Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
Yesterday’s Tour of California Stage 2 from Murrieta to Palm Springs was the most remarkable finish of a bike race I’ve ever seen in my life. The absolute carnage and destruction of the peloton was unprecedented thanks to soul crushing 23 percent gradients up Tram Way and temperatures that reached 122 degrees when factoring in the radiant heat off the blacktop. I’ve never seen harder men reduced to such human rubble.
Nearly every rider that crossed the line had to be escorted to their team vehicles because they had absolutely nothing left in their bodies to pedal another foot. Salt deposits turned jerseys into hardened pieces of fabric. Riders were splayed out on the ground, stuffing handfuls of ice into their jerseys and on their crotches. Some didn’t even make it to the finish, passing out from heat exhaustion hundreds of meters from the line. Race organizers should thank the heat stroke Gods that nobody died yesterday, or it would have been the end of the Tour of California.
I’ve done a lot of dumb things in my life, and two nights ago while packing my bike and gear into the truck, I realized that pre-riding the 124-mile Stage 2 with a few buddies in 120+ degree heat was going to be another entry in the dumbass files. Everything in my good sense was telling me not to do it, but peer pressure is something fierce, and since a handful of my friends were doing it, well, why shouldn’t I?
Making poor decisions has been a considerable skill for me. Skiing in New Hampshire with a wind chill factor of minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit resulting in permanent nerve damage to my feet, going four-wheeling with my father-in-law, bringing no supplies or tools and getting so stuck in the mud we had to sleep overnight in my brother’s Land Cruiser and widespread destruction of public property as a college student that should have landed me in jail are just a few examples.
So at what point does a man finally listen to that voice inside him saying “just don’t do it”? If you’re a really stubborn ASS like myself, you have to do the same dumb thing several times before you realize it isn’t worth doing anymore. It seems that every time I push my body well beyond its limits, I suffer so horrifically that the only thought going through my mind is “why am I doing this to myself?” It’s usually after the second time you realize the answer; “because I’m a stubborn dumbass.”
I love to ride my bike and I love a challenge, but I love having an affordable healthcare plan even more. I also love not having to get an intravenous drip of electrolytes to keep me from shriveling up into a human-sized raisin. So with a bit of reluctance, I shot my friends a message announcing withdrawal from the pre-ride. As a competitive person who doesn’t often turn down a challenge, it was a difficult message for me to send. But as Dirty Harry says, “a man has got to know his limitations”.
It’s an interesting paradox – humans by nature are programmed to avoid undue pain and suffering, yet many athletes proactively seek it out. This is the true definition of a masochist, and whether professional or just a spectator, everyone who rode Stage 2 of this year’s Tour is a full-blown masochist.
Instead of enduring the brutal heat of the Inland Empire, I opted to stay at the beach in Carlsbad, doing some work while watching endless eye candy stroll by, going for a swim in the ocean and taking a nice sunset spin down Coast Highway. My buddy Victor kept sending me photos of his Garmin. 105 degrees, 113 degrees, and the clincher, a blistering 122 degree reading on Tram Way. Clearly, I had made the right decision.
Who in a sane state of mind would voluntarily be out on their bike in that kind of weather? I don’t even go outside to get the mail when its 122 degrees, let alone ride my bike up a 3.7 mile wall gaining nearly 2,000 vertical feet. Some might call me soft for not having done the ride, and that’s perfectly okay. I’m proud of the decision, because for once I abstained from doing something utterly stupid and extremely dangerous.
They say wisdom comes with age. I’m still a long way from wisdom, but hopefully today got me just a tiny bit closer. My buddy Johnny rode the entire stage and was three Torpedo IPAs deep at the finish line watching the human destruction when he called me.
“You’re a smart man for not having ridden,” he said. “It’s stupid out here, but I conquered this damn mountain, and it feels amazing.”
Although I had made peace with the decision not to ride, there was still a little part of me wishing I had gone ahead with the idiotic mission. But knowing my friends, I’m sure there will be many more opportunities.