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:
- Grimes Canyon: Frias
- Fillmore sprunt: Hair
- Santa Paula sprunt: Hair
- Ojai climb: G$
- Ojai sprunt: Hair
- Casitas climb, first peak: Surfer Dan
- Casitas climb, second peak: Surfer Dan
- Santa Barbara county line sprunt: Hair
- Ventura county line sprunt: King Harold
- Balcom Canyon climb: Surfer Dan
- Golf Course climb: Manslaughter
- Most trash talked: Wanky
Honorable and Dishonorable Mention
- The last-minute cancellations, including Elron who bailed because he was too lazy to get up in time.
- Mike Frias for pulling like a Trojan All Fricking Day Award.
- 60-year-old Jim Bowles for Octogenarian of the Ride Award.
- Stern-O for Toughest Old Boot of the Ride Award.
- Turtle for Finishing Award.
- Manslaughter for Dude We’re Going to Really Fear Now That He Knows the Route Award.
- Unpronounceable for If He Ever Gets Serious About the Road We’re Doomed Award.
- Hair for All Around Champion Award.
- Surfer Dan for KOM, BOM, and SOM Awards.
- Uberfred for Best Projectile Vomit Award.
- Toronto for Best Self-Praise Award.
- G$ for Best Old Dude Who Rides Better Than the Kids Half His Age.
- Danny N. for Gutting It Out Award.
- King Harold for Best Recovery After Contracting Bubonic Plague at Training Camp.
- Jaeger for Best Mother Hen Award.
- Polly for Best Driver Award.
- BB-Gun for Best Shock Therapy on Balcom Award.
- 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.”
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
January 30, 2011 § 5 Comments
Some of what is written below is potentially true. All errors, omissions, exaggerations, and falsifications become the property of the finder.
Pass the cyclonite, please
We sat there in the living room, awash in panic, anxiety, and the hormonal flood that comes from having suddenly assaulted our stomachs with the lard count of twelve delicious sausages, a plate of tasty bacon, half a loaf of a bread sopped in the Jaegers’ famous French toast dip, and a scalding cup of coffee. This was the briefing room of Dave Jaeger’s FTR, otherwise known as Mr. and Mrs. Jaeger’s bedroom, where seven of the day’s nineteen participants were hurriedly stripping, dashing into the bathroom, clogging the plumbing, and dashing back out to put on their cycling clothes. If you’ve ever wondered what a group of near-50-ish naked men looks like prancing around in a small bedroom together, you have problems. Plus, I can tell you that it isn’t very pretty.
The key characteristic of the morning was that it was flat fucking cold. Taking 43 degrees and subtracting 10 degrees for the wind chill, it meant that everyone was digging around in their duffel bags trying to find the leg warmers they’d left at home because the forecast said the high was going to be 63.
“Yeah, it’s going to be 63,” Jeff said with a laugh. “At 11 o’clock. So you’ll only have to freeze your balls off for about three hours.” Jeff had brought a plastic windbreaker, arm warmers, and leg warmers.
I, on the other hand, had eschewed the bulky choice of extra clothing in favor of an embrocation produced by a company called Mad Alchemy. I’d used it the day before for the first time, just a very slight amount on my legs, and it had heated them up for the entire 2-hour ride.
“Wanna try some of this?” I asked my semi-nude bedroom mates.
“Oh, hell yeah. Gimme some of that,” they more or less said in unison, scuffling to be the first to dip their fingers into the tawny red gel.
GFT DS Dave J. looked in. “What the fuck are you guys doing?”
“We’re putting on embrocation to keep our legs warm. Like the pros in Europe. That’s how they ride Paris-Roubaix without leg warmers.”
“Listen up, dumbshits. Don’t ever try new stuff on race day. What happens when you get an hour into the ride and find out you’re allergic to that crap, and you break out in hives? There ain’t no sag on this ride, remember?”
By this time everyone was ignoring him as hard as they could, and really ignoring the label on the Mad Alchemy tub that listed the active ingredient “rapeseed oil.” I don’t know what rapeseed is, but it sounds pretty hard core, so to speak.
MMX, whose motto is, “If the bottle says ‘take one’ always take six” was smearing on the Mad Alchemy like icing on a birthday cake. Bull, ever the competitor, saw how much MMX was using and doubled the application. SternO, who actually uses embrocation, carefully applied a very modest amount. The other nitwits smeared it on like putty.
