February 6, 2018 § 1 Comment
This year for the FTR I got to experience what it was like to be a journalist: Write about something I hadn’t actually done myself.
And I will tell you, it was no fun. No fun because two full days before the onset of Dave Jaeger’s world-famous French Toast Ride I was flat on my back with the flu, where I mostly remained until a few hours ago. No fun because everyone who showed up for the ride apparently had huge amounts of fun (except for those whose fun ration was somewhat minimal). And mostly no fun because I didn’t get to enjoy the hospitality of the Jaeger clan.
Some people wonder why you would wander across Ventura County for 118 miles, climbing Balcom Canyon at Mile 100, with people who mostly just want to drop you, but Dave has an explanation for it: “The ride is just the stupid excuse for a bunch of friends to sit around, have french toast for breakfast, and celebrate afterwards with some sandwiches and a couple of beers.”
Where else do you get to show up at someone’s private home at 7:00 AM, wreck their bathroom, be treated to homemade delicious french toast, eggs, bacon, and hot coffee, go out for an all-day bike ride, stop at another relative’s house en route to refuel and get rid of toxic wastes, and at the end shower up in those same folks’ home while eating a delicious lunch they’ve prepared for you?
Whatever else was clear after this edition of the FTR, none could doubt that age and the ravages of droopy prostates had laid low what was once if not the cream of Southern Californian manhood, at least some of its mostly unspoiled skim milk. In fact, the biggest showdown of FTR 2018 was simply being able to stagger to the starting line.
Three riders including me were stricken by plague and couldn’t start, one had heart problems and was put on the disabled list, one realized he’d rather do grandpa duties and telegraphed in his regrets, and two others simply rolled over in bed a few weeks ago and passed their coveted spot onto someone else. When the ride itself started there were immediate indications that this and all future FTR’s would need to have a geriatric route option for those whose creaky bones and flapping heart valves weren’t up to the task of Balcom, and by the time Balcom Canyon rolled around Stern-O and Tumbleweed showed their platinum AARP cards and were allowed to take shortcuts back to the ranch.
Age and infirmity reared their ugly heads on the steeps of Balcom, as is always the case, but unlike years past when exhausted desperadoes have hung onto slow-moving vehicles, this year’s Brokeback Balcom Award went to Randy T., who simply got off and walked. At the award ceremony when he was presented with the DFL trophy, Michael remarked to general hilarity that Randy “didn’t deserve the trophy because the figure on it was actually riding the bike.”
Bull suffered mightily over the course of the day, which was easy to understand given his twelve miles of prep since last October, but it wasn’t until his bike un-maintenance prowess came to the fore in the form of two dead e-Tap batteries that things looked grave. WHO KNEW YOU HAD TO CHARGE THEM? As Bull’s face fell, contemplating another twenty miles including the Golf Course Climb, all done in his 52 x 13, he plaintively asked whether “anyone happened to have a spare battery”?
Randy T. did, saving the crew from having to take turns carrying Bull up and over what, at ride’s end, would have been every bit as brutal as the Matterhorn.
The two Illinois first timers acquitted themselves with incredible distinction. Old Plodder felt strong gravitational effects on every climb but never came close to quitting. Young Plodder rode strong as befit his youth but distinguished himself with the most egregious lie of FTR 2018 when he reported to me over the phone that “After we finished I kind of wanted to go out and ride some more.” Check that quote with the photo of the guy in the red and white jersey with his head in his hands and the 1,000-yard stare and tell me how much more he “wants to go out and ride.”
Sadly, there wasn’t much more to report. People were too old to rock and roll but definitely not too young to die.
As far as the roll call went, it looked like this:
- David Jaeger
- Major Bob
- Stern-O* (Geriatric Route)
- Randy T.
- Jeff K.
- Tumbleweed* (Geriatric Route)
- Andy S.
- Craig L.
- Surfer Dan
- Scott B.
- Mark P.
- Baby Seal
When the dust had settled and the bottles had been drained, and the exhausted riders were happily settled into the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 101 back to points south, one rider took a minute to gather his thoughts and sum up the ride better than anyone ever has, or will:
We were just discussing how great the ride was today! Baby Seal just told me that his favorite part of the day was the awards ceremony. The intimacy and love between that group and your family is heartwarming. You truly put on an event that is one of a kind!
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January 19, 2018 Comments Off on French Toast Ride prep
Here we are, a couple of weeks out from Dave Jaeger’s infamous French Toast Ride, and that means it’s time to do some preparation. How do you prepare for a 117-mile, 7,500-foot smashfest populated by fanged assassins? Answer: Go ride your bike. A bunch.
However, I am very far past that point in life where I am going to ride my bike a bunch for anything, so instead I did a blog search and pulled up all the ride reports I had done since I began chronicling the FTR in 2011. Let me tell you something, reading those posts was almost as miserable as doing the ride. Long. Meandering. Pointless. Endless …
As I stumbled through them, I realized how many riders have come and gone over the years. And the French Toast Ride has been going on a whole lot of years. Twenty, maybe a hundred, longer even than Dave’s ongoing prostate leak.
Old cyclists never die, unfortunately
Many of the French Toasters (toasties?) have fallen by the wayside due to breaches of etiquette, as there are only two FTR rules. 1) Show up. 2) Be nice to Jim and Nancy Jaeger. No one has ever violated 2, of course.
But it’s amazing how many people, after swearing on a stack of Hustlers that they will be there for the ride, manage to not show up. Over the years they have culled themselves from the herd, with the most unforgettable breach ever occurring the year that Neumann not only failed to show (lame) but didn’t even bother to let anyone know (excommunication).
Other Toasters have fallen by the wayside due to silly things like marriage, kids, job, and quietly swelling guts that eventually begin to whisper “You cannot do that ride any more.” Some keep ignoring the whisper, or perhaps they’re simply hard of hearing, or (most likely) it will take more than a whisper to rope ’em away from Pancho’s All-You-Can-Eat $5.95 Buffet. And of course there are French Toast Ride icons who have given up the ghost due to unforeseen life catastrophes, such as yoga.
Nonetheless, every year a handful of 20 or 21 or 22 ravenously hungry old people show up, lay waste to Jim and Nancy’s bathroom, eat piles of tasty breakfast, smash themselves for seven hours, eat a bunch more food, and then quit riding for another eleven months or so. But knowing what lay in store, I decided to prepare this time. Really prepare.
Hell is other people’s French Toast Ride training plan
Rather than go out and do a series of well thought out, carefully executed rides, or, better yet, join up with Jaeger & Co. for their Saturday AM climb-fests in the Santa Monica Mountains, Kristie and I met up at Via Valmonte and PV Drive North on Tuesday, 5:32 AM pointy-sharp, and did four laps around the Peninsula. Each lap included the Cove climb, the Alley, and Millionaires. Total mileage was 104-ish, with a cherry on top by throwing in Basswood and Shorewood, and total elevation was, well, elevated.
I realized when I finished that the whole thing had been a horrible idea. The French Toast Ride is more like a race where everyone pretends not to race while stopping and cheating and quitting, whereas four laps around the Peninsula is more akin to dousing yourself in gasoline and lighting up a cigarette, putting out the fire after a couple of minutes, then doing it all over again.
In other words, I’m now so tired and broken that I won’t be riding again for a couple of weeks. Just in time for some stupid ride named after a piece of bread sopped in raw eggs and fried in a pan.
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January 22, 2017 § 29 Comments
I learned a great phrase in Book IV of my textbook, “Practical Chinese Reader,” which so far hasn’t been practical or even much of a reader. In addition to chapters called “I Want to Open a Law Office” and “The Foreign Son-in-law Spends the Spring Festival in the Countryside,” this series hasn’t been in touch with my daily experiences.
Until yesterday, when something happened in my life that finally fit with a new Chinese vocabulary phrase, 宁静致远, which means “Quietly achieving over a long time.”
Because that’s exactly what Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride is. It’s been going on so long that no one even remembers when it started. The earliest photos are from 2003, and it predates that by years. Of course Dave often can’t remember what he had for breakfast, so it’s no surprise that he can’t remember into the dim past of the late 1900’s.
