When the 20 or so of us arrived at Revolution Bikes in Clarendon at 7 am Friday for the bus to Myrtle Beach, and the national triathlon championship, we were confident, even cocky. We knew that with triathlon bus trips, as with triathlons, one must expect the unexpected. So when the bus hadn’t arrived on time, we were calm.
7:15 arrived, no bus. As in a marathon, we knew you must start out slow on an epic journey, lest you burn out at the end. And we knew that nutrition was vital, so we drifted off to Starbucks and Whole Foods for another meal to pile on top of breakfast and the previous night’s pasta. Group leader Steve Carlson cell-phoned the bus company to see what was up.
7:30 came, and we were still cooling our heels, our Reeboks, and our Vibrams. A bunch headed back to Whole Foods. Carlson again tried calling the bus. Music is critical to setting the tempo for an event, so we plugged in earphones to the saxophone sounds of Kenny G.
At 7:45, as we hoofed again to the area restaurants, we figured that it might be possible to compete at Myrtle Beach as an Athena or Clydesdale after all.
At 8 am the bus limped in, a gaping hole in a rear tire. We pulled out our bicycle tools, which failed to dislodge the massive lug nuts. CO2 cartridges proved utterly futile in inflating such a large tire. We washed the grease from our hands and headed back to Whole Foods. Carlson texted clubbers already at Myrtle Beach about our predicament.
The bus driver cell phoned the bus company’s repair center. It immediately, after about 30 minutes, decided to send out a repair truck. At Glebe Road, a few blocks from its destination, its driver got lost. Our bus driver immediately, after 15 minutes or so, whipped out his GPS, and gave directions to the repair driver, who immediately proceeded to Clarendon from Glebe, apparently by way of Reston and Rockville.
Meantime Kevin Markham, James Wilson, Ron Benedict, and others began prepping the bikes for transport by taking off the seat posts, pedals, and hidden motors. They stopped on realizing we might have to ride the bikes to Myrtle Beach, and headed over to Whole Foods.
The repair truck finally arrived, but it had no spare tires. A spare tire was in the undercarriage of the bus, but the storage compartments were jammed with trash. After dislodging enough garbage to fill a Superfund site, the replacement was pulled out. The cause of the flat was found embedded in the tire: a large nail, imprinted with the words, “Columbia Missouri Tri Club.”
At 10 am, the tire was finally changed. At 10:10 am, Carlson got a text from the president of Whole Foods, noting that its after-hours stock price was soaring and requesting it be made a merchant partner.
The bike loading had recommenced and, at 10:20, the bus departed. Out on 95 South, we figured we had maybe a 50 percent chance of making the 7 pm deadline for packet picket, so we told the driver to step on it. Unfortunately, he thought we meant the brakes, so we slowed to the first of several lurching halts.
We settled in, and checked out the vehicle’s luxury accommodations.
Prime among these was the bathroom, which made airline toilets seem deluxe. No running water, no ventilator. The latter woe was solved by the window, which was glued to its frame with electrical tape, keeping the window ajar, letting 70 mile-an-hour gusts enter within. The toilet was actually a latrine--one of those bottomless pits found in state park toilets: it reached down deeper than a shaft to trapped Chilean miners. There was however plenty of sandpape--, toilet paper.
The bus company afforded no blankets, and no pillows, but we solved the latter by pulling the rusty, Terrycloth-covered headrests off from their posts, and rested on cushions as soft as composite carbon.
The South Carolina sun is intense, even in autumn, so the blinds on the front window were critical for our beleaguered driver. Unfortunately, the plastic strips extended only a few nanometers from the top of the windshield, and were badly tattered. Fortunately, our driver’s sunglasses had lenses thick enough to safely observe a nuclear weapons test, and he saw the road okay.
Except when the last bits of the giant storm that struck the East Coast came our way, throwing rivers of rain on the driver’s window. He flipped on the two giant windshield wipers, which had minds of their own. When one swept, the other stalled. Or, when one swept across its pane, the one make a herky-jerk motion over a tiny fraction of its glass.
The driver could hardly see the road, especially with the thick sunglasses, so one of our swimming specialists accustomed to seeing with befogged lenses took the wheel, and navigated fine. At length, the wipers began to operate in synchronized fashion, with a steady thumping beat, almost syncopated, after the driver and John Erb began a long discussion about jazz.
It isn’t a real endurance bus trip unless you have two breakdowns, and we got what we wanted. In the wilds of the Tar Hell state, an engine compressor thingie went kaput, forcing another multi-hour stop, at a Subway shop and gas station, BP of course.
We loaded up on Subway subs, beef jerky, pork jerky, bacon jerky, and cans of pecans, the odds of a Clydesdale or Athena slot growing by the minute. Carlson, his cell phone dead from making innumerable repair calls and status updates, stocked up on spare phones and cordless batteries. This being the Bible Belt, he also procured the Good Book, and began studying the part about Job.
