Primal scream therapy

May 17, 2013 § 10 Comments

Nature is beautiful. The tiny chicks hatch, featherless, and are carefully tended by momma bird until they fledge. As they get too big for the nest, the timid fledglings are gently nudged out onto the limb. Anxiously, their loving mother sits by their side, gently chirping and encouraging them as they prepare to take their first flutter into the air.

It is a scary moment in a little bird’s life, but made tolerable by the constant cooing of momma bird as she helps the little chickie take its first tentative flaps before leaping off the branch. Momma bird watches nervously and immediately flies to baby bird’s new perch, praising and cooing and urging him to take another tentative flight.

Love, support, encouragement, and the watchful eye of mommy all lead to success. Baby bird quickly gets his “flight wings” and by day’s end is proudly flitting from tree to tree, but never too far from his warm little nest where momma bird can praise him and yes, even reward him with a moist, plump earthworm or two. Baby bird snuggles against momma’s cozy feathered breast and enjoys his yummy snack, proud of his accomplishments on his big day and looking forward to more in the days to come.

The North County Puke & Gulp isn’t quite as tender

When we rolled out from the Starbucks at La Costa and El Camino Real, an entire flock of baby birds was nervously perched on the corner. But rather than being protected by anxious and encouraging momma bird, they were eyed hungrily by  ravenous, toothy wolves with names like Full-Gas Phil, Battering Ram Abate, Red Light Davis, Bad Magic Johnson, and MMX.

The baby birds chirped nervously as Full-Gas tossed it into the big ring and simultaneously swallowed a fistful of fledglings — feathers, feet, beaks and all. He spit out the beaks.

When the peloton hit PCH, Bad Magic opened the throttle and, with stomps of his hob-nailed, steel-toed boots, he mercilessly ground up another handful of baby chicks into pink slime, ready-prepped for the McNuggets factory. Battering Ram  barreled to the fore, knocking an entire row of terrified fledglings off the branch and into the blood-stained maw of MMX, who chewed off their heads and spit the mangled carcasses onto the bowed shoulders of those who cowered at the back.

I had made the mistake of stirring the North County pot, and on this morning the testosterone stew bubbled and boiled and gurgled and roiled with the intensity of a steel smelter. The first crew of forty-eight was, by ride’s end, reduced to less than a dozen. None was wearing Swami’s blue.

How DO they ride down in San Diego County?

I’ve ridden enough in North County to know that they love welcoming newcomers with a fistful of nails and broken glass rammed down your throat. If you want an extra helping of hard, they always seem eager to serve seconds, then thirds. Moreover, a handful of North County natives have been kind enough to come up to Los Angeles and do our New Pier Ride, so I wanted to return the favor and sample their wares — but not before taunting them as weaklings and slackers. [Note to self: Do not send out boastful emails prior to showing up for a North County ride.]

No matter what anyone says, it’s fun to have visitors on your local ride. The North County Tuesday/Thursday ride I especially wanted to do because one of the people who’s been instrumental in ramping up its popularity and difficulty — my buddy MMX — never fails to pop in on the NPR when he’s in town and ladle out an extra scoop of misery.

If you’re in town on a Tue/Thu, I recommend this ride. It’s exceedingly hard and challenging, but as with any ride it has its drawbacks. Before I extol the virtues, here are the blemishes:

  1. It’s too short. The whole thing is well under an hour.
  2. Although there’s some good pre-ride congregating, as soon as the ride finishes everyone hurries off to work or to complete a longer ride. There doesn’t seem to be a permanently unemployed or underemployed leisure class who can sit around post-ride and burn up the rest of the morning quaffing coffee in the sun.
  3. They don’t have anyone remotely close to Prez. They don’t even have anyone who wears neon yellow shoe covers with bright pink gloves.
  4. It is a relentless beatdown with nowhere to  hide. This is good if you want to leave 90% of the participants inert and blown out the back, but the death knell if you want to have a 100+ wankoton on sunny days, where baby seals and fledglings can leech off the strong while doing little or no work at the back.
  5. No warm-up. You get on your bike and you’re doing 30.

But then there are the pluses…and are they ever pluses.