This stuff is great man my legs are hot
When we rolled out of the driveway, the cold morning air hit us hard. Happily, those of us who’d been pro enough and smart enough to ignore Jaeger had toasty, pre-warmed legs which seemed to get warmer with every pedal stroke. Wind, schmind.
The only person having issues was MMX, who fidgeted and rotated around on his saddle in obvious discomfort. “You okay? You’re not cold, are you?” I asked.
“Nah, but I’m ah, warm in the wrong place.”
“What do you mean?”
MMX pointed at his crotch. Just before rolling out he’d dashed into the bathroom and grabbed his plumbing with the mitt he’d used to smear on the heat cream. He now had a fearsome case of hot dick, and since the embrocation is gradually absorbed by the skin over several hours, things were literally just heating up. Of course he couldn’t reach into his shorts and readjust his package because that would just smear more embrocation around the danger zone. All he could do was fidget, kind of like you’d do if someone made you set your balls on a hot skillet.
“How long does this shit last?” he asked.
“Well, I was talking to Patrick Brady about it yesterday, and he said that it will keep you warm for eight hours, no problem.”
Fillmore was a worthless president
After half an hour we hit the first small climb, with MMX and his fiery junk driving us to the top until JK sprang out from the back and summited far ahead of everyone else. We descended and began the short climb that screamingly descends to the city limit sign at Fillmore, for which there is a mad dash for the line.
I rode up next to G3, who was doing the FTR for the first time, and told him that whatever happened, he’d better not get separated on the descent. There’s a 3-mile run in on the flats to the city limit sign, and even if you’re just five or six bike lengths off on the downhill, you’ll never catch back on once the lead group hits the flats. We bombed the descent, and Alex, a young pro who rides for Team Type 1, came unhitched, wrongly figuring that he’d just catch back on at the bottom. He never did.
Harry turned on the flatback gas and started a whipping rotation with MMX, JK, G3, and Bull. With about half a mile to go a second group consisting of Napoleon, Hegg, DJ, and several others bridged up. The big, fat, green sprint sign sat in plain view and Napoleon attacked, smashed the group, and shelled himself out of his own breakaway. MMX took a huge pull, and JK found himself on the front and not at all displeased as he took out the big paddle and prepared to deliver a spanking.
He jumped, followed by Harry, with me locked on Harry’s wheel. The center line had these giant divots spaced at ten foot intervals so that if you hit one of them at speed you were going down. I charged Harry on the left and he eased me right up against the divots. I hit the gas again and shot clear, raising my arms in a victory salute to myself. Harry and JK rolled up after a while, as the finishing gap was big enough to park a semi in. Both looked sour. “I let you win,” Harry said. “Yeah, me too,” said JK, who had been even farther back than Harry. “I didn’t want to push you over the center line.”
What happens when Harry doesn’t let you win
The next section of highway was fast and long and tailwind. SternO, the next oldest participant after Gil at 60 years old, took a big gnarly pull up the long incline. Bull hit the front and kept the pace high. MMX and his hot balls continued the whipping pace he’d been setting all morning. Before long we reached the second sprint point at Santa Paula, which Alex took without even trying.
After meandering through Santa Paula we began the medium climb that would take us into Ojai. JK launched early, followed by DJ and Alex. I sat in the back, reasoning that I was going to need everything I had when we hit the climb to Casitas Lake in another half hour. MMX went to the front to organize the chase, but Napoleon elbowed him aside and set a phenomenal tempo all the way up the climb, such that by the time we crested we were not far at all from Jaeger and Alex.
Harry unleashed on the downhill, reeling in the two breakaways. JK was so far off the front that we couldn’t even see him on the long straight stretches, but with monster pull after monster pull by Harry, MMX, Bull, Alex, and Napoleon, we reeled him in just before the twisting descent into Ojai. We screamed down to the bottom, paused for a minute, and then I launched with Alex. We were quickly brought back, just in time for the little green city limit sign in Ojai.
I sat up and Harry hit the turbo, surprising everyone as it was still 600 or 700 meters to the line. They belatedly organized a chase, with Bull screaming through for the win…almost. Harry’s hand shot up at the sign, pipping Bull by the width of a tire.
