A funeral dirge

March 17, 2014 § 29 Comments

There is still more than a month left before you line up for the the third SPY Belgian Waffle Ride. But it might as well be tomorrow.

You see, training and preparation aren’t going to help you this time around. If you were paying attention, the 2013 version was the most challenging one-day event on the calendar. It dragged us over unpaved roads, 120 miles of relentless riding, and 9,000 feet of elevation. The ride was so awful that people milled around in the parking lot afterwards trying to smile, and failing. There wasn’t enough strength left to raise the muscles around the corners of their mouths.

I’m exaggerating, of course. A handful of riders were tired but happy at the end. They were either genetic freaks who have nothing in common with you and me, or they were clever people who kept a steady pace from start to finish, refusing to get suckered into the accelerations of faster groups.

Everyone else was vulture meat.

How bad, was it, really? I was so devastated that I fell off the 3-year teetotaling wagon and have been drinking incessantly ever since. Only recently have the bad memories faded, but not really.

The 2013 BWR, however, was a cakewalk

The 2014 route map has been mostly finalized, and it is senseless in its difficulty. The ride is longer. Instead of a leg-snapping 120 miles, the total distance is 136. The ride is hillier. Instead of 9k feet, it is now 11k. Worst of all, instead of 10 miles of unpaved road, this year offers up more than 30 miles of sand, dirt, rocks, and gravel. That’s bad enough, as in “He put out his own eyes with a fork is bad enough.” But the thing that makes it worse is that much of the off-road portion is uphill. And then, of course, downhill.

Any one or any two of these elements could be properly trained for if, say, you were a full-time professional cyclist in your 20’s or 30’s. But all three elements together — distance, elevation, and road surface — mean that there is no realistic way to be ready for it. It will grind you up and leave you forlorn and mostly lost somewhere in North County San Diego on a fiery hot day in the middle of our first official Globally Warmed Spring.

None of this hell and misery takes into account the high likelihood of a mechanical, or two, or seven, or flats, or ripped out sidewalls or destroyed rims or cracked frames or shattered forks. In other words, if your equipment is right, it will be so heavy and sturdy that you will almost certainly never be able to get up the climbs towards the end of the course. If your equipment is wrong, you’ll DNF somewhere in the hinterlands, eyed by hungry pumas and by buzzards who circle overhead. Once you’ve collapsed at the roadside rest assured that the survivors will part out your bike and empty your pockets for extra food.

What’s a poor registrant to do who’s already paid his entry fees?

Below are my suggestions for surviving this miserable beatdown of a day, a day in which you will go through the spectrum of human emotions, from anger to rage to resignation to exhaustion to depression to fear of impending death to not caring anymore to beer. The happy end of the emotional spectrum will not manifest until months after the event, if ever. So:

  1. Do not pedal hard during the first 120 miles. That’s right. If you squander so much as a pedal stroke early on, thinking you can hang with the Bordines, the Rogerses, the Shirleys, the Cobleys, and the Dahls, you will come apart at Mile 60 or earlier. Trust me. I’ve done it.
  2. Do not be suckered in by the tasty waffle breakfast. Have your normal big ride pre-dinner and your normal big ride breakfast, whatever that is. Last year I ate 17 waffles and a pound of eggs and washed it down with a quart of coffee and paid the price beginning at Mile 5. That price was destruction.
  3. Avoid the rest stops unless you need water. If your nutritional plan is to fuel up on the Barbie food that will be available by the fistful, you’ll never make it. Carefully pack substantial, real food, like peanut butter sandwiches or a large t-bone steak.
  4. If you stop for water, get back on your bike immediately. Every minute you stop equals fifteen minutes of pedaling to exorcise the coagulated death sludge that will immediately clog your vascular system. If you’re not moving forward, you’re rocketing backwards.
  5. Carry three spare tubes and a mini-pump. Share your tubes with no one. This is not the day to help out people who are unprepared, or who showed up with threadbare tires, or who were too cheap to bring an extra tube, or who are riding on paper thin race tires and latex tubes, or who are simply unlucky. This is their day to die. So it is written.
  6. If you’re not on ‘cross or MTB tires (either of which is a suicidal choice, by the way), run 25-mm heavy-duty training tires. Run new ones, but make sure they have a hundred miles or so on them.
  7. Inflate your tires to 80 or 90 psi, max. The course will be covered with sharp stones, thorns, rough gravel, roots, glass, and dead people. The lower psi will greatly reduce the number of punctures as you roll over the teeth and bones of the dead and will add immeasurably to your comfort over the course of this 10- or 12- or 14-hour day.
  8. Go all-out with your gearing. 50 teeth max in front, 28 in back … 30 if you can make it work with your derailleur. When you hit the slopes of Double Peak and can crank it into your 36 x 30, you will love me and buy me free beer for the rest of the year. If you cheap out or lazy out and show up with real road gearing you’ll founder and die somewhere in the sandpits of backroad North County, never to be seen again.
  9. Do not have a single article of clothing or piece of equipment that you haven’t thoroughly tested and ridden in adverse conditions. This is not the day to try anything new, even that cute chick or guy you picked up at Green Flash Brewery the night before. Sample them later, after you’re dead.
  10. Ride with full-fingered gloves and a shit-ton of sunblock. The sun will drain and waste and sap your vital juices, so cover whatever you can stand as long as you don’t overheat.
  11. Max out your uninsured motorist coverage. In the unlikely event you are injured or killed on the course by a car, this will provide you with an avenue for compensation that you or your heirs will badly need.
  12. Make sure you’ve got at least one 120-mile day on your legs before the Big Day, but don’t bother trying to recon the whole route or to simulate it. You can’t, and the attempt will only destroy your will to live. Treat it like the invasion of Normandy. Prep the best you can, but leave the actual catastrophe to the day itself.
  13. Spend the night in Carlsbad or somewhere close to the start. That way we can all go pound IPA’s until the wee hours. Really. Because whether you show up with a bleeding hangover or fresh and rested, the end result will be the same.

