Which is around a thirteen-hour drive from Alpine, UT.
During this drive, The Hammer and I had plenty of time to talk about our major concerns for this race:
We weren’t in any kind of shape for an endurance race.
As members of a five-person team, we weren’t likely to get enough riding in to justify the enormous amount of driving we were doing.
What would we eat?
How would I avoid gaining weight during this weekend?
Add to this our concern about the fact that concerns 1 and 2 (see above) directly contradict one another, and you have a very concerned couple.
The “what to eat” question was mostly solved by buying four Subway Club sandwiches, each cut into four sections. That’s our standard operating procedure for big, long races. It ain’t gourmet, but it’s carbs, protein, and easy.
As for how to avoid gaining weight, I just did my best to eat very little of anything in general. Like if we ate at Wendy’s, I’d order the grilled chicken sandwich but wouldn’t eat the top half of the bun. If we ate at Denny’s, I’d order from the build your own Grand Slam menu, and would get six egg whites and a bowl of fresh fruit.
Even if I really wanted this:
Shame and Contrition
The Hammer and I set up our giant tent in the very last large, flat area available for miles around. And by “large and flat area” I mean an area large enough for a 10-person tent, which would include our giant queen-size self-inflating bed. We also brought our own table, stove, heater, and pretty much everything else one can bring and still not say one has simply brought over an RV.
Hey, we’re in our forties. Roughing it is not even remotely interesting to either of us.
We had hoped to arrive early enough to get in a quick pre-ride of the course (which we had not, to that point, ever seen before) with Paul Guyot’s brother, Jay. But by the time we were set up, the sun had gone down and it was time to go to a celebratory dinner for IMBA.
As soon as we got there, I ran into Jack Black — I was really impressed with how he’s slimmed down — and had to get a picture with him.
He told me loved my portrayal of Dill, the wacky dad in Easy A.
You can tell I’m stalling, trying to put off the moment I tell about my moment of shame, can’t you?
OK, here it goes.
After the dinner (a delicious taco bar where I pretty much ignored my diet and ate everything in sight), Rebecca got up and told a terrific story about how when she found her beloved hometown trail network was threatened because no MTBers were making their voice heard (they were too busy out riding and having fun), she made a difference by starting a local IMBA chapter herself.
Rebecca is awesome.
Next, Bob Winston — a honcho at IMBA and my team captain — got up to give his speech. He began with, “Who here is an IMBA member?”
Practically every hand in the room went up. Except mine.
Yep, I was there to race with Team IMBA and I wasn’t even a member of the organization that works tirelessly to construct great trails and advocate for keeping them open — basically, I wasn’t a member of the organization that does me and people like me a huge amount of good.
What a dork.
So, by way of a first step toward correcting what has been egregious neglect on my part for the past plenty-six years, I’d like to show proof here that I am now an IMBA member in good standing:
The fact is, while I do a lot of fundraising for causes against things I hate (cancer, poverty), I haven’t done much at all for the thing that occupies about two-thirds of my waking thoughts: biking for fun.
So this trip, more than anything else, served as a good wake-up call. What can I do to actually advance the cause of cycling? There are some easy answers — like fundraising — but I don’t think that in this case just going out and finding a few more dollars is where I can be most useful.
Which is not to say that I do have a great answer yet. Just that I’m (finally!) thinking about it.
After the meeting, we went to bed, using an Ambien to help us get a solid night’s sleep; we knew we wouldn’t get much (any?) sleep the next night.
Then, around 3:00AM, I heard someone shouting. “Hello? Anyone? Help! Hello? Hello?!”
Concerned, I climbed out of my sleeping bag, put on some shoes, a headlamp and a coat, and went outside.
And there was an extremely drunk man, completely lost, unable to find his friends, and very (very) loud.
He asked where the main tent is; I pointed it out to him. He asked me if he could buy my flashlight and offered me all his money for it (he said he was carrying around $1000). I told him he could just have the light and to bring it back the next day (he didn’t).
He told me he hated Hollywood and was never going back. I was wiser than to ask him what had gone wrong, because I’m pretty sure he would have told me — at great length.
He told me other things, too, but I admit my interest waned and I was focusing on how to extricate myself from this conversation and get back to bed. As I was thus pondering — and this man was thus talking — a guy who had probably once been sleeping in his camper van opened a window and said, “Hey, could you guys take that conversation elsewhere?”