The course, the characters

I call this ride the North County Puke & Gulp. It started so hard and fast that I tasted breakfast multiple times on the ride, and especially in the first ten minutes. Tinstman, Bad Magic, et al. set out at a wicked pace on La Costa, and after a couple of miles we hit the coast highway. The leaders sprinted up to speed, a solid 35 or faster, and a handful of riders churned the front with brief, intense pulls.

“Full-Gas” Phil Tinstman made the pace so hard that no one could pull for more than a few seconds. The vast majority of the 48 riders got nowhere near the front, but unlike NPR, where there’s safety at the back, the tiniest of gaps sent riders rocketing backwards, alone, shelled, before the ride had barely begun. Battering Ram, Red Light, Mike Williams, Bad Magic, and MMX busted more freeloaders off the back and put them out to pasture.

There is a small hill going up to Palomar Road but people were already so fagged with the speed that it was devoid of the crazy attacks I’d been assured would be on offer. By now pages of Strava KOM’s had been rewritten, if you’re into that kind of thing, and everyone in North County apparently is, as the short 20-mile ride has been broken down into fourteen thousand segments.

The ride reaches its first neutral zone in downtown Carlsbad, a picturesque little seaside town that would be even more picturesque without the snot and spit and bloody stool that people were leaving on the road. The group had thinned considerably; perhaps a third of the fledglings had already been rolled in batter and dipped in the fryalator.

This first section, the “Front Half,” was the easy part, though I was barely able to hang on. Several riders came up and told me to “be ready” for the “hard part.” I don’t know how you get ready for something that you’re too weak to do, especially when the moment of truth is five minutes away or less. Once on the Back Half, the relative flat of the coast gave way to the punishing rollers for which North County is infamous. It is here that the ride completely and forever leaves aside all comparisons with the NPR.

Unlike our L.A. ride, where a bit of tenacious wheelsucking will get almost anyone through the hard bits, once you hit the rollers on the back side you either have the go-legs or you have a lot of time alone with yourself. MMX drove it to the top of El Camino Real and separated the group for what I was sure was for good. I blew apart halfway up, and the leaders made it easily through the light. My chase group hit the light on dead red, and we were all eternally grateful for the chance to stop, catch our breath, and blame the breakaway on the traffic signal rather than our weak legs and puny lungs.

To shout or not to shout? Primal scream therapy or gentle remonstrance?

There are two schools of thought on shouting at people who screw up on the bike. One school holds that shouting is rude, counterproductive, frightening, and that it ruins budding friendships. The other school holds that if you ride like a dumbshit you deserve to be yelled at, since studies show that dumbshits learn best after a good solid hollering.

In our case, the chase group was populated with adherents to the second school, and when two riders blew through the dead-red light that had traffic stacked up at opposing ends of the intersection, there was more yelling and screaming and cussing than a Westboro Baptist funeral protest.

One wanker turned around mid-intersection; the other sped up the road to join the disappearing leaders. It was impressive to see how the entire group reamed this poor dude out; almost as impressive as watching him humbly accept the tongue lashing and then apologize. Wanker #2 got yelled at later in the ride, yelled at on Facebook, and privately reprimanded by MMX. Like an adult, he accepted responsibility, proffered no lame excuses, and apologized.

This, more than anything else, impressed me. Whereas our ride shout-outs result in lifelong enmity, or in riders pouting for months on end, these guys were able to be dressed down by their good friends and cursed at like sailors, apologize, and have their apology accepted. Cool stuff.

Key ride facts

The beatdown delivered by SPY, Full-Gas Tinstman, and Battering Ram Abate left everyone else hanging on for dear life. It was a record day on Strava in case anyone doubted the intensity; MMX got 9 KOMs on a course he has ridden twice a week for the last two years. Everyone who finished the ride chalked up PR’s, top 10′s, and many set course records for various segments.

The finishing group would have been truly microscopic in size had we chasers not reattached with the leaders who got stopped at the world’s longest light.

Unquestionably, Full-Gas was the single biggest factor in keeping such a torrid pace. If one other thing contributed to the intensity, it was likely the desire of the local crew to show that whatever kind of ride we have in L.A., they’ve got that and then some in North County.