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Wankmeister cycling clinic #22: Should I do the BWR?

February 4, 2014 § 30 Comments

Dear Wankmeister:

I saw that the Belgian Waffle Ride is now open for registration as of today. But dadgummit, it’s expensive, $125!!! Should I do it?

Perplexedly,
Billy “Cat 5″ Frugal

Dear Billy:

No.

Sincerely,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

That SPY Belgian Waffle Ride is a ripoff! Give me a fuggin’ break! Instead of racing a four-corner industrial park crit (I’m giving out flowers now to winners instead of cash), who would want to do a 130-mile, 11k feet of climbing, hardman/hardwoman race in North County San Diego? That blows! Plus, it’s crazy expensive. All’s you get is a custom t-shirt, an awesome breakfast, money donated to the CAF, a custom-brewed beer from The Lost Abbey, and a full day of racing the hardest, most challenging roads in SoCal. If you did THE LOCAL CRIT THAT’S ALSO SCHEDULED FOR THAT DAY, you’d be able to ride for 40 minutes — nonstop! And it would only cost $25, except for race day registration, which costs more.

Outraged,
Four Cornergasm

Dear Four:

It’s true, the BWR is long, hard, and not nearly as memorable as if you bought, say, tickets to the Feb. 3 Lakers v. Bulls game (LA is 16-31) in Loge Corner 104 for $220.00 (parking, beer, and food are extra, of course). And it’s not nearly as exciting as if you did an area crit in order to finish mid-pack. But it does have one thing that no USAC-permitted bike race here has: BEER.

Game – set – match,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I did the BWR last year. The idiots at SPY Optic comped my entry, gave me free glasses, and made sure I got to ride with the first wave. But you know what? They don’t support the right of every American to have multiple guns and shoot people when they’re afraid. So I hate them. Are you going to support a bike ride or guns?

Prying my cold dead hand off the trigger,
Jutnob Wightring

Dear Jutnob:

I’ll be supporting a bike ride. Sorry your gland is so tiny that you have to compensate by killing people.

Normally sized,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

I would do the Belgian Waffle Ride but I hear there are gonna be pros. Thats no fun to race against pros because pros smash up everybody how come you dont just have a race for normal people and let the pros race in pro races?

Amateurishly,
Wanker McPuddintame

Dear Wanker:

The difficulty of a ride is determined by a combination of the route, the weather, and the riders. In this case, the route is one of the hardest in America, a brutal combination of hills, unpaved roads, and distance. Weather is variable. If it rains, it will make an already fiendish route into a living hell. But none of that really matters if the only people competing are not any good. It’s like college. The difficulty is ultimately determined not by the teachers, but by the competitiveness of the students. Get it? The SoCal race/ride calendar abounds with races that anyone can finish. There are also a handful of races like Boulevard and Punchbowl that are truly hard races. The BWR takes the difficulty of a hard road race and amplifies it many times over. It’s the closest that most of us will ever get to doing a ride that combines the distance, course, and competitiveness of a European classic. So, if what you really want to do is race against people of your own ability, there’s an entire race season, indeed career, built around that. This ain’t one of them.

Patiently,
Wankmeister

Dear Wankmeister:

Will there be Zumba afterwards? I really like Zumba.

Twerkishly,
Hippity Hopperson

Dear Hippity:

No.

Emphatically,
Wankmeister

How to BWR Part 2

November 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

Now that you have mastered The Rule, we will move on to the finer points of BWR-ing. Although most successful BWR-ers focus on things like nutrition, training, careful selection of the appropriate equipment, prayer, and an adequate insurance policy that includes a customized graveside service, it is also crucial that your 2014 BWR campaign be adequately stocked with excuses. Please become familiar with the following, and add your own as necessary.

1. “I’m a roadie, not a ‘cross racer.” Indications: Road wanker who’s too chicken to ride dirt and needs a good reason for not signing up in the first place.

2. “There’s too much off-road dirt and shit.” Indications: Road wanker who’s too chicken to ride dirt and needs a good reason for not signing up in the first place. Also, “trackies” who are unfamiliar with gears, brakes, bicycling.

3. “I had too much bacon at the BWR pre-ride breakfast.” Indications: None. There is no such thing as “too much bacon.”

4. “I was overdressed.” Indications: You brought a pair of armwarmers.

5. “I was underdressed.” Indications: All you had was a pair of armwarmers.

6. “I flatted. Twelve times.” Indications: You got one flat and thumbed a ride home in the sag wagon.

7. “My frame snapped in half because of the rough roads.” Indications: You got scared by the first sandy section and quit.

8. “My wheels collapsed.” Indications: Same as No. 7 above.

9. “I got sand in my shorts and it rubbed my vagina/nutsack painfully raw so I had to abandon.” Indications: Riders whose vaginas/nutsacks have not yet achieved the consistency of elephant hide.

10. “There was way too much climbing.” Indications: Riders who are wider than they are tall.

11. “The selection of goodies at the sag stops wasn’t diverse enough for my rather unique dietary needs.” Indications: Vegans, breathanarians, congenital idiots.

12. “Just wait ’til next year.” Indications: 99% of finishers, 100% of quitters.

How to BWR, Part 1

November 7, 2013 § 12 Comments

The 2014 Belgian Waffle Ride is upon us. The date has been irrevocably carved in stone as April 20, or April 27, or some other date that won’t offend the Catholics.

In between now and then, I thought I would explain how to BWR for all the people who are thinking about doing it, including those like Prez who did it but still don’t quite “get it.”

Rule One

There is only one rule, affectionately known as The Rule. It goes like this: Don’t cut the course.

