March 5, 2015 § 40 Comments
This ride is not sponsored, authorized, approved, recognized, encouraged, abetted, aided, promoted, offered, suggested, referenced, affiliated with, created by, managed, supervised, regulated, reviewed, evaluated, or in any way, shape, method, means, form, or function related to or otherwise connected with SPY Optic and its officially endorsed Belgian Waffle Ride.
But that is not all,
Oh no, that is not all!
On Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 7:00 AM pointy sharp I’m leaving from the bricks of the Center of the Known Universe a/k/a CotKU a/k/a the Manhattan Beach Pier Starbucks in order to ride my bicycle. I will be riding my bicycle for one reason and one reason only: To prepare my spindly legs and spongy lungs for the battering that awaits on April 26, 2015, the day of the 4th Annual Belgian Waffle Ride.
This BWR practice ride of mine, which is wholly unaffiliated with the actual Belgian Waffle Ride and its sponsors, will ride from CotKU to Pacific Coast Highway and from there to The Rock, where I will pee, take in the view, and then turn around and head back towards Los Angeles.
On the way I will make a left-hand turn up Yerba Buena, and when I get to the top I will go down Mulholland Drive until it hits Pacific Coast Highway again, where I will turn left. After a little while I will make another left-hand turn, this time up Decker Lane. When I reach the intersection with Encinal I will turn right and go back to PCH.
Then I will pedal back to CotKU and from there back to Palos Verdes where I will climb another long hill. After it’s all said and done I will have ridden about 140 miles, which is a long way, and will have gone uphill a whole bunch. I will be very tired.
You can come if you want and you can ride as much or as little as you see fit, and here’s the thing: Anyone who wants to join me on this practice bicycle ride can. The same way that you can jog behind someone on the bike path, or follow someone on the freeway, or hop onto the tail-end of a bunch of wankers sliding along a cross-country ski trail, well, you can ride in my vicinity when I go ride my bike, too.
The catch? I’m not promoting the ride other than to note its existence, and I’m certainly NOT suggesting that you do it. I’m not providing protection, medical care, organization, road permits, or anything else. Why? Because it’s my own private bicycle ride that I plan to do alone. If you show up, that’s your business. It’s not a race or century ride or a Grand Fondue or a public event or a private one. It’s not an event of any kind. It’s my own personal bicycle ride.
What does this mean? It means that if you decide to leave from the same place at the same time with the same destination in mind as I, you may well die or suffer horrible, catastrophic injury. You may get hit by a car, you may fall off your bicycle and split your skull, you may have some wanker smash into you, you may slide out on a descent and get killed, you may blow a tire, bust a rim, snap a chain, crater a fork, or have any of a million other bad things happen to you.
And unfortunately, this is the risk you take when you ride a bicycle on public roads. You are trading the fun of riding your bicycle on the street for the risk of death or catastrophic injury. I’m not encouraging you to do it, to the contrary. I’m warning you about the danger and telling you that if you show up, it’s your life, it’s your safety, and it’s your responsibility to come home in one piece — not mine.
If you do decide to meet up with me, it will be good training for the BWR. I won’t be hammering, that’s for sure. And at the end of the day, although you may well get killed, you may well not. It could even turn out to be fun. Your call.
So see you on the road. Or not!
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February 25, 2015 § 19 Comments
My collection of cycling clothing is pitiful. A few years ago when we downsized I got rid of all the old stuff. Marco’s long-sleeved Chazal jersey that he wore in the Tour, my old Molteni jerseys (wool, of course), and the various iterations of miscellaneous club outfits. Big O, Cynergy, Ironfly, even my old SPY stuff.
Now my cycling closet has nothing in it that is more than two seasons old. However, in my chest of drawers I’ve saved three jerseys from the recycle man — my Belgian Waffle Ride jerseys from 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Unlike a lot of other jerseys I’ve worn, these three I actually earned. And if you’ve signed up for the 2015 edition, which promises to be longer, harder, dirtier, and grittier than the previous three, what follows is some advice — some real advice — about how to earn yours.
I’ve broken it down into four approaches. Pick your poison.
