The day I beat Dave Jaeger

November 9, 2014 § 26 Comments

I know what you’re going to say. “He’s even older than you are.”

“That guy hasn’t won a race in years.”

“DJ? He still rides?”

And, of course, “Who?”

Yeah, well, whatever. We all have benchmarks, and Dave is one of mine. “The day I beat Dave Jaeger up a climb,” I have often said, “is the day I will quit cycling.” I’ve made that promise to myself because it’s something that will never occur.

“Never say never!” chirp the Pollyannas. “Ya gotta show up to win!” Oh, horseshit. There are some people you’ll never beat, and it’s not because you don’t train enough or have the right equipment or the right dietitian or whatever, it’s because they are faster than you. That’s Dave. He’s faster than me when he hasn’t been training for a year and I’ve been on the EPO Diet.

He’s faster than me in races. In training. He’s even faster than me getting out of bed, I just know it.

I used to do an early morning Saturday training ride with him but I quit doing it for the same reason I quit buying lottery tickets. There was no chance of winning.

It’s no big deal to me that he’s richer, better looking, has an uber-hot wife, and wonderful kids. That stuff counts for zip. All I ever cared about is beating Dave Jaeger on a climb. He has beaten me every year for the last six years on the French Toast Ride, cruising up Balcom Canyon in his big ring, putting minutes on me even when I hit the climb with a several-hundred-yard head start. He has beaten me so many times on the Donut Ride that on the few times a year that he bothers to show up I immediately call it my “off week.”

Worst of all, when everyone else beats me everywhere else I get to smile and say, “Yeah, but I’m 50,” even when the other guy is 49. Not with Dave. He races 55+ starting in 2016. He’s waaaay older than I am. And worser than the worst, he’s always nice about it. “Good job, wanker,” he’ll always say after putting a few football fields in between me and my dignity. And he’ll mean it.

Yesterday was going to be more of the same. The Donut Ride started slowly, thanks to the absences of Smasher and Ollie. Manny Fresh did a pointless attack on the downhill, and SBBaby Seal rolled away only to make the fatal mistake of turning down the alley. No one followed and he wasn’t seen again.

Once we hit Portuguese Bend the pace picked up, but not too much. We had some Belgian dude named Jan riding with us, and just the word “Belgian” was enough to make most of us shart in our shorts. Even the Wily Greek was eyeing him.

Jaeger always gets irritated when people go slow, and this day was no exception. “What are you wankers doing, holding hands?” he asked. I nodded. He shook his head and attacked off the front, from the front. The last time I saw him do that was at the Lake Castaic Road Race. In fact, the situation had been identical.

“Did you wankers show up to hold hands or race your bikes?” he had asked.

“Hold hands, hopefully,” I had peeped.

That time too he had shaken his head, punched it, and soloed for 47 miles to victory. It was my only top-ten road placing of the year, but that’s just because everyone from #11 on down quit.

DJ rolled away from the Donut. We lollygagged some more until we hit the bottom of the Switchbacks. There are usually a half-dozen wankers left by this point, as the repeated accelerations have shaken the dingleberries out of the weeds, but today we were still thirty or forty strong. There was a feeling of joy in the air as the larger specimens enjoyed being with the lead group at the bottom of the climb, a point at which they were usually alone, defeated, struggling, and swearing off pork rinds at least for the next hour.

The Wily Greek leaped away. Chatty Cathy followed. Davy followed. Destroyer followed. I followed. With a few pedal strokes I glanced back and the wankoton had evaporated. Then as Wily punched it again, I evaporated. After clawing my way back we went around a couple more turns on the Switchbacks and Wily surged again, taking Destroyer with him.

Chatty Cathy pulled for a while then cracked. I passed him and continued on to the wall. Up ahead I could see Wily Greek and DJ, who had hooked up, with Destroyer in No Man’s Land. Jaeger then came unhitched, and I passed him on the wall.

Please re-read that a few dozen times. “I passed him on the wall.”

Yep, that actually happened. Wankmeister passed David Jaeger on a climb.