“But I didn’t cut the course! I’d never cut the course!” you wail and moan.

Right. We learned in 2012, the first year of the BWR, that people actually would cut the course, and did. So in 2013 riders were asked to create a Strava account and upload their ride upon completion. Predictably, most did, but many conspicuously did not.

That’s okay, to the extent that this is a free country (sort of), and to the extent that once you pay your entry fee you can do whatever you want. However, by not uploading your data you are surrendering all credibility and, what is more important, bragging rights. You cannot brag that you “did the BWR in 2013″ without ride data, or rather you can brag that you did it, but after checking Strava everyone will roll their eyes.

It’s the same with Paris-Roubaix. You have to finish the race within the time cutoff to be able to claim that you finished it. No hard feelings, but you either did it the right way or you didn’t.

So as you develop your plan for 2014, be sure to include your Strava file, if that’s what’s used, or a timing chip, if that’s the method. If you’re afraid that your iPhone battery won’t last, borrow a pal’s Garmin and use that. Otherwise, you are just another flailer drowning his sorrows in the delicious beer at ride’s end. Which, you know, isn’t actually a bad thing.

Enter the Dragon (Butt)

April 14, 2013 § 49 Comments

I got the final results via email. There I was, #95. And who beat me? Who took the coveted spot for 94th? According to the results list, it was someone who had registered as “Dragon Butt.” Get it? Dragging butt. Beaten by someone who was dragging butt.

Har.

Har.

Har.

It sure hadn’t seemed like it would end so ignominiously at the start. Oh, yeah, the start…

Prez had carefully selected his BWR rig from his quiver of orange and red and lime green bikes, and decided to go with the one that had the ultralight brakeset that doesn’t stop very well but is waaay trick. In order to save 3 grams or so of weight, the brakes don’t have the little flipper dealie to open the calipers when you take off a wheel; instead you have to actually disconnect the brake cable from the brake to release the tension so that the calipers open wide enough to slide the wheel out from the fork. Prez had yanked the wheels for the drive down to North County, and upon arrival, in his excitement he reassembled his bike and forgot to connect the brake cables.

Naturally, Prez wanted a little pre-ride warmup, so he stormed up the hill on Las Palmas in front of SPY World HQ to loosen the legs. Atop the little riser, he wheeled around, admired himself briefly in a reflective car window, and bombed back down the steep, short descent. A steady flow of people were crossing the street into the exhibitor and waffle feed area, so  he dashingly grabbed a handful of brakes at the very last second after he’d built up a good head of steam.

The brakes, however, grabbed nothing at all, as they were unconnected to the cable. Now Prez found himself barreling at speed into a crowd of women, children, old people, puppies, media, war veterans, and a guy carrying a bucket of nitroglycerin, carefully, so as not to jiggle it and blow up the northern half of Carlsbad.

As luck would have it, this emergency put Prez in the situation he knows best: Crashing. “Been there, done that, and got the rebuilt face and fused brain to prove it,” he chuckled to himself as he laid his $12,000, 3 lb. carbon rig on its side at 30 mph.

Women screamed. Children cried. The fellow with the nitro froze. Prez casually scraped off most of his skin, most of his knuckes, the buckles on his shoe, and half of his elbow as the metal end of his pedal threw up a shower of sparks. Dripping with blood and shredded flesh, and with most of his bike ground into powder, he picked himself up and hobbled over to the starting line, where the race was about to start.

“What the hell happened to you?” someone asked.

“Oh, just a brake malfunction,” he said.

When the gun went off, and for the rest of the ride, he got a wide, wide berth.

Over the top!

Twenty-five miles into the ride, we plunged over the lip at full speed and down into the sand pit, a chaotic mess of bikes, legs, and bodies going end-over-end amid screams, curses, a wall of dust, and the double jar of our wheels pounding on rocks as our minds smashed against the even sharper and less forgiving shoals of reality. Like bison being driven over a cliff, the jumbled confusion instantly transformed the cohesive peloton into a slaughterhouse-bound frenzy where it was every foaming, stampeding rider for himself.

After 25 miles of full-gas “neutrality,” with Strava KOM’s popping and falling like corn kernels in hot oil, the utter awfulness of the 2013 Belgian Waffle Ride had begun, piercing our livers like a rusty meat hook on the very first foot of the very first dirt section. For the 80 or so riders that remained out of the 150 who had started in the first wave, the BWR ended here as well: The leaders leaped over the embankment full-bore, floored it on the rough, sandy, rocky dirt path, and were never seen again.

“Pedal, pedal!” I roared at Dan and Dave, who took the plunge with so much ladylike hesitation that my front end was now about to mix with their rear. They pedaled and soon we were chasing, exertion levels first in the red, then in the purple. The leaders pulled away, their spot marked only by a giant cloud of dust that propelled itself, djinn-like, down the path.

I reached the dismount and lunged at the vertical concrete wall, slipped, then fell backwards onto my bike. My knee punctured and spewed blood. My chain fell off. As I cursed and tried to untangle my legs from my frame, the stampeding herd of 70 remaining bison came rushing up.

“You okay, dude? Need any help?” Brent asked in the middle of a full-on 50 meter dash, and by the time I answered “Yeah, nah,” he was already atop the wall, astride his bike, and racing after the leaders.  Other riders leaped over me, ran around me, and scampered madly up the wall.

I re-hung my chain, launched at the wall and fell backwards again, finally getting my plastic road cleats to grip on the third try. Then it occurred to me. “Maybe the nineteen waffles, ten eggs, six packets of syrup, healthy dollops of Tabasco, and five steamer mugs of coffee with cream and sugar weren’t such a great idea.”

“Nor,” my stomach gently suggested, “was last night’s chicken mole, carrot cake, ice cream, yogurt, fruit, and peanut butter.”

