January 25, 2015 § 29 Comments
Imagine someone you hate. Imagine someone you so deeply despise that the mere sight of their face or sound of their voice sets off something so primal within you that, were it not for orange jumpsuits and all that unprotected anal sex, you would gladly push them off a cliff and consider it the perfect start to a day.
Now imagine that this person you detest is a cowardly, sniveling, weak, unathletic simp who folds under duress like outdoor lawn furniture.
Next, imagine that you are able to perform the most astounding acts of athletic amazingness, and then, to complete the picture, imagine that this person who you loathe above all others suddenly falls completely within your power for two hours.
How would you this worthless consumer of oxygen suffer the most hideous torture possible? What would you make him endure to crush, abuse, and humiliate him before finally snuffing out his miserable life?
Okay, I know it’s obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: You’d take him mountain biking.
Manslaughter had been trying for years to get me on a mountain bike, but I had always refused. At age 51, I know mostly what I like, and I know definitively what I detest. I detest television, I detest religion, I detest war, and most of all I detest mountain biking.
One time I bought a mountain bike. It was in 1988. I lived in Austin, and I rode it along a trail called the Greenbelt. On a scale of MTB difficulty from 1 to 12 million, it rated a 2 or a 3. It was flat, it had some grass, it had some rocks, it had a creek, and it had a hill. My hatred of mountain biking coalesced on my first ride, when I fell off my bicycle and got a scratch.
The next day I was talking with the guys at the shop and they asked how my ride had gone. I told them that I had fallen off and gotten a scratch. I showed them the scratch and they all shrugged. “It’s not a good mountain bike ride if you don’t fall off and bleed,” they said. They were serious.
By 1988 I had already been riding a bicycle for most of my life, having started at age four or five, and the one thing I knew, if I knew anything, was that falling off a bicycle and bleeding was bad. If I’d had two columns in my life, one for “good” and one for “bad,” falling off and bleeding would have been at the top of the “bad” column.
On successive rides I learned that MTB people are all liars. Many of them fell off their bikes, bled, and went to the hospital, at which point even they admitted that shattered femurs were not “good.” I also discovered they were lying when they said “speed is your friend” every time I slowed, put down a foot, or sobbed. Speed is your enemy and it will kill you.
They tried to blame the “bad” on trees, giant stones, and sheer drop-offs. “The speed doesn’t hurt you, it’s the sudden stop,” they said, as if the two weren’t integrally linked, kind of like looking at 2+2=4 and saying it’s not the 2+2 that kills you, it’s the 4.
Twenty-eight years after what I swore was my last MTB ride, there was a knock on my door. It was Manslaughter, who had come by for our morning ride. I was ready to go, and when I opened the door he was standing there with two mountain bikes. The cheap one cost more than all of the cars in my apartment complex, together. He gave me the nice one.
“What is this?” I asked, staring with loathing at the bikes.
“We’re going mountain biking.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let me go wake up Mrs. WM. I didn’t know she rode.”
“No, wanker,” he said. “It’s for you. I’m taking you out on a cupcake trail. I’m going to show you what mountain biking is really like.”
“Why do you hate me?”
“I don’t hate you. You have a bunch of fucked up opinions about something you don’t know anything about. This will be fun, and easy, and safe.”
“Why are you such a liar? And not even a very good one?”
“I’m not lying. Now shut up and put on these shoes. I borrowed them from Tri-Dork.”
I looked at the shoes. “I’m not touching anything that Tri-Dork has sweated in.” The shoes were mauled beyond recognition, and I reflected on the countless mornings that I’d been leaving for a ride only to happen upon Tri-Dork, Manslaughter, Toy Boy, Dutchie, and Natty Yuck emerging from a trail, covered in filth from head to toe, blood caked or freshly oozing out of their legs, their faces plastered with the stupid, satisfied grins of Mongol warriors returning from having just butchered a village of women and children.
“Put on the fuggin’ shoes,” Manslaughter commanded. I did.