Somehow I got onto Destroyer’s rear wheel, “somehow” meaning “he let me.” Then he towed me to the flat spot.  Then I towed him for six or seven feet to allow him to recover before swinging over to let him share some more of the work. Then, a quarter mile before the end, with Wily dangling out in front doing his nails and wondering why no one was riding up to him, I spied a shadow on my wheel.

I didn’t need to look back, because there was only one rider yesterday who had the legs to chase down Destroyer on a climb, and the outline of the head meant that it was Jaeger. My glorious victory, the one time I was going to actually beat the best bike racer, nicest guy, richest man, dude with the hottest wife … it all crumbled in an instant.

The only hope I had, and it was a slim one, was cunning. Destroyer swung over and I took a massive 180-watt pull. DJ came through like a bull. I went to the back and recovered from my 180-watt effort. We rounded the bend. The imaginary finish line was in sight. Wily, who had arrived slightly before, had finished the finance section of the Times and was halfway through “A History of Modern Computing in Twelve Volumes.” I dropped back a few feet and took a run at Destroyer’s rear wheel.

Destroyer laughed at the tiny acceleration and easily sprunted away, but to me, he was small game, tiny fish, he was nuttin’. As I passed the imaginary finish line I heard that familiar voice on my right-hand shoulder. “Good job, wanker.”

“Best ride of my life,” I said.

He laughed. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve passed me before.”

“I’m sure I haven’t.”

November 8, 2014, the day I beat Dave Jaeger on a climb.’

The artist told me to keep the ink out of the sun for two weeks, which will be hard because it’s on my forehead in 36-point Courier and kind of winds down over my ears and neck, and yes, tattoos hurt a bit, and yes, it’s my first one, but this one is worth it.

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Take a bite

October 12, 2014 § 10 Comments

Every city in America has a Saturday morning Donut Ride, where a handful of riders beats up on everyone else, and everyone else marks “success” in terms of how far they got before getting kicked out the back.

Jack from Illinois (not his real name), always despised the Donut Ride for being a “preenfest.” He wasn’t wrong. Local racers who get “coached” and who are on a “program,” tend to avoid the ‘Nut because it adds little to your fitness but can subtract lots. And of course there is a huge contingent of riders, thousands actually, who wouldn’t be caught dead on the DR because they hate group rides, they don’t like aggressive pelotons, they are in it for relaxation, or [ fill in your reason here ].

To those folks, I say, “No problem. You do your thing, I’ll do mine.”

But there is another group of riders out there who really should be on the Donut Ride. I was dropping down the hill this morning to the start of the ride, and I passed a guy riding a very nice bike, wearing a very nice kit, and looking pretty darned fit. “On your way to the Donut?” I asked.

“Ha,” he answered. “I wish.”

“What do you mean?”

“That ride is too fast for me.”

“Come on, man, give it a try. You look like you could handle it. It’s not hard anyway, especially if you sit in.”

“I’ve seen that pack come by,” he said enviously. “Too fast for me.”

“Okay,” I shrugged, and went on, but I could tell how badly he wanted to give it a try and I felt sorry for him because he was going to spend the rest of his riding days wondering about something that really wasn’t worth wondering about.

If you’re one of those people who wonders what the local Saturday beatdown ride is like, you owe it to yourself to give it a chance. Even if you hate it, you’ll at least have the satisfaction of having tried. More likely, especially if you’re a fairly hopeless wanker, you’ll get your head staved in sometime around the first or second acceleration, and the thrill you get from first riding with, and then getting ejected from, the middle of the surging, bucking pack will leave you happier and more elated than you’ve been since you first lied to your wife about the cost of your Giant TCR with electronic drivetrain.

Here, then, is a compendium of what you’ll find out if you take the plunge, swallow your pounding heart, gird your quivering loins, and toe the Saturday group ride starting line:

  1. You will get faster every week.
  2. The wankers you used to struggle to keep up with in your normal group will no longer be able to hold your wheel.
  3. Racer-type hammerheads aren’t all assholes.
  4. Some of the things that differentiate great riders from hackers can be learned through observation.
  5. Competition makes you better.
  6. Cars steer clear of big groups.
  7. There’s no dishonor in trying.
  8. Your wife will mostly believe whatever version of the ride you tell her.
  9. You won’t be the slowest rider the group.
  10. If you’re the slowest rider in the group, one day you won’t be.
  11. The ride’s not as hard as you thought it would be.
  12. You’ll surprise yourself — in a good way.