My group, which rolled into Ojai several seconds behind the sprint group and with room for at least twelve semis, was bisected by an Elmo in a POS rusted out pickup who pulled out in front of us making a left turn onto the highway. As he piloted his craft to port, the giant plywood dresser in the bed of the pickup, which was filled with rags, dirty underwear, dirty magazines, tools, and credit card bills came flying out of the truck and smashing down into the middle of the road.
Like any good redneck who’s carting around crap from one mobile home to the next, he casually looked out the window, saw the massive wreckage, and just kept on driving. Welcome to Ojai, about as far from LA County as you can get without hardly leaving it.
Dialing up the heat
By now everyone was warmed up, the sun was doing its job, and it was another gorgeous day in sunny Ventura County, served up as ordered by DJ for the FTR. We stopped at the Chevron to void and load up, and several of my bedroom mates sidled up to me, twitching and looking kind of funny.
“Say, Seth,have you ever used this Mad Alchemy stuff before?” they asked.
“Well, man, like, um, how long does it last?” Awkward twist and shuffle.
“About eight or nine hours. Why?”
“My fucking legs are on fire. Feels like they’ve been dipped in hot chicken grease.”
“It should wear off by tonight. Just be sure not to touch your pecker when you pee.”
We remounted, wended our way along the highway and turned onto the climb to Casitas Lake. I had bitter memories of this climb from last year, when, hanging onto JK, G$, and Jaeger’s wheel for dear life, they had dumped me like so much refuse about a half kilometer to the summit. I had chased the entire rest of the way, catching them only after they’d stopped pedaling, just past the sprint for the Santa Barbara county line.
Evan D. sprang free past the lake, and JK dialed him into the cross hairs and slowly ramped up the pace. We passed him as our group dwindled to six, five, four, and then with the grenade blast of Alex coming unhitched, to three. JK pulled 80% of the way, with DJ doing monster efforts to keep the pace high and my confidence low.
They took turns looking back at me as I sucked wheel for all I was worth. A pull meant certain extermination. Wheel sucking meant almost certain extermination. What’s a gassed hacker to do? After DJ’s last hard pull, JK turned, saw me, and attacked again. I struggled to follow his acceleration, which kicked DJ out the back. This alone was sweet, because DJ had left me gasping and broken the year before.
JK paused, winded from his effort, and I jumped him. He latched on, waited until I faded, and countered. I held his wheel ever so tenuously as he took the KOM. We crested and as I rolled by him he said, “Hey, let’s wait for Jaeger.”
“Sure, I thought. In Santa Barbara.” I dropped it into the 11 and hammered as hard as I could, forcing my good friend, my generous and kind host, the guy I like and respect above all others, to chase his guts out and suffer like a dog. I’m not sure how much he suffered, but he caught us and we drilled it all the way to the county line, fully aware that Harry and Co. weren’t far behind.
DJ led out the sprint and JK accelerated hard, opening a gap as I tried to get his wheel. I finally got on top of the gear, but not soon enough nail him at the line. “Great sprint,” he said with a smile. “But I beat you.” I didn’t bother to tell him that I’d let him have it.
Moments later Harry, Napoleon, and Hegg came flying by. Hegg had whipped up the chase throughout the descent, and they nearly reeled us in. We took a brief break and waited while the pack regrouped. My legs ached. Incipient cramps had begun in my left leg. I’d burned most of my matchbook. And we were only halfway through the ride.
I’m not waiting on a lady…I’m just waiting on a friend
FTR confirms a universal truth among cyclists: you have no friends. Once astride your mount it’s combat, and the only meaningful outcome is the one in which you crush the other guy. We’d only had a couple of punctures, and coming out of Ventura I picked up a staple and flatted. Half the group waited. SternO, Jim B., Rod G., and the Long Beach contingent sprinted up the road.
Although it was a quick tire change with the aid of Harry, the others were long gone by the time I remounted. DJ started off the chain gang with a monster pull, followed by Harry, who had already towed the gang along the entire stretch of the 101 at 30+. Bull, MMX, JK…each guy in our crew pulled harder than the guy before, but we didn’t see the others again until Santa Paula.
“Thanks for waiting,” I said when we finally rejoined them.
“Oh, we were just cruising,” they answered. I noticed that they were all lathered in sweat.
