je ne sais quoi

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


In February 2009, I had that unpleasant encounter with the vehicle. That moment would be significant in a lot of ways. Physically, the most significant injury i've ever sustained, first time i've been knocked unconscious, and first time I've been hospitalized. Emotionally: plenty of drainage. I got back on the bike and raced, but never with the same zeal or pleasure and with a newfound “awareness” of vehicles. The incident closed a chapter of my life. And regrettably, as a result of this incident, I received a crash course in how the legal system handles matters like this. Which in part is why I'm starting it off with this dull paragraph/disclaimer. And yeah, i'm not stoked about how the ongoing legal situation makes me apprehensive about writing this or anything like it in the first place.

ECMSR. The big bad East Coast Messenger Stage Race, put on by NYC messenger Austin Horse. It was one of those things that was proposed to us [Wolfpack Hustle] a few months ago, and when something is proposed that far in advance, you don't really nitpick, even if a stage race across the east coast can and will be a fierce logistical challenge, at best. So of course we said yes, work gave me the okay, and Jetblue kindly offered to fly us out there (in light of the #flightvsbike PR buzz I assume).

Fast forward to two days before what I thought was the departure date. Made some calls, dug through some emails, and nope, the following morning is in fact the departure date. I'm pretty good with travel procrastination (I write this while on my flight back to LA which I made with 1 minute left before the gate closed), so packed super-light, boxed the bike, and got to the airport in time.

Stage 1, Boston, MA to New Haven, CT [150 Miles]

"How many racers would show up?" There wasn't an "official" purse, it was a 5 day commitment, and it was not widely promoted. I really had no idea, 50? 500? Messengers? We made our way to the start, a bike shop in South Boston. Riders and racers trickled in. Swell! I hadn't done a stage race since France. Very excite. Numbers were provided, which added to the "unsanctioned, but yes, we're racing" feeling. The number of racers was capped at 30, I assume because of how difficult it would be to sort out housing for a larger group of racers. The peleton amassed on a small traffic island for a couple photos, and bam, we were off.

A couple details before I continue: this race was strictly grassroots old-skool racing. No road closures, no official course. Race from a location in city A to a location in city B. When you get to the second location there is no finish line, only a code written on a posterboard which needed to be texted to the race organizers to determine the finishing time. You follow that? So there is NO sprint...there is "git out your phone asap, and with calm fingers, text the code, verbatim, to end the stage." Fun stuff.

And the boston stage was underway. The team spent plenty of time planning the route (chapeau to Jon and Alex for this), and it was basically a massive drag on a couple major roads for the entire 150 miles of stage 1. Surprisingly, only a few of the other racers followed us, and it was pretty simple to drop the hangers-on after a few miles. It became a team time trial, which I'm a big fan of. A million rollers later, we got to New Haven 1-2-3, and we decided to have Fabian, our fresh 19 year old, text in the answer first for the win. I thought I was second, but i guess ATT lagged a bit, and I wound up 3rd. Great stuff, 1st overall team and individual for the Wolfpack A squad. We put more than an hour on 4th place. ;]

Stage 2, New Haven, CT to Brooklyn, NY [90 Miles]

The queen stage, in my opinion. NY is kinda a big deal on the east coast. We Awoke to pouring rain. Massage style. Before I make it sound emphatically miserable, I will say that it wasn't cold at all, which made it much more bearable. From the gun, people were much more aware that we were the team to follow. And so they followed, and so we attacked every hill from the gun. I intended for tactics to be basic...attack, and let the others chase and chase until they broke. Being the roadie snob that I am, I assumed my teammates knew the basic "attack, and sit in while other riders chase down your teammate", but I had to give a crash course in race strategy while out on the course. They picked it up eventually I think. With one of our riders up the road in the rain, and the peleton down to 6-7 people, I asked my other teammate to drift back so that I can have a chat about how we're going to isolate ourselves and get that TTT into brookyln...then I made the cat 5 move of getting on the shoulder while talking to him, and picking up a nice piece of glass on the front tire. Fabian of course stopped, had a really quick change, and we were back up, head down, full chase. We had a teammate up the road, which in most cases is perfect, because he can inhibit the chase, but i'm not sure that he understood that.

