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Down and Dirty

From issue 64 • Words and images by Jered Gruber

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“You’re a filthy cheat,” cried LT, all tall and skinny, the perfect bike racer with eyebrows pulled down over his eyes in fury, heaving from a storming effort that saw him lay waste to a glittering assembly of talent at the First-Ever, Second-Annual Dirt Road World Championships Of The World. LT wanted the day’s top prize very much. He wanted the pink unicorn, and he wanted the riches and spoils and everlasting glory that go with victory at the FESADRWCOTW.
His ride was memorable—but it was second place that stole the show. It was Hitman, back from the dead after suffering what should have been a race-ending mechanical in the final 30 minutes of racing. The last anyone had seen of him, he was on the side of the road, chain in hands, all hope lost. Next time he was seen, he nearly caught LT in the final stretch.

The First Ever Third Annual Dirt World Championships Of The World will be held Sunday, February 4, 2018 at 10:00 AM. Leaves from the Hub at Five Points in Athens, GA. Route and details soon on

Hitman, the rider in question, is a diminutive, dark, sneaky little bastard. And he was dirty—far dirtier than any of the other survivors. Everyone looked a day older than 94 at the end of the day’s punishing tango with insanity; but Hitman, well, he looked like he had been rasslin’ a cougar in a mud pit and come out the worse for it. He was a sorry sight.

LT continued, veins bulging in his forehead: “There’s no one who could follow me today. You motor-paced behind that truck!”

It was Hitman’s turn to redden with fury: “I did no such thing. That white truck was in my way. That damn woman wouldn’t let me get past, and as it’s a beautiful new Ram 2500, I couldn’t get ’round it either. I yelled and cursed and threw my bottles at her, but she wouldn’t move. If she had pulled over, I would have caught you miles ago.”

This was too much for LT He turned on his heels, stormed off to the ditch, sat down with a cookie cake and banana and thought about his next move. Hitman took his dog for a walk, which curiously hopped out of the white truck, along with his lady friend.

Let’s go back to the beginning. I have a habit of getting ahead of myself and sidetracked, and sometimes both at the same time, so you’re going to have to bear with me. To be clear though, this is a true story…insofar as I can remember.

I’m Humble, Humble Chronicler, Jr. If you’re from Athens, Georgia, you’ve surely heard about my father, Humble Chronicler, Sr., the greatest barrister of the Classic City. The old man is as longwinded as a band of kindergarteners freshly supplied with sugar and harmonicas. I reckon he’d prefer to tell this story himself, but he’s probably telling another tall tale to some other poor soul down the way a bit, so I’ll take over for the moment. I figure he’ll be back before long.

This is a story about a silly event put on by a couple of bike riders from around these parts. You’ve already heard about one of them: Hitman. It was him and Gutcheck, another reprobate with more than a hint of sadism in his heart. That is to say, this story is a complete waste of your time. I’m sure you have plenty of things to do—beer to drink, Skittles to chew and, don’t forget, those YouTube videos don’t watch themselves. If you’ve exhausted all other pastimes and there really is nothing else to do, then you might as well take a seat, grab a bottle of the hardest liquor you have and tip it back. You’ll need it.

See, these two, Hitman and Gutcheck, think they “discovered” the dirt roads with all the Good Old Days yackin’ they do (like the old man) about how they feel like they grew up on dirt roads, and how they mean something special to them. Like they’re a classroom or something.

Right, and I shoot deer, drink beer, and formally became acquainted with the opposite sex way down on one of those dead-end dirt roads about 8-and-a-half miles from where I’m sitting right now. They make songs about these things. Discovered themselves on dirt. Well, welcome to the club, boys.

I’m getting sidetracked again.

So, these two guys, they have this brilliant idea for a dirt road race…never mind, that’s wrong, I’m getting the story all wrong…let’s go back to the very beginning.

Way back in February 2008, Gutcheck and Hillbilly put together the first running of this race. They called it the Dirt Road World Championships Of The World. See, by their reasoning, they figured the world had enough World Championships and, Lord knows, it still does—even more now than ever before. By their figuring the world did, however, suffer from a lack of World Championships Of The World, and while it sounds about as dumb as me summarizing Shakespeare, I have to admit, they’re right. I can’t find anything else like it.