However long it’s been going on, it shows no sign of letting up, as each year a new crew of idiots combines with an old crew of sadists to set forth on a death march through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. What’s most meaningful, though, is that each year Jim and Nancy Jaeger open their home to a random assortment of strangers, and then the combined forces of Steve and Gina Jaeger, Cindi and Heather Rogers, Lynn and Carly and Macy Jaeger arise long before dawn to make mountains of French toast, bacon, and scalding hot coffee. The love and effort and work that they put in to create the best day on a bike every single year is amazing, and their compassion at that time Stern-O clogged the toilet with four pounds of toilet paper so that he’d have a rear end clean enough to eat off of qualifies them for sainthood.
Of course DJ’s idea isn’t to provide you with a hearty meal that will get you through the upcoming 117-mile beatdown, it’s to stuff you with bread, sugar, and plenty of grease so that when the sugar crash hits at Mile 20 you will climb into a tiny little hurt locker that gets put into a trash compactor and squeezed, harder and harder, for another five hours until you cry, quit, or take a break with Bull at the Santa Paula all-you-can-eat Mexican-and-Chinese buffet. Or you take Uber.
The key to a successful FTR is having enough new
suckers riders, and this year we had a bumper crop. Of course there was the usual assortment of wankers who canceled the night before due to a sniffle or a diaper rash and the grim realization that all their bold talk was going to be tossed into the incinerator at Mile 100 a/k/a Balcom Canyon (Fireman, Johnny Boy, Dogg, Big Tex), and there were the stalwarts who couldn’t toe the line because they had broken legs (G3), infirm bladders, gout (Gussy), consumption (Iron Mike), extreme old age and vast wealth (Stern-O), congenital lethargy (Elron), degenerative tenacititis, a terrible illness that gradually reduces once-tenacious bike racers into soft and easily crushed buttercups, unable to withstand the slightest hint of adversity (Martin, Turtle, Hair, Manslaughter, too many to name), those who would absolutely love to have made it gosh they were so looking forward to it but kiddie soccer (MMX, G$), and those who did it once out of grim obligation and take me off the list now please (Phil, Randall).
FTR was the cornerstone of my 2017 race season, a building block upon which all others would rest. As my coach told me back in 1984, “You suck and you’ll never improve,” and I’ve been building on that for years.
After having tried to get beyond the “you suck level” of competition via the kimchi diet, the coffee diet, the beer diet, unemployment, 100% carbon made of full carbon that is pure carbon, Rugged MAXX II virility supplements, huge intensity + huge volume training, power meters, Garmins, training by sensation, nose breathing, and finally super low volume of everything except sleep, I decided to try the “leg opening” method of race prep.
Leg opening requires you to do one brief, 15-20 minute semi-hard effort the day before the race, and then spinning for an hour two, max. The idea is that with some moderate intensity and loosening of the spiracles, your pump will be primed for excellent performance on race day.
So naturally a 117-mile smashfest finishing up Balcom Canyon would be perfect. What could go wrong?
What went wrong
The first thing that went wrong was Skippy’s bike. By the second stop light out of town his chain refused to stay on the cogs, throwing the chain every time he put any torque on the pedals. By the time we had ascended the first obstacle, a tiny bump on Stockton Rd. that was won for the first time in decades by someone other than Roadchamp, Skippy was in tears.
I, on the other hand, was behind him and watched him dismount and howl in frustration. “That’s it!” he yelled. “I’m calling Uber!”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“My chain! It won’t stay on!”
“Is it new?”
“Brand new! I put it on last night!”
“And the cassette?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is it new, too?”
“Oh, no reason,” I said, as I sprinted away to catch the group.
Fortunately, Skippy was able to put it in his 34 x 32, the only combo that kept the chain on the chain ring. I say “fortunately” because nothing makes for a better FTR than watching a hapless newbie about to ride the rest of the day in mini-gears, with a high likelihood that even if he made it most of the ride, he’d have to dismount on Balcom Canyon and walk the half-mile, 18% grade in his cleats.
In addition to Skippy, the old boys’ network, which was now a droopy old men’s network, had invited a woman rider after the only other female participant in 2003 promptly gave up cycling forever. I had suggested Iron Maiden as a newbie invitee because it seemed like having a ride where the only people who got ridden to pieces and kicked to the curb were men wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t we also get a woman out there who would implode, beg for a sip from our water bottle at Mile 110 while both legs cramped, and then get left for lost in Camarillo at ride’s end because she didn’t know the Jaegers’ address? I’m all for equality, yo.
However, Iron Maiden, who’d only been biking for a year, was suspicious. This is because to date everything I’d told her had either been completely wrong or an outrageous lie, frequently both. “Is this something I can do? The farthest I’ve ever ridden is 50 miles.”
“No problem. You can race twice the distance you train.”
“But I only train 25 miles a couple of times a week.”
“It’s not a race. It’s a fun ride.”
“Sure. Just friends going out for a pedal. Plus it’s a no-drop ride.”
Her antenna went up, because in her short tenure she had learned that “no-drop” was bikerspeak for “kill the weak.”
“No, thanks. It sounds too hard. Maybe next year.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I didn’t figure you’d do it, being a woman and everything.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, nothing. It’s too hard for a woman now that I think about it. Only one woman has ever done it.”
“Fuck you,” she said. “I’m doing it.”
“Good call. Plus there’s no way you’ll be last. Junkyard is going to be there.”
She brightened. Having Junkyard on the ride was the ultimate form of pace protection. “I’ll just stay close to him,” she said. I forgot to mention that Junkyard had been doing 500-mile weeks preparing for FTR and was in top form.
Giants of the road
Perhaps the next worst decision of the ride was when DJ asked me who else to invite. “Someone who can do it, but who will fit in. A good dude.”
“Oh, that’s easy. Garrot. He’s great.”
“Garrot? WTF kind of name is that?”
“He was a Marine in the Special Forces. Or maybe it was the Ordinary Forces. Or maybe the Special Ed Forces. I’m not sure. Anyway, he’s totally mellow and chill. Good dude.”
“I’m trusting you here, Wanky,” said DJ, which isn’t the first time that people have been led astray by climbing that particular decision tree.
I had forgotten to mention that Garrot only had two speeds, “on” and “off,” and I’d never seen the “off.” A short ride for Garrot was 150 miles. Plus, he was a monster climber. Plus, he had a fierce sprunt. Plus, he was always pleasant and kind, especially when slitting your throat.
And then there was the revelation of the Tour, a/k/a Taco Wagon. Taco Wagon had impressed all in 2015 when, in a driving hailstorm, he had spied a taco wagon and took down half the peloton as he skidded out in his haste to get a burrito, or to shelter himself under the taco wagon’s awning, or both.
This year he had come with a mission, and it was a mission that would clash with Garrot’s and eventually become a battle of the titans. After taking the Stockton KOM, Garrot fell victim to superior road knowledge, and Taco Wagon took the Fillmore sprunt. We had an interlude where Bull took fifteen minutes to change a tire and spiced it up by also yanking out a rear brake pad. In exasperation, DJ flatted too in order to show Bull how to properly change a flat. But no one, including Junkyard, knew how to use Junkyard’s new CO2 inflator, and twelve cartridges later we’d used up all of our air and DJ had used up every epithet he knew and had to start back over with the various combinations beginning with “f.”
The race to Ojai
Bull, Iron Maiden, King Harold, Junkyard, Pilot (who had already lost an engine and was scanning for the Hudson), and I were all immediately dropped on the climb heading towards Ojai. Radio reports confirmed that Taco Wagon took the Ojai sprunt, as Garrot didn’t know that the key to Ojai wasn’t a city limit sign but simply raising your hands when you got in front of everyone else. Now it was a blood feud.
As we droppees pedaled into Ojai, cold, tired, thirsty, hungry, and already beat to snot a mere forty-seven miles in, we were incredibly excited at the prospect of some more Barbie food, a toilet, and ten minutes of rest. Unfortunately DJ was on a schedule that had been delayed by his and Bull’s tire changing lessons, and we got zero rest and only seven or eight thousand calories of Hostess donuts to get us into Ventura, which was a billion miles away.