At this point the Ogre of Ventura County loomed. Balcom Canyon Road is a short, one-mile climb with 21-22% pitches for most of the way. Ordinarily it would be a beast. But coming at the 100-mile mark after a battering day in the saddle it is your worst nightmare. Added to the difficulty of the climb there is a 2-mile run in up the canyon before you hit the climb itself. The run in is uphill, of course, and straight into a howling headwind that blows down out of the canyon.
My strategy was simple. There was no way I could beat JK in a one-on-one race to the top. He’s lighter, he’s stronger, he’s faster, he’s better. However, with a well-timed attack after a group roadside pee, I reasoned that a strong breakaway partner like MMX could get me to the base of the hill with enough time to take the KOM.
That pose is called Arching Cat with Shattered Spine
MMX’s motor only gets stronger the longer he rides. We hit the gas and held a hard, steady tempo until we picked up LRon, who had soft pedaled ahead of those who had stopped to pee. LRon jumped into our rotation, and at the turn into the canyon we overtook the group containing Jim B., he-who-always-goes-on-ahead, and SternO, he-who-everyone-waited-for-when-he-flatted-in-Ventura-but-who-charged-on-ahead-when-I-punctured-shortly-thereafter.
The battering headwind in the run-up hit us like a wall, but we forged ahead, slightly upping the pace and increasing our gap. A couple of minutes before we hit the canyon proper, I fell off my bike. The cramps were so sudden and so complete that I couldn’t even writhe. Instead, I leaned up against the guardrail, waiting for the most awful, horrific moment of my cycling existence…and I’m not talking about getting up Balcom Canyon with fully cramped quads, hams, and calves.
I grimaced, then wrested control of my face, legs sticking out unbent as rulers, and did my best May-I-please-have-a-cigarette-now-that-we’re-done-with-sex pose, trying to look as nonchalant and natural as I could, as if leaning against a hard piece of aluminum on a sweltering day at the bottom of a canyon in a howling headwind with rigor mortis legs was exactly where I had planned to be all along.
And then came the pain. JK’s group rounded the bend and the beams from their smiling faces were bright enough, and their malice-filled grins were cruel enough to easily slice through even my toughened exterior. All of their whining and complaining at having been dumped after the pee stop evaporated in a giant Kum-ba-ya of catcalls and mock sympathy.
“Which pilates pose is that?” hollered Napoleon.
“Good job holding up that guardrail!” snickered another.
And cruelest of all was DJ: “Anything I can do to help?”
I shouldered the abuse as they whizzed by, and they were soon followed by SternO’s grupetto. John W. and finally LRon came up. LRon dismounted, clapped me on the back, and smiled. “You gonna be able to pedal?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “But I don’t see any other way of getting up this bastard.”
The climb up the canyon was forgettable, except for the complete cramping that I pedaled through with each stroke. With my DFL finish, I reached the summit to a small knot of happy faces. “Good job, Seth,” someone piped up. Good job, indeed.
Home sweet home
Sixteen miles later we arrived at the Jaegers’ home, where they had prepared a feast of sandwiches, cold water, and beer for those who wanted it. Whatever humiliation I’d endured on the guardrail was but a tune-up for the barrage of laughter and whoops that kicked in once the beer began to flow.
G3 put his arm around me and thanked me. “You just gave me a lifetime’s worth of funny memories,” he said. “Thanks from the bottom of my heart.”
A couple of hours later I was back home, thoroughly pleased with the results of the best day I’ve ever had on a bike, and already looking forward to FTR 2012.
FTR 2011 Awards, in no particular order
1. Victor, Champion, and Overall Destroyer of Egos (especially mine) Award: Jeff K., who won a sprint, took the KOM at Lake Casitas, the KOM at Balcom Canyon, and who let me win a sprint.
2. Guy Who Everyone Hopes Doesn’t Lose Ten Pounds Award: MMX, who took second at Balcom, provided daylong horsepower, and whose fearless attack leading up to Balcom demonstrates his conviction to live by the words of Steve Prefontaine—“Most people race to see who’s fastest. I race to see who’s got the most guts.” On FTR 2011, buddy, that was you.
3. Horse of the Day Award: Harold M., who won the Ojai Sprint, got 2nd at Fillmore, reeled in the break after the Santa Paula climb, almost caught the break before the sprint at Santa Barbara, pulled the entire group at 30+ for ten miles along the 101, did the lion’s share of the work chasing the cheaters after Ventura, and still whipped most of the others up Balcom Canyon. Plus he let me win the sprint at Fillmore.
