During the colossal mess that was the 2015 USA Cyclocross National Championships a piece I had written for Embrocation Magazine five years ago kept coming up in conversation. The piece, presented below, was pulled down from Embro a few days after its publication because one of the parties mentioned below considered it libel. These were my experiences, as I experienced them, nothing else. But to that end, I changed some names.
It’s a shame that Embro pulled it down because it kind of took the wind out of my sails as far a writing goes.
It’s not a story about failure, it’s a story about success.
The Six Ps
During my formative years as a fledgling rabble-rouser, my friends and I adopted a policy of meticulous planning in order to avoid any, shall I say, legal entanglements. We had our own little Monkey Wrench Gang (before I even knew such a thing existed) with our sights set on a few local polluters and haters. Our tools: cement, bologna and powdered magnesium. Our methods: unspeakable yet irreproachable.
The rules were simple: Follow the Six Ps.
I can’t quite recall who brought the Six Ps to the table. I can tell you when and why but not without damning self-incrimination. But I will say this: to this day, I carry the Six Ps like a loaded sidearm, one bullet for each P. And on occasion, when I watch a plan go to shit, I unload it. One bullet at a time.
I’m only going to say this once, so write it down, or um, copy and paste.
Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance
(Yes, you savant-tardes, there are seven Ps, but Piss-Poor is hyphenated, so it’s really six, okay?)
Here are some examples of when the Six Ps are appropriate:
Three times last week during your hill repeats, you dropped your chain when shifting from the big ring to the little ring. At a critical moment in the race (which you had registered for a week earlier) the road tilts upwards. You shift. Your chain drops. You stop. The field goes away. You lose.
Example 2 (A-D):
For more insidious real-life racing examples where the Six Ps would have been handy, presented uncut, in reverse chronology (if you can make it through the “and then I turned the left pedal, and then I turned the right pedal and then I got to the start line”):
I love the guy, (and by the way, author, the offer still stands… you know where I live), but c’mon. Get. It. Together.
The problem with the Six Ps is two-fold. First off, with regards to bike racing anyway, by following the Six Ps, you’ve just eliminated nearly every possible excuse for a bad day except for flat out sucking. The second, after a while you begin to hold yourself and everybody else to an unachievable standard solely established by an obnoxious alliteration (granted, these standards are really only in regards to one’s logistical acumen, but still…).
And therein lies the real story.
In late May, I accepted a gig with Pedro’s to work in Orocovis, Puerto Rico for the opening of the ToroVerde Adventure Park, a 300+ acre eco-tourist destination in the geographical center of the island. Our task was to “put together some Orbea bikes for the Press launch.” In conjunction with the ribbon cutting ceremony marking the grand opening of the park (with its 20 zipline canopy tours, terrifying suspension bridges straight out of Indiana Jones, belaying cliffs and future plans for a human-launching slingshot), was the inauguration of Em’s Single Track Jungle, a growing series of trails that precipitously drop to the jungle floor. The inaugural trail ride would coincide with the Press-heavy launch of Orbea’s foray into the all-mountain market with the full suspension Orbea Rallon. Oh, and there would be a soft launch for Shimano’s new 3×10 Deore XT gruppo. Oh, and there would be a Euro-press only unveiling of the Orbea Alma 29er. Can you see where this is going?
Before I agreed to the mercenary work for Pedro’s I needed details. What would my job description be? What would the day-to-day tasks be? How many bikes were we talking about? In what condition would they be in when we arrived? Where would we be staying? How would we get from place to place? Would there be vegan food options? I didn’t really expect concrete answers to any of these questions, nor did I really care. All is wanted to know is this: what do we know?
Here were the details as I received them:
Orbea would be sending 20 bikes to Puerto Rico. They would be in a state of roughly 85% assembly. A local wrench would finish the assembly. David Wilcox (calves of steel, heart of gold) would leave his post at the Broadway Bicycle School to join Pedro’s own Jason Eldhardt and myself to “perform checkovers” and assist the press with bicycle fit and pedal swaps. Wash, rinse, and repeat for the second press junket. Pedro’s would also be sending an arsenal of tools, shop repair stands, lubes and cleaning supplies. It sounded pretty straightforward, but scrolling through the forwarded email threads that provided these details, my Six Ps radar picked up a strong blip of trouble.
I needed to get out of the lab for a bit. I had a massive thesis committee meeting looming. I had never been to Puerto Rico. I was supposed to be on a rest week. I’d never had the opportunity to work with David or Jason but knew them both pretty well. The “pros” column was stacking up pretty nicely.