Hitman stole the show that day nine years ago. It was his first big result and, by all accounts, it launched his career. Gutcheck floundered that day and never seemed to recover from the disappointment. He wandered off to another job soon after. Hillbilly vacated the premises entirely and went back to West By God Virginia (where he belongs). It was truly a day of mixed fortunes, as they say.

They called it DRWCOTW for short, and it didn’t take long for those ne’er-do-wells to adorn that day with all kinds of adornments and ornaments and turn it into this once-in-a-lifetime thing—it’s not like they won the State Football Championships or something. They talked and talked about it, as these types do, until talk finally turned to action—which was about the time Gutcheck started drinking again.

Hopefuls, planning to steal the crown from Hitman’s head, arrived from all over. Some were blessed with hope and joy in their hearts. Others had long since given up on smiles and strode to the starting line with hearts four sizes too small for their barrel chests. Theirs were black hearts full of deceit. None darker and more calculating than Rainman, a North Carolinian with a penchant for dirt roads, card games and unicorns.

The event grew so famous, a talent identification scout from Santa Monica, California, brought his tools for identifying future modeling prospects along with a bike that wouldn’t fit 32mm tires, so he fit his bike to the 32s with a file. This man, Frisky Dingo, brought his metropolitan sensibility to a wild and lawless backcountry. Frisky Dingo needed talent. His bosses were displeased with his idea of late. He needed a strapping young man, 6 feet tall, 40 regular, and with a positive mental attitude—or else.

In strode J.W.A., fresh from the tanning salon and a wax—exactly what the Frisky Dingo was after. His eyes glistened with tears of joy; this would be his man, this would be the man to take him back to the top. His eyes lingered a moment too long on J.W.A., who noticed him noticing him. There was an uncomfortable shifting of eyes, J.W.A. smiled to himself—another admirer come to see his diabolical training plan put to work: 10 weeks of suffering on the bike followed by exactly 20 days of nothing but Xbox, selfies, tanning and energy drinks. He was born for this.

Frisky Dingo, still flustered by the fleeting connection with J.W.A. and the distinct possibility of a million-dollar raise, stumbled off and nearly ran into a redwood of a man: Paul, who has no last name. Paul, a full 4 inches taller, broader, beardier and manlier than J.W.A., threw shade all over that poor man who only moments before might have taken over the world.

Frisky Dingo did not know what to do. He was torn and nearly unconscious from the tidal wave of possibilities. J.W.A. was the perfect man for the classic description of the job, but onename Paul was the future. This was a man, with chest hair.

I’m getting sidetracked again. The race. The race was divided into two parts: Race 1 was 60K, and Race 2, also about 60K. There was 10 points to the winner, on down to 1 point to 10th. Most points wins. Second race would be one of intrigue though: it would be handicapped, and all those sandbaggers would get their chance on the diamond-strewn dirt south of Athens.

Hours before the race set off under gloomy skies, Hitman eyed himself long and hard in the mirror. He hit “play” on his old RCA boom box, the cassette whirred, and “Eye Of The Tiger” blasted his right ear as it did every morning. His lady friend walked in, scowling at him.

“You’re gonna win today, Hitman. You’re gonna win that doggone pink unicorn for me, because I love horses, especially ones with horns in their forehead. You’re gonna win, or you’re not comin’ home tonight.”

Hitman stared deep into his dark eyes, briefly admiring their almond shape and infinite depth; he got lost in them and drifted off to a pleasant place. He was riding with friends on the dirt they’d race today. They were full of BBQ from Woodville, and they were fuller still with happiness. These roads are special, he thought. I’m so happy to have the chance to spend some time on them today with my friends.

He came to when his lady friend hit him hard in his thigh. “You’re gonna win today, and you’re gonna take each and every one of those weaklings down. They’re not your friends.

They want my pink unicorn. You want me to have my pink unicorn, don’t you, baby?”

Hitman snapped to attention, eyes narrowed, anything for his lady friend. Anything.