- The 2012 Approach a/k/a “Win it!”: The first year I trained hard and did several BWR prep rides to learn the layout of the course. I envisaged a hard day in the saddle, and somewhere over the 119-mile course I would either contend for the victory or slog it out for a top-ten finish. I got dropped on the very first dirt section. By the time we hit it I was already gassed, and I stumbled along, blind and in confusion, for the remaining hundred miles. The 2012 Approach is not recommended. I vividly remember sitting in the finish area, starving and thirsty, having forgotten to bring money for food. If Christine Marckx hadn’t bought me a hot dog I wouldn’t be here today.
- The 2013 Approach a/k/a “Survive it!”. The second year I trained even harder and did even more prep rides. Knowing the impossibility of a good finish, as my name isn’t Neil Shirley, Brent Prenzlow, or Phil Tinstman, my goal was simply to do respectably. Unfortunately I got caught up in the excitement of the first dirt section below the bike path and fell off my bicycle trying to climb the stone wall from the dirt and gravel back onto the path. By the second gravel section I was gassed. Dave Gonyer blew by me en route to Couser Canyon, and then so did a hundred other people. This 130-mile miseracordia left me crushed and destroyed at the halfway mark simply because I had given into the temptation of “go hard” so early.
- The 2014 Approach a/k/a “Enjoy it!”. The third year, although MMX insisted on placing me in the first wave, I dropped off as soon as I realized that in the “neutral” zone we were cranking out 500 watts on the rollers. I fell back with Pilot and Junkyard, determined to ride at my own pace. Junkyard got sucked into the enthusiasm of a passing group on the dirt track after Lake Hodges, and sprinted off. “Junkyard!” I said. “Don’t!” I saw him at the 80-mile mark bending weakly over his bike as he tried to make sense out of the phrase “39 miles to go, and they’re the hardest ones with the most vertical and the most dirt.” I rode steadily the whole day and finished tired but not destroyed. 131 riders finished ahead of me, but none of them looked very good. This was the only BWR I’d done that I would call a success.
- The 2015 Approach a/k/a “Share it!”. The fourth year I’ll also train hard and I’ll also ride my own ride. There will be no getting sucked into the unwinnable competition for me–I’m even less Neil Shirley than I was in 2012. But unlike last year I’ll have a small group of riders who’ve been fileted and left for dead in previous years, who now know that the BWR is not to be conquered, only to be completed. Because whether you’re second or seven hundredth, the finisher’s jerseys are all the same.
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February 9, 2015 § 50 Comments
Before the first waffle has been eaten, the first sausage scarfed, or the first ale quaffed, the 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride has its first bona fide controversy: Catgate.
On the online entry form, riders were asked to list their USAC racing category. Mistakenly thinking that their starting position would be determined by their racing category, some registrants took the opportunity to misstate their category and thereby get placed ahead of the lowly Cat 5’s, public, and “unranked” riders, not a few of whom are absolute beasts. Unfortunately for the sneaks, each registrant was checked against USAC records, and several riders were caught red-fingerboarded.
Since the “ride” will go off in three waves, some riders apparently believed that there was an advantage to going in the first wave even though it’s a timed event, with each wave starting at 0:00:00. A lively discussion of Catgate ensued on Facebag, where various punishments were discussed. Although I offered to do the beheadings, that option was not selected, and the fate of the would-be cheaters remains undecided.
Choices on the table include public shaming, relegation to the last wave, being banned from the ride, and having a note sent to your mother.
On the other hand, if there’s one thing about bikers you can count on, it’s the certainty that given the chance they will cheat. Actually, they will cheat even when they aren’t given the chance. Why?
Because cheating is fun.
The whole concept of the bike race is little more than organized cheating. You hunker behind the rider with the biggest butt to cheat the wind; you descend pell-mell or bang bars in the sprunt to cheat death; the winner of the race is the one who forces everyone else to work more while he hides like a thief in the night, waiting to slit the throats of those who ride with courage and honor. What could be more natural for a cyclist than cheating on a registration form, or cheating your way to the finish of a fun ride?
Moreover, the Belgian Waffle Ride was quite literally born amidst the pangs and throes of cheating cheaters who love to cheat. I will never forget the inaugural 2012 BWR, when a certain South Bay rider showed up and pirated it from beginning to end, eating the free breakfast, stopping at each aid station to gobble the food and drink, and enjoying the post-ride festivities to a fare-thee-well.
