Mark Firmani – July 08
A few random observations from Saturday’s Seattle-to-Portland-in-a-Day Ride:
• As I was sliding down to Lake Washington Boulevard at 5 in the morning through the heavily forested park, watching hundreds birds – up before the dawn – scatter and take flight, seemingly surprised at the sight of a biker in the dark, I found comfort knowing I wasn’t the only creature up this early, but I felt bad at interrupting their quest for the justly deserved worm.
• Somewhere after Fort Lewis, I snapped out of Daydream Number 32 to observe that I was somehow part of a double pace line that materialized out of some random Brownian movement of cyclists. Now, instead of focusing on the taint-torturing chip seal amid hypoxic and food-deprived riders, I was part of an elegant flow of a few dozen cyclists fading off right and left in tight formation, making the miles to lunch much more tolerable. And to the guy wearing the Oklahoma cycling jersey riding in front of me: I was just kidding; I don’t hold you personally responsible for The Sonics. Not completely.
• South of Chehalis, just as the heat of the day began to press down like a sandwich grill, I saw something that made me smile and accelerate: sprinklers. I could hear the whoops and shouts of riders ahead of me as they rolled through the bracingly cold water. I told myself I would be much more dignified, and just let the cool water wash over me in a silent moment of respite. My whoops and shouts must have carried miles. When I hit the second sprinkler, I had my feet unclipped, my legs shooting and my arms raised out like a trained bear on a trike. Brilliant! I looked to the house that owned the sprinkler and saw four people sitting side by side on the shaded porch, each with an absurdly large grin plastered on their face, watching the parade of delighted cyclists, being immensely entertained for the cost of a few gallons of water.
• One of my riding partners, who shall be known as Flower (short for ‘The Delicate Flower’ a testament to his tender sensibilities and aversion to suffering, a seeming contradiction for a cyclist) began his litany of concerns and excuses starting at about Leschi, ranging from his lack of training, his shortage of some magical compound he swears by called Acid Zapper, to an ongoing dialog detailing the minute-by-minute condition of his taint. The rate and intensity of his protestations steadily increased in frequency and intensity until about Chehalis, when I asked him how he felt. “I don’t know how I will feel after another hundred miles.” I rebuked him. “Flower” I said, “Flower, I am not asking how you think you will feel in a hundred miles, I am asking how you feel now.” He thought for a moment as his gaze turning down to his body as if to check for overlooked compound fractures. “I feel great!,” he said, somewhat surprised at his own answer. That ended most of Flower’s grousing. He finished in fine form, pulling long stretches.
• Speaking of Chehalis, as we rolled in for lunch, we turned our collective noses to the one-day food stop and instead sought out what I think is one of the undiscovered treasures of the ride – The Lion’s Club Baked Potato Stand. These guys are great. They’re a cross between Emeril Lagasse and Uncle Fester. As we walked toward them, they were poised to act: one kind older gentleman – festooned with patches and pins denoting a life well lived – grabbed a spud the size of Nerf football. The second had his scoops of butter and sour cream set in each hand like Tito Puente ready to attack the timbales, quivering for his cue. As they tag-teamed the construction of a thousand-calorie carbohydrate masterpiece (extra bacon-bits please), I mentioned to them that this was one of the highlights of my ride each year. The first gentlemen stopped, looked at me directly and said “Son, this is one of the highlights of our year too.”
• As we were grinding away on Highway 30, a section of road that has as much to offer cycling as George Bush does the MacArthur Foundation, we rolled up to a stoplight in the town of Scappoose, were we were joined by a gaggle of Harley riders. Them: big, hairy, encased in leather. Me: big, hairy, encased in Spandex. Oh, and I smelled. Bad. Very bad. We waited for the light, all eyes locked on the signal. As the seconds passed, we cast each other sidelong glances. The biggest of the big looked at me through black Ray Bans. He was a Harley rider, through and through, and there was no way he would ever ride ‘one of those things’ (let’s not even get into bibs and Butt Butter), but somewhere, deep down inside, he knew we shared some deep primal link, some connection rooted in our love of two wheels, or perhaps our deep antipathy and distrust of Escalades with tinted windows. In any case, he stared for a moment, then gave me the mini-tilt; the slight tip of the head backwards by a few millimeters and back down that says something between “how you doing (think Paulie Walnuts)” and “I won’t beat you up.”
• My final observation was how good the beer tasted the next day, safely aboard the Amtrak train heading home. Then, of course, I feel soundly asleep, waking to find my $6.50 IPA spilled across my lap.
A special thanks to my team, Flower, Kristin the Hammer, Joe and AngryMunkey. One more round of applause to Cascade for a great, well-organized ride.