August 28, 2017 § 30 Comments
Have you ever wanted to do a gravel grinder? Have you ever wanted to know what one is? I did my first one on Saturday and it was different from what I expected. This ride was called the Chatsworth Chain Crusher and it was sponsored by Velofix, the mobile bicycle fixer-uppers. I should have known that anything with the word “crusher” in the title was going to be difficult, but it wasn’t difficult, it was brutal.
“How much dirt is there on this thing?” I asked before we started, sipping on a exceptional cup of covfefe brewed up by Matt Michaels of Gear Grinderz.
“About thirty percent,” said a fellow, thus teaching me a very important lesson about gravel grinders, which is that if you haven’t read, memorized, and Strava-checked the route you are going to be fucked, because when he said “thirty percent” he meant “eighty percent.”
“Everyone here looks pretty hard core for a fun ride,” I commented to another gentleman.
“Nah, it’s just a fun ride,” he said.
“Who is that fellow in the Giant kit riding the Giant bike who appears to be sponsored by Giant?”
“Him? That’s Ryan Steers.”
“Ah, yes. Just a fun ride. Of course.”
The “just a fun ride” split up immediately as the just fun riders pedaled at a very just fun pace that smashed everyone into just fun pulverized bits. After some endless fun climbing we hit some nasty just fun dirt and then I was by myself because even though I am terrible in dirt I can go uphill pretty good and since it was just a fun ride why not murder myself?
On the descent all of the just fun riders I’d dropped came whipping by and I learned something else about off-road riding: Climbing has two parts, an uphill and a downhill, and unlike road riding, they are equally hard. It doesn’t matter how fast you go up if you are a granny with a hip replacement going down.
I rode along on some just fun single track for a long time, hoping that one day I would find the gravel grinder on wide fire roads that was just a fun ride, but instead all I found were technical, twisty, nasty roads whose every inch spelled potential calamity. After a while I encountered my friends Bjorn, Lauren, and Mathieu, who were walking. Bjorn’s right arm was hanging lifelessly at his side while Lauren and Mathieu pushed his bike. We were a thousand miles from anywhere.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I took a header and did something to my shoulder,” said Bjorn.
Another cyclist rode up. “Hey Seth, can you help me pop his arm back into the joint? I’ve seen people do it on TV.”
“Sure,” I said. “What could possibly go wrong? A couple of men pulling hard on a dislocated arm out in a dirt field. You know how to do this? You’ve seen it on TV, right?”
Bjorn shook his head. “I’ll wait for a doctor.”
Since he was in good hands I continued on. My rear disc brake was rubbing, which was annoying until I popped out of the endlessly fun dirt section to find a Velofix van waiting with food and a mechanic.
Jim popped my bike on the stand and fixed the brake while his wife Hilda proffered the world’s finest p.b. and banana sammich quarters, which I scarfed. I got back on my bike and got lost, returned to the van, but everyone had taken off. Jim pointed me onto the trail, which went up a midget Mt. Everest. I could see the riders far away clinging to its side in a cloud of dust like fleas on a white dog’s belly.
I rode just for fun until my guts spilled out my mouth, caught the other fun riders who were having so much fun they were pinned and gasping, passed them, got passed on the short downhill, then passed them all again, just for fun of course. After a long time I was having so much fun that there were only two riders still with me. They dropped me before the next-to-last sag stop. Then I had some more p.b. and rode on by myself, luckily missing the turn to the Millenium trail, which everyone said was the worst and hardest trail of the day.
I got lost some more and ended up doing an entire just fun section of dirt again before finally reaching the finish. I drank a lot of water and ate some delicious, fiery hot tacos that got my bowels quaking in a flash. As people arrived in bits and dribs and tatters and drabs, they all looked as horrible as I felt, but after a few minutes sipping fresh beer from the tap of Hand Brewed Beer, they started to come around.
Now that I’ve done a gravel grinder just for fun, below is a handy guide to this new and exciting type of fun bike ride.
Q: What is a gravel grinder?
A: It is endless pain smothered in dirt and perhaps blood.
Q: Do you need a special bike for a gravel grinder?
A: Yes. And a special brain (to disregard terror such as falling off cliff sides).
