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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This is gonna hurt: BWR preview 2013

February 10, 2013 § 17 Comments

Last night Spivey and I prepped for our first BWR recon ride of 2013 by eating sausage, noodles, cooked intestines, gristle, rice broth, kimchi, strips of fatty beef, cabbage, and miso. Yes, there was dessert. Yes, it involved ice cream. Yes, we shouldn’t have. No, we did. The result? 4:00 AM today came real fucking early.

We got to Encinitas a little after seven. It was cold. We had coffee at the Lofty Bean. Spivey had a triple organic chocolate fudge brownie cake croissant tart. “My lady love has me on a new healthy diet,” he said. “So I have to cheat like hell whenever I can. Want to grab a double-cheese stuffed pizza with sausage after the ride?”

“No,” I said. I was concentrating on a growler of oatmeal and coffee, topped off by more coffee with extra coffee on top.

The plan was to do the SPY slugfest from RIDE Cyclery, then regroup and tack on 50-60 miles of the Belgian Waffle Ride in order to review some of the new dirt/mud/water crossing sections that have been added for 2013. Spivey and I got to RIDE Cyclery and were joined by the usual collection of misfits, lardkettles, and doomed-to-a-nasty-shelling wankers who habitually show up for this weekly beatdown only to get, of course, beaten down.

In addition to the thick and sagging cannon fodder, there was a mighty contingent of heroes, listed below, with the tail-dragging, weakest wanker listed last.

  1. Thurlow Rogers a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG
  2. Michael Marckx a/k/a MMX a/k/a “Yes, sir.”
  3. Brian Zink
  4. Lars Finanger
  5. Erik Johnson
  6. Steven Davis
  7. David Anderson
  8. Ryan Dahl
  9. Caitlin Laroche
  10. Harold Martinez a/k/a King Harold
  11. Josh Alverson a/k/a Gearhead
  12. Kelsey Mullen
  13. Dave Gonyer
  14. Michael Williams
  15. Katja the Awesomeness
  16. Josh Goldman
  17. Anthony Vasilas
  18. Andy Schmidt
  19. Tait Campbell
  20. Brent Garrigus
  21. Paul Douville
  22. Jim Miller
  23. Jimmy, Dude in DDS Kit
  24. Marc Spivey
  25. Wind
  26. Road
  27. Mud
  28. Dirt
  29. Stabbing Rollers
  30. Wankmeister

Coming in hot

It seemed like a terrible idea, mostly for me, to start the recon with the weekly SPY Saturday beatdown ride. The reason? It’s really hard to have a good 50-60 mile recon ride after you’ve been shelled and shattered and mutilated and ground into powder on a 20-mile “warm up.”

We came up the first stabbing climb in the neighborhood so hard that about one-third of the wankoton evaporated in the first 300 yards. Spivey’s chocolate tart decided to lock horns with the pig intestines and the forty or so pounds of “cheating” that were still “hanging around,” and he kicked things in high reverse with the next acceleration of the group, not to be seen again for a few zip codes.

I’ve done this stupid ride several times now, and it always hurts worse than the time before, and I always swear I’ll never to it again. Today I faced the reality of getting dropped for good on the neighborhood climb, and just as I started explaining to myself how awesome it would be to grab Spivey, do a u-turn, fuck this stupid bicycle stuff, and go back to Lofty Bean for a second (and third) round of chocolate tarts, up came Caitlin.

“Hey, Wankster! Glad to see you!”

I cursed her silently. She wasn’t even breathing hard. Bitch. “Uh. Ugggh. Ahh,” I said.

“Glad you’re here to show me where the turns are! I don’t know the route!”

I wanted to tell her that I’d be happy to act as tour guide but she’d be doing it off the back, but at that moment the torrid pace relented, I caught my breath, then caught my legs, and somehow made it to the top of the climb. The group had crumbled into less than half of the eighty or so who rolled out.

Spivey caught us at the light, but the next push up Rancho Santa Fe spit him out the back again to do battle with the chocolate/intestine/noodle/Haagen-Dasz mixture that had become so toxic to the up-and-down motion of his legs.

Full gas ’til midnight

MMX, THOG, Lars, Brian, Ryan, and Erik kept pushing the pace up San Elijo to Elfin Forest Rd., with more little fritters wrapped in soft and chewy dough frying and popping in the heated oil, then bounding off the back where they were gobbled up and quickly digested by the twelve-headed beast known as Ego Devouring Reality.

