The first weekend in May, or at least some weekend this time of year, is Bowdoin’s annual Ivies Weekend. Basically, Ivies is a spring festival that involves music, and some less-reputable activities and behaviors on the parts of those involved. To give you a perspective, this is what the outdoor concert area looked like yesterday towards the tail end of the music.
Everyone at Bowdoin goes pretty nuts over Ivies; as a recent graduate living within striking distance, I would have been remiss to miss it. While many at school celebrate for an entire week, I am now a responsible working man, thus limiting the extent of my participation to Saturday. After a 5:15 AM wake-up and a 60-mile ride, I kept things pretty reasonable, but a few others were no so lucky. An unidentified Colby skier insulted the honor of a friend of a Bowdoin skier, then let his guard down behind enemy lines, resulting in some painful repercussions. I doubt he will make this mistake again.
After a 1:00 bedtime, my alarm went off at 6:30 on Sunday morning for the fifth-weekly Scarborough Training Criterium. If Kikkan can win a national championship in the 50 k immediately after like 47 races in one month and a 5,000-mile overland journey by yak-drawn sleigh to Fort Kent, I shouldn’t have any trouble pedaling my bike around in circles for an hour against a bunch of locals after a few beers and a hard workout the day beforehand, right? Seems pretty simple.
However, there were a few hurdles to overcome before that could happen. First, I had to determine if my friend Luke was coming. Luke, whose last name will go unwritten in the interest of him someday being able to acquire a job, was generally fairly dependable in these kinds of scenarios, but with it being Ivies, I had to wonder if he really was going to be up for it. My early morning phone call went unanswered, and I was about ready to start the drive to Scarborough at 7:05–which would have left me with nearly an hour at the venue to prepare–when he called me back.
“Are you still game?”
“Yeah, totally. You might have to give me a few minutes to get my stuff ready, though.”
“No problem. Can we take your car, though? My mom’s car (yeah, I borrowed it for the weekend–nothing says huge baller ski journalist like driving your mom’s car around) doesn’t have room.”
“Sure, but I can’t drive it. Can you?”
I showed up at Luke’s apartment around 7:15. He did not seem to remember much from the day before, and was missing the screws for his new pair of cleats. We found those after a few minutes. Then he realized he was missing one of his bike shoes–one, not both–which he’d left outside in the rain, on the field where the concert was on Saturday. We packed everything into Luke’s Explorer, drove over to the field, picked up the shoe, and headed out.
It takes about 45 minutes to get to Scarborough. Our race was at about 8:40, and we left school a little before 7:30. We deemed that more than enough time to stop for coffee at the Tim Horton’s on the corner of the industrial park where the race is, at which I also purchased a Tim Horton’s “Candy Bar Supreme” Heath Bar donut–perfect pre-race fuel. We arrived at the parking lot with eight laps to go in the B-race–which our race would immediately follow. I think that equates to about 24 minutes, but I don’t know for certain.
During the group ride that I did on Saturday morning, my shifting had been a little funky. Actually, quite funky. So funky, in fact, that my rear derailleur was misaligned by a FULL GEAR from the shifter. That led to my bike pulling some shenanigans like skipping gears during sprints, shifting two gears at a time, etc. I’m a decent enough bike mechanic that I had been able to make things work for the first half of the ride, but then things regressed for the second half.
For non-cyclists, these are classic symptoms of a frayed shifter-cable nearing the end of its life. Fortunately, I’d had the foresight on Saturday afternoon to purchase a new one at the bike shop in Brunswick. I contemplated installing it then and there, and the little voice in the back of my head told me that it would be a good idea to do it when I had the time, but I decided to live in the moment, partake in the revelry at school, and fix the bike the next morning. (Actually, “decided” is a generous term for what I did; a more accurate description of my thoughts is “screw it, I’ll deal with it later.) I figured that if time really was that short, I could just try to fine-tune the existing cable for one last ride, and then put in the new one when I got home.
Well, by the time I finished leisurely eating my Candy Bar Supreme donut and signing up for the race, time was short. There were five laps (fifteen minutes) to go, the shifting was un-fixed, and I was still in street clothes. I put my bike together and started fiddling with the cable tension on the derailleur, which seemed to be working until I snapped the cable. Wait, I just snapped the cable? F–k!
