BWR last rites and stuff

March 28, 2013 § 17 Comments

After the forty-seventh person sidled up to me and asked, “So, why’d you kill the blog?” I decided that an explanation was in order. Speculation and gossip always trump reality, and I heard some good faux explanations. My top three faves:

1. You’ve been sued, right?
2. Someone powerful is very angry at you, huh?
3. You ran out of [expletive] to write, didn’t you?

I did in fact run out, but not out of [expletive] to write. I ran out of time.

I had always told myself and anyone who asked that this blog only took up “An hour a day, max, and often not even that.” That much was true as far as the writing was concerned. I type quickly, and compose as I type.

But the planning and thinking that preceded each post, and the mental exhaustion that set in after each topic went live meant that the true toll was much more than an hour. I’d need multiple martinis after each posting, which was a huge problem as I’ve been sober for over three years now, give or take a couple of beers.

My work flow was disastrous. As soon as an idea occurred to me, or a funny thing happened on the road, I had to write it down and couldn’t rest ’til the job was done. That was partly practical. I have great difficulty holding onto ideas, and if I don’t sit down and whack ‘em out they go away, never to be found again. Sure, there are notepads and voice recorders and all kinds of ways to memorialize ideas, but none of them worked well whistling down Latigo at 40 mph, and if I sat at the desk and began notating, the notes would turn into full-blown posts. Boom. Day shot.

I also had self-imposed deadlines. My two readers were eager for the latest burnt offering, and they would let me know it. Being the kind of guy who likes to please everyone and who can’t stand it when people are unhappy, and having a day job that is all about deadlines and time limits, I fell into the manic state of “gotta blog now,” and somehow maintained it for a very long time. Note: More than a week was a “very long time.”

As much of a relief as it has been not to blog, it’s been frustrating, too. Hundreds of great topics have slipped away never to be recaptured, things that could potentially change our lives forever, like the big group ride on PCH where countless riders were almost taken down by a gigantic, glistening, pink self-pleasuring device that had been abandoned on the side of the road.

What was the story of that device? How got it there? From whence did it come (so to speak)? Wherefore wert it cast aside?

Quality stuff, right?

Although the blog is now baaaaack, it’s not really ever coming back. I’ve limited myself to twenty minutes a day. It’s amazing how long it takes to finish something when you’ve only got twenty minutes to work on it. I’ve also instituted a new policy: Henceforth I will actually read what I’ve written before hitting “publish.” The simple act of reading something through in its completed state was a revelation, not unlike hearing your own voice on tape for the first time. “I sound like THAT?”

In this case, however, it was “I wrote THAT? What was I thinking?”

So that’s the best explanation I can give. What follows is what you’d expect: A preview of the 2013 Belgian Waffle Ride. What else?

Ignorance is bliss until April 7 rolls around

Despite the exhortations of the ride’s founder and the chirpalong “Uh-huh!” of those who have test ridden the 2013 version of the Belgian Waffle Ride’s newest course, only a handful of riders showed up two weekends ago to check out the entire route. This was a shame, because although it was a vicious and brutal day that left the handful of finishers completely shot, it was also the last opportunity before April 7 to experience the final course under fast conditions.

Here’s the take home for those who are somehow going to drag themselves to the start line (Patrick, Gerald, Ted…read carefully!):

1. A few short miles into the ride, and still in the “neutral” zone, the route takes a right off El Camino Real onto Kelly Drive. This immediately leads to a massive wall, which is short but so steep that the field will summarily be reduced from 100 or 150 to 50 riders or less. Maybe much less. There may be opportunities to regroup owing to traffic signals, but the wrong combination of stoplights will effectively separate you from the lead group forever when the pace lights up over this “neutral”-ly grueling hill.

2. Shortly after this monster there will be another wall that starts out as a moderate climb and quickly becomes a “grab for your biggest rear cog.” Panic will ensue, as those who have not pre-ridden the course realize that the ride hasn’t even begun and they’re riding at their limit. How many bullets left in the magazine with 120 miles to go?

