A Dog In a Hat

dog_in_a_hat.jpg Dog in a Hat, a book about an American racing in Belgium, reads like the racer – Joe Parkin – was just telling you these epic stories on a ride, up a climb, or at a coffee shop. I guess that Joe’s friends convinced him to write this book after years of hearing his stories, laughing, embellishing them, and imagining themselves what it’s like to race the Hell of the North. Joe did that and more. I expect when you get dropped by Joe, the grumbles are, “yeah drop me on this local hammerhead ride, but he got dropped all over Liege-Bastogne-Liege, whatever … .”

And that’s the beauty of this book and story. It’s not a hero’s journey, but instead a racer’s tale, including drugs, betrayal, crazy stuff. A story about getting flat-ass dropped and waking up in a whorehouse to race again. Think about the determination it takes us to finish our local Tuesday night world championship and here’s Joe: a stranger in a strangeland, racing with some crazy-ass mofos.

The book starts with a directive from Bob Roll to go race in Belgium and get out of the 4-corner office park crits. What racer hasn’t wanted to do that? Much of the racing we do in the States is with an eye to Europe. We think, imagine, and vicariously race as if we were euros, or what we think it’s like (don’t chase down your own team-mate, create an echelon, throw your stupid bottle). I don’t think we can even imagine how dark and trippy the kermis scene is, according to Joe.

What also appealed to me about the book, is that while we get Le Tour coverage, I’ve been fascinated by kermis* and hard-man racing in Belgium, and that’s what Joe did. Coincidentally, I met Johan Museeuw this year – the Lion of Flanders.

Joe takes questions

Joe has agreed to answer our questions and I’ll post them. Readers, what would you like me to ask?

(* Joe defines kermis as not spelled like kermesse, which is the French variation.)


Great book, I’m only part of the way through but loving it. I rode in Belgium this year (rode, not raced) so the description of the winds and the DNF’s really struck me. My wife and I tried to ride about 40k to the coast one day from Brugges and we were so demoralized by the time we got half way there, we just turned around. The cold, wet wind just would…not…stop.

In the description of one race Joe, your first Paris Roubaix, you talk about how the rider who dragged you to the finish pulled out a 3cc syringe and plunged it into his leg. This comment was made in passing, and I’m sure that it was an event that seemed to just happen in stride, but were you taken aback by it? The description made me shudder enough to put the bike down for a second and shake it off.

I finished the book last week, enjoyed it a great deal (moreso than the sour types on Amazon!), and urged one bikey buddy thus far to read it. With my spotty exposure to pro racing, I was fascinated by the ‘80s-‘90s conventions of amphetamines and—what may still be going on, I’d wager—bribing the breakaways to win a race or a stage.  The question? Well…do you have a personal life? For the number of years covered in the book and your age at the time, I was struck by how an old girlfriend showed up in a hotel where you were getting a massage, she said “Hi” and was gone…and that was about it. Of course, while DIAH is about pro cycling, angry directors, third-rate pensiones, and the like, I’d anticipated that any autobiography of this type would involve the forces that we mere plebes deal with day in, day out, i.e. family, spouses, partners, pets. Domestic mountain biking, we hope, doesn’t preclude such things, does it?  (One last favorite bit that will no doubt entice the highbrow BH readers here: the book includes a great description of first-time attempts at wee-as-you-go, viz. answering the call of nature on the fly).

I read the book cover-to-cover last night (stayed up until 3am to finish) and enjoyed it. The first half was a real page turner and what prompted me to stay up to an ungodly hour to know how it all ended.

My question for Joe would be that as the narrative goes, he’s always looking for results and placings for the first 80% of the book, and I felt a bit disappointed along with him when everything didn’t seem to come together for a win.

Near the end of the book, when Joe first gets the feeling that he can control the peloton he kind of starts to embrace the fact that he’s a pretty good domestique support rider for the team’s stars.

So my question is: did you realize early on that you were going to be a support rider for the team’s stars and simply omit that from the book to keep the reader interested (I imagine people could lose interest if the author resigned themselves early on to a support role), or did it take you that many years to realize you weren’t going to be picked as the star of the squad?

I hope that doesn’t sound confrontational and I have a tremendous respect for domestiques on cycling squads since they do the bulk of the work. I just felt that the author was chasing dreams and didn’t realize his role until late in his european career, when you’d think he could have had more fun if he embraced it early on.

Anyway, loved the book, about to go drop a positive review at amazon for it.


Good question .  . . and that’s a a positive theme of the book: to keep trying and going. I’ve certainly felt that getting dropped at the Mutual of Enumclaw and elsewhere. And at the amateur level, I don’t think that’s often either discussed or understand that part of racing is getting your ass dropped all the time, back in the day before we all “trained” Chris Carmichael style, racing was how you got in shape. What I found compelling, is how the narrative builds into a hope for a good finish for Joe. I’ve lined up to racers and just hoped to finish. It’s a sympathetic book for racers working hard without much glory.

Thanks for all the positive comments about the book.

Responding to David’s question about the sawed-off syringe ... I had actually seen that before so in Paris-Roubaix it didn’t really do much to me. But yes, the first time I saw that happen my jaw dropped and I nearly fell off my bike. We used to joke that at certain races where there was no doping control, you needed to be careful of all the needles littering the road so that you didn’t get a flat.

Keith’s Dad ... Good question. I didn’t have a life at all when I was racing (in Europe) and I guess that would be my only real regret. I bought into the notion that to be a good bike racer I needed to live the life of a monk.

Matt ... I wished I would have figured out my role in pro cycling earlier than I did. To a certain extent I guess I just wanted to believe that if I kept going at it, something would miraculously happen. In my first year and a half of pro racing, I was the youngest guy in the peloton, so well-ridden races were good enough. After that I put the blame on other things for not winning and it was a long list.



Finished the book on the plane ride back home. Questions

1. What do you do now?
2. What did you do post race, like for a career?
3. Did you marry your sweetheart?
4. Why so bitter on US racing?
5. And drugs today? You think they’re all dopers?

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