was steeled to advance, even if it meant getting pummeled by sinewy, cagy, bony and worldly masters who on averaged graduated from the Cat IV puppy farms two decades ago. KA’s strategy -- to simply hold onto MKA's wheel come hell or high water -- was elegant, but was it wise? MKA was himself crawling out of a deep dark hole and even in the best of times had a regrettable history of imprudent and fretful attacking of the didjaseeme variety.

That was fun. A slightly puffy Kool Aid finishes strong. "You didn't tell me to bring a snub nose to put me out of my misery when the road got steeper and my lungs collapsed."
Too Much Pain, Too Much Violence

Fast forward. Day four: the downtown Hood River Criterium. After 3 days, 15,000 feet of climbing, one flat tire, 28 bottles of sugar water, and two buckets of dry spit, MKA had come to respect my salt-encrusted friend’s capacity for suffering. When the big guns starting thundering, Kool Aid had kept his head down and his legs spinning. When the lights went dim and the wolves came out to cull the weak, Kool Aid had stayed put inside the herd and kept his aches, pains and diseases to himself. When the moments of truth knocked, he answered, for the most part (the exception being the time he got dropped on a long climb because, in his view, MKA failed to tell him they were going to go really hard now). When the fussbudgets scolded his somewhat fidgety bike handling, he ignored them. When the climbs got so steep that all you wanted to do was fall off your bike or shoot yourself in the head, he kept tractoring his supersized bad self onward. 

Kool Aid showed grit, and that's a fine thing. But it came to be that on Day 4, we wanted more than the absence of pain. We wanted more than what hospice workers call palliation. Our only visceral pleasure, besides the oatmeal and raspberry scones, was the relief from pain. Granted, there were moments of near joy, like when before the first race MKA was so excited he dropped three Ds, a pleasure he had not known for nearly two years. 

Or like when he was holding on for dear life up the switchbacks and about to overheat when suddenly a snowbank appeared that seemed to cool his core and quicken his spirit. Or like when he struggled across the finish line half dead at Mt. Hood Meadows and a cheerful volunteer was there to greet him with a bottle of ice cold water. 

Or like when hardboiled miscreants ventured off the front and MKA sat back contentedly as Metcalf's elite crew of knife-throwing assassins neutralized all knuckleheads with workmanlike precision. MKA felt good and smart not being stupid and miserable, for once.

I Want More Fun, Father

All these moments were good and refreshing, but they were not fun, as we generally know the word. I mean when a man is drowning, and his fellow man tosses him a life-saver float, I'm sure the rescued man is very grateful and probably even overjoyed. But that's not to say he would repeat the crisis just to feel that moment of peace when he's secure in knowing he's been released from the jaws of death. Kool Aid and Max Kash felt like that. We had done the survival thing. We had had our moments of tranquility when the fires burned all around or when the waves crashed over the transom. We had been wobbled by blows to the gut, chin and kidneys (after day one MKA, with the chronic BPA, stood over a bloody bowl and ruminated over the damage we inflict in the pursuit of fitness). Now we wanted to have fun proper. And by that MKA imagined the fun of being the hammer instead of the nail for once. 

Let's Get this Party Started! Two spent fools doing the dance on Broke Dick Mountain. Unfortunately, MKA's dance partner wore a black hood, carried a time worn scythe and had really cold bony fingers.
Except glory of this caliber didn't really seem possible. Kool Aid wasnt a big fan of crits. One look at the gnarly knob where his smooth clavicle had once been fairly closed off further debate on the subject. He was in 6th place overall in the 35 plus category -- not bad for a cat IV dreamer with excess skin. His race calendar was full and the superbowl of stage races, the Cascade Classic, loomed in six weeks. His phone guru had counseled him to back off and be content and live to fight another day.

The course itself was not for the meek: a wicked downhill corkscrew, a screaming ramp up backside, and two g-force right handed sweepers with a parabolic dive, dump and strain uphill finish. A few years ago MKA had come out of the final turn on the tip of the spear but met calamity when his front break pad dropped into his spokes. MKA would be pleased on this day with a strong finish that left all of his body parts intact, the important ones anyway.

Slip Slidin’ Away?

With about 1/3 of the race to go, Kevin Metcalf, clad in yellow, bolted solo. Kevin was several cuts above the herd. He had won the circuit race, podied the time trial, and the day before on the vertical “run in” to Mt. Hood Meadows quirted away like an ear of buttered corn shot from a cannon. His series of stellar performances drew out the usual sour complaints ranging from unfair genes to diet pills to diabolical drugs to (my favorite) a “conspiracy” among his rainbow decorated teammates to help him win.