“Look, fucker,” I said. “This better be a fire road big enough to land an aircraft carrier on.”
“I think you mean ‘wide as an aircraft carrier to land a plane on.’ Aircraft carriers don’t land on things.”
“I think you better listen to me more carefully because I said what I meant the first time.”
“Don’t be such a sniveling little turd. I love you, I would never hurt you, and I’m going to take you on the most fun and bucolic bike ride of your life.”
“You are a piece of shit liar and you hate me.”
Manslaughter began showing me the fiddle sticks on the handlebars. “This is to lower your seat,” he explained.
“The seat height is fine.”
“No, stupid, it’s for when you’re going downhill, this lowers the seat.”
I had no idea what he was talking about so ignored him. We set off. It was amazing what a soft, spongy ride it was. “This sucks,” I said. “It’s like riding in an old Cadillac with more springs than a broken bed in a bad whorehouse.”
“We’re on asphalt.”
“You’ll see.” As we left the road and entered the soft grassy path that led to the trail I immediately felt the bike absorb what should have been a rough surface.
“Wow!” I said. “This sure is smooth!”
“It’s grass. It’s supposed to be smooth.”
At that moment a bike appeared at the trailhead. It was Jon F., covered in dust, his tongue hanging out, and sporting the stupid smile of a mass murderer that all MTB’ers seem to have. “Hey guys!” he chirped. “Have a good ride!” Then he recognized me. “Wanky! I didn’t know you did dirt!”
I was going to say something, but couldn’t. The grass gave way to a narrow trail that plunged off the side of a cliff. I’m not kidding. Manslaughter was already two hundred yards away, and with Dog as my copilot I realized that Gravity was the pilot, and he was insane and trying to kill me.
The bike absorbed everything on the trail except my abject terror and I got to the bottom alive. Manslaughter had been there for some time, say half an hour. “The worst is over!” he said, noting my white face and knuckles. “You can relax from here!” Then he fell off another precipice where I was expected to follow.
That was the precise moment, in fact, that my mountain bike ride became a mountain bike walk. “Fuck you,” I muttered, dismounting. “You aren’t going to kill me today.” Then I learned that walking isn’t much of an alternative in MTB shoes. The grade was so steep that I slipped and fell, rolling off the edge of the trail with the bike on top of me. The chain ring punched into my calf and out spurted the blood. Manslaughter came back to inspect.
“I guess it’s a good ride now?” I asked.
He shook his head. “It doesn’t really count since you didn’t actually fall off,” he advised. “But I won’t tell anyone that you fell down while walking.” He helped me remount at the bottom of a ravine that started at the bottom of a 20% wall.
Once I had hiked to the top, carrying the bike, we got ready to continue. “That really was the worst part,” he said. “It’s all pancake flat from here.” I’m glad I’ve never had one of his pancakes. The road plunged some more, went up some more steep walls, and branched off into more mountain bike hiking singletrack.
The high point of the ride was having Manslaughter scream, “Go faster!” as I madly braked for a turn and then flipped over the bars into a thorn bush. “That’s where Gussy fell the other day!” he crowed, as if falling with Gussy, a guy who I have never seen even wobble on his road bike, was a mark of distinction.
An hour later we reached the fire road, which was wide, yes, but straight up for the next four miles. We got to the top after being run off the road by a horse, a county Jeep, the game warden in a pickup, and several old people who glared at us as their pit bulls snarled and strained at the leash.
“Pretty peaceful up here, huh?” said Manslaughter.
“No. It isn’t peaceful.”
“Well, now you see what an easy pedal with someone who knows what he’s doing is like. What do you think?”
“Fuck you,” I said, stanching the blood with my lycra beanie.
“We’re going again on Thursday,” he said. “The guys would love to have you come along. You didn’t do completely terribly,” he said.
I didn’t answer. I didn’t have to.
