Due to an unprecedentedly-high density of alleycats on the calendar recently (4 in the last 2 weeks), there’s much to report. I’ll go chronologically:
1) Two weeks ago, on a warm thursday night, I threw down $6 to partake in the winner-take-all Crazy Eights race, put on by Devin, in Golden Gate Park. The route: 3 laps around 2 circular fountains, avoiding metal benches all around and one sandy spot on the side. Total distance: .36 mile. The story: After exciting track-stand starts, not much happened once we got around the first turn and settled into a paceline. There was lots of skidding around the fountains, and a couple scary pedal-strike incidents, but otherwise the race was pretty much a matter of not falling over. The result: finishing positions indicated a certain lack of sprinting talent on my part. In heat 1, I got 5th (out of 6). In heat 2, I got 4th (out of 7). But fun nonetheless. The bling: after the winners of each heat agreed to a modified winner-take-most contract, the winner of the final face-off, Massan, took home $30, while Nate took home $18.
2)Two days later, about 20 of us raced in Ascent, MASH’s second race in a 3-part monthly series. The route: point A to point B — from the SF library to the top of Telegraph Hill, about 300′ higher. Total distance: about 2 miles. The story: we took off around 1pm, heading down Larkin st. I was out front early, and after 10 or 11 blocks, took a right on Post st. on the tail of the (yellow-shirted) guy in the lead. A few blocks later, 4 other guys caught up to us as we scrambled to get through some red lights. I took a sharp left on Grant st, since it was the most direct route, but all of a sudden, I was on my own, heading through Chinatown. A few intense-pedestrian-dodging blocks later, I caught sight of 3 guys half a block ahead of me. (I suspect they took Kearny to Columbus and back to Grant, but I’m not sure). I tried to pull them in on the final steep block up Grant, but I just couldn’t spin on Attila (my fixie) like I can on Paducah (my roadie). At the top, I took a right onto Lombard, and continued steadily up to the top Telegraph Hill, getting closer but not close enough. The result: I came in 4th. The bling: MASH hooked me up with a fatty sweatshirt, but better than that was riding the 2nd half of the Tour of California prologue course the day before the race — friggin sweet.
[*Colin, who won the race, is the guy front and center puking his guts out. Note that the rest of us are either 1) laughing or 2) running away]
3) A couple hours and a couple beers later that day, about 50 of us met up at the Bow and Arrow for Thuderdome, an alleycat that turned out to be much more alleycat-ish than the rest. The route: 6 checkpoints scattered about Bernal Heights and Potrero Hill. Total distance: ~ 10 miles (just a hunch). The story: The manifest that we got at 3pm looked, to my astonishment, ENTIRELY unfamiliar. Usually I recognize the name of some street, some place, some park, some statue — anything, but no, not this time. Unknown territory, and lots of it, was coming my way. BUT, I had been hangin with Mansur, a former taxi driver and a buddy from a few other races, and he kindly let me ride on his heels. So at 3:30 we lined up along the bay, and the organizers then ziptied every riders’ right of left hand to his/her handlebars, then threw a dozen pairs of scissors on the ground. When someone yelled go, there was a mad dash for the scissors. The guy left of me had a pocket knife with him, while the guy to my right used his keys to saw through the ziptie. I was even luckier – I wiggled my hand up the bar and off the end (my bars are chopped, bullhorn-style), and was free. So…I scampered around everybody and got up there with the lead pack, and zoomed way down Howard street, into Soma, with absolutely no idea where I was going, just aware that I had to stick with the pack or else… At the park, there was the opportunity to ride a little tiny bike with flat tires for bonus points, but I passed on the option, and got my manifest signed quickly, and followed the direction that the first guy — who just happened to be Mansur — had gone. I rode over some mulch, down a curb, and then under the overpass, then finally caught up with him. We got to the second checkpoint first, running across the BART train tracks under I-280, and found our guy. He told us he was hungry, and wouldn’t sign our manifests until we got him some canned food. So we got back on our bikes and boogied, looking for someplace — anyplace — that had food. On the way, we passed other bikers just arriving, and somewhat frantically searched for a store that sold any foodstuffs. Demarco, just behind us, ran in to Sports Basement, and found something in there. Mansur and I stopped at the bakery across the st, and bought a banana and a croissant — a big mistake. When we got back to the checkpoint, we were berated and then ignored, since we had not brought back canned food. Meanshile, Demarco took off, heading to checkpoint #3. So we followed suit, figuring we’d find canned food along the way. Up Potrero hill we went, and halfway up I found and ran into a tiny store that had canned peaches. I bought 2 cans, and then Mansur and I continued over to Vermont st, where we found another guy on a trail in the woods. After a shot of homemade absynthe, he signed our manifests, and we cruised back to checkpoint #2, to deliver our peaches. From there, we cruised south and east towards the bay, where we did