Q: When they say it is “just a fun ride” what does that mean?
A: It will be a just fun before the start and after the finish, but in between it will be a full-on race.
Q: I heard that gravel grinders are done on fire roads, which are unpaved, wide, not technical, and fun.
A: Yes, except the fire roads are disguised as single track that plunges down impossible lines with infinite chances to have a bicycle falling off incident.
Q: I heard that you don’t need a mountain bike or MTB skills to do a gravel grinder. Is this true?
Q: The idea of a chill bike ride with coffee, sag, tacos, and beer sounds great. Isn’t that what gravel grinders are all about?
A: Yes. But in between the coffee and the beer is about five hours of hell.
Q: How does a gravel grinder compare to a ‘cross race?
A: Harder. Longer. More technical. Instead of crashing and limping 200 yards to your team tent you will crash and hike five miles cross country with a broken femur.
Q: Will gravel grinding help my bike handling skills?
A: Yes, if you ride in war zones.
Q: Would you ever do another one?
A. Never again until September.
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PS: Don’t forget the Wanky’s. As if you could.
November 24, 2014 § 23 Comments
Dear Miss Cyclocross,
I’m finally over you. I can’t handle any more of your abuse. Oh sure, it was fun in the beginning and yeah, we had a good run of three years together. But after a while having you push my face in the dirt and beat the crap out of me just wasn’t fun anymore. Every weekend it seemed like things would start out great, then you’d knock me down while your friends stood around and yelled at me and took embarrassing pictures of me all twisted up on the ground, then we’d get drunk, and then the next morning I’d wake up with pains in body parts I didn’t even know I had and bruises all over and a horrific hangover. You’d apologize and say that next time it wouldn’t end that way, but it always did.
And you were never a cheap date. I had to drive all over hell just to hang out with you, and when I did there were a couple other hundred guys — and girls — I had to share you with. I still remember when we started together and you were satisfied with my top-end machine. Next season you weren’t even glancing at anyone who hadn’t upgraded to discs. I hate to namecall but you are a fickle bitch. Every time I looked around it was $35 here, $35 there. That shit adds up.
And the food we ate when we were together wasn’t all that great, you know? The first forty times we snacked at some taco truck with a name like “Amos’s Fiery Anus Burritos” it was romantic, but after a couple of years it was mostly indigestion.
Sure, I met some cool people through you, guys like Phil Beckman, Dot Wong, and all those rednecks in Bakersfield who’ve never even heard of a good time that didn’t involve beating someone’s ass while standing around drunk under the scorching sun in a dirt field, but for the most part your friends suck just like you do. I mean, do you know how tired I got of having your stupid friends yell “Get out of the way, dumbass!” and “You belong in the beginners’ race, dumbass!” and “You crashed me out, dumbass!” My name isn’t dumbass. Got that?
Yesterday, though, I really knew it was over. You’d caught the eye of Derek, one of my best friends ever, and he was asking about you. I warned him that you liked it rough, but he didn’t care. He kept begging me to show him how to get off and I kept telling him you didn’t care how he did it but I finally showed him. Then he was asking me all these questions about how dirty were you, how hard would he have to go, etc., and I told him that if he wanted to run around with you he had better put in for the long haul because you were mean and a tough nut to crack.
Plus, he only had a rental.
But he begged me to introduce you to him and so I did. Beforehand you know what I told him? I said, “Dude, she is going to kick your ass.” He was pretty afraid of you after all I’d told him about all of your nasty tricks and what a vicious bitch you are.
“Which race should I do?” he asked me.
“Because you suck and she is going to stomp your dick very hard you should race the 35+B race. Start at the back so you won’t clog the turns and hurt anybody, and so you won’t fall off your bicycle. It will take a couple of seasons before you’re comfortable riding towards the front, if ever.”
Then on our first warm-up lap you knocked me down in one of the loose sandy turns and Garnet V. almost ran over my head. “Is that how you’re supposed to do it?” Derek asked me.
“Your turn is coming,” I said. And it was.
Pretty soon Derek’s race started and he won it. The next closest person was on a mountain bike and riding in a different race.