3. At the 22-mile mark there is the first feed zone. Do you need food now? You’re doomed. This is where those who are still in the main pack of 50 or so riders will race by the feed zone and leap off the edge of the bike path. Yes, leap. All the funsies officially end here, and the first King of the Dirt segment begins. Sit back in the saddle as you plunge off the ledge or you will endo. There’s some more soft sand, a ditch, and then a long, firm, dirt/grass section where the ‘crossers will go ape. It’s inconceivable that more than twenty or thirty riders will survive this selection. The numbers will reduce further at the end of the trail, where you’ll have to dismount, throw your bike over your shoulder, and clatter up a sheer rock embankment in your roadie shoes to get atop the path again. If you haven’t crashed, flatted, been dropped, or given up, count yourself lucky, or a contender, or not very smart.

4. Covered in your first fine film of dust, you’ll get a breather on the smooth asphalt of the bike path, but it won’t last for more than a couple of minutes. You’ll next encounter some fancy 180-turns, a curb-hop, and a launch onto a really nasty gravel section. It goes on for a couple of miles, and if you don’t thread the beaten section of the gravel you’ll be out amongst the large, loose, gravelly chunks, where crashing, flats, crashing, flats, crashing, flats, and losing control will send you off onto the embankment studded with massive, sharp paving stones, and from there into the river. Make sure you’ve got good tires and girded loins and a life preserver. You’ll need ‘em.

5. At the end of this section the pre-final selection has been made. It will be a small group. A little pavement, a swig from the bottle, a deep breath, and folks will be looking around to see who’s left. It will be a select group. There will be a few minutes of peace punctuated by a sprint, after which you’ll ascend the next piece of unpaved road. This is about a mile long and will be the third section in the KOD calculations. If there are any stragglers here who should have been kicked out the back earlier on, they will exit stage rear now. You’ll be thoroughly lathered.

6. At the bottom of the short descent you’ll enter what is a killingly hard part of the course. There’s a short climb followed by miles and miles of rollers. The worst ones come in a series of three, with the longest the last. It will punish you beyond belief, and will take a complete effort to stay with the group. You’ll then hit another long series of undulating ups and downs, none particularly hard, but each one will reduce your arsenal, almost unnoticeably, until you have to stand up and pedal. This is a great time to quit kidding yourself if you’re with the main bunch. Sit up and be ready to spend the rest of the day enjoying the ride and focusing on getting through it. Let the heroes go do their thing. You’re no hero; you don’t even have a thing.

7. If you’ve let your ephemeral fitness fake you into hanging with the group, you’ll eventually wind up on a long grade that goes one endless mile up Old Highway 395 to Rainbow. It will destroy you, because someone in the group will take the opportunity to attack or at least keep the pressure on. If you get over this, the only thing that awaits now is hell. Your reward for perseverance will be a huge serving of catastrophe.

8. There will be a long, undulating run-in through Rice Canyon Rd. that has a couple of short kickers but ends in a glorious, balls-out descent of almost 3.5 miles, railing through shaded, twisting turns that would be beautiful if you weren’t so terrified of clipping a wheel and going down, or cooking a turn and becoming a hood ornament to oncoming traffic. Gather yourself, don’t pedal any more than is necessary, and get ready for the end of the ride, which is much nearer than you think.

9. Couser Canyon climb isn’t very long; only about 2.8 miles with two or three really steep sections. If you’ve been play-acting on LA County climbs like Grandview or Ganado, in theory this one is a piece of cake. You’ll find, however, that this cake is laced with razor blades, which in turn are spiked with cyanide and served on a radioactive plate. All those punchy rollers you’ve been doing the past 60 miles? They come home to roost HERE. You will cross the peak utterly broken, wondering what the hell happened, and screaming at yourself that you can’t believe you wasted so much energy so early on. That’s right. The ride isn’t even halfway over, and all the hard stuff starts now. If you had given up at the very beginning and rolled at an easy pace until the top of this climb, you’d still have your work cut out for you. But you didn’t. You hammered and followed wheels and tried to fake out physics. Mother nature? She still doesn’t like it when you try to fool her.

