We’ve all found ourselves in comical, embarrassing, ridiculous, absurd, and even dangerous situations at times, it’s part and parcel of life, and the longer a person lives, the more numerous they’ll become. These instances can happen as easily on the bike as any other time, but when they do occur on two wheels, there seems to be something uniquely amusing and/or singularly engaging about them. Four short anecdotes follow which fit into one, some or all the above categories, and there are plenty more where these came from—I have embarrassed myself in myriad, diverse and multifaceted ways.
Story # 1: The Time I Ran Like Hale
Story # 1 checks all the boxes because the incident at issue is comical, embarrassing, ridiculous, dangerous and absurd, all at the same time. Not to mention, any remaining illusion that I was a “tough” guy vaporized the instant I took the first step.
I was probably in my mid-thirties at the time and I was on a Saturday group ride that started in Athens. There were around 25 – 30 of us, a strong group, and we were one hour into a four-hour ride, skirting the perimeter of Winder as we circled around the city. The weather was postcard-perfect with blue skies and mild temps, and it promised to be another glorious day in the saddle when POP -TWANG-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP–a spoke broke so badly it caused my rear wheel to wobble an inch or more when it spun, knocking hard against both brake pads with every revolution, even when I released the calipers to maximum slack. I couldn’t continue with the group, so I bid adieu and turned around and rode home, tolerating the wobble-knock on every revolution of the wheel the best I could. I would need to replace my brake pads but maybe the wheel could be salvaged. I moved slow, around 13-14 miles-per-hour maximum.
About 3 miles later as I was pedaling down a straight stretch of a two-lane country road in Barrow County, I noticed a Jeep appear on the horizon traveling towards me in the opposite lane. There were no other vehicles in sight and nothing struck me as unusual, at first. When we were about ¼ mile apart the Jeep veered over into my lane and the driver gunned the engine and headed straight at me. I had about 7-8 seconds to react so I stopped pedaling and coasted and was on high alert. This type of harassment didn’t happen often but it wasn’t the first time someone drove at me trying to scare me. In the past, the driver always swerved back over into his (it’s always a male) lane before panic set in on my part, but this driver kept accelerating towards me and the alarm bells clattered so I rode off the road to the right and as far to the edge of a plowed dirt field as I could, about 15 yards off the blacktop, and waited to see what the driver would do. The Jeep stayed on the pavement but as it passed me it never strayed from my lane, the wrong lane, so I threw up my middle finger—I was furious.
Every time this type of assault occurred in the past, as the driver went whizzing by, I could see his laughing face. Most times the drivers looked like they were high school kids driving jacked-up trucks, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I imagined pummeling one into submission with my fists if he did ever stop. It had been a long time since I’d been in a fight but I thought I was a fairly tough fellow, sometimes others even told me I was, plus I was in the right and that counts for something in a fistfight, right? Imagine my surprise when instead of flying by, the driver slammed on brakes and stopped and a six-foot-four, two-hundred-and-forty-pound, tatted-up, muscle-bound brute in tight stonewashed, fashionably ripped blue jeans and a white wife beater t-shirt stepped out and pointed at me and screamed, “I’m going to kill you, m--- f---!” He was in a steroid rage, as if I’d questioned his manhood, and he appeared on the verge of a total mental meltdown.
This next paragraph will relate only a few of the swirling thoughts that rampaged through my brain in the next second: I instantly intuited this was a different situation from any I’d ever experienced before. I also noticed the brute had a deep sunlamp-burnished tan, so he probably entered body building competitions. He was a little older than the other assaulters too—the other drivers all looked to be 16 – 18 years old, but this Goliath looked like he was 24 – 26, old enough to have outgrown such juvenile behavior. He also appeared unstable and I felt my life was in danger and he would kill me if he caught me, but he would beat the ever-loving-shit out of me first to prolong the suffering. I also recognized the folly of sprinting away on my bike in either direction because he could easily run me over. It took me less than a second to pick up my bike with both hands and turn and run like hale, away from the big brute, and across the freshly plowed dirt field I was standing beside. If he was going to kill me he’d have to catch me first and I was going to run like hale.