So, you humiliated me again, Miss Cyclocross. I won’t mention the fact that you let my pals Slasher, Ryan Dahl, Eric Johnson, David Anderson, Mike Williams, and Carey Downs all climb on top of you. But I will mention the fact that my neck and shoulder hurt like hell, that I can’t walk very well, and that I’m tired of being used. Plus, I can get a vicious hangover on my own.
Go ruin someone else’s life, Miss Cyclocross. Mine is in tatters.
November 18, 2014 § 17 Comments
As we settled into our lawn chairs around the blazing fire, one of our guests from the previous night appeared. She was not in Hecklebitch’s contingent, and so we welcomed her. After a couple of beers, she started to cry. “You can’t believe what Cora’s had to go through,” she said.
We sipped on our beer. She sobbed some more. Then T-Dub said, “Uh, who’s Cora?”
“She’s the transgender racer who raced with the women today.”
We looked at each other. “You mean that dude down at your camp site?”
“Cora is not a dude!” said Tammy. “She is a woman!”
We sipped on our beer some more and no one said anything. Three old guys who just finished recovering from a bad race and a worse hangover who are chilling around a campfire after a good dinner usually have a hard time getting it up for a meaty discussion on gender politics. Rob sighed and tried.
“So, what did Cora have to go through?” he asked.
“Some of the other women are complaining about her, claiming that it’s unfair for them to have to race against a man,” said Tammy.
“They kind of have a point,” said Mike, which sent Tammy off onto another crying jag.
“But she’s a woman!” wailed Tammy.
“Is she?” I asked.
“Of course she is! She’s taking all of the treatments!”
This was clearly one of those deals where our desire to slowly get plastered was going to be thwarted by arguing about whether or not Cora was a he or a she. “Tell her to come on over and have a beer with us,” I offered.
“This isn’t about beer!” wailed Tammy some more.
By now it was pitch dark, and it looked like we were in for the night from hell. I’d been mercilessly heckled. I’d finished DFL. I had the slowest lap of the day except for a kid in the 12-year old boys’ race. My new drunk hadn’t completely chased away my old hangover. My legs, neck, and shoulders hurt, along with my internal organs and most of my skin. And now we were stuck with someone who wanted us to argue about something that didn’t really matter to us. We were just guys having a beer.
And then magic happened. Someone said, “Well, we’re dudes racing in the dude division, so I guess you girls will have to work it out yourselves,” and Tammy ran off, sobbing.
After a few moments of silence, people began wandering over to our campfire, and by “people” I mean two beautiful women, and one of them sat next to me. Now, when you are an aged, wrinkly, stinky old dude who hasn’t bathed for two days after a hard race in the dirt, and you’re still wearing the same crusty underwear from Thursday, and you haven’t brushed your teeth, cleaned your ears, or combed the food out of your beard for 48 hours, the last thing in the world you expect is to have two beautiful women join your campfire. Hecklebitch, sure. These two? Nooooooo way.
So we all perked right up and thanked dog that it was too dark for them to see us properly. In addition to bringing themselves, which was gift enough, they also brought beer, good beer, which we swilled right away. As things started getting better and friendlier, the cute blonde next to me reached into her coat pocket and brought out a bottle of Fireball, a delicate mixture of cinnamon, gasoline, sulfuric acid, and whiskey. “Last time I drank this shit, someone got married,” muttered Mike as the sledgehammer started to hit.
Then a couple of guys came up to our fire. “Hey,” said the tall one, “can you give us some firewood?”
We only had a few logs left, perhaps enough to last past midnight, and we’d had to fork out good money and carefully tend our fire all night long. “Fuck no,” I said, “but pull up a chair and you can have a beer.”
“Thanks,” said Tallboy, and they sat down.
This was the mistake of the night. He took a swig of beer and began to brag, but not before telling the lovely brunette that “psychology is crap.” She was training to be one, of course.
When Blondie told him she used musical therapy to work with disturbed children and adults, he informed her that that, too was “crap.” In other words, he knew everything, which was impressive since he was only 21 and a chemical engineering student at Cal Poly there in SLO. He was camping for the weekend with some friends and they had obviously run him out of their campsite due to his incredible talents as an instant buzzkill.
