Good love

January 19, 2014 § 23 Comments

The 2014 edition of Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride had diverse offerings, including the flowers and bushes on the edge of Price Road who were nourished by the projectile vomiting of Uberfred. He had made the fatal mistake of taking a well-aged piece of a sweat-soaked, partially gnawed Snickers bar offered up by Sterno, and instead of magically transforming from Betty White to Eddy Merckx, he almost metamorphosed into Dude With Stomach Cramps Lying In The Ditch Five Miles From The End.

It was a French Toast Ride that began with piles of thick toast soaked in French, pan-fried to a golden glow, and poured down the hungry maws of the hardy riders who had managed to wake up on time and get to the feed zone at Camarillo by 7:30. The delectable toast, cooked in the home of Dave’s parents Jim and Nancy, was accompanied by stacks of bacon, pans of sausage, gobs of butter, buckets of cream, a giant urn of coffee, and a small plate of fruit as a sop to the healthful. No one was fooled, however. There would be nothing healthful about this FTR, just like there had been nothing healthful about any of the other fifteen editions of the ride.

A little something bad for everyone

The genius of the FTR is the way it disappoints, frustrates, humbles, aggravates, and insults each rider in a unique way over the course of 118 nasty, windy miles and almost 9,000 feet of very unpleasant climbing. Despite a day filled with unpleasantness and misery, each year the same cadre of idiots happily reconvene to do it all over again. If you have zero fitness, like Turtle, FTR is simple masochism. You drag your butt over the course, last up every climb, last to every stop, first one to get shelled when the pace picks up, and typically you get up Balcom Canyon by holding onto a gardener’s truck or with a hoist.

If you’re somewhat prepared, FTR is a day filled with cagey wheelsucking, where, like Toronto, you stay near the front in anticipation of a move, but never actually on it. Fear of being shelled cancels the duty to do your share, but of course it all pays off when, like Toronto, you absolutely blaze up the climbs and stick with the lead group when the pace ramps up.

If you’re supremely prepared, like Surfer Dan, the ride is pure agony, because when the group splits at the first climb less than 20 miles into the ride, and you’re ready to ride the remaining 100 miles in a death march with five other guys, the group halts, Dave coddles the weak and the dropped, and everyone gets back together. Yet despite the beatdown, the coddling, the stopping, the hand-holding, the hammering, the climbing, the sprunting, the cramping, and the unholy exhaustion that sets in at Mile 100, just before you tackle the 20-percent slopes of Balcom, the FTR is the best, happiest, most satisfying and rewarding ride you’ll ever do.

How can that be? Because of good love.

The ties that bind

Dave’s parents are in their 70’s, and what possesses them to allow a ravenous mob of cyclists to invade their modest home every year, prance around semi-naked as they change into kit, rub smelly embro all over their bodies, stink up their bathroom with the quaking bowels of twenty men with the pre-ride purge, and occasionally (like the year Stern-O wiped his derriere with four pounds of toilet paper) clog up the pipes in the entire house, I’ll never know for sure. What I do know is this. The Jaegers have good love, and it permeates their home, their family, and every aspect of the FTR.

It’s the kind of love that is built year by year over decades, one day at a time, through the rewards and travails of raising kids, living through the hard knocks and comfortable landings of life, trusting in the person next to you when the chips aren’t simply down, they’re not even on the table anymore. The Jaegers’ good love, quiet and unassuming, solid as bedrock and there as predictably as the sunrise, spills over into every aspect of the FTR. That love is, of course, what gave rise to Dave, and that love is, of course, what Dave and Lynn have in their own marriage — you can see it because nowadays the Jaegers are FTR hosts emeritus. The brunt of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, organizing, and making it happen is done by Dave’s wife Lynn, his sister-in-law, and his daughters.

The good love doesn’t stop with sharing the plumbing and the home and the food. The good love is part of the ride itself, mostly old guys getting older and weaker, along with an infusion of new 30-something blood to keep everyone broken and in pain throughout the day. Every year the pummeling and the projectile vomiting and the pro wheel changes and the butt pats and the towing on the flats and the full-gas sprunting and the empty, vacant looks of misery at the Circle K in Ventura … these things bubble and boil and then harden, solidifying into something that can only be called “I’d do anything for you,” also known as “love.” That love is especially poignant when it involves doing your utmost to crush your closest friends and bring them to their knees.

The beaches of Normandy a/k/a Balcom Canyon Road

This is a nasty climb, just under one mile long, that averages ten percent and slams up to twenty on the steepest ramp. On any day it would be a beast, but Dave has it positioned at about Mile 100 into the ride, after huge efforts up Grimes Canyon, the 4-mile race to Fillmore, the 7-mile climb from Santa Paula towards Ojai, the 3-mile race and sprint into Ojai, the murderous twin peaks of Lake Casitas and sprint for the Santa Barbara County line, and the miserable, endless climb out of Ventura when your legs are filled with poison and your morale is at its all-time lowest.

Then, and only then, with the tank on empty and your mental fortitude in the gutter, do you hit Balcom Canyon. It gets in your head, starting pretty much with the first piece of French toast. As we plowed along Mountain Road, each pedal stroke along the five miles leading to the turnoff onto Balcom Canyon Road felt like I was pedaling towards my doom. The flurry of tiny, twanging, twinges that had begun in Ojai gradually morphed into full blown cramps. That’s a good sign before the steepest, hardest climb of the day right? The one where it’s common to paperboy just to get up it, right? The one where you count it as victory just getting to the top, right?

Wrong. It was a bad sign.

Everyone felt the doom. This is how soldiers felt sitting in little steel boats with tiny motors as they churned towards the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. It’s a sickness in your stomach and a bitter misery in your head. Reality has something ugly in store for you and you cannot avoid it. Whether that bad reality will be your complete undoing or not is the only question. But whereas the soldiers on D-Day leaped into frigid water to face the murderous rake of machine guns and mortars and artillery and mines and concertina and horrific injury and death, we faced something much worse: The knowledge that each pedal stroke would be painstakingly analyzed on Strava by all of our friends.

When we made the turn, it was clear that honor for the Balcom KOM would be decided among Surfer Dan, Manslaughter, G$, and Unpronounceable. Before the Balcom climb proper, you have to batter for 1.5 miles, usually into a headwind, up a 2-percent grade to the base of the climb. Although it had been tried before, most famously during the Pee Stop Attack by Wanky in 2010, no one had ever succeeded in stealing a march on the group before the base of the climb.

This year was different. Surfer Dan took one look at the haggard, frightened, sniveling, and broken faces of his competition and rolled away. Everyone wanted to chase, but only one rider could, and it wasn’t enough. Mike Frias, who had been pulling his brains out, never shirking the front, and digging like a DitchWitch all day long, took over the nastiest chore of the entire day. For the entire 1.5 miles he towed us at full speed, keeping Surfer Dan in our sights but unable to close the gap. We hit the base of the climb and Mike swung over, waving us through. “All yours, boys,” he said, planting his foot squarely on a land mine just as he took an artillery round, a machine gun strafing, and a mortar round to the chest all at once.

Surfer Dan was just ahead of us, but on Balcom Canyon, “just ahead” is a meaningless term because the gradient is so steep that even a few feet can prove impossible to close. Dan churned away as what remained of the chasers detonated. Manslaughter saw his chance and punched it, followed by G$ and Unpronounceable, with BB-gun in hot pursuit. I sent all power to the engines, who, already blown, simply giggled.

The day before Destructionmas

Somehow, while I can’t actually call it “finding a rhythm,” I managed to keep from tipping over by pedaling, and that effort led me ever closer to Unpronounceable. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, came charging Toronto with bounds like a deer. With granny gear twirling, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment he’d stomp on my dick. More rapid than spin class his pedals they turned, and he grunted and labored, and calories burned. “Now, Surfer! Manslaughter! Now, Money and Aaron! On Wanky! Up Balcom I’m rarin’ and tearin’! To the top of the climb! To the top of the wall! It may cost my life, but I’ll pedal, not crawl!” As old men that before the steep obstacle faint, when they meet with the obstacle, rub their sore taint, so up and past Wanky, Toronto he flew, with a grin on his face because deep down he knew, that then, in a twinkling, Wanky would feel, the sting and the bite of Toronto’s sharp steel. And then, in a twinkling, I heard with a start, the breaking and rupture of valves in my heart. As I hung down my head, and was watching his ass, I knew I could not let this old wanker pass. He was pedaling fast, like the canyon he owned, but I knew once he wobbled his engine was blown. A bolus of snot then poured forth from his face, then he tottered and faltered, the end of his race. His eyes how they stared! How bloodshot and red! His cheeks were like corpses, all sunken and dead! His droll little mouth was drawn up in a frown, while spittle and mucous both oozed slowly down. The stumps of his legs shaved clean of their hairs, had gone from full circles to pedaling squares. His lined, broken face and his wheeze from the battle, escaped from his throat in one final death rattle. I left him there quick with a pat on his rump, as if he’d been beaten and chained to a stump. But though he sank back like a great anchor’s plunge, he somehow dug deep and with one final lunge, he gasped and he choked and he coughed up a lung, and finally onto his seventh place hung. Atop mighty Balcom he leaped off his tool, and he pranced and he danced and he texted Joe Yule. “I did it!” he said, “With Clif bars and java! A number I’ll proudly now upload to Strava!” But I heard him exclaim, ere I bombed down the hill, “With a compact next year I will climb faster still!”

Just this one last little bit

Surfer Dan was never reeled in, Manslaughter finished hard on his heels, G$ crested the hill next followed by BB-Gun, me, and Unpronounceable. We regrouped, descended, then hit the gas all the way to Golf Course Hill, a nasty little .3-mile kicker that finishes on a 13 percent grade. The final FTR tally looked like this:

  1. Grimes Canyon: Frias
  2. Fillmore sprunt: Hair
  3. Santa Paula sprunt: Hair
  4. Ojai climb: G$
  5. Ojai sprunt: Hair
  6. Casitas climb, first peak: Surfer Dan
  7. Casitas climb, second peak: Surfer Dan
  8. Santa Barbara county line sprunt: Hair
  9. Ventura county line sprunt: King Harold
  10. Balcom Canyon climb: Surfer Dan
  11. Golf Course climb: Manslaughter
  12. Most trash talked: Wanky

Honorable and Dishonorable Mention

  1. The last-minute cancellations, including Elron who bailed because he was too lazy to get up in time.
  2. Mike Frias for pulling like a Trojan All Fricking Day Award.
  3. 60-year-old Jim Bowles for Octogenarian of the Ride Award.
  4. Stern-O for Toughest Old Boot of the Ride Award.
  5. Turtle for Finishing Award.
  6. Manslaughter for Dude We’re Going to Really Fear Now That He Knows the Route Award.
  7. Unpronounceable for If He Ever Gets Serious About the Road We’re Doomed Award.
  8. Hair for All Around Champion Award.
  9. Surfer Dan for KOM, BOM, and SOM Awards.
  10. Uberfred for Best Projectile Vomit Award.
  11. Toronto for Best Self-Praise Award.
  12. G$ for Best Old Dude Who Rides Better Than the Kids Half His Age.
  13. Danny N. for Gutting It Out Award.
  14. King Harold for Best Recovery After Contracting Bubonic Plague at Training Camp.
  15. Jaeger for Best Mother Hen Award.
  16. Polly for Best Driver Award.
  17. BB-Gun for Best Shock Therapy on Balcom Award.
  18. Golden Boy for Most Awesome Ride With Less than 12 Miles of Training.

About two blocks from the Jaegers’ driveway, both of my legs seized up with those full-body cramps that bring you to a complete standstill while shrieking and grimacing in agony. Fortunately it was downhill, so I cruised into the driveway and tipped over, where I was shortly resuscitated with the Jaegers’ famous post-ride sandwiches and beer. As I stood in the kitchen, shaking, drinking beer, and refilling my plate, one of the family members looked at me. “I noticed that you were the last one in the driveway,” she said. “Does that mean you were last place on the ride?”

