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Tuesday, December 6

Faster Mustache/Loose Nuts: Wheels to the Farm '16 (part 2)

Continuing whence I left off.

The next stage isn't a real stage... or is it?  There's some confusion amongst some of the Mustaches in charge.  Is this for points or just a hill climb for a prime like last year.  It seems like the majority says it's not for points, but I don't feel safe enough to skip it.  I'm headed up Mt Moreland with everyone else... just in case.

So, these are the rules:

Climb to the top.
Collect rocks before you head up or along the way.
First five (male and female) to the top have to chug a beer.
After the beer is finished, you set down your can about fifteen feet away, and commence to throwing your collected rocks at the can.  You can only use the rocks you gathered earlier, so if you run out, you're SOL.
First one to knock over their can gets a sweet custom stabbing weapon.

The race starts with a random "you can go now." 

I elect to not pick up any rocks at the start, figuring I can scoop them as I hike-a-bike.  One rock, two rocks, three rocks... walking at a most leisurely pace, since my toe thinks hiking up the side of a steep hill is a terrible idea.  When I see there are about seven guys ahead of me, I drop my rocks since I'm not gonna get to be a tosser.

I do make it to the top in time to witness the chugging and tossing and yelling.  Good times.  No points are given out, so the trip up was for pure entertainment.

We all descend down the slope and head over to the lunch stop where I get to eat burrito #3 of the weekend (#4 for Daily).

 photo cred: Chris Kelly
We ate in front an old house we were told not to enter... because... dead.

Me showing Dr Jones where rain comes from.

 
Aaron and Susan... because they're totes adorbs... and also let me crash at their place last year... and burritos.

And then on to the next racing portion of the day.

Stage #3 (or #2 depending on how you look at it).

Once again, I line up at the front.  I see that the big feller that got second at the last stage is not wearing his hydration pack this time.  There goes that small advantage.

I go for the hole shot, knowing that we're heading towards a bunch of mud bogs with narrow lines at the edges.  I get it.  
Bang a left and I'm first up the climb.

Here's what's weird.  The entire race is over in less than ten minutes, but my ability to recall the blow-by-blow is somewhere in a hypoxia-stricken lobe of my brain.  I know the big feller gets around me on a flat section (gears are still stupid tho), and we have some dicey moments before he finally puts a definitive gap on me.

There is a point where I'm wondering how much pain is okay and how hard can my heart beat before it explodes.  Every time I close down the distance between us, he click-click-clicks... and pulls away.

photo cred: Aaron Chamberlain
He defeats me handily.  We're now tied in points.

The big feller being all big and squishy and shifty.

Stage #4 (or #3 depending on how you look at it).

We head over the Entrenchment Park.

A stage thst I liked last year and did well on, despite wrecking and twisting my bars... and then stopping to fix them... and then over-twisting them the other way... and then finally getting them close enough for government work.

Anyways, we pass the spot where we started last year (with a gradual uphill paved greenway to the trail), head over the hill and down the backside.  The start will be equal amounts gradual climb and descent.  My 32X19 and I may be screwed.

I spin right to the front, but all too soon my legs are screaming at me.  Big feller and the other guy who's been getting into the top three come around me.., as well as at least one other.  I make a somewhat loosey-goosey pass at the entrance of the trail to get back in the top three, but the other two are way gone.

Eventually, I can see second place ahead... and then my front wheel slides out in the pine needles, and I'm down.  When I get up, I can see him just ahead of me, also getting up from the ground.  Excellent.

He had a hard time getting through some narrow trees with his wide bars. I got up on him and made the pass, now looking for the big feller.  All my efforts were to no avail tho, as the course was extremely flat, and the one small, punchy climb was the only place my 32X19 made any sense.

He ended up getting me, his two wins against my one.  Dammit.  Close but no cigar.

We ended the day at some random place called the Arts Exchange where the handiest access to the inside was through an open window on the side of the building.  Awards, hot dogs, beers, chili... break dancing.  The usual after party stuff.  The night ended early but still in quite a blur.

I'll stop here and do a wrap-up soon'ish.

Monday, December 5

Faster Mustache/Loose Nuts: Wheels to the Farm '16

6:50AM on Friday.  Drinking coffee and waiting.  Incoming call from Bill Nye.  He's bailing on the entire trip.  Sick.  Lame.

Meh.

Wait for Daily to show up, come up with some plan B type stuff, hit the road.