I caught up with him the following week and said, “Don’t you feel bad for being such a thieving, cheating, Delta Bravo, and generally worthless POS?”
“Nope!” he happily smiled. And he meant it.
Other infamous characters stamped the first BWR with a miscellany of misbehavior. One wanker held onto a truck for miles at a pop over the deathly dirt section of Country Club Road. Another cut the course. Another infamous cheater whose mendacious misdeeds were rewarded with the dreaded purple card not only cut the course but sneaked past Double Peak at the end of the ride, zoomed into the start-finish area, changed into his bicycling lounge suit, and displayed an “I got here first!” grin while those who had manfully done the ride struggled in beaten and exhausted wondering “How did that brokedown wanker beat me here?” — then he topped it off by disappearing with his finisher’s swag once people got suspicious and started asking to see the stamp that every honest rider received for passing the checkpoint atop Double Peak.
The invention of the purple card, in fact, was an acknowledgment before the ride ever started that bicyclists are some of the scurviest, cheatingest, least reliable mendicants known to man. Before the first BWR ever rolled out, a series of Freddie Freeloader cards were printed and handed out to the ride’s “Secret Police,” who were ordered to patrol the peloton and punish the perpetrators for their purplish pecadilloes.
In the second edition, even though there were no purple cards awarded, numerous riders who claimed to have completed the entire course failed to upload their required Strava data to confirm that they did in fact finish the route. You would think that having GPS data would be sufficient to deter the cheats, but no — if forced to choose between cheating and not, cheating wins out every time.
Last year the noose tightened a bit, with timing chips making it impossible for veteran course-cutters to ply their trade, and wholly eliminating the ride pirates, but misdeeds abounded. The most egregious included vehicle assistance at critical points in the ride.
Short of sailing a cargo ship bound for the Horn of Africa to smoke out the pirates, there’s no way to run a cheat-free event. And that’s a good thing.
For 99.9% of participants, the ride is so hard that whatever advantage you might eke out from marginal gains cheating is nullified somewhere around Mile 80, if not far sooner. And while it’s patently untrue that cheaters never win, especially in cycling, no cheater has ever won the BWR. To the contrary: In the inaugural event the leaders went off course, which couldn’t be detected because there were no chips being used, and rather than hop back on course they retraced their route to the point where they left the course, got back on, and finished — even though it cost them the win as Dave Jaeger, who had made all the right turns, beat them to the line and claimed the yellow jersey.
Neil Shirley, two-time winner of the non-race, is regarded as one of the cleanest, most honorable guys in the sport. No matter how many places in line you try to jump, you still have to pass Neil. Good luck with that.
The BWR is beautiful because it showcases the best and also the worst. You get to ride with champions and chumps, heroes and whores.
And at the end, if you’ve done it right, you finish with a satisfaction unlike any other. So go ahead and cheat your little heart out. If you dare.
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February 8, 2015 § 18 Comments
The 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride is full. It took four days. Riders who didn’t get one of the coveted 700 slots are now on the waiting list, which will have 200+ names on it by the time the event goes off.
When the ride was announced, a big hoo-hah of publicity went out, which was awesome. However, not all of it was particularly beneficial. Especially disturbing were the “Top 10 Tips to Finish with Dignity” by Neil Shirley, and the “SPY Belgian Waffle Ride Tips” by some foreigner named Hupthur. If either one of these tip sheets comes across your inbox, please delete ASAP as they will lead you to ruin.
Shirley’s list should be ignored simply upon seeing the title. There is no dignity left when and if you finish the BWR. In fact, there’s not much of anything left. Spit, sweat, mucous, blood glucose, pride, dreams, hope … everything will have been torn from your chest, beheaded, and left wriggling on the roadside back around, say, Mile 100. If you’re lucky. Many will have suffered the Junkyard Implosion much earlier. Others will have simply quit. Still others will have abandoned before the race even started.
When Shirley talks about “finishing with dignity,” he’s referring to about ten people, and you will never see them except perhaps, briefly, at the start. Everyone else will finish with desperation. Exhaustion. A sense of bodily collapse and mental defeat. But not dignity. No fuggin’ way.
