Batshit crazy product testing: Mad Alchemy medium embrocation

February 2, 2011 § 2 Comments

People who’ve done the Boulevard road race have varying memories of it. Mine, aside from crushing defeat, ignominious defeat, and humiliating defeat, are mostly centered on having been frozen to the core. Last year the race began in a freezing rain. The year before it snowed. This year the forecast is for sunshine, but if you check the course elevation–5,000 feet, same as Denver, Colorado–you’ll know that the forecast can change quickly. My expectation is that it will be very cold or at least very chilly, maybe even batshit miserable.

The whole idea behind embrocation is to heat your legs without covering them in lots of restrictive clothing. The other point is to augment your training/racing without having to say “I use Ben-Gay.” The biggest benefit of an embrocation is that it sounds very pro and very Euro, more so if you just say “embro.” Finally, of course, it has the talisman effect of cream in a jar, stored in a small bag, and rubbed on like a magic elixir prior to going forth to do battle. Davis Phinney used to achieve the same effect with his “lucky shorts.” After a few grand tours that must have been lots gnarlier than this stinky gel in a jar.

Mad Alchemy appeals to the most base bike racing instincts: its name admits mental instability and suggests a thoroughly discredited scientific theory. False advertising lawsuits need not apply.

How much to use?

If you’re cycling on the Palos Verdes peninsula, the pre-dawn temperatures can vary from the high 30′s to the low 50′s this time of year. Getting the type of embrocation right, and then smearing on the proper quantity, involve lots of trial and error. I bought a jar of Mad Alchemy Cold Weather Medium, recommended for temperatures from 30-60F, and a jar of Mad Alchemy Cold Weather Madness, recommended for putting on your shelf as a reminder that if you need this stuff it’s too damned cold to be outdoors on a bike.

Last Friday it was in the high 40′s and I put some medium cream on my legs, not very much, in fact, and I paid scrupulous attention to putting my shorts on first, rolling up the legs, and only then applying. If you put it on nude and then pull up your shorts, you will get hot dick and frypan balls, as described in a previous post. If you’re a woman I shudder to think what the phenomenon would be called. After a few minutes the Mad Alchemy warmed up my legs so that no leg warmers were needed at all. However, I didn’t put enough embrocation on so that after two hours my legs were cold.

On Saturday it was in the low 40′s and I put on medium cream, this time slathering it on pretty heavily. It worked wonders, especially since the temperature got up into the 60′s after a couple of hours. The heat remained on my legs for five or six hours, and it was exacerbated by sunshine. I also stuck a finger in my eye almost eight hours after using the cream, and it burned like hell for about thirty minutes. Lesson: wash your hands, dumbshit.

On Tuesday it was in the high 40′s and, like Friday, I used the medium cream. My legs were warm but my hands and feet, which were protected only with thin gloves and sock material booties, were really cold. I decided that today I would lather up my feet and hands as well as my legs and see how that worked. One side effect after yesterday morning’s ride was that after showering (hot water makes your legs really burn) and getting dressed for work, my legs pulsed heat for another couple of hours in the office. People were actually huddling around my thighs for warmth. That’s what they said.

This morning I put on what I thought was a lot, and rubbed it between my toes, all over the tops and soles of my feet, and on the back of my hands. I considered putting a pinch between my cheek and gum, but didn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t check the temperature until I rolled out. It was in the mid-30′s, and even though my legs, hands, and feet were toasty warm, the rest of me froze to hell. Lesson: make sure you’re bundled up, up top. The medium embrocation was at its limit, and I probably could have used the extra hot cold weather Madness. If it’s cold enough tomorrow, I will give it a try.

The best thing about this product is that it’s really expensive. At $20 a jar, you can spend several hundred dollars a year just on your pro “embro.” Studies have shown a correlation between the amount of money you spend and the amount of pro-ness you feel on the bike, and if nothing else it will give your wife another item on the monthly credit card bill to nitpick and criticize. Not that it happens in my family. Right, honey?

Buy or not to buy?

Definitely buy. It’s a good product and it works.  You’ll pedal faster and stronger in cold weather without all the lycra on your legs. Not sure if rapeseed oil, the active ingredient, is on the UCI list of banned substances, but it’s definitely in the California Penal Code. Use with caution.

FTR 2011 write-up and awards presentation

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.

“Yeah. Once.”

“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.

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