Sometimes it’s hard to swallow your pride
February 26, 2012 § 13 Comments
Now is the time to just turn around and walk away. This ride isn’t for us. By admitting it now we will be branded cowards, weaklings, and complete frauds. By admitting it later we will be branded all of those things plus we will aspirate our own vomit.
120 miles. 9,200 feet of climbing. The most brutal and unforgiving part of the ride begins at mile 90. Less than ten miles from the finish you have to climb a dirt cliff that turns into a paved wall that turns into a 2-mile overhang.
We can’t do this. We don’t have the base, the experience, or the mental fortitude to endure such an epic beatdown. Simply put,we will crumple and fold long before mile 90. It’s that hard.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But I was invited! I was invited because I can DO it!” Or, you may be thinking, “I weaseled my way in by shamelessly begging and cajoling and texting and emailing and phoning and pleading! I was allowed to weasel in because I can DO it.”
To you, Sir Wanker, no, that is not correct. To you, Mr. Weasel, no, sir. That is is not correct, either.
So why am I on the start list then?
You are on the start list because you have been embroiled in one of the most diabolical plans ever spun from the mind of a madman. But before I explain, let me begin by identifying the fundamental errors in your calculations about the first annual SPY Belgian Waffle Ride. As you must know, a calculation that flows from flawed assumptions will be incorrect, no matter how accurate the successive reasoning.
Conceptually, you saw the distance and thought “Aha! A century ride with extra credit!”
We’ve all done century rides. They are heterodox affairs. A few riders drill it without rest for the entire ride. (That’s never been me.) A few more riders push it hard with one or two stops. (Nope, not me, either.) The overwhelming majority start hard, crumble after an hour, and spend the rest of the day hopscotching from one to the next all-you-can-eat GU and banana rest stops. (ME! ME! ME!)
Everyone gets a t-shirt with an ugly logo and a memento that proclaims their toughness to the world. The century ride is studded with kindly grandmothers at each rest station who dab away the sweat, fawningly admire my toughness and dedication, and add to the nurturing, comforting, self-esteem building environment that makes me feel like a champion and makes me want to sign up again the next year. It’s youth soccer for old people.
So when I saw the Belgian Waffle Ride invitation, I couldn’t help but associate the things I know–wankfests and kindly grannies–with the things I don’t–springtime Belgian classics.
And then of course there’s the name: “Belgian Waffle.” Who doesn’t like those? Heaped with whipping cream, syrup, and strawberries…sides of sausage…pots of hot coffee…and it’s all free! And best of all I’ll get to eat it with my friends, because it’s invitation only! Of course there was all that language in the invitation about how hard the ride was going to be, etc. etc., but that was just typical cyclist bullshit to make me laugh and make it sound like a really tough ride.
Even though I’m a wheelsucking creampuff, a freeloading freddy, a never-take-a-pull wanker, a ride-til-it-starts-to-hurt-then-quit cupcake, yea, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of freddom, the concatenation of “Belgian” + “waffle” + “coffee” + “free t-shirt” + “buddies” + “beer afterwards” + “I’m not doing anything else that weekend” all added up in my mind to “I’m INNNNNNN!”
Why I was really invited
The purpose of the Belgian Waffle Ride, however, is not to have fun. It is to crush and destroy people. More specifically, people like you, and people like me. Let me explain.
The group ride is a microcosm of life. Some people do most of the work. Everyone else benefits from their labor, contributing little or nothing. We non-contributors love this arrangement. The producers do not.
So the idea was to develop something that was the antithesis of the group ride, century ride, fill-in-the-blank ride where everyone gets a medal, even we leeches who never did a fucking lick of work the entire day. The idea was to hand out medals to one kind of person only: those who were tough enough to finish, and to finish by putting in their fair share of the work.
How to achieve such a goal? Simple. Devise a course that was bitterly hard, but that did not favor any particular kind of specialist. Throw in lots of elevation, but not stacked in two or three huge climbs. Make it long. Make sure it would include lots of wind. Make the entire ride hard and put the most punishing part at the end. The only people who finish would be the worthy ones. All others? Bundled back home in the sag wagon or forced to ignominiously skulk their way back to the barn via shortcut.