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January 22, 2015 § 24 Comments
I go to bike races because they are weird. Daily life for most people isn’t very weird, unless of course you’re The Sherri Foxworthy. For some reason weird follows her around like bad tattoos at a meth convention, but for everyone else life is generally ordinary.
You get up, have some coffee, watch something stupid on TV, check Facebag, brush your teeth unless you’re from Texas, drive to work, come home, watch some more TV-Facebag, eat dinner, go to bed. Then on weekends from August to February you watch the football game thingy they play with the bats and saucers.
Bike races, though, are like a grand buffet of weird. This past Sunday, after getting stomped in a three-man breakaway by Frank Schroeder and Steve Gregarios, I was standing around marveling at being on the podium twice in two days. Then up came my buddy and said, “Hey, could you help out a fellow racer?”
Of course the answer to that is always “No,” or “Fuck, no.” It’s a good answer for life in general, and it’s why I go out of my way to be selfish, stingy, and unwilling to lend a hand unless it’s someone else’s. Being nice is its own kind of hell, and once people find out that you’re a soft touch you might as well give them your credit card, checkbook, key to the house and exact hours that your wife is home in bed alone.
The way I keep from ever being asked to help is by scowling. I’ve learned that if you scowl all the time people will leave you alone, especially when they need money. Problem is that a few people know the scowl is a ruse, and I’m not very good at turning down requests once they’re actually asked.
So when my pal asked if I could help a fellow racer, I wanted to say, “Fuck, no, I hate bike racers,” but instead I said, “What’s up?” hoping that in a few seconds I’d gather the confidence to utter the “Fuck, no” I really wanted to say.
“Pooky McGillicuddy fell in Turn 4.”
“He was sprunting for 45th place in the Cat 5 race with his head down and he fell off his bicycle.”
“Is he hurt?” I tried to look like I cared.
“Yeah, the meatwagon has already taken him off.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, marveling that everyone in the Cat 5 race hadn’t been carted away.
“Anyway, he came here alone and he’s not on a team and we’re trying to find someone who can drive his truck and bike back to his house for him and since you rode your bike to the race maybe you could … ”
“Drive his car home for him?”
“Sure, I’d be glad to,” I said, feeling something very opposite to glad and very close to miserable. “Where does he live?”
“Pedro. It’s not too far from your place.”
My buddy handed me the keys and a scrap of paper with Pooky’s address and phone number. “You can just park it outside his house and give him a call when you get there to let him know you’ve dropped it off.”
“No prob,” I said, thinking “Major prob because I don’t have my phone.”
His truck had a rack in the bed. Someone had mounted his bike on the rack and locked it with a very flimsy locking thingy. I took off my new rad FastForward full carbon front wheel which is made of full carbon and leaned it against the truck. Then I put my bike in the rack and hopped in.
I hate driving other people’s cars. It is like fucking someone else’s wife. The seat feels different, the knobs are different, it moves different, it sounds different when it’s running hot, it even feels different when you put your key in the hole and have to jiggle it.
I backed up and ran over my brand new FastForward full carbon front wheel which is made of full carbon and has incredible lateral stiffness except not as much as a 2,000-pound truck. Now I know that in addition to making a really cool “whoosh, whoosh” sound when they are flying downhill, they also make a really horrible “crunch, crunch” sound when you run over them with a truck. I will, however, return it with a request for a full warranty.
Inside Pooky’s truck were the accoutrements of someone who lived in a high crime area; locks and bolts and security thingies everywhere. As I started driving I knew I had made a mistake. I didn’t know if the car was insured but was afraid to open the glove box because it was probably filled with heroin and when I got pulled over I’d get busted for that, too. Then I started worrying about dropping off the car with its 10k of bike in the back, secured with a padlock you could bust off with a strong bean fart.
If I left the rig on the street in Pedro it would be stripped cleaner than a pole dancer’s ass at ten minutes before closing, and then Pooky would file a police report and name me as the suspect. Great. So now I was going to have to sit outside his house until he got back from the hospital around midnight.
