You must be here for the bike show, said the helpful man who opened my car door. I’m not sure how he guessed. Was it the black Converse? Or, the baggy shorts? I definitely was not looking glam after six hours of driving across the desert. Mojave, Barstow, Baker. Gas, food, lodging.
So there I was at the Trump Hotel, thanks to the convention special, feeling a little out of place. The woman at the check-in counter came from Haiti. She liked my aura, so she upgraded my room. It had a jacuzzi in the bathroom. I grew up in the arid drought zone of Southern California. There was no way I was going to fill a jacuzzi full of precious Colorado River water in my hotel room. But it was a nice gesture, anyway.
I did want to go swimming after driving through the desert. So I put on my bikini which is shockingly short on glitter and head to the pool. I get lost. This happens every time I try to go somewhere in Vegas. They want me to be lost. I am powerless to resist.
The pool turns out to be a typically weird Vegas scene of rich people, people wishing they were rich people, and drunk frat boys. There is bad music playing in the background, the soundtrack of Vegas. I stay underwater a lot.
I’m supposed to go to a party and I haven’t had dinner, but I take a nap instead. There’s a couch in my hotel room with pillows, and I can’t resist that kind of invitation. But then it’s time to go, so I put on my Vegas night-out uniform of a little black dress and strappy shoes. The strappy shoes hurt my back, and later, I get The Look from a stiletto-wearing friend for taking them off.
We get to the party and there’s food and drinks and people trying on helmets. It’s the bike industry, so this is all totally normal. I chat up some friends I usually only see on the internet. This is the best part of Interbike, the part that makes the interminable drive through the desert worth it — seeing all these people and actually talking to them in real life. The party breaks up and we get lost in the casino on the way out.
My next stop is a party somewhere in the Venetian. The line is long, and it’s in the kind of dark nightclub with flashing lights and mediocre dance music that Vegas does best. A steep, dimly lit staircase leads to a catwalk framed with a line of wash basins that look like urinals. The potential for lameness is high, but the drinks are free. At times like these, it’s all about managing expectations.
One of my best friends used to say everyone is responsible for their own good time. She was on to something there. I elbow my way through the crowd at the bar and get drinks. This is one of my few talents in life, really, securing drinks in a crowded bar. We dance half-heartedly to the shitty music and drink too much vodka. Then my feet hurt, and I walk home barefoot.
Morning comes too early and I walk to Starbucks and drink two doubles one after the other. Four shots in one cup just isn’t the same as two doubles. This is a thing, though I don’t know why.
I stand in the long line to get my credentials. I spot a couple obviously long-married in line behind me. They’re wearing t-shirts from the bike shop they almost certainly own together. It has a Main Street Bike Shop kind of name and it was founded in 1968.
On to the show floor, the lights are bright and there’s the roar of a thousand conversations. You can’t possibly see it all, and I don’t try. My heart is quickly won by a red steel track bike with chromed lugs in the Pinarello booth. The paint glows like a pin-up girl’s lipstick.
The Pegoretti booth looks like an art museum. Walking by the Campagnolo display is like window-shopping at an expensive jewelry store. It sparkles and shines and you definitely can’t afford it.
My friend is cruising the floor looking for examples of marketing aimed toward women riders. We meet up near the posters from Artcrank. The bike industry, it’s so focused on men, he says. I stare. Like, hello obvious.
I put on my best grandpappy voice. It’s leaps and bounds better than it was, I say. When I started riding bikes, there was no Specialized Women, no Trek WSD, no Cannondale Women. A small pink bike in the corner was the women’s line. It’s still a dudecruise, but it’s getting better.
Another friend, another conversation. We get to talking about what it’s like to be part of a small group of women among so many dudes. We talk about worrying about what to wear. Is it too feminine, too sexy? Are my shorts too short? We agree that it’s stupid that we think about these things, but we do it anyway. Feminism means being accepted for who we are, but sometimes it feels like the gap between saying that and living it is too wide to cross.
We talk about how small things get blown up, because gender equity is still a thing for the future not yet a present reality in our little bike world. If women’s teams had equal funding and women riders competed for equal prize money, maybe we could all laugh when men get dissed for riding like girls. But we can’t quite do that yet, because those small things stand for something bigger, something that still weighs on us, even though we’d all like to ignore it. All we really want to do is ride bikes and be happy.
We play text tag. Where are you? I’m at Electra. Where’s that? Is it near Specialized? No, it’s near the stairs. Which stairs? Lost, again.
