Trail of Tears (Alto)
Trail of Tears (ALTO: A 3 Part Story)
The numinous and nonpareil Cleve Blackheart Blackwell sent atomic shockwaves rippling through both the international cycling community as well as the worldwide porno industry as he scored a stunning win on the Porterfield Tire Alto World Cup on 27 January 2007 as he relied on a less than subtle style in the closing kilometers to bring it on home to papa—the punch in the mouth, kick in the groin, chop on the back of the neck, kick in the ribs (hard) while they’re down tactic. Blackheart left all his pedaling confreres in arrears as they fell off the pace, unable to match either his speed or his gargantuan gear, as he drove the final mile to the line with unequaled vim. The man whose heart is no bigger than an acorn could not be controlled, like a feisty young buck that refuses not to kick. It’s simply the poor, dumb animal’s nature to kick anyone it can square in the mouth. But unlike the blameless beast, Blackwell seems to relish in the agony of his breakaway companions, to revel in the misfortune of others. One day when he’s pushing up black orchids, I’m sure his biographer will learn that he choked out his cat on a regular basis.
9.5 miles before Blackheart’s virtuosic win, a large, snot-snorting, phlegm-hacking, thunder-thighed gaggle of 80 wobble-kneed Zealots entered the final Attack Zone. They’d just finished galloping around North Georgia, cruising up and over many of the ginormous mounds and molehills on offer in this neck of the woods. The Zealots had 95 miles and 7,500 feet of climbing stuffed into their fat-feeling thighs when the Whistler warbled his final tune. These minute details, combined with overall ungawdly strength and charisma of these 80 angry pedal bashers, guaranteed an Attack Zone in which a Zealot might find himself ripped into confetti, blown about the countryside, and stripped of any vestige of dignity he thought he might like to hang on to. Both this Zone and these Zealots did not disappoint.
Entering the final Attack Zone, the rabid pack quickly dove down Steep Dog Hill. This road snakes its way down through a deep ravine before shooting straight up into the clouds, like Jack’s Beanstalk. Heading down Steep Dog, several bold players pushed all their chips into the pot—they bolted down the hill on the attack. This daring move will only work when there is hesitation behind, allowing the escapees to claw to the top of the next hill and hop on board the Big Bus at it goes blasting by. It’s a crafty move, and one never knows. These brave attackers weren’t given the rope they needed on this day, but at least they died with a sword in their hands and muddy boots on their feet.
On the descent of Steep Dog, the lusty lads at the lance head of the field let ‘er rip with a mighty swoosh. The front of this long line of flying wanderlusters was scudding downhill at 44 miles per hour. The lead dogs in the line hit Steep Dog Wall, grimaced ferociously, and stomped up the vertical incline with a great deal of pent up angst and rage. Those who had earlier attacked suffered leg-lock on the uphill grade as the big group behind went whistling by at warp speed. The surge at the front was fast, furious and unforgiving. All hale broke loose. The longtime habitués of this Attack Zone know that Steep Dog Hill is usually where the climactic move is made: Time to get on one’s horse—it was make-or-back-be-broken time in the WBL.
Over the 60 second, intestinal-twisting climb, 7 strongmen separated themselves from the rest of the herd. Taking the first right hand turn only 1 mile into the killbox, Mark Anderson, Slim Henry, Dirk Pohlmann, Boyd Johnson and Travis Hagner were able to look to their right and see that the once thundering herd behind was riven and rended, split and splintered, and spread out over 400 yards. The closest group was 5 seconds behind the last buttocks in the lead group’s line and they were gagging and wheezing for oxygen like a pack of asthmatic chain smokers in the middle of a heart attack.