As I cruised through his neighborhood, a miracle happened. He lived in a gated compound with security guards who wouldn’t even let me in.
“Am I glad to see you,” I said, realizing that it wasn’t mutual. “This is gonna sound weird but this isn’t my truck or bike, well one of ’em is, and I need to drop this off but I’ll leave it here so you guys can watch it.”
They looked at me suspiciously. “We recognize the truck. Where’s Mr. McGillicuddy?”
“Hospital. Long story.” I flipped them the keys and started to take out my bike. Then I realized that I didn’t have a front wheel, but no problem. I could borrow Pooky’s. He wouldn’t be riding for a while anyway, and he had a pretty fancy wheelset with new tires to boot.
I scribbled a note and left it on the dash: “Yo, Pooky, I took your wheel but will return it. Wanky.”
I pedaled home, a mere hour away. It was, as they say, win-win. And when you count Saturday’s race, it was win-win-win.
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January 15, 2015 § 26 Comments
I was slowly grinding up Silver Spur on the way home. Magyar and I had finished the NPR, grabbed coffee at the Center of the Known Universe, and sneaked in a few extra miles on the way home. He’s a single dad with a 10-year-old daughter, works two jobs, and is able to get away for a morning weekday ride once every couple of months, max.
Magyar is one of those guys with a lot of talent who discovered bikes late in the game. He’s one of the few for whom “no time to train” isn’t just an excuse for average results, it’s the truth. Sometimes I run into him at the tail end of a 70-hour week and I wonder how he can even pedal down the bike path.
“How’s the little girl?” I asked him.
“Oh, she’s doing good, real good,” he said. “We’re going to do some running together this week. She’s pretty quick on her feet.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah, she’s very quick. I think she can be a good runner. But that’s not the main focus.”
“For her it’s about making good grades and reading books. That’s what is going to make a difference in her life.”
I thought about that for a second, and how different it was from parents whose biggest dreams for their kids involved hitting a ball, scoring a touchdown, crossing a finish line. “How do you figure?” I probed.
“She was having some trouble in 3rd Grade with math and reading. Then I sat down with her and I said, ‘Honey, let’s talk about school.’ ‘Okay,’ she said, and I said ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and she said ‘I want to be a lawyer like my Auntie or really I want to be a doctor.'”
“That’s pretty cool,” I said.
“Yeah, but I asked her how she was going to do that because if you want to be a lawyer you have to write and read a lot and if you want to be a doctor you gotta do the mathematics and science.”
“What did she say?”
“She said she didn’t know. So I told her we were gonna work on math homework every day for an hour and she was gonna read books every day for thirty minutes. That was at the beginning of the school year.”
“She’s a straight-A student now. She loves reading, too. After she got her report card with an A in math, you know what she said?”
“She said, ‘I like math. Math is easy. And books are fun!’ Just her and me sitting down together every night, you know? Even though a lot of the time I fall asleep, I’m so damn tired.”
I got chills thinking about my buddy, busting his butt seven days a week at two grueling jobs, neither of which pays enough, and coming home every day to do homework with his daughter. I thought about him slumping over, asleep, but then pulling it together to go ride his bike and even make plans to go running with his kid.
“I wish I hadn’t gotten into cycling so late,” he said.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” I replied.
“Because you made it in time for life. For hers.”
We pedaled the rest of the way up the hill and didn’t say anything more. We didn’t need to.
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January 14, 2015 § 20 Comments
Two weeks after revealing the new Empty Cups and Trinkets program for 2015, Strava proudly announced the first major lawsuit of 2015. Puddsy McPutz, age 75, collapsed atop Mt. Landfill, a local KOM in eastern Kentucky situated between the Flemingsburg Meat Packers and the Fleming County Cemetery.