I sucked in my breath and got ready to tell her about the fireworks on Grimes, the carnage in Ojai, the warfare up Casitas, the death sprints, the Normandy charge up Balcom, and the final launch up Golf Course, and my incredible heroics at every step of the way. Then I thought about it and it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was the last one up the driveway.

I hung my head. “Yes.”

Burnt toast

January 13, 2013 § 15 Comments

I’m too tired and hungry and dehyrdated and dessicated to do anything besides report the facts regarding yesterday’s 117-mile beatdown, otherwise known as the 2013 edition of Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride.

First, a few stats:

Door to door: 7 hours, 8 minutes
Starting temperature: 40 degrees
Finishing temperature: 55 degrees
Skies: Beautifully clear and sunny. Perfect SoCal winter weather.
Wind: None to speak of
Distance: 117 miles
Total Climbing: +7,500 ft
Steepest gradient: 20%, Balcom Canyon Rd. (at mile 100; thanks, Jaeger)
Pieces of French toast consumed: 4
Slices of bacon eaten: 6
In-ride hydration: 1/2 a water bottle, 2 cups of convenience store coffee
In-ride nutrition: PBS, almonds, medjool dates, totaling 2,072 kcal
Calories burned: 4,200 kcal
Number of wankers who swore a blood oath that they’d start: 25
Number of wankers who actually started: 21
KOM: Jeff Konsmo
Green Jersey: Aaron Wimberley
Overall winners: James and Nancy Jaeger (got the most swag and didn’t have to ride a single mile!)

Individual Results (in order of free association)

Yuletide: Widely predicted to crash, burn, melt, and strew nuts, bolts, plates, and assorted surgical hardware all over Ventura County, Yuletide a/k/a Junkyard a/k/a Van Gogh pulled the ride of the decade out of his ass. Riding within his limits he got shelled on every climb, recovered on the descents, and ended up towing various wankers whose names shall not be mentioned, Jim Bowles, to various resting spots. Redemption is too weak a word for the gut-up, full-on, HTFU ride produced by the man whose logo is emblazoned on ten thousand sweaty butts across Southern California. Unlike last year when he was pulled the last half-mile up Balcom Canyon by a rusted out Chevy Luv filled with thirty lawnmowers and twelve yard workers that just happened to be passing at the right speed (2.4 mph), this year Yuletide brought the blood, sweat, and tears and stomped his way up under his own steam and ahead of various notables whose names shall not ever be mentioned, Jim Bowles. Ultimate proof of Yuletide’s rising tide was his appearance at the Wheatgrass Ride the following day, where he danced on the pedals (albeit a clog dance) and quaffed wheatgrass with the best of ‘em.

Fussy: Coming back from a terrible ten-year injury that debilitated him so much he could scarcely complete a lap on the Donut without assistance from an EMS crew, Fussy overcame the awful disease of Put Extra Whip Cream On Everything Please by enrolling in the Wankmeister Diet Plan. After reducing his daily caloric intake from 15,000 to about 65, he shed the better part of four coats of winter bear grease and showed up at FTR ready to ride wheelies all the way up Balcom. For a first timer, he acquitted himself with honor and with the immortal Baylesian good cheer, better humor, and extra-wide butt for the rest of us to draft off. In fact, Fussy fought, hammered, grabbed wheels when he could, pounded alone into the wind when he had to, and produced a ride guarantees an invite for 2014, to the extent that invites are ever guaranteed, which they aren’t.

Becker Bob: Bob put in his usual 10,000 miles of preparation for FTR spread out over the last 25 years, and for the most part didn’t finish last, except for the times he did. On Country Club Climb the rest of the crew had time to put the finishing touches on a 35,000-piece jigsaw puzzle before he crested the top, but until that point he rode well enough to justify the 14 pieces of French toast he’d scarfed before rolling out. Some people may have ridden faster, but no one had a better ratio of food-to-miles than Becker Bob. And of course he brought the trademark good humor and camaraderie that has made him a fixture on this annual death march. “Next year,” he says “I will train. Really.”

MMX: Pulled the most. Pulled the hardest. Drew the fiercest opposition. Left to dangle with no teammates. Perhaps won the sprunt into Ojai (more on that later). Awesome fourth on Balcom behind 42-lb. Alex, 51-lb. Konsmo, and The Lung a/k/a G$ a/k/a Leibert. Next closest rider was still at the Circle K in Ventura. MMX split the field into 300 smaller parts on the 101. Punished the bad boys and girls with a 30-minute smashmouth pull from Ventura to Santa Paula, where only a handful could do anything other than grab a wheel and vomit up the Barbie food they’d eaten at the Circle K along with their dreams and self esteem and delusions of glory. MMX slashed and burned up the Lake Casitas climb, cresting in fourth behind Zombo, Roadchamp, and G$, and hung in on the climb into Ojai despite the dastardly four-man combo of G3, G$, Roadchamp, and Zombo who all worked together to work him over. Never looked tired, and got the Repartee of the Day Award when someone complained, “We can’t spend too long here at the Circle K because all the lactic acid will build up.” MMX’s retort: “You don’t get lactic acid unless you ride hard.” Showered the host and hostess, their son and daughter and grandchildren with chic SPY-ware gift certificates, and gave WM another pair of cool-beyond-cool shoes so that I can now step outdoors in something that was designed (and made) later than 1987. Ripped off a handful of Strava KOM’s on the ride, and never drifted more than a couple of wheels off the front for the entire 7-hour odyssey. Bad news: He’s just starting to build for BWR. Good news: Most of the FTR wankers won’t have to deal with him again until 2014.

Punkster: After years of quitting, getting dropped, flailing, and generally behaving like a kid who trains in a basement in Indiana, Punkster brought his A Game to the 2013 FTR, or at least someone else’s. He challenged for every sprunt, made the first or second split on every climb, and beat Konsmo on the Balcom Climb except for a technicality: In the event of a tie on Balcom, the vee goes to the older guy, or the guy who has won it more, or the guy who first claims that it was a “tie.” Unlike others who rode well at key strategic points, Punkster shared huge miles with MMX on the front, never shirked, and unleashed a number of solid, battering pulls. On the run-in to Ojai, he claimed a shared sprunt victory with MMX, however, that is disputed by G$ and Wankmeister. More below. If Punkster continues this upward trajectory (and it should, as he now appears to have reached puberty), next year no one will hold his wheel anywhere.

DJ: Like a fine old wine that’s gone sour from sitting too long in the dumpster, Dave Jaeger, founder of the FTR, racer extraordinaire, vanquisher of the inaugural BWR in 2012, icon of the South Bay and Dude Who Thinks He’s Getting Paid To Remodel His Home, produced yet another astounding ride. Why astounding? Because despite doubling his mileage for the last six months in a single day, DJ hammered, placed respectably on every climb, made the split going over Ojai, and mother-henned all the brokedown wankers spread from Camarillo to Ventura and back. Moreover, he produced yet another version of the often-copied, never imitated French Toast Ride, the prime ingredients being 22 oz. of Beatdown mixed with 1 cup of Cajoling, then adding a lightly battered 899 grams of Encouragement to 149 lbs. of Taking Care of Everyone Else. Dave, we love you, and especially love the FTR because it’s the only time you go slow enough for us to get ahead of you, even if it’s only for a mile or two.

Zombo: Remember Columbo? Looked like a doofus? Tricked everybody into thinking that he was a clueless knucklehead who you could easily fool? Then in the end he’d turn out to have had the upper hand the whole time, was playing the bad guy for a fool, and would nail the sorry flailer’s ass to the floor? Okay, and you’re familiar with zombies, right? The ones you kill and smash and obliterate and wreck and throw into the meatgrinder and shoot through the heart and push off a cliff and burn into ashes and make watch Oprah and then they just get up and come right back at you, strong as they ever were? Your worst fucking nightmare on the FTR is a blend between a zombie and Columbo, a/k/a Zombo, f/k/a Surfer Dan. This was Zombo’s first FTR and he ate so much living flesh off his victims that there was nothing but a scattered, tattered pile of stinky shorts at the end (zombies don’t like poopy bike shorts). Hairy legged, grinning goofily, faux clueless about where to attack and where to rest, Zombo made the strongest and scariest FTR debut in recent memory. That’s all well and good–turning on the screws early, keeping the pressure high, being game for the hammerhead tactics of MMX, showing that he was worthy…but where he earned his keep forever was on the 101. This was one of those things that’s life and death, where a rider is more than a rider, where your life is in someone else’s hands and they keep you from getting ground under the wheels of a tractor-trailer moving at 80 mph at huge risk to their own life. We were in single file, with MMX absolutely stuffing our entrails back down our throats with each mash of the pedals, rolling up a slight rise, freeway traffic blowing by at 80+, and all I could do was grimace, choke back the bile and the mostly gone French toast and date juice and earwax and latch onto Konsmo’s rear wheel with a bitter prayer, who in turn was trying to pedal through a wall of sweat and snot while latched onto Zombo’s wheel, who like the rest of us was hunkered down and praying to Dog that this hell would end. With no warning, Zombo’s left hand shot off the bars and made a huge, wild sweeping motion that only meant one thing: Look out for DEATH! His bike moved a centimeter to the right. By taking his hand off the bars and flailing wildly to warn Konsmo he’d risked losing control of his own bike and therefore his life, as the “obstacle” was a manhole-sized gash in the pavement that was about a foot deep and two feet long. I’ve seen some fancy bike moves before, but to have the presence of mind to avoid the uncalled-out hole, quickly warn the guy behind you, and steer without swerving was unbelievable. Zombo’s trust factor was high; Konsmo acted with total instinct, the buddy-in-a-foxhole kind of trust move that you blindly make when you know the wheel in front of you and depend on it. Konsmo saw the wild sweep and knew that whatever it was, it was bad. He didn’t know if I was echeloned, so he couldn’t veer. Instead, he followed Zombo’s slight deviation from the line in a controlled and instantaneous reaction and as I followed Konsmo I saw his wheel graze the edge of that black pit of death by a margin so slim you could have put a pencil lead between the edge of Konsmo’s tire and the gaping crevasse. Of course by the time I reached it I was safe; my eyes had been able to follow the arm-sweep to the pavement and move accordingly. Had Zombo plunged us all into that hole, someone would have flown out onto the 101 and met the fate of G3’s Go-Pro…more about that disaster later. In short, it was the unsung hero move of the day. Konsmo was shaking afterwards, well, after MMX had cracked the group and ridden away, leaving us to lick our wounds and do a Kum-Ba-Ya around Zombo.

Überfred: Long-hailed by himself as one of the greatest national team members of the 1980’s, and one of the dudes still riding who can regale us with that same awesome story of how he beat Greg Lemond in a race once (it was the Hooterville Crit, where Lemond flatted in the final turn and crashed into the barriers), Überfred turned in one of the most impressive and amazing FTR performances in his storied career. After telling DJ that he’d be there, and taking up a valuable starting spot (thousands of South Bay wankers, and a contingent of LB Freddies including Checkerbutt had tried every means possible to obtain one of the coveted slots), Überfred emailed the night before the big event to say he’d gotten a boo-boo on his hoo-ha and wouldn’t be able to make the ride. There has never been an FTR night-before cancellation, and some noted that it was more than mere coincidence that Überfred’s boo-boo happened about one hour after WM sent out the Final FTR Email Warning of Death, in which all were reminded that their hour of judgment was nigh, and there was naught left but to suffer the beatdown and tow up Balcom by the passing gardener’s truck, if they were so lucky. Subsequent investigation revealed that Überfred had been in NYC the previous week, hanging out with cheerleaders and practicing his arabesques and assemblés.