Dainty dieters don’t deign to dip

I had gotten to the Sign-in And Waffle Engorgement Area at 6:30, just as food service began. Five or six friends from the South Bay, including Cary and Wankomodo, sat around the table picking at their single quarter-section of waffle, with impending doom and abject fear slathered across their worried faces. Wankomodo carefully dribbled on a few drazzles of syrup.

I piled my plate high with six waffle sections and bathed them with ketchup, syrup, honey, and as much Tabasco and butter as could be balanced atop the food pyramid. “What are you wankers dieting for?” I asked. “Don’t you know you have 130 miles of death ahead of you? The time to diet was December. It’s go-time.”

Cary looked dubiously at my plate. “I’ve been eating all morning during the drive down.”

“Yeah? Eating what? Bonk Breakers, GU, and Barbie food?”

“Well…”

“You need to start laying in stores like you’re a bear getting ready to add three layers of blubber for a long winter.” I swilled my coffee and returned to the line.

Wankomodo, looking nervous, followed me, and piled his second plate with half a dozen pieces of waffle. Cary eventually did, too. “I suppose you’re right,” he said.

Now, several miles into the BWR, all I could think as I mounted my bike after the first section of dirt, was that Cary had supposed wrong. “Why do people ever listen to me? More importantly, why do I ever listen  to me?” No answers were forthcoming. Not good ones, anyway.

My “eat until you think you’re going to throw up” pre-race fueling strategy, combined with my strategy to  “radically alter your normal morning eating routine before the most important ride of the year” were bearing fruit, and the fruit was bad-tasting, spoiled, and noxious in the extreme.

Unbelievably, as I got up to speed Karl Bordine roared by. I grabbed his wheel and was soon anaerobic. We hit the curlicue of turns that led to the next dirt section, jumped the curb, stroked into the gravel, and saw that the mass of riders who had passed us were now just a few meters ahead.

As they jumped and dove onto the treacherous path that was laced with large, loose chunks of gravel and mixed with sand, it couldn’t have been more of a massacre if someone had climbed one of the palm trees, hauled up a .50 caliber machine gun, and opened fire on the riders below. It was carnage. One rider lost control, veered off the path and onto the giant jagged boulders that lined the river embankment. His front wheel detonated and he launched head-first down the rocky slope into the shallow riverbed, coming to rest in a foot or two of toilet runoff mixed with toxic sludge.

Two other riders bumped and fell. A third dropped a chain, fell over, and flopped in the gravel while a duo of chasers bunny-hopped his leg, one of them almost doing so successfully and only severing what looked like most of the downed rider’s calf.

Within a minute Karl had ridden me off his wheel. “There,” I thought. “Thank Dog. My race is officially over. Now I can kick into Plan B.”

Plan B for “Brokedown”

Plan B was actually Plan A, which was based on my experience in the BWR’s inaugural 2012 edition. The race was so arduous and long that after getting shelled I had sat up at mile 30 and pedaled the remaining 85 miles at my own steady pace. It had been tough but I’d felt good the whole way, especially towards the end, where the toughest part of the course awaited.

In Plan B, by recognizing my own weakness and sluggery and refusing to get caught up in the mini-race dynamics of the chase groups that littered the course, I had picked people off all day long and finished feeling great. In Plan B I’d ridden my ride and finished on my terms: Tired but strong.

The moment Karl blasted away I sat up, grateful that Plan B was going to allow me to drop my heart rate down to the low 300’s. Then Erik Johnson pounded by. “Get on!” he said. Like Pavlov’s dog, I salivated at the sight of the passing wheel. Within seconds I was back in the purple zone, inches off Erik’s wheel in the nasty unstable gravel, trying to follow his line as he hopped from smooth track to smooth track to avoid the giant sharp rock shards that I somehow managed to catch.

After a minute I popped and Erik rode off. “Thank Dog,” I thought, “now I can ride Plan B.”

Thirty seconds of relief ensued, followed by the crunching sound of an overtaking bike. It was Ryan Trebon and Evan Stade, national champion cyclocrosser and the localmotor who would eventually get fifth. I couldn’t believe they were behind me, and I latched on as they passed. Ryan brought us back up to the main chase group, some fifty riders strong. Ryan’s bitter pace soon strung the group into the gutter, fifty baby seals receiving repeated murderous blows to the head.

I drifted to the back of the group just as we hit the first climb, which was paved with gravel and dirt. A few helping hands gave me a push, but I was now deadset on Plan B. The group vanished, spitting out stragglers and strugglers, and reminding them, as if they needed it, that it was going to be a long, miserable day.

A ticklish affair

After settling in and preparing to finish the day, the long, long day, at my own pace, I discovered two things. First, my legs were shot. How do you do 100 miles with 9,000 feet of climbing on dead legs? Second, digestion had worked its wonders and the processes of nature now demanded to run their course.

There was nothing I could do about the dreaded Dead Legs Syndrome, but as each mile passed I began to wonder more and more wildly about Issue #2. When Dave Gonyer caught me a few miles before Couser Canyon and dropped me on the climb, I experienced with him what I would experience the rest of the day: Getting caught and dropped. No one who overtook me was going slow enough; a few minutes after assimilating into each group, I’d pop off the back, whether it was Kelsey Mullen, Kenny Lam, Mike Hotten, Prez, Leibert, Lauren M.; it didn’t matter. No matter how slow anyone was going, my legs were going slower.

There was, however, something I could do about the dreaded “Middle of  a Bike Ride and Gotta Go NOW” syndrome, although without TP I was stuck. I agonized along for 80 miles in this miserable state, my insides exploding with the reluctant baby that couldn’t be born just yet, feeling so desperate that I considered wiping with cactus, or my toolbag, when David MacNeal and a group of flailers overtook me again. The pace was fine and it looked like I would be able to ride this one all the way in, a mere 20 or 30 miles to go.