The race set off with 37 souls in varying states of disrepair, not to mention the bikes they rode that day. The pace was even and peaceful until it wasn’t, and then it became a bareknuckled fistfight to the very end.

Hitman sidled his way up to the front moments before the turn on to the first bit of dirt—he looked like he was just going to lead on to the dirt, just because that’s what all those know-itall types always say to do in these types of races. He did that, sure, but he also grabbed the angry gnome by the nose and gave it a good twist. The road name is Suddeth, which looks a lot like Sudden Death. And so it was for many in the race. When the race exited the first dirt road, a group of eight had formed at the front, mostly under the shear force of Hitman’s brawling with his inner demons across the white dusty road.

Paul would have made this group with little effort if it weren’t for the three girls that swooned and fell unconscious into the road. Ever the gentleman, Paul picked the three up, walked them back to their nearby farm, introduced himself to their mom, gave her a peck on the cheek, wished her well in raising some fine youngsters, then milked the cows, gave the fence a quick whitewashing, trimmed his beard, and penned a fine poem.

Frisky Dingo nearly fell off his bike as he witnessed this scene. Paul was indeed the real thing. The only thing. J.W.A. became the first to weep on this soul-trying Sunday in February 2017.

It was on the next section of dirt that two new characters made themselves known: LT and Candy Andy—or Scaranaconda for short. LT and Scaranaconda look the part: long, lean, beautiful figures on bikes. Some would say they ooze class, which sounds like utter nonsense to me, but that’s the accepted cliché, and since I’m strapped for words and creativity….

LT and Scaranaconda shot out of the leading group and immediately stole a gap from the anxious grasp of the soon-to-be also-rans. Their heads went down, elbows poked out, tongues lapped at their stems. There was no looking around, no talking, just sparks on tinder—then flames, lots and lots of flames.

Their gap widened and yawned and looked to be growing to insurmountable levels when the race turned onto Gholston Church Road. It’s a matter of some debate as to whether this road is private or not, but the fine folks grilling up an entire pig off to the left didn’t seem to mind the passing of the race in the slightest.

It was in this spot, on a long, particularly rotten downhill section, that Gutcheck offered to take the lead in the chasing group to show his break mates the way down with as little worry as possible: “We’ll take it easy for a couple seconds then get back at it.”

No one heard any of his words. Hitman struck hard as soon as Gutcheck opened his mouth and torpedoed his way down the raucous downhill section, seemingly oblivious to the crevasses, pits and bones he was careening over. Teeth rattled, vertebrae shifted, many caught a bad case of arthritis, but Hitman didn’t look back.

Not to be outdone, Big Tom (because he’s big and his name is Tom) took over from Hitman and offered up a counterpoint to Hitman’s argument and nearly pulled Hitman’s legs right off of his pelvis. That is to say, Hitman put his head down, redoubled his efforts and dropped Big Tom, J.W.A. and Heimlich.

Gutcheck and Cuba barely held on under the weight of Hitman’s harsh treatment, which miraculously doubled again when the race was flipped upside down moments later. LT had made a wrong turn. Scaranaconda had called a left, but LT insisted on going straight. The two bickered bitterly, while the three chasers galloped down the road.

Incidentally, Hitman is half-assassin on his dad’s side, and half-shark on his mom’s side. In this moment, he smelled blood, and when Hitman smells blood he becomes all shark. And so it was. Cuba and Gutcheck nodded quietly to each other, reached out and each grabbed a jersey pocket, while the shark ravaged the pavement—completely unaware that he had been harnessed.

In this moment of peace, Gutcheck looked over at Cuba’s beautiful tan and wondered if there was any hope for him in the future. Cuba saw him admiring his tan: “I don’t even go outside during the week. I’m just naturally this good looking.” Gutcheck was saddened knowing how hard he tried to turn his cottonwhite skin to at least some sort of cream color—with no luck.

Gutcheck got the last laugh though. The shark realized what was happening, sat up, snarled and snapped his jaws and, while avoiding certain death, Gutcheck got a gap. He sensed freedom and ran with it. The finish line drew closer, and the win appeared to be his…until the shark rejoined him. Fortunately for Gutcheck, it was Hitman again though—the Shark had been shelved. He smiled, gave Gutcheck a highfive, and the win went to…Gutcheck.