According to the Fleming County Coroner and Horse Veterinarian, Bubba Workman, “Puddsy’s ticker done popped. Which is a durn shame.” The massive myocardial infarction occurred at exactly 12:01 AM, January 1, 2015, according to Mr. McPutz’s Strava data, a few seconds after he took the 2015 KOM for Mt. Landfill. EMS attempts to revive Mr. McPutz with paddles and a few swallows of moonshine were ineffectual, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to Mr. McPutz’s widow, Elvira McPutz (nee Heffalump), “Puddsy found out that Strava was resetting all the KOM’s for 2015, so he left the house at 11:50 PM on New Year’s Eve, we live just up the street from the landfill, you know, and he finally felt like he had a shot at getting that KOM because we usually get a good southerly wind after sundown which you can tell because that skunky smell from the landfill fills up the house. He wanted to be the first bicycle rider up Mt. Landfill in 2015, that was his goal, to get one of those empty cups he had been telling us about over dinner, we were having his favorite meal, creamed corn with tuna casserole. And it killed him deader than when Reverend Smoots got struck by lightning at the water treatment facility that time he was giving a holy Baptist massage to Mrs. Hutchins while her husband was on a fishing trip.”
According to papers filed in the Fleming County Courthouse, McPutz’s widow has named Strava as the sole defendant in a wrongful death action, accusing the virtual bike racing company of “encouraging, aiding, abetting, and downright acting like sonsofbitches” with regard to McPutz’s death.
Attorney Seffy Tootincamp, local Flemingsburg attorney and noted notary public who filed the lawsuit, said that “Ol’ Puddsy ain’t never hurt a flea. Them folks at Stravver done made him ride up Mt. Landfill and get hisself killed. And that ain’t the half of it. Elvira’s sister Hortense Heffalump had been bicycle riding with Puddsy for the last few years, you’d see her straddled all over that bicycle seat spread out like a warm breakfast, ‘course it made people talk, what with Hortense havin’ split up with Farmer Dinkins back in ’69, but Puddsy done said there warn’t nothin’ to it they was just exercising together even though the way Hortense had all her groceries on display with that skintight bicycling outfit, you know ever’ time she threw a leg over that bicycle you was durn near ready call in for a cleanup on Aisle 9, but anyway Hortense said that Puddsy had given up on Stravver several years ago ’cause couldn’t nobody get the trophy-dealie for the landfill climb anymore not ever since Hoss Sagbottom had quit lawnmower racin’ and got into bicycle Stravver racing, can you believe Hoss rode his bicycle up that dang hill in five minutes flat? It’s darn near long as a football field and steep as a wheelchair ramp.”
According to attorney Tootincamp, “Them Stravver fellers is gonna have to fork over some real dollars for takin’ Puddsy’s life like that. He was a good ol’ boy, had the best durn still in Flemingsburg, and that’s sayin’ somethin’.”
Fleming County Judge Jimmy Foxworthy was less sanguine about the prospects of the litigation. “I can sort of see where Elvira is coming from, we all liked Puddsy, and his Christmastime Fire on the Mountain Mason Jar Special would grow hair on a carburetor, but from my way of thinking, you tell a jury of your peers in these parts that an old boy died riding a bicycle in his underwear at midnight out by the landfill because of the Internet, and you blame it on anything except the fact that he was a few burritos shy of a full fiesta, well, your average Fleming County jury is probably going to think that Mr. McPutz needed killing. But that’s just my opinion.”
Attorney Alistair Bilkington, of the Palo Alto high-tech defense firm Hoity, Toity & Preen, was dismissive of the suit. “What we have here is a lack of personal responsibility. Our 21-page, 2-point-type EULA and Waiver and Unqualified Admission of Guilt, which every Strava user must sign, specifically says that ‘Everything is my 100% my fault.’ It’s the most comprehensive waiver in the business. We are confident that the good citizens of Fleming County will wholly reject the baseless claims of the McPutz estate.”
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January 12, 2015 § 52 Comments
I have a really bad imagination, which is why I ride my bike all the time. There’s no better way to limn crazy than by delving into the real world. And few parts of reality are as dark, bizarre, and hysterically weird than Strava.
