This week’s interview is with Chuck Hutch, who rides with Battley Harley. You may know him from the races, you may know his blog which offers brashness, humility, and interesting stories about races in more or less equal doses, or you may have been tortured by him and some of his buddies on the lunchtime ride at Hains Point. I asked Chuck to do this interview because he’s a top level workingman racer with an interesting story to tell.
You’re Chuck Hutch! Give me your full name, rank, and serial number soldier!
I’m Charles Hutcheson, I am a Specialist in the US Army’s Caisson Platoon [Ed. of the Old Guard, the Army’s famous ceremonial unit you may have seen working around D.C., at Arlington National Cemetery or the White House]. I used to ride horses for the Old Guard, but since one of my spurs broke both sides of my ankle bones off in an equestrian accident, I have been working in an office. With a 4 inch plate, 4 pins and 6 screws I am all healed up, so I am sure that I could go back to riding (horses), but the office job allows me more cycling time. I have a 14 year old step-son, a 13 year old daughter (who lives in California and two boys’ ages 3 and 2. I was born in Seattle, WA. and grew up in Sacramento, CA. I have 3 years of college, and just finished finals week at NOVA with a full load of 4 classes. I plan on using my GI bill when I get out of the Army and working on getting a degree in history and a teaching credential.
What’s the earliest bike ride you remember taking?
On my 5th birthday in 1977 my parents got me a Stingray, and I learned to ride it in the parking lot of my Kindergarten/Elementary school. Soon, my friends and I were going on these super long bike rides and getting totally lost. I remember riding home, too scared to call my parents because I didn’t want them to know how far I was, and smelling peoples’ barbecue grills and being tempted to ask them if I could have some. We would always eventually find our way home, but there would always be some crazy whacked out experiences on the way that I would never want my kids to go through.
Schwinn Stingray: The Cradle of Bike Racing Champions
What is the best part of riding a bike – the best experience you count on having regularly?
My favorite part of bike riding is going to a new area, getting a map and exploring for a few days – especially if it is hilly and has tons of trees and water and nature and stuff.
What disciplines do you ride (e.g. road, track, cross, MTB, touring, part time pedicab driver for Nats games)?
I am a Cat 1 cyclocross rider, but I think everyone is. [Ed. Um, yeah, right. Everyone is… hope you're being facetious there.] I’ve dabbled some on a Mountain Bike, but the bug there has never caught. The closest thing to track I have done is riding a fixed gear as a messenger on and off for about 12 years – mostly in Sacramento and some in San Francisco.
What are your top 5 palmares?
I seem to get 2nd at everything. Second Overall MABRA BAR, second MABRA Championship Crit, second Virginia State Championship Crit, second Virginia State Road Race, second Virginia State Omnium, and the seconds go on and on. Don’t get me wrong, I have won plenty of races in my life, just not last year – the first year I have raced since 2000. I only won 1 race last year (not counting masters races). My top 5 palmares are probably winning Visalia, Winning the Sprint Jersey at Bisbee, Winning the Sprint Jersey at McLane Pacific Crit (NRC), Winning the GC at the Redding Classic Stage Race, and a handful of top 10’s at NRC events (but never podiums).
What was your best, most glorious, or personally amazing moment on a bicycle?
For goofy reasons, that I will blog about some day, I was kicked off (and then eventually brought back) to a team I rode for in the mid 90’s. Two days after I was kicked off, the team had it’s race, which was a pretty big deal with a big prize list. I was the fittest I have ever been, and I was pissed. During the crit, the team manager would walk out on the back side of the course yelling directions and time splits to my former teammates. Every time I saw him I would swing out of the pack right at him and make him scurry off the course. That never ceased to amuse me. Eventually I ended up in a break and won the race in a three up sprint in front off all the team management, sponsors, and crowds of cheering people. It was wonderful.
I’ve always heard that revenge is a dish that is best served cold. Apparently, like pizza, it tastes okay hot, too.
So what is the absolute worst, most dejected, defeated, and awful you’ve ever felt on a bicycle?