BJones: BJ showed up in a decidedly non-ugly kit and suffered like the LB Freddie dog that he was. Fresh and keen in the first few stabs on the way to Fillmore, and game for the finish at the bridge, BJ found a spot in the back third of the wankoton and pounded all 117 miles of misery back to the ranch house in Camarillo. Then, unlike the mere mortals who changed clothes, wolfed sandwiches, then drove home, where they fell asleep in their jeans, BJ left without eating and drove back to Brea where he watched his daughter play in three consecutive soccer matches. A more awesome FTR performance is scarce to be imagined. On Balcom, he was the final corpse that I passed, and watching him paperboy up the slope in tandem with Bull reminded me of two pilot whales doing a synchronized swimming routine on a trampoline. It wasn’t pretty, but it got them up the damned thing. BJ also stood and kicked hard twice at the top of the climb, so hard in fact that I had to cough up a lung to pass him.

Brokeback: Without question the least fit, least prepared, most woefully undertrained wanker on the entire ride, Brokeback was not only suffering from the combined effects of his Reise nach Italien, a prolonged courtship which has included all manner of lard, foie gras, crème brûlée, chocolate eclair, Napoleon, apple tarte tatin, lemon meringue, chocolate fondue, and Teste-Cubières, but also in constant agony from severe lower back pain which he had been treating with the above-mentioned desserts on an almost hourly basis. In short, Brokeback knew that from Mile One he would be in hell, that no savior or sag would come to his aid, and that the only way he’d get through FTR 2013 was with grit and a suitcase of courage the size of Dallas. Unlike certain unnamed Long Beach no-shows, rather than betraying the Brotherhood of the Toast, Brokeback strapped on his strap-on, threw a leg over, and didn’t finish last on every single climb. I’m not sure whether he deserves credit for starting this odyssey on an empty tank and finishing it on willpower, or whether he deserves contempt for not making some minimal preparation for it, but I do know this: I could never have done what he did. That amount of guts and determination do not exist in my family tree.

Hair: Generally considered a Cat 3 sprunter, Hair set fire to this year’s FTR. He won’t admit it, but he doesn’t have to because we all have eyes: He’s trimmed off all the baby fat and, thanks to Wankmeister’s diet advice, has dropped a solid 10-15 pounds. Gone is the Hair who had rolls of neck fat. Gone is the Hair whose size tiny jersey had an extra front pocket for his hairy tummy. Gone is the Hair who had little grab-aholds under his armpits…and in his place is a lean, hard, badass bike racer. He took the Fillmore sprunt by several football fields even after starting on fourth-and-400 yards back. But then he showed some serious cards, hanging with the leaders on the climb into Ojai, sticking his nose into the wind all day long, and consistently being the only rider besides Zombo who could play ball with MMX doing the hard work on the front. Hair flew up Casitas and then hit the downhill with such speed that all I could do when it was my turn to pull through was not pull through and whimper. He got outfoxed on the Ojai sprunt, but closed the gap to MMX and Punkster singlehandedly. Most incredibly, he was among the top finishers on Balcom, a place where no pure sprunter dares show his mettle. Then, in addition to all that, he did it with his usual smack talk, good humor, and encouraging words to those of us who could do nothing but drool in his nonexistent slipstream. With no teammates, no natural climbing talent, and no performances in previous years on the FTR’s hardest sections that were anything other than flail-worthy, this year garnered him the award of Dude Who Is Flat Fucking Badass. I can’t take credit for doing anything other than unsuccessfully hanging onto his shadow, but he owes me 25% of 2013’s race winnings thanks to my diet advice, even though he pretends to be doing it on Jenny Craig.

Wankomodo: Every once in a while you trash talk a person, say bad things about him, drag his name through the mud, and bash him to a fare-thee-well, only to learn that he’s a first rate, stand-up guy, and then, feeling awful about the terrible things you said, you apologize. Well, that ain’t gonna happen. But I will say this: If one person made the 2013 FTR an over-the-top success, it was Wankomodo, who showed up with his brand new Lambo, $873,000 in Canon bodies and lenses, and did the most incredible job of sag + custom photography that FTR has ever had, or even dreamed of having, since most of us drive rusted out cars with more than 200k in mileage, and our “camera equipment” uses film. He picked great vantage points, got super photos of everyone, had them edited and posted less than 24 hours after the ride, and asked for nothing in return. So many good things were said about you during and after the ride, Wankomodo, and a whole bunch of them by me, that your ears must have burned down at least three sizes. Thanks for making it a special day and for giving us lots of fodder with which to waste our entire weekend, and for giving us stuff we can use to holler, “Hey, honey! Come look at this!” while our bored wives trundle into the room to look at another photo of G3 or MMX or some shattered wanker struggling up a pockmarked road with his tongue dragging in the gutter. You’re the man!

Stern-O: Older than dirt, but never having let any stay on his bike for more than twelve seconds, Stern-O represented the tough guys of New Mexico with a bravado, power, strength, and courage that we have come to expect from a state where there are more children born in wedlock to their immediate relatives than there are meth houses per square mile…if only barely. Stern-O, the guy who never turns down a dare, whose reputation was carved on the hard roads of LA County, legend among myths, an unsolved problem on par with P versus NP, with the Hodge conjecture or the Riemann hypothesis, a complex mess of contradictions, confusions and bewilderment built on a base of dyspepsia and flatulence, Sterno-O The One And Only played his last FTR card. It was a dark and stormy night (in New Mexico). A band of fathers and children all born within the first degree of consanguinity sat around the campfire bright. “Ain’t the FTR tomorrer, Pappy?” asked one. “I reckon it is,” said Stern-O. “But I ain’t a goin’.” A gasp went up. “How come, Pappy? You ain’t never skunked on at ‘ere rat race afore.” “This here year’s differnt,” said Stern-O. “I’m fattern a Greek bride. Slowern a New Mexico University perfesser of addition and subtraction. Legs is spindliern the spokes on my racin wheels. They’s gonna be layin fer me over there in Californey. They’s gonna whup me good. Even ol’ Yulester’s gonna whup me. Bowles. Brokeback. All them fellers is gonna mash mah dick into the dirt and call me ‘Ol Grizzles,’ an’ ‘Softy,’ an’ I ain’t gonna stand for it. I’m a bailin.'” “But Pappy,” said his children, “you cain’t just quit the night afore the rat race. They’s done turned others away so’s you could do that there rat race. ‘Tain’t rat.” But Pappy would not be dissuaded. “I’ve done made fun a more wankers in my day than us New Mexicans have chillun who we’ve done married up to once they got over the age of twelve,” he said. “And I ain’t a gonna let ‘em call me a wanker. No sir, I ain’t a gonna.” And with that, Stern-O fired off an email to DJ and bailed. Just. Like. That.

G3: The week before FTR, G3 had spent each day nestled up close to the toilet, pooping like mad in an attempt to dislodge the gastrointestinal bug he’d picked up from licking too many doorknobs. Faint, thin, covered in a Jeremiah Johnson beard, rickety at the knees, and begging to be excused for frailness even before he finished his sixteenth piece of French toast, G3 led out the FTR by attacking early and taking the first KOM on the climb into Fillmore. Then the sorry fuck landed the first blow in a four-man orchestrated project beating going up the climb into Ojai which was designed to, and which did, dislodge MMX from the wheel of G$ and Roadchamp. No matter that G3 exploded into a mass of poopy bibs…he knew his part and played it well, including his sneak attack on DJ going up Balcom, where he pounded the ride leader to cross the legendary Balcom threshold a few bike lengths ahead. If this was a weakened, broken, poop-covered G3, thank Dog we didn’t see him at full force. With his orange froo-froo talisman dangling from his saddle he rode smart, he rode hard, and he punished all who thought they’d smack him while he was down (that was mostly me). However, the one part of the ride where his wheels were coming off as MMX exacted revenge on the 101, with G3 blown off the back and buffeted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, his brand new Go-Pro bar mount snapped and the camera flew off onto the highway. The timing was perfect, because he could now legitimately do what the rest of us were praying we could do: Stop and shudder and gasp until the big black spots vanished and the guy in the white robe surrounded by the shimmering white light receded into the distance a bit. As he went back to collect his camera, composing in his head the angry letter he’d dash off to Go-Pro demanding a refund for a product he hadn’t paid for, as it had been a Christmas gift, he was faced with a major decision: Should he reach down and pick up the camera, or get the fuck out of the way of the 18-wheeler that was listing over into the bike lane and headed straight for the camera. “Lunge for the $300 camera and likely die? Or get out of the way and dash off that nasty letter?” It was a tough decision since he had so much good footage of MMX and others riding him off their wheel, but smarts won out over thrift. He jumped back just in time for the big front wheel to hit the camera, explode it into a million pieces, and plow onward with the driver laughing in the mirror.

G$: Raging. Roaring. Full throttle. Destruction on the climb into Ojai. Beatdown on the climb up Lake Casitas. 1-2 finish at the Santa Barbara County Line. Punishing beatdown on the 101. Third-place finish on Balcom. Brilliant orange socks blazing, G$ checked the oil level, found it full, checked the gas gauge, found it full, and turned in another awesome FTR ride. Of all his impressive moves, none matched his 1-2 finish at the Imaginary Sprunt Finish in Ojai, duking it out with Wankmeister for imaginary victory. MMX and Punkster had already crossed what they thought was the finish line, but the Ojai sign had been taken down, so in our opinion they finished too soon. Hair then jumped, but he, too went too soon. In our opinion. This meant that the true sprunt line was just ahead of where the others sat up. G$ jumped once, jumped twice, and with Wankmeister on his wheel, then battling into the wind, these two titans of the big ring, both known far and wide for the sprunting ability, took an imaginary first and imaginary second at the imaginary line. Or so we imagined.

Roadchamp: It gets really boring trying to say something new about Roadchamp. He took the climbs at will. He had no peer on this FTR, or any other. Punkster will beat him in a year or two, but for now he’s the King of All Mountains. Will his abject terror and fear of bad roads scare him away from the Belgian Waffle Ride again this year? Probably. But rest assured that when the road tilts up in 2013, he’ll be a force and the only assured way of beating him will be with a moped.

Dlrmpl: Would have easily gotten the Newbie Award if it hadn’t been for Zombo. Dude rode strong, smoked it up Balcom, climbed great on Casitas, and only really got shelled on the climb into Ojai. Never showed weakness in the form of sobbing, calling out his mother’s name, or offering Wankomodo money for a ride in the Lambo. Dlrmpl will only get stronger, faster, and more intent on whipping up on the old dudes as time goes by. Plus he’s already DM’d all his wanker buddies, rubbing their nose into the fact that he got to ride and they didn’t.

Turtle: Realized that the 101 was going to be  even more unforgiving than it was last year. Night before bailer and quitter.

Bull: Go and blow. For 117 miles. Bull hit the front, popped, recovered, and hit the front again so many times we all lost count. He and BJ’s synchronized paperboy on Balcom was poetry in motion, especially if you like bad poetry. Tough, resilient, always grinning despite the sheet snot hanging off his face like icicles, he asked for no mercy, not because he didn’t want any, but because he knew he’d get none.

Taylor: Gritted it out. Gutted it out. Showed up for FTR with no illusions, and left it with even fewer. It was a hard, miserable, lonely beatdown in Ventura County for Big T., and he took his beating like a man. No whimpering or whining, just slogging through the miles grimly and without complaint, lugging himself up Balcom and coming to rest in front of the food buffet Chez Jaeger, where he got all the reward he ever expected.

Bowles: Taking the part of Stern-O as Oldest Gentleman To Ride The FTR And Not Require Medical Intervention, Bowles pounded, hammered, got dropped, latched back on, and achieved the ultimate goal in his storied FTR career: Dropped Yuletide again on Golf Course Hill. Always glad to be part of the circus, and never the last elephant in the parade, he acquitted himself honorably again, and it was with an honorableness that will only increase as he keeps showing up.

