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Article #12
Eyes Like Saucers

- SlingShot

Spilling up from the valley below, the cold gray spring day gathered round us. Only slight relief came from the faint pearlescent glow of the clouds spread high above. Just two days ago it was 95?, but today the bitter cold soaked deep into each of us. A circle of seven riders ringed a smaller group of three huddled close over a bicycle lying on the side of the road.

I shivered and felt eerie and transported, like the fabled soldier lured into the hollowed tree by the crafty witch. I was excited and somewhat overly proud to have kept pace with these biking fanatics so far, but...

It could not have been a more primitive scene. It was as if we had snugged in around the last dying embers of a precious fire. Blackened grease had spread from hand to hand, to nose, to itchy heads (just below the cocked back helmet brims) of those toiling over the problem.

The yellow jersey of Charlie (Chatmandu) Brown, who was most entwined in the fallen bike, served to heighten the feeling that this was a campfire, our group's polar center, a totem.

The three squatting on the ground peered up with an amazement that reflected in the whole group as they all stood staring slack jawed at the outstretched hand of Crazy Mike. He dangled a length of chain.

A quick pan around revealed the same expression on the wondering faces of the Whiz Kids (Tony Domenick, aka: Flying Tony and Ingrid Arlt, aka: Aero, aka: Iron Maiden), R& (Randy Dakan), (Shiftless) John Handago, John (Go On and Enjoy My Hill) McAuliffe and SlingShot, on down to the inner Circle of the Bike, Charlie (Chatmandu) Brown, Jumpin' Jerry Latrine and the bike's owner Tom Gustainis, on out to the focus of all ire: Crazy Mike Bocchino. All stared with eyes like saucers.

Mike's limp chain length hung lifeless in his outstretched hand. He stood with the remaining contents from his saddle bag littered at his feet. "I have some extra sections, if that will help," stammered Crazy.

Someone emerging from a deep involvement with the bike's broken chain blurted that the extra sections would have indeed been a great help, "...a half hour ago."

As it was, the chain was now already back together, though slightly shorter and a little stiffer than perfect.

We had all learned some important lessons. First, just about everybody carries chain tools while almost nobody is very good at using them. Second, it's a good thing that just about everybody carries chain tools; because, if a group of ten works together in chattering concert (using several of slightly varying tools), a chain can actually be put back together. Third, nobody whose bike has failed is ever allowed to do much of the fixing themselves. Everybody scrambles all over each other to grab, wrestle and suggest the problem out of their hand. Finally, never put Tom Gustainis (forever after to be called: "Chainman") on a large degree slope in a big chain ring. The power transfer is just too great for standard materials. The metal will give way long before the sinew.

In the thick of things someone had suggested that maybe we needed to let our resident bone doctor and surgeon, (Shiftless) John Handago, handle the re-assembly. Somebody else pointed out that Shiftless could probably get the job done pretty quickly, but it would take six months to be fully functional. That discussion dovetailed into one about Crazy's newly found production technique vis-a-vis the dangled chain. It expanded on the Japanese technique of JIT (Just In Time) manufacturing. The new process was dubbed "Almost In Time Manufacturing," but it is probably not patentable.

It seemed only a moment later that we were beginning the descent of another big hill. A skittering projectile slid out and away from the left of (Aero) Ingrid's bike. It was John (Go On and Enjoy My Hill) McAuliffe just ahead of me who yelled, "Ingrid lost her trip computer," and surged ahead to tell her. He didn't mind surging ahead. His house is at the bottom of the biggest of the day's Last Hill, as in: "Not another last hill!?" He'd soon be bailing out of the ride. I yelled, "Go on ahead, I'll get it," and then pulled across to the side of the road and stopped.

As I reached down, I heard Tom (Chainman) from the back and above yelling, "On your left...on your LEFT...ON YOUR LEFT!"

