Last night after the pool party we went to dinner at Thai Spices Restaurant on West Turner Road. The proprietress was loud and overly friendly even after (maybe because of) Emiliano’s failed attempt to dominate her with an aggressive form of friendliness, hallmarks of which are unpredictable tangents, over-sharing and various activity based challenges borrowed from the game Truth or Dare. Maybe that’s why she pointed to the Chinese Zodiac printed on the paper place mat resting on the table in front of me and asked what I was. After I told her I was a Rat she got upset and left. When she came back with our second double order of Spring Rolls—one chicken, one shrimp—she told me she was a Horse, and that Horses and Rats should avoid each other. Before leaving again she elaborated by saying we not good because we compete. When she came back the next time she was carrying a spice caddy which she placed on the table next to my plate. The caddy featured four variations of chile-based condiments; chile oil, garlic chile, something else, and some kind of pickled jalapeno deal which reminded me of escabeche. I love hot foods and chile-based condiments in particular so my immediate reaction was to feel fortunate and empty all four spicy-joy filled ramekins. Later, after dinner, on the way home, we stopped at a Fosters and a Starbucks. Then we worked until about three in the morning.
The next morning we woke up four-and-a-half hours later at seven-thirty and packed everything we own first into various bags and then into the back of our fully magnetized whip-sedan. Then we drove to San Jose through a series of red-on-your-phone traffic jams, exiting only once to stop at an off-brand gas station where I managed (admirably and with a modicum of dignity I’d like to think) a volcanic tidal wave of diarrhea in a doorless toilet stall in a public bathroom during morning rush hour. Because it was agreed last night that today I would ride on the back of a photo-moto I was, at that point, concerned first about how this situation would develop throughout the day, a day spent predominantly in the undeveloped Diablo Mountains east of San Jose, and second about how clean I could get my butthole since I was going to be pinned (#nutstobutts) to the back of a motorcycle for six hours of World Class switchbacks under the California sun, in long pants, which even though I told everyone that asked they were kevlar, where in fact merino wool.
At 9:45 AM in the parking lot of the Berryessa Community Center I met my driver, Alex.
After introductions we talked for a few minutes about what I was looking for. I told him I was looking for the bike race. He laughed, but not a lot.
We did NOT discuss my helmet which was a surprise to me because visually it’s better than every other helmet in the world, and because it’s not every day one sees a Nobel Peace Prize & Academy Award winning helmet. I don’t even care about motorcycles & motorcycle paraphernalia but even I can recognize Glory when I see it. And I’ve only gone swimming in that helmet once. Anyway, sorta secretly I was hoping to talk about my helmet not because it’s Rad but because the only part of a helmet the user/wearer needs to operate, the chin strap, I was unable to operate. In large part because I’m scared of any task requiring “fine” manual dexterity and/or a specific process; like for example threading the end of a strap through a series of metal tabs, or “buckles,” a process which when done correctly safely and effectively secures a helmet to your head, should you fall off the back of a motorcycle. In the end it didn’t matter because I figured it out, I think. I can’t really tell because I can’t see and therefore evaluate my work. However I just remembered taking several selfies today which means I will look when I’m done with this and get back to you. The best part about figuring it out is that I figured it out one-handed. And it only took several hundred failed attempts, which I blame on incessant cornering and braking, and the need to hold onto the handle located just behind and below my seat in an effort not to crush Alex or my camera equipment.
It’s hard to explain how Fun it is riding on the back of a motorcycle in the mountains on a closed and fully secured road without a speed limit of any kind. Cheered-on by crowds. Escorted by the police. Four hours on end.
Especially on a Stage like today featuring basically one hundred miles of sinuous rural roads in and out of various valleys and mountain ranges. At one point today, in a particularly tight section on the first downhill on a narrow road in the trees where it was dark, shit felt kinda sketchy. In fact we pulled off the course and stopped for a minute until the Team Cars and few dudes OTB passed us. But generally speaking the whole thing feels like a video game you’re exceptionally good at. And by you I mean your driver. I forgot what kind of bike I was on but I know it’s expensive and universally regarded as a good bike because Alex and I talked about it. One time a few years ago at another Tour of California, I fell asleep on the back of the motorcycle for about five minutes. I woke up when a bee flew into my cheek and stung me just below my right eye. My driver pulled over and removed the stinger with a buck knife.
Watching a race unfold from the back of a motorcycle is a lot like watching it on TV only it’s more windy and there’s a chance the dudes you yell at will actually hear you, and/or throw a water bottle at you, or blow snot on you, or throw up peace fingers for your photographs. Otherwise it’s exactly the same. You see the moves. You watch the break come back, or not. You chase the chase while chase chases.
We almost didn’t make the finish because we stopped on the backside of Mt. Hamilton to photograph a particularly stunning and shallow corner. The race at that point was completely apart and it was taking forever for the entire field to pass so we just jumped into one of the many breaks between riders. Which technically is not, at least according to race moto etiquette, cool. Except for the in the bigger one day races like Paris-Roubaix which always turn into catastrophes by the fifth hour of racing. Anyway, the race was over in less than thirty miles and we were at the top of a really big fucking hill. As it was we made it to the finish only three minutes ahead of the winner. Just to be clear, it took us thirty miles of open road on a really fast motorcycle to catch a dude on a bike who passed us what, maybe ten minutes ago.
In fact on the way past the eventual winner we got stuck behind him with about 2k to go. The road was tight and turning hard, there was the Comm car, and the TV moto, and a judge car, and the Hincapie Director’s car, and so we had to sit tight for a second. Which is normal. Ten minutes ago we weren’t sure if we’d get through all the riders and the various breaks and the team cars and the whole high-speed fuckshow, but at this point, with 2km to go and only one dude to pass, we knew were going to make it. Meanwhile, we pulled up next to the Hincapie Team Car and waited for the signal to pass. It was too dark to photograph the dude and besides I was still convinced he was going to get caught. They always get caught. We’d just come through the whole mess and the chase didn’t seem that far behind. At this point I noticed the DS pounding the dashboard with his fist, and rocking in his seat, and manic-style grinning through his clenched jaw, and maybe he was about to cry I’m not sure, and that’s when I really started to get the vibe. So I asked him what the gap was. He said it was two minutes and fifty seconds. Which was considerably bigger than both Alex and I had figured. And then I got it. This development fucker, Tom Skujiņš, 23 years of age from Sigulda, Latvia, currently big ringing it over a roller in the late afternoon dappled sunlight was about to have the biggest day of his career. And this DS with his head out the window of his car, looking at me and smiling, then looking ahead at his dude and smiling, then looking around the car at everyone in it and smiling, repeatedly slapping his steering wheel and smiling, still bouncing in his seat and smiling, was also about to have one of the biggest days of his career too. I thought about taking a photograph of this DS dude (who I’ve never met and don’t know) who was again at that moment doing the looking at me and smiling thing, and but for some reason I didn’t.
I don’t want to sound like a guy with a ponytail talking about the Kama Sutra, but I just didn’t feel like taking the photo. And I think if I think about it, and ask myself why I didn’t feel like it… my trite-ass and def cliché answer would go something like this:
“I was in the moment.”