See you next week!

END

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You are not a climber

October 5, 2014 § 11 Comments

I used to think I was smart. I used to think I was handsome. I used to think I was going to be rich. I used to think I was good in bed. I used to think I was going to have a good job. I used to think life was fair.

I used to think I was a climber.

I thought I was a climber because I could go uphill faster than most of the other people I rode with. No matter that I lived in Austin, where there weren’t any real climbs. At 135 pounds, I was a climber.

Then I met Marco. Marco wasn’t a climber. He weighed about 150, and was my height. He had won the Tour of the Netherlands, and had come to Texas to escape the cold Euro winter.

“You look like a climber,” I said.

“Me? I’m no climber.” And he meant it.

To myself I thought, “Good.” To him I said, “Let’s go up the back side of Jester.”

“Okay,” he cheerfully answered, never having gone up any side of Jester, front or back.

Jester was my domain because I was a climber. The back side of Jester was vicious and steep. In my memory it was a 45 percent grade, six miles long. In reality it was probably less.

We hit the bottom and I looked back at Marco, whose nickname was “The Lung.” Why hadn’t that nickname made an impression on me, I wondered later?

Marco, who would later do the Tour a couple of times racing for Chazal, easily and breezily pedaled by me. I gave it the best effort I’ve ever given anything, but he vanished rather quickly. We regrouped at the top.

“I thought you said you weren’t a climber,” I said.

“I’m not.” And he wasn’t. So what did that make me?

Luckily, I soon forgot about Marco and once he left Texas I became a climber again. Then I moved to Japan. I was the fastest guy up the climb in Shinrin Park, the course they later used for the World Championships in 1990. No one could hold my wheel because I was a climber.

I met a guy who ran a bike shop. He was very small, maybe 120 pounds. “You look like a climber,” I said to Wada-san.

“I’m no climber,” he said.

“Good,” I thought, and took him out to the Shinrin Park climb. We hit the bottom and he dusted me off rather easily.

“I thought you said you weren’t a climber,” I said to Wada-san.

“I’m not,” he said. And he wasn’t.

Fortunately, I forgot about Wada-san and became a climber again. I was a very good climber in Miami, Texas, where there are no people, and in Houston, where there are no hills. Then I came to California. On my first few rides in PV, everyone dropped me. My riding partner, Crabs, was a fat, hairy-legged sprunter who dumped me on every climb.

One day I was talking to Fukdude after we’d gone up Fernwood. He had dropped me early. “Fuck, dude,” said Fukdude. “You’re no climber.”

“I’m not?”

“Nah. You’re too fucking fat. And big. And tall.”

“You’re a great climber.”

“Me? Dude, I’m no climber. I’m just a tall dude. You should forget about climbing and focus on something that fits your cycling body type.”

“Like what?”

“Fuck, dude, I dunno. Drinking, maybe?”

It only took 32 years, but I finally figured it out. I’m no climber. When you look at legit climbers when they’re on the bike, they seem to be sort of your size, but when they get off the bike they aren’t. They’re tiny, squnched up, newt-like mini-versions of real people, little bags of skin stretched around massive lung bags and bony, veiny, spidery legs. None of them have big tummies.

The Donut Ride started today, and after a while the climbers-plus-Davy rolled away. Rudy, Wily, and a couple of other newts vanished. We hit the Switchbacks and it separated out pretty quickly. Somehow I was still with the lead chase group, even though it had some really tiny people in it. “Fuggitaboutit,” I told myself. “You’re no climber.”

Tregillis and his 3-lb. bike faded. Chatty Cathy faded. Suddenly there was nothing left but three or four climbers and me.

We hit the ramp to the Domes and Sandoval punched it. Sandoval is five-foot-five and weighs less than Tregillis’s bike. I leaped onto his wheel, and it was just him and me.

One by one, we passed the suicides who’d started out with Rudy and Stathis the Wily Greek. I had given up all hope. Sandoval is 26, the same age as my eldest daughter. He attacked me a couple of times, displeased with the fat, tubby, wheezing lardball dangling on his wheel. Somehow I hung on.

