Moments of Grace

Moments of Grace (# 4)

When I woke up Christmas morn, two days before the 4th WBL event, my wife looked over at me, snapped her tooth in, and clacked the two rows together a couple of times—she was checking the fit. Then she looked at me and smiled: Big Daddy’s slump was over. My wife only puts her tooth in for two things, and we weren’t about to go bobbing for apples. Even the most benighted among us are sometimes granted moments of grace. Two days later, I was still smiling

Like a condemned man still swearing at his accusers after the noose is fitted snug around his neck, and insolently cackling even as he drops feet first through the hole in the floor, the month of December refused to go gently into that good night, and the Zealots raged on their bikes against the dying of the light. In other words, on Saturday, 27 December 2008, the 12th month of the year would not simply curtsey and leave the stage on cue like one of Carney’s well trained handmaidens. Instead, the four Saturdays of this vexing month stomped around like little trolls, cudgel in hand, smashing everything their little clubs could reach, and making themselves a non-ignorable nuisance. The month of December wanted to make sure that its impact was felt. Believe me, brothers and sisters of the blacktop, it was. Finally, dastardly December was forced off the stage at gunpoint. After the torture this devious and deceptive month had inflicted upon my hapless, misesteemed legs, I was hoping that they’d blow the bastard to bits.

Usually, December, a time when there are no (sanctioned) sprints in the WBL, strolls onto the scene like a warm summer breeze shushing through the tops of trees—it’s a pleasant, salutary experience that doesn’t drill too deeply into one’s personal reserve of rocket fuel or private stockpiles of whammy juice. December typically exits at the end of the month with a similar soughing sound, leaving all internal weaponry in fine fettle. December in the WBL had become a time for easy pedal rolling, hillbilly hang-dogging, and Fat Boy clabber-yakking. “No more!” declared Carney in a recent papal bull handed down from on high: “If one’s bailiwick is the big ring, then motor to the front and pull like your periwinkle is on fire, or you’ll be singing soprano by sundown.” Carney drew a papal skull and cross bones below his papal seal. So instead of business as usual, December 2008 (2009 season) barreled in the front door and blew out the back like a bank robber blasting away with both barrels. No one wanted one of Carney’s missing-tooth henchmen coming after him with hedge clippers. I love Freddy Mercury; I just don’t want to sing like a castrato: O mama mia, mama mia.

Like the first three events of the season, the 4th WBL event (the Hilly Way to Hoschton), turned into another two-wheeled assault on the asphalt—a 75 mile blister session that left a line of heat bubbles in the roadway as the strong lads and lasses of the group tapped out another torrid tempo with their pedals. And the pack sailed along as smooth as five New York City street dancers nailing the perfect slide. Philly Boy Southerland, Jon Boy McMurphy, Dustin Gear Crusher Mealor, I. Whittius Cliffordus, Jeffery McShirey, Andy Brooklyn Boy Collins, Parker Pretty Boy Smith, Michael Contador Stone, Chris Cold as Ice Pic, and Joey Jumpin Jack Flash Rosskopf were just a few of the thick-thighed troublemakers at the head of the herd kicking up dust, raising an all around ruckus, and causing general mayhem with their big ring, all in the name of Good Fun. The hilly route through Jackson County seemed to constantly sweep right then loop back left, dive down and kick up, climb across and fall off, then abruptly turn in a tight arc and plunge around a bend: These roads were never straight for long. And while the Big Ringers were pressing the pedal at the front, those behind had no choice but to cock their chin to the wind, grip their bars like they were strangling someone they used to love, dry their streaming tears, suck in their overhanging guts, stop thinking about mama’s homemade cathead biscuits, cannon blast the snot right out from their gazoontites, and fight like a wild boar to hold on to the lead dogs as they stomped circles in the air and cruised down the road.

Roiling, turbid, platinum coated foam once again hung in the skies above the 50 or so Zealots who signed in for the 4th event of the year, the Hilly Way to Hoschton, on the final Saturday in December. Earlier Saturday morning, the thick cover of tenebrous clouds was accompanied by a fine mizzle falling from above, but by whistle time, the mist had melted and the roads were drying but damp. The outside temperature was not frigid, and even though it looked frightful, the sweating roads were not cold, and the fog-filled air was not wet. The cheerless winter gloom that descended on this group could not dampen their soaring spirits—they’d come to do a little righteous pedal-banging. Looking out over the bobbing Zealots painted into this sullen scene, my heart swelled. I clicked my heels twice in a venerable way, and said, “For those about to rock, we salute you.” I was grinning like a devil. A cheer went up. Most thought my gaping rictus was due to my love of pedal-stomping in miserable conditions. It wasn’t. I was just thinking back on my moment of grace.