The Magnificent 7 realized that opportunity was knocking and they quickly fell into formation, rotating like prima ballerinas auditioning for the Moscow Ballet. T’was a thing of beauty, but a snot-snorting monster was still romping and stomping behind and picking up steam. The chase group swelled from 3 to 8 to 12 and then to 20 as they plunged downward on the winding stretch that lay in front of them. Both groups were clipping along at 33 miles per hour, sometimes standing and sprinting to keep their momentum. As the front group turned left onto Seagraves Mill, the two groups came together as one. The front group was now bulging with 35 fierce circle stompers in search of fame and fortune: Hammer onward ye smooth and silky freaks of nature!
Turning onto the 4 mile Seagraves Mill Road stretch, Reid Malachi Peacock and Casey Magner spread their wings and took flight. The two gripped their drops with their hands and dug dirt with their feet. They opened up an 8 second gap. But this was an ill-tempered group of hammerheads and as soon as the empty space between became wide enough to be a cause for concern, the two were run down like a 3-legged dog hopping away with a pilfered bone: Fat chance, Rover, but we love you for trying.
Climbing the last quad buster on Seagraves Mill that bends upwards at an evil pitch to the final right hand turn onto Nowhere Road, the pack was stretched past the snapping point. Turning onto to Nowhere Road with only 3 fast miles to the line, the front 35 were spread out over ¼ of a mile. 10 lost contact with the lead group on a permanent basis. 10 others opened a small patch of real estate on the front side of the battle and once again poured molten lava into the mix. Alarm bells clattered. Gaps were opening up and down the line, here, there and everywhere. Some pedal bangers were moving forward while others skidded backwards. After 1 mile of an all-out, thigh scorching, knee rattling, ankle throbbing, lung searing, nose bleeding, eyes watering, blister session on wheels, a front knot of 30 was together again. Emile Abraham looked over at Crowe at this point and said, “Good Lord man, don’t make it look so damn hard. Do you need an enema?” He did.
As the pack hammered down the final, fast stretch on Nowhere Road approaching the finish line, a bevy of attackers continued to bang away off the front. But historians and Athenians alike know that it is the rare occasion when a cyclist can give his companions the slip during this stretch of blacktop—it’s just too damn fast.
But this is Alto, and Alto, the King of the WBL rides, always gives a strong rider a chance to shine. With 1 mile to go, the hard charging Boyd Johnson had a 5 second gap and was giving it the gas. After the behind-the-barn whipping Johnson delivered to the pack on the Alto sprint 55 miles back, the favorites knew he was a danger man. This was no time to play with fire, but the heavy-hitters now had 104 miles in their legs. At this point everyone knew what they needed to do, the only question was who could deliver the Answer. Cleve Blackheart Blackwell shot down the right side of the road and sprinted up to Johnson: Question answered.
With a half mile to go, the gap was a fragile 3 seconds. They would never last. Blackheart kept on raging, pinning the accelerator to the floorboard, and Johnson fell back. Needing a WBL win to complement his stellar palmares, Emile Abraham, the Trinidadian Torpedo, exploded across the gap and made contact with Blackheart with only 500 meters to go, but the gap was still falling fast. With ¼ mile to go, it could go either way. The front of the chase was slicing through the air like a laser guided missile. It began to look as if Blackheart and Trini would get caught less than 100 meters from the line: Reservations for 2 at Heartbreak Hotel.
But our 2 heroes had other plans—they refused to surrender. The 2 alpha dogs poured every ounce of soul they had into each downward thrust on the pedals, saving nada, both realizing that fame for 1 was better than zilch for both. (The knowledge of this ancient maxim is what separates the percipient from the pack fodder. The ability to put this tenet into practice separates the champions from those that are second best.) At the line, the photo finish showed that Blackwell eked out Emile by a tongue, literally—Blackwell stuck out his long, lustful tongue at the line which gave him the win. Emile protested, claiming “no normal man’s tongue can possibly be that long.” Blackheart reminded Emile that he was no normal man, but instead a top flight porn star. As Blackheart was raising his arms, the rest of the Myogenesis train went screaming by. Another epic Alto was now in the books. The pack rode the last 5 miles home saluting their good fortune and whistling past all cemeteries.