You know, this is a super hard sport. Only one guy can win and more often than not it is easy to feel defeated. You have to savor every single glimmer of good that happens and keep on driving forward. The absolute worse I have ever felt in this sport was when Ryan Raymond Smith, an old team mate of mine was stabbed to death. That kind of sealed the deal on me quitting racing about 8 years ago, all though it was pretty much over for me by then anyway. Since I have returned, it has been a lot of fun and I have had very few disappointments – mostly because I don’t take myself as seriously as I used to. If I had to pick a time that absolutely sucked recently it would be how we screwed up the team time trial at Ephrata, or crashing on the last lap in 8th spot at the NRC race in Wilmington this year. [Ed. A couple Harley riders were out riding warmup and missed the team's start time. Whoops.]
What is your basic outlook when you race – angry, nervous, happy-go-lucky?
I have had bunches of nicknames like Smiley and the Joker because I am always grinning. Racing and training is fun, and I really, really enjoy it. We train to suffer and handle these fast machines while our bodies are completely uncomfortable negotiating into dangerous spaces, wearing spandex, at the risk of serous bodily injury or death. How much fun is that! I am never really nervous, I am glad to be there racing my bike. There are different levels of suffering, like ‘I’m uncomfortable’ or ‘I’m hurting’ then ‘I’m suffering’ and ‘God I hope I don’t crack’. Hopefully whatever level I’m at the guys around me are at least one level worse. When I am training, I try to stay in these levels of pain and I appreciate it if other riders can push me there so that in races I am used to it. Maybe sometimes my smile is a grimace.
What was your sporting background prior to bike racing?
I used to skateboard. Everywhere I went I brought that thing – it was ridiculous. One time the neighbor wrote me a note asking if I wanted to do some work for her and it started ‘Boy with the Skateboard’. That’s how I got to school, got home and went everywhere. Every day in the summer I would hang out at a shop called High Roller and ride the two quarter pipes they had behind the building. They say that once you know how to ride a skateboard your body never forgets, but one near hip replacement later I have decided that’s not true.
How did you wind up riding for Battley Harley?
I broke my ankle bones two years ago, and when I realized how severe the atrophy in my leg was getting, I bought a triple ring touring bike off E-bay. I saw the Hains Point ride on the DC Velo site and decided to start doing it because it was close to Ft Myer where I work. It was fall of 2007 and I hadn’t raced since 2000 – (and I basically had one leg), so I was getting a whipping out there every day for a few months. After a few months of this, I finally got competitive with those guys. One day after taking a good pull, I dropped back and Eli Hengst waived me forward. I thought he was trying to get me to pull ahead of him, and I was pretty cooked, so I yelled “No, I’m cool”. He responded “No, I want to talk to you”. Next thing you know, I find out Dave Fuentes who I used to race with is on the team, he vouches for me, and I get a racing license (luckily still a cat 1) then BOOM Battley Harley 2008. What a great break I got my first year back! How lucky am I?
Care to mention any other teams, special riders, coaches, or riders who have meant a lot to you?
I have to first mention Art Brown, he is one of the only guys I call and meet up with on rides that are not set group rides, plus he was the only guy that would talk to me when I looked like a Cat 5 with my triple chain touring bike and my primal jersey. Here in MABRA we are lucky to have a bunch of old dudes who are hella fast too like Don Saroff, Chris Reagan [former Coppis who moved to elite teams - congrats guys], Phill Hepburn and Mark (the Ferret) Somers. I always appreciate whenever I see one of these older guys on a ride and (at least in the case of Mark and Phil) it lets me know I have at least another 40 years of quality riding left in me. (Just kidding). (Not really). What is funny is that all my friends in the DC area are not the people I work with, but are my teammates who I have become pretty close too - and will miss when the Army passes me along.
What is your “stretch” goal as a cyclist, and do you care to share any short term goals?
In the long run, I would love to win a Masters Nationals event. This year, I want to compete in Military Worlds, but unfortunately seem to be hitting brick walls trying to find information on how to get on the US team and getting the paper work done. Other than that, I want to place higher on the NRC rankings this year than last, and I would like to win a MABRA jersey or Virginia State jersey.
