My weekend was unraveling. And fair warning, your day might unravel after reading this.
This is not what you’re used to reading here. And it’s probably NSFW to read aloud (except for that one guy). No apologies are made or given.
So, the Friday before the fondo, taking the boyo to Donuts for Dads at the elementary school, I ran into Tyler, who looked pretty rough. “Would you be heartbroken if we don’t go?” he asked through his nose.
Not really? … I guess. But I already had momentum that direction. And I have to admit, I was kind of looking forward to it.
Tyler had approached me a couple of weeks back about joining him at the Hincapie Gran Fondo. We’d have VIP passes, which included breakfast, the ride, post-ride massages, various other perks, plus entry to the VIP after-party Saturday night.
A pampered 80 mile ride on some beautiful mountain roads? With free beer and food and massages and parties and stuff?
Was I in?
Do noses bleed when you punch them?
When I told a friend what I was up to, he called it the “Dopers’ Fondo.”
And while I should have very strong and vocal opinions about George Hincapie, pro-racing, doping, etc. …. I just don’t. I mean…. I do… but they’re not particularly earth-shattering or vehement. (kids… doping is bad, m’kay.)
Some shit just isn’t on my radar. I’m not saying that it’s not important…. just that at present, I have stronger opinions about whether you call it “Cilantro” or “Rocket.”
Speaking of which:
What are your salad days? Those days you wish had never ended and you’ll spend your life remembering and trying to relive?
A hefty portion of mine were the time I lived in Hendersonville, NC.
It wasn’t young. It wasn’t hip. It wasn’t hopping.
But damn, the riding and running was unbeatable. Morning runs up a mountain. Daily bike rides around Brevard and Saluda. Weekend all-day runs and rides in Dupont Forest.
I wasn’t concerned with a social life, and I didn’t give a shit what kind of work I was doing… because the playing was epic.
I worked a number of jobs…
Framing and carpentry work… building super-boojie houses in super-boojie neighborhoods with names like “Kenmure” and “The Cliffs”. It was good work…. Even when it was so cold that the nail gun stuck to my hand like a tongue to a flag-pole.
Interlude: One of my favorite recurrences while at this job was the biweekly delivery of a new porta-potty. Outside of the obvious benefit of a relatively clean place to do one’s business… it allowed me the beauty of watching it fill with doodles. Not doody, mind you. Doodles. By the end of the day, the formerly clean walls would be marred with thematic scribbling, from scathing indictments of fellow workers (“Doug eats faget pusey”), to well-deep musings on life (“faggs are gay”), to recommendations of where one might find a good time (“Call Keith for yuor dik suck”) to pretty graphic renditions of the various ways that men might be intimate with each other. Even counting the various contractors and sub-contractors who would be on site any given week, there were maybe… 8 of us? And it wasn’t me doing the scribbling…. So the fun was trying to guess which one of my extremely religious co-workers was responsible for which part.
After a while, I left to work for a tiny triathlon shop in Saluda.
That was a bit of a strange time, and I have more than a few very true stories about it to strain credulity. The best true stories always do.
Then I briefly worked for Ken at Bikeways, building bikes and not talking to customers.
Then… I got a job at the local health food coop as the Assistant Grocery Buyer (very important stuff.)
When my at-the-time wife applied for and was offered a job at Guilford College, I acquiesced.
But it was an extremely reluctant acquiescence, and admit that I struggle with Greensboro.
But that’s a story for another time.
The point being that all I wanted to do was get back to those beautiful roads, ride my bike, drink beer and hang out. I didn’t particularly care who with.
But it was looking like that might not happen.
And I considered staying home so that I could clean, organize and tackle the list of many many things that I “never get a chance to do”
(ie: never bother to do).
But after much waffling, I finally decided to drive out and do it solo. Tyler called to get everything swapped into my name, and at least four hours later than I intended… I set off down the road in the Adventurewagen, an official VIP representative of the Bikerumor.
I promised Tyler I’d maybe try and consider the possibility of thinking about writing something. Maybe.
I arrived in Greenville, SC to pick up my VIP packet just as they were shutting down… 9pm.
Equipped with a musette of stuff, I headed off to find some food. At the recommendation of the people manning check-in, I made my way to the Poinsett Bar and Grill.