The one thing he hadn’t learned much about in engineering class, though, was ‘cross racing, and in particular about aged, wrinkly ‘cross racers with crusty underwear who had just gotten through a conversation about gender equality, three cases of IPA, most of a bottle of rotgut, and were very focused on talking to pretty women. Within ten minutes he had done the unthinkable: Thanks to him, our women got up and left. Our two other guests left. Mike the cop had wandered off to retrieve his spare wheels from the pit and to keep from busting Tallboy in the face.
A brief pause ensued as Tallboy gathered his breath to tell us more about how much money he had, about how smart he was, and about all of his worldly success. “Son,” I said, “hold that next thought, would you?”
“Sure,” he said. Our voices carried over the entire campground, and people were listening.
“Because I want to tell you that you are the most obnoxious, arrogant little fuck I’ve ever met.”
“Yeah. You come to our campsite. You drink our fuggin’ beer. You insult three old dudes, one of whom’s a cop, the other works for the power company, and the other is a former middleweight boxer. You run off our fuggin’ women. So you know what happens next?”
“If you were my son, I’d hang my head in shame and ask you to change your last name. But since you aren’t, someone, probably the ex-boxer there, is probably gonna get up and knock out all your fuggin’ teeth.”
Tallboy stood up, his lower lip quivering. “I don’t like the way this conversation is going,” he said, as he strode off into the darkness.
“We didn’t like the way it started, asshole!” someone shouted after him.
The campground’s silence was broken by the sound of muffled laughter coming from various tables, benches, and tents. After five or ten minutes, people began appearing out of the darkness, laughing and pulling up a chair. Miracle of miracles, our two beauties returned as well.
As the fire died down to its embers and the Fireball whiskey burned down to our entrails, we looked up at the stars and beheld the brilliance of the Milky Way. “This ‘cross racing,” said Mike, “is pretty darned good.”
No one disagreed.
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November 17, 2014 § 7 Comments
It’s been scientifically demonstrated that when a group of strangers assembles around a blazing campfire in the wilderness surrounded by unlimited beer the evening will result in fisticuffs, fucking, a mind bending hangover, or, if you’re super lucky, all three. Mike and I only achieved the hangover part, and we staggered out of the camper the next morning wildly looking for the water bottle and, on the off chance we might find it and kill it, the cat that had spend the night crapping in our mouths.
“Dude,” I said.
“No beer for me the rest of the weekend. I feel terrible. It’s gonna take a couple of days to recover from that.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I’m done drinking, too.”
We glanced over the embankment to see what had become of our campfire teammates, and they were even worse off than we were. You know that slow staggering zombie gait, half bent-over, that people use the morning after a night that ends with no one even looking anymore at the label on the bottle? Their whole campsite looked like it had been occupied by the zombie apocalypse.
The blonde girl who had spent the night shouting at us and complaining that she “couldn’t understand it why no guy would stay with her for more than a year” was trying to get the zombie campers down to the race course because it had dawned on them that in an hour or so they would all be required to engage their hangover muscles in a vicious, relentless pain fest around the worst ‘cross course ever designed by someone who hates bicycles. Then memory fragments of the previous night came trickling back like pus from a freshly lanced infection.
“What time are you racing?” I had asked the blonde girl, who had looked like she was about thirty.
“I fucking hate bike racing,” she snarled.
“Did you notice you were at a bike race with a bunch of bike racers?”
“You don’t look like a bike racer,” she said, staring at my stomach.
“Good point,” I conceded. “So what are you doing here?”
“I’m the team heckler.”
“The team heckler. I’m the best fucking ‘cross heckler in NorCal and my team takes me everywhere to heckle.”
“You do kind of have a loud voice,” I offered, reflecting on her noisy, grating, and jarring manner of speaking.
“Shut up and keep drinking,” she said, so I did.
Thankfully my race didn’t start until noon, and Hecklebitch and the Zombies (I think they’re also a garage punk band) had gone down to do the women’s race. Mike and I ate several plates of dirt to keep the Gatorade down, cleaned our already clean bikes, and rolled down to the course.