Here’s the big blog release for 2015, wherein Strava announces a whole new way to earn valuable cups, crowns, and medals. It’s surely not by chance that, unlike the old nonexistent virtual trophy cups, the new ones are empty.
Fortunately I was able to get hold of Annie Vranizan, Strava’s Advocacy and Communications Manager, who explained the whole empty cup concept to me in plain English.
CitSB: So now Straddicts can get a whole new set of crowns, cups, and medals?
AV: Yep. It’s gonna be awesome!
CitSB: What was wrong with the old ones?
AV: Absolutely nothing. And they’ll still be there for you to pore over at 3:00 AM with your favorite box of tissues.
CitSB: So why the new system?
AV: We’ve heard from many Strava athletes that it’s not easy to top a PR set in peak fitness, during a race, or when they were younger. So we’ve heard that concern and given them something new to strive for. “Strava” means “hopeless” in Finnish, after all. These new empty cups are our way of saying, “You’re not getting older. You’re as strong as you always were. You’re never going to die.”
CitSB: Wow. That seems, you know, patently false.
AV: Oh, it is. But these are Straddicts. Their paid memberships depend on keeping the fantasy alive. And we had other problems.
CitSB: Such as?
AV: After several years and thousands of efforts, the KOM’s on most segments have become unsurmountable, even for the fellows with $20k rigs, four-man TT teams, and onboard Doppler radar to perfectly time the wind. Even by only showing up to work occasionally, abandoning all pretense of family time, slimming down to 1%, hiring the super-extra-pro-level of online coaching, putting a physician on retainer to manage the EPO-induced blood clumping during sleep, our premium members were realizing that at the end of the day they simply weren’t going to snatch back a KOM set by some 22-year-old kid.
AV: Well, that’s a problem. Most of our premium addicts have got to get one KOM per month, minimum, or they let their subscription lapse. We even toyed with a moped-assist category, but a customer survey nixed that idea.
CitSB: Straddicts refuse to cheat, huh?
AV: Oh, not at all. But it’s too complicated to cloak an engine’s output so that it mimics the irregularity human-generated wattage.
CitSB: I wasn’t aware that it was all about the virtual trinkets. I mean, you can’t even hang them on the wall. I thought people really valued Strava for tracking routes and logging mileage.
AV: Well, our unpaid users may. But with regard to logging mileage, Scott Dickson, the first American winner of Paris-Brest-Paris, cracked that problem long ago using a type of technology that frankly stands up pretty well even today.
CitSB: What is that?
AV: I think they call it a “pencil and notepad.” I’ve seen it at the Technology Museum here in Silicon Valley, but don’t know of anyone who can actually program it. The other problem is that our premium members can’t do what they’ve always done to earn more virtual trinkets.
CitSB: What’s that?
AV: Create new segments. We ran a GPS analysis of North America and found that, in North County San Diego for example, every roadway, driveway, dirt trail, and parking lot has been broken down into 1-meter Strava segments. There are over 12 billion segments there. And every segment has a leaderboard thousands of riders deep.
CitSB: Surely there are some uncreated segments from, say, the front door of the apartment on the 25th Floor to the breaker box on the 12th?
AV: Possibly. But our analytics show that premium members prize competition with other riders. There will always be a place on Strava for secret segments that only you can ride, but most addicts want the thrill of combat. It’s all about sending and receiving “the letter,” you know?
CitSB: So why don’t they just race? CBR has a great crit coming this Sunday. I think for $35 bucks you can actually race your bike against real people. And it’s cheaper than Strava. And the trinkets are mostly edible.
AV: Racing is too dangerous for Straddicts, and often times a premium member who is really good at his age-weight-gender category on Strava turns out to be a lummoxing sack of shit in a real bike race. And it hurts their feelings when they get dropped.
CitSB: I see. So why don’t they train harder and race more so they don’t get dropped?
AV: Let me give you an example.
