Friday, August 29, 2008

Hardcore Ride

Young, stupid, and bikes go hand in hand. In October 1993 I rode out to Dekalb, Illinois to see a hardcore show with my friend, the inimitable CP. Playing that night at the Union Hall, was Integrity, a hardcore band from Cleveland. At the time, I loved that hard as nails, tooth chippin' thrash shit. So, needless to say I had proper motivation.

Dekalb was about 60 miles due west from the bike shop, the old BS, our starting point. The weather was typical for autumn in Chicagoland. Typical in that it sucked major balls. 45 degrees, rain, and a departure time of 18:00 ensured that this ride would leave us either cold, wet, and dead or cold, wet, and miserable. Either way, we were determined, and full of the indestructibility of youth.

We harriedly strapped our pathetic Cateye halogens (four AA batteries for a tepid beam of yellowish light that lasted about 6 hours...3-4 if it was cold)to our handlebars, clipped on the Vistalights, strapped in the helmets, donned our backpacks, and soon found ourselves pedaling out of the parking lot down Ogden avenue into the darkness. I think I saw Bob and Oury shake their heads as they watched us leave the parking lot.

In our naivety and exhuberance to always be somewhere else faster, we determined that Route 38/Roosevelt road would serve as our best route to see some Cleveland hardcore in the corn fields of Illinois. Route 38 was a nearly straight line due west from Chicago to Dekalb, thus popular with the cars. And semi trailers.

Our first flat came at mile ten. Glass. CP fixed it under the yellow light of a streetlamp as speeding traffic went by. We were back on the road just in time for me to start shivering. At this point we were drenched from the rain and my shoes were small rivers whose current ran back and forth and back again as I pedaled. I wasn't quite miserable yet, but as the steady stream of hungry semi trailers rumbled past, I was seriously wondering how we would make it to our heavy metal shangri-la alive.

Flat two came at mile 18. A large staple was sticking out of my tire that clicked on the pavement as I rolled to a stop. I replaced the shriveled rubber carcass with my one and only tube, a rookie mistake that I fretted about the rest of the way. There were no streelamps to huddle under, so I changed the tube by the dim glow of CP's headlight. A few hundred pumps of my Zefal HPX later, we were on the road once again. Colder, wetter, and pretty much completely miserable.

In an effort to warm up, we pedaled harder and harder. Thus began our midnight timetrial. It was a smooth operation at first with equal rotations and sweet feelings that we were finally getting somewhere. Slowly, my turns began to get shorter and more labored. Eventually I wasn't taking pulls anymore, just staring numbly at the flashing red Vistalight in front of me lamenting my sorry situation and in awe of the diesel power CP was propelling us forward with under cover of night.

After a while of staring blankly at the red strobe flashes in front of me and willing my tired legs to push harder I realized that the flashes were getting smaller and smaller. I was slowly getting dropped. I felt both anger and self pity rise up within my chest. I was disgusted with my pathetic form and wrestled the steel Gitane below me as it seemed to resist my demands of speed and comfort. I was humbled and humiliated. I vowed to myself that I would ride more, ride harder, never get dropped like that again. I vowed to learn how to suffer better.

Just when my heart was at its lowest, a small spark ignited a fire under me in the form of what looked like a smoldering ember in the distance. The Vistalight of CP's bike was no longer dancing, but was now static and looked to be laying over on its side. I found the strength to push harder on the pedals than I had over the last six or seven miles. As I closed in on the flashing beacon, I also saw the faint glow of a hazy cloud of light hanging above the tree line that is the harbinger of civilization. I felt newfound strength returning to my legs and a grim determination well up within my spine.

As I rolled up to the crippled Vistalight, CP was pulling the last of our tubes from his seatpack. In a blur of tire bead seating, frame pump strokes, and quick release tightening, we were back on the road with a literal light at the end of our cold, dark tunnel.

We rolled into town joking to each other with a quiet confidence and sense of accomplishment. We threw our bikes onto the roof rack of a friend waiting in town, and were soon mellowing out to the frantic jams of Integrity while eating Powerbars and drinking Cytomax. "Riding bikes to far away shows is so cool", I thought, comfortable in the fact I knew I had a ride home.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dark Skies, Furrowed Brow


As the photograph above makes abundantly clear, my morning commute was fraught with peril. Thankfully, I had my trusty miniature picture taking device so as to document the macabre forces through which I had to pedal. I rode through the bowels of the wind monster, dodged rain bullets, and dextrously maneuvered iron mesh bridges to valiantly face another Monday at the office.

Chicago's manic motorists did nothing to help my cause. They blindly switched from lane to lane in vain attempts to leapfrog the slower masses being shepherded along by red, yellow, and green lights strung watchfully about Adams, Des Plaines, Grand, Milwaukee, Halsted and Division avenues. Which really isn't out of the ordinary, though on Monday mornings they are predictably less predictable.

A few other commuters rolled along the other side of the road, standing on their pedals to fight the wind beast and propel themselves ahead of the deluge being hurled at them from the ominous clouds above. The clouds were, dark green and full of rage. As I hunched lower over my shitty-yet-remarkably reliable bicycle, a wailing wind whipped carelessly tossed debris about the city into a swirling wall of angry paper and plastic toxicity. I bobbed and weaved like that man with strange similarities to floating butterflies and stinging bees.

Try as they might, those mysterious forces once again failed to impede my way.