Then, a hundred yards off the road, just as we approached the bottom of Bandy Canyon, I saw it: The bright blue sides and shiny white roof of a port-o-potty. Unfortunately, it was placed in what looked like a citrus grove, behind barbed wire. “Never mind,” I thought. “These are desperate times.”

I tailed off the back of the group and rode down the dirt track to the barbed wire. I dismounted and prized apart the two top strands so that I could squeeze through without getting fileted. My cleats filled with sand. “Never mind,” I thought. “Better than my shorts filling with something else.”

I madly stripped off my helmet, jersey, undershirt, and gloves, rushed in, plopped down onto the seat, and confirmed two basic facts of life: Nothing is as overrated as a good lay, and nothing is as underrated as a good dump. Inside the potty I relaxed and as I sat there thinking that this was as good a metaphor for the day as any, I could hear various clumps of riders whizz by. “Go on,” I thought. “I don’t care.”

Unfortunately, in  my desperation I’d forgotten to check for TP, and upon the conclusion of services I reached for the paper to find that there were only two squares left on the roll, with the last square being mostly glued to the core.

By now the scorching sun had turned my plastic sanctuary into a fume-filled mini-microwave, and as sweat poured off my head and arms I carefully removed as much of the two squares as I could. Of course the paper was port-o-potty TP, which is so thin that you normally need half a roll to do the mop-up of a normal strand, and I was faced with a major hazmat job using only a square and a half of gossamer-thin paper. Carefully removing as much of the last square as I could from the core, I lowered my hand between my legs only to have a sweat gusher roll down my forearm, onto my hand, and onto the tiny TP square-and-a-half, which was instantly soaked.

I made a mess of the job as the TP disintegrated on contact with the river of sweat, and can only say this: Have you ever tried to completely reassemble a form-fitting, sweat-soaked biking outfit with one hand? Worse, have you ever tried to do it while holding the other hand as far from your body as possible? Have you?

Backslapping buddies

I have. And I did. Then I returned to the road just in time to meet up with Jeff Krivokopich, who was flailing by himself towards the bottom of the Bandy Canyon climb. “Damned teammates left me at the last rest stop without telling me,” he complained.

“They’re biking teammates, man, what did you expect?” I slapped him on the back in commiseration, realizing too late that I had just smeared his jersey with the brown paw of doom.

Jeff dragged me over the climb, then put his head down and started pulling in earnest. “Finally a wheel I can hold!” I told myself, amazed at the performance differential that resulted from being ten pounds lighter.

We took turns until we reached the freeway, which was bad because the freeway wasn’t on the route. We’d overshot the turn somewhere, what with all that head-downishness and falling-into-a-rhythmishness, and now there was a decision to be made. Backtrack and add even more miles to this endless beatdown, or swallow a tablet of Fukitol and continue on.

Jeff looked at me. His face had that salt-encrusted, aged-far-beyond-his-years, withered look of defeat and exhaustion, not to mention a slight tincture of brown on the side of his jersey. I couldn’t see myself, but must have looked even worse. “You okay, dude?” Jeff asked. “You gonna make it? And what’s up with your hand?” I was unconsciously holding it as far away from my body as I could.

“Oh, this? Nothing. I’m fine. Yeah. Well, let’s backtrack and find the route. If we hadn’t put this danged thing on Strava I’d vote that we cut the course and cheat our way back, but…”

Jeff nodded as we both tried to imagine being pilloried by Michael Marckx as cheaters and losers which, frankly, we both would have gladly endured if it had meant we could shave a minute or two off our time and thereby end the misery prematurely. However, since the course had been changed at the last minute, it was possible that the revamped route would actually get us home quicker and more easily than if we cheated. So we reluctantly turned around and retraced our path.

[Note to future BWR penitents: The course, no matter its iteration, will never get you anywhere "quicker" and "more easily."]

Slow sand quicksands

Small wonder we missed the turn. It was a poorly marked, narrow little cut in the hedges that, once you’d made the turn, emptied onto a nasty little dirt track. This was King of the Dirt Sector No. 4. A clump of leftbehinds entered just ahead of us, and the hard packed dirt quickly gave way to soft, slippery sand, four nasty miles of it.

The worst section of sand was nothing more than the dumpings of a huge sandbox, plopped in the middle of the trail. One by one the riders hit it, thrashed halfway through, and then tipped over.

Which was bad.

But what was worse was the middle-aged woman on the horse, mounted next to the sand trap with her riding crop tapping the horse’s butt as she shouted at us “Watch out for the sand! It’s soft!” Then on cue someone would tip over, cursing. “I told you to watch out!” she’d admonish as the rider vainly tried to remount with his cleats and pedals filled with sand.

You know how hard it is to click back in when your cleats and pedal are filled with sand? Try doing it lathered in sweat and filth after a hundred-mile beatdown while a dominatrix with a whip on a horse screams at you.

The only thing missing from this Dali-esque, Munch-line scene was having the woman lean down and beat the snot out of the riders as they fumbled in the big litter box. Afraid of her crop, afraid of her horse, and mostly afraid of looking stupid, I ramped it up and crossed the pit without falling. A few miles later we had formed a group of Dragon Butt misfits, thrilled to complete KOD Sector Four but apprehensive of KOD Sector Five, the Lake Hodges Rock Garden and Puncture Gallery.

Jeff flatted rather immediately, and as his buddy I spake the obligatory “You okay?” and then sprunted away before he could beg for help. The other leftbehind neverpulls came apart on the rock-studded wall out of the axle-deep mud pit of a water crossing. Tires flatted. Rims broke. Whole new curse words were invented on the spot. I bounced and jounced past one idiot who was overgeared, overstomached, and severely underbrained, as he’d picked the far left edge which had fewer rocks but down which was flying a giant, out-of-control MTB dude. They crashed, of course, each blaming the other with a volley of oaths, and rubbed each others’ blood in each others’ wounds as they gashed their arms, legs, and elbows on the sharp rocks while tied together in a knot of carbon, rubber, sweat, and dirt.