10. A punishing series of rollers ensue. The Lilac-Wilkes-Sierra climbs take the softening up that’s been administered so far and turn it into a numbing, grinding, slogging struggle just to surmount each roller. Punctuated with terrifying, half-paved descents that require a perfect line to avoid flatting or crashing out, this next few miles will leave you drained and defeated. Which means, of course, that it will be relentless misery from here on out.

11. A quick turn takes you onto the next King of the Dirt section. It’s long, it takes the fastest and best riders three minutes minimum to complete, and it takes the flailers three times that long. Recent rains have left the dirt soft and sandy, which is shorthand for “prepare to do a lot of walking and/or tipping over.” The initial drop into the creekbed has been the site of frames splitting in half and of riders careening off into the barbed wire, where they’ve been shredded to ribbons. The road alternates between navigable and “Thank Dog I brought my 28,” as short pitches rise up almost vertically and are surfaced with loose sand interspersed with terrible potholes. The end is a steep paved climb.

12. By now you’ve been completely subdued, and the thought of finishing is the only thing on your mind. What’s left is so awful that all you need to know is this: Bandy Canyon, Lake Hodges Rock Garden, Questhaven, and Double Peak. This fearsome foursome packs the worst of the BWR into the final 30 miles, not even counting the awful climb from the rock garden back up to Del Dios: Vicious climbs, precarious dirt roads, and the numbing effect of 130 miles and close to 11,000 feet of climbing.

This year’s ride will be even harder because of the sheer number of participants. In addition to the well-known hammerheads, riders from Europe, Canada, and other far-flung hinterlands (even Texas) have registered for this epic beatdown, throwdown, and throw-up. So eat big the night before, and eat big the night before that, and eat big the night before the night before, and pack down as many eggs and waffles as you can on the morning of the big ride.

See you in the infirmary. Over and out.

BWR 2013 tune-up and teardown

March 3, 2013 § 20 Comments

The 2013 Belgian Waffle Ride will be harder than the 2012 inaugural edition. I’m sharing this post to help you prepare for it. After riding the entire course yesterday, it drove home what a monumental day in the saddle the actual ride promises to be.

Lots of my friends are posting their mileage on Strava and doing big days in order to prep for the BWR. This is good. What follows is some sound advice on how to make sure you arrive on April 7 in the best condition possible.

It’s more than miles and climbs

The course covers about 130 miles and has about 12,000 feet of climbing. You would think that by doing 120-mile training rides with 8,000-9,000 feet of climbing you were preparing adequately.

However, the difficulties of the BWR are greater than distance and elevation. The ride is made exponentially harder by the dirt climbs, the unpaved descents, the grueling 2-mile section of soft sand on Country Club Road, and the longer (but firmer) dirt and rock section along Lake Hodges.

The elevation numbers are also deceptive because they don’t come in long sustained climbs like Piuma or Latigo. Rather, they accumulate in dozens and dozens and dozens of stabbing rollers that sap your strength and endurance.

This difficulty is increased because all of the hard dirt sections occur well past the halfway mark. The Lake Hodges dirt and rock trail happens with less than 20 miles to go, and the soft sand steep climb of Questhaven happens towards the very end. After all your resources have been plundered, you’re then faced with the unthinkable: Getting to the top of San Elijo and then climbing Double Peak.

The ride will be harder because more people will have prepared for it, more people will know the course, at least two UCI pros will be toeing the line along with some of the best amateur racers in SoCal, and therefore the nation.