4. Best New FTR’er Award: Dan S., who took two second place sprint finishes, a fourth, and who spent more time at the front than most other riders, even after he’d pretty much hit the wall an hour or so before Balcom.
5. Guy Who Rode Through the Worst Pain Award: Rod G., who started cramping at the 66-mile mark, and gutted out the entire rest of the ride with nasty cramps.
6. Funniest FTR’er Award: Martin H., for his hilarious comments, his refusal to be the least bit intimidated by the ride, and his unforgettable crack about the pilates…not to mention his picture of Napoleon on a horse. Martin also spent a big chunk of the day on the point.
7. Godlike Icon Award: Steve H., who blazed up Balcom for third even though he tips the scales at 190+. A true monster in every way, and proof that they don’t hand out Olympic gold medals just for good looks.
8. Redemption Award: Alex B., “The Kid,” who came back after an epic FTR fail in 2009 to complete the ride, take the Santa Paula sprint, and ride tough from beginning to end.
9. Tough as Nails Award: Gil, who, at 65 years old, not only finished the ride in fine form but kicked my butt up Balcom and up the golf course.
10. I’m Not a Wussy Award: SternO, who proved what no one has ever seriously doubted, which is that he is tough as nails and broken glass. Plus, when he saw me flailing on Balcom, he didn’t laugh. “I really felt sorry for you,” he said, and he meant it.
11. It’s Only a Bike Ride Award: LRon, for his selfless effort in our doomed breakaway, and for actually stopping at the guardrail. He’s not just the best coach around, he’s a great humanitarian, too.
12. Most Lashing Pull Award: Jim B., for his herculean pull towards the end of the ride that was so hard it almost shelled me off the back. Thank goodness he doesn’t find his way to the front more often.
13. Fluffiest Saddle Award: G3, who hands-down had the cutest little orange puffball hanging from the back of his saddle. G3 also had the happiest demeanor, and of the first-timers did lots more time on the point than common sense should have dictated.
14. Best Perspective on Life Award: Doug P., who participated, enjoyed, but took the whole thing in stride, just happy to complete the ride without making it into a soap opera, unlike the writer of this blog.
15. Most Hopeless but Daring Attack Award: Evan D., for attacking Jeff K. on the climb to Casitas Lake. That took balls, son, but it looked like it might have cost a nut and a half, too.
16. Quietest Award: Gil’s son Wyatt, who did the entire ride without saying anything and without even breaking a sweat. With legs like that, on your next FTR you’ll be expected to be ladling out the pain soup.
17. Guy You Better Hope Doesn’t Get Race Fit Award: John W., best descender, toughest rider, and guy who by all rights shouldn’t have gotten past mile 70 but who nonetheless completed the whole damn ride in glorious style.
18. Guy Who Doesn’t Need an Award Award: GFT DS Dave Jaeger. Thanks and words won’t do it. You trolled the back to make sure no one got left behind, you hammered on the front to stamp your authority on the ride, you smiled from start to finish, and you’ve made each of our lives better and happier thanks to your selflessness.
19. People Who Made it All Possible Award: Mr. and Mrs. Jaeger, Lynn, Macey, and Carly. We’re in your debt. Again. You’re the best!
—Please note…this next part is NOT an award—
20. Clueless Bums Who Missed the Girl Scout Cookies Sign-Up Non-Award: In case you missed it, because it was hidden openly in the middle of the table between the beer and hot sauce on a giant white piece of paper with a pen next to it, there was a Girl Scout Cookies sign-up list. I was astounded to see that only a handful of you bums signed up. So the ride wasn’t worth four bucks for a box of cookies to help the girls who made your freaking breakfast?
Of course the real explanation is that you were so whacked by the FTR and so famished, and so enamored of the good beer and good food, and having so much fun at regaling each other with Seth on the Guardrail and Seth the Pilates Instructor jokes that you just overlooked it. Get it? That’s your excuse, bonehead, “I just overlooked it.” Now that it’s been pointed out, please contact DJ and order your danged cookies.
Ride data: 5:56, 116.4mi, 236wNP, 19.6mph, 6049ft, 156lb.