Needless to say I already knew the computer was on my left, but the words were strangely reminiscent of the previous Sunday ride, when I heard R& (Randy) yelling, "Right turn...Right TURN...RIGHT TURN." That was in the midst of a conversation about cell phone service providers. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how "right turn" had any relevance to cell phones, but soon I felt Randy's shoulder on my own, immediately followed by his face in my space, at which point I commenced responding by repeatedly bouncing away from him then falling back in, as he bobbled me through the right turn. Apparently his hand signal had come up behind me...but enough of this gratuitous and formulaic flashback. Something is about to happen.

Whatever could it be that was at the root of Tom's tedious inability to realize that I knew full well where the damn computer had fallen? I looked around just as his volume peaked and the pitch dopplered up a minor third.


Chainman, with eyes like saucers, was coming full speed down the hill...directly at me. I looked down and was relieved to see there were 23mm between me and the gnarled grassy edge of the road. "Whew, at least there's plenty of room for his tires...if he keeps them in line...well, too bad it is 23mm of gravel...hmm, look at those trees...YIPES! I froze.

The Chainman's jacket snap, snap, snapped as he whipped by at 40 mph. With barely a fish-tail he slid slightly off the road then back on, off again, then back on again and was gone, out of trouble and into the next hill.

I was left in the near silence, my own jersey snapping in harmonic resonance with Tom's jacket which had just brushed my nose in the passing.

You get a refined understanding of speed when you see it up close and personal like that. If he'd hit me, Shiftless would have come back to find two large articulated sacks full of interesting orthopedic projects, a free standing derailleur or two, some errant spokes and not much more.

I was sort of glad to survive too, because a little later a couple of wonderful things happened.

First, coming down into Unionville, there's this big bump. I was following Crazy fast and furious and put on a quick burst when I saw it coming. I was shocked that I actually got air when we went over the bump. I was twelve years old again, and out of control.

Suspended above the pavement, I was wondering if a road bike might be ill designed to drop from that height with such as me astride it. Just a momentary but riveting adult thought.

Then later, Jumpin' Jerry paid me the highest complement that I have yet received in biking circles.

Nearing the Fleet Bank parking lot in Pine Island, I had capitalized on my very smart day of refusing to pull by letting the usual suspects (R&, Shiftless and Jumpin') carry me to the top of the final two hills. At the crest of each I jumped on them and hammered thinking, "Hah, I made them weep." However on the last hill I didn't hear R& whisper to Jumpin', "Just let him go, he'll fall back again." And I was.

They pace line passed on my right, and I dropped in behind Jumpin' to lay in wait for the last stretch back to the parking lot.

 Almost as soon as I did, Jerry lost his final snort of steam, and we both dropped off the pace as R& and Shiftless opened a gap. I dug deep and passed, working toward a last-gasp bridge to get to the front group.

As we approached the final downhill curve to Fleet Bank, a car at the last intersection pulled out from the left and in behind the two leaders. "There's my big draft, and I'm taking it."

I pushed and got into the car's draft, then followed it past the other two riders like their bikes were on maintenance racks.

I sprinted toward the Bank for a good long pull of about 6 or 7 seconds before Handago was on my left, then out front with R& just behind him. They were gone.

No matter, I made it to the parking lot soon after they did as Jerry came in laughing behind us.

Turns out he had taken his own initiative, when I slid in behind him, to slow down on purpose.

He had taken a bullet for the team, so I wouldn't be able catch them, or at least be too wasted to be a threat even if I did.

Later I made Randy tell Seth (The Biker) Piker about it. Seth had missed it because he came in late. He was helping his new main squeeze Lisa Noble finish an impressive 48 mile ride. She's only been biking for about a month. It's not clear she knows how truly impressive what she's doing is...both with Seth and the biking.

Somebody should tell her.

In any case, Seth had missed the whole thing, and I felt it important he heard about it.

Seth doesn't have the highest opinion of my abilities (probably because he knows me), so I take every opportunity to change his mind. I made Randy tell him how Jerry paid me the highest complement by deciding I was worth blocking.

Seth retorted, "No way, he just did it because you're irritating.?

"I'll take it!" I said...with eyes like saucers.



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this page last updated:
02/01/2015 11:18:05 PM

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