I kept staring down at my legs, which did nothing but turn slowly and burn as if they were roasting on a spit, and then stare up at Caitlin and Katja, and curse them silently as they went easily with each and every hard surge. When we finally got onto Elfin Forest Rd. I sat up and drifted to the back for some additional wheelsucking and rest, when I discovered that I already was the back, “back” meaning “last fucking wanker in the slaughterhouse,” and it was only with great mashing of panicky pedals that I reattached.

Spivey was so far back now that he’d radioed ahead for coffee and donuts at the church a few miles up the road.

When we did reach the church I’d learned several secrets of the ride, the most important being that if you wanted to meet and greet and learn the names of the Swami’s dudes, you had to go to the back. Those wankers had such an allergy to the point that I thought they’d been imitating me. I mean, the back end of the peloton was pure Swami’s blue, with one lone SPY jersey (mine) to dishonor the otherwise manly and womanly work of the team.

At the church we regrouped and waited for the detritus while taking turns urinating in the parking lot, urinating by the dumpster, urinating in the bushes, urinating in plain view, urinating by the fence, and urinating over by the swingset, which was vacant, otherwise certain riders would now be wearing orange jumpsuits and frantically calling 1-800-BAIL-BND.

Spivey limped in ten minutes later looking like he’d finally come to terms with the chocolate and the intestines, but still had an outstanding issue or two with the noodles and the ice cream. His face was an odd shade of gray, somewhere between near-death and a two week-old corpse.

“Where’s the donut shop?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Back in Encinitas, maybe.”

Running on empty

I could tell from the minute we left the church parking lot that my ride was over. My legs stung with that leaden sensation on every little riser, and we were going slow. Brent came up to me. “That was fast. PR fast.”

I felt a little bit better about having been on the rivet from the beginning to the end, but worse as I contemplated doing the rest of the ride completely gassed.

We picked up the BWR route on Summit, which hurt beyond belief. It hurt me, anyway. Chris Williams laughed when he heard me wheezing. “Easy, hoss!” he said.

King Harold, who hadn’t cracked a sweat yet, tried to make small talk. “So you and Spivey had a big meal last night?”

I ignored him as we turned down the little dirt section before the climb up Bandy Canyon. Just the tiny undulations of the dirt sapped what little I had left. I sat up. Dave Gonyer slipped back to take my pulse.

“I’m done. Don’t wait for me,” I deja-vu’d him.

“Nah, I’m waiting.” Gonyer never leaves the corpse of a teammate on the field of battle.

I got surly. “No, dude, really, I’m done. Go on.” My speed had dropped to a few mph. He could see the prow of the bony ship settling beneath the waves.

“You know the way home?”

“Sort of. But I’m in my own private hell. Thanks for waiting, but get up there. I’m done.”

He nodded and rejoined the group as they pulled away. Spivey looked back, gleefully, then receded with the group. Revenge, as he well knew, is best served at the bottom of a steep canyon climb on blown legs miles and miles from home in a cold headwind on unknown roads.

New dirt, old dirt, new hell, old hell

The group proceeded to do the new dirt section at Little Dieguito River, and conquered the old dirt at Questhaven, with a few intrepid souls (including that bastard Spivey) manfully charging all the way up Double Peak as the others wisely opted to finish the ride without swallowing that final live scorpion in the tequila bottle.

But they did it all without me. I limped back to Encinitas as broken and slow and beatdown and crushed as I’ve been since…the last time I did a BWR recon ride. As I tried to determine the source of my collapse, I identified all the likely causes:

  1. Still hadn’t recovered from Boulevard the week before.
  2. I’m weak.
  3. Pace on the first part of the ride was too brutal.
  4. I’m slow.
  5. Night before gluttony had sapped me of the will to do battle.
  6. I’m not very good.
  7. Three hours of sleep had deprived me of recovery.
  8. I really suck.
  9. Etc.

Back at the car I rendezvoused with Paul and then Marc. Paul had been towed home by Tait. Marc had been shepherded by Jim, and was euphoric at my epic collapse. In the car ride back to LA he gloriously recounted his conquests to Dan Cobley, neglecting to mention any of the difficulties he’d encountered when the sledgehammer was applied to his nuts at the beginning of the ride

“That was kind of a one-sided recounting,” I said.