Once there we did what everyone at every cyclocross race does; which is to say we began asking people about tire pressure. In ‘cross it’s all about tire pressure, and even though you run the same TP virtually every race, it’s terribly important to talk about it. At the sign-in table, which was a quarter-mile away from the opposite end of the course, we heard a terrible howling sound, like what you would hear if someone were trying to warn someone about a bank robbery, or if their child had been stolen, or if their balls had been sauteed and drained with a hundred safety pin punctures. It was a yammering, screaming, banshee of a yowl, and despite the distance it made our skin crawl.
“Who’s being tortured?” I asked.
The sign-in gal shook her head. “I don’t know, but it’s been going on all morning.”
“We’d better go take a look and kill it.”
“Kill what?” she asked.
“The poor animal that’s caught in the steel trap. That’s the only thing that could howl so miserably.”
Mike and I pinned on our numbers, asked a few more people about tire pressure and ignored their responses, and then did the only other mandatory thing that you have to do at a ‘cross race. It goes like this. “Hey dude,” you say to a bystander, “is the course open for a pre-ride?”
“No. There’s a race going on. The course is now closed.”
“Okay, thanks.” Then you go to a spot where no one is looking and hop onto the course. We did, and our punishment was immediate. The SLO ‘cross course had been laid out by a blind person. Not the usual blind person who does ‘cross races, but the blind person who, before beginning the all-day job of marking the course with with twelve miles of tape, begins the job with the tools of the trade (hammer, PVC pipe, steel spikes, and post-hole digger) as well as twelve cases of light beer.
This means that after about a quarter of the way through the course the blind dude with the hammer is himself hopelessly hammered, and the course becomes a mishmash of what you’d expect to see after several cases of beer in the hot sun: A fog of senselessly twisted barrier tape.
The course had a turn every twenty or thirty feet, which, of all the weaknesses in my ‘cross skill set, and there are about 3,350 of them, played to the weakest weakness of all — my inability to turn a bicycle. As we pre-rode the course, gradually approaching the backside, the banshee screaming increased and sounded more horrible, until we hit the small series of uphill turns that were pleasantly lined with massive gopher holes that ate your front wheel whole and jarred your bones so hard that it felt like your testicles would jounce out of their sack.
I checked my service revolver so that I could quickly shoot the trapped animal until we saw that it wasn’t a trapped animal at all, rather it was Hecklebitch. The noise was deafening. She had built her own heckling bell contraption, two thick pieces of metal that had giant steel cans welded to them. She would clang the cans together and it was so frightening that your first urge was to crap, your second to run away. Accompanied by a howling yell to “Pedal your ass faster!” and “Get at it, goddammit!” it was scary enough.
But what was truly beyond the pale was Hecklebitch’s incredible physical strength. Standing between the lanes on the sharp uphill section of the course, she would run parallel to her riders and scream at them while clanging the crazy cans of hell. Clanging the crazy cans took amazing Amazon strength, but doing that while repeatedly running a 4-minute uphill mile over a vale of gopher-style sinkholes and screaming like a drill sergeant easily made her the fittest person at the event.
To top it off she was dressed in black yoga pants and wearing a huge black floppy hat that obscured everything except her beady, red crazy eyes so that you actually thought hell had opened its gates and let out its worst denizen to suck your blood and eat you for lunch if you didn’t “Pedal faster, goddammit!”
And her teammates did in fact pedal faster; by the look on their faces it was evident that she was the best legal performance enhancer anyone in the race had.
“I’m not surprised she has trouble keeping a guy for more than a year,” said Mike.
“I’m surprised she’s ever kept one for more than a day,” I agreed. “If only because it probably takes her a full day to eat them.”
My race began and I attacked off the back, figuring I would catch everyone on the final lap and pass them in the beer tent. This course was so terrible that my technique of brake-hard-in-the-middle-of-the-turn-while-taking-the-widest-line put me way, way OTB. This was good because it meant I didn’t have to worry about being near any other pesky riders, but it was bad because my conspicuousness brought me to the attention of Hecklebitch.
By now she had been yelling and running and clanging nonstop for hours, and she was worked up into a frothy, sweating rage, making her earlier exhortations look like the peeping of mice. “Pedal your fucking bike you lazy, candy-assed sandbagging sonofabitch!” she cursed as I casually pedaled by combing my hair.