They are, however, now running short on baby birds.

Why Los Angeles is way better than San Diego

May 11, 2013 § 27 Comments

It’s really simple: We have the best early morning weekday rides. San Diego doesn’t.

What is a “best” early morning weekday ride? It’s one that begins around 6:30 AM, has a huge regular turnout, and rips your legs off.

“Oh, no!” I can hear you wailing. “We have the awesome Tuesday-Thursday ride! It’s hilly and it shreds the field!”

First of all, our ride is better because yours doesn’t even have a cool name. That’s because you’re too dumb to think one up. All that supposed surfer-cyclist-artiste creativity in North County and the best you can do is two names of the week? Sad.

Second, our ride is better because your ride has such a tiny turnout. Five semi-fast guys showing up with a hangover and pulling out each others’ teeth with rusty pliers does not a legendary bike ride make. Maybe it’s the early hour and you wike your wittle warm bwankie. Maybe it’s the lack of a swollen pack of baby seals among which the weak can cower and hide ’til the moment of reckoning. Maybe it’s the fact that the vast majority of bicyclists in North County ride Trek. But most likely, it’s the fact that your riders just aren’t that good.

Third, our ride is better because we have Rahsaan Bahati, Suze Sonye, Greg “32″ Leibert, Eric Anderson, and Cory Williams as regulars. Who do you have? That dude with the full purple bodysuit and the bad smell, that’s who.

Fourth, our ride is better simply because of the riders that you have and we don’t. Leaving aside for the moment that none of your guys have even halfway decent nicknames, let me list a few rotten limbs in the pile of  deadwood that makes up your “ride”:

Stefanovich–Comes north to do our NPR, returns home a shell of his former self, which was a shell to begin with.
Crazy Legs–The name kind of says it all, eh? Along with him, “Sketch,” “Skitters,” “Twitch,” and “Jerky”…
Andy McClooney–The best rider to never come north and get his serving of NPR humble pie.
Number 2–Pyeeeeeewwwwh!
Celo Pacific Wheelsuckers–This is a club developed around the riding “strategy” of “do nothing until the end, then do even less.”
Los Ranchos Suckeros–Every yummy pie has filler, but these sandbaggers don’t even taste good when you chew them up and spit them out.
Velo (barely) Hangers-on–Close relatives of NPR baby seals who think “towards the front” is synonymous with “at the front.” It isn’t.
Swami’s B, C, and D Riders–It’s the alphabet soup of lowly categorized wankers. Their best ones make the first ejecta from the first acceleration on the Saturday ride. Their worst ones don’t even have bicycles.
Nytro trigeeks–They don’t always look and ride like idiots, but the 99.9% of the time when they do, they’re so far behind that no one knows or cares.
The Wolf Pack Up-and-Leavers–Last to the fight, first to the feast.

Fifth, our ride is better because we brag about  it. If it weren’t for my amazing powers of investigative journalism, I wouldn’t even know your ride existed. If you don’t brag about it, it must not be any good.

Sixth, our ride is better because we have a cool FB page. Do you? Of course not. Without a cool FB page your ride can never be more than sucky. Sorry.

Seventh, our ride is waaaaay better because Robert Efthimos and Cory Williams video everything and then post cool movies of wankers like Jay “Manslaughter” LaPlante trying to murder his buddies. Then we get to spend the entire workday on FB chatting about it. What do you poor slobs do? You go to work and work, that’s what.

Eighth, our ride is better because we actively make fun of people who wear Oakley. SPY is how we roll, yo.

Ninth, our ride is better because we have that cute Asian chick who’s always jogging down the alley as we roll out. Who do you have? That furry dude who lives in the shopping cart behind the Starbucks.

Tenth, our ride is better because we have a ride kit. That’s right. Our ride is so pimpin’ that we have a kit with our cool ride’s name on it and lots of clever “in” jokes emblazoned on it by Joe Yule. Our ride is beautifully tanned Argentine leather. Yours is naugahyde.

Eleventh, we have Joe Yule. You have that dude who lives in his mom’s garage and builds web sites with Dreamweaver.

