This little tale, from my archives, needs little introduction. I wrote it while a student at UC Santa Barbara. I was living in Isla Vista, the student community of UCSB. I did a lot of training rides on US 101. I ate a lot of junk food while riding. I was broke.
King-Size Snickers Bites the Dust - November 12, 1988
Today I rode up to Buellton, a nothing town 35 miles away, which has (as its only claim to fame) a restaurant called Andersen’s which is famous for pea soup. Billboards span the entire coast from north to south advertising Andersen’s. Other than that, Buellton has nothing special to offer, except that it makes a good destination for a long solo ride.
Not feeling like a piping bowl of pea soup upon arrival (it was 85 degrees and sunny), I went to a mini‑mart, the same one I always go to. I got my usual Buellton meal—a pre‑packaged beef and grease burrito, an apple, a super‑duper‑size Coke, and a King‑Size Snickers Bar—for the trip home. I could have eaten something more healthy, I suppose, but just as you don’t buy a hamburger at a Mexican restaurant, you don’t buy good food in Buellton. There is no better place to get junk food; I consider it part of the culture of the town. Besides, the dreaded bonk (whereby a rider completely runs out of energy and can hardly make it home) serves as incentive to give myself something with some calories.
Ninety minutes later, I could’ve been one of those guys in the Snickers commercial: “Well, after a couple of hours of turnin’ ‘round those pedals, boy, you know you’ve been workin’! I take a break, kick back, think about playin’ ball tonight, and then go for a Snickers. It fills me up. I’m no longer hungry. It gets the job done. I can go back to work. Look at all those nuts. You ever see so many nuts?” Then the music would pipe in, “Snickers really saaaa‑tisfies you!”
Of course, in my life, it’s never that easy. You can’t just whip that baby out and start eating; to consume a Snickers bar on the road takes careful planning. Since it’s been in my jersey pocket long enough to melt, the empty wrapper has to go in a baggie so it won’t smear my jersey pocket with melted chocolate. But the baggie I brought along wasn’t empty, yet. It was full of Wheaties.
Why Wheaties? That’s a fair question. Wheaties is not a particularly good fuel for cycling because it’s not sugary enough. It’s just that I had to use them up. I’d bought them for the box, which featured Doug Smith, the first cyclist ever on a Wheaties box. On the back of the box, it explains that the whole Wheaties/Schwinn team is counting on Wheaties Champion Nutrition to help power them to victory. [More than ten years later Lance Armstrong was featured on a Wheaties box, and magazines said he was the first, but of course they were wrong. It's also worth noting that Wikipedia is wrong about this, too. I could point this out to them but I’d rather lord my superior knowledge over them.]
I feel a particular connection to Doug Smith because I beat him in a race once. It was July 13, 1986, and the event was the Maglia Rosa Bicycle Classic in Denver. I was only a junior, and he was a pro, but we raced together in the Slow Race at the end of the day. In this event, the last rider across the line wins. Doug Smith and I were among of the last people left standing, and he came over and tried to take me out. The fool! I swung the back end of my mighty Team Miyata around and knocked his tires out from under him. I do not recall what breakfast cereal I’d eaten that morning.
So anyway, before eating the Snickers I had to finish off the bag of Wheaties. They were good. Then, I carefully unwrapped the bar of brown gold. Meltage was at a minimum, and through intense concentration and effort I was able to remove the wrapper in one piece. Then I successfully put the wrapper in the baggie, which I stuffed in my jersey pocket. I had to keep my eye on the road, of course, so as not to run over an old car tire or something. Meanwhile, I had the Snickers lightly clenched in my teeth, acutely aware that if I bit too hard I could sever it and I’d lose most of it to the road.
Finally, I had it made: the Snickers was in my hand, I was savoring the first bite, and all the trash was taken care of. Nothing to do now but enjoy the complete bliss of a King Size Snickers Bar, letting that satisfaction drain through my body. I wished I could think about playin’ ball tonight.
I chewed the first bite slowly, while gazing fondly down at the rich milk chocolate and peanuts in peanut butter nougat. Then, tragedy: I hit a pothole, the bike bounced, and the King Size Snickers was knocked right out of my hand. Since I was fighting to stabilize the bike, I was powerless to save the bar as it plummeted towards mother terra, hitting my leg on its way down, before slapping the asphalt like a dead fish, flattening its virgin end grotesquely. For a split second, I was so startled and alarmed by the sudden tragedy that I just froze. Then, the denial stage set in: no, that didn’t really happen, I didn’t really just watch my entire King Size Snickers bar bite the dust. No. This only happens to other people. Then, the anger stage. “Damn the State of California! I’ll sue those bastards for letting their highway get this rough! A whole bar!” Then, the final, inevitable stage, remorse. “Nooo! Noooooooo!” I began weeping openly at my loss. “Sni‑sni‑sni‑snickers, noooo! Waaaaaah! K‑k‑k‑king size! Aaaaaugh!” I beat the handlebar with my fist. “Oh, god, how could this happen?”
You’re wondering how I could be so distraught over something which isn’t good for me anyway. But look at it this way: the Snickers bar is actually a weight loss tool. Without it, I would certainly bonk, which would mean riding the final fifteen miles in agony, thinking only of food. I’ve even hallucinated, thinking I’ve seen food, after the dreaded bonk. Then I would get home and lay waste to the refrigerator, and then pass out and be worthless for the rest of the day. No, the Snickers bar is an integral part of my training. Besides, they’re so tasty!
I thought of going back. It was a big bar; maybe some of it was still good. But deep down, I knew I was just fooling myself. A passing truck served as a painful reminder that I was on the southbound leg of Highway 101, a freeway, and there was no going back. Besides, the candy bar was dead. The word echoed in my brain. Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead. I had seen it spill its peanuts‑in‑peanut‑butter‑nougat guts all over the asphalt.
I remorsefully wiped up a piece of peanut that it had left on my leg in a last ditch attempt to cling to me. Suddenly, I didn’t want to go on. I didn’t care if I ever reached Isla Vista. I didn’t even want to find a 7‑Eleven. No, a new Snickers would never be the same. But I had to go on, to forget this tragedy. It wouldn’t be easy. It never is. I resorted to drowning my sorrows in flat Coke.
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