Stand…by your man…I mean, uh, your gal

At the end of the sector people were replacing wheels, changing flats, trying to fix shattered pedal spindles, and most of all gorging themselves on green bananas and Barbie food at the sag stop. And never was a stop better named than “sag,” because a saggier, sorrier, droopier collection of wankers there never was.

As I filled my water bottle (110 miles on a single bottle, why am I so thirsty?), G$ and MM zoomed by. They were my good friends, so when I saw them happily and speedily and freshily zooming through the sag stop, I hated them with great intensity.

Throwing caution to the wind, I took the last burnt match out of my matchbox and scorched what was left of it to a crisp in order to join them. MM looked like she’d just gotten out of bed, taken a shower, and had decided at the last minute to ride her bike.

G$ had yet to break a sweat; he was keeping MM company, and she was on track to get third overall in the women’s field. Jess Cerra, the eventual women’s winner, had dropped all but a handful of men, making particularly short work of last year’s winner Dave Jaeger, who was learning that “dropped by a chick” is a mantle of pride and honor.

I toiled up to MM. “Oh!” she said, sweetly. “It’s you! I didn’t know we’d passed you!”

“Yeah.”

“Hey! Is that another climb up ahead?”

“Yeah.”

“Gosh, I’m really tired!”

“Yeah.” I observed that she was so tired she effortlessly rode off and put almost half an hour on me in the final fifteen miles.

I think he hates me

Fortunately, the ride was almost over, and I knew what lay ahead: Double Peak. This monstrously steep, paperboy-inducing, windswept climb was the last obstacle to finishing. I’d done it enough times to be mentally prepared, and since the new course had cut out the bitter climbs of unpaved Questhaven and steep San Elijo leading to Double Peak, it wouldn’t be all that bad.

But I had forgotten that the designer of this ride was a bastard. I had forgotten that behind his casual smile lay the mind of sadist. I had forgotten that this ride was put together so that the only memory you’d have at the end was the memory of pain.

As I labored along, blissfully ignorant and filled with false confidence, another group passed me. This one contained Prez, Pumperrymple, Mike Hotten, and some poor bastard whose handlebar tape had unraveled after multiple crashes on the dirt and was now trailing along behind him like a tapeworm that had gotten unhitched from his nether eye.

Prez mercifully let me tag along at the back, but after a while the tapeworm, who’d apparently been sucking wheel for miles, got to be too much. Prez reached into his jersey, swung off the front (Prez! On the front! At the 120 mile mark! Leading up to a climb!) and whipped out his purple card.

“Yo, wanker!” he said. “You’ve been served! Get your skinny butt up to the front and take a pull!”

Tapeworm shook his head. “I ain’t gonna ’cause I can’t.”

“You’re strong enough to suck wheel, you’re strong enough to take a pull! Don’t make me remember your number and turn you in to the purple police!”

Tapeworm started to curse. “Up yours! I’ll do what I …”

He never got to finish the sentence, though, because the long trailing end of the handlebar tape got caught in his chain, which pulled it into the derailleur, and then jerked the whole thing tauter than a string bikini on a rhino’s ass, yanking his handlebars hard to the right. His wheel hit the curb, he flipped over the bars and landed on a sprinker head, which then turned on. In my delirium I atually wondered, “Who knew that’s how you activated lawn equipment?”

Tapeworm didn’t seem to have much brain damage, although that’s partially because he didn’t seem to have much brain, and we continued on, hoping that if he died it would at least be slow and painful.

Prez rolled back to the front and kicked the pedals as we turned onto Twin Oaks. My sides heaved with the death rattle of a sperm whale whose lungs have been pierced by the point of the harpoon. I spat snot, sweat, blood, and a couple of teeth and came unhitched. Prez & Co. rolled away.

Learning to count

This was where the truly diabolical, Mr. Hyde-like nature of the route’s designer revealed itself: It was infinitely worse than the Questhaven/San Elijo section that it replaced. Long. Steep. Endless. No matter how much you pedaled, the top never got nearer, like one of those dreams where you show up to school naked and try to run away but just end up jogging in place while you fail the graduation exam and have to take Third Grade all over again, naked, even though you’re forty-nine. Oh…you don’t have that dream? Never mind, then.

One mile into Twin Oaks I quit looking up and began counting the cracks that separated the sections of concrete curb. I estimated that each section was about ten feet long. There. Another ten feet. [Insert endless infinity time unit here.] There. Another ten feet. [How many feet in a mile? Five thousand? Fifty million?] Both numbers were plausible.

This was the portion of the ride where–and I know this has never happened to you–I flushed with an active hatred of cycling and all things associated with it. “What am I doing here? I should be home with my family. I’m a terrible husband. I’m an awful father. I’ve lost my mind. I’m 50 years old, dressed in stretchy dance clothing and counting pavement cracks up an endless mountain that leads to a more endless mountain by myself with the remnants of brownpaw while getting dropped by Prez on a climb. What’s wrong with me?”

Once that crack in the dam opened, the mental collapse flowed forth in a torrent. “I hate cycling.”

“I hate the BWR.”

“I hate MMX.”

“I hate Prez.”

“I hate…” and before I could finish the spew, along came Kenny Lam. So I subbed in his name with a vengeance. “And I really hate Kenny Lam.”

Kenny, like Prez, and Tapeworm, and a host of others, blitzed right by. What made me hate him more than everyone else combined was that I’d dropped him earlier…at mile 40. What right did he have to go over all that dirt and those rocks and those mountains and sag stops just to crush me on Pavement Crack Counting Mountain?