With a quarter-mile to go, Sandoval got out of the saddle. I matched his pace for a while, and then I didn’t. He vanished around the turn and I got fourth. Which is pretty damned good for someone who isn’t a climber.

END

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Greek sandwich

May 22, 2014 § 27 Comments

It was a sunny, perfect day for the legendary South Bay Donut Ride. The fast riders preened and flexed, the somewhat aged fellows clenched their bowels and prayed for a miracle, and the no-hopers stood on the periphery like dorky kids in junior high school, hoping to be noticed but then again hoping not to be, either.

The Wily Greek surveyed the pitiful gaggle of third-class citizens. He’d had to make a tough choice. Go to Bakersfield and race against his peers in the tough, dreaded Vlees Huis Road Race, or stay close to home, wake up late, beat off and beat up on the pudgy geriatrics with leaky prostates? It was an easy choice.

The pack rolled out and the Wily Greek paid no attention to the surges, the glory pulls, and the half-legged efforts up Malaga Cove. As the pace quickened in earnest after exiting Lunada Bay, he deigned to take a leisurely pull. No matter. With a condescending glance he noted that many of the baby seals were already spilling blood and gray matter from their bludgeoned braincases. The gasping, wheezing, emphysema-like gurgles uttered by the old farts were almost amusing.

Almost.

The Wily Greek was still breathing through his nose, except for the occasional yawn.

By the time the peloton hit the punchy rollers of Portuguese Bend, many had already called it a day and were hurrying home to check Strava and lie to their wives about flatting. By the time they hit the bottom of the dreaded Switchbacks there remained but a small group of twenty survivors carved out of the 100-plus dreamers who had started out in Redondo Beach.

The Wily Greek loved this part of the ride. He started at the back and casually took in the grimaces of the sufferers. Some displayed heaving, dipping shoulders. Others, hunched over the bars like a dog mounting a cat, shivered and shook as oxygen debt demanded a repayment that they couldn’t afford. The leaky prostate riders who had hung on to that point began to drip, drizzle, and pop like the fasteners on their loaded diapers.

Of all the beautiful things about cycling, the Wily Greek appreciated this aspect the most: watching the lame, weak, sick, old, deluded, and infirm crate, crack, and give up. It was better than playing tackle football against kindergartners. It was better than winning a chess game in five moves. It was better than being the house in Vegas.

For the remainder of the ride, the Wily Greek toyed with his victims like a tomcat toys with a maimed mouse. Like a wife toys with a husband who has forgotten her birthday. Like a mortuary salesman toys with a bereaved family. It was a beautiful thing, voluptuous in its crass exercise of power by the strong over the weak.

As the Donut Ride regrouped for the final run-in to the Hawthorne sprunt and the Via Zumaya climb, the Wily Greek preened a bit more. It was so much fun watching the little guillotine addicts come pedaling up for another session under the blade.

The reconstituted group had about forty riders in it, including a large contingent of leaky prostates. Since the downhill section was so fast, the Greek couldn’t lose anyone. To the contrary, even some of the slowest and flabbiest were able to hang on to the speeding group.

This disgusted and offended him.

Sitting at the back he prepared the launch that would eat their lunch, an acceleration so rapid that he would rocket by and finish alone. At that very moment he heard a rumbling. With a quick look over his shoulder he saw the huge, lumbering truck, and just as quickly he violated the Rule of Rules: Thou shalt not draft a garbage truck.

The leaky prostates watched in amazement as the truck flew past with the Wily Greek tucked into its massive draft. As it shot past, however, the older, weaker, leakier, but still somewhat wiser old ones heard the terrible sloshing sound of hundreds of gallons of liquified, putrefied smegma that had been smushed by the compactor’s giant ram and then collected in the floor of the compactor.

The seeping, liquified filth that is squeezed from the compacted garbage load normally collects toward the front by virtue of a slanted floor, which prevents the goo from sloshing back out the hopper into which the trash is first collected for compacting. (I learned all this from Google).

Unhappily for the Wily Greek, when the truck went up the final, very steep little kicker in Portuguese Bend, the liquified ass-drippings drained back into the hopper and then, when the truck hit a bump, sloshed out in a giant wave onto his front wheel, legs, shorts, and chest.