Gil: Showing up…showing up…rings a bell…Even Superman has to show up when he signs on the dotted line. We were all disappointed and surprised that you joined the LB contingent of night before bailer and quitter. Damn.

Major Bob: You and Frias are the lucky ones. I’m too dogdamned tired to write anymore, and can’t imagine that anyone is still reading, except Harold and Leonard, who are wondering when I’m going to sing the praises of King Harry. Major Bob wrote his name large again in the storied history of the FTR. He came. He saw. He ate four helpings of French toast and enough bacon to make a Denny’s patron blush. And he charged all the climbs, bombed all the descents, spent time on the front, and was cracking jokes and grinning up to the bitter end.

Frias: Frias ground out yet another FTR. He wasn’t the first, but was by no means the last. Dude, I’m all typed out.

King Harold: Won the Best Pre-Ride Smacktalk Email Award of 2013. Whereas other smacktalking greats like Uberfred and Bull were strangely silent, King Harold unleashed a pair of disses that were truly wankworthy. Our time together on this year’s FTR was limited to the second bump, when Harry threw a chain and I made the horrible mistake of dropping back to help, like I know anything about chains other than “Don’t wrap them around the outside of the pulley-wheel cage,” and like I could help him bridge in the middle of a climb when the main group was sprinting away. What was I thinking? I know what I was thinking: King Harold is one of the best guys with one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever met, and I figured I’d rather flail alone into the wind with Harry for 100 miles than spend the next six hours curled up in a fetal ball of pain trying to follow MMX or G$. This of course was a terrible decision as we wound up in another OTB two-man flail of death, where Harry’s effort to get us back to the group was so ugly that neither of us had the legs to do anything besides pant and pray for the rest of the climb. Incredibly, he didn’t crush and drop me on the climbs. Perhaps it was his fear of the kimchee gas? We’ll never know…

Wankmeister: I sucked. Surprised? And it had nothing to do with the fact that I did the ride on two cups of gas station coffee, half a bottle of water, some dates, almonds, and a PBS.

Get your application in for 2014!

With the fame of the FTR having spread far and wide, and numerous friendships having been sundered due to one person getting in and the other not getting invited, and with much mystery surrounding the selection process, I’ve posted the guidelines below so that you can be guaranteed a spot in 2014.

  1. Receive an invitation from the previous year. This is the simplest, quickest, most generally successful way to get invited. Oh…you’ve never been invited? Hmmm, you might be hosed. But read on.
  2. Meet up with the early morning Manhattan Beach crew on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at CotKU for the better part of a year. Become friends with DJ, ingratiate yourself with him, demonstrate your prowess on the bike, be generous and safe, don’t act like a prick, and know your place in the group, which is above that of a germ but below that of a dingleberry, and listen to his same twelve stories over and over but pretend that it’s the first time every time. They leave at 5:30 AM. Oh…you don’t like riding that early? You live too far away? Hmmmm, you might be hosed. But read on.
  3. Ride somewhat regularly with DJ throughout the year at the NPR or Donut Ride, or race against him. Demonstrate your skills without being a tool. At the same time, ingratiate yourself with an FTR multi-year participant. Then, a couple of weeks before the ride, whose date is kept secret, find out through the grapevine if there have been any cancellations. On pain of permanent rejection til the end of days, never ever ever ask DJ directly if you can do the ride. Have your “connection” ask for you. The answer will always be “Hell no.” However, the following year the answer will be “No way.” Third year, “Maybe.” Fourth year “I’ll think about it if we have mass cancellations by the Long Beach Freddies.” Fifth year (reluctantly), “Okay, that wanker’s in.” Oh…you don’t want to wait five years? Hmmmm, have you considered the Solvang Century? No? Okay, read on.
  4. Send DJ a large suitcase stuffed with cash. You’re in like Flynn.

On the French Toast Ride, no one can hear you scream

January 11, 2013 § 20 Comments

[Private message sent out to lucky invitee participants of Dave Jaeger’s Annual and Legendary Southern California French Toast Ride Beatdown and Smacktalk Session]

Dear Wankers,

By now you’ve checked the weather forecast. Rather, you’ve been compulsively checking it for the last month, hoping for rain, or snow, or even heavy clouds, anything to make Jaeger call off this nonsensical affair.

The bad news is that in Camarillo tomorrow it will only be partly cloudy with no snow or tsunamis in the forecast. The worse news is that when we roll out it will be 35 degrees. The worst news of all is that you have no idea what to wear.
Leg warmers? But what if it doesn’t warm up in time?

Tights? What if it gets too hot? Isn’t the high supposed to be 58?

Shoe covers? But aren’t they heavy and won’t they slow you down? Plus, they’re too bulky to put in your jersey, right? And they look clunky. But you hate cold feet. You bonk when your feet get cold, remember?

Maybe you should wear toe covers? But toe covers won’t do anything in 25 degree weather. Twenty-five degrees? Right, twenty-five, because with the wind chill you can knock off a good ten degrees, and that’s assuming the wind isn’t already blowing straight into your face, which it did last year for the first ten miles. If it does that tomorrow at 35 degrees, you’ll be dead by mile six. How will you keep warm?

Embro? You haven’t used it all year because you’ve been golfing and cooking Cornish hens in your new, oversized George Foreman Cooker like Harry, or sleeping ‘til noon like Yuletide, or not riding at all like Toronto. If you use embro now you could end up with hot parts, like Skeletor did two years ago. Hot parts for seven hours is a long, hot time.

And so it goes, one worry after another, one nagging concern followed by another bothersome consideration, the concatenation of which will lead to rack and ruin at about mile 80, or much earlier if your name is Dalrymple or some other impossible-to-spell surname.The good news is that there’s nothing you can do about it, and freezing to death might actually be preferable to what’s really in store for all but a tiny handful of riders whose preparation, fitness, hardiness, and  lust for pain are perfectly tuned (that would be me). Longhaired Dude, I’m not talking about you. You’ll get a few sprint points that no one wants anyway and then suffer like a dog the rest of the ride as you suck wheel and refuse to do any work and get shelled on all the climbs before the pace even picks up and then go back to your Team Helen’s wanker buddies and thump your chest.

Old Lug, we know you’ve been silent and training your butt off, but you should have been training your stomach off, because the way that thing hangs down it’s a wonder it doesn’t get caught in your chain. Isn’t there cosmetic surgery for that? And even though you’ve been training like mad, the best you can expect is survival, tucked in at the rear, never sharing the work and letting others drag you across the highways and byways of the FTR.Major Bob, you and Fence will take turns hiding from the wind and then fighting to the death for “biggest dude to make it up the climb without recourse to a defibrillator.” If it’s a tie there will likely be an arm wrestling contest. I’m putting my money on Fence, just because he’s from Philly and has arms like a cheese steak sandwich, although Bob’s military affiliation means that he might be expected to have the heavier caliber weapons or a bayonet that he might use in a pinch.

Punkster, I can’t believe you’re coming back for this ride. Thirty years younger than the next youngest rider, you’ve failed to ever distinguish yourself except as fodder for the first easy attack into Fillmore. After that you’ve been crushed, beaten, dropped, and ground up by people old enough to be your grandfather’s grandfather, or older than Stern-O, even. Well, not older than Stern-O.

G3, your excuse of loose bowels is finely honed and we’ve all been led to expect that you’ll just barely be surviving, but we know it’s cover for the fact that you’ve logged 14,000 base miles this winter squiring the whole pack of Big Orangers up and down PCH at 13 mph on no-drop rides. We know that secretly you’re going to make a surge after sucking wheel the whole ride, sandbagging to the very end and then, if you flail, blaming it on the bowels, but if you succeed, rubbing salt in the wound by saying you did it “At 50%; imagine if I hadn’t been sick.”

Bull, you’ll avoid blowing up in the first mile, maybe, and will do everything in your power to “ride strategically.” However, there’s no “strategy” for getting a boxcar of lead up Casitas and Balcom without a hoist, and the closest thing we had to a hoist in terms of weight, girth, and immobility was Oldman, and he’s quit in order to replace his La-Z-Boy reclinacouch with a triple wide version and built-in brewpub. So you’ll lug yourself up on your hands and knees and promise to do better next time. Hint: you won’t do better until you learn to say “no” to the fifth trip up the buffet line at those 1-percenter conferences you attend every other week.

Stern-O, you’ll suck wheel except for one glory pull where there’s no danger of getting dropped, remind everyone that you’re ten years older in horse years than Methuselah, and will make sure that whatever happens you’re not the last one up Balcom. Then you’ll go home and brag to the obese dude with heart problems who’s your riding partner that you “Hung with Roadchamp and G$ on the climbs.”Roadchamp, no matter how many KOM’s you take, you’ll get no respect because, well, there’s nothing you’ve ever done that’s worthy of it. Except your blingmobile. That is truly awesome. Along with the butcher trophy that you sleep with. (PS: Would you put in your will that I get the butcher trophy? I’ve been sleeping with my ribbon from Brad House’s PV Hillclimb back in ’09, and it’s just not the same.)

Überfred, I’m lumping you with the other Long Beach Freddies as toxic material barely worthy of mention. The entire pack will be pedaling madly to stay away from the cadmium/mercury/radioactive isotopes that all you guys carry on your skin. And frankly, they won’t have to pedal very hard to do it. We’ll see how late into the ride you keep yelling for everyone to “take a pull.” My prediction is that you’ll be silently sucking wheel the entire day, praying that no one sends you into the wind.

Becker Bob, the last time you did this ride you got the award for Dude Who Rode Longest With Fewest Training Miles. That was honorable then, but it’s been two years and you should have ridden your bike in the interim. This year you will be coyote fodder. The Circle K has been boarded up, though, so if you carry a hammer you can pull a few nails, climb in, and at least have somewhere to spend the night.

Bones ‘N Skin, I remember like it was yesterday when you made that acceleration on Lake Casitas, followed by a major engine rupture and rapid reversal of motion. Will 2013 be any different? How? Why? You need to get off the Toronto/Yuletide/Becker Bob training program and increase your mileage to at least three donut shops per week. Really.

Skeletor, you’ve trained for this and this alone for the last three years. Quit pretending otherwise. We’ve followed you on Strava and know that you’re peaking. There will be no excuses this year, no “Wankster blew at the bottom of Balcom after our pee stop attack and collapsed on the guardrails” excusifying. Nope. No broken back, cracked necks, laminated skulls, infected intestines, or anything else. Pressure’s on. Everyone’s got a beautiful, well-polished, handcrafted excuse except you. Welcome to hell.

Anonymous, you’d deserve lots of smack talk except that you’re always hiding so well that I frankly couldn’t pick you out of a crowd of two. Maybe this year you will nose to the front and show your true colors…and as long as they’re not those awful corpse-gray colors you were sporting last year, it will be a good thing. Did you eventually burn those kits? I think they were the ugliest thing in the peloton ever. Until you came up with those checkered things. And Wehrlissimo’s plaid shorts. Yuck!

Gil, you  get a pass for saving that dude’s life in the car. But next year, forget it. The bulls-eye will be so big a blind man could hit it.

Turtle, you’ll cower and shrink again on the 101, unable to pull through, barely able to hang on, a testament to the ill effects of too much beer, too many cheeseburgers, too many videos, and too little time spent riding something other than Überfred’s 26-mile “hammerfests” in the mountains of Long Beach. It won’t be pretty, but we’ll all be watching.

Dalypunzel, Fussy, and Sufer Dan, as newbies you get the fewest words. You are negligible.G$, you’ve already laid claim to doing something spectacular on the climbs and have gone so far as to invoke that little incident last year where you tried to ride your bike under a car. Downhill. At speed. That’s the kind of tactical savvy we’ve come to expect from a dude who thinks that bright green and orange look good together, and tomorrow we expect more poor judgment, reckless displays of strength, and ultimately getting owned by Roadchamp, WHO’S JUST BETTER THAN YOU.

