Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Time Henry Kramer Saved My Marriage

Well, perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration. You decide...

It was 1989 and yours truly was just getting back into bike racing after a few years off for college and career nonsense. I had moved up to category 2 in the spring and, like most 20-something bike racers, thought I was just too cool. You know the type--sneering down upon the racing category they just departed, checking out their legs in every mirror they pass, incessantly boring non-cycling friends with tales of their bike-racing exploits. Your basic $12K dreamer wannabe.

So one weekend I took the future Mrs. Fanelli to a little event called the Silver Bullet Stage Race. (Doesn't every guy bring the girl he is courting to watch him prance around in shiny lycra?) Well this race was in Madera CA, which pretty regularly reeks of dairy-cow excrement, and it was hot, like 100+ degrees Central Valley-in-June hot. That was Strike One.

Well the future Mrs. Fanelli was not yet accustomed to the ways of a self-centered bike-racing boyfriend, and she naively agreed to feed me in the first road stage. Now this particular stage took place on what probably was the most devious course Bob Liebold has ever constructed. He found roads in the Sierra Nevada foothills that, I swear, hadn't been used since the Gold Rush. And he made the race one big 95-mile loop with two separate feed zones along the way. So I shoved a map in her direction, commanded her to wish me luck, and pedaled away. This was the beginning of Strike Two.

Like a trooper, she made it to the first feed zone and successfully handed me up a nice cold bottle. In return for this kindness she got an audible grunt and an empty, dirty, sticky water bottle thrown in her general direction. Her day was about to take a turn for the worse. She hopped in the car and tried to follow the rest of the feed-zone crowd on to the next stop. But somehow she got separated. And then she got lost. Now if you've ever spent much time in the California foothills, you know about some of these roads--think Copperopolis...but worse. To hear her tell it afterward, each wrong turn she made led to a narrower, bumpier, and more remote road. None of them were on the map I had given her and, of course, this was before the age of cell phones and in-car GPS navigation. The poor thing shed a few tears and I'm certain let loose a few F-bombs. Strike Two was pretty much complete. But she persevered and amazingly found her way out and eventually arrived at the second feed zone with just minutes to spare.

So the pack comes rolling up to this feed zone after spending the previous three hours pedaling through the countryside, and Gina hands me up a nice cold small water bottle. I did not say "thanks". No, instead of that simple gratuity, I screamed at her "NO DAMNIT!!! BIG WATER BOTTLE GINA!!!" A more perfect Strike Three has never been thrown.

Poor Gina just lost it and started sobbing uncontrollably--a fact of which I was completely unaware, as I was competing in this terribly serious Velo Promo bicycle race in the very important p/1/2 category.

Well guess who was sitting in the feed zone, after having gotten off earlier in the race. Yes, good old Henry Kramer was there to pick up the pieces. Now Henry was a handsome and suave fellow back then, and the future Mrs. Fanelli quickly regained her composure when he came over to comfort her. He didn't know me, but still he assured her that I would apologize profusely once the race was over [I did]. He explained how the heat-of-competition and the heat-of-the-day can make the bike racers uncharacteristically grumpy, and that anything they say shouldn't be taken personally. He said that all bike racers deeply appreciate the support they get from their significant others. Whatever else he said, and I'm sure there was more, really worked. Despite her Hellish adventure, when she found me after the race, she was as kind and supportive as when the day began. I'm convinced Henry's act-of-kindness saved me the loss of my soul mate.

The following year Gina became Mrs. Fanelli (well, not really, but you know what I mean) and to this day she still goes with me occasionally to races up there. Inevitably she asks me if Henry is at the race. And we usually see him once or twice a year, always reminding him about the time we first met him in the foothills of Madera. I don't think he remembers, but we do.

So, I'll end this post by saying congratulations to Henry Kramer for a well-deserved Silver medal in yesterday's Masters 50-54 National Championship Cyclocross race. He battled Ned Overend to the end and came up just short. You'll get it next year Henry! (The picture below is Henry putting the hurt on Ned Overend at the Nationals.)


Olaf Vanderhoot said...

reckon this post needs to be memorized by 90% o' dapeleton.

Kramer is still nuttin' courses all over the place, btw.

n' still rico suave.

Marco Fanelli said...

Thanks OV. If you know Henry's email, feel free to forward.

True story... In Oct of 2005, the better-half and I were in Portland for her marathon and they had a big psyco-cross race at the dairy the day before, so we head over to check it out. Rain, mud, and bike racers everywhere...hundreds of them. Yet still, 1,000 miles from anything familiar, she spots post-race Henry across the parking lot so we go over and have our customary little chat. Even with mud-spattered teeth and goobery snot crusted on his face, he was still Mr. Suave...

Henry Kramer said...

Mark, your a friend for life and I do appreciate you bein' so good to me. Some day I'll return the favor. Hope your family has a great holiday and look me up if your ever in the neighborhood, we have lots of room! HK

Marco Fanelli said...

Great to hear from you Henry! And congrats again on another excellent cross season. I love it when I see you've been smacking down the 35+'ers in NorCal cross--you must have some mad skilz!!

Happy Holidays, and see you in 2007.