You are also advised to ignore everything Shirley says because he’s a two-time winner. Right. We have nothing in common with him. If he’s talking about the BWR, go ahead and turn up your iPod. As one of the best and most accomplished riders in SoCal, a guy who is devastatingly good no matter the discipline, he simply has nothing to offer the rank and file, not to mention the file shavings like you and me.
So here’s my reality tip sheet for the 2015 BWR. It won’t help you do better, but that’s because there is no “better.” To crumple and fold like bad origami is your destination. Trust me on this.
- Blab & Brag: Tell everyone you’re going to crush the BWR. This is the only pleasure you will get from competing in the event. Everything else will be a reduction of your humanity into a quivering puddle of failure and defeat.
- Polish & Purchase: Have your bike polished, cleaned, overhauled, and detailed. Then add the trick shit you’ve always wanted — Di2, full carbon wheels made of carbon, and lots of carbon. Plus carbon. The only chance you have of looking good and making next year’s video is either in the Preen Area at the start finish, or with your guts torn out after crashing along Lake Hodges. Also, lots of lightweight trick shit ups your chance of a ride-ending mechanical, which will get you back to the celebratory sausages and beer that much more quickly.
- Stamp Your Authority: True, the BWR is a 140-mile long odyssey that demands almost perfect resource management and conservation of energy simply to finish. But you don’t care about that. Those sausages are calling your name and Sam Ames has extra ice cream for the waffles left over from breakfast. Finagle your way into the first starting wave and drill it. If you’re not pushing 450+ watts on the rollers out of town, you’re losing. Plus, this is a great way to maybe get into one of those cool photos that has you riding next to all those hammerheads at the front.
- Ink up: The Preen Area will be filled with the legends of SoCal. They will be doing last minute equipment checks, reviewing the course map for changes, and making sure everything is ready. Take the time to interrupt them and request autographs, preferably onto obscure body parts. “Hey, Phil, I’ve always been a fan of yours. Would you autograph my scrotum?” is always a winner. Plus, you’ll have a unique memento to show your wife as she wraps you in a huge sheet of Tegaderm.
- Cower and Hide: If you really are planning on finishing the BWR, don’t ever take a pull. Ever. Not even one. My best moment in 2014 was drafting for 20 miles behind Hines, Chatty Cathy, Junkyard, and a string of South Bay wankers all the way into Ramona from Black Canyon, then sprunting by them as they stopped for drinks and organ transplants.
- Use Up Others: When you get shelled, immediately soft pedal until you’re overtaken by the next group. Slink to the back and occasionally yell encouragement to the people doing all the work. When they collapse and fall of the back, just remember, “Sucks to be them.”
- Cheat Where You Can: The BWR has a long and illustrious history of people who cheat, cut the course, hang onto follow vehicles, and take advantage of the fact that there are no race commissars or firing squads. Have your S/O wait for you at the 25, 75, 50, and 100-mile marks with her Prius and give you little 5-mile tows. If your conscience is a bit squeamish, just remember the BWR Wanker Motto: Rules are for losers!
- Dope: This one is obvious, but with no doping controls you should be loaded up with your favorite brand of cortisol, HGH, EPO, and steroid inhalers for your “asthma.” The joy of destroying some hairy-legged Fred to secure your 286th place is something you will cherish forever.
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February 6, 2015 § 25 Comments
The 2015 edition of the galactically famous Belgian Waffle Ride opened yesterday, filling 528 of the available 700 slots in less than thirty-six hours. Although the ride always fills up long before the event, this year the registrations have been off the charts. Maybe it’s because of all the media. Maybe it’s because of this killer video. Or maybe it’s just because you’re still trembling after watching Jen strut around in her panties, and the thought that she’s going to be at the BWR has caused the servers over at BikeReg.com to break. The remaining 172 slots will be gone in the coming days, but that’s no reason for you to register. In fact, you shouldn’t. Don’t even think about it.
Because based on the last three years I’ve compiled an awesome set of emails and/or Facebag messages you can send to the staff at SPY Optic after the deadline passes. The ideal timing is late at night one or two days before the event, long after the event has closed and everyone is in overdrive putting the last touches on the course, the venue, and the countywide infrastructure that something like this requires.