Harry, what can I say? As long as you get on my wheel once, I have the medicine to punish you for your insolence. You inhaled it once on Encinal. You will inhale much, much more tomorrow. I’ve been snacking on a special variety of double-fermented cattle offal kimchee for you and you alone. And no cheating this year on Casitas, you cheating cheaty cheater.

DJ, your efforts on Casitas will be marked. By me. I will drop you just like two years ago, when you flailed, struggled, and surged, only to get kicked out the back at the end at the end of the climb. Okay, so you caught up and dropped me later on the second mini-peak, but that’s because I let you. Tomorrow I will simply let you dangle, then garrot you with an attack of such speed, power, and wild abandon that your last memory will be of a pink flash traveling at the speed of light. No manner of home remodel excuses or fan thingy routing or placement of the urinal (Next to the bed? In the kitchen?) will earn you anything other than a merciless drubbing.

Yuletide, you know you shouldn’t be doing this. You’ve not been riding. You’ve had surgery. Big surgery. Massive surgery. You’ve had kidney failure. Potassium depletion. Erectile dysfunction. Echinaea of the postpartum. And worse. Even without those things you’re a first-class wanker. But your foolish pride and desire to be with the boys is forcing you do something that even Oldman recognized was folly. Repent now, and give your spot to Tink. She’ll ride better, punish more people, and get more out of it than you, who will be in the passenger seat of the sag wagon come mile fifty.

Toronto, as the only person weaker and less trained than Yuletide, people are counting on you to act as a cushion for their own flailing. That would be Fussy, who was, in fact super depressed to learn that Oldman was bailing because he’d pegged Oldman as the one rider who, even mathematically, had no chance of finishing ahead of him. Marc, you had so many great excuses! Too much work; romancing a lovely lady; trips to Rome; ballet lessons. Why not cash in on them now? You’ll crawl up the climbs and be lucky to make it to the top, and I’m just talking about that little bump after we leave the Jaegers’ driveway. Really. This is madness. Quit while you’re still behind.

As for me, I’ve shaved 76 pounds off my normally large frame and now have a power-to-weight ratio of Huge : Tiny. There will be no mercy. I’ve logged more miles than G3 and more intensity than all of G$ and Roadchamp’s big ring workouts combined. I rode one-legged around the peninsula yesterday in a 30-degree sleetstorm wearing only a Speedo and t-shirt. It took fifteen minutes.

I’ll be pre-fueling tonight with a special kimchee combo for Harry, and will be bringing the magic dates-and-almond rocket fuel for in-ride power boosts and speed enhancement. In short, there’s nothing any of you will be able to do in the face of my awesomeness, other than take photos (from a distance) and post cool things on my FB page like “You’re the best!” and “Like” and “Über like.”

Free autographs to the first five who finish after me, $45 each for the rest of you.

There will of course be fine, warm, tasty French toast prior to the screaming beatdown, but here, too, your choices are fraught with peril. Eat too much and ride like you’re dragging a railroad tie. Eat too little and no amount of in-ride fueling will feed the beast on the 101, let alone Casitas and Balcom. But with all the clothes you’re bringing, will there be pocket room for food? How many Gu’s can you force into your jersey? And what’s the best food to take out and eat without having to shuck off three layers of clothing to get to it? And what about zipping and unzipping while you ride? What if you’re not so good at that, and you have to stop to zip back up? What if you get dropped, or if you’re already dropped? Toilet stops? What if the cold makes you pee more than normal? What if “normal” is as often as our leader’s tender prostate, one-urination-per-kilometer?

Oh, and how’re you going to climb Casitas with twelve pounds of wool clothing tied to your waist?

Let’s not forget that your S.O. has a honey-do list for you tonight so you won’t get to bed before one o’clock. Then you’ll toss and turn. And you have a hard time riding on insufficient sleep. I suppose you can keep hoping that maybe it will snow, like it did this week in Palestine for the first time in recorded history.

Well, it’s been fun. I’m going to start my taper now. Say your prayers, if you believe in that sort of thing. The only one who’ll be listening is the stony slope of Balcom Canyon.

Out with the old, in with the…on second thought…

January 4, 2013 § 14 Comments

2013 rushed in, rudely sweeping aside 2012, who had just only gotten going. “Out with the old, in with the new!” she shouted.

“Old? I just turned one!” said poor 2012. “I was just getting going! I was on track to be the best year ever!”

“Beat it,” retorted 2013. “You’re the jackass who brought us the fiscal cliff, hurricanes in New York City, mass murderers in schools and theaters, apocalypse in Syria, complete melting of the polar winter ice, destabilization of the Antarctic ice shelf, crop failure in the Midwest, and the hottest summer ever recorded. You had your shot at glory and you blew it. Now step aside.”

With that, and copious amounts of tequila, the world’s revelers plunged madly into 2013, where, on the first day of the year, although things didn’t look exactly “new,” they sure looked foggy, dull, and shot with pain from the blinding hangover.

“Don’t worry about the over indulging in bad food, the excessive drink, and screwing your best friend’s wife on the last night of 2012,” reassured 2013. “We’ve got a fix for all that. It’s called the ‘New Year’s Resolution.’ You can fix all your problems and guarantee perfection in 2013 with it! Buy now and you’ll get this special SlicerDicer with a compact ratchet set and skin moisturizer all in one!”

Making 2013 the perfect year

Of course 2013 will be just as cobbled together, filled with disappointment, shot with joy and happiness, complicated, simple, profitable, and stained with red ink as 2012. The only difference is that by the end, everyone over the age of 28 will be one year dumber, one year weaker, and one year uglier. And EVERYONE will be one year older. So there’s that, as Knoll would say.

“No!” shouted 2013. “With resolutions we can fix the errors of the past! Let’s get started!”

A notepad and pencil were hastily shoved in front of the post-revelers, whose headaches had gotten so bad that, after puking three times they were too dehydrated to go back to sleep. Plus, the dog needed to be fed and had already crapped twice on the carpet. “Argh,” said the revelers. “Might as well resolve.”

So the Big Four marched out, the same Big Four that march out every year. The Big Four resolutions that enter the new year with so much force and fury that McDonald’s and Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol recoil, and employers everywhere rejoice. You know who I’m talking about:

Mr. I’m Gonna Lose Ten Pounds And Exercise Regularly.

And Mr. I’m Gonna Quit Smoking And Doing Drugs.

And Mr. I’m Gonna Quit Drinking.

And Mr. I’m Gonna Get Organized And Quit Putting Stuff Off.

Cyclists, of course, always add Mr. I’m Gonna Become A Better Climber.

“Yeah,” say the painfully hungover revelers. “I’m gonna do all that shit, but first I gotta have a cig and a beer after I finish the cake and eggnog leftovers from last night. And since I’m sick as shit today, I’ll get started on it tomorrow. Where’s the Advil?”

Some old things never change, Thank Dog

In the crazy rush to get rid of all the things that make us happy, though, one ancient, time-encrusted, hoary old tradition stands tall against the battering waves of change: Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride.

It’s now in its 15th or 500th year, depending on how aged and decrepit Jim Bowles, Martin Howard, and Gregg Stern look on the day of the ride, but numbers aside, it’s a lot older than the sum of its years. The FTR, like all old things, and especially like all old cyclists, is a perversely constructed event that has adapted and survived because of its perverse construction.

It’s not a race. It’s not a ride. It’s not an event, either. It’s more like scratching your butt–a nice habit that’s a bit socially awkward but that feels so good once you start that it’s almost impossible to start.

The FTR covers 118 miles of roads in and around Camarillo, Ojai, and Ventura. It has a couple of hard climbs, with the Balcom Canyon stinger thrown in at about mile one hundred. Strava it, or Google it, or search this blog for write-ups on past years and you’ll see what a miserable climb it is, and you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about the route and its various obstacles, not to mention the travails of the riders.

Since the participants are all quite aged, with only one rider in his twenties, one in his thirties, the rest being far over forty, and a handful just a decade or two shy of the Jurassic, the ride doesn’t race, exactly. The balance of riders are too weak and old for that.

There are, however, a couple of KOM’s, a couple of regroup points, and everyone finishes together on a miserable little pitch up the backside of a golf course leading into Camarillo. Weather is mandated to be perfect, and it always is.

A tribute to the enablers of 2012

What the FTR really is, is a tribute to the cycling enablers among us. They’re the people who watch us roll out in the morning, fully aware that we may come back via LifeFlight, or we may come back so injured that we’re never the same again, or we may never come back at all.

They’re the people who don’t fully understand but nonetheless approve the purchase of not one, but two extra sets of full carbon race wheels. They’re the people who don’t share our passion for cycling, but who love us because of our in spite of our passion. They’re the ones who don’t ask why, even though they occasionally grumble about having to give hand-ups in the hot, or the cold, or the snow, or the rain.

FTR couldn’t take place without enablers, and not just ordinary enablers. Jim and Nancy Jaeger, the hosts, open their home to invasion by thirty or so ravenously hungry, highly excitable, and digestively dynamic cyclists.You might not think that’s such a big deal until you realize that each one of those cyclists, after scarfing the French toast breakfast, immediately dashes upstairs with massive rumblings of the large intestines.

No one will ever forget the year that Stern-O’s release and subsequent OCD tissue-wiping of the entire bathroom clogged the toilet, burst pipes inside the walls, and required a hazmat crew to come in and clean up the destruction. But what I will never forget is despite that incident and the general bomb-dropping and log burials that accompany the FTR every year, the Jaegers graciously make their home available again. Enablers? Yes. Saints? Most likely.

Lynn, Macy, and Carly Jaeger put together an assembly line of French toast, bacon, sausage, and strong coffee that would shame any military operation. They chalk the sidewalk, or at least the driveway, with cheerful slogans like “You guys all suck!” and “Good luck, wankers!” Mostly, though, they provide the infrastructure of food, good cheer, and assistance that makes every little nattering glitch dissolve so that the ride rolls out on time.

Who’s your enabler?

The FTR’s enablers come together for this one day each year to allow us the dual pleasures of wasting another entire day on the bike and getting to do it fully supported with food before and after the ride. If need be, and need has occasionally been, Jim Jaeger is never too far away to drive out to some point in the ride and scrape up a hapless wanker who’s found himself mechanically, physically, or emotionally unable to continue.

In 2013 you’ll be rolling the highways, or the dirt tracks, or race courses that have been set up for your cycling pleasure. Someone’s making it all possible for you, or at least not throwing up roadblocks, unless it’s Dorothy Wong and you’re racing ‘cross. In all likelihood, no matter what your enablers say, they admire you for not needing a New Year’s resolution to go out and push your body and your mind in this most physical of ways. At the very least, they admire your courage in wearing lycra despite that saggy gut.

I’m not so sure that global warming, or psychotic gun nuts, or war in the Middle East, or the surveillance state, or political gridlock will markedly improve in 2013. But I’m sure that the FTR and its enablers, as well as all the enablers who make your cycling possible, need to stick around, not just for this year, but forever.

In that one little way, at least, here’s hoping that 2012 is here to stay.

Remains of the day

December 22, 2012 § 5 Comments

Too many days there are too many things that happen for me to organize them into a theme or even a coherent thought, so the day goes by and so much that needs saying goes unsaid, or in my case, unblogged!