3.25 × 10^25 drops of water make an ocean. 675 short climbs make hamburger meat.
I started out with seven other riders to do a recon ride of the course. The others were MMX, Todd Parks, Victor Sheldon, me, Jim Miller, Alain Mazer, Steve McWankerston, and Ian McWanksalot. The ride left the Starbucks on La Costa in Leucadia, headed for PCH and rolled north to Oceanside, past the house they used in the film “Top Gun,” and onto the San Luis Rey bike path. On the day of the ride, at the end of the bike path the neutral zone will end.
We got onto N. River Road, pushed the pace for four miles until MMX pointed out the first sprint of the BWR: it’s a yellow 15 mph sign before another yellow sign for “sharp curve.” After the sprint sign we jogged left and then turned left to climb a little bump called Valle del Sol-Puerta del Sol, which in Spanish means, “nasty dirt and gravel shitfuck road from hell that tears your legs off, bangs the shit out of your spine, and cracks your frame as you wheeze and gasp and slide and pray like hell you don’t get shelled.”
This lung-searing segment defines the BWR: an endless series of brief, hard climbs. None is hard enough to tire you out. Combined, they wear you down until, softened and weakened and addled and slightly delirious from the relentless accelerations, you are flipped over on your back, your soft underbelly exposed to the sun as you flail your arms and legs helplessly in the face of the sadistic young child who smiles with glee as he prods and pokes your bleeding entrails with the end of a sharpened stick.
Does this sound like “fun”? Does this evoke the joy of friendship and banter and happy times on the bike? No, it does not. Keep this imagery in mind and understand that, out of 150 riders, you are destined to be the one with the belly exposed, and someone else will be the boy with the stick.
More rolling misery in backcountry beauty
After the sharp dirt drop, we hit Olive Hill Rd. and turned left to climb some more. It was brief, and we turned left onto Morro Hills Rd., for a series of rollers punctuated by a stabbing stinger of a bump at the top. Jim was starting to fade. McWankerston was riding with the bravado of someone who still knew the shortcut back home. Alain had that “Don’t wait for me, guys!” look. McWanksalot was in his own private hell, so far back we had to send out a pack of rescue dogs.
My legs felt numb and achey after less than forty miles of riding. Victor looked fresh. MMX looked fresher. Todd looked scary.
We turned onto Sleeping Indian Road. More rollers. Then back onto Olive Hill Rd. and…more rollers. We got a brief respite on Mission Rd. and then turned onto Green Canyon for several miles. From the moment we left the bike path the scenery had been extraordinary. Rolling hills and greenery at every turn, and off in the distance we could see successive lines of mountain peaks as if we were in the Eifel, or the Ardennes, or the Mosel.
Green Canyon was the first stretch of road that was essentially flat, but it only lasted for a few miles. The rolling terrain started again on Alvarado and then leveled out for several more miles of oak-canopied, back country riding along Live Oak Park. At Mission we crossed under the freeway and followed Old 395 up a long, one-mile grade that took us to Rainbow Valley, further sapping my already weary legs. More short rollers deposited us onto a screaming downhill along Rice Canyon Road, followed by the harsh reality of Couser Canyon.
This nasty, 3.8-mile serious climb awakened, if it had ever been dormant, the realization of how exhausting all of the previous undulations had been. Todd dusted us off like so much unwanted dandruff. McWanksalot had already been sent home with a note to his mother telling her that he wouldn’t be allowed to play outside until his Ebola virus symptoms retreated. McWankerston rocketed out the back as if he absolutely, positively, had to be there overnight. Jim and Alain flailed and flogged, but at 56 miles in–not even halfway–their DNF resume had already been proofed and sent to the printer. Before it could be distributed, however, they somehow found the guts to complete all but five miles of the course. They can be reached at Scripps ICU, Rooms 1 and 2, with visitation between the hours of 2 and 3 p.m. only. Donations to Flogawanker requested in lieu of flowers.