In the parking lot I was approached by a very drunk man who asked me repeatedly if I was “in the band.”
My answers to the negative seemingly having no effect, I somehow pieced together that there was a $20 cover charge to get into Poinset that night.
Dejected by my refusal to put him on the guest-list, my drunk friend hung his head.
“You have any weed?” he momentarily rallied.
I did not.
He hung his head again and shuffled off.
Next I hit up a Mexican restaurant, but upon entering and finding the establishment reeking of smoke, I once again said “Fuck that” and turned around to try the Italian restaurant I’d seen.
By this time I was starting to lose it a little, as I had failed to eat lunch, was ravenously hungry, was running hours behind “schedule”, still had absolutely no clue where I was going, and wasn’t sure where I was even going to sleep that night.
Walking into Bocca, the host informed me that the kitchen was closed.
“Fuck!” I said, all too audibly, at the exact moment that there was a lull in every conversation the various patrons were having.
I got more than a few looks and conversations began anew… this time with the unsavory tattooed fellow dropping f-bombs as the preferred topic.
“Look. Sorry…..I just….Ugh…Where should I go? What’s open and where? Just point me in a direction because I have no idea where I am. And I really need to eat.”
He was clueless, and as I was getting ready to shuffle my despondent ass back to the camper eat Clif Bars and cry, the owner came out and said they could serve me.
I sat down and had two delicious Thomas Creek River Falls Red Ales in quick succession. Bread with herbed olive oil, Caprese Salad and some killer Ravioli with Bolognese sauce followed. I was beyond happy that the other options hadn’t worked out. The owner came out and talked to me a little about my Adventurewagen, his many children, riding bicycles, this pro-racer guy who eats there sometimes (“Columbian fellow”) and life…. then said I was welcome to camp in the parking lot that night.
Things were finally falling into place. I drank more delicious beers until they were ready to close, then climbed into the wagen and tried to drift off.
It would be dipping down into the 30’s that night, and having left my sleeping bag, I was hoping that the sheets and blankets stashed in the van would suffice.
They did… But barely.
At one point I crawled out of the van to purge the many beers and managed to step in a particularly fragrant pile of dog shit.
I did my best to wipe it off, but it was late, I was tired, and it was too cold to leave my only shoes outside. So I woke up the next morning to a freezing, horrible smelling van.
I hadn’t slept particularly well either, drifting off to dreams of local hoodlums rocking my van back and forth (I think it was a dream)… but I pulled myself out of my layered cocoon and headed up to the Hotel Domestique.
Pulling into the VIP parking area, I inadvertently did my best to park like a total dick:
Then I headed in to find my much needed VIP coffee.
I had no clue what to expect, as I had yet to actually read anything about the Fondo outside of a cursory look at the schedule.
9am start. That’s what I knew.
Inside I found a big spread with actual coffee (and Sugar in the Raw, which I often find to be a decent barometer on the bean side of things.)
Having forgotten my camera charger, I was stuck with the iPhone as my primary weapon. And if my photography skills are weak at best when equipped with an actual camera, I pretty much suck at the iPhone. (Milo the boy is an expert with it, naturally. I should have brought him.)
I admit to being curious about the mix of folks who would make up the VIP’s. What did they do? Where had they come from? What motivated them to make the trek to this Fondo in particular?
They came from all over, it turned out. DC, New York, Massachusetts, California, Ohio and just down the road in Greenville. Some of them saw info about the ride in a magazine and said, “Why not?” Some conspired with distant friends to converge on the event as their annual “boys getaway.” Some had connections to Hincapie Sports. Some just wanted to ride with the pros. And some just wanted a chance to ride their bikes somewhere remarkable.
Can’t fault any of them.
As George wandered around the room, saying hello to the various VIPs, he must have greeted me at least five times. Sigh… I suppose my “charisma” and “looks” don’t account for much in the way of recognition.
You mean you don’t remember me from this intimate little party called Interbike? Fug.
Best friends forever, George! That’s what you said! FOREVER!
At a point, I tore myself away from the food and coffee and tried to do at least a modicum of what Tyler asked.
“If you can, take some pictures of the pro’s bikes… or… something” seemed to stand out.
