A bike race and beach trip in a converted armored truck? You'd have to be a total dunce to say no to that. (All photos by Jeff Curtes, amazing photographer and Speedvagen racer)
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When Sacha invited me along on the Speedvagen team getaway, my very first instinct was to wonder exactly why. I jest, sort of. I mean, I help out a bit here and there as I can with engineery and CAD type stuff, and I'm on the blog (obviously), so I feel like part of the workshop team, but this was a trip for the gold bike team; the race team; the team team. Gift horses and mouths, though, so what I said back was just plain old "yes."
Anyway, so as not to confuse, this was all back in the distant past; a time of dry ground, clear skies, and ambient temps that I can't bear to type out now, what with the mercury perpetually hovering in the 40's and 50's that we'll see until next summer. The trip was planned in September, to be executed in October, leaving the Friday before Starcrossed, bound for a beach house in Manzanita, then Marymoor in Seattle, and back home to Portland. In Manzanita, there were plans for an easy afternoon bike ride - an opportunity to shake out everybody's new equipment and work a little warmth into the legs, interspersed with some photo taking (it is the year 2000-and-internet after all, so photos are a must, right?) - then dinner, then a beach party. In Seattle, there was just one item on the docket; race the piss out of some fast, steel bikes. Those there are the kind of simple, foolproof plans that every vacation should be so lucky to be constructed upon. I was most excited.
When that Friday morning rolled around, I showed up at the workshop with just two light bags and a bit of a nervous stomach on account of the new folks I'd be meeting. I of course know Tina and all the folks who run the show at Vanilla, and I'd spent a little time at races with Curtes, but I'd only briefly crossed paths with Laura, and Daisuke was a complete stranger to me, with a name I was fairly confident I would mess up. Put emphasis on the "dice" and go really easy on the "u", right? Would it be super weird since these people were a team, and I wasn't part of it? Would I regret my decision to tag along?
Of course not. These are all extremely friendly people. I worry too much.
One thing that worked in my nerve's favor that morning was the fact that the armored truck still had to be built (more or less), and I had to swap out some brakes and cables, so it was an excellent time to step away and observe from a little distance. What I saw was - huge surprise - a group of good friends doing this-that-and-the-other-thing, surrounded by bikes. It was a scene that seemed so obvious and familiar, but thinking back on it later, it was pretty killer. You'd think that every team of bike racers getting together to prepare for their sporting adventures would have just such a dynamic, but I know it's not the truth. It's not a given that a bike team is a happy place. You see it in other teams all the time, when they maybe get a little too big, or have too many members that don't know the other members; when the idea of the "team" really seems more like just increasing the numerical odds of a good placing, or getting good prices on matching bikes. Those teams exist aplenty, so looking back, it was really awesome watching the Speedvagen racers genuinely enjoy their situation.
Now that I'm done getting all mushy, I'd like to talk about the armored truck that the SV team was putting the finishing touches on. First off, it's cool. Like, objectively cool. I have, since its birth, talked to a few folks who didn't get it; didn't understand the point of the thing. Those people, it's no coincidence, weren't super cool. The truck is cool.
The truck is also huge. The back easily swallowed up 7 or 8 or 10 bikes, as many wheels as we could find, a surfboard, luggage for 6, and snacks. Space it's got in spades. Also, it's armored, so it comes with the knowledge that what's inside of it is effectively invincible.
That all said, it does challenge those that dare to tame it. There is no radio. The max speed is 65, as long as there's no wind or hills. Steering input to steering action has about a 2 second delay. The big diesel engine fills your ears with the volume level of a fireworks show, all the time. The steel plate body fits through Portland residential streets like a green cat 5 fits through a gap in his first crit. The windows, being completely bulletproof, aren't made to open, so for airflow one must prop open the two inch gun holes that feature on every wall. The list goes on and on. Now don't get me wrong, because I'm not complaining here; what I'm saying is that getting the truck from A to B requires some mental and physical toughness, along with a good dose of trial-by-fire skill, and when you open the door at your destination, it feels very much like a victory. I love that truck.
And emerge victorious we did, in beautiful Manzanita. It was cold, but it was gorgeous out, so we wrapped up in spandex as quick as we could and rolled out. This was another point in the day that struck me as special, compared to an average everyday team ride: rolling around on team bikes with the person responsible for the team bikes' existence. Now I'm never one to knock on super modern 700 gram carbon wonderbikes. They're not what floats my boat, but I get that they're technological marvels and representative of a lot of careful engineering and testing. When you ride one, though, the chances that you'll get to give live feedback to the human being behind the design is slim to none. Hell, that they're even all that interested in feedback at all is questionable. Our situation was different though; it was fantastically cool to roll about and talk about angles and lengths, diameters and wall thicknesses, fit and parts, with Sacha and the other folks. I saw a value there well beyond the usual team QBP order or pro-deals on tires.
After the ride there was Mexican food. I had taken mental notes about the funny conversation topics, but in the masive amount of time between then and now my mental notes did what mental notes do, and that is disappear, because if mental notes were actually good for anything, then notepad manufacturers would be totally out of luck. I only really remember one thing from the meal, and that thing comes to me with no context at all. "Meat giggles." Make of that what you will.
While the Speedvagen racers (probably wisely) chose not to partake in the delights of alcohol, I personally made the opposite decision, which, as luck would have it, was likely the sole reason I was able to join the others in the next stage of the trip, a nighttime bonfire down on the beach. The route we took traversed probably 200 meters of tall grass-lined corridors meandering between the dunes, lit only by the faint glow of cell phone screens. If you read that one way, it sounds like a wonderful evening out of doors with friends, but if you read it the way my brain does, it sounds like the exact kind of scene where I likely get murdered, or, worse still, where friends are plucked one-by-one from an increasingly terrified group, until only the virgin remains. The booze held my hand through the worst of it.
Down on the beach, Tina, Laura, Jeff, Daisuke, Sacha, and I bonfired the hell out of it. I'm not entirely certain what that means, but I know we had fun, so I believe my statement to be true. There's photographic evidence of it and everything.
As the fire died down, and everyone began to think about hours of available sleep remaining before the looming race day, we all packed it up and retraced our steps away from the Pacific ocean. Personally, I knew that moment marked the end of the totally carefree portion of things, and that from that point on race nerves would slowly creep in. It wasn't an unhappy thought - I've grown to love those nerves, in a way, as they let me know that I'm in the midst of doing something worth doing, and not just holding down my couch like so many other evenings - it was merely the acknowledgement of a turning point in the trip.
So after the beach, it was off to bed at the rental house, a short stroll away. After bed, there was waking up, loading up, and embarking on another loooong journey-slash-battle with the Speedvagen transport. After surviving the trip, Starcrossed!
Overall, looking back, I would easily rate the trip as amazing. When you add up all the elements mathematically - road tripping, bike racing, ocean viewing - on the other side of the equals sign is obviously going to sit a big positive. It was more than just that, though, it really was. It was wonderfully great getting to feel a bit like a part of the team, while at the same time be able to remove myself a little and just watch a solid team exist. The whole Speedvagen dynamic was just so natural, a sum of more than its parts, and a perfect example of what you can get when a team is based around something a bit more useful and emotional than just some killer bro deals.
For whatever it's worth, kudos, Speedvagen racers, and thanks so much for inviting me along!