Victor dropped MMX and me, and I finally clawed my way past MMX, leaving him to flail and crack on the climb as Victor towed me the final few yards to the top. Parks was puffing his third cigarette and had finished overhauling the movement in his Swiss watch.
MMX came up a few seconds behind us, and I liked what I saw. He was hurting. He was tired. He was starting to feel the effects of the first 56 miles of driving at the front. The shoe was now on the other foot, and it didn’t appear to fit too well.
“Take that, you sadistic fucker,” I laughed to myself. “The next act in this drama’s going to feature you getting dragged behind a race car over a minefield in front of the smoking barrels of giant artillery.”
The detritus of our now wasted group pedaled easily over the summit, indicating that they’d given up and were now only waiting for permission, or directions, or both, so that they could call it a day and go home. I could tell that Alain and Jim were thinking, “How many people have to work for a guy who wrings it out of them at work Monday through Friday and then staves their fucking heads in on the hardest road course in America on the weekends?”
Since, however, this was the BWR, I neither acknowledged their pain nor offered any pity. They would be crumpled like an empty wrapper of GU and tossed thoughtlessly by the wayside.
After the bitter pill of Couser Canyon we hit Lilac and immediately hit another long, grinding climb. At the summit we all agreed that a stop was in order, as we were out of water and Jim and Alain needed a place where they could get I.V. drips inserted without fear of infected needles.
We chose an inconvenience store on Valley Center Road where the inmate was behind six inches of bulletproof glass, no toilet was available, and the inmate scanned our purchases THROUGH THE GLASS. “Nice neighborhood you got here,” said Todd.
“Yeah,” the inmate laughed.
“Why all the triple security?”
One of the customers, a rough-handed gentleman with scars on his face, tousled hair, and a case of Ol’ Pissmongers in hand, said, “It’s to pertect ’em from all you rowdy shavelegs. Har, har!”
We laughed along with him, as the alternative seemed to be a fierce and brutal beating, until the inmate broke the awkwardness. “The hood’s cool, man, it’s all the gamblers on the way back from Vegas.”
“I don’t see no slots here,” said Todd.
“Naw, man, they come here on they last ten bucks, put in some gas, and they look at me like I’m a fucking jelly donut, you know, they figure they can stick me up for a couple hundred and then head back to Vegas and try they luck again.”
We thanked him and stood out in the parking lot drinking our water. We were exactly half way. Alain was mumbling about getting a different gear ratio. Jim was mumbling about getting a new identity. Victor looked tired. MMX looked grimly satisfied. Todd looked like he was on vacation. “I hate that motherfucker,” I said to myself.
When tempers fray
The first sign that you’re too deep in the hole is when you begin ardently hating everyone and everything. For example, that fucker MMX. I hated him. That fucker Parks. I really hated him. That sorry no good fucker Victor. I hated him worst of all because he’d only been cycling for a few years. Those really sorry no-good fuckers Jim and Alain. I hated them for coming out and cracking. That inmate. I hated him for scanning my water through the window glass. That convicted murderer with the case of Ol’ Pissmongers. This parking lot. Those hills. These roads. Them trees. Those clouds. That sun. Fuck them all to hell.
Soon enough we were back on our bikes. Alain and Jim had called a Life Flight as they faded off the back to spend the rest of the day in their own private hell. This really earned my undying hatred and envy, as I was stuck with Todd the Hammer, Victor the Roleur, and MMX, who just gets stronger as the road gets longer.
Woods Canyon Road was, surprise, more rollers. They weren’t steeper or longer, but they hurt exponentially more, and all I could think was “Half way. We’re just barely half way.”
From North Lake Wohlford Rd. we got another short climb followed by the only legitimate downhill of the day. MMX had now come to life and began pushing the pace…again. I was choking on his wheel as he put our noses up against the grinding wheel and turned it on high. The worst part was just beginning…MMX waking up. But Parks attacked on the descent, I followed, and MMX got left behind. Sweet! With a few hard accelerations and a few unconscionable risks on the descent I finally had Victor and Todd hanging on for dear life. “Take that fuckers! Chase, you fuckers! Fuck you, fuckers!”