Although I had been
sandbagging like crazy helping the slower riders all the way to Ojai, my true goal for the day was to have a convincing climb over Casitas Pass. The problem with my goal was that in order to achieve it, I’d have to drop DJ, who I’d never dropped before, Garrot, who I’d never dropped before, and Young David, a 22-year-old who I’d suckered into coming but who was mostly flaying everyone alive. Plus, I’d have to keep Roadchamp in view, a virtual impossibility on the uphill but not out of the question on the descent, as he was famed for the descending skills of a one-legged turtle.
Garrot attacked early and dropped everyone, but had to contend with a bitter headwind, and more importantly with Aston-Martin, a quiet and friendly hairy-legged freddie whose palmares included several national titles as a collegiate rower. Roadchamp jumped and dropped everyone but me, as I had cagily held onto his jersey. Reaching Garrot, Roadchamp kicked again and I wished that I too had put on a brand new chain the night before.
Garrot saw me struggling and attacked, leaving me for dead. I paused and soon enough up came Taco Wagon, pounding like a madman with Aston-Martin in tow. We sat on his wheel, used him up like an old snotrag, and then Aston-Martin jumped. I easily went with Aston-Martin for three or two whole seconds before blowing disastrously. Taco Wagon scooped me up with Garrot in tow, Aston-Martin up the road, and Roadchamp a glimmering dot up in the Crab Nebulae.
Taco Wagon faltered and I engaged my bottom bracket motor, chasing up to Aston-Martin and, incredibly, dispensing with Garrot. A bunch of lies and extravagantly false memories ensued, and we comprised the final threesome over the last part of the climb.
However, we were soon overhauled on the descent, spanked for our temerity, and crushed in the sprunt for the Santa Barbara County Line.
Junkyard runs out of spare parts
After that, a bunch of stuff happened, most of it fast, or probably really slow, but we’d passed the halfway mark and I was done. Iron Maiden looked like Tin Maiden, or maybe Aluminum Foil Maiden. “How are you doing?” I asked, solicitously.
“Screw you,” she said.
Aston-Martin, DJ, and Garrot found the front all the way into Ventura and pounded our entrails, where we stopped at the Circle K, America’s nastiest convenience store. Fortunately, it had none of the things we wanted, like a toilet, but one of the things you learn quickly on FTR is that tradition reigns, and just because something is a terrible idea means nothing. Surfer Dan sidled up to me. “Dude,” he said. “We’ve passed a hundred cool coffee shops with real food in Ventura. Why are we stopping at this dumpster?”
“Urgle,” I said. “I mean, tradition.”
“Tradition? What’s tradition about NO PUBLIC BATHROOMS?”
“Tradition is forgetting the reason for something you’re afraid to change.”
Surfer rolled his eyes, swung off at the Sckubrats, had the only square meal of the day, and continued the ride without ever having broken a sweat.
The climb out of Ventura is gradual but murderous, like eating opened safety pins. Somewhere along the way Junkyard began running out of spare parts. First it was a lung, then a ventricle, then a kidney, then a right leg, but it wasn’t until a big puff of smoke came out of his butt that I realized things were serious. With a couple of perfectly timed pushes from friends he dug all the way to China, hung on, and made it through to Santa Paula, setting us all up perfectly for Balcom Canyon.
There’s not much to say about Balcom Canyon except this:
- Roadchamp annihilated it.
- Taco Wagon fell over and into a barbed wire fence.
- Skippy walked it.
- Junkyard, defending his hard-won last place, hitched a ride in a passing car and arrived without mussing a hair.
- Everyone else
wanted to puke and dierode gallantly, and put in a patheticmasterful performance.
With only fourteen miles to go to the barn, I turned to Iron Maiden. “How are your legs?”
“Tired but I’m okay. You?”
“Both legs. Same time. Oh, shit.” I did the little wheezy-sheezy crampy moan.
“Where’s your water bottle?” she asked.
“I forgot it back atop Balcom.”
“I’ve still got some energy drink left. Will that help?”
“Yes.” I looked at her with pleading, big-doe eyes. “Can I have a sip?”
“No,” she said, and pedaled away. Then at the very end everyone dropped me on the golf course climb.
Back at the Jaegers’ home we ate, but not before Skippy complained about his chain some more. “Dude,” I said. “You killed it.”
“What do you mean?”
“You did the whole fucking FTR with a broken chain.”
“Yeah, but I wanted to …”
“Beat Roadchamp? Take a fucking number, buddy. You just did the most epic thing ever.”
“Yeah, but I …”
“Think about it. If you hadn’t had the wrong chain you would have just been another knucklehead out getting his dick stomped on a long bike ride. Instead you created an entire legend for an entire chapter of the FTR.”
“Really. Chapeau.” And for the first time all day I said something I actually meant.
A proper leg-opener
The next morning I awoke at 5:00 AM wondering who turned on the fire hydrant and who had beaten my thighs with a meat tenderizer while I slept. The hydrant, it turned out, was the deluge hitting SoCal, continuing the heaviest rainfall here in decades.
The stabbing thigh pains were apparently from my FTR leg-opener.
I put my bike in the car to go race. The closer to the race I got, the more my phone started to smoke with “I ain’t racing today, bro” messages. Our leaky prostate race captain, who had spent the last two weeks urging everyone to sign up and go race, rain or shine, had cleverly bailed at the last minute, leaving only the truly stupid to stand around beneath a freezing downpour in their underwear.
I could see why he abandoned us in our hour of need. There was zero feet visibility. The road was a river. It was raining meatballs. The risk of death and carbon destruction was high. The rewards were nil.
And of course, Mrs. WM had said as I left, “It’s onna crazy rainin’ so you the only dummy and maybe win because other dummy all in bed.” Mrs. WM knew a thing or two about bike racing.
At the line there were only five other dummies, each clearly foiled in his race plan of “I’m doing this race because there can’t possibly be anyone stupid enough to do this besides me so I’ll automatically win and get $20.”
The race started and was miserable in a very fun kind of way and we went round and round until all the fun got washed off and we were left coated in hell and drinking each others’ rear-wheel spew and then we were numb and then with eighteen minutes to go I hit it and felt very tired and wheezy and suddenly it was sprunt time and everyone knows Wanky don’t sprunt and I didn’t today either, just pedaled a little harder and the other handful of numbskulls either gave up (unlikely) or weren’t strong enough (highly doubtful) or were unable to see the finish line due to the pounding sideways sheet rain (certainty) and somehow I notched a win and got a check for $50 which almost offset my $3,000 sponsorship of the race, and a sippy cup that says “Race Winner” and you know what?
I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. But I might shave a mile or two off the leg-opener.
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January 20, 2017 § 4 Comments
Tomorrow is the big day. The big ride. The one you’ve been training for. Planning for. Buying lots of new everything for, especially carbon that is always pure carbon, made with 100% all-carbon fiber fibre.
“The hay is in the barn,” as G$ likes to say, “so relax.”
BUT YOU’RE NOT G$.
So you lay out your clothes and man are you selective. Those shorts with the white rear panels that give everyone a view of the gate when the sun hits them right? Out.
That beloved-but-stained heroine’s jersey from your KOM up Kidneystone Pass? Not tomorrow. Tomorrow you have to look fresh. New. Perfect.
And you’re not ashamed to sock measure, either, laying out your six pairs of identical socks and making sure that the right and left are exactly the same height.
Bike? Buffed and spiffed, chain redolent with the smell of fresh Wend chain wax.
Tars? New front, new back, filled up with brand new air, two spares and two cartridges in case Ms. Very Bad Luck strikes not once but twice.
Glasses washed, helmet wiped, phone charged, wallet crammed with money and credit card, Barbie food laid out, bottles topped off with super power drinky stuff, Garmin charged, alarm set, you climb into bed and lie there, eyes wide open, heart pounding, butterflies fluttering without rest.
Yep, it’s those darned butterflies, and the more you skip and hop around with that big floppy net the less you catch ’em. What color are yours?
Are they gray butterflies of dread, certain that the whole thing is going to be a massive catastrophe?