Unfortunately the taping meant I had to go back and forth like in a queue at Disneyland, passing her five or six times before advancing down the course. With each passing her rage mounted, and her teammates, who had finished, joined her in a knot of screaming abusers. They were so amazed at my slowness and apparent lack of effort that they reached new heights in insults and abuse, many of which were inventive and funny to everyone except me.
“Hashtag don’twannasweat!” screamed one.
“Hashtag don’tgetmyglassesdirty!” howled another.
“Hashtag allsmacknosack!” roared Hecklebitch.
As the abuse got more intense I began to fume, until on the third lap as they took their collective breath to heap additional insults on my head, I slipped in “Hashtag whycan’tIkeepaguyformorethanone year, and Hashtag becauseI’mbatshitcrazy.”
That shut up the entire heckling section for one full lap, but their lusty insults had provoked such amusement that a small clot of other hecklers had formed farther up. One guy kept yelling, “It will go faster if you pedal it!” until the final lap he offered up the worst insult ever as I rode by — because it was so sincere. “Quit sandbagging!” he said. Then he said “Hey, dude you’re just warming up, aren’t you? Sorry for all the heckling.”
By then I was moments away from being lapped and getting to beer early.
After the races were done for the day we regrouped at the campsite with T-Dub and Rob only to realize that we’d forgotten about our morning hangover, we’d forgotten our promise to stay sober, and most importantly we’d forgotten to re-provision the beer and wood for the campfire.
We jumped into T-Dub’s minivan. “This is a great bike race car,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said, “but it’s not so hot when you’re meeting a chick for the first time who you met on Match.com.”
In SLO we drove around looking for cold beer and toured the city’s main attraction, a couple of walls down a narrow alley that were covered in chewing gum. Apparently people chew their gum and stick it to the wall so in addition to being nasty it is really, really nasty. “Do they have a booger wall here, too?” I asked.
No one answered because we had found the liquor store.
Back at the campsite we ate dinner, stoked the fire, settled into our chairs, and expressed our gratitude that Hecklebitch and the Zombies had gotten butthurt by my hashtag comment. As night closed in, a different group of crazy people began to trickle in, lured by the warmth of the flames and the enticement of free beer.
And shortly thereafter shit got, as they say, real. Very, very real.
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November 15, 2014 § 6 Comments
I knew it was going to be a great weekend of ‘cross racing when we saw the straw drummer. Mike and I were standing in line at the Starbucks and an older dude was sitting at his table holding big green straws in each hand and a straw in the crook of each elbow.
With his earphones in, grooving to the beat, he drummed the air with his drinking straws, flipping them like drumsticks and catching them again in his elbow and mouth. He was skilled but clearly insane, just like a ‘cross racer. Unlike a ‘cross racer, however, it was before noon and he wasn’t obviously drunk.
As Mike pointed the RV north to San Luis Obispo, we took inventory. “Beer?” I asked.
“Six cases. So we’re covered for tonight.”
“They’ll have that at the race.”
Knowing that we were fully provisioned I relaxed as we powered up the 101. Three hours later we got to El Chorro Regional Park where they were setting up the course.
After being cooped up in the RV we were champing at the bit to ride. I kitted up and raced over the dirt wall behind our campsite. On the other side a nice fellow had just finished setting up his tent, which he had inconveniently placed immediately in front of my bike. Due to his poor placement, I was forced to ride over his tent.
He was kind of upset as we untangled his sleeping bag and camp stove from my derailleur, but I explained to him that if he had not put his tent in the way of my bike it wouldn’t have happened and plus now he had a new rear entrance to his tent which would improve airflow.
Mike and I rode for twenty minutes around the course then returned to camp, exhausted by the hard workout and ready for a big meal. Mike threw together an awesome mountain of pasta and meat sauce, sourdough slathered in butter, potato chips, Oreos, and beer.
As our campfire blazed and the temperature dropped, all the neighboring ‘crossers, thirsty and cold, gathered to the flames like moths. After nine hours all the beer was gone and the ‘crossers from Oakland were getting restless. I know this because the tall blonde was picking up the empties and draining the last drops of beer and Ebola spit from them.