At the bottom we regrouped and I surveyed what was left. Maybe this ride wasn’t going to be so bad after all. They were as tired as I was, maybe even more so. With one or two short climbs towards the end, they’d feel the sting of my accelerations. This was going to be fun.
When things that are going to be fun turn out not to be fun at all
No sooner had I surveyed my strong position than we hit a road named “Summit.” Hint: roads named “Summit” often include an uphill segment. This one was no different. MMX attacked, shed Parks and Victor just before the top, and put me deep into the red, a depth from which I would not ever return. After many more miles of rollers we hit even more rollers, this time along San Pasqual Valley Road. As we took turns along the road, bit by bit I stopped turning. Sagging at the back. Letting the other three guys take much longer pulls. Flicking my elbow almost immediately. Before I knew it, I had melted down into a puddle of wankaflail, the most detested and despicable substance known in the cycling world.
MMX looked at me. Through the din of “Fuck you, I hate you, fuck you, I hate you,” that was resonating through my head, I dimly heard him say something. It sounded like this.
“Hey, man, are you okay?”
“Fuck you!!” I screamed, but nothing came out besides a frightened and whimpering noise that sounded like, “Yeah, I think so.”
“You sure? Your face is kind of blue and green, and sort of yellow.”
“Sunscreen,” I mumbled.
“Okay. Because we’ve got kind of a steep bump up ahead.”
“Up ahead?” I thought. “Why is he telling me this? Who is he? Oh, that’s MMX, the guy I hate. Fuck him.” As I mustered up the energy to make my lips form the proper shape, I realized that Parks had been pulling relentlessly for the last mile. I looked up and saw the giant rise of the Bandy Canyon climb.
On a normal day it wouldn’t have been intimidating at all. Today, it wasn’t intimidating either. It was soul crushing. Spirit destroying. The end of time.
We were only 90.7 miles in.
When you’re done, you’re done
Todd ripped off an attack at the bottom of the climb, and Victor followed. MMX was initially gapped, but as I watched, a strange thing happened. He stood on the pedals, caught Victor, shelled him, and caught Parks. Then they were gone. All of them.
This was the point at which I realized what I must have already known. MMX was eminently suited for the ride and every bit up to the challenge. Once the distances creep up over 90 miles his engine really fires. Over 100 miles and it roars. Over 115 and he’s the last one standing.
I cursed a bit, clueless as to my whereabouts or how to get home, knowing only that there were at least thirty miles left, sixty if I had to find my way back through trial and terror. Over the climb I chased for a while until I overtook Victor, who had sat up to wait.
Patiently, he allowed me to get on his wheel and started The Drag. With slowly increasing velocity he reached a pace that was just miserable enough to make me want to vomit, but not so rapid that I came off. After miles and miles and miles we caught Todd and MMX, neither of whom was pedaling. Or sweating. Or looking very tired. They were, in fact, chatting amiably.
“At least,” I thought, “I’ve avoided the ignominy of having to ride in by myself and at least I’ll get to claim that I finished ‘with the group.’ Plus, MMX lives near the hospital.”
“Hang tough, man,” said Victor. “The next 20 or so miles are hilly and windy.”
He, Todd, and MMX rode off and I found myself alone on Via Rancho Parkway. The next 3.1-mile vicious, bitter climb to Del Dios resulted in an impressive placing on Strava: 105th out of the 135 idiots who have uploaded their time. There was a fat guy in a billowing yellow jersey with a bright red flashing light a couple of hundred yards ahead, laughing at me, thumbing his nose at me, daring me to catch him. I couldn’t. I didn’t.
Will you marry me?