This was all part of Hitman’s master plan. He got second in the first race, and he’d certainly win the second, because Gutcheck didn’t stand a chance when Hitman shoved kindness into that tiny black closet in the dark recesses of his mind. Behind, Cuba took third, with Big Tom in fourth, LT in fifth and Scaranaconda in sixth.

It took roughly two hours for the field to regroup at the store stop in Crawford. Rainman had been extremely quiet in the first race, which was always his plan. He was putting everything on the second race. He was piss-poor at arithmetic and didn’t know the first thing about addition, so he mistakenly thought that a win in the second race would mean overall victory.

He was counting on a big handicap to get him most of the way home, as well as some store-stop gamesmanship. He introduced his friends to pickled pigs feet.

He cornered Cuba and J.W.A. (still reeling from his apparent loss of sex godliness to Paul) and told them: “This will make you unstoppable. Pickled pigs feet have been proven to increase performance 23 percent in a double-blind max test among chimpanzees. It’s not illegal!”

The two looked at each other then eagerly reached out and took three apiece. They dropped three into their gaping jaws in quick succession, and three seconds later knew that they had been had. Violent cramps ripped through their bodies, while Rainman cackled.

Two down. Many more to go….

The second race kicked off with the third group heading out with a 10-minute lead. Rainman and the Humble Chronicler tried to sneak out with this group, but they were quickly caught and pulled back to the store. They left with a wickedly strong second group a few minutes later, while the final group stood idly for another seven minutes.

Both Cuba and J.W.A. were left in moaning pain on a discarded, stained, wet sofa on the side of the road, while Frisky Dingo took a small band of riders out for pizza to celebrate the day’s success. He didn’t need to spend any more time out on the road—he had the spoils he had come in search of—and pizza was next on his to-do list, followed by yoga and a night at the movies.

Hitman was back at it again in the second race. He took every chance to attack in any uncomfortable moment: downhill, side-hill, uphill, creek crossing, through turns. Any chance to create some kind of separation through technical ability, he jumped at it and, in turn, gave his companions a never-ending series of jabs to the kidneys. This time around they were all a match for his tenacity though—but the effort was wearing.

As they reached the southernmost point of the race, Gutcheck looked over at Big Tom: “I’m feeling kind of tired, you?” Big Tom shook his head wearily: “I’m dead spent.” “Well, don’t look now, but we have a 12-mile section of dirt coming up.” Big Tom wept.

Then Hitman saw a creek crossing and attacked again. Big Tom swore he was going to tear Hitman’s tires off with his teeth if he ever got back up alongside him again.

Just up ahead, Rainman licked his lips in anticipation. The groups were about to merge, and his time was near at hand.

I’d like to point out in this moment, that this is Kenny Rogers country—the man who was voted Favorite Singer Of All Time by a joint poll of readers of USA Today and People Magazine in 1986 has an estate in these parts. Those poor bastards raced by it and didn’t even look up. In the shadow of greatness, they were.

The great Kenny Rogers is best known for a song called “The Gambler.” This is a song Rainman knew better than well. The entire song is tattooed on his back, backwards. He reads it aloud to himself each morning in the mirror while admiring his deltoids.

Rainman is a gambler. He’s no longer blessed with the unmatchable hands of youth, so he relies on half a century of cruelty to serve as his moral compass. He saw the win in Hitman’s hands. He knew it was his. Hitman’s hand was aglitter with royalty—all of the same suit, all of the same color. There was no beating his hand.

“Hitman, that’s a fine hand you have there. There’s a better hand though.”

Hitman laughed at him: “A better hand than a royal flush?”

Rainman scoffed back and glowered at him the way only a veteran of many tours of duty can.

“Of course, there is. It’s the glitter bomb.”

“The glitter bomb?”

The Hitman is no slouch at the table. He’s wily and suave, and his dark good looks have sent many a fine dame home with flushed cheeks.