Skinjobs. Two new generation nexus 7 replicants, Roy Batty Metcalf, the combat leader in yellow, and Pris, your basic pleasure unit. It's too bad they won't live, but who does? Mt. Hood Off-World Colony.
But MKA knew the prime mover was none of those things. As we say, once Labor, always Labor, like one of those herpes sores that resists the best antibiotics or vaccines. Kevin, who wore the colors several years ago, decided it was best to harness not fight the disease, so he showcased his affliction proudly by donning his supercharged labor power, even though they clashed badly with his antiseptic pomegranate and white kit. As our ever cheerful and cherubic Rock Star put it, "The Labor gloves are a reminder to respect the rules but break them whenever possible."

So Kevin was up the road by his lonesome breaking the pel's legs and that was cool by MKA who now regarded the point as a woodchipper that would suck you in and chop you to mulch and spit you out the back. With two to go MKA was negotiating for various wheels, using more of the soft sell than the hard bargain (plenty of "pleases" and "may I's?" and "thank you's."). MKA hadn't seen hide nor hair of Kool Aid since the gun and assumed he was un-engaged when faster than you can say "born to be wild" KA comes flying by with a labor invite. Whoa Doggies! Is this what it looks like? Is this what it's starting to feel like -- a gosh darn, down'n dirty, Annie get your guns, take me home country roads, I can fly so high never want to die, Labor Love lead out? 

On the Kool Aid Magic Bus

This was starting to get ... fun. As we approached the bell lap, two dingo dogs had pinched off the front. Kool Aid was bogging down behind a gutshot hog that was taking on flies. "Go around!" MKA shouted and Kool Aid responded. We drove to the apex of the course at turn 1 and dove down into the corkscrew, a bend that had played hell with MKA's rusty skills all day. Turns out the key was to avoid the breaks and lay down on the sidewalls. MKA had confidence in Kool-Aid's descending skills, the dude's snowboarded down Katmandu with a rocket strapped to his ass so knows how to navigate the razor's edge. MKA let go of the breaks, scrubbed the sidewalls and locked on. The two big dogs still had a gap. Kool Aid bore down with his snout to the ground like a French pig after those delectable gourmet truffles.

And this is where it got FLAT OUT FUN. Most mules or pigs Christ I get mixed up would've driven their nose up the ass of the dying dog and called it a day. The two in front were on life support but Kool Aid, to MKA's thinking, wasn’t exactly as fresh as a daisy. MKA fully expected to have to pull up and let the bogies fly by and try to hitch a ride when Kool Aid did something marvelous -- he shifted into another gear and rocketed by the smoldering hulks like a man on a mission. Holy KEE-RISTE!! now we're on the point (except for that unholy bastard Metcalf out there spanking himself) with three turns to go and MKA's starting to get that old time labor-religion. A wide-eyed floating fetus appears out of nowhere. What’s happening?!? A voice whispers, “Something Wonderful.”

Labor Love Handles: Grip It, Grab it, and let the Sweet Nectar Gush. Two oxygen-deprived Labor Dreamers at the half-way mark of that long and lonesome road working the throttle on the imaginary Harley Fat Boy.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?
We shoot up to the penultimate corner and MKA's all giddy and nervous but not thinking too clearly: Is KA dead? Should I stay? Or should I go now? MKA feels the rancid hot dog breath on his neck and studies Kool Aid for any bobs, weaves, loose screws or streaming entrails that foreshadow imminent shut down. MKA shouts greedily "Go Baby Go!" but a surge of adrenalin left over from MKA's disco days blasts through his skull and richochets down to the legs and next thing he knows MKA is slicing the apex while sending telepathic messages to Kool Aid to shut the damn door, this rickshaw's not for hire.

About then MKA's ears are treated to the heavenly symphony of metal scraping blacktop. Good lord that Kool Aid is one fine young soldier. He stormed the pill box, used his body as a shield, took the white hot slugs to the chest all so a peevish, rickety old greybeard could have one more shot at glory. And the rest was up to MKA. He dove into the last turn and came out swinging but, alas, time, tranquility and a cobalt hip implant had melted his LEGENDARY giant jackhammer down to something a bald, bespectacled swiss watchmaker might use to open the clogged artery in a hummingbird's heart. 

We hit the line just behind Metcalf who was waving kisses to Mum and Dad. A younger, faster guy passed MKA and he knew it but just for grins Kupckake threw his bike, mainly to celebrate his breaking the curse -- his brake pads held -- but also because by so doing he could make it sound closer than it really was. 

Praise Hell, Get to Heaven

It felt good on many levels: winning the 45 plus crit, watching Kool Aid go from a caricature of a bike racer to a bona fide, and then being the benefactor of that transformation in what was a spontaneous unscripted full on wonder-romp (yes, sounds overtly Brokeback). On a more sentimental note, it also felt good to have a chance to win the same sprint in the last race Punch saw his boys race in two years ago. 

By the way, back then Punch-daddy was happily chasing down a salmon burger with a Full Sail Ail, not particularly bummed by his boy’s bad luck, I'm sure he was doing the same thing now, maybe without so much chipotle sauce dripping down his chin. 



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