Somewhere on Del Dios, Victor was waiting again. My hatred for him had blossomed into love. Rather than letting me die out here somewhere near Escondido, or worse, leaving me to spend the next six hours trying to find Leucadia, he had decided to wait. In my 30+ years of cycling no one has ever waited for me in a similar situation. To the contrary, the last time I found myself in this predicament was outside Sealy, Texas, with Russell deBarbieris and Hector Gonzalez, and they had attacked and left me to crawl on my hands and knees for the last 25 miles along the edge of Interstate 10 in 110-degree heat.
That was part of the fun. The friendship. The camaraderie of cycling.
Eventually we reached the Iglesia de Dios that’s the first stop on the Swami’s ride, and I wondered why they had to add the “de Dios” part. Without it would someone have mistaken it for “Iglesia del Diablo?”
We filled our water bottles and lay on the cool grass. Victor, whose back had been in knots since mile 50, twisted on the turf doing Tantric yoga pose #876, “Crippled Dog Writhing in Pain Before Owner Puts Bullet in Brain, Ending Misery for All Concerned.”
I ate the last of the four candy bars MMX had given me, and the thought occurred to me that two Starbucks oatmeals, a cup of coffee, and a few candy bars were probably not ideal nutrition for this type of ride. We got back aboard, and Victor looked at me. “We should probably skip Questhaven Road.”
I knew that what he meant was, “You should probably skip Questhaven Road.”
“Why?” I asked. “What is it?”
“It’s a dirt climb. Kind of tough.”
“Is it on the BWR route?”
“Then we have to do it.”
I can sometimes read people’s minds. He was thinking, “You have no idea what you’re talking about. But then again, you’re an idiot, so why should you?” Then he thought, “Okay, tough guy, get ready to rue the fucking day you were born.” Of course I was already rueing that day, so his thought didn’t bother me at all.
“Okay,” he said. “We’ll do it.”
When the second wind blows strong
Something in that last candy bar reawakened me. It couldn’t have been the downhill. It surely couldn’t have been the tailwind. No, it was a resurgence of strength and power as I towed Victor along Elfin Forest for the handful of miles to Questhaven. I was feeling my second wind, and it was good.
Until we turned up Questhaven. Then, my second wind was replaced by my second crumble. The road jerked up, my bike bucked in the soft sand, my legs strove to push hard enough to keep enough momentum to keep from falling over, in a panic I jumped out of the saddle which caused the rear wheel to break free, sat back down and almost tipped over again, flailing and flogging in a blue panic until the adrenaline alone got me to the top.
Victor was already in the next county, and at the top I was greeted by a hard left on good asphalt and a sickeningly steep climb that lasted at least half a mile. Down through a neighborhood, freezing from the cold, sweating from the heat, my body’s essential thermoregulatory functions had become a confused mass of fucked up electronic nerve signaling that my brain couldn’t interpret and my body couldn’t execute. Can a pancreas cramp? Do intestines feel pain? What’s all this blood coming out of my anus?
One last long climb up to the stoplight at San Elijo, and Victor, my angel, my beautiful Victor, was waiting for me. He gazed at the broken, shivering, vacant-eyed lump of wankaflail and showed me the kindness of all kindnesses: he turned left.
To truly ride the BWR we would have turned right and finished off the day with a 2-mile steep cliff climb up to the peak at Twin Oaks Valley, but in addition to finishing off the day, it would have finished off me. We dropped the last five miles down into Leucadia, passed Todd at the Starbucks–he’d been there for half an hour, at least–and I rolled on back to MMX’s place.
MMX was making some eggs and slathering a piece of dark break with manly chunks of hearty Belgian cheese. “Hey, dude!” he said cheerily. “How was it?” He looked fine, as if it had been out for a casual ride around the block.
He had powered his way in with Todd, trading blows, keeping the hammer down until the very end. Towards the finish, Todd had even begun to crack, and with a few fewer miles on his legs than MMX, and the road stretching on, the writing on the wall come March 25 will likely be blood red for the vast majority of starters.
I collapsed on the couch. “How….” I mumbled back, “…was what?”