Today, in no particular order except the first item:

  • Prez showed up for the Donut Ride in full Santa kit. No, you don’t understand. I mean full Santa kit. His tall black Santa boots were fitted over his cycling shoes so that his cleats could lock into the pedals. His Santa hat was fixed to his helmet so that it flopped but the helmet was rock solid (protecting what, we’re not sure). He had red cycling shorts. Yes, red. As in the color red. He had a red jersey. He had red gloves. Aside from being the most amazing get-up I’ve ever seen on a bike, he did the genuine Santa impersonation by Going to the Front as we rolled out of Redondo Beach, then pulling the other reindeer (all 100 of them, including Dopey, Stinky, Lazy, Bashful, Twitchy, Flinch, Crazy, Stupid, Slothful, Sexy, Naughty, and Embroey) up out of Malaga Cove and all the way to Lunada Bay. Santa, I’ve been naughty this year. I hope that means I get a whip or some handcuffs.
  • Stathis the Wily Greek unleashed a tour de force on the Switchbacks. The wankoton sucked eggs all the way to the bottom of the climb. Then he let loose. I followed for ten seconds before blowing. It shattered the entire field. None could follow. John Hall, Craig L., and several others duked it out for the scraps. Mark Alvarado got shelled, but then blasted by me at the end in an amazing show of speed. Eric Anderson climbed with the climbers. Keith, Marco, Rico, others all represented.
  • Marshall P. rode like a champion up Zumaya. At the tail end as I was about to overhaul him he gave a big kick and was gone. Kudos!
  • Tink is riding “at power.” This means she goes faster than 99% of all the other riders but doesn’t ever accelerate or attack. 2013 is going to see some scalps hanging from her coup stick. Glad I don’t race against her.
  • The Serfas handlebar-mount headlight (500 lumens) is awesome. More about that in a separate post.
  • Nite Ryder lighting systems just went from fave to frown. More about that in a separate post.
  • Todd Buckley and Rahsaan Bahati put together an all-day ride to Camarillo. All-star cast included Charon, Suze, and many others. Wish I could have made it.
  • Pischon Jones is down at least 15 pounds. I saw more lean meat on that boy than you could find at a Weight Watchers convention. Dude has the discipline hat on. Props!
  • SoCal cyclists are so weather-wussified it’s hilarious! MS, before the Donut started: “Gosh, I’d forgotten how cold it is here in SoCal!” It was about 50 degrees. He’s coming from two years of school in Jamaica, and after the holidays is moving to Chicago. Does it ever get below 50 in Chicago in the winter? Har!
  • Joe Yule got the hardware out of his elbow this week, and he and Manny Guzman got into a “Whose 13-inch elbow scar is gnarlier?” photo contest on FB. Not for the queasy of stomach…
  • Great bike sales and seasonal deals in the South Bay at Bike Palace, Sprocket Cycles, PV Cycle Center, and Manhattan Beach Cycles.
  • Super nice waves this morning at the Cove. Indicators was breaking, and so was Lunada Bay. SoCal cyclists may be weather wussies, but it’s pretty cool to be pedaling your bike in late December in sunny, warm weather while gorgeous sets roll in on the point.
  • Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride approaches. It’s going to be grim.
  • SPY Optic and Ride Cyclery have two big holiday rides, one on 12/24 and one on 1/2. The 12/24 ride will be a swords-drawn survival of the cruelest. You have been warned!

‘Nuff for now. Gotta shop. My, uh, favorite family activity…

FTR 2012: What should I wear?

January 16, 2012 § 3 Comments

The pain, almost unendurable. The stabbing throbs, radiating out from my core and spreading throughout my entire body. Everything stretched to its absolute limit, feeling as if the tissue would tear apart and spill my innards.

Pre-game face game face

This is what the FTR 2012 felt like, and that was just my stomach after pounding down the twelve pieces of French toast and matching sausage logs. It was destined to become a day in infamy, but hours before the first slab of syrup-coated, egg-battered toast slithered down my throat, I had to make some important decisions, and none more important than this: What should I wear?

The choice of clothing was crucial. FTR 2012 was contested by five major teams, and two odd, all-black fashion mistakes from Santa Fe and from Manhattan Beach. The teams were SPY Optic, Big Orange, Ironfly, Helen’s, and the we-can’t-afford-a-final-coat-so-we’re-stopping-with-the-primer-gray outfits of Team LBF (Long Beach Freddies).

I stared hard at my cycling fall fashion collection. If I chose SPY, I would be honoring my comrade-in-arms from FTR 2011’s heroic pee-stop breakaway, MMX. However, a SPY kit would mark me as a teammate of FTR DS Jaeger, King Harold, Dogg, T-Rex, and that outcast homewrecker, Toronto–all foes I had sworn to destroy. Moreover, I had flown the SPY colors the previous week at the Nichols Canyon beatdown, despite being surrounded by my Ironfly teammates.

On the other hand, if I wore my Ironfly kit, word would eventually get back to the Fireman, who would berate me for my non-Fly attire. But if I failed to wear the SPY kit I wouldn’t have a Red Kite’s prayer of ever being able to face MMX again. It would be as traitorous as if I were to write a positive review of Assos Zeghole cycling glasses.

Caught in the dilemma, I resolved it the usual way: grabbed what was closest, and said, “Fuggit.”

Load ‘em up!

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who had the SPY Optic/Ironfly clothing dilemma. Unbeknownst to me, Toronto had been tormented by the choice and had called StageOne at 3:00 a.m. in a frenzy before the ride. “Dude, what should I wear?”

“Huh? Who is this?”

“It’s me, Toronto. I can’t decide which kit to wear!”

“What the fuck are you talking about? Wear whatever’s been washed. That’ll sure narrow it down. It’s fucking three a.m.”

“I want to wear my SPY kit, but what if Fukdude gets pissed?”

“Fukdude is asleep. He’s not doing the ride. He wouldn’t care even if he was.”

“I’m going with SPY then.” Toronto plunged immediately to sleep, while StageOne had to toss and turn, as he’d been mercilessly ripped from REM and couldn’t get back.

Redondo rendezvous

I had agreed to meet StageOne at the corporate world HQ in Redondo, where we would be picked up by T-Rex and Toronto. My initial plan had been to simply ride there, but a little angel on my right shoulder said, “Are you fucking out of your mind? After FTR you’ll be too tired to lift your weenie, much less pull yourself back up to the top of PV.” So I chose the less green alternative, loaded up the Scratch, and drove to the HQ.

T-Rex picked us up and we made a beeline for the Starbucks, where we re-rendezvoused with Stern-O and Major Bob. Stern-O and StageOne had gone through a bitter divorce in 2011, and although there hadn’t been any children, and although Stern-O had kept all the assets, and although no spousal support had been ordered, there was still the lingering bitterness from the end of a long and loving relationship. Stern-O ignored StageOne, but, ever the gentleman, StageOne said, “How you doing?”

“I’ve got shingles, that’s how!” snapped Stern-O. “Which comes from stress!”

We parted them with a crowbar and got back into the truck. As Major Bob raced ahead, we noticed his bike on the rack, while Stern-O’s $44,929.19 Look full-carbon, monococque Triumph with internal disc brakes and hybrid transmission (hasn’t been released in the US yet; Serial No. 000001) was carefully stowed in a bike bag and placed inside the car.

Ride with your legs, win with your head

As we rolled out to the cheering of six wildly enthusiastic supporters, I knew that this FTR would be different. No more pointless hammering at the front. No bait-taking on the descent and run-in to Fillmore. No stroke-for-stroke shows of strength on the climb into Ojai. I would chill at the back and save the only two bullets I had: one for Casitas Lake, and one for Balcom.

The amazement rippled through the peloton as I took up my seat at the back of the bus. Where was Wanky? We’d already done 1.2 miles and he hadn’t attacked, or gone to the front for a senseless pull, or scampered up some slight rise. Looks of amazement shot my way as various riders dropped back to compliment me on my restraint.

On the first climb Roadchamp strung it out and sprinted away for the KOM. I happily chilled in the GdW (Grupetto de Wank) and advised Hockeystick of the sharp downhill turn coming up. We reattached and the group split again on the next rise. Mystery Rider rolled off the point and began the long climb before the descent into Fillmore. FTR DS marshaled his SPY unit and chased, but to no avail: MR nailed the KOM and was far down the descent before our chase group crested the top. I’d been doing 350 watts just sitting on a wheel for much of the climb, and was thrilled that FTR DS was willing to fire the bullets in his clip.

On the descent I got stuck behind Roadchamp and Dogg, both of whom are massively chicken descenders. UbeRfRed sped away and at the bottom it was just me sitting on Roadchamp’s wheel. He turned on the muscle once we hit the flats, and over the course of the next mile brought us to within 200m of the lead chase. MR was in sight. He flicked his elbow for me to close the final gap, but I did the unthinkable: laughed and refused.

Unfortunately, my teammate Polly had latched on, and rather than forcing Roadchamp to do a little extra work, he launched and dragged us up to the breakaway, which contained King Harold and Hair, and now Roadchamp. We overhauled MR, and one of the day’s many revelations began to make itself known: G3 attacked, taking UbeRfRed with him. They flailed valiantly in the vicious headwind for a few minutes as the gas slowly escaped from their egos with each pedal stroke.

Here, however, was a new G3: gone was the wheelsucking, cautious, gas-saving, calculating viper of sneakdom, replaced by the G3 I feared more than any other–the attacking, risk-taking hammer who was now blending panache into his well polished arsenal of strategic conservation. Although this attempt failed, it marked the beginning of a very ugly and ultimately successful pattern.

With three hundred meters to go before the Fillmore sprint, Hair hit the jets. It was a nice little clinic on the difference between road racers and road sprinters. He cleared the sign by so much that it took the light several seconds to travel the distance from his rear wheel to our retinas. Score: Roadchamp 1, Hair 1, Wankers 0.

Don’t poke the gorilla

Our gap on the GdW was immense, and I pulled over in a driveway off the main road to relieve myself. As I fumbled with my parts a group of chickens dashed out from the bushes, surprised at the early morning shower. Unfortunately, they were accompanied by a rooster, who was prepared to defend his hens. He had giant spurs and was advancing menacingly towards me. You may not think chickens are scary, but when you’ve got one leg still over your top tube, the other leg awkwardly balanced in loose gravel, your hand on your dick and the other hand trying to keep your bike from sliding out from under you, and a big ass rooster with a huge beak and spurs sharp enough to cut sheet metal, well, it’s unnerving at best.

At the same time, I heard commotion in the little rental cottages behind me, and realized with a glance that whoever was looking out the kitchen window was likely wondering why the skinny guy was peeing on their chickens. My Spanish isn’t great, but I heard something that sounded like, “I think I can shoot it off from here,” and then the familiar noise of shells spilling out on the kitchen counter.

It was going to be hard to explain to the guys how I’d been neutered from 200 yards and then scratched up by an angry rooster, and even though it would easily top the Balcom flail from 2011 for its bloggability, I holstered up and scampered back to the roadway.

We regrouped; StageOne had flatted, and as we got going McRibs lost his iPod Shuffle at 35mph. It was unthinkable that he could complete the ride without listening to the endless loop of Chrissy Hines and “Back on the Chain Gang,” so we stopped while he collected his hardware. A few minutes later, Turtle got what would the second and last flat of the day.

As we churned towards Santa Paula with a whipping tailwind, Roadchamp decided to take the sprint, a move that poked Hair right in the eye. As Roadchamp raised his arms just before crossing the line, Hair pipped him at the finish. Erik Zabel knows about this, I think. So as we turned onto the road towards Ojai, it was Road champ 1, Hair 2, Wankers 0.

Up the bump, then hit “thrust”

We began the climb that lies between Santa Paula and Ojai. The leaders quickly pulled away as I sat patiently in the GdW. The road rolls by several small goat and llama ranches, and the cute little lambs there all shouted at us as we rolled by, chorusing “Meee-meee-meee” as they vied for our attention.

MR took the KOM with ease, and two miles before the Ojai sprint, G3 again showed his “new man” colors and took a flyer. This time, instead of being chased down by his own teammates, he rolled freely up the road, not to be seen again until the first official rest stop. Although the SPY chase was fast and furious, it failed to bring back the valiant charge of the man in orange. Ironfly blue was nowhere in the hunt, flailing, flogging, and wanking at maximum capacity. We gassed up, and soldiered on. It was now Roadchamp 1, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1.