Later, I take the shuttle to the cross race. It makes a wrong turn, and there we are lost in a big bus making a u-turn in the middle of the road. The other cars on the road wait impatiently until finally we are heading in the right direction back the way we came.
We make it to the bike race at last, and I immediately show my friends why I’m not the best bike racing companion. Wait, where’d you go?
I dash around and talk to bike racers. Then, it gets dark and it’s hard to tell which bike racer is which, and the women’s race is starting, so I go to the start to see the staging. Then I head out to the course to watch the race. A friend texts and wants to know where I am. Downhill, near the beer. He never finds me.
I balance a beer, my phone and a notepad in one hand. A dude wants to explain bike racing to me, because maybe I don’t understand it. They give out these media credentials to everyone, you know. I don’t punch him, because I’m nice. But I do walk away.
Sanne van Paassen wins the women’s race after chasing down a solo break from Lea Davison. Jeremy Powers duels with Tim Johnson and rides away late in the final lap. There’s beer and bike racing and everyone’s happy. I stop to chat with Georgia Gould on the way out. She’s modeling a new pair of boots she bought in the Denver airport and cracking jokes. We cram into the minivan for the drive back to the Strip.
I work the late shift with room service pizza for company. It tastes like cardboard, but I can’t be bothered to find anything better. I prep for an interview that never ends up happening. It’s Vegas, and nothing really goes how you expect it will.
Another day, more espresso, more text tag, more meetings. I finally find a friend I’ve been text-chasing for two days. I talk to a Vanderkitten. She represents her sponsors in the best way possible. She loves her job, loves the bike. A world champion bounds up to say hello. We’re just girls talking bikes, and it’s so good.
I walk to lunch through the casino where an old woman sips a drink and hits the button on the slot machine over and over and over. The lights flash, but still she doesn’t win. I wonder if she cares. I meet more people who usually live on my computer screen.
A herd of women in tight white t-shirts and gravity-defying frontal areas enter stage right to publicize the new Cannondale title sponsorship of the Liquigas-Cannondale team. The press release already went out, but there’s an announcement party. I forget my credentials, because forgetting things is what I do best, but I talk my way in.
I ask some questions about the team and learn quite a lot about the Cannondale women’s product line. More women’s products means more women riders which is good, so I nod and smile encouragingly. Then I’m standing next to Ted King, and the tifosi want a photo. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and I gladly snap their photo without dropping their phone.
Someone hands me a bright-colored drink. I don’t know what’s in it, but it looks like it should have a paper parasol. I end up in a knot of writers talking about writer things. Neil Browne decides to interview me in a barrage of rapid fire questions. We talk writers’ block and cat gifs. We’re really not that exciting in real life.
One of the editors I’m meeting for dinner is trapped in a white van heading toward destinations unknown. This seems vaguely disquieting and perfectly Vegas. Another editor and I eat food that might very loosely be described as Mexican. The guacamole isn’t bad, but the fish tacos taste like they came out of the frozen food aisle, which they probably did.
We debate the merits of 29ers and 26ers. We’re bike nerds. What were you expecting? She’s 5’2”, and not sold on 29ers. They feel too big. Maybe 650b is the answer.
Bikes, and more bikes. All I really want to do is go for a ride. I skip the Sinclair party, because I have to drive home the next day, and I can’t face the idea of the Mojave after a long night out. It’s disappointing to leave Las Vegas without seeing the pole dancers even once, but sometimes a girl’s got to make sacrifices.
I’m in Baker by nine the next morning. A two-lane road strikes out west across the desert from Baker to Death Valley. It runs arrow-straight until it fades to a distant vanishing point. The town exists for the roads that run through it. I buy a cup of gas station coffee. The smallest size is large. It tastes like water, but the Pop Tarts make up for it. There are few things rainbow sprinkles can’t fix.
I pass through Barstow and an hour later, I make the left turn to Mojave. If you miss the left turn, you end up in Tehachapi. Then the road dumps you into California’s pan-flat Central Valley on the wrong side of the massive transverse mountain range that walls off Los Angeles from the north. Follow the mountains west to the sea and their remnants form one of the world’s great surf breaks. I skip the detour and head south through the otherworldly landscape of the Antelope Valley.
I find a Starbucks in Fillmore at two in the afternoon, and finally I make it to Ventura. The vast expanse of the Pacific is the best thing I’ve ever seen. The Mojave looked like that once, but not lately. I turn right. The blue water taunts me over my left shoulder, and I follow the coastline up the map as it curves westward.
I turn off my phone and finally, I’m no longer lost.