Welcome to Shit-Show, Puerto Rico
David and I arrived in San Juan on Saturday, May 22nd around lunchtime. Jason wouldn’t be arriving until later that evening. Em’s husband, Art, would be meeting us at the airport and taking us to what became referred to as “The Jungle House,” our HQ. Art was late (but planes are too) so no biggie. I knew a little about Em (former NORBA downhill superstar, founder of one of the most dominant women’s MTB teams, mother of two) but absolutely nothing about Art. Turns out that Art is from Somerville, part of my daily commute. He hadn’t lived in the Boston area in about 20 years but it was as if he hadn’t left. He still has a stranglehold on the Boston accent. Picture a Somerville Fireman in a cabana shirt, salt and pepper hair, obligatory goatee, a little bit extra around the middle, and chock-full of one-liners (“The women in Puerto Rico ah beautiful, but you gotta check ‘em for Adam’s apples.”). That’s Art. He met us in a rented minivan full of kid paraphernalia (child seats, sippy cups, stuffed animals) and began the drive to Orocovis.
This is where things began to unravel. Art, in spite of having been from the airport to the adventure park no fewer than six times, had absolutely no grasp on where we were or where we were going. While trying to navigate the busy, windy roads of San Juan and trying to be a good host to his new and increasingly terrified guests, Art referred exclusively to his iPhone for all navigation needs. This meant taking wrong turns five times before the airport was out of sight. Oh, Jesus. I wanted to press Art for details about how the bike prep had gone, how things at the park were looking, what the trails were like but I had to keep my mouth closed to keep the impending wave of vomit at bay. Even when we were cruising down a four lane, arrow-straight stretch of road with no turns or exits in sight, Art would bob and weave like a drunken sailor trapped in the video game world of Google Maps. When we started to head into the mountains, the roads became a narrow ribbon of paved spaghetti. The final 13-mile stretch (~7 as the crow flies) from Morovis to the adventure park was an amazing and harrowing 30-minute drive (Check out the map if you want to see what I mean). With an attentive or even just a competent driver, this would have been fun. But for me, it was all beads of sweat on the forehead, a cotton-dry mouth and a largely suppressed gag reflex.
Did I mention that we were staying in San Juan and would have to do this same drive seven more times? Awesome.
We were anxious to assess the work situation. We would have one day, Sunday, to get everything ready for the ribbon cutting ceremony and product launch on Monday morning. Art drove us past the entrance of the park and to the aptly named Jungle House.
This is what we saw when we came arrived:
Uh-oh. Twenty boxes. Twenty frames. A second room was filled with Shimano boxes. Zero-parts hung. Not a derailleur. Not a bottom bracket. Nothing. Nada. The work stand tops had arrived but the 200-pound bases had not been shipped, as it would be unreasonably expensive.
Here was the assessment: We had one working repair stand, my trusty Feedback Sports that I grabbed last minute, just in case. Zero bikes assembled. We had no means to cut the forks, press on the races, or set the star-nuts. We had no pumps (Seriously? No pumps?). We had a little more than 24 hours, and a room with a single light bulb, no fan and curious lizards cruising the windowsills. We were lucky to have Carlitos, a local wrench hired by the park’s manager, Rigel. Carlitos was already putting tires on the 40 wheels as well as cassettes and skewers. Amazingly, Art seemed surprised by all of this.
Like I said, “Welcome to Shit-Show, Puerto Rico.” Proper? No. Prior? No. Planning? Hell, no! Piss-poor? Well, no arguments there. Performance? That was up to us now, wasn’t it?
A few minutes after the shock had subsided, David and I assembled a list of must-have items. And after a quick visit to the park, we began the terrifying and barf-tastic descent back towards San Juan, via a mid-point Home Depot. At this point, David and I were trashed. We had a crack-ass of dawn flight out of Logan followed by a hellish drive to the Jungle House to discover our worse cased scenario. The upside of the drive to the Home Depot? I hadn’t had anything to eat for about 10 hours now, so there was nothing to throw up. Like a pair of sweaty zombies, David and I stumbled through the aisles of Home Depot in search of 2x4s, carriage bolts, zip-ties and a cornucopia of MacGyver-like supplies.