So DO NOT REGISTER NOW. Wait and send one (or all) of these messages instead. You’ll be in like Flynn, and you can tell ’em that Wanky sent ya.
- The Ol’ Buddy Ol’ Pal Grovel: Yo, MMX, what up? Dooshy McGillicuddy here — we rode together on the Swami’s Ride two years ago, it was in August. You probably don’t remember me but I said hi just before you guys hit the jets at PCH and Encinitas Blvd. Ennyhoo … been planning on the BWR all year, did some BIG MILEZ over the winter (check my Strava, I friended you and kudos on ripping that dirt section last week, BADASS) but dude I completely forgot to register. Can you help a buddy out? Gonna be bummed here in PARADISE if I don’t get to ride, bro. Also, can you comp my entry?
- The Beggar Blogger: Hi, Michael and team. Really looking forward to covering the BWR this year on my blog, Shitheads in the South Bay and my sister publication, Red Kite Bore. We’re hitting some pretty good numbers — site stats are up to 15 views and 3 unique readers per week. Our event coverage is saturation bombing, and I’m glad to do it because I love what you do and want to help grow the sport. By the way, I somehow missed the registration. Did you forget to notify me? Stuff slips through the cracks, and I’m sure you have a lot on your plate. If you could squeeze me in I’d be deeply appreciative, and trust me, you’ll get a big media bump when I turn on the spigot. Also, can you comp my entry and a BWR kit?
- The Cat 2 UCI Pro Proposal: Hey, MMX! Good racing against the SPY guys last weekend. You guys have come a long way, props. I had Anderson and Alverson in the box on that last turn, but decided to sit up after I hit the cones and went off-course and I let them take the one-two. I’ve been on the podium enough this year and don’t mind spreading the glory around, plus it helps your brand. Hey, I was meaning to register for the BWR this year. I have done a ton of miles (no dirt but that’s NBD) and am expecting my Cat 1 upgrade and then the call-up to the pros later this year. Might be nice to have me rocking the SPY shades over in Europe (for a fee! Just kidding!). Anyway, shoot me the pro entry promo code when you get a chance. Also, can you comp my entry and a BWR kit and give me a couple of extra beer tickets?
- The Aged Profamateur Living in a Car: Pretty disappointing to have missed the registration for this ride. Thought you might help. Lots of my life given to the sport. Taught you a few things if I remember correctly. Glad for your success. Doubtless room for one more bike. Out of cat food so need comped entry. Also need comped BWR kit and couple cases of beer, and tell Ames to let me have trash bags with half-eaten waffles and melted ice cream. Calories are calories.
- Greedy Team Leech: Hi, MMX! Sucky McSuckwater here! Team camp was awesome; love the new kits and shades (shoot me a couple of extra skinsuits and maybe another Daft when you get a sec, need it by next Tuesday). I’ve got big racing plans this year after taking a sabbatical in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Can you believe I waited til the last minute to register and now it’s fuggin’ full? The bikereg site is a pain. Maybe use someone else next year for online signups? Be sure to register me. Team guys ride free I’m assuming. I know there are four waves this year, so put me in the first wave. Shirley, Trebon, Prenzlow, and Tinstman are gonna feel my burn this year. Also, aren’t the fees kind of high? I’m not really down with that, for other people, I mean.
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May 1, 2014 § 25 Comments
The first time we shared a beer, or rather ten beers, neither of us could drink. I, because I had been on the wagon for the better part of three years. She, because she was five.
It was at a big party put on by her dad. There was the obligatory keg and more than a hundred guests. She had been fascinated by the tapping of the keg and the spew of foam. Her dad had noticed her curiosity. “Romy,” he said when she got too close to the tap, “don’t pour the beer.”
I watched the whole thing from a safe distance and said nothing, but sooner rather than later dad got pulled away by the festivities, leaving me, the teetotaler, to fill up all those red plastic cups. And fill them I did, with Romy watching shyly, but not too shyly, from the edge of the hedge. Pretty soon the drunks, I mean the guests, had as much beer as their cups could handle, and with the arrival of the taco truck they migrated down the hill to cut the bitter beer with an infusion of salt and salsa.
I looked at her and she looked at me. It was just the two of us. “Want some beer?” I said. She nicked her head and came over to the tap.
“How do I do it?” she asked.