I have never ever been so happy to have had a conversation interrupted.
“Good luck,” I told the man, and went back to bed.
The next morning, The Hammer and I got some great advice on the course from Jay, and then went out and pre-rode the course. We figured this was a good idea for a couple reasons. First, because we were the last two people of our five-person team and so we had plenty of time to recover afterward — and this would at least partially alleviate the anticipated not-enough-ride-time problem we foresaw.
“What do you think?” I asked afterward.
“It’s a pretty easy course,” replied The Hammer. “Not very technical. Lots and lots of cactus, though.”
Which was an understatement.
“Did you see that tree about halfway through the course?” I asked. “The one where people have hung mini liquor bottles and hair picks like Christmas ornaments?”
“Yeah,” The Hammer replied. “Strange.”
I offer the preceding snippet of conversation by way of foreshadowing of an event that will take place in tomorrow’s installment of this story.
The order of racers in our team — Team IMBA Featuring the Fat Tire 5 — was as follows:
You know how you can tell — just by looking at them — that certain people are going to be really fast? Austin is one of those guys, and hence our first guy — someone who could get to his bike fast (after the longish Lemans-style running start) and get in front of the pack.
Which he did. Admirably.
But when Austin threw a leg over his bike, he discovered something horrible: that someone in the RV he was sharing wore the same kind of bike shoes, in the same size, as he did.
But with different kinds of cleats. SPDs instead of Eggbeaters.
Which meant that Austin had a choice: come back and get his own shoes, or pedal the course with his feet precariously perched — but never clipped in — on his tiny little pedals.
He went with the second option. Which — to Austin’s great credit — he made work fine, for almost the entire lap.
The key word here is “almost.”
With only a few hundred yards to go, Austin hit a rock, his feet flew off the pedals, and Austin crashed hard, injuring his knee. Somehow, he made it to the finish line, but that was the end for him. He could hardly walk, much less ride.
Suddenly, we were a team of four. And our concern about not getting enough riding in during this race evaporated.
I love road trips. I love racing. I love getting away from winter for a couple of days and being able to wear shorts when riding.
So I’m fully expecting to have a magnificent time racing at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo this weekend, near Tucson, AZ. The Hammer and I will be part of Team IMBA, and from what I hear of this course, it’s going to be a fantastic weekend not just of racing, but of riding.
More than the racing, riding, and other bike-centric festivities, I’m looking forward to actually spending some time talking with the folks from IMBA. See, for a guy who loves singletrack, I haven’t exactly been a great example of how cyclists should advocate for or maintain trails. I’d like to fix that problem. So expect to hear more about IMBA when I get back.
I’m also looking forward to being camping in the same general area as Rebecca Rusch as she — as half of a Duo Team — clobbers the competition. It’ll be awesome to watch a top pro in action.
I’ll be bringing the GoPro, so hope to be able to put together a video of the whole experience. So watch for that next week.
I won’t be posting here again ’til Tuesday. However, if I have good phone service, I will be tweeting photos, updates, and general nonsense throughout the trip. So if you don’t already, maybe you might want to follow me. Or maybe you might not. No pressure. I won’t be the only one talking about this race, though, so if you are the kind of person who likes that kind of thing, maybe follow the #24HOP hashtag, which I understand is what all the cool kids are doing. Not being a kid nor cool, I don’t know for sure.
Meanwhile, it’s a 12-hour drive, each way, for The Hammer and me. So. Does anyone happen to have a good audio book recommendation they’d like to make?
Aigle, Switzerland (Fat Cyclist Fake News Service) – In a joint press release today today, the UCI, WADA, USADA, and CCN announced the following:
We are pleased to announce that, effective immediately, Lance Armstrong will be stripped of seven Tour de France Titles. The stripping of these aforementioned titles are additive to the seven Tour de France titles of which Mr. Armstrong has already been stripped, for a grand total of fourteen (14) times he has now no longer won the Tour.
Be it known, then, that as of this moment, Lance Armstrong has won the Tour de France a total of negative seven (-7) times. Which means that should he ever start racing again, he’ll have to win the Tour de France another seven times before he even gets to say he hasn’t ever even raced in the Tour.
This notice should not be construed as an invitation for Mr. Armstrong to come and race the Tour seven more times. Indeed, to the contrary, we hereby anti-invite Armstrong to come and race another seven times, just to be safe.