I glanced back when I first started to run and the behemoth was roaring after me, so while holding my precious Merlin in front of me, I sprinted for my life. The dirt field I was running in was newly plowed and the soil was thick and spongy and my shoes sank three inches into the soft loam with every step, which made running a laborious process, as if I was running in slow motion. I feared the brute was going to catch me so I kept running as hard as I could in terrified flight.
Though I lost all concept of time, I would imagine 12 - 15 seconds went by and suddenly my entire body filled with lactic acid and I slowed considerably—fleeing in panic had burned through my reserves like an out of control blaze. I looked back again at this point and the big brute was bent over with his hands on his knees. In the background a car had pulled up behind the brute’s Jeep and an elderly lady was standing outside her car and looking at us with one hand cupped over her eyes. I yelled, “GET THE POLICE, HE’S TRYING TO KILL ME! GET HIS TAG NUMBER!” The lady moved her hand over her mouth but didn’t move. “GET THE POLICE!” I yelled. She looked like she couldn’t decide what to do. Cell phones didn’t exist yet so this was not a foolproof plan anyway.
We were about 100 yards from the road and we were about to start sprinting again. He had closed about 10 yards on me, but I still had 30 on him, so I looked at the Brute and said, “The police will be here before you get back to your car and your ass is gonna be arrested.” He looked at me and said, “I’m still gonna kill you, m--- f----.” He was still in a rage but was out of shape and huffing and puffing between words. I’d been practicing law for close to 7 or 8 years and had spent a lot of time around various criminal courtrooms and I thought I recognized certain markers and specific traits so I took a shot in the dark: “And if you’re on probation you won’t get a bond. You’re ass will sit in jail until the judge revokes you and you’ll go straight back to prison.”
The brute looked back at his car to gauge the distance, then he looked down at his feet and lifted one of his shoes out of the muck. Mud caked his nice tennis shoes, but my expensive cleats were covered with gumbo too. Then, for some inexplicable reason, the brute turned and jogged back to his car and hopped in and sped away without another word. The elderly lady drove off too. I was trembling with relief as I high-stepped back to the road and stamped the mud off my shoes the best I could and started pedaling home. I kept nervously glancing back over my shoulder until I made about three or four turns and traveled 5 or 6 miles down the road. I arrived home late, all in one piece, and thankful. I don’t know if it was remark about probation, the mud on his nice shoes, or something else that made the brute turn and head back to his car, but I am thankful he did. When I think about the fact that instead of standing up to the bully, as all southern boys of hot-blooded Scot Irish descent are taught, I turned and ran like hale, all I can do is laugh. Despite the fact my actions might have humiliated my dirt farming Gaelic forebears, I think I made the right decision to save my skin and sacrifice my pride.
Story # 2: Black Light Elvis
Chase Street in Athens is one of its older streets and north of Boulevard it crosses over railroad tracks via a raised concrete bridge and begins a curious change from residential to industrial. This section has been developed in the last 10 – 20 years but about 30 years ago, on the left-hand side of the road traveling north just past the bridge, there was a non-descript, concrete block building with a red front door, no windows, no signage, and a small asphalt parking lot in the front. Nearly every day, if the weather allowed, a tall, dark-haired man arranged 12- to- 15 framed, black light posters in an orderly row around the perimeter of the parking lot so they were visible from the road. The tall dude drove a windowless white van which was usually parked out front too. Even though the black-haired gent set out the framed black light posters like clockwork, over the course of 10 years, I never saw a single customer pull in. Naturally, my friend had a couple of black light posters featuring Elvis, so I named him “Black Light Elvis,” and because I drove by his block building often, I felt like I knew him in some vague, obscure way, like a used car salesman who’s always on tv. Everyone who traveled Chase Street during the 80’s knew about the concrete block building because the overbright artwork couldn’t be missed.