pushups and threw a boomerang at a huge pig’s head in another futile attempt to earn bonus points. Mansur and I boogied from there to checkpoint #5, at the end of a long road jutting out into the bay. The people there handed us tiny multiple-choice tests; if we got 8 out of 10 correct, we’d earn bonus points. None of us earned bonus points (I got 5 out of 10.) So we took off, riding cyclocross-style down a trail, across a bridge, and along the water until we found a road. Here I finally recognized where I was (from another Alleycat) – but not for long. We cut west on Cesar Chavez, and found checkpoint #6 in some industrial wasteland-ish intersection. Here we were instructed to spin a wheel. Mansur went first, and landed on “gulag.” Someone put a blindfold on him, sat him on the back of a tandem bike, and dropped him off a few blocks away. Meanwhile, I spun the wheel, and landed on “amputation.” Before I had a chance to ask what I was in for, someone took an allen wrench to Attila, and removed her seat and seatpost. This was not encouraging. But, all that remained was finding my way to the finish, at Holly Park, and a quick glance at a map revealed a little green patch labelled as such, maybe 2 miles away, down Cesar Chavez and up Mission St. So off I went, figuring Mansur, riding a non-amputated bike, seat and alll, would surely catch up to me. Oh how it hurt. Oh how my legs burned, standing up to ride for so long. Oh how I yearned to be off the bike and have a chance to stretch my legs. And oh, how psyched I was when I rode up the final hill, and saw Demarco jumping around and screaming at me. The restult: I got 3rd place, and earned bonus points for being the first “amputee” to finish. Mansur came in a few minutes later. The bling: I had a few beers, got a t-shirt, and then accidentally left my debit card in an ATM, which later vexed me for a couple of days.
Yesterday, a cold, gray Sunday, 35 of us met up at noon to race up Twin Peaks. The route: point A to point B — from the clocktower, downtown, at Embarcadero and Market to the top of Twin Peaks, about 900′ higher. Total distance: about 4 miles. The story: I showed up at noon on Attila (the fixie) and quickly realized I had made a grave error. Road bikes, as I had suspected, were the machine of choice for this race. So I rode home, swapped out Attila for Paducah, and rode back with 10 minutes to spare. I ditched the bike, took off a layer, and gathered with the rest of the crew on the steps 100′ away. When the clocktower struck 1:00 and began ringing, we took off in a mad dash, picked up our bikes, and started sprinting up Market St in a crazy swirling peloton. [A few notes: 1) There was some discussion before the race about the benefits of riding up Mission St, 1 block south of Market, on account of it having fewer traffic lights -- this discussion proved moot. 2) I had ridden a couple different test routes most of the way up Twin Peaks on my fixie the week before, in a painful-but-worthwhile experiment to figure out the fastest route. Market to 17th St., even though it required extensive hike-a-bike (ok, run-a-bike) up the steeps, which reach 17%, was the fastest. Page to Ashbury, a bit longer but a much gentler climb, ended up taking a minute and a half longer. So I knew where I was headed.] So: we’re on Market, swerving around buses and trolleys and hopping over the tracks and screaming to alert pedestrians to our oncoming speeding swarming mass, riding through lights and stopping traffic and listening to some guy on the sidewalk yell “Tour de France! Tour de France!” in our honor as we zoom by. We make it through Van Ness and then Octavia (stopping traffic both times) and then we start slowly climbing up towards the Castro and I scoot my way up from maybe 12th to 10th to 7th to 5th, and all of a sudden we hang a right on 17th, and things get very painful and very quiet very fast. I’m out out of the saddle, breathing hard, hammering up this ridiculously steep street that I’ve ridden down a hundred times and never once made it up (at least on the fixie.) A car goes by honking beep-beep-beeeeeeeee-beeeeeeeee-beep at us, with some guy screaming out the window for us to push it and ride harder, but it sounds miles away and it’s hard to pay attention with the unrelenting hill asking so much of my legs and my lungs. Finally I reach the crest and make a left on Clayton, and can easily see the top of the tower looming a few hundred feet above. I’m maybe 20 seconds behind Devin, who’s closing in on another guy, and I want to ride faster and think about riding faster and look down at my speedometer and it’s not budging from 9mph. I just can’t catch them. Still, up we go, taking a left on Twin Peaks blvd and around the hairpin turn, and I can hear people on top screaming go go go go go! and it also sounds very remote and irrelevant and all I can think is THE END IS NEAR. At the top of the hairpin Devin and the other guy hop off their bikes and run up the trail to the top, and I briefly contemplate doing the same, but figure staying on the bike, on the road, and winding around is faster, so I do, and 30 seconds later I’m on top, hopping off my bike, turning in my card, leaning my bike against the stone wall, grabbing a beer, then leaning myself against the wall too. The result: I came in 5th, in just under 24 minutes. (The winner, Darren, was just under 23 mins). The bling: a huge Timbuk2 messenger bag, and some pride in a well-spent saturday afternoon.