| || Shortly after the May 14, biathlon, I met Craig Hayslip (top photo). Johnny Terrance "J.T." Figueroa was forming the first all-American bicycle racing team in Japan, sponsored by Volvo. He asked me to join. I figured if all reasonable attempts at happiness had failed, then the next logical step was to do something unreasonable. I needed to leave my comfort zone, so I nervously accepted. |
I also met Art Robledo (winner of the biathlon), Pat Farrel, and a few others whom I don't remember. We started riding the mountains together on the weekends. I'd never ridden mountains before, and it was one of the most joyous experiences I'd ever had on a bicycle. The climbs were very painful, the downhills, even more, scary. I was never very fast going downhill; I was horribly slow at first, riding my brakes most of the way. But I could outclimb everyone on the team, except Art, and once the descents levelled off, I could power my way up to the group. We were buddies...a tight team. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, because I'd never participated in any sports. I was always the last picked for any team in school because I could do nothing. Now here I was part of a bicycle racing team at the age of 22! I wasn't a backmarker either--J.T. thought I had tremendous potential and speed. He was my biggest cheerleader.
We had a team coach named Spence, from the St. Louis area, and we even had a team song,"Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?" by Frank Zappa. Well, it wasn't official, but it seemed to fit at the time. I don't remember the words.
We'd ride through the streets of Fussa, for eight miles, fighting bumper-to-bumper traffic, weaving in and out of the cars (I was young then), and then the traffic would thin out, the sound of birds would creep upon us, and we'd be in the Japanese Alps.
The Japanese mountain roads were better maintained than any mountain roads I've ever ridden, and the drivers were fairly polite if we got in front of them. However, they were pretty careless, and would sometimes pass too closely, possibly because they were accustomed to living in tight quarters. Us Americans had grown up in a country where you didn't really have to touch anyone if you didn't want to. The most scary thing, though, was the motorcyclists (see video at bottom) who would practice for motorcycle races on the same roads we practiced on for bicycle races, except at twice the speed. They'd often lean wayyyy over as they passed us on the turns, which was not a very comfortable for us. I understand that there were so many motorcycle crashes on this route that a heliport was built on the top of the mountain to airlift crash victims.
The Japanese pedestrians were not very smart. They'd step off a sidewalk no more than 30 feet in front of us speeding cyclists, nearly taking us all down. So, as a defense, we began screaming when we rode through populated areas. It scared the hell out of the Japanese, but we never hit anyone. It wasn't uncommon for one of us to plow into a car during a ride in the mountains. On our first ride together, J.T. was cut off by a BMW and crashed, almost taking the rest of us down with him. His bicycle was messed up but the Japanese were