He grinned. “Everybody has an angle, buddy, and I have mine.”

“Is our next stop gonna involve a double-stuffed cheese pizza with sausage and Canadian bacon?” I asked.

“You know it!” he said.

And it did.

Summon the demon

January 24, 2013 § 15 Comments

On April 7, 2013, we embark on the second edition of the now-infamous Belgian Waffle Ride.

It leaves the SPY Optic headquarters in Carlsbad at 8:30 AM after stuffing you full of, uh, Belgian waffles, eggs, and coffee.

Then you go out and ride your bike for 118 miles. Some of the roads are paved. One or two of them are flat (but not for long). The kicker comes at the end, when you climb Double Peak after 113 miles of misery.

Unlike last year, where there was a super exclusive vetting list that only let absolutely proven experts like Stern-O and Marvin participate, this year it’s pretty much open to anyone with two legs and a death wish. There are already over 400 idiots who think it’s going to be “fun.”

It won’t be “fun.”

What will it be, then?

It will be the only ride on your calendar where you’re pitted against other riders but where the test will not be against the other riders. The test will be against the road. Then, if you can somehow come to terms with the road (you can’t) you’ll get to worry about whether you’re ahead of or behind the hairy guy on the singlespeed whose wife yelled at you at the CBR crit because you made fun of her husband.

Like 99.9% of the people who do this, you won’t bother to recon the course. You’ll do a few off-road trails on your ‘cross or MTB and call it good. Maybe you’ll toss in a hundred-mile day to “get your legs ready.”

This will prepare you for the rigors of the BWR about as well as a sail around the park pond prepares you for the Antarctic Crossing.

The whole thing will be recorded on your Strava account. Unlike 2012, when virtually everyone failed to complete the entire course, this year riders will have their effort monitored on Strava. Complete the whole thing and you get a jersey and some craft beer. Cut a few climbs, avoid a mudpit because of the crazy old woman with a shotgun, and you’ll go home empty-handed.

Finishing tips

In the heartfelt conviction that no one will actually do any of this, and knowing that therefore the awfulness of the event will be preserved, I’m going to share with you some tips I gleaned from 2012.

1. Recon the course at least twice. The full course.

2. Recon the course at least two times. The full course.

3. Ride the entire course twice, at least.

4. Don’t bother trying to keep up with the leaders, or with anyone. Set a comfortable tempo at the beginning. If you have to exert any serious effort in the first 50 miles, you’ll come apart no later than Bandy Canyon, after which the ride gets hard beyond belief even if you’ve properly conserved.

5. Stop at every rest stop. Today’s not the day to diet.

6. If you’re in a group, do not shirk the work. Of the three winners of the purple jersey last year, two were indelibly scarred by the humiliation. The purple jersey is awarded to the biggest wanker of the day, and there’s more than one to go around.

7. Do not tell yourself, or anyone, that it’s going to be “fun.” This will mislead all parties concerned, especially you.

8. Have ample ID on your person for proper identification of the corpse.

9. If you can’t recon the course, go do the Swami’s A ride with some extra credit. Then abandon your plans to do the BWR.

10. Run the beefiest set of road tires you have.

News from around the Empire

January 18, 2013 § 11 Comments

As of today I’m free at last, free at last, thank Dog almighty I’m free at last. “Why?” you ask. Because henceforth when I get asked The Question(s) about The Cyclist I get to say, after thoughtfully furrowing my brow, this: “Well, it’s a good question. I suggest you go out and ride your bicycle in order to answer it.”

Elbow testing: Junkyard thwacked his rebuilt elbow yesterday at the start of the NPR, right where the electronic circuitry connected to the shoulder bone, which was connected to the brain bone, which was connected to the new PV Kit bone, which got shredded and tore a hole bigger than Dallas. The ‘bow, however, is rock solid minus a touch of cosmetic road wear. They DID build him better than he was before.

Bellyflop: Neumann/aka Hockeystick/now known as “Belly” did a track stand at the turnaround on the NPR, had his wheel chopped, and tumbled off his bicycle. No harm done, and he was quickly helped by Rahsaan. He did, however, bounce when he hit. I’ve never seen that before. Belly, time to try the South Bay Wanker Diet. It’s painful, but it works and it’s free. PS: Track stands in the middle of swirling roadie packs = Numbskullish.