I showed her, and we filled up a cup all the way to the top. “Okay,” I said. “Now fill up mine.” She did.
We stood there looking at each other, grinning, and nervously glancing down the hill to see if dad had noticed our shenanigans. He was holding court, though, and it was pretty far away. “Now what?” she asked.
“I dunno,” I said. “I don’t drink beer.”
“Me neither. But it’s fun squirting out from the thingy,” she said.
“Let’s dump it over here,” I suggested, and we committed the ultimate beer sin: we poured out our cups under the hedge.
“Let’s do it again!” she said.
She filled our cups with more beer, and we laughed, looking down the hill, giggling but a shade worried that we’d get discovered. After filling and tossing several more cups, a drunk came up and requested a refill. I obliged.
Much later I went down the hill to pay my respects to the godfather and say goodnight. “Thanks for the party,” I said.
“You have fun?” he asked, eyes twinkling.
“Romy seemed to enjoy herself.”
“Ah, yeah,” I said.
He grinned a knowing grin.
As the years go by
Later that year he moved to North County San Diego. Over the years I’d go down from time to time to ride bikes and drink his beer, having fallen long and hard from that impossibly unstable wagon. Romy would invariably pop in when we were drinking and would want to talk about books. She read everything, remembered everything, talked about everything. I’d call her precocious except she wasn’t “pre.” She was fully informed and alert, and ended up giving me books to read, probably to improve what she’d identified as a seriously deficient intellect.
What I always noticed, though, wasn’t simply the brilliance and the fully formed mind. I noticed her and her dad. Something very profound and warm existed between them, as strong and evident as that day when we’d poured beer on the sly, which hadn’t been on the sly after all. He was all-seeing. She was all-loving. The father and daughter were in harmony with the world and had been from the date of issue.
On Sunday I finished the Belgian Waffle Ride, riding through a puffed-up arch, the scanner notching my time at almost nine hours, and there was nothing on my mind except the thought that I could get off my bike and have a beer. Across the way I saw Romy and her dad. She’d been waiting anxiously at the finish line for him to come through, which he had done, almost two hours before me.
When he got there, the moment was captured in pixels by Kristy Morrow, one of the finest photographers around. It was more than a tired old guy crossing the finish line. It was something far more special than that. I’d tell you what it was, but since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll spare you the extra two thousand in verbiage and let you figure it out for yourself.
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April 29, 2014 § 58 Comments
If you rode the 2014 SPY Belgian Waffle Ride and your name wasn’t Neil Shirley or Brent Prenzlow, you cracked, entered a very bad place, and either quit or soldiered on to the finish. For some people the destruction happened far from home in the middle of the course on a dogforsaken section of dirt on a miserable and lonely mountaintop. For others it happened the night before at the pre-ride celebration somewhere between beer #5 and tequila shot #3.
For me, it happened during the neutral rollout.
How can something be the “most unique?”
The ride bills itself as the most unique cycling even in America. It’s not the hardest or the longest or the one with the most dirt or the most climbing. Is it unique? Yes. The BWR brings together all the elements of a tough one-day event and lets you make it into a ride or a race, as your legs are capable.
Still, I’ve wondered how something can be more unique than something else. If it’s unique, it’s the only one, right? Aren’t my fingerprints the most unique fingerprints in America?
Set in North County San Diego attended by over 500 riders (three hundred or so of whom managed to finish), and built around a grueling course that includes 12k feet of climbing, 30 miles of dirt, and an endlessly challenging series of undulating roads, the BWR is unquestionably unique. It’s something more than that, though. It’s a lens through which we can personally and vicariously experience amazing intensity of positive emotion.
It’s the happiest ride in America.
And now would someone please define the word “neutral”?
The first 23 miles of the ride, which was broken up into three waves, was designated neutral. When I hear the word “neutral start” I think about a warm-up at conversational pace, so I was surprised to feel the full-leg burn that comes from a 500-watt effort simply to get over the beginning rollers. People were panting, forcing the pedals, and half-sprinting within the first mile.
I’d been placed in the first wave, which contained most of the contenders for overall victory. I wasn’t one of them, having struggled in mid-pack in both my previous BWR cataclysms. I knew that if you weren’t planning to hang with the contenders, the worst thing you could do in the opening miles was to try and hang with them.