“Hey, Seth,” he said as he passed. “Good job. Keep it up.”

If I’d had a pistol, my gun wouldn’t have killed people, I would have. But I’d have done it with the gun.

Double your displeasure

Everything bad eventually comes to an end, but in this case it only led to something worse: Double Peak. The fiendishness of the BWR, building for over seven hours, crescendoed here, at the bottom of a climb so steep and punishing that you would grimace and groan if you hit it fresh at the beginning of a 20-mile spin after a good rest week.

Now you had to tackle it at mile 120. The jarring, battering, slogging, mental and physical beating that had begun the night before left you at the bottom bereft of hope. It was as close to the long march passage in Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead” that any of us would ever come short of island hopping in WWII. As I began the climb, smashed and broken riders from the grupettos ahead of me paperboyed and slowed to 3 mph or less. Midway through the steepest section one poor slob unclipped and cried.

“Come on, man,” I said as I passed. “You can do it.”

I hated him, too.

At the steepest point, just before the turn that led to the turnaround at the top, a cluster of crazy people with cameras clotted the edge of the road. They were screaming with excitement. Who were they? Why were they photographing me? Where was this “Go” place they were exhorting me to go to? Who was “Wanky”?

I hated each of them as a group and I hated them individually, especially the small children who were jumping up and down and looking so happy. Why were they happy? What was great about the job they were telling me I was doing? What job were they even talking about?

“At least you’re not crying!” one of them offered.

I reserved a special mindwave of hatred for him.

“Don’t tip over!” shouted one especially happy person.

As I tried to say “Up yours!” my mouth, twisted in a grimace, upturned into what looked like a slight smile. The cameras clicked. I hated the cameras, making me look happy when I was too tired to even spew an insult. A few meters later I reached the top, where dazed and crushed and befuddled riders milled around at the sag-and-collapse station. I did a u-turn and stole a march on them all. “Take that, Kenny Lam,” I snarled. “It’s all downhill from here. See you never.”

Which way is up?

It was all downhill, of course, except for the uphill parts, which was most of the return to SPY HQ. Michael Marckx had chosen the hilliest, windiest, most serpentine route back, adding at least a thousand feet of climbing and throwing us into the teeth of a relentless headwind, no matter which way we turned.

Kenny overtook me again. “Good job, Seth,” he said, bulling his way by. I grabbed the wheel and he towed me the whole way back until, a mile from the end, on Palomar Airport Road, his legs seized up in vicious cramps.

“You okay?” I asked as I unleashed the hardest attack I could muster.

Apparently he was…in a moment he had recovered and we finished in tandem. At the finish area people were milling around in various stages of post-traumatic disbelief. The “winners” had arrived almost two hours earlier. The “losers” wouldn’t make it in for another three or four hours, including Bill Pinnell, who had woken up at 3:00 AM in order to do the course on a pogo stick.

Beneath the fatigue, the mental and physical strain, the dirt, the sweat, the dried mucous, and the general sense of defeat that permeated the finish area, people were actually happy. “Why?” I wondered. “What are they so happy about? They can’t be that stupid.” So I started asking them, one by one, “Why are you happy?” and realized that they were.

Lisa C.: “Because it was harder than childbirth and I DID IT!”
MMX: “Who said I was happy?”
Gus B.: “I’m always happy, dude.”
Chris G.: “Well, my pedal broke, and I fell a few times, and had several flats, and almost drowned in the water crossing, but, I guess, well, you know, I’m always happy when I’m riding my bike!”
Prez: “I dropped you. That’s why.”
DJ: “I got shelled by a chick. A beautiful chick. What’s not to like?”
Bull: “Why am I happy? Let me spell it out for you: B-E-E-R.”
Kelsey M.: “Because it’s fricking over, dude.”
Ryan D.: “Hmmm…because after flatting I chased for 25 miles and caught the leaders.”
Dan C.: “Because I didn’t get beat by someone named Dragon Butt.”
Mark N.: “Well, there’s the free beer of course, and there’s the hockey game on TV tonight.”
Craig L.: “I don’t know if I’d say ‘happy.’ But I would say this–don’t come to the BWR with deep-dish carbon rims and one spare tube with a short stem unless you also bring an extender. Just sayin’.”
Canyon Bob: “When does the real ride start?”
Steve H.: “Hardest ride I’ve ever done in my entire life. Since yesterday.”

Is there a psychiatrist in the house?

And so on. It was weird. People were actually happy at having spent an entire day getting their brains beaten out along the toughest one-day road course in the U.S., and most couldn’t wait to puke out their tale of woe. “You people are all weird,” I thought, wondering what kind of littering citation I’d get for tossing my rig out the window on the way home.

Cary shambled in after more than ten hours on the bike, broken, beaten, and barely able to dismount. “Good job, dude!” his enablers said.

“Yeah, thanks,” he mumbled, clearly delirious as he reached into his jersey pocket and pulled out the remnants of an old waffle square, almost biting into it before someone knocked it away and replaced it with a beer.

Marilyne and Carey D. say cheerily at a table, happily telling all who would listen about their awful day, filled as it was with pure misfortune and therefore unadulterated fun. “Yeah, I sliced my tire on the first KOD and exploded the front rim,” Carey lamented.

“What were you running?”

“Schwalbe Raceday Ultra Paperthins on a Lew Racing Pro VT-1 custom full boron wheelset with machined axle end caps, titanium freehub pawls, titanium wheel hub spacers, tapered carbon/boron axles, and Si3N4 full ceramic bearings. Piece of junk broke apart after flying off into the first KOD ditch, and I blew out the Paperthins on shards of gravel and glass.” Carey looked mystified that a wheelset built for 120-pounders had failed his 185-pound frame.