Are they little pink butterflies that anxiously flap up to the door of the blast furnace and then skip back with their butts singed?
Are they terrified yellow butterflies, deeply concerned about falling, flatting, getting dropped, knocking someone down, getting lost, bonking, and pretty sure that it will be all of the above?
Are they blue butterflies of unavoidable fate, destiny locked in, the exact result unknown but who cares because it’s going to be bad?
Are they bloodshot butterflies of exhaustion, wondering how you’ll complete a 118-mile beatdown that finishes up Balcom Canyon on two hours of sleep?
Well, here’s a little secret.
It doesn’t matter what color your butterflies are.
Because everybody has ’em.
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January 11, 2015 § 37 Comments
It began like any other Saturday morning. There we were, twenty-five old fellows, buck naked in the bedroom of a someone’s parents, discreetly eyeing each others’ wrinkled junk as we slathered goop on our legs and put on stretch underwear. Was it a bad home video with distasteful subject matter? No. It was the 17th Annual French Toast Ride, and we were kitting up for the big showdown.
We had already scarfed down the finest breakfast in America: French toast, hot coffee, muffins, fresh fruit, and two delicious kinds of pork — sausage and bacon. As we gratefully devoured the incomparable meal prepared by Cindi, Gina, Lynn, Nancy, Jim, and Steve Jaeger, little did we know that the porcine gods were frowning on our consumption of their brethren.
Instead, we gaily prepped for what promised to be another edition of the most amazing bike ride in America: 117 lethal miles of Ventura County torture, capped by the steeps of Balcom Canyon and terminated at Mile 115 by the stabbing, punch-em-up Golf Course Climb. As King Harold put on his leg warmers, his arm warmers, his two undershirts, his long-sleeve jersey, his shoe covers, his long-fingered gloves, and his headwrap, the other riders chortled.
“Planning for a snowstorm, Harry?”
“Gearing up for the Iditarod?”
King Harold merely smiled as he glanced out the window. “Maybe you wankers didn’t notice that it’s raining.”
“Rain, schmain!” the chorus shouted back. “The forecast says 5% chance of rain and overcast skies.”
“Well, it’s half right,” he said.
“Anyway,” said Bull, “this is SoCal, and it’s always perfect weather for the FTR, and we’re in the middle of the worst drought in recorded history. This sprinkle will be gone before we get to Fillmore.”
On cue a bolt of lightning hit the house across the street, a peal of thunder ripped across the sky, and the light drizzle picked up ever so slightly.
I thought back to 5:30 that morning, when Mrs. Wankmeister had driven me over to Clodhopper’s. He had generously offered to drive me, Surfer Dan, and Toronto up to Camarillo, and we had accepted because Clodhopper, in addition to being the world’s most prepared man, always travels in style.
“Honey, let’s go,” I said as I roused her out of bed.
“You goin’ onna French cupcake ride? It’s gonna rain onna dogs.”
“Toast, not cupcake. And we aren’t cupcakes, honey, we’re hard men. And there’s only a 5% chance of rain.”
“It’s gonna rain onna cats so don’t call me up because you’re crashing onna slickery street.” She didn’t seem too happy about the early departure, but she drove me down to Clodhopper’s anyway.
As I arrived Clodhopper was putting the finishing touches on his brand new Xyplonk bike rack.
“Like it?” he asked.
It was the most amazing bike rack I’d ever seen, and obviously cost more than my Prius. “That’s incredible,” I said.
“Yep. Xyplonk is handmade in Finnland by artisan bike rack makers. Each one is made from hand-mined bauxite and assembled by 9th generation bike rack makers.”
“Wow,” I said.
“Yep. They’re a bit pricey; this one set me back six grand. But that’s less than the cost of the bike, right?”
He wasn’t kidding. Clodhopper’s bike cost $15k, plus $9k for the handmade wheels, which are made from virtually unobtainable profamatanium. I put my bike on the rack and we got ready to go. “Where’s your bike?” I asked.
“In the back of the Avalanche. I’d never put my bike on a rack. What if some knucklehead rear-ends me, or I rip the rack off by going up a driveway that’s too steep?”
“Good point,” I said. “But if you’re never going to use it, why go to all the expense?”
Clodhopper looked at me. “If I was going to use a bike rack, I’d use the best one I could buy. And in my world, you take as good care of your friends’ stuff as you would with your own.”
“Well, if it was me you’d be getting one of those aluminum jobs with fabric straps that hang onto the rain gutter.”
“I know,” he said. “That’s why I’m driving. Let’s go.”
Clodhopper sent off two text messages to Surfer and Toronto to let them know we were en route. “I drafted the texts last night and put them in the queue. Be prepared. That’s my motto.”
I’d rather be wet than cold: dash to the Fillmore sprunt
Our resplendent group of 25 riders rolled out in the drizzle that had turned to moderately pounding rain, and our immaculate bikes were almost immediately covered in dreck. Manslaughter turned to me as we went from damp to wet to soaked. “It’s not a cold rain at least,” he said.
“Nope,” I said.
“And I’d rather be wet than cold,” he said.
“Yep.” We both looked at King Harold, who was dry as a bone and quite cozy in his Iditarod get-up, and we wondered the same thing: “What if we end up wet and cold?”
We needn’t have wondered …
The first tiny climb, which was so small and brief and easy that I hardly inhaled, was soon past. At the next little bump we had a flat, and Manslaughter leaned over to me as we waited. “Hey, Wanky,” he said.
“Is it a bad sign if those first two little non-climbs really hurt?”
I looked at him and thought briefly about telling the truth. “Nah,” I said. “Those are just warm-up pangs. Everybody’s hurting.” He knew I was lying, but just hearing my blatant dishonesty said with such kindness and sincerity made him smile. The group continued on, pushing up and over the first rated climb of the day, the Fillmore Hump. I skittered to the front in order to take the descent first. I’m a terrible descender, and my full-carbon wheels, which are made completely of carbon, don’t stop at all when they’re wet, although they make a very cool full-carbon “sheeeeee” sound when you squeeze on the brakes that don’t stop, which is cooler than the “shirrrrrr” sound they make when they brake dry and do stop.
I figured that since I couldn’t stop and would likely crash, better to take out as many people as possible by riding at the front. The minute the steep, hairy-pinned descent commenced, we all noticed giant puddles of fresh motor oil in the middle of the road. Bikes began twitching sideways, sphincters began clenching (then, unfortunately, unclenching), oaths were shouted, and Hair bombed the descent with Dally Rumple at full speed. With no one able to catch them, Hair blitzed across the Fillmore city limit sign to collect the first scalp of the day.
We had a couple more flats, and raced on towards Santa Paula. Hair took that sprunt, too.
Super boring bike stuff
[This next section details the blow-by-blow of the Ojai climb, the run across the valley, the descent, and the sprunt into Ojai. It is incredibly boring and filled with mindless cycling details that are numbingly inane unless you were one of the people involved. Others may skip to the next section, “Slip sliding away.”]
A couple of miles after leaving Santa Paula the climb began. How long was it? I don’t know. How steep was it? I don’t know. But I do know this: at some point we went from twenty-five riders to seven. The rain began to pour down with personal animosity until we had all reached the level of wetness that lets you know you’re totally drenched: our balls were soaked.
Riding behind someone with soaked balls is a bummer because when they press down with one leg it squeezes the ball sauce out of the chamois and onto the saddle, from whence it drips onto the back tire and is then violently flung up into your face, imparting a light flavor of oil, hints of grease, oaked flavors of dirt, big and fruit-forward essences of transmission fluid from the asphalt, and a velvety-with-salt-and-sweat finish.
G$ pushed to the front and began shedding deadwood. I started at the back and leapfrogged from shattering grupetto to shattering grupetto. There was Bull, regretting (but not really) all those chili-cheese burritos. There was Aston Martin, looking for a replacement piston. There was Dream Crusher, finding out what it was like to be the crushee. There was Clodhopper, speed-dialing Uber. And there, just ahead, were the leaders — Roadchamp, Full Gas Phil, G$, Hair, Dally Rumple, FTR DS Jaeger, and Marmaluke.
