Oh Thank Heaven, 7-11
0 comment Saturday, May 10, 2014 |
I like to race. I'm not a competitive person in 99% of my life, but when it comes to bike racing I like to do well. Or at least feel I've done well. If I'm exhausted that night or sore the next day, that's enough for me, placing be damned. I guess you'd call it more of a personal challenge thing than a public opinion thing.
In my little community someone puts on an alleycat about once a month. Usually it's the same four people rotating organically and getting word out by Twitter or e-mail and the same ten or so people show up for every race. Numbers dwindle as the weather turns cold but you can count on the same peeps to put out (hurr) and participate in races on a pretty regular basis. This past month I put on my very first one (which sadly only six people showed up for, despite my early announcement and copious flier placement) and I got a good view behind the scenes and plan to contribute regularly. It was a different kind of fun but fun all the same.
Yesterday a pillar of the cycling community and good guy Wes put on a Recycled 7-11 race which had us broken up into two-man teams and visiting "recycled" 7-11's in the area to gather trivia as well as receipts from current ones. Wes' races are always well thought out and have a certain style to them. Namely teams instead of individual riders and usually some kind of community service like cleaning up glass or food drives. My very first alleycat was one of his, gathering certain food items from grocery stores and piling all of our goods into his bike trailer bound for a local church on Thanksgiving, which was a ton of fun.
That being said I don't usually come out for his events. The team thing has never worked out well for me and usually the actions to be completed at each checkpoint are kind of annoying. Not that cleaning up glass isn't fun and all, but when you have to get there with another person and have them take a picture of you doing so with a prominent landmark in the background to validate it just seems like too much. I've done a race where we had to change a tire, drink a beer, and ride an impossibly small and small-geared seatless child's bike down a bike path and back, but those all seem a little different to me.
So I shouldn't have been surprised when Wes announced we'd be splitting up into teams as eleven or so riders hung out in the parking lot of the gas station and awaited spoke cards and instructions. I had already asked my friend Kurtz to partner up when I heard that we'd be on random teams based on the pairing of spoke cards. Balls. Oh well, most of the guys I knew pretty well and our riding abilities were about even. I'm also still learning some of the finer details of our fair city and always welcome a more experienced guide.
As luck would have it though I got paired with a guy who'd just moved here from Albany, New York. He had no knowledge of Norfolk. I'd been looking his bike over (as all riders do almost subconsciously; see above picture, far left) and gauged from the well-worn appearance and brakelessness that he was probably a decent rider. Oh how wrong I was.
The map we were handed had eleven 7-11's marked both nearby and in some far reaches of Norfolk I've never been to before. We were to choose seven of the eleven to hit, with the farthest four being "premiums" which subtracted from our overall time if we hit them. Three of the seven I deemed my little team should hit were within the scope of my riding familiarity. No matter, they were marked on our maps and I had luckily brought a detailed map of the city with me on a whim. I was sure we'd be fine.
The first of seven was just off of my normal commuting route and started a nice crescent that would hit all of the necessary checkpoints and bring us back nicely to the finish. Before my partner and I had even gone two miles I knew I was in trouble. Even in my small pond I'm no Eddy Merckx but I can hold my own. With maybe a quarter mile under our tires I looked back to see he was at least two blocks behind. "Maybe he got caught behind a car or something," I thought and slowed my pace a little. As I waited at a busy intersection for the light to change (very un-hardcore of me, I know) my other half caught up with me. I explained our route and he replied that he heard the area up ahead was a little dicey. I laughed and said, "Not really." We were on Colley Ave which was a relatively quiet and straight shot up to Hampton Blvd which was right near where we needed to go and had both been traveled countless times by yours truly as part of his daily commute. Even keeping a modest cadence with a tailwind my team member fell farther and farther behind, many times to the point of being out of site. Oh, he also didn't have a headlight.
I slowed my pace even more but it was no use. I couldn't leave an out of towner behind this early in the race; that'd be pretty dickish of me. But this was a race, and I wanted to do well. Plus, riding in general and races in particular provide a kind of catharsis where the stress and stiffness from being a new parent and living in an imperfect world can get worked out constructively. I didn't want to waste it.
Things degraded from here. The map we had been so helpfully handed wasn't that helpful at all. The majority of the placemarks on the map were not necessarily tied to their geographic locations. Even the intersections given under each checkpoint turned out to be wrong at least 50% of the time. Add in an unfamiliarity with the area, very busy streets, darkness, neighborhoods that I wouldn't be comfortable walking through alone, and a slow partner and I was getting frustrated. More than once we were unable to locate the recycled 7-11 and opted to head to the next one when we'd come upon it blocks away from where it was said to be. We didn't even find the last one. About halfway through I remarked that it appeared Wes was trying to get us shot.
Locative problems wouldn't have been so bad had I been able to hurriedly search around. But this was not so. As the night dragged my random companion drew out the distance between us more and more. Once I even looked back to see him sitting up in his seat, hands off the bars, in the middle of the lane, apparently more interested in balancing than in keeping up. At one 7-11 we were unable to find a stray receipt so he went in to buy a candy bar and after standing in line came out and said through chocolate teeth that he'd forgotten to get the receipt. I know these things are supposed to be fun, but fun means different things to different people. For me it's finishing a race in under three hours, which we almost didn't do.
Back in familiar territory I lead us confidently to the finish only to find my partner was nowhere in site. I stopped at the next intersection and waited. And waited. Finally I opted to leave him to his devices and his own map and sped towards the last and largest 7-11, taking a fast road in the hopes of at least getting some exertion out of the night.
By the time I pulled in all the other riders were standing around, jackets on as they had already cooled down from their own riding and enjoying beers and BS. Someone asked where my guy was. I told them I didn't know. They laughed and remarked that it was the guy who just moved here. I related how I'd lost him about five minutes ago and he should be able to follow his map here. Times were tallied and the only guy who'd been a solo act came in first by far. I envied his unhindered situation. Your humble writer was dead, dead last. We had started at 7:11 and I had rejoined our group at 9:31. Longest race ever, both factually and emotionally.
As we were taking pictures under the glare of the gas pump overhang Mr. Buffalo, NY skidded up behind us and everyone cheered. Pictures were taken, people were invited to other people's houses for drinks and movies, and all riders now jacketed and gloved in the cold night departed. I felt like a guy on a date who's sexual exploits seemed assured but had just dropped his lady off after some light kissing and hand holding.
But hey, at least I went. It was far more preferable than being home and only placing exertion on myself, if you catch my drift.
- David

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