The effort of the leaders was so hard in the neutral section that I sat up somewhere around Mile 10 and watched them roll away. In addition to finally coming up with a plan and sticking with it, something else had happened at the beginning of this third edition of the BWR.
The food makes the ride
No matter what anyone says, the food and beer concession that your ride offers is what makes or breaks the experience. This year the pre-ride waffles and post-ride brats were prepared by legendary race chef Gear Grinder, a/k/a Sam Ames and his crew from Bakersfield. I’ve never had better food, or anything close to it, at a cycling event, and that’s not just because they had a bottle of private-label Bowen whiskey distilled in Bakersfield that I sampled the day before. Adding to the ambiance of the event was a fantastic selection of wine donated by Dean Patterson, vinted not far from the site of the ride itself.
This kind of pre-ride power food set the tone for the entire day, because the vendors like Sam and the volunteers who thronged the 134-mile course are what turned a tough day in the saddle into unforgettable fun. We had flashers throughout the course in various costumes as well as what first seemed like a mirage but was in fact, at Mile 115, a group of Hooters girls in bikinis at the top of the Canyon de Oro climb who filled our bottles, handed up cokes, and cheered as if I were a hero rather than a broken down, flailing, salt-and-snot-encrusted old gizzard trying not to tip over.
Watching a morning filled with self-immolation
I was overtaken by the second wave of riders in the middle of the first dirt section, and it was there that countless eager and fierce riders charged by me, intent on getting to the beer line in the shortest time possible. By Mile 45 I was already seeing many of them again with haggard faces, drooping shoulders, and completely fried legs that tried to lift them out of the endless climb up the back side of Bandy Canyon and Hidden Valley.
One guy passed me early on, waved cheerily as if to say “You’re slow!” and then reappeared on the long grind up to Ramona. “How much farther?” he asked, covered in sweat and desperation.
“You’re almost to the top, buddy, keep it up.”
“Thanks!” he said.
“And then after another 90 miles and the actual climbs, you’ll be done!”
The key feature is the dirt
Although none of it is exactly technical by MTB standards, the dirt sections on the BWR are what really break up the field. They come throughout the ride, with the hardest sections baring their fangs in the final 40 miles, and the jarring, pounding, grinding effect of rocks, holes, water crossings, and treacherously deep sand add and add and add to the building exhaustion of the day.
The deep sand pits along the “Sandy Bandyweg” sector was filled with glum riders walking through sand that went up to their ankles, others who stood desperately trying to bang the sand out of their cleats, and riders who simply didn’t know that to get through the deep sand you had to pedal and pedal fast. Whether it was the rock garden at Lake Hodges that had to be taken twice, and where a fall would result in broken bones, deep puncture wounds, and cactus quills, or whether it was the agonizing climb up Fortuna at Mile 113, which then segued to the insane drop down Canyon de Oro, the dirt defined this year’s BWR almost as much as the food.
Putting a happy spin on things
The SPY slogan is “Be Happy,” but it’s not the kind of happiness you achieve by sitting on the couch. Much of the happiness was quirky and ironic, like the beautiful girls in bikinis (did I mention the beautiful girls in bikinis?) atop a nasty climb towards the end of the race, or the “HTFU” signs strategically posted on all the climbs at just the point where your legs were burning and your mind was rebelling, or the tacit admission that even though we all wanted to stand out and be special, even the best among us is simply an ordinary person seeking refuge, or enlightenment, or introspection, or excitement by pedaling a bike.
These things all came together at the end of the ride when SPY CEO Michael Marckx presented awards, and when riders basked in the sunshine drinking fresh, strong, delicious, and cheap craft beer from Stone and Lost Abbey. Smiles and laughter bubbled as much as, or more than, the foam in the cups.
Despite the grins and backslapping, the BWR is an actual bike race for some. The men and women seeking a winner’s jersey, athletes tackling and conquering the route with a prosthetic arm or leg, people trying to do something they’ve never done before, or the wild-eyed riders oblivious to the fun and seeking a slightly higher spot on the leaderboard … all of these people looked for something, and many of them found it.
For me, it was a chance to end up in the beer garden without dying a thousand deaths the final fifty miles. And I did.
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