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If you're bored, you're boring! 

Bikes, brews, and bohemians

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
It’s mid afternoon on Sunday, Dec. 13, and I’m sitting outside at McCarthy’s, working my way through a shot and a beer—scandalous, I know, but I’m on staycation and tomorrow’s Monday to you but just another day in paradise to me.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
In walks my friend Tim, who with pint in hand tells me about an impending illegal, unsanctioned, impromptu flat-track amateur bike race happening at an undisclosed location in the next 90 minutes. I’ve got nowhere to go and all day to get there, so I head home, grab my camera, shove a couple brews in my pockets, call my dog Spicoli, his dog Mr. Hand, and a hot chick who lives in my house, and we’re off.

It’s a crystalline fall day, hazy blue sky filled with scattered clouds—reminders of a recent rainstorm. We climb, arrive upon a plateau, and we’re surrounded by bike aficionados in outfits, yes, outfits: a downhill ski helmet and goggles, tutus, little pink wings, a faux grass hula skirt, knee socks, day-glow ‘80s aerobic togs, two—count ‘em!—two teal jumpsuits, and one guy with black bike shorts over which he wears a camouflage, one-piece girl’s bathing suit replete with plunging neckline.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
The sun sinks, casting long shadows. The mud-slick track circumnavigates the hilltop, nearby ridgeline racing along one side, all of San Luis stretching out gauzily on the other, two Sisters marching north toward the sea.

I feel raw energy, giddy excitement. People chatter, swilling cheap canned beer or coffee drinks from a table set up with two insulated urns and a bottle of off-brand liqueur.

“Five minutes to race time,” someone bellows, as spectators nervously eye the seven bikes (one’s a tandem!) laying midfield, the rutted muddy track, the riders psyching-up their fellow teammates, taunting opponents.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
Then they’re galloping o’er field toward the bikes, leaping on and racing ‘round the track. Mud flies, bikes slide, spectators gasp! There’s a shortcut but taking it means dismounting and consuming one beer before resuming the race. It’s the best/worst shortcut ever.

‘Round and ‘round they go, 14 laps total. Most spectators line-up near the bike handoff where teammates try to switch without flopping face first into mud. Moderate success, but enough muck-filled face-plants to keep the bloodthirsty throng cheering.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
I am bearing witness to the thrill-a-minute, live-on-the-razor’s-edge, laugh-in-the-face-of-death, crazy-ass world of beer-fueled underground bike racing, and it’s beautiful, baby.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
Then before I know it, it’s over: A winning team crosses the finish line. Victory laps ensue, followed by an award ceremony. Discharged champagne makes a wet plume across the dimming sky, then a short-lived mud clod fight. Now the sun sets on a group of SLOhemians who found a way to make their own fun this chilly, December afternoon.

Glen Starkey takes a beating and keeps on bleating. Contact him at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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