HAIL YES! (Primo)

All hail broke loose in the first event of WBL 2006 as the powers that be tipped over the devil’s cauldron and pummeled the Zealots with its contents: wind, rain, sleet, hail, floods, lava, fire, brimstone, lightning bolts, frozen goats, headless cats, two-legged dogs and humpless camels.

The first event of the WBL season has historically been an event to frolic barefooted in the warm sunshine, to reminisce over drink with old friends, to engage in a frivolous banter with members of the opposite sex—basically, to crow like a cock on top of a dunghill. But this event turned into an all-out medieval, Talibanean torture session. It should have been an easy spin around the park. Instead, it was an epic journey into Hell and back. Nearly everyone made it.

The weather scholars took aim at the mark and missed wide right, but only by 1 or 2 billion light years. The weather watchers predicted Saturday would see partly sunny skies with highs hovering around the mid 50’s. But it simply wasn’t to be. Instead, the mercury never climbed above 43, and when the sky drained its swollen bladder on the Zealots late in the day, the temperature plummeted to 48 degrees below 0. Several riders froze atop their bikes and afterwards had to be thawed out with a leaf blower, then pried from atop their steely steeds with a crowbar. Even the tears, which flowed freely after the ride, froze into icy pellets and pinged off the ground like a bucket of marbles.

Over 100 aspirants signed in for the home opener of WBL 2006, Ye Ole Commerce Classic, in spite of the dastardly blanket of stratus clouds that streamed in from the west. Not only did many of the old stalwarts of the WBL make an appearance (last year’s Yellow jersey winner Erin Boots Winter, former Yellow jersey winner Starrman Bridges, the only 2-time Alto victor Big Jon Atkins, workhorse Matt Turbo Gentry and his gal-pal Venus Saturday, Rhino Blue Barnett, Iona and her newlywed Jamaican mon Clay the Pettifogger Parks, the Trinidadian scud missile Emile Abraham, and former military strongman Greg Somerville); but also several newcomers were on hand to give this traveling road show a go (newly signed Diet Cheerwine speedster Kristen Keim, Hank Aaron’s head honcho Tom Palmer, high-powered Atlanta attorney Big Daddy Jon Garland, new UGA jefe Nathan Thompson, and the fastest person in the peloton, William Bell Bottoms.) The University of Georgia Cycling Team was represented by its full student body and reportedly received 1.4 million in donations on the day.

The weather was partly cloudy when the future torture victims checked in for the event, so all appeared to be going to according to the weather prognosticators’ plan. Then, Dani Dembrak suddenly said, “I felt a droplet of rain.” But the excitement level was at fever pitch and the pack was ready to ride. A few drops of rain meant nothing to these drooling riders on the storm. Dembrak suddenly pointed to the south: “Look. A blue slit hath opened in yonder sky.”

One hundred heads on West Washington rotated in unison and faced towards the southern sky. It was true, a sliver of blue light, a horizontal crevasse in the clouds, had pried opened down south and was glimmering in the distance like a faraway planet. The route masters huddled quickly and instantly announced: “HARK, YE FOOLS OF THE BLACKTOP: ‘TIS TO THE SOUTH WE TRAVEL.” As over 100 hearty Zealots shoved off for the day’s journey, the sentient Swamy himself, Matthew Swaim, said, “How yall know Old Scratch ain’t ripped at hole down yonder.” Prophetic words, even from a bibulous man of drink.

The peloton hit the blacktop running. The pack flew south down Milledge Avenue, cut towards, but around, Watkinsville, and landed feet-first on the Colham Ferry Road. Once atop the flat asphalt runway of C.F.R, the rough riders headed towards the silver lining in the sky, the sliver of blue far, far away in the distance. Above, black clouds continued pouring in from the west. But all eyes were focused on the prize—the one thin bright patch in the sky. Chad Madan was the only one to wonder why the hole in the sky seemed to be moving farther away no matter how hard he pedaled. Maybe it’s not really there he thought.

The pace setters set a torrid tempo and a beguiling warmth overtook the pack. The cold weather blues were forgotten. (It is said that when a mountaineer dies from freezing, he or she is overcome by a sensation of warmth near the end.) Rain was nowhere to be seen. The pack scudded down a swath of road cut between tall pines on either side. The skies, though gray and dark, seemed to be cooperating. The pack skittered across Lake Oconee, climbed the Greshamville Mall Bastardo Hill, and came to the end of the C.F.R. The pack was 30 miles from home, and scheduled to go deeper into the back country. But here, the prescient and percipient (and without rain jackets) helmsmen said, “We turn back, towards home.” Some thought the pace setters had gone soft. But others remembered the saying of their dead and buried forbears (Sevener, King, Oyster, Lemaire and the Mighty Mineral Man): Once wet/ thrice dead/ twice wet/ a fool instead.

The pack kept the accelerator pressed to the floorboard and motored into Farmington groupetto compacto. In Farmington, the first twist of fate occurred: dirt beneath the wheel. The pack crossed 441, crossed a 1-lane wooden bridge, and was thrown onto a 4-mile stretch of dirt. Members of the big ring bunch moved to the front of the class and shifted to their 72’s x 4’s. The dung was thrown into the spinning blades of the fan: Time for the fat boys to seek a little revenge. They pressed on their pedals with a wicked amount of torque that only a very fat body could produce. The groupetto was no longer compacto as it exploded into a million little pieces. There was much weeping, gnashing of teeth, bellowing and caterwauling. Even Glenn Bradley said, “Dirt road on the first ride, and the peloton riding like hell hounds hell bent on ripping off the legs of the other riders, then shoving them down their throats and yanking them out their arses. What in the tarnation is going on? This was only the first ride of the year! What the hail is happening?” He shook his fist at the sky.

At the end of the dirt and gravel excursion, the fat boys at the front waited momentarily for the sag wagon, the welcoming sign that once again the group was together. As soon as the sag came into sight, then, once again, it was off to the races. The Zealots sailed through Bishop, and to their dismay were back in Watkinsville in 5 miles. The ride was only 2.5 hours old and less than 10 miles from home. Showing the resolve of hardened criminals, the group wailed, “We’ll not go home. Away we must fly.”

Incredibly, the pack turned and rode away from the pearly gates of Athens, back into the dark and dusky netherworld of Oconee County. The group had only managed to travel about 5 miles when Old Scratch finally tipped over his teeming cauldron: the bottom fell out of the sky without warning. The remnants of the peloton did a 180 in the road. By the time they turned, they were all soaked to the core. From here in, it was a 10 mile stretch of blistering, big ring action in the pouring-down rain. A torrid tempo was set in an effort to stay warm. The pack put its head down and hammered all the way home. Though frozen to the core by the time they arrived home, all survived the epic day in the saddle. After 3 hours and 30 minutes, the ride was over. After another 14.3 hours, everyone had finally thawed out. There are still a slew of stories left to be told.

After the ride Carney announced that all Zealots would receive 4 points instead of 2. There is now a 110 way tie for first, with Erin Boots Winter still in Yellow. Stay tuned for more incredible action on the back roads of Athens in the WBL 2006.

The WBL Cold Weather Chronicler