Hours later, we're at the Chicopee Woods Mountain Bike Park.  Ride.  Ride some more.  And a little more... just enough to really make my injured toe get angry.  Get in the car in time to hit the start of rush hour in Atlanta.  Googlemaps telling me that it will take 45 minutes to make the final 12 miles to the Airbnb.  Briefly consider leaving the car and riding the rest of the way.  I can't believe humans live with this on the day-to-day.

Stay in the car until we get to our destination, get situated in our glorious basement apartment, head over to Loose Nuts Cycles to meet up with the rest of the Charlotte crew for beerings.  Stay longer than anticipated, realize most of us haven't eaten since breakfast, go out way too late for Mexican food and more beer.  Get lost on the way back to our dank dwelling, despite it being less than a mile away from the restaurant.

Wake up feeling a little rough.  Head out for breakfast... burrito #2 of the trip for me, #3 for Daily.  Register for the race at Loose Nuts.

Get ready for a long day in the saddle.

Five mile or so roll out to the first stage of the day.  We're in a familiar place to where some of the race went down in '15.  I try to decide if my semi-familiarity is a good or a bad thing.

Line up for the start at the front.  You can't think about winning if you don't at least throw some (or all) caution to the wind.  Ready, set, go... and the youthful looking man on the single speed Niner puts a big gap on me in less than thirty seconds.  Meh.


I manage to make it over the giant rock pile at the entrance to the double track (that I never bothered to try to ride last year because of my OMB... Old Man Back).  I commence to chasing down the guy who doesn't even look half my age on the first painful go at the climb.  Look back.  He's not coming with me.  Three uneventful laps total of long-busting effort and I cross the line in first place with a decent gap.

Maybe I can actually win this year?

Maybe...

Wednesday, November 30

Toe Spirit. What? Let's hear it.

So, yeah.  My four day weekend went pretty well... until 12:45AM or so Monday morning.

This story starts with a woodpecker.

We had issues with a woodpecker making holes in the side of our house last year.  Our landlord bought the Pecker Wrecker 2000 to scare it away.  It makes woodpecker distress calls as well as the tweets, warbles, and caws made by hungry birds of prey.  It essentially worked, but we ended up with a giant hawk hanging out in our backyard.  Pretty to look at tho.

The woodpecker came back a couple months ago. We broke out the Pecker Wrecker 2000 again, but this time he has not been deterred.  The hawk is back again as well.  This big bird has a tendency to eat his other prey in the tall trees behind our house.  He's a picky eater tho, and tosses his scraps down to the ground below.

Sizemore likes to discover and then eat these nasty bits.

And so it came to be that Sizmore had a "bowel emergency" around 11:00PM from eating too many dead squirrel bits.  And then another one at 12:45AM.  Since he's got no eyes in his head part, he needs carried down the internal house stairs and the back deck stairs... which are not very well illuminated.

As I reached the deck stairs, he started really wiggling, I assume because his ass was going to explode.  Distracted, I didn't notice that I had one more stair to go when I thought I was on the sidewalk.  I came down with my weight on my big toe, and it folded nicely under our combined girthiness.

This is about 17 hours afterwards.

Mang.  I was really looking forward to the Faster Mustache/Loose Nuts: Wheels to the Farm race this weekend.

The last time this race happened was when I was suffering from some prolonged back issues that I was having a hard time finding relief from despite my best efforts to ignore them.  Still, I ended up doing rather well with a third overall.

Although my back kept me from putting in a solid effort in the first few heats, as the day dragged on, my old man legs came into play.  I felt like I coulda done so much better, but... meh.  Stupid back.

So glad I waited until a week or two later to find active, real solutions to my back problems.

This toe thing puts a kink in the plan for sure.  Even if I wanted to bail on going this weekend, I injured myself a day too late to cancel my Airbnb reservation.  I've got Friday scheduled off from work so we (Billy Nye and Chris "Ride" Daily) can hit some new singletrack at the Chicopee Woods Mountain Bike Park.  I'm not so sure how much I'll be able to do come in two more days.

Ummm... back to this past Monday morning.  After I folded my toe in half, I waited for Sizemore to blow ass, and then I carried him back up to our bed.  I got prone and stayed pissed off at my stupidity.  The pain was enough to keep me awake for awhile.  Back downstairs, grab an ice pack, situate myself... anger myself to sleep.