Firing the first bullet

As we began the climb up from Lake Casitas, I chambered the first round and pointed it squarely at the heads of Roadchamp, MR, FTR DS, and G3. The road tilted up, they pushed the pace, and then out of the group leaped King Harold at the very moment a motorcycle was passing on the left. He grabbed onto the seat of the motor and was gone, and all the screams and curses couldn’t bring him back.

After a few more moments it was a select group of six, also including Yoda of the Long Beach crew. I pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. Expecting a huge recoil from the massive slug I’d fired, I was surprised at the tiny dribbling BB that plooked out the end of the barrel. However, I glanced down at my watt meter, which read “480.” That was an unusually high number, and it corresponded with a searing, frying burn accompanied by a lacerating pop, huge black spots in front of my eyes, a wavering front wheel, and the receding figures of the leading five.

Until you’ve been sitting on Roadchamp’s wheel and had him accelerate away from you on a long climb at over 500 watts, you don’t know helplessness or despair. But that’s what he did. Now it was back to my usual Plan B, which was “Don’t get caught by the wankers in the rear!” I got a few fistfuls of air and spun for a few seconds, and then shifted into my big chain ring.

Here came King Harold, finally dislodged from his motorbike. Next came Yoda, with a strange, twisted look of un-wisdom plastered across his face. Just ahead of me was G3, but his rapidly pumping legs telegraphed “Give up, Wanky. I’m much faster than you. Quit now while you’re behind.” Just ahead I could see the fireworks as Roadchamp crushed the life out of FTR DS, who was now unhitched and flailing in between the leaders and G3.

I slogged over the first peak and pedaled hard. At less than halfway the effort had already initiated miniature, pre-cramp twinges in my legs. This far from Balcom and cramps already setting in? It was ugly and about to get uglier. G3 stayed in my sights all the way to the second Casitas peak, and I could even see the threesome of Roadchamp, MR, and FTR DS, and just before the top I had closed to within 200 meters of G3, but the second he hit the downhill it was game over. He literally vanished, so hard and fast did he hit the downhill.

In the real race ahead, Roadhchamp and FTR DS dropped Mystery Rider on the second peak, leaving him to flail and chase all the way to the next huge sprint at the Santa Barbara County Line. Just as the leaders were sure they had buried their best friend, beloved teammate, and person they’d do anything for, he appeared out of nowhere, chasing down the leaders and blazing for the sign. FTR DS was having none of it, and opened up with the sprint for which he’s not really famous, in fact, for which he’s not really ever been known to have, a sprint so tiny and small and hard to observe that you generally need a large magnifying glass to see it.

Not so today! FTR DS, raging at the Casitas climb debacle, blew by Roadchamp even as MR turned on the Come-Around-From-Dog jets to no avail. Shortly after flailing by the sign on my own I was overtaken by the charging paceline of T-Rex, Polly, and Yoda, confirming several other key points of this year’s FTR: 1) Polly had climbing legs 2) Yoda had only cracked the lid of his can of whupass 3) T-Rex was in for the long haul.

New adjusted score: Roadchamp 2, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1. Everyone else: flail and flog.

It’s a long way (to Tipperary), It’s a long way (to home)

As we regrouped several other truths became self evident, among them Hockeystick’s serious road skills. After all the jokes and hilarity and rude comments about his eminent unsuitability for this particular hammerfest, he looked fresh as a daisy and was riding like a champ. And despite all the love and support heaped upon the head of StageOne, he looked like he’d been forced to swallow a grenade and then chase it with a bunker buster. “Dude,” King Harold said. “You okay?”

“Urrble gmelszx prrp,” was all StageOne could answer. Which was too bad. Because the second we hit the 101, King Harold twisted the throttle clean off the handlebar. The acceleration was nasty beyond belief, so sudden did it rain down upon our heads. Sitting second wheel as the pavement flashed by, so many thoughts went through my head.

1. Wow, my legs feel great. I should save it for Balcom.
2. Man, now is the time to show how much I’ve learned. Just chill and save it for Balcom.
3. We’re barely halfway. Let King Harold administer the beatdown. Save it for Balcom.
4. You’ve only got one bullet left. Save it for Balcom.
5. Tuck in. Save it for Balcom.

Harry swung over, and Turtle matched the pull with a monster effort. A quick glance back saw the group strung out in a thin, long, narrow line of grimacing pain. The siren called. Turtle swung over. The siren called louder. I flung myself willingly into her waiting arms.

I can’t tell you much about the next six or seven miles except that our group got a lot smaller. Everyone stopped pulling except for MR. Hockeystick stuck his nose up into the wind for two solid pulls, Turtle took another hit or two, but everyone else just cowered or cracked. Roadchamp rocketed off the back to “help StageOne,” and presumably to also help his own legs avoid the brutal battering on the point.

At one point Hair rotated through and advised me to “stop surging,” which we all know is bikespeak for “please slow down because I’m cracking like a whimpering cur,” and which we also know does nothing but encourage the surger. Which it did. By the time we’d whittled down to a small group I swung off as we approached a heretofore unknown “sprint” at Faria Beach. King Harold zinged by, raised his hands, and everyone heaved a sigh of relief–rather than pound out the remaining six miles until everyone was hamburger meat, we sat up and were rejoined by the flotsam and jetsam created by King H.

Iron Mike had closed one particularly nasty gap, and everyone had a survival story to tell, particularly StageOne, who had devoted an entire Biblical psalm to Roadchamp for dropping back to help. The new score was Roadchamp 2, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, and King Harold 1.

The joy of sugar-covered donuts, Dr. Pepper, and a handful of nuts

At the Circle K in Ventura we ate, sneaked into the off-limits bathroom, and sat on the curb while our legs stiffened like quick-curing concrete. Several riders looked remarkably fresh. There was Toronto, who’d been following wheels and riding smart. There was UbeRfrEd, who’d done not a lick of work since his attack into Fillmore and looked like he could retrace the route, twice. There was Stern-O, older than dirt and looking fresh as a daisy. There was Douggie, hardly covered with more than an inch of crusty salt. Hockeystick? Looking great. Becker Bob? Looking like a cadaver. Dogg? What long bike ride? Major Bob? Peaked, but surviving. Elron? Flogging but happy. McRibs? Refused to get off his bike at the Circle K and rode around in circles to stave off the Balcom cramps. Iron Mike? Refused to even stop, and soldiered on with StageOne, fearing that once off his bike he’d never remount. Yoda? Scary good. Big Bowles? Fine ‘n dandy.

As I stood in line with my Dr. Pepper, a roll of powdered sugar donuts called sweetly to me, proving an axiom of long hammerfests: the harder you ride, the worse your nutrition becomes. I couldn’t resist, and bought the pretty little package. Out on the curb, the donuts were so sweet that they made the DP taste less than sugary. Before I’d had so much as an opportunity to nap, FTR DS was herding us back onto our bikes.

“Want some of these?” MR asked. He held out a giant bag of nuts.

“Fuck yeah. Sugar donuts, espresso GU, Dr. Pepper, a bonk breaker, and salty nuts. What could possibly go wrong?”

Two minutes later, as we began struggling up the sharp climb out of Ventura, everything went wrong. Legs refused to work. Brain began sending distress signals to heart and lungs. Bowels tried to void.

The only remaining bullet I’d had was fired pointlessly on the 101. Everyone now looked terrible, the brave facades from a few minutes before erased like a blow to the face with a hammer. We still had 38 horrific miles until we could collapse in the Jaegers’ front yard. So there was only one rational choice, and I made it.

Attack.

A few quick jolts on the pedals and I was gone. A look back, and they were gone. A second look back, and I had company. Mystery Rider. The one guy above all others you want in a breakaway. Stronger than fifteen draft horses. The heart of a thousand warriors. Legs of steel. Perpetually burning inside with the fire to crush and destroy. Lover of attacks, initiator of breaks, climber of legend, relentless machine…so off we went.

The gap grew and grew until even the impossible began to look like it could happen–if we made Santa Paula we’d be able to take advantage of traffic and spring out onto the road leading to Balcom with a huge, perhaps insurmountable advantage. Cramps and collapse be damned, we were all in. Until, of course, we weren’t.

As we hit the big sweeping left I looked down at my watt meter. We’d gone from a steady 290-300 watts to 230. “I’m unraveling, dude,” MR muttered.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I’ve already unraveled.”

And there to reel in the yarn was the steady, tempo-pounding beasts from SPY, hauling us gradually back into the fold. “Nice try,” said UbeRfrEd, “but really pointless.”

The tamer of beasts

When we turned off onto Death Alley, a few guys stopped to pee and Stern-O, StageOne, and Major Bob dashed off ahead in a replay of last year’s infamous pee attack. The rest of us pedaled slowly, feeling every muscle tense as we awaited Balcom. I’d spoken with Iron Mike before the ride and he’d asked, “Is it as hard as Santa Cruz?” referring to the wall we’d had to climb in 2010’s leg of death on the Man Tour. “It’s about the same,” I’d said.

He would later gently chide me. “Balcom Canyon Road and the climb to Santa Cruz,” he would say, “are not the same.”

And indeed they are not. We made the fatal right hand turn and passed by the Guardrail d’Cramp. FTR DS hollered out from the front, “Wankmeister! There’s your guardrail!” A few riders chuckled, but not too many and not too loudly, because about that time the giant thorn of Balcom came into view, gashing the skyline with an ugliness and ferocity that made the prospect of cramping on a guardrail seem very, very real.

We hit the bottom and Hockeystick rode away from me. Stern-O, defying every truth known to carbon dating, flew up the hill. I focused on the pavement three inches before my front wheel and refused to look one inch further. I knew what was coming.

Roadchamp raced to the top, beating out the sensational and impressive G3, followed by FTR DS. And then, propelled by smart riding, extensive wheelsucking, great base miles, and the advantages of being one tough sonofabitch, Douggie crossed the line fourth, followed by Yoda. UbeRfrEd flew his colors and raced in shortly after MR, with Dogg and Polly in hot pursuit.

Inch by inch I overtook Hockystick, who nonetheless put in the ride of all rides, and I even got to enjoy the misery of Stern-O as he suffered the worst possible mechanical at the worst possible time: his $7,599 brand new Campy Electro gruppo (Serial No. 00001) didn’t function with quite the same precision as our cheapass mechanical Dura-Ace, and his chain slipped catastrophically off his 25-tooth cog onto his 23.

Going from a 25 to a 23 on the steepest part of Balcom is kind of like having your triple-wrap condom tear while you’re in a Calcutta brothel. Aside from the physical implications, mentally it just takes all the wind out of your sails (I’m told). Moreover, I’d done Balcom with a 23 the previous two years, and how Stern-O didn’t tilt over and fall I’ll never know. Wait a minute, I do know…he’s tough as a boot, that’s how. I passed him, and then Turtle, and then Toronto, and finally Hair, and it was over.

Except it wasn’t.

At the base of the climb StageOne had simply done what any intelligent person would have done when faced with that monstrosity of a climb. He had gotten off his bike and walked, and in the beginning he was walking faster than Iron Mike and Major Bob were climbing. But that didn’t last.

Just as things looked bleakest, a small white pickup filled with laborers, tools, ladders, chickens, a banty rooster, and one small goat came by. “You okay, man?” the driver asked.

“No, not really.”

“We give you a pull up this hill? This is one steep hill, man.”

“Yes,” StageOne agreed. “It is.”

“How long you been riding your bike, man?”

“I’m not really sure.”

“Where you going?”

“Uh, I think to…no, it’s…uh…up there?”

“All right, man, just hang on. We’ll give you a tow.”

So from atop Balcom we watched the little white engine that could, loaded down with the goat, chickens, the banty rooster, the leaf blowers, the mower, the ladder, the rakes, the gas can, and the one flat-ass, tired-ass, whupped-ass, beat down, run down, smacked down, knocked down but not out, one and only StageOne. He made it to the top and we all cheered. He staggered over to the guardrail. Several hours later, in the ride home, he looked over at me. “Where the hell am I? What just happened? And who the fuck are you?” We tucked him into bed with Zeke as he gave praise to dog, but that’s another story.