Have you ever driven with someone who seems to drive faster and faster when they are lost? The last 45 minutes I will ever spend in a car with Art were no better than the first 3 or so hours. In fact, if anything, they were even worse. It’s as if he were looking for a way out of this mess by slamming us into an historic landmark in old San Juan at 75 mph. Nevertheless, we made it to the hotel relatively unscathed, met up with an increasingly stunned Jason as we filled him in on the details.
In spite of our insistence that we get to the Jungle House as early as possible on Sunday morning, Art hadn’t really arranged a way for us to get there until about noon at the earliest. Fortunately, we managed to have a sanity-restoring drive to the jungle house thanks to Singletrack.com’s Zach White who had arrived a few days early to explore Rincon and other parts of the island.
It took us about an hour to assess the situation, arrange our workroom, assembly line, and tasks lists. Jason immediately got to work on the 2x4s fashioning impressively stable bases for the shop stands. David and I measured headtubes on the three bike sizes and determined fork steerer tube lengths. David then proceeded to use a chop saw (yes, a chop saw) to cut the steerer tubes by eye. I banged in starnuts and set fork races with a piece of PVC that still may have had crap on it from the sewage system it was pulled from. Through what was left of the early afternoon hours we banged out with relatively fluidity three complete bikes after discussing cable routing, chain length, front derailleur adjustment with sag in mind.
Soon after, the folks from Orbea stopped by the Jungle House. Big wigs from Spain and the US had stopped by to check in on our progress and discuss the bikes. They unapologetically helped themselves to what little food we had brought with us as we sweated our collective asses off in an effort to dig them out of the enormous hole they were in. We promised ten complete bikes by the morning and if need be, we would stay through the night to get them done. The Orbeans left and bam, just like that, another hour was gone. We were abandoned at the Jungle House but we still had a job to do.
We streamlined a damn near Six Sigma-like assembly line. Carlitos and I would hang all the parts while Jason precut all of the cable housing. I also precut and hung the chains. David and Jason would then string the cables and fine-tune the shifting. Through the collective efforts of Carlitos, Jason, David and myself, we managed to get 14 bikes assembled from frame to ride-able by midnight. The shuttle van was waiting to take us back to San Juan. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to phone ahead to Art and have some pizzas waiting for us at the hotel for our 1AM arrival.
Back at the hotel, exhausted, we scarfed down inhuman amounts of pizza and a few beers while we finished putting in those annoying tiny screws into a dozen pair of platform pedals. Bleary eyed and disoriented, we awoke three hours later and shuffled through the breakfast line and back into the shuttle van for yet another trip to the mountain.
Check over 20 pre-assembled bikes, my ass.
With herculean effort, we managed to get the lion’s share of the work done. We had enough bikes assembled for the press, with a few to spare. All that was left to do was to do a final bolt-check and check over of the assembled bikes, check tire pressure, pressure up the shocks and load them on the trailer. We were done… well, sort of.
With bikes loaded up on the trailer we departed the Jungle House. It was amazing to walk through the house with all of the bikes gone. From sealed boxes, to a flurry of chaotic activity, to the workings of a well-oiled machine, all that remained were discarded bits of cardboard and plastics bags and a completed To-Do list.
The scene at the mountain was shear madness. The ribbon cutting ceremony of the park was presided over by none other than the Governor of Puerto Rico. There were limos, buses, boy scouts, families, TV cameras. We settled ourselves in to a relatively quiet spot to pull bikes from the trailer and arrange them for the press corps test ride. The Orbeans and reporters descended onto the bikes like fat kids at a cupcake party. Before we knew it, we were swapping pedals, adjusting seats and shock pressure and suddenly, they were gone. All of the people, all of the bikes, all of the chaos. It was just Jason, David and myself. We had done it.
Thanks to Art, our efforts were rewarded with a fun day of surfing and exploring old San Juan. David and I also go to test out the bikes following the second press day later that week. We descended to the jungle floor and tore around on the bikes we had built just days before. On our slog back up the mountain we stumbled upon Em in the midst of a photo shoot. Happy to oblige, David and I joined the photo shoot, riding the same line 20 times in hopes of capturing David’s Kentucky Waterfall and my manly FUPA in just the right light.
We finished our time at ToroVerde with a ride on the 1-¼ mile zipline tour. Pretty psyched David caught this on film. Check it out here on Vimeo:
As far as the Governor of Puerto Rico, the folks at Orbea, and the 20 or so members of the press junket were concerned, the Orbea product launch and park opening went off without a hitch. It’s as if the Six P’s were adhered to from start to finish. I guess that means we did our job. And truth be told, if we all followed the Six P’s all of the time, what the hell would we write about?