Wake up.  Still pissed at my stupidity.  Wait till the last minute to get ready for work, find out that my foot doesn't fit in my normal shoes very well.  Return to my bike room trying on shoes until I find the best fit and go to work late.  Spend the day hobbling about and bemoaning mine own dumbness.  Eventually figure out a strange hopping maneuver for dismounting my tarck bike.  Walk about gingerly.

Anyways, not sure how things are going to pan out for the WtF weekend.  Yesterday was better than Monday, but this morning is worse than last night.  No blerhg until I get back from Atlanta, as I will spend all my spare time between now and Friday spirit coaching my big toe.

Tuesday, November 29

Four days, three rides, one shirt.

I managed to get a ride in on each and every one of my (sorta) mountain bike cycle single speeds over the break.

Ride #1 was the annual ride somewhere in Charlotte before beginning the Thanksgivings with families and friends.  We had an incredible turnout at the Backyard Trails.  Ten to fifteen of us before it was all said and done.

photo cred: Jon Danger

photo cred: Jon Danger
One trick pony doing his one trick.

Hard to complain about standing in the woods, leaning against the Vertigo Meatplow V.7, and watching guys hit the jump lines on a 70° day in November.  I coulda stayed out there all day, but the family had a pressing dinner thing that afternoon with friends old and new.

One of our new friends.

Ride #2 was the somewhat annual Black Friday Cyclo Ross thing which has taken on so many different manifestations over the years.  I rode the fixed brakeless semi-plusser Misfit Meatplow V.5 to see how it would hold up to being ridden semi-off road.

Essentially, it didn't.  The 2.35 Ikon was too big and rubbed the stays.

It also provided way too much traction, and with the 38X18 gear, it wasn't very easy to get it to skid (kind of important for fixed brakeless off-roadering).  Also also... I dropped the chain once.  Not sure what's up with that.

Anyways...

This year (thanks to some planning on Chase's part), we rode from Bike Source to Olde Mecklenburg Brewery to the cross course at Renaissance Park back to Olde Meck to Queen City Cycles to Cordelia Park's renegade cross course to Birdsong Brewery...

and I think that's where the wheels fell off my bus.

Nick convinced me that it was better to skip the course at Veterans Park and head straight to Legion Brewing and at some point my plan to leave my lights at home to force me to come home before dark ended up working perfectly... and I wound up taking a "nap" somewhere around 8:00PM that pretty much ended my ability to get off the couch.

Ride #3.  Nick told me to call him at 7:45AM on Saturday to make sure he was moving.

No reply.

Our very loose plan to go to the mountains that was made during all the cyclo rossing was coming apart.  As it should have.  I sent a text to Nick and expected to fail bail on the entire ride, instead heading to Uwharrie alone... once the pounding in my head subsided.

Chase would not allow it and offered to scoop me up at the house.

The Stickel Meaplow V.6 came off the wall for something other than being worked on since coming home from Durango in August, and we hit Pisgah for my favorite seasonal loop.   Of course, we stopped at The Hub/Pisgah Tavern on our way out for a beer and food and to check out the Flat Brim Hat of the Month.

An entirely incredible four day weekend, that is until 12:40AM Sunday night (Monday morning for reals).

Monday, November 28

Twenty Years Behind Bars: Part Five

I don't think anyone ever expected the bike messenger business to do as well as it had.  As I mentioned before, there were only two companies when I started and about three guys on bikes delivering stuff.  At the height of it all, there were somewhere close to eighteen of us working for as many as five different services.  The company I worked for provided employment for four of us including the owner.  We were making decent money, I had a 401k and two weeks paid vacation, and life was better than I would have ever thought it would be... at least from a financial perspective, all the stress aside.

But then the global economy hit the floor like a turd dropped from the 60th floor of the Bank of America Corporate Center.  Charlotte is the second largest banking city in the US, so the recession hit the area pretty hard.  Slowly but surely, messengers left or were let go one by one.

photo cred: Big Worm
I think Little Mikey might have been one of the last City Sprint guys left uptown.  His departure marked the end of the era when you knew that if you hung out at the Corporate Center long enough, there would be someone to talk to.  Things got real lonely when he was no longer around.

Companies completely disappeared or at least no longer needed bike messengers.  Cut backs were made and as the dust continued to settle, Mercury Messengers once again became solely my boss and I.

And then it got even worse.

Things were too slow for even two of us, so my boss started letting me take one day off a week.  Unpaid.  My choice which day tho.