The score (not that anyone’s keeping it): Roadchamp 3, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, King Harold 1,

Meanwhile back at the ranch

We returned triumphantly to Camarillo, with Roadchamp mashing up golf course hill first, followed by Douggie and MR, and Big Bowles doing his best to dust me and flailing. Final score: Roadchamp 4, Hair 2, G3 1, MR 1, FTR DS 1, and King Harold 1.

The Jaegers had mountains of sandwiches, chips, salsa, and cold beer, but before we started eating there was a fight to the death between Douggie and Stern-O to see who would get to shower first. Stern-O won out, having successfully clogged the Jaeger family plumbing the year before, as his theory is that no asshole can be properly dubbed “clean” until you’ve scrubbed it with a full roll of toilet paper and clogged your host’s pipes for a month.

A person with those standards isn’t about to step into a shower that’s been defiled by the sweat of Douggie, and Douggie wasn’t about to take a shower after Hockeystick. I couldn’t have cared less, and was happy to sit in my stinking muck and dried sweat for the next few hours, if only to remind me of how lucky I was to be off the bike.

When I entered the bedroom where my street clothes were, UbeRfrEd was just getting out of the shower. Now I’m not the kind of guy who just sits around and stares at naked men, but the thing UbeRfrEd had hanging down to his ankles looked like a prop from G3’s video collection. At first I thought I was hallucinating due to the beatdown and exhaustion of the ride, but a second look convinced me that I was in the presence of Dog. And the more I thought about it, the more awed I became: he had hauled that 47-pound fire hose all the way up Balcom? Impressed as I had been with Roadchamp’s exploits on Casitas and the climb of death, they paled in comparison to this. It was like marching over Everest with a pet giant anaconda tied to your waist.

Oopsy!

I staggered back out into the front yard, partially blinded by what I’d seen, and stumbled upon Roadchamp’s bib shorts, which he’d left out to dry. Unfortunately, in his anxiety on the 101 about holding onto my fiery tempo, he’d suffered from a bit of nerves, and the result, photographed here by Toronto, was, er, toxic.

T-Rex, Toronto, StageOne and I bundled ourselves into T-Rex’s truck after enjoying the lunch and the incomparable Miss Jaegers’ cupcakes. For the awards presentation, SPY Optic had donated an awesome pair of performance wear to the person who suffered the most, displayed the greatest courage, did most of the work, and exhibited the truest qualities of determination, fitness, strategic thinking, teamwork, strength, endurance, and overall attitude. Of course they could therefore be awarded to no one but FTR DS’s wife, Lynn, for putting up with all this nonsense for so many years…so they were.

As we sat in the truck, comfortably cruising home with T-Rex at the helm, a message came in from MMX over the Internets: something was in the offing…SPY Optic was on the verge of doing something so extraordinary as to make all that had come before it pale in comparison. What in the name of Dog? We looked at each other in fear and disbelief at the mysterious closing: “On Tuesday, all will be revealed.”

The day of reckoning was almost at hand.

The dogs of toast

January 11, 2012 § 9 Comments

After yesterday’s post on the FTR, I’ve been inundated with calls, emails, and text messages from the mass media regarding the ride’s participants. Ridographical information, as well as current Vegas betting lines, are below.

Major Bob: Recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq in the service of our armed forces, he is the only legitimate man on this year’s FTR. In keeping with his manliness, he has never been seen turning more than about 50 rpm, preferring gigantic 53 x 11 combinations to tweezly spinning gears for wimpish wankers. Prediction: With less than 48 miles on his legs since returning from the Punic Wars, he will experience gravitational disequilibrium on the Lake Casitas and Balcom Canyon climbs.

Douggie: If it’s a long, hard, gnarly ride, count Douggie in. He’s gritty, never quits, and frequently bests those who train twice as long and twice as hard, except for his fiancee. Prognostication: With more than 12,000 miles on his legs in 2011, Douggie will have a pretty easy time of it.

Polly: A former marathoner, no matter how tough the ride he knows IT’S STILL ONLY CYCLING. Polly has the pain threshold of a stone and the endurance of a camel, but, unfortunately, the climbing ability of an oxcart. I will never forget the day at Punchbowl that he and I spent off the back together, marveling at our shared stupidity of trying to compete against real bike racers on a hilly course. Forecast: Polly will hurt because he will give it his all.

Hair: Easily the fastest finisher in this group except for those sprints where his curly locks get hung up in the derailleur, Hair is still smarting from the knowledge that Wanky took the Fillmore sprint in 2011, and that T-Rex took Ojai that same year. Crystal Ball: Hair will smoke all the sprints, and tank all the climbs.

StageOne: The only FTR participant who can’t pass a metal detector test without a full body probe, StageOne is the most beloved pedaler in the group. Single-handedly responsible for the couth and pretty look that has taken hold of cycling kits across the land, StageOne is a the only rider about whom no one can say an unkind word. Except Wankmeister. Because he says unkind words about everyone. Madame Bonnie: Flog and flail from start to finish.

King Harold: Fast. Smooth. Relentless. And extraordinary skill on the outdoor grill. In a word, “Peerless.” Astrology Report: Still smarting from his 23 mph hunchback flail on FTR’s 2011 edition, King Harold has been viciously training with the elites (in between high school girls’ lacrosse matches) as he hones his Flatback of Death while simultaneously sharpening his Climbing Blades O’ Glory. When we hit the 101, None Shall Pass.

Wankmeister: Biggest mouth and fastest keyboard in the South Bay. Talks the talk, walks the plank. Soothsaying Seer: 2012 is Wanky’s Year of Nondemption. Having completed the first phase of Canyon Bob’s “Three Up’s” Training Plan (Build Up, Blow Up, Give Up), FTR 2012 will be a classic demonstration of Phase 2, followed by Phase 3 at Boulevard.

ElRon: The only legit FTR participant besides UbErfRedwho actually won big races when he was young, ElRon can’t resist doing one big ride per year. It is Foretold: ElRon will do better than half the field on less than 600 total miles in 2011. And he’ll be smiling every pedal stroke of the way.

Roadchamp: Lots of people want to come out and play, until, that is, they see the knuckle-dragging bully hanging out at the playground. He climbs. He sprints. He attacks. He fucks you up. And he never even breathes hard doing it, dammit. Tarot Card Reading: Casitas Lake climb, KOM. Balcom Canyon Road, KOM. Climb out of Ojai, KOM. Don’t like it? Tough.

G3: Famed for tucking onto a wheel and then leaving everyone in his wake on the Switchbacks in between parties on his deck overlooking the ocean, G3 has been piling on the miles and the fitness. Palm Reading: Highly callused, but aside from that, he will torque down on the nuts when we hit Casitas.

Tay Lorus Rex: The strong, silent type, T-Rex, climbs well, sprints like a beast, never shirks the point, thinks it’s “fun” to ride people off his wheel. Fortune Cookie: T-Rex will put King Harold and Hair to the test, and is likely to administer a sound spanking at one of the hotspots.

Turtle: Never misses an FTR, or a 3-day deathfest from Mammoth to Manhattan Beach, or a 4-day beatdown from San Jose to Long Beach, Turtle’s wheels keep on turning. Haruspicy Reading (that’s divination from the liver of sacrificial animals): He’ll be one of the few who returns to Camarillo without looking like last night’s pizza mixed in with beer and gutter sludge.

Becker Bob: Never trains for FTR, Becker Bob prefers to live in the moment, particularly when the moment is spelled “b-e-e-r.” Won last year’s FTR competition for “Person To Complete It With Even Fewer Training Miles Than ElRon,” for which he earned a month of sore legs, achey back, Shermer’s neck, etc. On the Horizon: His own personal hurt locker, from which he will only emerge after about seven hours.

Big Bowles: He’s the only guy for whom FTR is just another day. Big Bowles logged 54,992,192.9 miles in 2011, a third of which were vertical. Ouija Board: Churn and burn, he’ll look no more tired at the end than at the beginning, and will ride away from Wankmeister (again) on Golf Course Hill in Camarillo.

Dogg: It would be improper to say that Dogg has fewer training miles for FTR than Becker Bob, because it implies that at some time in the year he trains. Dogg doesn’t, and hasn’t, and won’t, unless it involves large tumblers filled with tequila or high grade gasoline. Dogg’s Augury: He will suffer like a dogg for the entire ride, but will not utter so much as a grunt or groan of complaint.

Wehrlissimo: Still recovering from the cruel manhole that jumped up and smacked him in the ribs, Wehrlissimo will not be put off by mere broken bones, concussions, or being left for dead in the middle of a major thoroughfare in South Central L.A. in the dark at 5:00 a.m. No, he will simply add it to his list of things to ignore, and plow on ahead. Gastromancy Reading (predictions through stomach-based ventriloquism, i.e. stomach growls): He will mash his way through to the bitter end, and fight it out for victory amidst whatever grupetto he ends up in. Of all the non-whiners on FTR, he will whine the least.

Iron Mike: With the determination of a hardened con, Iron Mike has a simple rule in life: if he says he will do it, he does it. No ifs, ands, buts, clauses or dangling participles, he harks back to a time when a man’s word was his bond. Those days, of course, are long gone. Extispicy Revelation (divination from the entrails of animals): Iron Mike will end up pushing at least one FTR-er through critical sections of the course.

uBerFrEd: Suffer he will. Persevere he must. Hammer he can. Former national team member and cycling Yoda in the glory days of the 80’s, he’s degenerated into a fabulously successful day-jobbing titan of industry. Oneiromancy Outlook (divination through dreams–dry ones): Flog he will. Flail he shall. Ahead of Turtle, finish he must.

FTR DS: It takes more than a broken leg, a mud puddle, and a “u” between the T and R in FTR DS to keep a good man down. Creator of the FTR, master of all he surveys, and one tough bastard, FTR DS is admired by many, respected by many more, feared by virtually all, and laughed at by his wife and daughters. Divining Rod says: He will give Roadchamp a run for his money on Casitas, but get flogged in the end. He will, however, make up for having been mercilessly shelled by Wankmeister on Casitas in 2011 by administering a most thorough beatdown to Wanky, who will be too cowed to try another sneak pee attack on Balcom, though he may do it anyway just for old time’s sake.

Stern-O: The man behind the legend surrounded by a myth wrapped in a mystery hidden in an enigma and finally revealed with two fully repaired front teeth an an unbroken rear triangle, Stern-O returns to FTR to show once again that he is one tough as nails bastard. His bike will be cleaner than your new dental floss. Tea Leaves show: Stern-O will challenge on all the climbs, utter not a whimper, and show up tough as a boot and ready for a flogging. And God help that guy who used to dress up in the Team Cervelo kit and get yelled at by Stern-O for being a poser if he happens to cross our path.

Toronto: Canada is where bad actors, failed entrepreneurs, and terrible literature go to die. It is also where a few butter-soft SoCal natives go to become hardened men of steel, able to withstand the bitter cold, the sapping sun, the relentless wind, and the pain of the peloton. Such a man is Toronto. Ceromancy Reading (divination through the patterns of dripping wax): Toronto will play it safe in his first FTR and acquit himself with honor and grit.

Hockeystick: Proof that FTR is truly open to anyone who begs long and hard enough, Hockeystick’s preparation has involved several 200m sprint workouts at the Home Depot Center velodrome followed by three cases of craft Bud Lite beer. Feng Shui suggests: Hockeystick will crater somewhere along the 101 and require a tow truck to get him to the next rest stop. The only way he’s getting up Balcom is with an airlift.

Wildcard: No info on this dude. We could all be in for the ass beating of our lives. Or he could be just another wanker who’s had one too many Twinkies. Only time and french toast will tell!

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