An Epic Day with Dave Geissert. Martha's Vineyard 1987
On a Saturday in mid September of 1987 I drove in a sliver of dawn the 40 or so miles from my Dad’s house to the Ferry Launch for Martha’s Vineyard. The rain was driving hard across the windshield and the car was being buffeted around. The poor college student life I was living meant I wasn’t going to waste the entry fee and discounted ferry ticket. The boat ride from Woods Hole to Oaks Bluff was only 45 minutes so how hard could it be? As I wheeled my bike onto the ferry through the sideways rain I found a small herd of teammates and fellow cyclists. As we left the dock and hit the first waves I knew we were going to be in for one hell of a ride. After being below deck for about 5 minutes in the fluorescent light, overzealous heaters, and already green faces I made a bold move. Something I had learned in my younger days during the occasional open-sea fishing trip with my Uncle.
“I am going up on deck,” I said to my girlfriend Heather and friends. I was already wondering how the cold would affect my performance but a “sick” episode wouldn’t help much either. A few others including Corky Dean followed my lead but his girlfriend Tracey told me flat-out I was crazy. Our tiny group bundled up in our rain gear and sat all alone on the upper deck getting some shelter from the bridge. We were laughing it up and staying positive as we rocked, rolled, and counted the minutes until we landed. About halfway through our journey one of the crew popped up next to us in a bright blue Gordon’s Fisherman outfit.
“Well, you guys win the award for being the smartest on the boat.” He said.
“Yeah, We thought we would stand a better chance of not getting sick up here,” I responded.
“I don’t know why folks think they are safer down there either. Those windows blow out all the time.” He said with an impish amount of glee and then turned serious and followed up with,.. “Stay up here, it is pretty grim down there.”
After the crew member left we all looked at each other feeling more confident in our contrarian decision.
“I am going to go and check on Tracey.” Said Corky.
“Did he not hear what the crew member just said?” I thought but then remembered this was Tracy we are talking about. A good bike racer in her own right, she had once offered herself as a “Prime” because Corky was sandbagging at the back. He didn’t win the prime but he stayed at the front for the rest of the race.
“Nooooooooooo!” We all pleaded with him to stay, but away he went.
He didn’t return right away so we continued to count the minutes and slowly the dark shape of the Vineyard appeared out of the gloom.
Finally, Corky reappeared and all the color had drained out of his face. We asked if he and Tracy were ok.
“Well, I went downstairs and stood there for a second but then the smell hit me. I had to sprint out and threw up over the side. ” Said Corky
“Ewwwwwww,” We all said in unison.
“She is curled up in a chair after losing it a couple of times.” He said. “It is a horror show down there. Everyone, and I mean everyone has thrown up.”
Think of the “Stand by me” pie-eating contest when visualizing this, which funnily enough came out in March of that year.
I don’t really remember getting off the boat but the weather did not improve. At 11:00 am sharp 130 plus riders rolled out of town to start the 60-mile race around the island. It was miserable. The wind was buffeting us around and just a few miles in we took a turn into a comical crosswind. I was too far back on these narrow roads and knew it. I was instantly slammed into the gutter searching for a sliver of draft that didn’t exist. I popped out and vainly tried to recruit the riders around me to get into a race-saving echelon. No one took my invitation and it was about to get worse. I slid back to the gutter but was now 10 places further back. I hung on for grim death until the elastic snapped too far ahead of me to see. We all made a mad scramble to catch back on but ultimately watched in frustration as the field floated away down the road. After a few more soggy miles, my day was over. I do remember the relief of sitting up and noodling my way back to Oaks Bluff with someone who knew how to shortcut the course. Why did I get up this morning?
Meanwhile, the real race was happening further up the road. After a lap and a half of attacks and counterattacks a group of about 10 men had used the crosswind and their overwhelming horsepower to snap the aforementioned “Elastic”. Dave Geissert, Jeff Slack, Steve Pyle, Peter Metuzals, John Large, Burt Jones, Frank Jennings, Stuart Orr and a few others rode away and had their own battle in the horrible conditions. The strong group worked together in the ever-shifting wind and the field stalled in their pursuit. About 5 miles from the finish Dave and a few others overshot a slippery turn and found themselves on a bike path. There was a guardrail made out of telephone poles that prevented them from getting back on the road and the leaders were pulling away. After far too long a time, Dave spotted a gap in the rails and shot through it and back onto the road. One rider followed that split-second opportunity but the other two missed it. They wouldn’t be seen again. On the road now, Dave bore down on the lead group but he was starting to slow and the gap wasn’t closing anymore. Dave swung off the lead and expected the rider behind to attack and leave him for dead. Instead, the rider (possibly Jeff Slack) rolled by “steady and even” and closed the final few meters to the lead group. Dave was back in the race with
less than 4 miles to go.
With two miles to go Steve Pyle and Peter Metuzals (Ottawa) leaped out of the lead group in the crushing headwind. They dangled off the front of the chasing group at a distance daring someone to make the effort to get across to the duo. The headwind had other ideas and the gap remained the same as they entered the last kilometer. At 300 meters to go Dave rocketed out of the chase group, closed down the sizeable distance, and blasted past the two shocked leaders just before the line. The chase group followed them a couple seconds later with my teammate Burt Jones coming in 5th. I mention Burt because he was with us on the boat that morning and his memory of Dave was that he started his sprint to catch the leaders about a mile out. The horrible conditions stretched the distance of the effort it took to overhaul the leaders in Burt’s mind.
I have a vague memory of watching the finish but was so miserable that I did not really appreciate what I was witnessing. The boat ride back to Woods Hole was uneventful as the weather had improved slightly. I do remember getting back on board the “refreshed” ferry and feeling bad for the under appreciated cleaning crew
that had to deal with the morning’s
Last year a post popped up on Facebook about this Martha’s Vineyard Race and the one thing everyone remembered was “the crazy ferry ride.” Fortunately, there are some bragging rights and a good story on hand for anyone who made the journey that year.
I had the opportunity to ride with Dave a month ago when he was near us visiting his brother. Sam and I had a fantastic time and showed him one of our favorite rides. I used this golden moment to ask questions. That is when I learned of the detour along the bike path. Somewhere in the telling, I also asked him about the ferry ride.
“I was already on the island. We went over the night before.” He replied to my question.
“That was pretty smaht.” I thought to myself.
Then I asked my favorite question. "What was your best day on the bike?"
“It was this race. I remember it was a really tough day with the weather. It was definitely one of those few days on the bike when I was just flying, and really dialed into the race.”
I love that we have the photo above. I wish I had it when I was working on the drawing but I used older photos for reference. I may make the details perfect in an update but I like the feeling the drawing has now. To misquote my dad slightly, "Don't ever let the truth (or ugly helmet) get in the way of a good story.
For this series on our website, my intention and focus are the stories and moments where the camera wasn't present. The moments, places, people, and events that affect our history without grabbing the headline. The story behind the story in a way. Please "like" and share when you can. Prints of all the Art on our website can be printed on Paper, Canvas, or aluminum and sent directly to you. Some will be available as digital downloads for personal use also. Commissions are also quite welcomed and will most likely end up on the blog too. Thank You for Reading.