The pack cruised out the Tallassee Road and bent backwards into Jackson County via a super secret, back alley, magic opening that is guarded by an ornery ogre. Only Carney knows the magic words to make the sesame open. The WBL, as usual, never gains entry through the front door, but like a penthouse cat burglar, or a back door man, uses remote and out of the way portals of entry.  Carney chose the bumpy way out of town on this particular day. Bastardo—he was still abed carving z’s when the bell clanged. The mazy route over to Etheridge Farm Road takes in every available hummock, and the first dozen miles of this route are rife with ripples. The group rode beside wet, bosky woods, muddy dirt drives, rusty tin roofs, wet cows standing in fields, barbed wire fences running alongside the road, antebellum estates, big old barns, wild turkeys trotting across the road, and big-winged vultures boldly flapping overhead in the first half of this lumpy 75 mile route. The packs’ thighs were clobbered with a club, stuck with a pick-axe, rolled over with a rock crusher, knee-knocked with a sledgehammer, and prodded with a 12-inch needle, all in the name of Good Fun. Such is the life of those born to suffer; such is the life of a Zealot.

The group, with many of the aforementioned patriots at the wheel, rocketed down roadways at red-hot rates of speed. This smaller and more manageable group of freewheeling pedal-warriors flowed fluidly down the road in syncopated synchronicity: Feet flew around in rhythmic spins, knees pumped up and down with an angry beat, shoulders rocked right then left like a metronome, and elbows flapped feverishly, one waggle at a time. The swift moving pack of raging pedal bangers hard-charged down Jackson Trail, skimmed through Hoschton, and after trying in vain to ditch Whit Clifford at the store stop (he was around back icing his periwinkle when we left), did the flying roundabout back to Jefferson. But once in Jefferson at the 50 mile mark, even though many Zealot’s legs were numb with pain, instead of taking the most direct route home, the whole troop turned and arced out for more punishment, all in the name of Good Fun. It was quite a sight to see. It made papa proud.

The grupetto looped around and added the full circle of Brockton Loop to the mileage tally before turning for home and tackling the irascible and ill-mannered Jefferson River Wall. In a dreadful portent of what might occur on New Year’s Day, Pretty Boy Parker, showing both brio and bravura, and a touch of braggadocia, put the bit in his mouth at the bottom of the hill. He gently swayed to a dreamy Caribbean beat until he was almost halfway up the steep section of the hated hill, then he unhitched his caboose, and stormed up the incline like he was never coming back. His motives were hostile. He bounded away like a skinny boy with coils in his legs. Sirens sounded, alarm bells clattered, and panic set in behind. My heart started pounding like Apache war drums. Pretty Boy opened a sizable 15 meter gap, and for 15 to 20 seconds, it was a full-on fistfight at the front. For whom does the bell toll? It tolls for you Fatboy, now ride! The pack was ripped to shreds. Small groups were left gagging for air as they struggled up the steep slope. I was a broken shard at this point, a poor potsherd of my former self. Blood was swishing in my brain, my throat was engorged and pulsing, and my chest was trying to bust out of its ribcage. Not to mention, all the sizzle in my poor legs was zapped. I was praying young Parker Smith had a blowout, and soon.

Luckily, over the top of the ill-tempered Wall, the lead group slowed, allowing all behind to rejoin: Rejoice, rejoice! There were no more major obstacles from here, and the feisty group of pedal-bangers rolled into town together, back down Prince Avenue, pressing the tempo every pedal push of the way. There was no time to rest on one’s laurels—the pack drilled it all the way to the door. Though the skies overhead were still dull and gray, the Zealots were once again glowing on the inside; they were struck with a sense of awe. They’d not beaten the elements—only fools and pharos claim to have “conquered” mother nature. The best one can hope for is to blend in, a temporary rapprochement, a fleeting moment of grace. And that, brothers and sisters of the blacktop, is what we were privy to on this particular day.

After 4 big ring adventures into the way-back, the pack has tallied 320 miles and about 16 hours in the saddle, all zinging along at supersonic speeds. And after one month, many dangerous contenders are tied at the top of the leader board, all with 10 points: Billy Boy Bray, Nick L- Back Arroyo, Ms. Nancy Jones, King Karl Langenbach, Dustin Bone Crusher Mealor, Steven Nakajima, Richey Boy Nelson, Lenny Bruce Slote, Erin. S. Winter, Jeffery W. Shirey, Michael Contador Stone, Big Tim Stone, Major Russell Williams, Crowe the Caitiff, and Me—Humble C. Along the way, we’ve run across galloping horses, a plenitude of dumb dogs, a phalanx of tractors, a biblical deluge, a Ryno on a hand cycle, and a pedal-lawyer on his ass.  We’ve been pedal-visited by friends all the way from California to Brooklyn, and Trinidad to Canada, and points in between. It’s been like a moment of grace, every heart-hammer of the way.

Humble C.