As Al Jaffee would have said, “Yecccccchhh!”

The horror and shock that the Wily Greek felt, suddenly covered as he was in rotting slime, was nothing as compared to the hilarity and laughter that erupted from the wankoton. In a fury, the Wily Greek accelerated over the bump, intent on chasing down the garbage truck and giving them a tongue lashing for their errant smegma sloshing.

However, the truck was driven by garbagemen, union garbagemen at that, men who spent the day hoisting 200-lb., fully loaded trash cans up over their heads. They were men with tattoos, not cute dolphins surreptitiously marked on their calf where they couldn’t be seen by fellow lawyers and dentists, but big, nasty tattoos with pictures of female genitalia, dragons snorting fire, knives through skulls, and slogans like “Kill to Live” emblazoned on their arms, legs, chests, necks, and backs.

These were men with bad teeth.

And in short, they were not to be frightened by a slim, veiny waif riding a bicycle in his underwear.

At Abalone Cove, precisely at the point where the Wily Greek overtook the garbage truck, it slammed on the brakes and veered hard left. The fetid goop in the hopper sloshed again, but this time it poured out in a giant projectile vomit-arc directly into the Wily Greek’s face.

At that same precise moment the wankoton came by. Face dripping in shit, the Wily Greek did what any person would have done. He tossed his Barbie food. He tossed his electrolytes. He tossed his whey protein breakfast. He tossed his gluten-free, all natural, 250 kcal breakfast. He tossed everything down to the lining of his stomach.

Several riders thought briefly about stopping to render aid, but only briefly.

There are so many morals to this story. Take your pick.

 

 

Three cheers for the local boy

September 16, 2013 § 22 Comments

I was pedaling up Western Avenue with Rudy Napolitano on Saturday. I never pedal anywhere with Rudy except to the extent that he is a small speck receding, quickly, in the distance.

“What’s going on with you this weekend?”

“I’m leaving Sunday for Trento, Italy,” he said.

“Trento, Trento, Trento,” I thought to myself. The name rung a bell. “Vacation?” I asked. The road season had ended the week before at nationals in Bend, Oregon.

“Not exactly.”

“Visiting family?”

“No. Headed off to world’s with Mike Easter.”

“Worlds?” I asked. “World championships?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Like, rainbow jersey worlds?”

“Yep.”

“Where if you win you’re, like, the champion of the whole world?”

He looked over and grinned. “That one. For masters racers.”

“What’s the course?”

“It’s the same one they’re using for the UCI pro worlds. We do one lap. 110 k or thereabouts, with a 20k climb at the end.”

“You’re fuggin’ kidding me, right?”

Again, the grin. “No. For real.”

“Is it like masters nationals? Any wanker with a license and an entry fee can enter?”

“Umm,” he said. “It’s a little different. You have to qualify.”

“How.?”

“They have a list of Grand Fondos that are qualifiers. They want to make sure you can handle Dolomite-type climbs. Grand Fondos are huge in Europe.”

“Dang. So which one did you qualify at?”

Again, the self-deprecating grin. “I didn’t, exactly.”

“So how did you qualify?”

“I got an invitation.”

The sound of my jaw hitting my top tube must have surprised him. “An invitation? Like the FB invitation I send out to my South Bay Year-End Drunkfest?”

“Yeah. Same deal.”

“Holy shit. What did it say?”

“Oh, you know, the usual. ‘We heard you were killing it every weekend on the Donut Ride and figured you could handle worlds.'” Now he was laughing. At me. A little bit. Maybe.

“So what’s the game plan?” I was already trying to figure out what my tattoo was going to say. “I rode the Donut with World Champion Rudy,” probably. The only question was whether I’d put it on my — or on my —.

“There’s a flat section where we might try to get away. It’s Europe, so the climbers are real climbers. Little dudes. 130 pounds, you know? They fly uphill. Maybe steal a march on the climbers and then have an advantage when we hit the climb.”

“And in between now and the race? What kind of training?”

“The hardest thing when you taper, you know, is not eating four bags of donuts and three pizzas every single day. Right?”