I latched onto the rear like a sucker-fish. Roadchamp attacked and Full Gas Phil followed. G$ repeatedly attacked to try and bridge the gap before settling down to set a searing tempo. Stern-O, arguably the toughest old boot on the ride at 65 years old, had set out ahead of the group and yelled encouragement as we flew by.
We crested the climb and Marmaluke bridged us to Roadchamp and Full Gas Phil. Now we had an 8-man flailaway and the pace went from torrid to unbearable. The rain beat down, washing my sulfuric acid-based sunscreen into my eyes, blinding me so badly that I could only crack my left eye. Sitting two inches off a wheel, eyes burning, the sheets of rain making everything invisible, I feebly rotated through, easily the weakest in the group.
Hair, the supposed sprinter, was again showing his toughness as he hung with the climbers, poured on the coal along the flats, and hung back to give me a break when I started to drift off the last wheel. We hit the long, fast, soaking, twisty descent and everyone sat up except for Phil, Hair, G$, and me. Our bikes were slithering in the turns, and when we hit the flat 3-mile run-in to Ojai, Full Gas Phil opened it up full throttle. As we hit the outskirts of town Hair leaped away, Full Gas followed, and someone won the sprunt. G$ and I just gasped, relieved that it was over.
Slip sliding away
One by one the riders straggled into the Ojai Chevron, wet and frozen to the core. Instead of the usual convenience store fare of cokes and candy bars, Toronto and Surfer scarfed two large cups of instant ramen, a cup of chicken noodle soup, and an extra-large cup of hot cocoa. One rider bought two large cups of coffee, drank one, and poured the other one into his shoes.
“What the fuck are you doing?” we asked.
“Thawing my feet. Hopefully they’ll absorb some caffeine, too.”
I immediately noticed a selection of longshoreman knit caps on a rack and bought one. My helmet sat on it like a cherry atop a scoop of ice cream, but I didn’t care. We stood in a circle under the store’s heating vent, dripping filthy water onto the floor and shivering uncontrollably.
“Well, boys,” DJ said. “I think we should shorten the ride. What’s your vote?”
Various wankers nodded in agreement. We were fifty miles in, and we’d have a hundred hard, miserable miles even with the 17-mile shortcut. One rider protested. “But we’d be missing the epic Lake Casitas climb, the county line sprunt, and more of the general beatdown.”
Another chimed in. “FTR has never been truncated. Ever.”
King Harold spoke up. “What kind of wussy talk is this? Let’s do the friggin’ ride. It ain’t the French Cupcake Ride, is it?”
I thought of Mrs. WM. “Guys,” I said, “this is about pride. Honor. Manliness. Are we hardmen, or are we soggy cupcakes? What’s 17 extra miles with a touch of climbing? Who’s afraid of hypothermia and a slow, agonizing death? Do we want to go home like cowards and pantywaists, or with our heads held high? Whattaya say? Are you with me, men?”
They looked at me like I was insane. “Hey, Wanky,” Manslaughter piped up. “You can go do whatever the fugg you want. We’re frozen. We’re soaking wet. We’re under dressed. We have prostate issues and incipient pneumonia. Iron Mike is curled up in a fetal ball and begging someone to pour boiling water down his shorts. Zero fucks are given whether we do 100 miles or 117. The fact that we’ve even gone this far makes us immortally stupid. So no, we’re not only not with you, we don’t even know you.”
The group nodded in unison and we reluctantly faced the rain again, whose intensity had increased to that of a large-diameter fire hose.
A few miles later, disaster struck. On the outskirts of Ventura we were crossing a particularly slick section of road when Dream Crusher, who was just behind me, took the opportunity to jerk his wheel and go splattering across the pavement. I didn’t look back but could hear the hideous sound of crunching carbon and thunking meat as it hit. I immediately began composing my noble speech.
“Guys, as much as I’d like to complete this FTR, I hereby volunteer to ride back with Dream Crusher in the heated ambulance. Carry on without me, and Mr. EMS dude, please give me another blanket.”
Dream Crusher was dragged onto the pavement where, unfortunately, his bike was fine and he only had two tiny scratches on his leg. “Don’t feel bad, wanker,” said Manslaughter. “That was a tricky section right there. Only a highly skilled rider could have successfully navigated it.”
At that moment a 75-year-old man on a tricycle hauling a steel wagon filled with burritos came whipping through the same section, bunny-hopped the curb with the wagon, sailed off the far curb and careened the trike onto two wheels as he swerved through the street. “Get that guy’s phone number,” Bull said, “and sign Dream Crusher up for some lessons.”
Circle K for “killer”
[More tedious bike crap. General interest readers may skip to “Shitfaced.”]
In Ventura we turned left at the Circle K and began the long climb out of town, which began the 20-mile undulating road back to Santa Paula, and from there to the dreaded Balcom Canyon.
MMX, who had been idling is engine for most of the ride, roared to the fore and immediately distanced the group. Dogg and Dally Rumple charged for a while, then MMX surged again, his tequila-fueled legs beating the pedals with a mad fury. This time, the punch was followed by a stinging counter unleashed by Full Gas Phil. The twosome rode off, with Hair, me, Surfer Dan, and Marmaluke trailing in the fumes.
Marmaluke bridged the gap, and we settled into a terrible six-man paceline where Full Gas, Marmaluke, and MMX relentlessly crushed it. The only rider to never skip a pull besides Full Gas was Hair, who again showed incredible mettle and tenacity. Phil kept the pace bleedlingly fast, with MMX smashing through each time so hard that I finally gave up pulling and hung on for dear life.
We knew the wankoton, which included G$, Roadchamp, FTR DS, King Harold, Dally Rumple, and Clodhopper would be chasing their brains out, not that they had many. Fearing the chase we drove on even harder until I was reduced to a sobbing puddle of spaghetti legs and melted ego. However, far from chasing, the wankoton had flatted twice just past the Circle K, and they were lollygagging along, wholly unconcerned with our heroics.
By the time we reached Santa Paula, Hair was mush. “Hey, guys,” he pleaded, “shouldn’t we wait for the group? Jaeger will be upset.” This was code speak for “Can I crawl off into this gutter and quit?”
Since he’s one of our best friends, and had done a lot of work, and had never skipped a pull, we accelerated, dropped him, and left him to fend for himself. By now all pretense of warm, hard rain had stopped and we were slogging through a frozen, complete deluge.
When the wankoton got into Santa Paula, King Harold, who was the designated sweeper, was facing a scenario unlike any other in the history of the FTR. Various riders had simply disappeared. G3, Stern-O, Manslaughter, and Toronto were nowhere to be found. And instead of plowing through Santa Paula, the wankoton wobbled to a feeble stop in front of a gas station.
Iron Mike was groaning in a language he didn’t even speak, and Bull, who is very careful with his equipment, flung his $7k bike down into a puddle of mud and rocks. “Bull need cheese,” he grunted.
A line of filthy, soaked, frozen, angry, and demented old fellows followed him into the convenience mart, where they bought the entire kettle of scalding coffee and took turns pouring it onto their feet. Bull grabbed a large styrofoam bowl and heaped it high with chili-cheese burritos, melted quesadilla cheese, and four cheese-covered wieners. Using a plastic knife and his fingers, he ground it up into a slurry, added some hot coffee, water, and Gatorade, and drank it. Two other riders simply stood on the curb and urinated in their shorts, hoping the pee would at least clean them up a little bit, and if nothing else warm their refrigerated junk.
Shitfaced, or, The pigs strike back
Marmaluke, MMX, Full Gas, and I knew nothing of this as we motored through the veil of cold, pounding rain to Balcom Canyon. I had gone from taking no pulls at all to simply whimpering. “Hey fellas, don’t drop me, okay?” I begged.
“HTFU,” said MMX.
“STFU,” said FG Phil.
“It’ll cost you fifty bucks,” said Marmaluke.
“Done,” I said.
We turned up the road leading to Balcom, and a mile in I cracked and fell off the back. Balcom is steep, and this time the right-hand gutter was filled with a raging torrent, whereas the surface of the road was slapping back at my front wheel with cascading sheets of water.
