Phil Gaimon is famous for conquering hills on his bike, but found himself in flat Houston on Saturday reminiscing about Hawaii to fight hunger.
His last day as a professional road racer, Dec. 31, 2016, he powered up the paved highway to the literal fork in the road. Turn right and continue on the asphalt up Mauna Loa. Take a left and face a four-mile dirt road to the peak of Mauna Kea.
As with many things, he took the harder route and both regretted and reveled in it.
“I’m completely empty and at the top of the world,” Gaimon told about 20 bicyclists who showed up at Bicycle Speed Shop in the Heights to hear him speak.
Though gassed, he returned from the ride up Mauna Kea renewed.
“There is a life and future and something social special for me,” he said.
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Gaimon is touring the country to ride with local bicyclists, while raising money for No Kid Hungry and documenting the need for hunger relief in many communities.
No Kid Hungry works to fill gaps in solving child hunger, arguing that America has plenty of food and child nutrition programs that work, but that many children cannot access them. The charity sponsors school breakfast and after-school meals, along with policy research. It also holds Chef Cycle events that combine local restaurateurs and bike rides.
“It would be great to do more of these,” said Mallory Buford, head chef at Houston’s Tacos A Go Go, who is active with the charity.
Gaimon’s goal is to raise $100,000 for No Kid Hungry, a goal he could nearly meet while wheeling around Houston. As of Saturday morning, he was about $1,250 short, according to his website.
Saturday’s festivities, all centered around the speed shop, including a quick family ride around the Heights, followed by a longer ride that took participants around Houston from the Texas Medical Center to Bellaire and back to shop for a discussion with local cyclists.
Much like Gaimon’s post-pro career — where he’s carved a niche as online video promoter, blogger and book author — the conversation varied from his career on the global road bike tour to health advice for avid cyclists and his claims to various king of the mountain titles on Strava, an online tracking system. King of the mountain is awarded to the rider with the best time up certain climbs.
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As is custom, Gaimon also chatted about cookies. Some fans call Gaimon the Cookie Monster for his obsession with the oval treats, including a rating system.
“Part of it is the adventure of knowing it is not going to be good,” he said, shortly before bashing a local cookie as grocery store quality.
Folks were quick to point him to another spot, a suggestion he gladly accepted. After so many years on tour taking racing seriously, Gaimon said he’s learned it’s better to make a difference and have fun along the way. He can even laugh off an attempt at making the Olympic track cycling team, which ended in a serious crash that left him injured for months.
“I knew they were in trouble because they were calling me,” he said of trying to qualify.
The U.S. team failed to make it, Gaimon mended, and now he’s free to travel and ride. Even in flat Houston — where Gaimon, who lives in Los Angeles, said the streets are not that bad.
“There’s no hills, but there’s good people,” he said.