I didn’t say anything, having eaten four bags of donuts and two pizzas the day before despite not being on a taper. “Uh, right.” I thought about Mrs. WM’s daily freshly baked hot loaves of bread and the slabs of butter I slayed them with. “You gotta, uh, watch those calories.” My tummy jiggled a bit as we went over a bump.

“Yeah,” Rudy said. Then we hit Better Homes and he pedaled off, hopefully to a pizza-free taper, and even more hopefully, to a great race next weekend in Trento. When he wins, remember that it was me who gave him all that great advice about pizza and donuts. Right?

Big C, Part Two: The wrath is Stathis

July 26, 2013 § 23 Comments

I sneaked out of bed trying not to wake Mrs. WM and not to disturb the man with the hammer and the lightning bolts, who was now also playing “Do-Re-Mi” on an out-of-tune violin. I succeeded on one count and made it into the kitchen.

“Where’s the fuggin’ oatmeal?” I muttered. “Where’s the fuggin’ coffee?” I muttered.

With the oatmeal cooking and the coffee poured, I slumped over on the table. My temples were going to burst as the bow sawed crazily on the strings, out of synch with the lightning bolts and hammer whacks.

“You okay?” Mrs. WM was standing in the kitchen.

I looked up at her in misery.

“You don’ lookin’ okay.” She put the frying pan on the stove. “You can’t go onna Donuts Ride with that hangin’ over just eatin’ oatsmeal and coffee.”

“I didn’t want to wake you up.”

“You think you makin’ a coffee grinder like grindin’ a tree stump not gonna wake me up?”

I tried to say “Sorry” but the hammer and violin wouldn’t let me.

“You can’t be onna drinky pants like that at your age,” she said quietly. “You gettin’ onna drinky problem, you know? Drinky pants inna middle day when you oughta be onna workin’? Throwin’ out onna wall inna hallway like you was a college ager?”

“I’m so sorry,” I mumbled.

“Itsa okay, honey, I’m lovin’ you anyways.” The smell of fried eggs and sausage filled the kitchen as the great city’s pre-dawn night lights sparkled in through the window glass. “I don’ care onna wipin’ up some throwin’ up. I done worse in twenty-six years. But you keep up with the drinky pants and you gonna hurt people not just yourself.”

The only thing that could have made me feel worse than a bunch of shouting was the soothing lilt of her voice, mixed in with sausage. “How’d I get all cleaned up last night?”

“I cleaned you all up like you was a poopy baby. But I threw away onna your socks. They was too nastiful.”

“I won’t do it again.”

“I don’ wanna hear ’bout what you gonna do and not do,” she said, putting the plate in front of me heaped with fried eggs and sausage and toast and butter and jam and oatmeal. “I just wanna see you bein’ okay because I’m lovin’ on you no matter what.” She  leaned over and kissed my forehead.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

I rendezvoused with Jack from Illinois (not his real name) and Glass Hip a few minutes before the Donut Ride launched. “I’ve never done the new course,” said Jack.

“You hardly ever even did the old one.”

“That’s true.”

“Instead of stopping at the college atop the Switchbacks and comparing penises, we continue up to the radar domes. It adds a solid ten minutes to the climb and completely changes the tenor of the ride.”

“Do we get to compare penises at the domes?”

“They’re usually too shriveled for measurement by that point.”

“I’m looking forward to this,” Glass Hip piped up. “It’s the one legendary SoCal ride I’ve never done in almost twenty years. It should be fun.”

“Yes, it will be fun,” I said. “Kind of like having someone gnaw off your genitals with a rusty can opener is ‘fun.'”

Whereas Jack from Illinois was a kind, gentle, happy, smiling, pleasant, generous fellow who, deep inside, was a gnarly and steaming mess of rhubarb, bitter herbs, dog spit, old scabs, and the raw memories of a childhood spent locked in a closet while his older brother banged on the door with a hammer, firecrackers, and a loaded pistol, Glass Hip was the opposite.