First blood: Charon Smith scored his first win of the year at Ontario last week, finishing so far ahead of the field that he had time to completely recover from his sprint effort and shave his head by the time he crossed the line. The finish photo shows everyone with teeth gritted, faces twisted, bodies hunched over the bars looking like they’re running from a zombie army, and Charon with arms raised, mouth closed, and no visible signs of exertion as he cruises to the win. I’m pretty sure there were some intense post-race team huddles at MRI/Monster Media, and they went like this:

“Don’t ever let it finish in a bunch sprint again, dogdammit!”

“I told you we’re going to have to break away to win! Only way to outsprint Charon is by making him do the 1/2 races, where he belongs.”

“We can’t have him in a break, ever!”

“At CBR we’ll attack the entire race until we get away!”

“If we work together with the other 99 riders in the race, we might have a chance!”

Etc.

By the way, good luck with that plan!

Get ready for CBR: The first South Bay crit of the year happens on Sunday when Chris Lotts puts on the Dominguez Hills Anger Crit Thingy. Please show up to support local road racing in SoCal. Yes, you’ll be pack meat, just like last year. So what?

Winter’s over: The South Bay endured seven (some say eight) days of brutal winter this month, where early temperatures got down to 39, and the highs never crested 65. Thankfully, the bitter temperatures are over, and we’re slowly returning to lows in the high 40’s, highs in the high 70’s. Don’t put away your heavy winter clothing yet, but for sure rotate it to the back of the closet.

Bad wind news: G$ is in Scottsdale testing his bike position in a wind tunnel. Great. A faster G$. Just what those of us in the Elderly Fellows category need.

Gitcher waffle on: The Belgian Waffle Ride is set for April 7, 2013. It will be the hardest one-day ride of the year, where chicken tactics, wheelsucking, and letting others do all the work will earn you nothing more than infamy and a purple card. This will be first and foremost a contest between you and the road. Finish it and you’ll know satisfaction!

Mad props to Dorothy: The 2012 cyclocross season has ended in SoCal, and it couldn’t have gone better or been done without the extraordinary efforts and work and innovation and enthusiasm of Dorothy Wong. I bailed after about ten races. That shit is hard. Next year, which I suppose would be this year, I’ll be in for the whole season now that I know what I’m in for. Thanks to Dorothy for making ‘cross such a success.

Equipment flail: After dissing on my Night Rider lighting system and replacing it with the tube-shaped Serfas light, I can happily report that the Serfas is far superior except that it shuts off every time I hit a bump, and after about four or five bumps it won’t restart without a 1-minute pause or longer. That’s a long-ass time when you’re bombing down VdM on Bull’s wheel at dark-thirty. For $150.00 you’d almost expect something that would work, but then you remember, “It’s an elite cycling product, so of course it’s a pile of shit unless you spend at least $500.00.”

Smooth looking skin: Since incorporating kimchi into my diet, Mrs. Wankmeister has advised me that my skin is softer, more lustrous, and gradually shedding the leathery, scaly, rough, scabbed-over look that comes with road cycling. Though I don’t give a rat’s ass about the  beauty aspect, I do believe that healthier skin will stave off the skin cancer in my future for at least a year or two, and Professor Google confirms that kimchi is the wonderfood for healthy skin. The downside of course are the kimchi farts. Those things are vicious, however, they too have a beneficial effect on skin, as anyone on your wheel gets an instant facial dermal peel when one of those suckers rips into their face. You have to be careful, though, because they can also melt the polarizing slits on your expensive cycling glasses.

Like the old days

December 30, 2012 § 18 Comments

I like today and its brake lever shifters, plastic bikes, Facebook-Twitter-Blogging-Email meet ups, and of course old wanker dude racing teams with better, slicker, more uber-pro outfits and gear than any Tour de France star in the 70’s or 80’s ever dreamed of having.

But I like yesterday, too, and today was a yesterday kind of day.

Back during yesterday, you trained with one or two regular buddies, or by yourself. They had names like Kent, Fields, or Callaway, or Vermeij, or Dickson, and the day’s workout was always the same: You were going to go hard, go long, and be very tired at the end.