Reached for comment on this unusual measure, UCI President Pat McQuaid stated, “We felt it was important for us to proactively take this measure against the possibility that Mr. Armstrong might start racing — and possibly winning — the Tour de France. We feel that only by taking this proactive measure could we curtail the greatest threat against cycling today.”
“I agree,” agreed Dr. Michael Ashenden, who is the best and smartest and rightest doping expert who has ever lived or will ever live. “And also I think we were all starting to miss the feeling of righteous indignation we all experienced when denouncing Armstrong, instead of denouncing each other about Armstrong.”
“Sure,” continued the extremely smart and handsome Ashenden, “later today we’ll go back to sniping and arguing amongst ourselves. But for this moment, at least, it’s really nice to get back to our core competencies.”
“There’s something special about stripping Armstrong of Tour de France victories,” concurred USADA CEO Travis Tygart. “You get a certain buzz from it that nabbing other dopers simply doesn’t deliver.”
“I kind of thought I’d at least feel something when Cipollini got busted earlier this week,” mused Tygart, evidently to himself, “But nothing compares to Lance. So, a few days ago when we were all just bickering and finger-pointing, it occurred to someone, ‘Hey! What if we played our big hit? The fans always love that one!’ And you know what? It’s totally true.”
Said Skins chairman and Change Cycling Now backer Jaimie Fuller, “We’re f&^*ing thinking of making this $&#@ something we do on a %@!#-%$# regular basis.”
The Press Reacts
Neal Rogers, Editor of Velo, responded to this statement by tweeting, “Thought we were done with Armstrong circus. Very angry. Wish we could ignore this and get back to what we do best.”
Thirty minutes later, VeloNews.com published five (5) new articles covering this event, including a timeline, an analysis, an opinion piece, a “What Happens Next?” story, and an interview with Dick Pound.
It is unclear whether this tweet was an oblique reference to this announcement, or if Bill Strickland just likes Walt Whitman.
The next meeting of this group that is collectively tasked with restoring the cycling world’s sense of honor and dignity is planned for later this month, where they will consider a number of new proposals, including making Armstrong do the following:
Give a yellow jersey to anyone who asks for one, forever
Take a picture of himself laying on that same couch where he was “just laying around,” but with pictures of Betsy Andreu now in each of the frames
Learn to un-sign his name
According to the statement, forcing Armstrong to drink nothing but Michelob Ultra for the rest of his life had also been under consideration, but had been taken off the table.
According to McQuaid, “That would simply be too cruel.”
I have ridden a bike in the French Alps. I have ridden a bike in rural Africa. I have even ridden a bike in New York (terrifying) and Alamosa, Colorado (less terrifying).
These are all, however, pale substitutes for where — in my heart of hearts — I really truly want to ride my bike:
I know, I know. You’re saying to me, “Fatty, get your head out of the clouds. Everyone wants to ride their bike in North Korea.”
“You don’t understand,” I reply to you, “I don’t just want to ride a bike with a Korean bicycle tour, where I can pay about the amount of money I would for a house down payment to be carefully escorted around on selected, pre-approved roads, taking in statue after statue after statue of a tyrant, on a clunky hybrid bike.”
“Wow,” you no doubt say to me now, “That does indeed sound like the adventure of a lifetime. May I join you on this trip?”
“Alas,” I conclude in our imaginary-yet-very-realistic conversation, “I am unaware of any such cycling tour.”
Or at least I wasn’t aware of any such cycling tour . . . until I got the most awesome promotional email ever in the history of promotional email!
Invitation to Indescribable Adventure
The email begins with the following video, which I encourage you to watch, right now, with your computer’s volume set to eleven:
I don’t know about you, but my reaction to this video was as visceral as it was cerebral, and I found myself watching it over and over. Just in case you don’t have time to watch it as much as I have, however, allow me to show you some highlights:
Why is there nobody but tourists on the road?
Standing around after unloading bikes is a top feature of this tour.
Why is that guy in the background pushing his bike?
Don’t worry, you’ll have ample time to stand around, talking with other tourists.
Why do there continue to be nobody but tourists on the road?
Yay! They’re unloading bikes!
Why would this barren hill be included in a promotional video? (And also, why is there nobody but one lone tourist on the road?)
A rare moment on the tour, featuring both nobody on the road but tourists, and standing around.
Do I even need to say anything here?