The Hitman wanted this win though, and he’d do anything for it. Anything. He would have eaten those pickled pigs feet had Rainman thought to ask him. Rainman’s conviction was unsettling…and he began to question himself a little more with each pedal stroke.

Rainman recommended he throw back that Ace and King in hopes of pulling out the Glitter Bomb. It made no sense—not even slightly—but Hitman was blinded by the need for victory. His lady friend had demanded the victory, and he thought a pink unicorn would be a fine stable mate with their other dozen horses. He’d buy her another dozen with his winnings.

So he threw caution to the wind, grabbed the bull by the horns, kicked it in the balls and let loose a yell like they haven’t heard around these parts in a century and a half. He streaked down the rotten descent at near 100 kilometers per hour, tearing a swath out of the road that will likely take three days to fix. Blood oozed from his nose, spittle streaked across his cheek, muscles rippled and tore with the effort, his lungs protruded through his ribs.

And then he came up empty. His bike did him wrong. The chain flew off, wrapped itself in an uncertain manner, and bent. The Hitman realized all too late what he had done. Rainman had tricked him, and the black-hearted Gambler chuckled with pleasure as he took Hitman’s soul as his trophy. Hitman pulled over, broken.

Scaranaconda, LT, and Big Tom didn’t smell blood—they saw it spilt all over the road. Hitman’s error had taken Gutcheck with him, and six became four. Fireworks erupted and Rainman knew his time was nigh. He rubbed his hands together in evil-genius glee and began dreaming about which room he’d keep the pink unicorn in and what kind of silk suits he’d buy with his winnings.

But Lady Luck wasn’t done just yet. She had dealt the Hitman a cruel blow, but the Gambler had broken the most sacred vow of all, and Lady Luck couldn’t stand to see the prized commandment broken in such a way: “You never count your money, when you’re sittin’ at the table / There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”

Scaranaconda and LT ripped onward, while Big Tom suffered a massive power outage in his lower half. Rainman, meanwhile, had gotten distracted by dollar signs and a pink unicorn for 10 seconds too long and took a wrong turn. Minutes later, he realized what had happened, and he became the 17th person to weep that fateful Sunday.

At the head of the race, Scaranaconda knew that LT had his number. All of them. This wasn’t Scaranaconda’s first rodeo, though, and his wily, wiry, broccoli-headed self knew better than to show weakness. Instead, he began whispering in LT’s ear: “You look amazing today, LT. You’re so skinny! How much weight have you lost this winter? It’s truly impressive to watch your legs turn over. Your muscles ripple. They really do. I could watch them all day long. You don’t mind if I admire your winter’s work for a little while longer, do you?”

See, Scaranaconda knew an important law of self-obsessed bike racers: flattery is as important an implement as the lever. Give it a proper place of rest and it can move the world—certainly a bike rider.

LT was all too willing to show off his guns for an admiring crowd. He spun them ’round faster and faster. It was all the Scaranaconda could do just to stay on his wheel, but he kept whispering at him between soul-searching gasps. A smile began to creep on to his face: this might work!

Then the sound: psssssssssssst.

His rim hit the ground: thud, thud, thud. A flat tire. The 18th person to weep on Sunday.

LT saw his opponent’s misfortune, snapped out of his peacocking reverie and swept onward.

Scaranaconda was out. Until the Ride For Recovery follow car rolled up and a fresh bike—three sizes too big—was offered to the rider. It was too little, too late though.

And so they finished. While LT and Hitman threatened violence on each other and the rest of the survivors contemplated a new pastime, the bag of cash and the pink unicorn were left off in the distance, unattended and very much alone.

He didn’t have the legs or the digestive tract to win the race, but he did have the cunning of an ornithologist and the uncanny ability of a pink unicorn whisperer. By the time anyone knew what had happened, J.W.A. had leapt in his car and was ripping down 316, $100 bills wafting out of the windows, glitter twinkling off the unicorn’s horn. LT gasped in horror, Hitman wailed a mournful wail. He remounted his bike and wearily began following the trail of $100 bills—he couldn’t go home without the pink unicorn. He couldn’t.

From issue 64. Buy it here.