This is not good. There are now three laps to go. The nub on the end of the cable is still stuck inside my right shifter, but I have nothing remotely resembling the correct tool to extract it. So I just jam the new one in there anyways and try to thread it through all the housing, whereupon I totally screw up the adjuster on the derailleur. With two laps to go, I get things moderately straightened out, but now there’s two feet of extra cable sticking straight out from my bike, and I don’t have scissors. I’m still in my street clothes. I run over to the registration table, find my friend Bob, and ask him in the most pathetic, plaintive-sounding voice I have conjured in the last six months: “can you help me?” I quickly explain to him what’s wrong. I’m still in my street clothes. The bell is ringing for the B-race’s final lap. I have never missed the start of a race because of my own idiocy, and I am not about to start now. I leave the bike with Bob and run back to Luke’s Explorer. Despite being utterly discombobulated all morning, Luke has managed to pull my jersey out of my backpack and summon the fine motor skills necessary to pin my race number to my jersey. I put it on and run back over to my bike as the rest of the men’s A field steps up to the starting line.
Bob appears to have found some scissors, because the extra cable is gone. Could this actually have worked out? Am I about to pull this off despite showing up to the race 25 minutes before the start with a broken bike? I get on and pedal around at the back of the field to test out the shifting. I push the lever to the left and hear one click before meeting with a disturbing amount of resistance. Nothing happens. I try again. Crap. I am going to be doing this race with two gears: big ring, and small ring.
Now I am pissed (in my streamlining of this narrative of the morning, I left out a small portion in which I tried to enlist the assistance of a couple of fellow competitors, who, despite being much better mechanics than I, were not very helpful–obviously my lack of organization is not their problem, but c’mon! help a brother out!). The only person nearby who I know is my friend Chris, who is probably the single most unsympathetic person I’ve ever met. (Sample morning greetings from Chris: “Sup, fu-ker?” “Morning, dickcheese.”) Chris says something profoundly unsympathetic. I am steaming. Then, a minute later, some guy in a blue jersey rolls up next to me.
“Hi!” he says, “my name’s Brian! I went to Bowdoin!” Apparently I am wearing a Bowdoin jersey.
I look at him. I am sure that he is a very nice guy.
“Good morning,” I say, which actually is code in pissed Nat-speak for “Hi. Right now I can think of nothing but my own misfortune, and therefore the fact that you, a blue-jerseyed weenie, went to Bowdoin, is probably the single most irrelevant fact in the entire universe. Go away.”
We start racing. Now I notice that in addition to only having two gears, there is something seriously wrong with my chain. When I’m in the little ring, the bottom half of the chain is incredibly loose, and dangling no more than a few inches from the ground, even when I’m pedaling. Then another guy I know rolls up alongside me. Like Brian, this guy is well-intentioned, but in the past I have generally found him to be self-centered and incredibly annoying.
He looks at my chain. “Hey man!” he yells, “you’re not in the big ring!”
Simile: If this was a ski race, this is kind of like if I had accidentally brought classic skis to a skate race, and was forced to use them. This guy pedaling alongside me and yelling at me about my chain would be like somebody running alongside me in this ski race and yelling me that I was using classic skis, not skate skis–just in case I had forgotten that, like, this was a skate race, and that skating was allowed.
My ire only increases when I hear another person behind me.
“Hey, Jamie, look at that guy’s chain! It’s almost on the ground!”
Despite the inane comments and my incredible frustration, it turns out that on a pancake-flat criterium course, you really don’t need that many gears. A number greater than two is probably optimal, but despite my dearth of options, the race itself actually worked out okay. (For reference, I spent the majority of the time in the little ring.) I mixed it up, made it into a few moves, and even managed to listen to a few more people point out my bicycle’s mechanical flaws without exploding. The chain was definitely a little sketchy (it would ping and bounce off my spokes every time I went around sharp corners or hit bumps), but nothing broke. I didn’t win, but I felt like the early wake-up and drive down ended up being justified.
After the race was over, Luke and I rode a couple more laps, then went back to the car. I looked at my bike. My shifter cable was had about an inch of slack in it, and the chain was very loose. Luke was bleeding mysteriously from his leg. Neither of us had had time to finish the coffee from Tim Horton’s before the race, and we sat on the bumper of the Explorer drinking it cold. We agreed that neither of us had any idea what had just happened, and if Mike Tyson’s tiger had jumped out of the trunk when we opened it, it honestly would not have been that surprising.
If you’re Brian, sorry for being such a d-bag–hopefully we will meet again…