Up ahead Marmaluke broke like a stick in Stern-O’s rear triangle as MMX paperboyed up the climb. Full Gas Phil distanced the duo and claimed his first ever Balcom Canyon FTR KOM … or so he thought. Impossibly, they waited for me. I got to the top; the view to the bottom of the canyon was visible in between the alternating strength of the downpour, but we saw no one.
“Should we wait for those wankers?” said Full Gas.
“I’m frozen,” said MMX.
“If we stop much longer I won’t be able to restart,” said Marmaluke.
“Urgle,” I said.
We hopped on our bikes and slid down the other side of the canyon. MMX now rolled to the fore and stayed there. My punishment for asking to be allowed to stay was being allowed to stay. Marmaluke occasionally showed a glimmer of humanity and towed me back up as MMX and Full Gas took turns smashing it into the rain and grime.
Only, as we turned onto the final stretch of highway leading to the feared Golf Course climb, I noticed that we weren’t riding through grime anymore. Instead, we were riding through a thick, light brown sludge that had the suspicious smell, look, and consistency of pig shit. All of the manure from the pig trucks had turned into semi-liquid from the rain and was now being showered into our faces.
I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten a gallon of pig shit before, but it doesn’t taste very good. Perhaps it’s the Hepatitis C, or the lethal piggi shitti killimus bacteria, or maybe it’s the clumps of raw pig sewage mixed with the detritus of the road, but whatever the reason, smearing your face, lips, and tongue with clods of pork poop tastes downright awful.
On cue, cars passed us at 80, showering our sides with more of the lovely piggy perfume. In moments we had gone from filthy, grimy black to shimmering poopy brown. The only thing that would have been worse would have been getting dropped, so I hunkered down, swallowed my portion as it spewed down my throat from Marmaluke’s rear wheel, and pounded on.
At the golf course MMX and Full Gas Phil kicked it one last time, and Marmaluke crumpled like piece of tinfoil. I had crumpled long ago, but struggled up to his rear wheel and made sure that my front wheel was 1mm ahead of his at the summit because, bike racer. And wanker.
MMX and FGP had attacked over the top, determined to gloriously ride in covered in pig shit without us in tow. That was fine, except that since I’d only been to the Jaegers’ home about ten times, I got lost. Somewhere in Camarillo Marmaluke whipped out his cell phone. “I got their address, dude, no worries.”
However, there actually were worries, and the biggest one was that the rain kept pounding his cell phone, which as a result gave us perfect directions to downtown Shanghai, then Kinshasa, then Bobodelasso, then Prague, but couldn’t find the Jagers’. Now the prospects were dire and I thought about how I’d complained about shortening the ride. Marmaluke, who had bragged about his Chicago origins and his imperviousness to this wimpy SoCal weather, was shuddering and shaking so badly that he could barely hold his phone.
“We gotta keep moving,” I said, feeling the hypothermia ratchet up a notch. After five pointless minutes wandering through a neighborhood, we saw a postal truck. “Excuse me,” I chattered, “where is West Kensington Lane?”
The driver wrinkled his forehead. “There’s no street in Camarillo by that name.”
“Yes there is. I’ve been there numerous times. It’s right around here somewhere.”
“I’ve been delivering mail here for thirty years,” replied, “but good luck.”
Just before we decided to throw our bikes on a lawn and let them be washed by the torrent down to the Pacific, Marmaluke spied a school. “Let’s go there and see if we can dry out the phone,” he said.
“Are you sure you’re allowed to go within 150 feet of a school?” I asked. “Plus, how are you going to dry it out? We’re wet from head to balls to toe.”
Marmaluke pulled under an awning and took out his phone. Then he carefully unpacked a small tool bag, which was drenched. Out of the bag he took a piece of paper, which was drenched. He unfolded the paper and inside it was the world’s tiniest plastic bag. He opened the micro-bag and took out a lone, bone dry piece of tissue paper.
“What in the world are you carrying around a dry piece of paper for?” I asked in amazement.
“For something like this,” he said, and proceeded to wipe dry the phone screen, which buzzed to life and mapped us instantly to West Kensington Lane, a mere 3-minute pedal away.
We swooped up the driveway and spied the bikes of MMX and Full Gas Phil, along with the rigs of Surfer and the others who had given up on Balcom and taken a shortcut home.
Cindi, Gina, and Lynn stood in the garage smiling at us. “You made it!” they cheered, draping us in towels. We wiped off the mess and tiptoed into the shower, where the day ended pretty much the same way it had started, with slightly older, infinitely more tired, and much more wrinkled old men standing around naked, except this time doing it together in a shower.
All hail the conquering heroes
One by one the broken and weary riders came in. All were frozen to the core except for Clodhopper and King Harold, who were still toasty and mostly dry. The Jaegers then fed us with Round Two, which consisted of delicious sandwiches on the freshest buns, mounds of cookies, gallons of very hot coffee, and cold beer for those who could ingest anything modified by the word “cold.”
It was the first time in history that the FTR had gone less than the full 117 miles, but had it gone even fifty yards further there were riders like me who would have finished not with a sandwich but with a solemn graveside service. It was still a full hundred miles of suffering hell, of misery beyond compare, of danger, collapse, fear, regret, a ride whose awfulness was encapsulated by the words of Full Gas Phil as we plowed through the pig poop — “Okay. I’m not having fun now.”
In other words, it was the very best FTR ever. Thank you Dave Jaeger, and thank you to the Jaeger family for the gift. My eyes are swollen shut this morning as a result of the bacterial infection from the pig stuff, and later in the afternoon I’ll get my blood tested for hepatitis, but it was worth every terrible turn of the pedal, not least of all because everyone made it home alive.
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January 9, 2015 § 22 Comments
It’s that time of year, when folks are downright desperate. On Saturday we will roll out on the annual French Toast Ride, the finest, best, most awesome, wonderful, and miserable smashfest of the year. The ride starts and finishes at the home of DJ’s parents, who stuff us full of French toast, bacon, sausage, coffee, eggs, and other delicious food, then stuff us again seven hours later when we return. As a result, participation is by invitation only. No more than twenty-four riders have ever been privileged to do the ride.
This leads to the inevitable question, “How do I get invited?”
It’s simple, really, even though there are thousands who want one of the coveted slots. First, you have to ride with DJ at Saturday morning at 6:00 AM a couple of dozen times, leaving from the top secret launchpad of CotKU. These rides are long and miserably hard, not because of DJ’s riding ability but because he tells the same three stories for hours on end, week in and week out. After your third ride most people decide that whenever the FTR happens, they’re busy that weekend.
Those who endure the rides must then do this every year for a few years. Eventually, but probably not, you will then get invited. DJ bases his invitations on a secret set of rules that are all subordinate to The Rule, which is this: DJ Makes All The Rules.
Some of the rules are:
- No Freds.
- No wankers.
- No last-minute-undependables.
- No whiners.
- No riders who violate the secret rules.
However, exceptions abound, which give hope to all, for example:
- No Freds, but numerous Long Beach and New Mexico riders have participated.
- No wankers, but numerrous unfit, hopeless peloton anchors and Elron have participated.
- No last-minute-undependables, but … Neumann.
- No whiners, but Wanky.
In other words, hope springs eternal, and if you show up for the secret Saturday rides, laugh at the corny jokes, cajole, wheedle, and get down on your knees to beg, there’s a slight chance you might get invited if someone else cancels. You might think that such a prestigious event would never have cancellations, but you would be wrong.
Because at Mile 102 you hit Balcom Canyon, and there are still sixteen hard miles to go after that. If you don’t know Balcom, it’s the most incredible … never mind. In other words, the Freddies who eagerly slurp up their invitation in October begin getting nervous in November, having doubts in December, and experiencing severe diaper rash in January. There’s a trickle of defections around Thanksgiving, an exodus at Christmas, and one or two quitters in January. Of course the most heinous quitter in the history of the FTR whose name shall remain unnamed (Neumann) had the gall to simply not show up the morning of the ride and therefore be banished from the invite list forever, but that is another story.
This gives the waitlisters, who have been burning incense and slaughtering goats like mad, hope. And don’t think the waitlisters have simply been roasting quadrupeds on a spit and offering up vestal virgins to the FTR dogs. Nope, they’ve been lobbying like crazy, and they lobby like this.