- Blackheart: 15 points
- Triny: 12
- Casey Magner: 9
- Boyd Jordan: 6
- Big Jon and Clay Parks (dead draw): 3
110 miles earlier, in downtown Athens at the western edge of Washington Street, the heat was in town. Over 100 of the roughest rogues, rapscallions, rubes and recreants queued up for the most bruising WBL ride of them all, the Porterfield Tire Alto World Cup, the true Hale of the North (of Athens-G-A). Though the denizens of the WBL know how brutish Alto can be, still they come, a testament to the fortitude of these frigid weather cycling aficionados that are spread throughout the southeastern quadrant of the country in which I live. They came from Birmingham, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Asheville, Atlanta, and Greenville and included: Jason Leslie, Steve Sperry, Hank McCullough, Dirk Pohlmann, Chris Hoyt, Roy Simmons, Greg Turner, Leigh Valletti, Jay Wansley and Phil Martindale to name just a few—all friends to the WBL; except, of course, Jeff Shirey, who always puts himself first. (See Cranberry Diaries, Chapter 2: The Empire in my Mind, pp. 1, 5 for detailed explanation.) Everyone wore gaping grins when the start bell clanged, which would grow even wider when they arrived back home. In between, there was nothing but heartache.
Heading out Nowhere Road onlo 10 miles into the day’s peregrinations, Daniel Karnis assumed a position he would occupy for 99.99 % of the ride: the front. Karnis put the bit in his mouth on Nowhere Road and didn’t spit it out until his flock was home. Karnis pulled and he pulled and he pulled. Then he pulled some more. Those behind could only stare, praying silently that he would soon drop dead. But he didn’t, he just kept on pulling and pulling and pulling, while those behind were puling and puling and puling, with his sinewy purple veins in his calf bulging like clotted arteries. After that, he pulled some more. Carney, who watched the entire event on closed circuit television, kissed Karnis on the forehead after the ride and said, “From hence forward, thou art known as Hercules. Go forth and wreak havoc.” Karnis’s knees buckled and he hit the ground in a heap. Carney does that to people.
Hercules pulled the pack to Commerce, around Homer, past Maysville, to Catfish Corner, and to the first Attack Zone of the day, which was 8 grueling miles and concluded with the sprint for the Alto City Limit sign. The Alto Triple Stairstep, a hair raising triad of hills that shoot lactic acid splinters through the thighs, is the most vexing portion of this Zone. The 3 hills pummel a fellow, whether heathen, philosopher, criminal, saint, philanthropist or demagogue in much the same manner. The road to Alto is paved with nothing: Everyone hurts like their thumbs are being screwed together for the entire length of the 3 hills, 4 miles. After cresting the last dreadful slope, the parcours turns at a 90 degree angle (right) and travels along a knife edge for 4 miles to the Alto City Limit sign. $100 bucks awaits the winner of the most prestigious mid-ride sprint of the year. Rule of thumb: Pin your ears back.
As soon as the whistle blew, Boyd Jordan counted to 3, then leapt away. Mark Anderson followed, splitting the air like a knife. The pack stared in disbelief. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to follow, it was more that we thought the two were on a suicide mission. Plus, I was more concerned with making sure we got Crowe’s fat ass up the hill—I might need some of his water later, and he was laboring.
The group behind slowly built up steam over the first hummock, the easiest, before resting momentarily on the brief downhill, gulping in buckets of air along the way. The second hump is a little bigger and a ¼ mile longer. The tempo shot upwards as a group of 4 pulled away from the pack, tamping down on the pedals with a little more torque, attempting to make contact with the 2 up the road. At the back, 50 or more had already dropped anchor and were struggling up the irascible set of hills.