Then Marilyne chimed in, chirpily relating her own sad tale with inexplicable enthusiasm. “My derailleur fell off of the bicycle.”

“How’d that happen?”

“The hanger of the derailleur, it fell off of the bicycle aussi.”

“Aren’t you that chick who had, like, eighteen flat tires over the course of three days a few months ago?”

“Well, yes, I did have a problem with the flatting. But Carey was always there to help me with the mechanical problemes.” She pointed to the dude whose bike collapsed at Mile 20.

“So what was up with the derailleur?”

“I’m not sure, but we found a hanger of the derailleur on eBay to replace the one that was problematique, but apparently it was of a manufacture inferieure, and so it fell off of the bicycle.” She smiled, thinking about the hundred miles she’d pedaled without a derailleur.

I couldn’t take it any more, and went off in search of some psychotropics, as eleven hours had now passed since the start and Wankomodo would be showing up any minute now, if he were still alive. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand listening to him. He’d be the happiest miserable SOB of the lot.

I sat down next to Christine, the only noncyclist in the bunch, and therefore the only one with a brain. “Good ride?” she asked.

“No.”

She nodded. “You’re the first person who’s said something the entire day that has made any sense. Why don’t you get yourself a beer? They’re free.”

“I’ve been sober for three years.”

“So much for the ‘making sense’ part,” she said. “Have you sworn off hotdogs, too? They’ve got great ones over at the food truck.”

“No, I’d rather not spend the money. Plus, these are fine.” I’d gotten a plate and stacked it high with old waffles from the morning and lathered them in ketchup and mayonnaise.

Christine got up and brought me back a giant hotdog and a beer. “It’s my financial contribution to the Brain Damaged Cyclist Fund. Enjoy. See you next year?”

At that moment Wankomodo ambled up, covered in a thick crust of dried snot, spit, sweat, and dirt. He was grinning from ear to ear. “I made it! It was awful! I’ve never felt so bad in my entire life! It was awesome! Where’s the food?”

I looked at Christine, pleading with my eyes for help. “Next year? Yes, I’ll be back. Of course.”

The last step

April 7, 2013 § 5 Comments

As a friend of mine from Texas told me many years ago, “It’s not the flop on the bed, it’s the walk up the stairs.”

How right he was, and now that it’s the morning of the day, all that’s left is anticipation. What a delicious sensation is anticipation, mixed as it is with hope and fear, confidence and anxiety.

Anticipation has been raging through me nonstop since last night. It was the difficulty in falling asleep.

It was the reverse trickle of mole, ice cream, and birthday cake that gurgled up to greet me with a little “Hello, friend” as I lay in bed.

It was waking up at one o’clock…”Did I miss my alarm?”

It was waking up at two o’clock…”Is it four o’clock yet?”

It was waking up at three o’clock…”Just one more hour.”

It was getting up at 3:30 and abandoning all pretense that those final thirty minutes would be spent any way other than with eyes wide awake. “What the hell. Might as well shave my legs.”

The anticipation comes from the expectation. The expectation comes from the telling and re-telling of what lies ahead. The telling and re-telling comes from the training, the practicing, and the miles we’ve all invested to be “ready” for today, whether”ready” means to conquer, to be honorably acquitted, or just to drag yourself in tatters across the finish line.

Each little checkpoint has bolstered or weakened our confidence. Weight going up? Bad. Legs feeling awesome and light? Good. Bike looking sparkly and clean? Good. Last minute equipment change making you feel funny on the bike? Bad. Images of finishing strong? Good. Images of horrible dirt catastrophes? Bad.

Some have been prattling on about “the hay being in the barn.” Perhaps it is. But now the well-fed stallion is being led out by the reins, snorting and stamping and raring to run, or the undernourished nag is resisting with every step, neighing in terror, and dreading what lies ahead.

In a handful of minutes you will sign-in your name, pin on your number, scarf down your waffle, throw a leg over, and flop on the bed.

I hope it’s good for you, because the walk up the stairs has been all I could have ever wanted in a lover, and so much more.

Checklist

April 6, 2013 § 7 Comments

  1. Bicycle; Giant TCX. Thank you, SPY-Giant-RIDE.
  2. New tires; Hutchinson Intensive @ 90 psi. Thank you, Rahsaan Bahati.
  3. New Squadra bicycle rider outfit.
  4. New Giro helmet. Okay, it was new last year.
  5. Wheels; Mavic Open Pro, 32-hole aluminum box rim clinchers. Brand new 25,000 miles ago.
  6. Gears; Shimano 105, 11-12-13-14-15-16-17-19-21-23-25.
  7. Chain rings; SRAM 36-46.
  8. Shoes; Sidi Genius Carbon 5.5. Very old but still the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn.
  9. One water bottle.
  10. 12 Medjool dates.
  11. iPhone with Strava app.
  12. $25 for gasoline.
  13. Jeans, t-shirt, shoes, socks, underwear for post-ride.
  14. Suitcase; for courage.
  15. SPY Quanta Rx sunglasses; for screening out the awfulness.
  16. SPY Braden Rx horn-rimmed spectacles; for apres-beatdown lounging.
  17. Sunscreen.
  18. Wallet.
  19. Five extra pounds, just in case.
  20. Six-pack of Optimistic Expectation.
  21. 32-gallon drum of Dismal Reality.
  22. Pedals; for dancing on.
  23. Teeth; for gritting.
  24. Vocal cords; for groaning.
  25. Lungs; for bursting.
  26. 130+ miles; for hurting.
  27. 11,000+ feet of elevation; for bragging.
  28. Mind; for the centrally focused beam of nirvana that, beginning here, will spread to every cell in my body at the end of the day.

*No baby seals were clubbed in the making of this checklist.

** But they will be tomorrow.

***Total elapsed time for composition, proofing, and hitting the “Send” button: 19 minutes and 40 seconds.

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