What is your favorite ride in the area, and why?
Although the drive there sucks, I like to ride up Skyline. It reminds me of home back in California, and there is really nothing like it around here. My next favorite ride is an 80 miler from Dave Fuentes old roommate’s house and it includes Mount Weather – that ride just plain beats you into shape. I like the competition in doing both the 7 and 10 am Saturday rides, and I do the Hains Point lunch ride because it is convenient and a great way to get some easy speed work in the 90 minutes the Army gives me for lunch.
How does Battley Harley consistently achieve success?
I have ridden for some pretty good teams, but riding with Battley Harley has been one of the best experiences of my life. When I first got picked up, I had no ideal that I was entering a sort of athletic fraternity of guys who actually care that each other does well. We build off of our teammates’ successes. After every race, we call each other like yapping old ladies and talk about key points of races, what we did and didn’t do correctly and offer constructive criticism. It truly is ‘all for one and one for all’. We have had some huge, un-PRO blunders, but we have also had some pretty cool achievements like winning an NRC event and being the top ranked amateur team in the NRC standings. When I am done with this, I am glad I will be able to look back on this team and say ‘yeah, I was part of that.’
It's interesting that you focus on the team aspect of roadracing, and not on Harley's recruitment of very strong riders or how hard you guys work in training - two features we outsiders would notice before we thought about team dynamics.
Do you ever ride with the Potomac Pedalers, or do fixed gear bar crawls, or other stuff that might be considered a little uncharacteristic for a top amateur racer?
No, never heard of the Potomac Pedalers, but they sound cool. As a courier I bar hopped plenty on my fixie, hell, I almost got a DUI on my lowrider stingray.
What’s your favorite bike?
One that works and doesn’t make clicky sounds or squeaks when I pedal. I also prefer aluminum over carbon.
Any sponsors you feel particularly grateful toward?
Battley Harley riders are lucky to have Tom Buzas behind the scene. He gets us into all the Pro races, and continues to finance us as much as he can despite the financial hard times the country faces. I am also grateful to Eli Hengst for his contributions, which include the use of his restaurant for team meetings and the occasional free meal, which is always wonderful.
The Old Guard is an extremely special unit in the Army, and it is highly selective, and you have to apply and be accepted to it. How did you wind up in the Old Guard? And why?
I ended up in the Old Guard the same way most people end up places in the Army. After assessing ASVAB scores and making sure you are the right height and physically capable, during basic training, they pull you out and show you this video. It’s really loud, and shows Soldiers doing all kinds of high speed stuff and when it’s finished, your all pumped up. You get this ‘I am special’ feeling and then volunteer. After Airborne school and Javelin school (Javelin = US crew-served man-portable anti-tank missile), I was assigned here and have been here ever since. Initially I was in Alpha Company (Commander in Chief’s Guard) at Ft McNair, but in early 2006 I volunteered for the Caisson Platoon and was transferred to Ft Myer. I have been there ever since.
Describe the duties of the Caisson Platoon, and what it means to you personally to be a caretaker of the remains of our veterans and war dead?
Caisson is a Specialty Platoon in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd US Infantry Regiment. Six horses (three of which are ‘ponied’) are ridden by three riders pulling a caisson (an old French artillery wagon) carrying the coffin of a fallen servicemember into Arlington National Cemetery. It is very serious, and at every funeral all soldiers maintain absolute respect and ceremonial composure. This is the last event for another human being who has sacrificed for their country, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice, and it may be the last time the family will interact with the Army, so every movement of the horses and the soldiers is as precise and dignified as possible. Every wool pleat is pressed, every horse is thoroughly washed and brushed and every piece of brass and button is shined. There are months of training before you go into the cemetery, combined with the hours of preparation before each funeral. It gives you plenty of time to reflect on how much of an honor it is to do what we do. I am sure when I am farther removed from this duty, I will feel an even deeper level of respect and honor for what the Soldiers of the Caisson platoon do.
Thanks for participating Chuck! See you at the Point.