Seriously, how could one not want to go on such an adventure?
The North Korean Equivalent of a Chorus of Angels
Of course, the images are only part of the allure of this video. The soundtrack is what really moves it from the “indescribably elegant” category squarely into “sublime.”
What’s the story behind this — your new favorite — song? Well, the email I received explains:
This song is a massive hit in the DPRK, everyone in North Korea knows the words and it’s even been featured in the mass games. Like all great DPRK pop culture there is a deeper ideological message and your ears ain’t deceiving you, they are indeed singing “CNC” – which as we all know stands for “Computer Numerical Control” – go light industry! In case that raised more questions than it answered, you can read more here.
So, in answer to your question: it’s a super-popular song that sounds like it was recorded in the Fifties, about a technology that’s been around since the Forties.
Check out the lyrics.
If you set your heart on anything We follow the program making the Songun era machine technology’s pride; our style CNC technology
CNC – Juche industry’s power! CNC – an example of self-strength and reliance! Following the General’s leading path Breakthrough the cutting edge
Arirang! Arirang! The people’s pride is high Let’s build a science-technology great power Happiness rolls over us like a wave
Admit it: after reading and hearing this song, you want to sing along. Like these people did, in this completely spontaneous and not-state-arranged singalong that a tourist just happened to have captured:
It’s also possible to see and hear this song at the Mass Games, which you will have the opportunity to see pretty much every night you are in North Korea:
Or, frankly, you’ll hear it everywhere and anywhere you go. Which is awesome, because it has been decided by our great leader that you will never tire of this song.
Glorious Rides and Activities
When we (for at this point my confidence is incredibly high that you will wish to go on this selfsame tour) go to North Korea for the cycling tour, we will never, ever run out of amazing things to do and see. Here is a small selection from the official itinerary of what we shall do:
Have a pre-tour briefing!
Go through immigration and customs and be assigned guards guides!
Visit the Mansudae Grand Monument and lay down flowers at the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il!
Visit a subway!
See the Arch of Triump, where Kim Il Sung gave a speech to the Korean people after the surrender of the Japanese!
Visit the Victorieous Fatherland Liberation War Museum, where we can see the USS Pueblo, which was totally not unarmed and in international waters when captured.
Visit Kim Il Sung Square!
Visit the Party Foundation Monument!
Visit Janam Hill, where there’s a statue of Kim Il Sung!
Visit Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun, where Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lie in state!
Visit the Youth Hero Highway — where, five days into the tour, we will ride our bikes for the first time. For a flat 25Km on a deserted highway!
Visit the West Sea Barrage, an 8Km dam, which was personally overseen by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il!
Probably see a lot more statues and amazing things all about Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il! But I haven’t quite been able to make myself finish reading the itinerary because the trip sounds far too awesome!
And the great thing about this cycling tour is, there won’t be too much cycling! From the itinerary:
If you are a keen cyclist who is looking to cycle long distances every day and will not be happy otherwise, then this tour is not for you. If you are flexible and happy to cycle whatever distance is possible and at whatever pace is possible then we welcome you with open arms!
Tax Abolition Day Tour: Stay in the unique and rarely visited Ryanggang (Two Rivers) Hotel while in Pyongyang. This is one of the only ways to spend St. Patrick’s day in a country with not one Irish Pub – bring your own Guinness for that night!
May Day Long Tour: “Don’t believe it’s possible to tango with a tipsy North Korean grandmother in a busy park? We’ll prove it to you on this trip!”
Kim Il Sung 101st Birthday Tour 1. Or perhaps the Kim Il sung 101st Birthday Tour 2. Or maybe the Kim Il sung 101st Birthday Tour 3. Or even the Kim Il sung 101st Birthday Tour 4.
They all sound so good! Maybe next year, and the year after that. And so forth.
Meanwhile, though, I’m stoked to head out and ride my bike and stand around with tourists in North Korea, on the bikes they will provide us (Hunter 2.0s or North-Korean-made mountain bikes):
I’m working hard on proofing Susan’s book, The Forgotten Gift, and getting together all of the little pieces you don’t think about when you’re just reading a book (writing the back cover stuff, acknowledgments, determining pricing, that kind of thing).
So I’ll be back to writing this blog next week. I hope.
Meanwhile, maybe you could do me a favor. If you are — or know someone — who could help get the word out about this book — reviews and publicity — leave a comment or send me an email.