I want everyone to know: I love bees. Bees are our buddies. When the thyme in Anne’s and my backyard and the rosemary in our front yard are full of bees, I am ecstatic, because it means our plants are healthy and pollinated and thriving. Without bees, we would be doomed.
That said, if I ever meet the citrus farmers who decided that this weekend was the right time to hire some beekeepers to come and pollinate their crops, I’m gonna kick ’em right in the oranges.
Uncle Tren’s Piru time trial series is just the kind of mom-and-pop race operation that I wish we had right in LA. Tren and his family hand out race numbers from the back of their minivan while one of their friends putts 10K down the road to man the lone turn-around cone and hold up a SLOW sign whenever there’s traffic. It’s cheap, it’s a great way to test your fitness and handling, and it’s smack dab in the middle of citrus country.
Raise your hands if you see where this is going. Now, put them back in your pockets before they get stung.
I was first off the line for our group of eight riders, and second on the block for the whole day. I was warmed up, feeling great, ready to rock when the announcer says, “Oh, by the way, there are swarms of bees out there. Watch it.” And before I could say, “Wait, what?” the timer counted me down and I was off.
The first two miles were textbook: I had a high cadence, good pace, with the tailwind pushing me right along. I passed my thirty second man within minutes (granted, he was a kid, but a pass is a pass!), and was settling in when something bounced off my shoulder.
Gravel, I figured.
Then another something, and another and another until I realized I was in the middle of the bee swarm. I also realized that our kits make us look like delicious, pollen-heavy flowers. I was going one way fast, and they were going the opposite way fast, and I was about to become one of those poor dummies in the middle of a physics problem that dealt with velocity, momentum, and barbed, poisonous stingers.
I ducked down, hoping my aero helmet would block most of the bees, but one popped me right between the brim of my helmet and my shades, right in the bridge of my nose. It just sat there, right at the top of my vision, and it was only after I’d squirted it with my water bottle that I realized it was stuck to me via its stinger.
Last year, I would’ve stopped and pulled off my helmet and flicked the bee away and limped back to the start line and taken a DNF as Anne soothed my wounded ego and face. Last year, I didn’t really care about race results because, hey, races were just extended training sessions. But this year, dammit, I’m a bike racer, and a racer sucks it up and gets himself out of a fix and rides. I got through the swarm, pulled off my shades, flicked the bee away, and got back into it.
The rest of the way back was good, old-fashioned hurt. The wind was now doing its best to push me back, and the thought of a second bee strike kept me jittery as I rode past the swarm areas. But then I saw the rest of the TXers riding out, and I pushed. The bees slapped at my helmet, and I pushed. Some guy on a faster rig edged past me, and I pushed (and pushed right past him, too). My calf cramped and my face hurt and the wind kept gusting, and I pushed, up the last hills, tucked in aero and worked through it all across the line and into the best time I’d ever had at Piru, which I have now forgotten but I can assure you was respectable.
At the end of the race, it was Bees: 4, TX: 5. Peter, Jamie, Oscar, Anna and Gricelda all brought home ribbons and hardware, and four of us got stung. I missed fifth place by 8 seconds, probably due to me dealing with the angry passenger on my nose. Today, my face has swollen a bit, turning me into one of the mutant extras from “Total Recall” (and not even a cool one, like Quatto), but it was an excellent time all around.
However, when I get a new aero helmet, I am totally buying one with a face shield.
(Thanks to Jennifer Hochman Urban for the excellent photography.)