When she finally reached for my beer I was afraid things would get ugly and then magically the SPY crew of Jim, Aden, and Vic showed up with six fresh cases. The natives all relaxed and the tall blonde took her hands off of my throat and we were all friends again.
Sometime much later the fire had died, the bottles were empty, and Mike was starting to look pretty cute. We climbed into the RV and were soon snoring the sleep of the dead.
There might be a better way to prep for a ‘cross race, but I don’t want to know what it is.
October 13, 2014 § 19 Comments
Starting in September, people begin riding up to me and asking, “Are you doing ‘cross this year?”
“Yes,” I say. Then they kind of snicker and pedal off.
This year I delayed entering my first race until yesterday, reasoning that it would give me a bit of a breather and a chance to rest my legs and stomach after a road season in which I raced twice and drank hundreds of gallons of fermented electrolyte recovery drink. Also, prior to my season opener at the SPYclocross Series, I had hired a couple of coaches so that I could improve on my string of last place finishes from 2013.
My first coach, Rahsaan Bahati, gave me some excellent tactical advice: “Don’t be last.”
My second coach, Dan Cobley, gave me winning advice about the course: “Be sure to ride a race in between the beers.”
But the best advice came from my performance coach, Daniel Holloway. “Dude,” he said, “day before the race be sure to open up your legs.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Do enough brief intensity to stress the muscles, but don’t kill yourself.”
“I was thinking about pedaling down the bike path with Boozy on Saturday to stay fresh.”
“Bad idea,” said coach. “Rides with Boozy always end at the bottom of a ravine or on a bar stool, often both. Do the Donut instead.”
“The Donut? I always wreck myself on that stupid ride.”
“Exactly. This time, for the first time ever, sit in the pack and chill.”
“What if there’s a break?”
“Who cares? Let it roll up the road. Give it one hard effort, maybe two, on the Switchbacks then call it a day. You’re just trying to open up your legs so that they’re primed for Sunday.”
“What if Brad House is ahead of me?”
“He’s the bulbous guy with flappy elbows and orange cat-fur earmuffs.”
“Okay. You can pass him. But that shouldn’t take much effort, right?
“Got it. Then what?”
“Then make sure that you get in a one-hour warm-up before your race starts. You’ll fly.”
The following day the race started as all 45+ ‘cross races do. It was a mad gallop of insane old people trying to kill themselves and each other in a cloud of dust, dirt, gravel, and grass clippings. The course had been laid out to take maximum advantage of the giant gopher holes, tree roots, and other obstacles.
Incredibly, I did not get dropped by the main field until the first five hundred yards, proving that Coach Holloway’s leg-opening exercise really did work. More incredibly, there were at least three riders behind me, something that has never happened in any race before; two of them were on bicycles.
The course included a couple of baseball diamonds, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to try and pick up a couple of points with my baseball bike as I rounded third and slid into home plate ahead of the tag, a chubby fellow covered with hair who was falling off his bicycle onto mine. Somehow I beat the tag, jumped up, and continued on.
When people ask me “What’s ‘cross like?” I ask them “Have you ever been in a car accident where the next day every joint and muscle and bone aches and your back is bent double and you can’t get out of bed? That’s how ‘cross feels after the first five minutes, only it gets lots worse.”
Soon I had fallen into a rhythm, as my leg muscles had opened up from the day before and my leg skin had opened up by the slide into home plate. As blood fell out of the wound I came to the first set of barricades just in time for my teammates, who were manning the SPY Optic booth, to provide me with copious quantities of fermented electrolyte replacement drink, without which I would certainly have come to my senses and quit.
Of course the key to riding well in cyclocross is to “not use your brakes.” This is one of those insane pieces of advice that only a fool would follow, akin to the MTB mantra of “speed is your friend.” No matter how hard I tried to not use my brakes, they were often the only thing standing between my face and various tree trunks, or my abdomen and the sharp steel poles on which the course markings were taped. And speed might have been my friend had I had any.
