September 1, 2018
Rising from the Ashes…We Did it!
By: Bill Oetinger
We’re coming up on a year since the disastrous fires that swept through Santa Rosa and Sonoma County last October. It has been a long, hard grind of a year for many folks who lost their homes or their jobs (businesses burned down too). The many after-effects of the fires will be with this community for years to come, shaping people’s lives and framing public policy and planning and warping the economy in ways not yet fully understood.
But this isn’t meant to be the story of the community’s struggle toward recovery. That has been well documented and will continue to be covered in the local press. What I hope to do here is tell one small story that has at least a little bit of a happy ending…one small twinkle of light amidst all the ashes and gloom.
Among those who lost their homes were our friends Susan and Joe Gorin. Susan is well enough known, at least locally. She’s one of our five Sonoma County Supervisors and was formerly on the Santa Rosa City Council…a long-time public servant. And, for whatever it’s worth, a long-time friend and advocate for cycling.
How could she not be, married to Joe? I’ve known Joe longer than I’ve know Susan and at the root of our acquaintance and friendship is an event we both love: the Terrible Two double century. I’ve been the Chair or Co-chair of the event since 1992 and have managed to do the ride a few times. But Joe has been around the TT even longer, as a participant. Over a long career he has racked up over 20 completions, putting him right up among the all-time greats in our pantheon of TT stalwarts.
Joe is a member of our club—the sponsors of the Terrible Two—but he doesn’t come on our club rides or attend our events, neither weekday or weekend rides or week-long tours. Nor, as far as I know, does he race in the local crits or road races, nor take part in any brevets. He rides alone, mostly, except for one event a year…the TT. He’s not the fastest rider in the double but he has been, over all those years, amazingly steady and durable and consistent. His times have been very respectable, year after year. He hasn’t finished every TT he started. I recall one year, while doing the ride myself, where I found him sitting in one of the later rest stops, looking glum. That was one of his few DNFs. Most of the time, when he starts, he finishes.
I know, from chatting with Joe, that the Terrible Two means a lot to him…to his life and his sense of who he is and what he wants to accomplish. Why else would someone come back so often to take on such a brutal beast?
It is, to be sure, an event to be reckoned with and where a finish is something to be proud of. Whether it’s the hardest double around is subject to debate. But it certainly makes the short list of hard-assed rides. It’s a monster, feared and respected in equal measure. If you’ve finished it, even once, you really have nothing to prove to anyone again in the world of cycling.
Aside from the simple satisfaction of slaying that beast—one more time—what does Joe or any other finisher get out of completing the Terrible Two? You will get your name in the results at the Santa Rosa Cycling Club website. You will get your name added to the list of finishers of all doubles at the California Triple Crown website. You can buy a commemorative Terrible Two jersey. But most of all, best of all, you are given a free event t-shirt. If you go to the web page linked above, in addition to the results you will see examples of all the various graphics that have appeared on those t-shirts. And below the graphic on the shirt of anyone who finishes the ride by our traditional 10:00 PM cut-off will be this little three-word sentence: “I did it!”
Those “I did it!” tees have been the crown jewels of the TT since its inception back in the late ‘70s. They are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The buried treasure in the pirate’s cave. It is true that some riders don’t really care all that much about their hard-won shirts. But most do. Most care deeply. They wear them with pride or—occasionally—frame them and hang them on the wall. On the Monday morning after the event, they wear them to work, in lieu of a suit and tie. And they definitely wear them wherever other cyclists congregate. They mark you out as someone of substance, worthy of respect. I know this from personal experience. Case in point…
My wife and I were in Chico for the Wildflower one year in the mid-‘90s. The town was crawling with cyclists. Night before the event, we went out to a local shop for ice cream cones. I was wearing an “I did it!” tee. As we walked up to the shop, two guys on a bench out front looked at me and my shirt and fell to their knees, doing those deep bows that say, “We are not worthy!” My wife looked at them and at me and, I think, for the first time understood what it meant for me to have completed that ride.
So…the t-shirt means a lot. Finishing the event within the time limit means a lot and the shirt is the trophy one takes away to commemorate that signal accomplishment. Take that feeling and that iconic trophy and multiply times 20 for an old warhorse like Joe Gorin. He has—or I should say had—all those precious, special shirts, hallmarks of a long, successful, happy cycling career. His pride-and-joys.