I kind of enjoyed those times, although the specter of possible unemployment always darkened my days.  I got in some extra rides, did trail work, piddled around the house... generally tried to keep myself busy or at least not crack the first beer before noon.  This was also when I bought my one and only carbon fiber road bike, because I figured if I was let go, I wouldn't want to spend the money on a new bike but would have loads of time to ride one.

As '11 approached, things were not getting any better.  There were no cranes looming in the sky, the very cranes that meant architecture firms and job trailers.  Loans and mortgages.  Money being spent on making more money.  My boss had to do something to keep things going.

He decided to pursue a career in the field of independent claims adjusting.  He'd need to go to school for some time, so I'd be running everything uptown.

Which... was kinda doomed from the first day we tried it.

Being short-handed once in awhile is okay.  Customers would tolerate it to some degree.

But on a day-to-day basis, it was never going to work.  Twice over the course of the first two days, I basically faced impossible delivery scenarios involving rush deliveries, three firms spread out over twenty blocks, and the courthouse closing at 5:00PM regardless of my situation.  Our biggest client that was used to me being pretty much dedicated to them for fourteen years did not like the idea of me not being able to keep up the level of service they'd grown accustomed to since '98.

They offered to hire me outright.

So my options were take the job or try to hold everything together on the daily, knowing that the doomsday scenario was going to keep coming up, meaning that I was facing a future of answering the phone and saying, "Ummmm, no.  I can't do that.  Sorry."

Letting clients down.  Not being able to do the one thing that we say we can.  Deliver.

That is until they stopped calling.  Which they would.

So, I took the job.

Now I'm here in the present.  I've spent almost the last five years with my current employer, a ginormous law firm in one of the tall towers in uptown Charlotte.  It has been a good half decade to say the least.  I'm pretty thankful that I got this opportunity.  My employer treats me well, and I like what I do.  Sure, sometimes I'm doing the "other duties as assigned" that aren't quite in the wheelhouse of being a bike messenger, but at least I'm, in the words of Thomas the Tank, a "useful engine."

Still.

There are times when I can't imagine what job would have brought me as much satisfaction as the one I've held down for almost twenty years now.  It's been a long strange trip, and I don't know how else I would have gotten here except for the journey that I've been on for so long.

I'm not sure how long I'll continue to do this, but presently, I don't see me doing anything else as long as I can pedal a bike... which I plan on doing until I stop breathing.  It's a job that suits me more than teaching or managing or flying jet airplanes or running a smuggling operation. 

I really don't know how to end this tale.  I mean, I'm still doing the job every day, so it's not really over yet.   

I recently rode my bike with someone I'd never met before.  My friend Colin told me that the guy was an arborist.

I said, "You're an arborist?"

"No," he replied, "I make my living as an arborist, but that's not who I am."

Interesting. 

You see, I've never considered myself a "bike messenger" any more than I consider myself a "mountain biker" or "TV binge watcher" or "single speeder" or "beer drinker" or "Peanut M&M's enthusiast."  I'm just a guy doing something who might be doing something different if everything leading up to this moment right here right now would have seen me doing something other than delivering packages on a bike, riding a mountain bike, watching TV, eschewing gears, drinking beers, or eating Peanut M&M's.

Which if I could get paid to do any of those other things, that's what I'd probably be doing instead of delivering things on a bike.

Friday, November 25

Twenty Years Behind Bars: Part Four

Things were much different at Mercury Messengers than City Bike.   $6.25 an hour was replaced by commission.  More work = more money.  No more handoffs to cars. The giant radio was swapped for a phone and there was no office or place of refuge.  Just two guys with phones, bags, and bikes. The messenger business still wasn't terribly lucrative in Charlotte, and my boss still worked the lunch hours at a place called Food Doobies (they sold wraps, get it?).

My former boss, Holt Smith... or as anybody who did business with him called him, "such a nice guy."  Josh the Wonderboy called him "The Mustache" tho.

Being that this was my longest period of employment ever, a lot changed from '97 to '11.
The number of messengers ballooned up to somewhere around 16-18 before '08.  Big Worm and I brainstormed awhile back trying to remember all of those that have come and gone over the years (he's been up here since '97 almost the whole time).

Sixty seven people can lay claim to being messengers in Charlotte in the current generation not including the old timers in B&W photos and the way-more-than-I-can-count Jimmy John's guys.

There were as many as five companies... also at one point.  Not so much now.