After another brief downhill, the group tackled the lower slopes of the third big sister. The third hill is a baby monster with a bad attitude, enfant terrible. The third hump fractured the group into pieces. Reaching the top, there were 23 different groups, all rotating, all pounding away, all praying to make the time cut. 29 missed it, but were forced to ride home anyway: Punishment with a twist.
At the top of the third hill, it was Anderson and Jordan still away, crushing the 7 man chase behind that was trying desperately to make contact. From the helicopter above, 6 groups on the road containing a dozen or more were all within 2 minutes of each other, rotating like banshees and trying to close gaps. Behind, 30 or more were spread out helter-skelter for miles and miles. The Tripler never fails to please.
Jordan and Anderson stayed clear on the final 4 mile run to the line with Anderson declaring “Uncle” and Jordan capturing the sprint. Jordan gave Anderson a buck and a quarter for his gallant effort. Jordan’s crushing win proved he was a danger man for the finale, and someone to keep an eye on in the upcoming year. Behind, Blackwell left his first mark, and young Casey Magner showed he may be the man of the future, as he would prove again in the finale.
Alto City Limit:
- Boyd: 10 pts
- Blackheart: 10
- C. Magner: 6
- Big John: 4
- Jim Taylor: 2
- Cleve: 10
- Jim Taylor: 8
- Big Jon: 6
- Greg Turner: 4
- Pohlmann: 2
- Tina: 10
- Erin: 8
- K. Keim: 6
- L. Valletti: 4
- Aaron's Cycling: 2
After an intermezzo at the only store in Alto, the grupetto flew down the Apple Pie Ridge, crossed Highway 441, and began the most arduous part of the trek, the dozen or so miles before Crackback Hill. There is no flat section of roadway in this part of the world. The landscape is nothing but wrinkles. The pack was either sprinting up one side of a beveled slope, or flying down the other. Hercules was still at the front, inflicting damage and causing general consternation in the field. These were cruel, cruel times in the WBL. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, and it was certainly a fool who tried to pull alongside Karnis and match him pedal stroke for pedal stroke. At least 4 suffered the humiliation of even trying.
At the base of Crackback Hill, the pack immediately morphed into a single file line. The further up the 600 meter hill they climbed, the more that fell off the torrid pace. The front finally wore down to a select 6. Rounding the last bend at the top, Travis Hagner opened up a gap and appeared headed for the win. Dirk Pohlmann adjusted his gearing, sucked his teeth, crossed himself, called his gal on his cellphone, and jumped up to Hagner, actually crossing the line at the same moment as Hagner. If he only hadn’t said, “I love you, hon,” before he hung up he might have won. The two tied for the sprint in a drop dead draw. Down the slope, it was nothing but a trail of tears.
- Dirk Pohlman/Hagner: 5
- Emile: 3
- R. Griebel: 2
- Briggs Carney: 1
- Dirk: 5
- Cleve: 4
- B. Humphries: 3
- E. Hollifiled: 2
- G. Turner: 1
- Tina: 5
- K. Keim: 4
- Erin: 3
- Valletti: 1
Kudos to Cleve Blackheart Blackwell who pulled in a record breaking 40 points on the day: Ouch! Blackheart appears to have sewn up WBL 2007. Mayola-Pic and Erin Boots Winter-Shirey have now moved into 2nd and 3rd in the Overall with outstanding rides and when one throws Kristen Keim into the mix, the Ladies occupy 3 out of the top 6 positions. Farm Boy Fahey is still rock solid in 4th position, and with the WBL awarding prizes this year to the top 5 Overall, Farm Boy looks like he could be headed for a final podium position. Stay tuned for more updates.
A big Shout Out to our Greenvillain brothers from UWBL who paid a visist over the weekend.
And another big Shout Out for this week’s sag, Sag Driver Cindy a.k.a. The Goddess of Greenville. We couldn’t have done it without you.
And finally, a Shout Out to our sponsor, Bill Riecke and Porterfield Tire. Go get yoself some tires.