Fabian and I eventually bridged back to two guys (JT and Chris from NYC) who said that Jon was still up the road. We were riding along route 1, south, and at some point, john took a wrong turn, and we followed. A couple miles later, with Jon out of sight, Chris announced "hey, we're heading in the completely wrong direction." We went from adversaries to allies pretty quickly, Fabian sent Jon a text saying "hey, turn around!", flipped a U turn, and eventually were back on track. No games though, this time. We rode together and everyone pulled through. Given the 6 mile detour, a couple other riders caught us from behind as well. We got to brooklyn in ridiculous heavy rainforest-style rain, hub deep through rivers in the Bronx at times, madness. This really isn't my game, or my city. I literally hung on for dear life. Made it as far as 2nd Ave, which was completely packed with cars. I suspect that the NYC guys knew this, and took us this way because (A) we had to follow and (B) there was no way in hell we'd be faster than them through 2nd Ave at rush hour. They dropped us, and I caught on with a 3rd guy, Corey, who we used to get us over the williamsburg bridge, and home to Times Up! , the bike co-op where the stage finished. Me and fabian finished together, and we let Corey take the final podium spot in light of his assistance through the city. If it was just me and Fab, I don't know if we would have ever found this place. Our teammate Jon got to the spot about 30 minutes after we did. Everyone was completely soaked and spent. Fab let me have the first text, so I snuck into the leader's jersey for the time being. That chase effort after the flat was a really tough one for me.

Stage 3, Brooklyn, NY to Philadelphia, PA [100 Miles]

This was a bit of a transition stage. Certainly not the most exciting, and North Philly is an odd place with a great deal of unhappy motorists and road hazards throughout this land. One of the riders, Corey, was from Philly, and another one lived in the city, so we followed them, assuming they knew the route. Funny part about "making your own route", if you don't know the route well, you can't really ride aggressively, because there's a good chance you'll end up just riding in the wrong direction, so kept it conservative, while I tried to recover from the chase effort the previous day. It worked allright, and was able to go with the aggressive riding by the other towards the end. When we got to the finish, there was a massive scramble and sprint to the imaginary finish line. I didn't sprint at all. I casually rolled to the finish area, saw the code from about 5 meters away, and calmly sent the message. Victory! Nice pair of Oakley sunglasses as a prize, too.

Stage 4, Philadelphia, PA to Baltimore, MD [100 Miles?]

Again, pretty straightforward stage, but with much more scenic countryside, and relentless rolling hills. JT from NYC was along for the ride this time, and pulled through at the front and would be very difficult to drop, so we were allright with it. After some really beautiful country roads, we crossed the state line into Maryland, and were soon entering the city of Baltimore. 4 of us. 3 wolfpacks, 1 JT. We had to drop him, otherwise it'd be another chaotic text message battle at the end, which is too unpredictable. I decided on taking a sharp right turn as a team while on JT's wheel through the city. With that turn coming up, he actually attacked hard the wrong way, and Fabian went with him. That left me and Jon to get to the finish. Plenty of iphone help later, we hauled ass to the finish, but there was no banner in sight...hmmm...rode around and around, made some calls, checked maps, nothing. JT eventually rode in as well, without Fabian. After some more exploring, we saw a big industrial building across the river, which apparently used the address from the same street we were looking for. Jon started to sprint, and I said "hey! get your phone ready!", which is the ECMSR equivalent of a leadout I guess. I then sat up, hoping to get him our 3rd stage win. And yep, he got it. I finished third, and fabian rolled in about 5 minutes later, in 4th. I maintained the GC, and yep, geared up to win this thing, and it seemed like a formality with a 5 minute lead and only a 50 mile stage coming up.

Stage 5, Baltimore, MD to Washington, DC [45 Miles]

The District. Love this place. After a very short and fast 40 miles, we got to the outskirts of the city. Surprised to find so many hills here, and it split up the group considerably. Fabian, my teammate and only GC threat, skitched (sp?) his way up the road very late in the stage, but he was in sight, and don't think the 5 minutes was in jeopardy. After finidng myself alone, and with Fabian in sight, I put the head down and started closing the gap. Awesome hills on that north end of town. I eventually lost sight of him when I assume he made a wrong turn somewhere. I got to the address specified, and was there ahead of anyone else...trouble is, no posterboard, no people, nothing. A very very frustrating moment. I tried to be rational, made some calls and calmly stated my situation, and was bummed but relieved when JT rolled up yet again in the same position we were in earlier. Eventually, we cut across a park, and sure enough, we'd all been guided 2 blocks in the wrong direction. We got to the finish, I saw fabian there, alone, and thought for sure I had lost. I was upset, anyone who wouldn' t be isn't a bike racer. Skitching is a bit of a grey-area in the messenger game, and it's an instant DQ in any sanctioned race, and to lose in that way was a bummer. [To Fab's credit, plenty of guys were doing it on this day. He was not the first.] Text sent, I was resigned, meh......and I made it with 1:30 to spare! Fffffahhh. I was still angry heat of the moment style, but the donated keg and finish atmosphere eventually mended the situation. 1st team classification, and 1st team GC.

Bam, good times, and I hope that i'm in a situation to do this race again sometime.