I didn’t ride my bike on Chase Street often in those days because it was too busy and the road too rough but one day I was finishing a ride and I did come back into town from the north via Chase Street. As I climbed the big hill up Chase Street from Newton Bridge Road, I was standing in the saddle and as I neared Black Light Elvis’s concrete block building on my right, suddenly he pulled up to the edge of the road in his van intending to pull out. His window was down and he looked me square in the eyes and I thought, “Damn, that’s Black Light Elvis!” I could see he was about 50 years old, had a mop of unruly black hair, dressed a little slovenly, and looked like nothing in life had ever come easy. I tried to be cool but it felt as if I’d stumbled into a minor celebrity. We were almost close enough to touch and I was just about to nod my head and thank him for allowing me to pass even though I did have the right of way when Black Light Elvis sneered and gunned his van and lurched forward, blocking my path and forcing me to slam on my brakes and quickly throw one cleat on the pavement to avoid plowing into the side of his van.
“WHAT THE HALE ARE YOU DOING?” I yelled at Black Light Elvis. I was furious and considered our friendship over. Black Light Elvis jammed his van into park, still blocking my path, produced a black-handled knife and held it out the window with his left hand, popped open a 4-inch blade, and said, “I’ll slice you up, pretty boy.” In the next motion he threw open the driver’s door to his van and started to exit. This time, I did opt to stay on my bike and I sprinted around the right side of his van (the back) and up the sidewalk to safety. But I wanted revenge and when I reached the top of the hill about 40 yards away, I stopped and turned around.
Black Light Elvis had apparently chased me on foot less than 10 yards then stopped and was walking back to his van. I quickly scanned the ground and spotted a rock a little bigger than my fist—I planned to hurl it at the bastard’s van and smash a window, or at a minimum, put a big dent in the side. Instead of firing the rock like a missile, I lobbed it upwards in an arc and watched it slowly gain altitude as it sailed through the air. When the rock began its downward trajectory I could see that I’d launched the projectile at a favorable angle, but exactly where it would smack the van I couldn’t yet tell. Black Light Elvis kept walking to the van as the rock was descending and just before it happened I flinched, thenWHAP, the rock slammed into the left side of Black Light Elvis’s neck as he reached the van. His arms immediately flew out and his knees buckled and his body convulsed like he had been struck by lightning, but he managed to stay on his feet. His hands flew to the burning spot on his neck and the shock of wondering what just happened vanished when he turned and saw me at the top of the road looking down at him. I might have yelled something at this point that would have drawn a technical foul if this were a basketball game because you can’t dunk on someone and trash talk too.
Black Light Elvis ran around and hopped in his van and I knew he was coming after me and if he caught me he’d kill me. I turned and sprinted away on my bike down Chase and flew right on Boulevard and temporarily out of sight, but I had to get off the blacktop to remain unseen so I cut left and crossed the road, jumped the curb on the other side, and sprinted as hard as I could across grass and dirt fields behind Chase Street School. I was also laughing—I admit I was (am) shallow enough to take delight in the accuracy of my arm even if aided by luck—every now and then a shot from half court goes in. It was dark by now and I popped out on Prince Avenue with a flat tire but kept riding anyway in a panicked glee. I took back roads into downtown, ducked into my office, changed clothes, and remained mute for decades, only regaling a select few with the complete details of my mirthful tale. I kept my head down whenever I drove by the concrete block building afterwards, and I never rode Chase Street on my bike again. One day a long time ago, Black Light Elvis and his posters vanished and I never saw him again. Now that the statute of limitations has passed, the story can be told.
Story # 3: Chicken in a Bag
The first time I rode 25 miles I was both shocked and thrilled, shocked that I could do so, but also thrilled with the sense of adventure—I was lost on rural backroads for a period during the ride. (I was near the terminus of Tallassee Road never more than 12 miles out of town.) Shortly after my daring first excursion, I began charting my next, but this time, I’d be better prepared.
Google Earth maps nor GPS were in existence at the time, so I unfurled a paper map of the entire state and squinted my eyes and lowered my face as close to the page as possible and charted a course with a yellow highlighter that took me east through Maxeys and Stephens and around through Smithsonia and Winterville before heading home. Distances could only be estimated at the time and I gauged this ride to be about 60 miles, so one Saturday, I memorized the roads and set out on a borrowed Sears Free Spirit with flat pedals. I wore tennis shoes, green stretchy shorts, and a cotton t-shirt, and though I did take a bottle of water, I had no food, no money, and no spare tube. Hale, I didn’t have a jersey much less a pocket so how could I carry anything anyway? I knew nothing about the need to eat and drink on a long ride, I’m not sure I knew how to change a flat, and to say I knew very little about cycling would be understating just how utterly clueless I was.