“You doing FTR this year?”
“Do you think you could get me in?”
“What if someone cancels?”
“It’s still full. For you.”
“Aw come on. Don’t you remember that meal I bought you at Charlie’s Cheese and Lard House and All You Can Eat Buffet?”
“So can’t you put in a good word for me? Please? I’m good for two more dinners a Charlie’s, buddy old pal.”
So then Bull, or whichever other FTR participant has been guilted into making a futile request, sidles up to DJ on a ride. “Hey, DJ, how’s it going?”
“No, he can’t come.”
“Whoever. We’re full.”
And that’s how it goes. What’s worse, if the FTR hopeful has never actually done a Top Secret Saturday Ride, or worse, doesn’t know DJ personally, that person’s name gets entered into a Top Secret Shit List and is forever barred from the sacred FTR invitation email.
Of course no one has ever asked me to lobby for them because I have no pull, and I won’t do it, and the answer is always “No.”
Enter the Hopper
I hadn’t seen Clodhopper in a long time. Ever since they shut down the Parkway and we stopped doing the NPR, he had gone stealth on my radar screen. A few days ago I sent him a Happy New Year email. Clodhopper is one of those guys who, like a great case of mold, grows on you. He pinged me right back and returned the New Year greetings. “You doing FTR?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said, knowing what would come next.
“Enjoy!” he emailed.
And that was it.
Of course that was it, because Clodhopper don’t beg. He’d been assiduously doing the Top Secret Corny Joke Rides all year, he knew the chance of admission was somewhat less than zero, and he did them anyway. But among all the pretenders and SoCal profamateurs and not-good-enough-to-ride-pro-but-good-enough-to-be-a-masters-racer fakers who do the FTR, Clodhopper is the only cyclist among us who’s actually an athlete.
Let me put it this way: Even though he looks like he’s had one cheeseburger too many, Clodhopper once held the world record in the 1600-meter relay. We’re not talking a silver medal at the master’s nationals crit, folks. We’re talking the fastest human being on the planet in an actual sport, as opposed to geriatrics in clown suits on wheels.
When Clodhopper took up cycling back in the 90’s, he showed up at the Lake Castaic road race and won by smashing the snot out of Jeff Pierce, who was only a couple of years past his record as the first American to win a stage at the Tour, and the only American ever to win on the Champs-Elysees. Clodhopper, in addition to a world record at the pinnacle of the world’s most competitive sport, was also a badass on the bike … before he met all those cheeseburgers.
Nonetheless, I’ve ridden with him enough to know that he can still crank out more watts on a 5-hour-a-week training plan than most full time profamateurs. Genes + pain threshold + world titles on the track = Clodhopper Don’t Beg.
“Yo, Clodhopper,” I said when I saw him next, “what have you been up to?”
“Been doing the Saturday rides with DJ.”
“And no FTR invite?”
“Want me to put in a word for you?” I never put in a word for anyone, except perhaps the word “wanker.”
“No, thanks,” he said. “I’ll do the Saturday rides this year and hope for a ride in 2016.”
“Let me ask,” I said.
“I’m specifically telling you not to ask. If I’m a fit I’ll get an invite. If not, it’s a blast riding with those guys.”
He had clearly lost his mind. So, I went home and composed a carefully-worded email to DJ that went exactly like this: “Yo, DJ: Clodhopper.”
A couple of days later, I got the email with the finalized list of participants. There at the bottom was Clodhopper’s name. I immediately called him. “Dude,” I said. “Me and Surfer Dan need a ride. Got room?”
“Of course,” he said. “You said something to DJ, didn’t you?”
“Me? No. Never. I got no pull, dude.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Whatever.”
Wankers, start your engines!
The final start list is below. It will be epic.
1) Road Champ
6) Full Gas
7) Dream Crusher
9) Major Bob
11) BP a/k/a Oilspill
14) Iron Mike
18) Surfer Dan
20) FTR DS
22) Limey Carboy
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January 19, 2014 § 23 Comments
The 2014 edition of Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride had diverse offerings, including the flowers and bushes on the edge of Price Road who were nourished by the projectile vomiting of Uberfred. He had made the fatal mistake of taking a well-aged piece of a sweat-soaked, partially gnawed Snickers bar offered up by Sterno, and instead of magically transforming from Betty White to Eddy Merckx, he almost metamorphosed into Dude With Stomach Cramps Lying In The Ditch Five Miles From The End.
It was a French Toast Ride that began with piles of thick toast soaked in French, pan-fried to a golden glow, and poured down the hungry maws of the hardy riders who had managed to wake up on time and get to the feed zone at Camarillo by 7:30. The delectable toast, cooked in the home of Dave’s parents Jim and Nancy, was accompanied by stacks of bacon, pans of sausage, gobs of butter, buckets of cream, a giant urn of coffee, and a small plate of fruit as a sop to the healthful. No one was fooled, however. There would be nothing healthful about this FTR, just like there had been nothing healthful about any of the other fifteen editions of the ride.
A little something bad for everyone
The genius of the FTR is the way it disappoints, frustrates, humbles, aggravates, and insults each rider in a unique way over the course of 118 nasty, windy miles and almost 9,000 feet of very unpleasant climbing. Despite a day filled with unpleasantness and misery, each year the same cadre of idiots happily reconvene to do it all over again. If you have zero fitness, like Turtle, FTR is simple masochism. You drag your butt over the course, last up every climb, last to every stop, first one to get shelled when the pace picks up, and typically you get up Balcom Canyon by holding onto a gardener’s truck or with a hoist.
If you’re somewhat prepared, FTR is a day filled with cagey wheelsucking, where, like Toronto, you stay near the front in anticipation of a move, but never actually on it. Fear of being shelled cancels the duty to do your share, but of course it all pays off when, like Toronto, you absolutely blaze up the climbs and stick with the lead group when the pace ramps up.
If you’re supremely prepared, like Surfer Dan, the ride is pure agony, because when the group splits at the first climb less than 20 miles into the ride, and you’re ready to ride the remaining 100 miles in a death march with five other guys, the group halts, Dave coddles the weak and the dropped, and everyone gets back together. Yet despite the beatdown, the coddling, the stopping, the hand-holding, the hammering, the climbing, the sprunting, the cramping, and the unholy exhaustion that sets in at Mile 100, just before you tackle the 20-percent slopes of Balcom, the FTR is the best, happiest, most satisfying and rewarding ride you’ll ever do.
How can that be? Because of good love.
The ties that bind
Dave’s parents are in their 70’s, and what possesses them to allow a ravenous mob of cyclists to invade their modest home every year, prance around semi-naked as they change into kit, rub smelly embro all over their bodies, stink up their bathroom with the quaking bowels of twenty men with the pre-ride purge, and occasionally (like the year Stern-O wiped his derriere with four pounds of toilet paper) clog up the pipes in the entire house, I’ll never know for sure. What I do know is this. The Jaegers have good love, and it permeates their home, their family, and every aspect of the FTR.
It’s the kind of love that is built year by year over decades, one day at a time, through the rewards and travails of raising kids, living through the hard knocks and comfortable landings of life, trusting in the person next to you when the chips aren’t simply down, they’re not even on the table anymore. The Jaegers’ good love, quiet and unassuming, solid as bedrock and there as predictably as the sunrise, spills over into every aspect of the FTR. That love is, of course, what gave rise to Dave, and that love is, of course, what Dave and Lynn have in their own marriage — you can see it because nowadays the Jaegers are FTR hosts emeritus. The brunt of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, organizing, and making it happen is done by Dave’s wife Lynn, his sister-in-law, and his daughters.
The good love doesn’t stop with sharing the plumbing and the home and the food. The good love is part of the ride itself, mostly old guys getting older and weaker, along with an infusion of new 30-something blood to keep everyone broken and in pain throughout the day. Every year the pummeling and the projectile vomiting and the pro wheel changes and the butt pats and the towing on the flats and the full-gas sprunting and the empty, vacant looks of misery at the Circle K in Ventura … these things bubble and boil and then harden, solidifying into something that can only be called “I’d do anything for you,” also known as “love.” That love is especially poignant when it involves doing your utmost to crush your closest friends and bring them to their knees.