There’s only one way to prepare

That way is to ride the course. Whatever excuses, reasons, obligations, or conflicts you think you have, if you’ve signed up for the 2013 BWR you must ride the course at least once before April 7. You can pick up the entire route by looking at my Strava map for 3/2/2013 (begin at the Bonsall River trail; the first part of the ride was a true stop-and-start in cul-de-sac hell reconnaissance).

There’s also a full recon ride on 3/17/13. Anyone can come, but you should have a buddy who knows the course or have a map because there will be no waiting or regrouping.

Pick your goals beforehand

Even pre-riding the race won’t help all that much if you haven’t selected a goal prior to the ride. Here are the goals you should choose from. Don’t be greedy.

  1. I just want to get the finisher’s jersey and complete the ride without it being a living hell.
  2. I want to ride as long as I can with the leaders.
  3. I want one of the special jerseys: Sprint, Hardman, KOM, KOD.
  4. I want to win.

If you’ve selected 2, 3, or 4, I can’t help you, except to say that you are one of the top racers in the nation in your category, or you are hopelessly deluded and need a good therapist. My friend Noel O’Malley is currently accepting referrals.

Finishing strong

I categorize #1 as “finishing strong.” The ride will be hard. You will be challenged. You will be exhausted. But 95% of the ride will feel well within your limits, and 5% will take you outside your comfort zone. In short, at the end you’ll have a lot of great stories and will still be able to stand, talk, and carry on semi-normal functions.

None of the alternatives to finishing strong are good ones. They are all nightmare scenarios, and I’ve lived through them all both on my two recon rides last year, my one recon ride so far in 2013, and my numerous unhappy road cycling encounters in North County San Diego riding with my “friends” on “tempo rides.”

So, here’s what I’ve gleaned. It can help you if you let it.

  1. Pre-ride the course at least once. Do it twice and you’re 80% of the way to being golden.
  2. Run your tires at 80 psi. This will be sufficiently hard to roll well on the pavement, and soft enough to get you through the dirt and sand without tipping over, skidding out, or puncturing on the rocks.
  3. Run new, heavy duty tires. I used Hutchinson Intensive2’s yesterday and they worked like a charm.
  4. Leave your diet at home. The day before the ride, eat a big, substantial meal. The day of the ride, no matter how nervous and loose-boweled you feel, eat big at the waffle and sausage and egg breakfast. You cannot finish strong on Barbie food and candy bars.
  5. The group will accelerate once it comes off the Bonsall bike path, then shatter on the first dirt climb. Let the leaders go. You may be strong enough to follow, but they will drain you and drop you around mile 40 or before, leaving you with the entire ride and all its hard sections to do on gassed legs.
  6. Don’t fall in with a small grupetto of hammerheads. Choose your companions wisely, and don’t put yourself in a position where you’re taking glory pulls or pulling hard for mile after mile.
  7. Take advantage of every rest stop, but don’t dismount for more than five minutes. Fill your bottle, eat if you need to, and get right back on.
  8. Whenever you start feeling good or strong, remind yourself that it’s a trick and a trap. Unless you’re ten miles from Double Peak or less, any “good” sensations are meaningless. In fact, you’ll feel wondrous up to Couser Canyon; it’s after this climb that most people realize they’ve gone too hard too early, they’re totally blown, and they’re only halfway in.
  9. You’ve got to get some dirt practice on your road bike, so go get some dirt practice on your road bike. Not your mountain bike. Your road bike, unless you plan to do the BWR on your MTB.
  10. Take a minute to review the BWR rides by me and by Michael Marckx a/k/a MMX on 3/2/2013. It’s a good comparison between what one of the leaders will look like and what a flailer looks like when the wheels come off the wagon at the end of the dirt section at Lake Hodges.
  11. Do the route at least once. The full route, no matter how awful. You will thank me later. Effusively.

Finally, start taking measurements for that beautiful Joe Yule/StageOne finisher’s jersey that you’ll wear with pride and satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment for the rest of your life!

END

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