Back during yesterday, you and Fields would roll out and it wouldn’t matter if it was raining, or colding, or hotting, or if the wind was howling, or if you were tired, or if you had a sniffle. You rolled out. You warmed up. And for the next three or four hours you suffered like a dog stuck to his rear wheel while he towed and battered and hauled you all over the Texas Hill Country.

The “group ride” on Saturday and Sunday started with a huge turnout of maybe thirty people, whittled down to half by the time you got to Webberville, and finished with three or four a long time later. No GU. No BonkBreaker. No energy drink.

It was simple. Meet, ride, suffer.

Empire State Express

Coming home from the North County Swami’s Ride today, I tuned into the jazz/blues radio station. Today is okay in the world of blues, too. There are lots of good musicians who innovate. Who wizardize on their guitars. Who make trumpets and electronic keyboards and other instruments sound like they belong in the blues.

But I grew up listening to yesterday’s locked down twelve bar blues. Plastic discs spinning names like Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson, one voice, one guitar, one dude. That was it.

Cruising through Oceanside the radio hit me like a hammer. The DJ had decided to play Son House’s Empire State Express from his 1965 recording sessions. Son was old then and “rediscovered” by the hippie blues revivalists. His voice was cracked and rough and broken; no honey or silk left on the raw, smoked out vocal cords.

His guitar playing was stiff and banging, the glide on his National steel was all jerky and hard, like his brain knew where the sound should be but his fingers couldn’t make the notes right enough. Like a worn out pair of shoes those recordings were, capturing a historical figure and his historical music for embalming in some piece of amber, to be fixed for all time and gawked at in a museum.

But oh! Even with all that, Son’s music had the grind, the power, the punch, the ungilded emotion that rose up from the field hollers of the chain gang, from the depths of Parchman Penitentiary, from the life and servitude of the Mississipi Delta.

I listened to Empire State Express with my hands clenched on the steering wheel, skin tightened up into goosebumps, the sounds I heard growing up as a boy in Texas re-floated to me on the Interstate back to Los Angeles.

A little time warp had opened up, and I’d slipped into it.

Do it ’til you get the hang of it

Every beatdown ride has its own unique pain profile. The first few times I did the North County Swami’s ride I thought the pain profile was this: Extreme pain from start to finish, with no rest or relief.

Now that I’ve learned to cower, avoid the front, and treat the thing like an exercise in survival, I’ve come to appreciate its true nature. The ride has a series of four or five pain spikes followed by recovery sections. Each pain spike clears out some chaff until you reach the church sprunt, where the reduced group lunges for an imaginary line.

Today I cowered, and even got a shove from Andy Schmidt as we crested Rancho Santa Fe. By gritting my teeth through the pain spikes, which soon ended, I reached the church sprunt unscathed.

Not so for those behind me. As I rolled into the church parking lot, Steve Hegg came up. “Dude, your kit stinks beyond belief. Wash it. Or better yet, burn it.”

It dawned on me that the repeated farts I’d been blasting in the middle of the peloton had wreaked havoc on those behind me. “Sorry, dude. Kimchee, green beans, and pinto beans for dinner last night. Toxic combo.”

Other riders pedaled by. “Was that you? Damn, that stank and I was twenty wheels back. That shit lingered, too. It was like a floating cloud of turd over your head the whole way out.” Their faces had that green-around-the-gills look.

Secretly pleased at the stealth weapon that had caused such destruction in the group, I apologized, sort of. “I guess you could have gotten in front of me…”

Those teeth all look pretty sharp to me

After the church, most of the group turned right to return home. A smaller group turned left to get in a longer ride. The group’s composition did not look inviting. It included Thurlow Rogers a/k/a THOG a/k/a The Hand of God. It included some very tough, fit looking riders. Worst of all, it included three or four national team members, none of whom was over twenty and none of whom weighed more than a hundred pounds. One of the riders had gotten fifth in the UCI U-23 World Championships in 2012.

Fifth.

And they were headed for the Lake Wolford climb, which, for a lamb like me, is akin to saying they were headed for the executioner’s pen. I looked at MMX, who had turned with me. “We going with these mass murderers?” I asked.

“Sure. Unless you’re not up for it.”

“I know a shark tank when I see one. What happens when we hit the climb?”

He mused, briefly. “Shrapnel. You’ll be dropped instantaneously. Everyone will be destroyed except those tiny youngsters and Thurlow.”

“How about we turn off and do our own ride?”