Susan and Joe were out of town when the fires struck. Susan’s fellow Supervisor Mike McGuire called her at the fateful moment and said, “The flames are right at the back of the house. I’m going to break in. What do you want me to save?” To her everlasting credit, the first thing she said was, “Get Joe’s bike!” Mike was able to rescue a few things—precious few—but not, unfortunately, Joe’s lifetime stash of Terrible Two t-shirts. They all went up in smoke, along with almost everything else that constituted their home and their lives.
As has been the case with thousands of other North Bay residents laid low by the fires, the Gorins picked themselves up and carried on. Found a temporary home and set about the grueling task of putting their lives back together, one day at a time, one chore at a time.
As the weeks rolled by into mid-winter, Susan got the idea of at least replacing Joe’s Terrible Two jersey. (He had owned one jersey, in addition to the 20-plus tees.) She reached out to me and I was happy to give her a jersey that she could give to him for Christmas. Then we got to talking about the t-shirts. She relayed how heartbroken Joe was to have lost all those treasured mementos from his long TT career. Most other posessions, from shoes to blenders to beds to TVs…they can all be replaced. But not those beloved old tees.
Well…let’s see about that! It turns out I have been setting aside a handful of leftover “I did it!” shirts each year since the early ’90s. I call it the archive. My inventory is a little uneven. Some years are well represented and for others there is almost nothing remaining. They live in a few boxes up in the attic.
I told Sue I’d get up there and see what I could find. First I checked Joe’s record at the event to see which years he finished—most of them but not quite all of them—and then I started rooting around in the boxes to see if I could find matches in his size. I did pretty well. Didn’t find all the missing shirts but maybe 15 of the years we needed…a big improvement over the pile of ashes he was left with after the fire.
On Christmas morning, Sue handed Joe this rather large box. He had no idea what was inside. To say he was floored would be an understatement. After everything they had been through—the emotional meat-grinder—it was a profound moment. A small victory and rebirth…a little bit of the phoenix, rising from the ashes. As Sue described it to me later, there was not a dry eye in the house.
Joe and I had lunch together recently…his treat, as a token of his appreciation for my efforts. Of course we talked shop about our favorite event. Like most of us who have done the ride, he can remember in exquisite detail his many miles out there on the hilly back roads of Napa and Sonoma Counties. The good years, the hard years, the struggles and the infrequent failures. And the many successes, in his case. While all my Terrible Twos are behind me, except as an administrator, Joe is still in the saddle, still planning to be out there at the start each year, hoping to pedal his way to another finish and another t-shirt. He did it again this year, half a year after the fire, and added another t-shirt to his collection.
I still expect to see Susan out there at the TT finish line too, as she is every year, carefully logging in the riders as they roll across the line. She’ll take a few minutes off her volunteer job to greet Joe when he comes in. A hug and a photo and then back to the timekeeping. That’s the best thing about the Terrible Two: it’s family. It’s a community of like-minded loonies, all coming together around a common challenge.
Just having the Terrible Two at all this year was an emotional rebirth for the club and the larger cycling community. As reported last year, our warehouse burned down in the fire and we lost every single thing we owned as a club (except for a few things that weren’t in the warehouse, like my inventory of TT jerseys and archive of old tees). But thanks to hard work from our members and an astonishing amount of support from other bike clubs around Northern California and other neighbor organizations in the county, we were able to come back strong and put on a good Wine Country Century in May and the Terrible Two in June. The graphics for both the WCC tees (and jerseys) and for the TT tees were of the phoenix, rising from the ashes.
I am happy I was able to add this one little extra “rebirth” to the bigger triumph: the rebirth of Joe’s collection of “I did it!” t-shirts. He sure as hell did it, over and over again, and he now has the shirts to prove it.
Bill can be reached at email@example.com
2018 200M TT Top Ten
Place Finish Time Name, Age, City
1 12:02 Caleb Carl, 29, Broomfield, CO
2 12:17 Rich Thurman, 50, Chico
3 12:19 Jady Palko, 45, Windsor
4 12:22 Steve Smead, 54, Lincoln
5 12:41 Nodair Razi, 33, Menlo Park
5 12:41 Sakae Wada, 41, El Cerrito
7 12:48 Miguel Sanchez, 41, Santa Rosa
8 12:53 Kenny Owen, 46, Castro Valley
9 13:12 Maximiliano Mehech, 56, Santa Clara
9 13:12 Laurentiu Dascalu, 30, San Francisco