The weather the day I set sail was warm with no threat of rain and I cruised along in blissful ignorance, soaking in the new sights and sounds and reveling in my newfound freedom: The original Alexander Supertramp I was. The hunger knock started around mile 30 and right away it was a substantial rapping. I don’t remember if I bothered to eat before I left but it’s not something I would have thought important. By mile 40 I was trembling and could not understand what was happening to my body. I’d grown up playing sports but I’d never participated in endurance activities, so I’d never bonked, I’d never even heard the term…yet. Mile 40 to 50 passed in a blur of hunger. I was in rural Oglethorpe County and no assistance was available, and by mile 50 I was desperate, struggling to make forward progress, I needed food. My first death march might be my last.
As my eyes started to roll back in my head, a drowning man going under, I caught sight of the trash and litter that dappled the side of the road. I spied a crumpled up white McDonald’s bag and yes, Brothers and Sisters, I did. I pulled over and tore through the bag like a mad man, but alas, it was empty, not even a forgotten fry. I pedaled on, constantly scanning the side of the road, and about 200 yards later, I spied it—a nondescript, brown paper bag lying 10 yards off the road—and I was drawn to it like a boozer to a bottle. I pulled over, dug down into the bag, and my jaw unhinged when I plucked out two plump brown pieces of fried chicken, both thighs, both warm, and neither with a nibble mark. I knew then how the Israelites felt when they found manna on the desert floor because, Brothers and Sisters, this was a miracle too. I sat on the side of the road in the grass as the late day sun sank below the tree line and devoured those two pieces of juicy fried chicken, sucking the bone clean before tossing it into the woods. Those two pieces of chicken were a Godsend, and the calories fueled my last 10 miles and allowed me to live to fight another day. The fact the fried chicken was delicious is simply an undeserved add-on.
Story # 4: Ruined in Roanoke
I had never seen the move done before and I have never seen it attempted since but Sev (Steve Sevener) pulled it off in a masterly display of bike handling—I have no idea where he learned the move. It was the mid-nineties and we were warming up for a criterium in downtown Roanoke. Sev and I raced for Bill Riecke’s Athens Bandag Team at the time and Paul King and Chris Pic were on hand and rolling around the course too. It was a nice Saturday afternoon and grandstands were set up in the start-finish area and they were packed with hundreds of people, a nice sight because sometimes we raced crits in ghost towns. But on this Saturday afternoon in Roanoke the spectacle which followed was witnessed by hundreds if not thousands of delighted fans.
We were rolling through the start-finish area riding one of the final warm-up laps when Sev rode up behind me and in one motion leaned over and yanked my shorts down and hooked them under my seat and rode away (I didn’t wear bibs then). First, this move is not as easy as it may sound because it involves shifting one’s center of gravity while leaning, then tugging violently on another human while still maintaining balance, all while pedaling forward in a straight line with the other hand on the handlebars. As for me, my immediate reaction was to stand in my pedals, which caused me to spring back down because my shorts were hooked and prevented me from moving my backside more than a couple of inches in any direction. I couldn’t unclip either because when I shifted forward to put my foot down the tug of my shorts caused my frame to wobble, making me fear I would crash. I quickly realized the utter brilliance of Sev’s move because it left me with no option but to simply hold my head high and coast through the start-finish area with my big white bum in the air while hundreds and hundreds laughed, pointed and gawked. I rode around the corner and was able to find a wall to lean against and untie the knot but the damage was done because my big white bum could not be unseen. I saw Sev at the start line and he was still laughing. I remember I had a good race, probably fueled by my desire for redemption, but it did take a few laps hiding in the pack before my embarrassment subsided.
Be careful about laughing at the woeful circumstances which have befallen me in these short sketches lest you, Brothers and Sisters, find yourself sitting in the grass eating fried chicken you just found in a paper bag on the side of the road.