Glass Hip, ugly as a fist, was, to the outer world, covered in scales, mottled with the scars and blotches of badly abused leather, and permanently emanated an aura of cruelty, viciousness, cheapness, and a full-throttled desire to mount, crush, and destroy all competitors of any kind. On the inside, however, deep down, far down in fact, way beneath all that, hidden from view and unseen by any living human, under layers and layers of protective viciousness, obscured from even the most discerning, lay a small, minute, tiny, hard-to-see, practically invisible, microscopically small kernel of warmth and kindness and generosity that burned with such brightness it could turn the hardest butter pat into a slightly less firm one.

In other words, these two heroes of the road were polar opposites, with the exception, of course, of the qualities they shared, and one of those qualities was this: They invariably thrashed me, cracked me, and rode me off their wheels whenever the pace picked up, which it did the moment we hit Malaga Cove.

Have pity on an old man

“The additional climb that’s been tacked onto the Switchbacks has completely changed the tenor of the ride,” I told Glass Hip.

“How so?”

“Used to be, everyone sat in until Portuguese Bend then the attacks came fast and furious, with huge accelerations at the bottom of the Switchbacks and throughout.”

“And now?”

“Now people cower in their own poop until the very last minute.”

“Then they attack?”

“Naw. They wet themselves. There’s a big group at the bottom and then it gradually whittles down into a small handful, which then disintegrates in the final killing ten minutes up to the domes.”

Canyon Bob, however, hadn’t gotten the memo, and fired off a pull of death as we approached Trump, shelling most of the field and leaving the remnants hanging onto his wheel in a gagging, ragged line. At the bottom of the Switchbacks, Stathis the Wily Greek and Sammy Snubbins attacked.

Hanging Chad followed, and so did I.

A thick fog covered the Hill and we were soon alone. G3 and G$ had attacked way back at Golden Cove and were far ahead. The rest of the field was in pieces. By the second turn I was in Old Man Hell. My breathing was so deep that it reached down into my colon. The stabbing pains from the hangover had been replaced with stabbing pains in my thighs, butt, arms, neck, face, and hair, especially my sideburns, which ached beyond any description.

At some point I realized the futility of it all. I am a few months shy of fifty. Hanging Chad is thirty. Stathis is twenty-six. Sammy is nineteen. Sammy and Stathis took turns, each one pulling so hard and fast that it felt like a flat interval. “I’ve never survived climbing with either one of these dwarves,” I told myself. “What makes me think I can do it today?”

Hanging Chad read my mind and folded. Stathis looked back at me and said something. “I think it’s English,” I said. “But mixed in with my breathing like that, it’s hard to tell.”

What was obvious was that Stathis was not breathing hard or even, apparently, trying. He pulled as far as Ganado and looked back, flicking me through.

“Are you crazy?” I telepathically transmitted. “I’m barely hanging onto your wheel. I’m old and slow and weak and frightened and riding far outside myself. You are young, strong, and not even sweating. This moment, when I have somehow survived this far on the Switchbacks hanging onto your wheel, will go down as the second greatest ride of my life, but you will have forgotten it by lunchtime. Have pity on an old, feeble wanker and let me suck wheel for just a few moments more.”

Stathis looked back at me again with the kindness and empathy of a great white shark about to tear its prey in half, or of a Republican contemplating a bill that included help for the poor, or for old people, or for children. With that brief glance he telepathed this: “Yes, you are old and weak, but you are on my wheel, so you are, by definition, stronger than all those who are not. Therefore you are legitimate prey. I feel no mercy or sympathy for you, as the moment I let you survive you will brag to the world, likely on your blog, about how you climbed with me all the way to the top, a half-truth that will lower me and exalt you. I feel no pity for you nor any desire to do anything other than crush you mercilessly under the heel of my jackboot. Your cries and pleas mean nothing to me, to the contrary, the louder you squeal the more I will enjoy the sound of my club against your eggshell skull.”

With that, he yawned and rode away. Sammy followed.

Cut adrift and resigned to being reeled in, I was surprised to see Hanging Chad come by at full speed. I hopped on and enjoyed the Cadillac draft of this triathlete-turned-savior. At the college he blew and I soldiered on. Stathis overhauled G$ and G3, completely consuming their three minute lead, followed by Sammy, then me.

Next up were Glass Hip and Jack. “We had you in our sights,” said Glass Hip, he whom I have never beaten on a climb.