Twelfth, we have CotKU. You probably don’t even know what that is. Sad.

Finally, after our awesome ride, which is always awesome and so much better than yours, we get to sit around at CotKU, drink coffee, and watch Dave Perez do interesting things dressed up in purple and yellow. What do you have? A bunch of really serious MRI dudes dressed up in electric green  baby dwarf artichoke outfits. Hint: You can’t be serious if you are a dude in a baby dwarf artichoke suit. A clown, perhaps, but not a serious dude.

The day of reckoning

Although I’ve already reached my conclusions, invented my facts, and printed my story, I thought I would at least do you the favor of coming down to the next Tuesday ride to confirm that your ride is a complete sham and pose fest. I have no doubt about what I’ll find: A handful of scraggly, half-shaved riders, tummies hanging out of their undersized stretch pants while they suck down a gallon of pre-ride sugar goop pretending that their “ride” is a ride.

Please also be advised that I will be showing up fully primed and prepared to teach each of you the meaning of the word “beatdown.” Although I don’t expect to break a sweat, you should expect to suffer a calamitous clubbing. This is what LA is all about: Schooling the noobs in the south about how to ride their bicycles. After that I will give the survivors a surfing lesson, beginning with “How not to purl every time” and then followed by a video showing you the difference between a rideable wave, a closeout, and whitewash. Not that it will help.

See you soon, and bring your moped. You’re gonna need it.

Celebrating the end of 2012 with a stomping

January 1, 2013 § 14 Comments

Tink’s mom looked at my car and wasn’t much reassured by the dented fender and legion of scrapes. “Where’s his bike rack?” she asked.

“Pretty sure he doesn’t have one.”

“How is he going to get both of your bikes down to North County?”

“I don’t know.”

They sat there and waited for me in the pitch dark. “I hope he has some way to carry your bike.”

“He said it would be no problem.”

“I really don’t want to drive you down to San Diego this morning for that bicycle ride.”

“He said there was room.”

Oh, ye of little faith

I appeared out of the 5:30 AM darkness. Tink had already unloaded her bike from her mom’s SUV. I laid my bike in the trunk, knocked down the back seats, threw down some towels, and laid Tink’s bike, wheelless, atop mine. Her bike was so small we could have tossed in a barbecue grill and still had room for the wheels.

Then we were off.

Tink has been in winter build and Strava stealth mode. Unlike the rest of the year, when it’s one epic crushing after another, she’s been quiet for months. This New Year’s Eve, SPY Optic and RIDE Cyclery were putting on an event to celebrate all the good things that had happened in 2012. Unlike the typical North County ride menu, this one was billed as “no hammering,” “anything but a race,” “good times for all” and encouraging “riders of all abilities.

What could possibly go wrong? I was already tired and needed an easy pedal to finish out my year.

What could possibly go wrong

The wise Marvin Campbell had tried to dissuade those lulled into a false sense of security by posting on FB these immortal words: “It’s a trap.”

The victim of several sorties down south, Marvin knew an ambush when he saw one. I, however, actually believed MMX. Again.

As we rolled out, there were all sorts of red flags waving–blowing–whipping–in the early morning chill. The red flags went by the names of Thurlow a/k/a The Hand of God, Tintsman, Hamasaki, Dahl, Gonyer, Johnson, Quick, Day, Pomerantz, and Shannon. In addition to these evil omens, there were another twenty to forty lean, sculpted pairs of legs that looked anything but “encouraging” or in the least bit interested in “good times.”

“Is this really going to be an easy ride?” Tink asked. She’d never ridden down south and was looking forward to a social pedal during which time she could meet this new cast of characters.

“Oh, yes,” I assured her. “MMX would never bill something as an easy ride, attract a ton of riders, and then tear their legs off. He’s just not cruel like that.”

I looked around at the estimated two hundred riders that were now swarming along the coast road and hoped I was right.

Hidden Valley, where all is revealed

At some point in the ride the throng had been reduced by half. One of the reductees was Paige DeVilbiss, who had hurried down from Fullerton, missed the pre-ride coffee chat, gotten shelled at mile four, chased back on, and then gotten kicked out the back for good at  mile eight. This was a classic North County welcome: “So glad you’re here, hope you enjoy this kick in the face and the solitary ride back to your car and the even more solitary ride back to your home.”