This race followed the typical ‘cross life cycle: Huge rush of adrenaline followed by massive effort followed by incredulity at not getting immediately dropped followed by getting dropped followed by falling off my bike followed by narrowly missing several trees followed by getting passed by Mr. Chubs followed by hearing the depressing sound of “four laps to go” when one lap hurts more than having a wooden stick bored into your ear followed by hopelessness followed by anger followed by despair followed by a small prayer that the previous race will lap you and terminate the race early.
However, just as things were looking pretty bleak and it seemed like all but three riders were going to finish ahead of me, I blazed across the finish line and dove straight under the team tent. As the other “finishers” chatted about the race I sprinted ahead of them in the second, most technical and challenging part of the race: The beer competition. One by one they dropped to the side, with various Bakersfield pretenders falling out of their beanbag chairs and others wandering off onto a horse path to get trampled.
I poured it on into the beer turns, sprinting up the short and dusty beer climbs, dismounting and leaping over the beer barricades, and finally lapping the beer field. Thank goodness I’d taken Coach Holloway’s advice and in addition to opening up my legs, had opened up my gut as well.
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August 20, 2014 § 4 Comments
For a long time I have been telling LA and Orange County wankers to get off their asses and go do the Swami’s Ride, which leaves every Saturday from RIDE Cyclery in Encinitas at 8:05 AM. Finally, a whole bunch of them listened, and last Saturday night as I watched one of the fastest masters racers in America do backflips off a cliff into a swimming pool wearing a thong while a 200-lb. long-haired pig rooted around the pool area and people started taking off most of their clothes and jumping into the pool after drinking a keg of Lost Abbey BWR Ale … what was I saying?
Oh, yeah. So, there I was at Phil’s 40th birthday bash and it turned out that many of the attendees had also taken the Swami’s Challenge and done the ride. Here’s what they had to say:
“Very hard ride.”
“Hardest group ride ever.”
“Hard. That was a hard ride.”
“Man, that was hard.”
And of course, my favorite comment, “Hard.”
So now that everyone from outside North County San Diego agrees with me that yes, the Swami’s Ride is hard, it’s time for me to introduce two painful punches, an old friend and a new one.
The old friend is the SPY Holiday Ride. I blather about it all the time because it, too, is a very hard ride. That’s “hard” as in “very painful and difficult.” As in “You will get shelled.” As in “Not easy.” The next SPY Holiday Ride is on Labor Day. It leaves at 8:00 AM from RIDE Cyclery. There are lots of good reasons to do this ride, but the best one is that most of the fastest riders will be at masters nationals, which means you might not get dropped immediately.
The next-to-best reason is that this ride symbolizes grass roots riding at its best. Beer primes are given away (a case per prime), and it’s the result of a company — SPY Optic — supporting bicycle riding on a community level. You don’t have to race or have a license, just a bike, a pair of legs, and the desire to shrink your ego down a few dozen sizes.
The second punch, and by far the more painful one, is the SPYclocross Series. The series starts on September 20 and has six races. In past years, SoCal cross series races have not qualified for USA Cycling upgrade points, starting positions at nationals, or juice boxes because, money. SPY has stepped up (*note to self: let’s find a better verb. “Jumped up.” “Drunkenly staggered up.” “Raged to the fore like a crazy man with aliens in his undergarments.”) and donated the extortionate, ridiculous, bullshit fees that USAC demands in order to ensure that the grass roots are not only mown as short as possible, but dug up as well.
Whatever. Thanks to SPY the series now “counts,” which is kind of a bummer because I always used the “no staging points for nationals” as my excuse for not going.
The series has everything that the road season doesn’t. Great and exciting venues. Spectators. A minimum of shattered braincases or the likelihood thereof. And although it is not allowed and I will personally report anyone caught drinking it, beer. Fortunately, since there are no craft breweries in San Diego (the site of the first race), sobriety should not be a problem.
Cyclocross is a growing sport, in part because studies show that if you are crappy as a road racer, you will redefine suckery in ‘cross. However, it allows the purchase of new equipment, you never get pulled, it sounds vaguely hipster, and if you take it seriously and train for it you will get to say things like “Ryan Dahl only lapped me twice.”
Swami’s Ride? Holiday Ride? SPYclocross Series? Pick yer poison.