“I got lucky.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “You did.”

“Don’t suppose it will happen again.”

“No,” he agreed. “It won’t.”

And it didn’t, as he pummeled me the rest of the ride.

With this one great feat, however, my confidence began to surge, because the following day was the MMX Birthday Ride Beatdown, a North County San Diego Fuckaganza in which many were invited to a happy celebration of cycling and fun and camaraderie in which there would be neither fun nor camaraderie but only a punishing, humiliating beatdown administered without regard to friendship or anything else.

In the back of mind, there were other things bubbling around the edges, too. I’d be heading to Houston after the birthday beatdown to be with my mom, who was scheduled for major surgery to combat a very aggressive breast cancer with which she’d been diagnosed. Sunday would involve a huge physical effort as well as a huge logistical effort. I’d have to get from North County to LAX in time to make the last flight of the day, which would put me in Houston at midnight.

I got back home and had lunch, then opened the fridge to grab a beer. “Nah,” I said. “Not today.”

This change is hard

July 13, 2013 § 16 Comments

The world-famous Donut Ride, despised by Jack from Illinois (not his real name) as a preening wankfest, derided by MMX as a one-trick pony that boils down to a single power climb on the Switchbacks, and loved by Wankmeister for both those reasons, has entered a new era. It happened thus.

G3: “Okay, we’re taking a survey. What do folks think of the current Donut route?”

Unison: “It blows.”

G3: “Okay, then.”

Problems with the Donut

A careful analysis revealed the following Donut flaws:

  1. Too much stopping.
  2. Too much wanking.
  3. Too much wheelsucking.
  4. Not enough climbing.
  5. Not enough sprunting.

The Donut’s route has changed numerous times during its illustrious history of more than thirty years. The Oldnut, which went through San Pedro and culminated in a sprunt at the Korean Bell, was a favorite until laziness took over, with large numbers of riders unable to handle the additional fifteen miles of riding. The Korean Bell sprunt was also rendered problematic when that entire side of San Pedro suffered a massive landslide and fell into the ocean.

Even the hardmen of the South Bay rebelled at having to clamber down a cliff, swim four miles, then remount for the finale.

Spicing up the Donut’s honey hole

The new route, instead of stopping at Marymount College and giving everyone a chance to flex and eye one another’s sweaty legs, continues up Crest to the radar domes. The addition of ten minutes’ hard climbing on top of the soften-em-up power climb on the Switchbacks has already changed the dynamic of the ride.

No longer do crazypants riders dash madly away at Trump National, hoping to eke out a sneakaway win on the Switchbacks. Now, the pace stays steady and measured as riders are ground up and and spit out in ones and twos all the way up the Switchbacks, with the final wreckage occurring on the first ramp going up to the radar domes. No longer does a massive attack at the bottom of the Switchbacks blow apart the group.

After some brief preening at the domes and a bit of reciprocal jocksniffing, the ride then descends all the way to PV Drive North and turns right into San Pedro. The descent, rather than being a completely insane dash to the death, is “neutral,” which means that everyone still goes full-on crazypants, but no one is allowed to claim victory.

Putting in some more climbing feet

The group takes PV Drive to Western and goes right, which remains neutral due to the deadly nature of riding a bicycle through the heart of San Pedro, where aggro soccer moms are going full-throttle in their SUV’s to finish picking up supplies at Wal-Mart before game time. At Miraleste the group turns right, the guillotine blade is again dropped, and the survivors climb up Miraleste, go left at Better Homes, and climb back up the Domes.

Whereas the old Donut route played heavily in favor of climbers, the new route is designed to eliminate all but the tiniest, most anorexic of riders. Participants still carrying around a few extra pounds from last Christmas can expect an outcome even more hopeless than usual. After regrouping at the domes, the ride continues back down PV South to Via Zumaya, where the sprunters can finally get revenge on the climbers by going straight home.

Full Donut Ride participants will, after ascending Via Zumaya, have earned their wings, not to mention a fistful of KOM’s. Critics note that the new Donut Ride has even less sprunting than the old one, which had none.

As the new organizers like to point out, all of whom are diminutive, veiny, twig-legged climbers, “Tough shit.”

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