By the time we hit the bottom of the Hidden Valley climb, thanks to the “conversational pace” and “happy times,” Tink was the only woman left. If there were any conversations that took place the entire day, they turned out to be monosyllabic grunts and nods of the head interspersed with the random moan and plea for mercy.

Unaware of what lay ahead, Tink took an inopportune moment to start in on a candy bar just as the group hit the first climb. Her mouth full to prevent breathing and one-handed to prevent effective climbing, the road kicked up. Tink struggled at quarter power to get up the nasty climb. She wasn’t about to spit out and lose her precious riding fuel.

Those who were behind her, and there were many, were disturbed to see her easily power up the climb one-handed while chewing a mouthful of food.

A small contingent of nine riders crested the climb. I struggled over in tenth place many bike lengths between me and the leaders. After a few twists and turns, we regrouped, hit the short dirt section made famous by last year’s BWR, and climbed the back side of Summit.

This time I stayed on the wheel of The Hand of God, who cracked jokes all the way up the climb. “My coach told me not go any harder than I’m going now,” he said with laugh. Everyone else gasped and struggled and grunted.

Tink was just behind us, never in any trouble at all, easily pedaling among the leading ten or fifteen men. With the exception of me and MMX, none of the other riders knew her or had any inkling of what they were dealing with, and over the course of the morning her presence began to stand out more and more.

It slowly dawned on them. Tink wasn’t just the only woman left. She was out-riding most of the men who remained, and the men who remained were the good ones.

Going out in style

A solid 60 miles into the 67-mile ride, there were less than forty riders left. After a gradual uphill punctuated by a roller where MMX smashed the group, we got back together in time for a screaming flat, tailwind run-in to something. Not knowing the course, the only thing evident was that everyone knew what was going on except me.

The friendly “Sure, take that wheel, mate” instantly transformed into “That’s my wheel, fucker, and I’ll kill you if you try to get it.”

The survivors stretched out into one long, unbroken line of pain until whatever it was we were so desperately eager to get to was gotten to. Everyone sat up and stared at the road ahead. The back side of San Elijo marched off into the sky.

I looked at Tink. “We’re going up that bastard. Get on MMX’s wheel. Now.”

“I can’t hold his wheel!” she protested.

“Get the hell up there,” I grumbled. And she did.

Three quarters of the way up this miserable, endless, soul-crushing climb, the 40-strong pack was mostly together. MMX and The Hand of God rode tempo on the front, having commanded that “None shall pass, and neutral shall this climb remain.”

I swung over to the right-hand gutter and pushed through the front, sailing by The Hand of God and MMX.

Note to self: Never, ever, ever, simulate an acceleration or an attack in the presence of THOG.

See that slumbering bear? Why don’t you poke its eye with a stick?

The other wheelsuckers, seeing my effrontery, responded in kind. The peloton detonated and I was soon swarmed, and shortly thereafter dropped. As the heaving, gasping, grunting, groaning cadavers spiraled off the rear like a spent roman candle, one rider was having no difficulties at all.

It was Tink.

She shed the group and raced ahead to the leaders, who were being slowly roasted, then cannibalized, then dropped, by The Hand of God. As she passed me she rubbed salt in the wound by smiling. Then she rubbed arsenic into the salt by speaking. She said something that sounded like “Atalzchstsaek talk?”

But all I could respond with, and it was only in my head, was “How the fuck do you have breath to waste on talking?”

She sailed by MMX, sailed by the remaining human shrapnel, and easily crested the peak. Only a handful of the best riders in the state, and one of the greatest American bike racers of all time, were ahead of her.

That was the last climb of the day. I was toasted. She was warmed up and smiling.

“What a great climb! Are you okay?” she asked, unused as she was to seeing my bloodless lips and eyes hanging 3/4 out of the sockets.

“Tink,” I muttered, “if I keep riding with you in 2013…”

“Yes?”

“It’s going to be one long, miserable year.”

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