So I used my media credentials to push my way into the room where the pro’s bikes were being stored, and tried to snap some shots of things that seemed noteworthy. Honestly, the room was such a clusterfuck of bikes leaning against bikes leaning against walls, that making it photogenically striking was beyond my less-than-stellar abilities. And as far as rad tech on the pro’s bikes goes…. you’ve seen it all before… in better focus. The new SRAM RED hydraulic…. SRM Powermeters…. OSYMETRIC rings….
I don’t know… look at Bikerumor or something.
Nothing particularly stood out to my jaded mind, but I found a few things.
So check THIS out!
There were number of pros milling about who I absolutely should have recognized, but didn’t. I couldn’t miss Taylor Phinney, however, who is a tall drink of water.
At a point, I figured it was time to get ready to ride.
I’d brought the Raleigh International, for some reason thinking it was better geared for hill climbing. Turns out it was not, but despite the fact that the dropouts make it ill-suited for sprinting…..
…I love how this bike rides. And was happy to be on it.
I have so many great kits, so in lieu of the Revolution Cycles duds, I’d opted for something else.
When I last lived in this neck of the woods, every 3rd car had a “We Still Pray” bumper sticker. The Evil Cycling jersey with “Hail Satan” across the side panels seemed the only appropriate choice. Coupled with my AHTBM/Hodala warmers (buy some), and I stood out like a turd.
Regardless of how un-VIP I looked, my number said otherwise. So I got to line up somewhere near the front, which was nice. Especially because it meant that I was behind this guy:
And we were off. It was pretty cold and in the massive crowd of 1200+ riders, my numb fingers were working overtime on the brakes.
Finally things began to space out a little, and soon enough, we were going up.
Skyuka. Climb one of the day.
I have to admit, I felt pretty good. I won’t say I’m a good climber, but in a rare twist, it’s one of the few things I don’t totally suck at in life.
I stayed with most of the big dogs, even when my dehydrated and undertrained legs began giving pre-cramp twitches.
Unlike other big rides I’ve done, when we hit the aid-station, everyone stopped. Maybe a few folks blazed on through, but the PROS stopped. And so did I. It was a nice change. Bottles were refilled, pockets were stuffed, bowels were purged….and we rolled on.
While the climbing was hard, and while I fell apart on Howard Gap, trying to stave off the cramps a little longer and not caring as I fell into a “make-your-own-switchbacks” Fredly McFredster climbing style….. for the majority of the 80 miles I kept thinking “Man…Road riding is EASY! I love this!”
I mean… naturally if the front group had really started rolling, I’d have felt differently… and I’ve certainly seen my share of stars trying to stay with some fast folks on the road.
But compared to hauling my ass around the mountains on a rigid singlespeed, riding my road bike was a treat.
The scenery was amazing, and as I hoped, was hitting that long neglected G-spot over and over and over.
The climbing was hard, but the hardest part of the day for me was when I tried to stay on Taylor Phinney’s wheel down one of the descents. I’m relatively competent as a descender (hmm… Watts? You sure?), but I was pushing (past) the limits of trusting myself and the bike in some of the switchbacks.
On the other side I lost touch with the main group of pros, and was happy to solo it for a bit… riding along in my own little nostalgic reverie.
Eventually I caught up with a group of riders and we rolled in together, splintering a little as we approached the finish.
Coming across the line, it would appear that my timing chip was too buried in a pocket to be read.
Oh well. 4:45? 4:54? Something like that.
I don’t really care. I had fun riding beautiful roads, and that’s all I wanted. There was tons of free food and free beer from New Belgium, and I wasted no time imbibing. As I milled about, I ran into a bunch of folks.
As a RITTE VAN VLANDEREN dealer, I was stoked to spot some kits, and sat down to speak with these gents. They were all part of the Rogue Velo crew out of Maryland, plus brother Danny, who was the distributor for Ritte in Japan. He’d come a long way to ride.
I wandered around some more, my bottomless cup of Fat Tire ever emptying and refilling.
I turned and saw a familiar face. It was Hank, who I’d raced against at a few of the NUE series events. We talked about racing mountain bikes and the Fondo, then about the Adventurewagen… which led to wear* I was staying.
