YT Mob Log: Entry #6.18
Lamp Shades & Life Lessons with John Hall
Words by John Hall | Photos by Isac Paddock
Column Sponsored by Fox
I’m back again for another Loam Wolf installment! Luckily there’s no shortage of things to talk about recently. It seems that I always get asked for funny stories from the road and things of the like. When put on the spot though I can’t seem to think of a single one. Then when those funny stories do happen, I either can’t remember them (only so much room in this head of mine) or they’re one of those “had to be there” type of funny stories. It’s like the punchline is lost in the time that has passed since the story.
More often than not I find that the stories of the people I meet along the way are far better, or interesting, than some story about some after party shenanigans. Like the Lyft driver who was on the 1971 U.S. National Boxing team, or randomly running into Jeremy McGrath in the Munich airport coming home from a World Cup, or the time I saw a U-Haul box van pulled over with an SUV hanging halfway out the back right before I drove our Peterbilt through a flash flood on my way back from the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup this year. Crazy how all those blend together and form awesome memories from this incredible opportunity I get to call my “job.” But you guys didn’t come here to hear those stories, so let me tell you about one of my favorites we like to laugh about now. It’s not the craziest or wildest thing that’s ever happened at a World Cup, nor is it like the stories of yesteryear with all the greats like Peaty, Rennie and Palmer. Those stories are either better left untold or in the company of sealed lips.
Something about Andorra that brings out the wild side in Ben, Neko’s mechanic. This particular year he decided after a night out that my suitcase was “too organized” and proceeded to hold it above his head, upside down and open. Emptying every bit of the contents onto our hotel room floor. I actually thought it was just as funny and we both decided to play soccer with my otherwise full bag of clean clothes that now covered our entire floor. Followed by what we now refer to as “lamp gate.” It’s not what you think, but it’s exactly what you think at the same time. I’d like to keep the details vague and the story short but let’s be honest, I couldn’t do that if I tried. Let’s just say something about our hotel lampshade didn’t sit right with Ben, so he gently placed it inside my now empty suitcase. By gently I mean he smashed the lampshade with the lid so hard he completely destroyed it. Fast forward to the next morning, we woke up to see the masterpiece we created, and wondered what in the world happened last night. I saw all my clothes on the ground so I opened my suitcase to investigate the crime scene and boom, there was the evidence. it all came back at once.
We had a pretty good laugh at the whole thing, but then reality set in for us when we realized we now had to deal with the consequences of our actions from the night before. I merely had to repack my bag. Ben on the other hand now had to figure out how to navigate this lamp shade incident without A) The team owner getting a random bill for damaged property and B) Not getting in trouble with the hotel for destroying said property and paying for damages. After a brainstorm session we had a brilliant plan. Brock, our videographer and man responsible for our team video gold, was going to help Ben out. Since Brock’s room wasn’t booked under the team reservation and under his own name, we could swap the lamp shade from his room with ours so he would get billed for the damage, not the team owner. That way Ben could pay the bill. So Ben decided to 007 it and hide the busted lamp shade under his shirt, sneak it to Brock’s room and pull the ol’ switcharoo. He forgot that he couldn’t hide the undamaged lamp shade on his way back.
Thinking Ben avoided detection, we get stopped by the manager on our way out of the hotel to go pack the pits up and he asks us where our lamp shade has gone. No idea how he found out… probably security footage of Ben sneaking around the halls with the evidence, or possibly the maids noticed while we were out for a bit. Either way, we were sure to play innocent, dumb and just gave him a questioning look of “Not sure what you’re talking about.” This all eventually weighed far too heavy on Ben’s conscience and he eventually had to come clean. The hotel manager shouted “I knew it!” when Ben came clean, which gave us all a laugh. They were super cool about the whole deal and didn’t make Ben pay for anything in the end. Even better, Ben’s conscience was clean leaving Andorra. The same hotel manager still works in there and likes to remind Ben not to destroy anything every year when we check in. It still makes us laugh. It’s a classic morality story. If you just tell the truth from the beginning, you’re always going to be better off. That my friends, is the story of Lamp Gate.
On top of countless funny stories come unique experiences. This year I’ve had a particularly unique one for me personally since Aaron injured his thumb in Fort William. He fought on through Leogang and came away with a 2nd place keeping him in the hunt for the championship. We went home for a couple weeks which gave him a little healing time before the notoriously rough Val Di Sole track. When he got on track things didn’t feel super great at first, much like Leogang, but he knew his thumb just had to get warmed up. Just when things were coming together and looking up, the worst thing that could happen in that moment happened.
He had a small crash in practice landing directly on his injured thumb. When it rains it pours right? We thought for sure he would race after he decided to just break the beam in qualifying and use his protected status to ride in the final hoping for a miracle overnight. The thumb still didn’t feel great on race day, but he pushed through anyway for a 30th something result. Not what he races for or was happy with. After that, he decided to fly home and heal his thumb the way it needed to heal, leaving me without a rider for the first time in my World Cup career as a mechanic. I’ve seen this happen to other rider/mechanic duos, including my own teammates Ben and Neko the year prior, but it’s one of those things that you don’t fully understand until it happens to you.
In Andorra it wasn’t too bad. I still had work to do and could lend a hand where needed in the pits. I even got to walk down the track during practice and help Neko and Angel out with any questions they had on how the track was shaping up. At U.S. National Champs Aaron was still out. It started to hit me a little bit there but Neko stepped up and absolutely killed it, coming home with the national title and keeping that red, white and blue sleeve on the team. It was a pretty relaxed atmosphere there and that helped as well, not too much pressure for me. Plus we had just picked up our Peterbilt that had a new interior installed to include a garage and lounge for the staff and riders. Finishing off little details on that kept me busy enough to keep my mind off not having a rider.
At the U.S. Open it was much of the same but I was starting to get restless without a rider to help and found myself doing busy work again, but managed to get out for a few laps in the bike park to help keep my mind busy. But it was at Monte Sainte Anne where I really started to struggle— if you could call it that. I wasn’t having an emotional break down or anything, but I really started to notice that all the detail and time I spend making Aaron’s bike perfect and helping him find his setup was being diverted elsewhere. The other mechanics can hold their own at races and don’t really need an extra hand unless you know what hits the fan. So I started diverting that attention to other areas of the pit and began to realize I was getting in people’s way more than I was being an asset.
If you know our Road Manager Paul, you know how he is when it comes to taking care of the riders and staff on our team. He is meticulous on how he has his kitchen setup, food organized and his routines that he follows robotically. At one point, I was telling him what he should and should not put in the refrigerator. THAT’S how I was staying busy and spending my time. Me telling Paul how to organize the fridge is the equivalent of him telling me how to set Aaron’s bike up.
I was going crazy without even knowing it. I was following the guys around picking up and organizing their shoes and gear and throwing away any little piece of trash I could find. Straightening every table, replacing every chair that had been moved out of its origin. I finally realized that I was better off staying OUT of the pit and spent a lot of time chatting with other mechanics and hanging out with the FOX Racing Shox guys. Probably bothering them by the end of the weekend too haha. This whole experience of not having a rider at World Cups has been a unique one, but an eye opening one on the same hand. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to just stand out of the way and let the guys you trust do what they do best and that even though I get crap sometimes for my attention to detail, when applied to keeping that bike running, it’s what makes me the best at what I do and I can’t wait to start spinning those wrenches again soon.