With all the waiting around, we were desperate to stay loose, and to burn up some calories. So, on the station’s vast parking lot, Michelle Harburg led warm-up drills. She was evidently channeling Hillary Peabody, for this was not your normal stretching, but lots of prancing and skipping and whirling-dervishing a hundred yards in either direction, like some crazed jesters in search of an absent monarch. After a while, a Carolina state trooper’s car pulled up.
“He’s here to help with the repairs!” we cried in relief.
We were mistaken. The policeman made Harburg’s crew walk a straight line, then breath heavily into some device. Finally, he let them off with a warning.
Another vehicle had pulled up, a real repair truck. Its side was emblazoned with the company name “MANGUM Trucks,” an apparent misspelling of “MAGNUM Trucks”, not surprising given the sterling reputation of schools in rural Carolina. Its driver, Patrick, greasy and straggly haired, looked like he’d just been bootlegging moonshine out of state. He pronounced the compressor impossible to reach but, being a tenacious sort, climbed into the engine compartment and gave it a go.
While waiting in the parking lot, the driver pointed out the scarred metal lines running along the outside of the bus. A couple of years ago, he explained, the bus line was a growing concern, with many drivers and buses. Then the economy hit it hard, as did very hard objects like other vehicles that some of the less responsible drivers smacked into while turning in tight spots. Now the firm was down to one driver, and one battered, gimpy bus.
After two-plus hours, Patrick the Mechanic pronounced success in his endeavors. With great reluctance he accepted a tip, as folks from rustic Caroline are downright neighborly, and are great mechanics. Carlson called the clubbers already at the race site with the good news.
Around 10 pm, we limped into Myrtle Beach, exhausted but elated. Carlson gave thanks for his Scandinavian ancestry, with its heritage of bleak, endless winters, which prepares one to withstand any series of otherwise unendurable setbacks.
We’d completed our ultra-marathon bus trip, in record time: 15 hours, including 5-and-a-half hours of repairs.
After a tasty midnight pre-race carb-rich dinner of three micro-waved pasta dinners from the all-night Food Lion, I headed to bed.
Before dozing, I was careful to move the alarm clock back one hour. After all, judging from the odd local accents, and exotic local food like boiled peanuts, I knew I was in a foreign land. And judging from the quaint, somewhat antiquated customs of the place, I believed South Carolina was behind the times--at least an hour behind.
Arriving at the race, I was thrilled to find that the swim site was calm, the water warm. Also surprised to find relatively few racers in the water. I stroked the 1.2 miles, finishing maybe second overall, and definitely first in whatever age group I’m in. Coming out of the drink, I had a bad sore throat though, maybe from a high E Coli count. The same rains that had battered our bus had dumped a record sludgy runoff in the water.
The transition area was almost deserted--I had beaten almost everyone else out of the water. I did recognize one fellow from the DC Tri Club, who was riding around transition in a fury, shouting, “Where’s the Olympic course? Where’s the Olympic course?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the Olympics were still two years off in London.
Given the largely deserted transition, I was surprised, on entering the race course, to find hundreds of cyclists whizzing by. Many riders had uniforms on with the insignia, “Columbia,” so it could have been the Columbia Triathlon, held the same place this year as the Myrtle Beach race. A number also had on Washington, DC uniforms—they must have been from Team Z.
South Carolina has many military bases, like Paris Island (proof the place is in a foreign country). The race course was apparently on an Air Force facility, next to its wind tunnels specifically, with the gusts hitting hurricane speeds. It was tough, but the picturesque scenery of the Palmetto State more than made up for this, as concrete ramps and flat highway asphalt stretched for miles in every direction. Occasionally one could glimpse, through the Jersey barriers and abuttments, the wild natural beauty of the Tidewater, with its clipped lawns, sand bunkers, and putting greens.
On finishing my aquavelo, the transition area was still deserted; the huge lead I’d built up on the swim had held up nicely.
I packed up gear and got ready to leave. But near the finish line I was stunned to find Steve Carlson sitting on the ground, distraught. Despite the top finisher’s medal around his neck, he was beside himself, tearful. I asked what the matter was.
“Before going on this bus trip,” he answered, “I forget to sign up for unlimited calling and text messaging. I must have made over two thousand messages and calls. I’m so in debt I’m going to have to sell my Cervelo, and my space helmet too.
“I may never race again.”
Wow. This report made the whole trip worth it!
And, I might add that in the instance a cop tries to give me a hard time, I challenge him/her to a 5K race. Its a good distraction.
Good times all, if there is another bus trip in the future. I'm in!
Always positive with a humorously sarcastic edge.
Great work Ed!
I had forgotten about the windshield washers...
Giving Tuan a run for his comedic money. Nice job Ed!
I guess this is what happens when you leave the Occupied Territories.
Awesome RR! You guys are big champs!
100% accurate and true. I was there, and lived to tell the tale.
I miss you, Food Lion.