AV: Let’s say you could choose between getting your face punched so hard that it rams your front teeth so far up into the gums that they punctured the lower part of your skull and lodge into your brain. Or, you could go a Thai massage and have someone cover your body in oil, rub you down for a few bucks in all the right places, and tell you you look like a movie star. Which would you choose?
CitSB: Well, that’s easy, because I’m a bike racer.
AV: Right? But our premium members aren’t. That’s why they like Strava. As long as they get a virtual empty trinket they’ll keep paying the monthly fee because there’s always a happy ending.
CitSB: Just like the Thai massage?
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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 8, 2015 § 25 Comments
After a brutal two weeks of winter here in Los Angeles, where we had to wear booties, thick gloves, scarves, thermal beanies, a thick underlayer, armwarmers, short-sleeved jersey, insulated jacket, legwarmers, and plenty of embro, the 55-degree morning temperatures finally ended and summer returned. Surfer Dan and I decided to celebrate the end of the cold and bitter half-month of December/January by putting in some hard training.
Before we could train, though, we decided to hit the DK Donut Shop in Santa Monica, and figured we should grab a big cup of coffee at Philz, and then maybe pedal back home for a nap so that we could really chart out a super tough training regimen for February or March. As we pedaled down the bike path we ran into G$, who was going in the opposite direction. He was looking for partners to join him in his super tough interval workout, and so when he found out we were going to the donut shop he was all in.
“Intervals are hard, but intervals after donuts are even harder,” he said.
“Maybe so, but there’s something harder than donuts and intervals,” I replied.
“Yeah. Mountain biking.”
Money made a face. “I never could get the hang of that.”
“Me, either,” I agreed. “Everyone always tells me how fun it is, though.”
“Yeah, it’s a lot of fun, I guess, after it’s over.”
Surfer Dan was listening to us, because he’s a big MTB addict and is always trying to get me to go ride off-road with him, which I have occasionally done, invariably to my own detriment.
“The thing I could never wrap my head around was how they always say … ”
“‘…speed is your friend,'” I finished for him.
“Yeah. Speed really isn’t my friend. We haven’t spoken for years.”
“And all that crap about ‘don’t use your brakes.'”
“I know. If there’s one thing that screams ‘brakes’ it’s falling off a cliff at 40 headed straight for a log at the bottom of a minefield covered with jagged rocks.”
“Or what about that ‘don’t grip your bars so tightly’ stuff?” I laughed.
“Yeah. Like how are you supposed to not grip your bars in a death clench when physics are about to ram your face into a big stone?”
“Yep,” I agreed. “It’s a sport where you can find impending death easier than finding an accordion on an East LA radio station. But you know it wouldn’t be so bad if MTB just meant getting out on some wide and mostly flat fire road where you could pedal along and not have to drop off cliffs and avoid death every twelve seconds.”
“Uh-huh,” Money said.
“That’s what I hate about riding with Surfer. You start off on a nice fire road, no cars, birds chirping, and then he says, ‘Turn left here,’ and ‘here’ is a two-inch trail going down the face of a cliff. One minute you’re all happy and comfortable and having a good time and the next minute it’s nothing but screaming, furious terror, rage, and if-I-live-through-this-I’ll-kill-that-s.o.b.”
“I know,” said Money.
“It’s probably like how women feel when they’re having sex.”
There was a brief pause. “How do you figure?”
“Well, there they are having a good time, feeling all good and stuff and then the guy makes a hard left left turn down a narrow alley and she’s like ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and he’s like ‘Aw it won’t hurt’ and she’s like ‘Get that thing outta there’ and he’s like ‘Let’s just do it once and see how you like it’ and she’s like ‘No way’ and pretty soon everybody’s hollering and yelling and after it’s finished everybody’s all covered in sweat and kinda sore and wondering what the hell happened.”
It got really quiet then. “Uh, I think I better pass on coffee,” said Money. “I’m, uh, late for work.”
“Yeah,” said Surfer. “Me, uh, too.”
I got most of the way through my fourth donut before I realized that Surfer doesn’t even have a job.
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