“If you want to, sure.”

I wanted to.

Don’t twosome with the guy who owns 257 Strava KOM’s

The sharks swam away, and the two of us turned off and began our own ride. If I’d been expecting a leisurely, conversational pace, I was soon disappointed. MMX bent over his handlebars and pushed the pace up to where it was just unpleasant enough to seek refuge on his wheel.

Over the next hour we eased off and chatted a bit. The weather was warm. The back roads were uncluttered with cars. The North County rollers that typically exacted such a high price from my legs seemed to be minor obstacles at best. With the exception of Bandy Canyon, where I came unhitched and he had to wait, we pedaled in unison along the scenic roads.

Then his phone rang. “Yes, honey. Yes, dear. Okay, honey. No, I didn’t forget, honey. It’s just me and Seth. We’re right around the corner from the house. We’ll be home shortly, honey. Okay, dear. Love you, too.”

“You’re in deep shit, huh?”

He nodded. “Yup.” He clipped back in. “We’re going to take a more direct route back.”

“Are we really right around the corner?” I was always lost in North County and had no idea where we were.

“No.” Then his face got a funny look. “But we soon will be.”

Tugging on Superman’s cape

He pointed his bike onto a bike path that paralleled some freeway. I tucked in behind him. 16. 15. 14. 13. 12. Then 11. The last cog. And it was turning quickly.

MMX is the perfect draft for me. He’s about my height and slightly wider. When he gets going it creates the ultimate cocoon of draft. As he roared along I snuggled up against his rear wheel, blasting along without having to do a lick of work. The only nagging doubt I had was that at some point he would tire and I’d have to pull. At this speed, any effort on the front would completely do me in.

He just went faster.

After about ten minutes my little twinge of shoplifter’s delight began to fade a bit. Yes, I was stealing a wheel. Yes, it was a great wheel. No, he wasn’t flicking me to pull through.

But…it was starting to hurt like hell.

At each roller he came out of the saddle, driving it harder to maintain the hellish pace. I’d flail to hold the wheel, then settle back into the cocoon. After about twenty minutes I was in a world of hurt. All I could see were the pounding pistons of his legs where the calf separates from the soleus, and the variations of his chain: Now the 11, up to the 12, back to the 11, repeat.

Occasionally the strain would show as his shoulders rocked, but the pace never dropped, and still he never waved me through. The only consolation was that no matter how tired I was, he must have been at the very end of his tether.

We finally slowed at the end of the bikeway and he looked back. His eyes were narrowed and his mouth was set. That’s when I realized it. He wasn’t racing to get home. He was tackling a segment on Strava. For me to pull through would have meant that it didn’t count.

“When we hit PCH I’m going to drop you. But don’t worry. I’ll circle back and pick you up.”

“Go fuck yourself,” I laughed silently. “I’ve been sitting on your wheel and not doing a lick of work. You’ve been carving it up hill and down dale into the teeth of a nasty crosswind. You’re tired. You may be stronger than me, but you’re not strong enough to drop me after an effort like that.”

But I said something slightly more diplomatic. “I’ll be fine. I’m riding well on these rollers for the first time ever. Tucked here behind you, I won’t come off so easily. My legs are really coming around.”

He nodded. “I’ll circle back.”

The Little Engine that Couldn’t

We rolled underneath the Interstate and he began accelerating. Soon we were on a long roller leading up to Del Mar. I could see the ocean and knew that all I had to do was hold his wheel up the climb; after that we’d descend and be on PCH and I’d be home free. He was tired. He’d been drilling it relentlessly for miles. I’d been hunkered down in his draft. This was a gimme.

Midway up the climb I was fine. Three-quarters of the way I’d redlined. A few hundred meters from the top MMX stood on the pedals and shook me off, effortlessly. My engine blew completely, and he disappeared.

Glad he was going to circle back.

A few miles from Encinitas he came back to get me. We rolled into town and had a cup of coffee. I felt awful, wrecked, broken, and demoralized, but consoled myself with the fact that it was North County. I always felt destroyed post-ride in North County.

MMX checked his iPhone. “Cool. Ten new KOM’s.”

“Go to hell,” I said.

“You rode well. But you look pretty beaten.”

“Yes,” I said. “I am.”

And I was. And it felt absolutely great. Just like old times.

Where Am I?

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