I went from my Stumpjumper to a Supergo Access aluminum hard tail with a Manitou 3 that had holes drilled at the bottom of the lowers to allow the rain water to drain.  Eventually, my days were getting closer to fifty miles (including my eleven mile commute), so I bought an old DeBernardi that went from noodle bar geared form to single speed to fixed in '03.  Shortly after that, I bought The Fastest Bike in the World, my '92 Cannondale Track bike that I'm still riding today.

I can't even count the number of buildings that have been erected uptown in the past twenty years, many that are now part of our skyline as it can be seen from many miles away.  It's amazing.

Photo cred: James Willamor
That time when Josh the Wonderboy was in an ambulance and Big Worm got cuffed and stuffed for just trying to keep some continuity of operations going and me wondering if there was any conflict of interest in doing jobs for a company I didn't work for to help out my good friends during this time on inconvenience with 5:00PM deadlines fast approaching.

Most of those were the salad days.  The freedom to do whatever you wanted in between jobs, ride around, take a nap, sit on a park bench and try to solve the world's problems with the rotation of other messengers coming and going between jobs.

Leading into the summer of '08, things were just nuts.  I was busy from 8:00AM until sometimes after 5:00PM.  I'd be running from bike to building and back, busting my ass trying to keep up with the incoming landslide of work.  No time for real lunch breaks.  Just dive into a foodery somewhere, let the work pile up while I stood in line, roll back out with a slice of pizza or whatever.  I was pretty stressed out, sometimes punching elevator walls and such when the phone rang yet again to let me know how much further behind I was going to be.

But the stress of the day always ended, and I got to leave at 5:something.  I never had to take my work home with me (technically).  I was also making more money than I ever would have had I gone into teaching (like I was supposed to).  That money came at the cost of my happiness sometimes tho, as I never got into this job to hate life for nine hours a day, which at that point, I often times did.  I kept waiting for something to change...

and then it did.

The economic bubble burst and Banktown, USA was hit super hard.  If I really wanted change, I was about to get it.

Thursday, November 24

Twenty Years Behind Bars: Part Three

I got to spend a few unemployed weeks of that summer with The Boy before he had to head off to kindergarten.  It was actually pretty dope, mostly because we had moved to an apartment closer to town with an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  So I kicked it until he got on the big yellow bus, and then I went on my quest to find a "real job"... which was always sorta the plan once we no longer had a preschooler.

I decided to look for employment that required a college degree... because I had one that was being wasted.  Pretty sure I only filled out one application, assistant manager of the circulation department at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library: Main Branch.  You know, the one right uptown.

I bought an ill-fitting suit, interviewed rather well, got the job, went out and bought some more adult looking clothes, and started being a normal person... who still commuted to work by bike because we only had the one car, and I couldn't fathom the idea of being in a car every day.

I pretended the job was a good fit for two and a half months. I would occasionally see some of the other messengers come in to use the internet or as they rode by the front door, me trapped at the circulation desk or in my cubicle.  Terrible.  It was like being in a cage but worse.  Retail hours.  

I'd had my fill of middle management about seventy some days in.  There were people above and below me that pushed me to my mental limits as far as tolerating my fellow human.  I was going insane.  Ties, dress shoes, pants... shaving almost daily.  Lazy subordinates.  Long-winded and perhaps bat shit crazy boss.  Stupid bullshit.

So I made a couple phone calls while I was at the library working on a Sunday evening and found out that the guy that my old boss had predicted would fail in the messenger game had managed to secure as a client...

you guessed it.

The biggest law firm in Charlotte.  City Bike's old client (also my current employer).

He needed someone with experience to step in and be dedicated to just making them happy.  I wanted to be that guy.

Problem being, there was nobody to quit directly to on a Sunday.  I came in the next day and gave my two weeks notice to my manager who then wanted to argue about when my two weeks would end.

As if this very type of conversation we were having wasn't part of the reason I needed to quit.

And so it was that I found myself back to making a living on a bike in late December '97 working for Mercury Messengers.

My first really big bag, a Timbuk2 Tag Junkie.  Big enough to swallow a file box, a 75lb case of NCR paper or a small child.

When it started to wear out, I called Timbuk2 and inquired into their "lifetime guarantee."

"... but do you feel like you got a lifetime's worth of use out of it?"

"Ummmmm... I'm still alive, so no."

I wanted to buy another one, but they told me that it wasn't a big seller, so they discontinued their absolute biggest bag ever. 

"Only bike messengers were buying them, and they're only about 1% of our consumers."

Et tu, Timbuk2.  Et tu?