The beaches of Normandy a/k/a Balcom Canyon Road
This is a nasty climb, just under one mile long, that averages ten percent and slams up to twenty on the steepest ramp. On any day it would be a beast, but Dave has it positioned at about Mile 100 into the ride, after huge efforts up Grimes Canyon, the 4-mile race to Fillmore, the 7-mile climb from Santa Paula towards Ojai, the 3-mile race and sprint into Ojai, the murderous twin peaks of Lake Casitas and sprint for the Santa Barbara County line, and the miserable, endless climb out of Ventura when your legs are filled with poison and your morale is at its all-time lowest.
Then, and only then, with the tank on empty and your mental fortitude in the gutter, do you hit Balcom Canyon. It gets in your head, starting pretty much with the first piece of French toast. As we plowed along Mountain Road, each pedal stroke along the five miles leading to the turnoff onto Balcom Canyon Road felt like I was pedaling towards my doom. The flurry of tiny, twanging, twinges that had begun in Ojai gradually morphed into full blown cramps. That’s a good sign before the steepest, hardest climb of the day right? The one where it’s common to paperboy just to get up it, right? The one where you count it as victory just getting to the top, right?
Wrong. It was a bad sign.
Everyone felt the doom. This is how soldiers felt sitting in little steel boats with tiny motors as they churned towards the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. It’s a sickness in your stomach and a bitter misery in your head. Reality has something ugly in store for you and you cannot avoid it. Whether that bad reality will be your complete undoing or not is the only question. But whereas the soldiers on D-Day leaped into frigid water to face the murderous rake of machine guns and mortars and artillery and mines and concertina and horrific injury and death, we faced something much worse: The knowledge that each pedal stroke would be painstakingly analyzed on Strava by all of our friends.
When we made the turn, it was clear that honor for the Balcom KOM would be decided among Surfer Dan, Manslaughter, G$, and Unpronounceable. Before the Balcom climb proper, you have to batter for 1.5 miles, usually into a headwind, up a 2-percent grade to the base of the climb. Although it had been tried before, most famously during the Pee Stop Attack by Wanky in 2010, no one had ever succeeded in stealing a march on the group before the base of the climb.
This year was different. Surfer Dan took one look at the haggard, frightened, sniveling, and broken faces of his competition and rolled away. Everyone wanted to chase, but only one rider could, and it wasn’t enough. Mike Frias, who had been pulling his brains out, never shirking the front, and digging like a DitchWitch all day long, took over the nastiest chore of the entire day. For the entire 1.5 miles he towed us at full speed, keeping Surfer Dan in our sights but unable to close the gap. We hit the base of the climb and Mike swung over, waving us through. “All yours, boys,” he said, planting his foot squarely on a land mine just as he took an artillery round, a machine gun strafing, and a mortar round to the chest all at once.
Surfer Dan was just ahead of us, but on Balcom Canyon, “just ahead” is a meaningless term because the gradient is so steep that even a few feet can prove impossible to close. Dan churned away as what remained of the chasers detonated. Manslaughter saw his chance and punched it, followed by G$ and Unpronounceable, with BB-gun in hot pursuit. I sent all power to the engines, who, already blown, simply giggled.
The day before Destructionmas
Somehow, while I can’t actually call it “finding a rhythm,” I managed to keep from tipping over by pedaling, and that effort led me ever closer to Unpronounceable. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, came charging Toronto with bounds like a deer. With granny gear twirling, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment he’d stomp on my dick. More rapid than spin class his pedals they turned, and he grunted and labored, and calories burned. “Now, Surfer! Manslaughter! Now, Money and Aaron! On Wanky! Up Balcom I’m rarin’ and tearin’! To the top of the climb! To the top of the wall! It may cost my life, but I’ll pedal, not crawl!” As old men that before the steep obstacle faint, when they meet with the obstacle, rub their sore taint, so up and past Wanky, Toronto he flew, with a grin on his face because deep down he knew, that then, in a twinkling, Wanky would feel, the sting and the bite of Toronto’s sharp steel. And then, in a twinkling, I heard with a start, the breaking and rupture of valves in my heart. As I hung down my head, and was watching his ass, I knew I could not let this old wanker pass. He was pedaling fast, like the canyon he owned, but I knew once he wobbled his engine was blown. A bolus of snot then poured forth from his face, then he tottered and faltered, the end of his race. His eyes how they stared! How bloodshot and red! His cheeks were like corpses, all sunken and dead! His droll little mouth was drawn up in a frown, while spittle and mucous both oozed slowly down. The stumps of his legs shaved clean of their hairs, had gone from full circles to pedaling squares. His lined, broken face and his wheeze from the battle, escaped from his throat in one final death rattle. I left him there quick with a pat on his rump, as if he’d been beaten and chained to a stump. But though he sank back like a great anchor’s plunge, he somehow dug deep and with one final lunge, he gasped and he choked and he coughed up a lung, and finally onto his seventh place hung. Atop mighty Balcom he leaped off his tool, and he pranced and he danced and he texted Joe Yule. “I did it!” he said, “With Clif bars and java! A number I’ll proudly now upload to Strava!” But I heard him exclaim, ere I bombed down the hill, “With a compact next year I will climb faster still!”
Just this one last little bit
Surfer Dan was never reeled in, Manslaughter finished hard on his heels, G$ crested the hill next followed by BB-Gun, me, and Unpronounceable. We regrouped, descended, then hit the gas all the way to Golf Course Hill, a nasty little .3-mile kicker that finishes on a 13 percent grade. The final FTR tally looked like this:
- Grimes Canyon: Frias
- Fillmore sprunt: Hair
- Santa Paula sprunt: Hair
- Ojai climb: G$
- Ojai sprunt: Hair
- Casitas climb, first peak: Surfer Dan
- Casitas climb, second peak: Surfer Dan
- Santa Barbara county line sprunt: Hair
- Ventura county line sprunt: King Harold
- Balcom Canyon climb: Surfer Dan
- Golf Course climb: Manslaughter
- Most trash talked: Wanky
Honorable and Dishonorable Mention
- The last-minute cancellations, including Elron who bailed because he was too lazy to get up in time.
- Mike Frias for pulling like a Trojan All Fricking Day Award.
- 60-year-old Jim Bowles for Octogenarian of the Ride Award.
- Stern-O for Toughest Old Boot of the Ride Award.
- Turtle for Finishing Award.
- Manslaughter for Dude We’re Going to Really Fear Now That He Knows the Route Award.
- Unpronounceable for If He Ever Gets Serious About the Road We’re Doomed Award.
- Hair for All Around Champion Award.
- Surfer Dan for KOM, BOM, and SOM Awards.
- Uberfred for Best Projectile Vomit Award.
- Toronto for Best Self-Praise Award.
- G$ for Best Old Dude Who Rides Better Than the Kids Half His Age.
- Danny N. for Gutting It Out Award.
- King Harold for Best Recovery After Contracting Bubonic Plague at Training Camp.
- Jaeger for Best Mother Hen Award.
- Polly for Best Driver Award.
- BB-Gun for Best Shock Therapy on Balcom Award.
- Golden Boy for Most Awesome Ride With Less than 12 Miles of Training.
About two blocks from the Jaegers’ driveway, both of my legs seized up with those full-body cramps that bring you to a complete standstill while shrieking and grimacing in agony. Fortunately it was downhill, so I cruised into the driveway and tipped over, where I was shortly resuscitated with the Jaegers’ famous post-ride sandwiches and beer. As I stood in the kitchen, shaking, drinking beer, and refilling my plate, one of the family members looked at me. “I noticed that you were the last one in the driveway,” she said. “Does that mean you were last place on the ride?”
I sucked in my breath and got ready to tell her about the fireworks on Grimes, the carnage in Ojai, the warfare up Casitas, the death sprints, the Normandy charge up Balcom, and the final launch up Golf Course, and my incredible heroics at every step of the way. Then I thought about it and it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was the last one up the driveway.
I hung my head. “Yes.”