Cross face

November 10, 2014 § 5 Comments

It’s always a good idea to pre-ride the course if you can. I sneaked onto the dirt climb and liked it. It was long and not too steep, sure to wear people out who had to do six laps around the 1.7-mile circuit. I came to a whoopty, and rolled down and up the far side with no problem. Then there came a second whoopty, deeper and steeper. “No problem,” I confidently grinned to myself just as the front wheel smashed against the far side and came within inches of pitching me head-first into the wall.

A nice red blob oozed out of my ankle as I came out the other side, hands shaking from the nearly catastrophic falling-off-bicycle-incident.

The far side of the course had been designed to take into account each of my many inner fears. The first was a long patch of soft, downhill sand chopped in half by a gravel pit. I sailed over it, wildly veering from tape to tape but staying upright. Then the course took a hard right through a deep sand trench that dropped you off into a thick layer of mud. Beyond the mud lay the lakeshore, where a wrong turn would result in a bath. I thought about the warning signs posted alongside the lake: “No fishing! Fish Contain Mercury and Heavy Metals!”

After the mud trap there was a soft, nasty sand pit that went on for a hundred yards or so followed by two small barriers where sadists with cameras gleefully awaited my arrival. Over the barriers, you could remount if you were in your XXXXS gear, or push through more knee-deep sand to firmer ground. Oh, and there was a flyover.

Some people get nervous before races because they don’t know what awaits them. I never get nervous before a ‘cross race because I know exactly what awaits. Pain, a few bad turns, and then a solo slog in last place for 45 minutes. As I stood at the start line thinking about exactly where my first difficulty would separate me from the herd, a weird thing happened during call-ups.

“Seth Davidson,” the ref said. I looked around to see who else in the 45+ A ‘cross race could possibly be named “Seth Davidson.” No one ventured up to the front row, so I shambled up, proving that merely by appearing on race day and pinning on number miracles can happen. Whoever was behind me was going to have a serious clogstacle to overcome.

The race started and I quickly gravitated to the back, then the far back, then off the back. At the sandy barriers I’d caught the tail of the main field, which mostly consisted of a giant sausage squeezed into a too-tiny patch of lycra. The giant sausage waddled over the barriers and I hopped past him, which is where my problems began.

I tried to get back on my bike but the sand was too soft to pedal, which kind of made sense since I’d parked in the deepest section of the sand trap rather than over on the edge, where it was firmer. After providing several dozen amusing photo ops for the camera folks, most of whom have by now posted clever and amusing memes on Facebook such as “Exhorts Others to Race: Stands Forlorn in Sand,” I made the bike move. By this time the peloton had relocated to a different county. I was about to get depressed until I powered by the SPY support team headed by Tait, which had already prepared a can of quality beer for me as a hand-up.

On the hill I overtook giant sausage, who appeared close to bursting out of his skin. For a very long time I rode by myself, with sad-faced onlookers viewing me with pity, or contempt, or both. Even my friends were too embarrassed to shout,with the exception of the SPY Beer Squad. With each partial can of high octane fermented recovery drink, I felt better and better, or at least less and less fearful. Each time I came through the mud and sand and gravel pit I picked up a few seconds until another hapless sod, someone so slow and inept and devoid of ability came within my sights. We traded pulls until the barriers, at which time I heard a whirring sound.

Glancing back it was Phil Tinstman, who had started two minutes earlier in the 35+ race and had now lapped me on a 2-mile course in less than forty minutes. The beautiful thing about this was that getting lapped meant that I’d have one less lap to ride around this course from hell.

After the race I staggered over to the SPY tent, where Sam Ames was washing away huge clots of blot mixed with gravel and sand by pouring cold beer over the open wound. “That’s a waste of good blood,” I said. Then, collapsing into the beanbag chair, Todd Parks wandered over and blamed me for his terrible start. “I thought you were going to take me out!” he said.

“The fact that you were behind me speaks for itself,” I said.

Phil, who didn’t look like he’d ridden his bike yet en route to his state title, chatted with some of his peers, not that he has any. “Once I had a big enough gap, I pulled the plug,” he said. “No sense in killing myself before the pro race.”

I thought about that as a kind of reverse strategy, you know, pulling the plug once everyone had ridden off to Mexico, and saving myself for the beer competition afterwards. “It’s an old Paolinetti tactic,” Phil added. “It’s okay if you win by just enough.”

“Hmmm,” I thought, “there’s wisdom there. Maybe if you’re losing, it’s okay if you lose by a few laps, too, rather than immolate yourself to only lose by, say, a few minutes.” Then I thought about giant sausage dude and how he’d cunningly sat up once I passed him. “Wise, wise man.”

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Yeah, but they were double overhead yesterday. And hollower.

August 4, 2012 § 4 Comments

Over the course of today’s visitation to the Swamis Ride insane asylum in Encinitas, I experienced three full body shudders. These occur just prior to getting dropped. My entire body shakes, my eyes fill with giant black flying saucers, and the bike shimmies uncontrollably. Once I was shoved back up to the tail of the peloton, the second time I was “attaboyed” just in time to reconnect, and the third time, a quarter mile before the final sprunt, I exhaled with the death rattle and shuddered backwards to the chase group.

When we hit the coast highway at ride’s end, MMX was there waiting. He’d made a brief stop at the church and continued ahead of us on his own. “How was it?” he asked.

“It was hard beyond belief. I can’t believe I didn’t get shelled on Elfin Forest.”

