Mile-high Dreaming

I am off to Arizona as I write this and as January begins its decline into what is supposed to be the coldest month of the year. It’s a four hour trip so you may want to get comfortable. I am travelling on Southwest Airlines. If you haven’t travelled with them before (I haven’t), the queuing for boarding is a lot like lining up for dodgeball in grammar school was. Then it’s a mad dash for seats in a musical-chair-like milieu that would leave the most fearless sprinter reeling in the peloton wondering how they got nipped at the line. Once on board and settled in, I was able to enjoy a few moments of peace with 137 closest friends. We weren’t flying over water so it amused me that a sign indicated that my seat bottom cushion can be used for flotation. Even if we were flying over water, I think that locating my seat bottom would not be high on my list. I thought of asking if parachutes were available in the event of a…well, you know. When you travel by air you tend to get your “house in order” for just this reason. Even though, statistically you are more likely to perish from a timber-rattler snakebite climbing BeanBlossom than from an air-event there is a certain amount of trepidation when flying at 40,000 feet. Have I been the best Dad that I could have? Did I say, “I love you to my wife?” Should I eat that box of cookies that the flight attendant just gave me?

Speaking of snacks. Cyclists are sort of finicky when it comes to food during the preseason. The last thing I did before leaving home was to step on the scale. Not that I am obsessed with my weight (I’m not). I was just checking to update my weight log. When the diminutive snack boxes were being passed out, I asked what was in them. The reply from the attendant was, “Well, there’s chocolate chip cookies in there. So it must be good.” I accepted it with a smile and a mini-can of tomato juice. The box contained Cheese-Whiz and little, tiny bread sticks, a SlimJim-type meat product and the aforementioned cookies (100 calorie pack). I gave the cheese product and cookies to a neighbor, who was delighted. I checked the meat package for nutrition value. A packaging note said, “Write us for nutritional information.” I’ll get right on that. The SlimJim made it to the trash, although I am not a vegetarian. The tomato juice was good, but salty. I was still hungry. I wasn’t going to bonk, but I like to feel somewhat sated on these trips and needed some comfort food. Because, once we hit the ground in Scottsdale I am in endless business meetings with all of the mint candy and bad coffee that I could want. I reached in my bag, deep into my bag and pulled out an old PowerBar. Not the new, designer-type PowerBars with frosting on it. But the old, sticky, taffy, tooth-filling-puller-outer, chewy bars of long ago.

These represent some of the first aftermarket fuel for cyclists along with Exceed lemon-lime powdered drink. But long before these, I was making my own “nutritional” race concoctions. It wouldn’t be unusual for me to start a 100 K race with a pocket full of dates, a jelly and cheese sandwich and one water bottle filled with ½ water and then equal parts Karo syrup and de-fizzed Coke and another bottle filled with straight Hawaiian Punch. Hawaiian Punch stays remarkably tasty when it’s warm and it’s fun to have a bottle of Coke ‘explode’ in the first half of the race. After the retching and vomiting midway through the event subsides, hands still shaking like a leaf from the sugar spike, you could really settle down and race. A friend of mine who was racing with me on the East coast in the 80’s had spent a season in Spain riding for a top amateur team called Dormillon. He would carry a bit of cooked steak in his pocket for long rides wrapped up in a bandana. For longer events, we would stuff a small bottle of something we called “go-juice” (kids, don’t try this) in a specially made bottle under our saddles. It held about four ounces of liquid and we would mix espresso coffee with Karo syrup. No matter how hard the pace was, you had to hold off on downing this until you rode under the 10k flag. Any sooner and your blood sugar would hit the roof then descend faster than Jean Claude Killy in the GS of the 1968 Olympics.

So here I am in seat 5C travelling West into a 100mph headwind. The pilot announced that we were going to be late to our destination. The sound inside the cabin is a lot like being on the bike. So is the hunger. I started opening the foil wrapper with my teeth just like I would have on the bike. I bit into the bar and ‘bent’ it back and forth several times to release the morsel. I closed my eyes and let the gritty, beige bar melt in my mouth. If I tilted my head just right and squinted, I swear I could see a wheel just in front of me. I can’t wait to get back on the bike.