*(HA! Really? Wear? Wear?! I’m leaving that for posterity.)
“Man… I have no clue,” I said. “Reckon I’ll figure something out.”
“Rich (Hincapie) will totally let you camp out here. I’ll talk to him.”
Perfect… because from what Tyler told me of the after-party that night, being able to walk out to the van and pass out would be ideal. Soon enough, it was a sure thing. I could stay on site. I thanked Hank and Rich and wandered off to get my free VIP massage.
I somehow got two.
Wandering up to a tent, with massage tables and chairs, I got double teamed by two women….
… on a massage. Despite not being the kind of double team people dream of, it was a bad-ass massage.
Afterward, discovering that this free massage was not my actual free VIP massage, I wandered inside for more.
Sadly, this one didn’t quite measure up to the other. My timing in the queue had me on a slightly elderly woman’s table and she just couldn’t muster up much pressure. It was like having a warm wet towel draped across my back. Which isn’t bad. Just not awesome. Oh well. It was free.
I snuck into the Hotel Domestique showers reserved for the pros and cleaned up.
Then I hung out until the party, the bar being open already.
I admit to being pretty well drunkety by the time the party proper started…. enough so that I wasn’t shy about going up and inserting myself into conversations with people I didn’t know.
Awkward and shy? Unsure how to join the party? Being social is easier than ever with Watts Dixon’s 5 point program. It’s easy! Just follow these steps!
- Find a group of people standing in a tight circle talking to one another.
- Without any introduction or polite excuses, cut into the circle and stand dead in the center.
- Act as if you’re totally unaware that there are people surrounding you, or that there is a conversation now being obstructed by your presence.
- And finally, stare into space, as if you’re not quite right… or as if there’s something equal parts fascinating and terrifying dangling from the ceiling.
- Oh… and be sure to laugh when they laugh…. but a little louder than necessary.
Now you try!
I hung out with a number of different folks, flitting about like the lone moth amid butterflies. I had fun… but nothing was getting broken, no one was dancing, and nobody seemed particularly drunkety.
Michael Schar, however, seemed at the cusp of something great. I don’t know what he’d had to drink before, but the bottle of Schnapps in his pocket was nearly empty.
Grabbing various people by the throat, pouring schnapps down their throat, occasionally breaking into impromptu dancing… I liked his style.
I liked it more when after pouring the last of his schnapps into one victim’s mouth, he kissed him forcibly on the lips.
Everyone cheered and laughed.
It was a great moment. I’d been waiting for the party to start.
Afterward, I asked the kissee if I could get his name for the “article(?)” I was writing.
He started to….. when his ladyfriend butted in petulantly.
“No!” she said, pointing a finger at me. “You can NOT! Leave him out of this. Michael Schar may be a public figure but he is not!”
Which I guess means… what?…her boyfriend was a nobody? (…yawn…)
“You cannot have his name, and as his legal council (?), I’m telling you to back off!!!”
Her boyfriend nodded and thanked her for “coming to his rescue”….. and baffled by both of their histrionics, I commended her for being so “on it,” (the sarcasm being missed completely.)
I mean…. really? Did anyone give a shit?
Was this really going to ruin him?
Would people now think less of him?
Was his obviously stellar social status now going to plummet because an awesomely drunk pro-racer jokingly kissed him?
Was he that insecure in his own sexuality (as his girlfriend obviously was)?
You know who isn’t insecure about it? Michael fucking Schar, that’s who.
Shit… I wish Michael would have kissed ME! I’d have owned it.
At a point, people started disappearing and I decided it would be best to go collapse in the camper. I somehow managed to fold down the bed and crawl in, clothes and all. And then passed out.
I woke up the next morning, organized the van and got moving back to Greensboro.
I admit to not being well steeped in the world of Gran Fondo’s….but I had a pretty awesome time at this one. The riding was amazing and the spread was great. What else do you need?
I’ll do my best to come back next year, even if Bikerumor deems me an ill-suited representative. (rightly so?)
I’ll make you sooooo proud, Tyler. I’ll bring a real camera and everything.
Until next time, kids.
PS. Support your local bike shop.
PPS. Follow Watts’ blawwg. http://revoltingcogs.blogspot.com/