By Patrick O’Grady
“How about something positive to say — about anything? You wear me down.” — a critical e-mail from VeloNews.com reader Cary Smith
I love a good, long road ride, especially one of those midweek flights of fancy that gobbles up the better part of a perfectly good workday while the proletariat slouches in its cubicles, staring forlornly into space, like trailer-park mutts on short chains.
When I lived in Colorado Springs, and had teammates who were either entrepreneurs or slackers and thus could set their own schedules, I could count on two or three of these rides a week, generally on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Thursday’s ride was the best, because it drew a small group with a keen appreciation of getting away with something. Anybody can do a long ride on the weekend, but it takes a little Tom Sawyer DNA to slam the till, flip the “Open” sign over to “Closed,” and meet your buds for a four-hour ride with hot java or strong drink afterward.
We’d hook up at 10 a.m., usually at Boulder Park at the corner of Boulder and Hancock, then head out, spinning little gears and shooting the shit. Sometimes we’d ride east on Highway 24 for some relatively flat pedaling in the plains, occasionally veering north into the hilly Black Forest for lower temperatures and higher gradients. Or we might roll north to the Air Force Academy, home to the ’86 road world’s, for the good pavement and even better climbing, drifting later into Gleneagle and Black Forest, this time from the west.
More often than not, though, we’d ride out Hancock toward the defunct horse-racing track south of Fountain, now Pikes Peak International Raceway, a playground for motorheads. It wasn’t a difficult ride, just a few rolling hills, but we’d spice it up with road-sign sprints, impulsive attacks, gleeful counters and grim chases.
First we’d noodle along Hancock to Astrozon, which looped over to the shoulderless single-file of Drennan, hang a right onto broad-shouldered Powers, then a left onto Bradley toward the first sprint of the day, a fast downhill whose finish line was the “Begin County Maintenance” sign, which also served as the “Begin Peeing” marker for the overcaffeinated.
Remounting, we’d head south on Marksheffel for a short, flat spin toward the second road-sign sprint, which always caught someone by surprise, probably because it popped up like the Tour’s Devil after a blind right-hand turn.
My sprint was and is non-existent — I have fewer fast-twitch muscles than a three-toed sloth with a bad smack habit — so instead of waiting for the final 100 meters, I’d launch these absurd, big-gear, Viatcheslav Ekimov assaults from a kilometer out, especially on the short hill on Link Road that prefaced the third sprint, another fast one, and slightly downhill.
Mostly they didn’t work, any more than Eki’s did, because anyone with a pulse and a brain stem learns to recognize the bozo who starts winding up his sprint from a different time zone. Still, they were a giggle, especially once I realized I could shut off the alarm on my heart-rate monitor and thus preserve what little remained of the element of surprise after riding with the same mob on the same routes for several years: “Aw, Christ, there goes O’Grady again….”
My favorite venue for this sort of idiocy lay on the return leg, the long, gradual ascent of Marksheffel back to Highway 94, where we’d turn left for the final road-sign sprint of the day. We’d start winding it up just past Drennan, the paceline humming along like the Enterprise speed-shifting through the warps, until one by one, guys skipped their turns at the front, then slipped off the back, squeaking woefully like asthmatic Tribbles.
I think it was Bill Baughman who christened this ruthless thin-the-herd scenario “The Marksheffel Plan,” but I can’t recall who drafted it, if anyone. Marksheffel was just one of those perfectly set up, 180-beats-a-minute-til-you-spew, team-time-trial grinders that a guy could use to break his friends’ legs, if he had a solid pair of his own and a sadistic streak to drive them. It was tailor-made for the sort of cruel bastard who writes 750-word rants for a living — short, ugly and painful for all concerned.
As often as not, of course, it was me getting spit out the back like a chunk of stale PowerBar. But no matter how thorough my schooling on any given Thursday, I’d be up there forcing the pace on the next, trying to find out who had the legs that day, hoping it was me.
The Marksheffel Plan was one of the things I missed the most when we left the Springs for Custer County back in 1996. And six years later, as I roll off for another solo mountain-bike ride on the trails of Bear Basin Ranch, I miss it even more.
So I was secretly delighted when my wife’s new dream job turned out to be in Golden, west of Denver. She doesn’t have to pull a nine-to-five in the office, but the honchos would like her a little closer than three hours south by southwest and 3,000 feet up, so we’re going to be looking for a place somewhere near what passes for civilization in these parts — and I’m lobbying for Colorado Springs. I could stand to add some road mileage and lose some weight, and I know just the place to do it.
Mr. Baughman, execute The Marksheffel Plan. Warp factor nine.
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