He shook his head. “Nah. That wasn’t hard. You oughta be here when Bordine’s really throwing down. That’s when it’s hard.”

“Oh,” I meekly answered.

Nature abhors a monoculture

Cross-pollination and the wide dispersal of seed is a fundamental biological concept that ensures diversity, which in turn assists survival of the species. Biking’s no different. Getting out of your normal group ride and sampling what others have to offer is about as intense as it gets.

When you roll out the first few times on their turf, you have all the cards stacked against you. They know every intricacy of the route, the sprint points, the rest points, the places where, if you go too hard, you’ll pop, the places where, if you go too easy, you’ll get caught out and shelled.

The locals smell fresh blood when you show up, and use their tactical knowledge to your disadvantage. Plus, they want you to go home and show your mates the gaping wounds and smashed ego that you got at the hands of your betters. The best legends are created by visitors.

Most troubling when you’ve gone to sample someone else’s wares is the uncertainly of who’s who. You don’t know the riders, their tendencies, their strengths, and where particular riders like to put in an effort.

In the beginning it puts you completely on the defensive, but as you fall into the routine, realizing that you’ll be lucky just to hang on, it becomes thrilling beyond belief. Kind of like using your left hand, but, like, way more awesome than that. Even after a week of beating the Facebook drum, the only people who wanted to venture out of their usual stomping grounds were Bill Holford from Long Beach, Gerald Iacono, I, and Marc Spivey, who had driven the battle wagon.

Go South, young man

I advise you to go south and try this ride. We started with a big group of about sixty, including a whole host of folks who seemed as if they were built more for comfort than for speed, and by the time we reached the church for our first rest stop, public urination, and collection of discarded lungs, there were only about thirty riders left. At 22 minutes we were strung out into a nasty, single line of pain going up Levante. By the time I got close enough to the front to see who was there, at 24:29, I saw Todd Parks drilling it on the point. He swung over, an Elbowz dude took a ten second pull, and I hit it as hard as I could for thirty-two seconds. Elbows came through again followed by MMX, who ripped it for the remaining 24 seconds to the top.

By this point you’re barely 25 minutes into the ride and completely gassed. It is a nasty, murderous power climb that the riders ramp up on so quickly you will pop off the back unless you give it 100%.

When we turned left on Rancho Santa Fe, Elbowz and a CashCall dude sprinted off. Parks went back to the front and began lashing the whip, stringing it out and sending people off the back in droves. CashCall and Elbowz came back, we regrouped, and turned right onto San Elijo.

Would you please quit doing that horse thing?

By now I was flatter than a day-old bottle of beer, and breathing like a draft horse pulling a locomotive. Todd went again, MMX followed, Scott Holland attacked them both, Steven Davis followed Scott, while Andy, David, Kelsey, Victor, MMX and I huddled and pedaled. Scott detonated, and then it was Steven flogging the wankers. Everyone swarmed as we approached the final kick before turning off onto Elfin Forest, and by now I was ten or fifteen wheels back and had no idea who was doing what. All I knew is that it really, really hurt, and then came full body shudder No. 1.

Some saint heard my panting and saw my shuddering, grabbed my ass, and gave me a hard push. How’s that for friendly? Without it, I’d have been done.

Onto Elfin Forest Rd. it was a thin, grueling line up to the first bump, a downhill, and then Monster Media John took the controls in hand and switched the dial to “fry.” At 41 minutes in, people were lunging for John’s wheel like drunks after a G-string, bikes swaying, shoulders hunching, necks craning, and wheels bouncing over the poorly shod road surface that was pitted with cracks, holes, bumps, lumps, sand, rocks, birthday cakes, tutus, and tire irons.

Towards the front, but never actually at it

We hit a long 3-4 minute downhill and numerous riders swarmed towards the front as if they were going to finally stick their noses out into the wind and start swinging, but each would ease off just at about fourth or fifth wheel, leaving the same guys who’d been doing all the work to keep doing all the work. Some things are the same in every group ride, everywhere!

I nosed back up towards the front and found one of the hitters, a guy with a bright red Isle of Man jersey, rotating through with Todd, Monster John, and CashCall.  I rolled through for a 30-second hit that seemed like an eternity, followed by CashCall and a dude in a B+L kit with blue and white shoes. No one behind him, so I grabbed his wheel and got back into the three-man rotation. Pretty soon it was my turn again, and after a few seconds Isle of Man and Thor the Teen Wanker came blowing by. They were reeled in, and then Isle of Man dude strung it out.

A surge followed, and just before I popped Steven said, “We’re almost at the top!’ even as my second full body shudder wracked me from head to toe.

From that point on I was stuck in the middle of the swirling wankoton, needle gone far beyond red and buried deep in the purple. When we hit the sprunt 7 or 8 minutes later I had no idea who won or even who had been driving the train. I got smattering views of Todd, Monster John, CashCall, Isle of Man, Erik, Steven, MMX, B+L, and some dude in gray and red, but it all blended together into a miasma of blurred vision and gasping breath until, shortly after the sprunt, some wanker clipped a wheel and tumped over at about 3 mph.

I stopped to help the poor schmo, who was unhurt but feeling pretty stupid.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

The rest of the ride was more of the same. Before leaving, I’d turned on the Strava app on my phone. Over coffee and oatmeal, I checked to see how the ride had stacked up. Hmmm…MMX had set a new course record.

“You should have been here yesterday,” indeed.

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