In case you think none of this applies to you
So, bottom line: Hardest ride I’ve ever done. The actual BWR will be significantly harder and will include the final climb up San Elijo and Twin Oaks Valley. But you’re still thinking about doing it? Even after reading this? Even after the email that went out last week gently encouraging you to embarrass yourself now by quitting rather than suffer the beatdown and still not finish? Still think this is just Wankmeister killing electrons because he has nothing better to do on Sunday afternoon?
Well, you’re right about that last part. The other parts? Here’s a handy-dandy self-test to see if you should quit now and give up your space to someone who’s got what it takes, i.e. a man with a giant, hairy nutsack encasing balls of steel.
BWR Self-Evaluation Readiness Quiz
- I am considered a pussy by other hardmen cyclists. YES/NO
- I average 100-150 miles training per week or less. YES/NO
- I’ve never been invited to do FTR. YES/NO
- I thought FTR was hard. YES/NO
- I ride a compact. YES/NO
- I dislike it when people disparage “freddies.” YES/NO
- In a ten-man pacline, I tend to pull 0-.000003% of the time, or less. YES/NO
- I don’t have a single KOM on Strava. YES/NO
- I upgrade by participation. YES/NO
- I don’t drink beer. YES/NO
- I hate riding in the rain. YES/NO
- I hate riding in the cold. YES/NO
- I hate riding in the mud. YES/NO
- I always clean my bike after a ride. YES/NO
- I need lots more than strong coffee and a GU to get me through a hard ride. YES/NO
- ‘Cross and cobbles are too dangerous. YES/NO
- I used to be a triathlete. YES/NO
- My wife gets angry at me when I ride my bike too much. YES/NO
- I’m often sick, which prevents me from riding/racing. YES/NO
- I have more than one road bike. YES/NO
- I was really fast back in the day, not so much now. YES/NO
- I’m particular about my equipment. YES/NO
- I try to avoid sex before a big race or ride. YES/NO
- I have a tiny penis. YES/NO
- I’d rather be a well rounded, happy, successful person and loving father than a jackhammer merchant of death on the bike. YES/NO
- My marriage is more important to me than my biker buddies, who all hate me. YES/NO
- I like French things. YES/NO
- My favorite eyewear is Oakley. YES/NO
- Even though I love to cycle, my work and family always come first. YES/NO
- I always get dropped with the fist comes down. YES/NO
- You can judge the quality of a man by his wine collection. YES/NO
- It’s okay to sit in if you win the sprint. YES/NO
- Pulling all the time is for idiots. YES/NO
- I read girls’ fashion magazines. YES/NO
- I think Mark Cavendish is a hardman. YES/NO
- I prefer to ride on the track. YES/NO
- Justin Bieber has some good tunes. YES/NO
- Pre-race nutrition is very important to me. YES/NO
- I check my pulse in the morning when I wake up, and if it’s abnormal I don’t ride that day. YES/NO
- I train according to power zones. YES/NO
- I never ride when I’m too sick to stand up. YES/NO
- I have a coach. YES/NO
- I do what my coach says. YES/NO
- Most of my underwear is pink. YES/NO
- When I time trial I prefer to use aero equipment. YES/NO
- I can’t help slowing my pace when I pass through the perfume and cosmetics section of a department store. YES/NO
- Cycling is an important way for me to make friends. YES/NO
- On a hard ride or in a race, I’d rather be liked than hated. YES/NO
- I can’t respect someone who is doped to the gills. YES/NO
- Eddy Merckx wouldn’t be as dominant today as he was in his era. YES/NO
- I’m not sure how to spell “de Vlaeminck.” YES/NO
Scoring: Each “YES” answer counts for one point. 1-3: Hardman. You’ll acquit yourself with honor. 4-7 points: Softman. You’ll finish but rue the day you were born. 8-10 points: Pussyman. You don’t belong here, even if you’ve got a million personal invitations and MMX is your “best bud,” sponsors your club, and gives you free shit. 10 points or more: Triathlete/MTB rider/Cross-dresser. If you show up you will be shot on sight and your equipment sold for scrap value.
So…that’s it. Needless to say, with a score of 37, I won’t be there. Have a nice fucking day, and don’t bother me with the details. I’ve done it. I know.