February 25, 2015 § 19 Comments
My collection of cycling clothing is pitiful. A few years ago when we downsized I got rid of all the old stuff. Marco’s long-sleeved Chazal jersey that he wore in the Tour, my old Molteni jerseys (wool, of course), and the various iterations of miscellaneous club outfits. Big O, Cynergy, Ironfly, even my old SPY stuff.
Now my cycling closet has nothing in it that is more than two seasons old. However, in my chest of drawers I’ve saved three jerseys from the recycle man — my Belgian Waffle Ride jerseys from 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Unlike a lot of other jerseys I’ve worn, these three I actually earned. And if you’ve signed up for the 2015 edition, which promises to be longer, harder, dirtier, and grittier than the previous three, what follows is some advice — some real advice — about how to earn yours.
I’ve broken it down into four approaches. Pick your poison.
- The 2012 Approach a/k/a “Win it!”: The first year I trained hard and did several BWR prep rides to learn the layout of the course. I envisaged a hard day in the saddle, and somewhere over the 119-mile course I would either contend for the victory or slog it out for a top-ten finish. I got dropped on the very first dirt section. By the time we hit it I was already gassed, and I stumbled along, blind and in confusion, for the remaining hundred miles. The 2012 Approach is not recommended. I vividly remember sitting in the finish area, starving and thirsty, having forgotten to bring money for food. If Christine Marckx hadn’t bought me a hot dog I wouldn’t be here today.
- The 2013 Approach a/k/a “Survive it!”. The second year I trained even harder and did even more prep rides. Knowing the impossibility of a good finish, as my name isn’t Neil Shirley, Brent Prenzlow, or Phil Tinstman, my goal was simply to do respectably. Unfortunately I got caught up in the excitement of the first dirt section below the bike path and fell off my bicycle trying to climb the stone wall from the dirt and gravel back onto the path. By the section gravel section I was gassed. Dave Gonyer blew by me en route to Couser Canyon, and then so did a hundred other people. This 130-mile miseracordia left me crushed and destroyed at the halfway mark simply because I had given into the temptation of “go hard” so early.
- The 2014 Approach a/k/a “Enjoy it!”. The third year, although MMX insisted on placing me in the first wave, I dropped off as soon as I realized that in the “neutral” zone we were cranking out 500 watts on the rollers. I fell back with Pilot and Junkyard, determined to ride at my own pace. Junkyard got sucked into the enthusiasm of a passing group on the dirt track after Lake Hodges, and sprinted off. “Junkyard!” I said. “Don’t!” I saw him at the 80-mile mark bending weakly over his bike as he tried to make sense out of the phrase “39 miles to go, and they’re the hardest ones with the most vertical and the most dirt.” I rode steadily the whole day and finished tired but not destroyed. 131 riders finished ahead of me, but none of them looked very good. This was the only BWR I’d done that I would call a success.
- The 2015 Approach a/k/a “Share it!”. The fourth year I’ll also train hard and I’ll also ride my own ride. There will be no getting sucked into the unwinnable competition for me–I’m even less Neil Shirley than I was in 2012. But unlike last year I’ll have a small group of riders who’ve been fileted and left for dead in previous years, who now know that the BWR is not to be conquered, only to be completed. Because whether you’re second or seven hundredth, the finisher’s jerseys are all the same.
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March 17, 2014 § 29 Comments
There is still more than a month left before you line up for the the third SPY Belgian Waffle Ride. But it might as well be tomorrow.
You see, training and preparation aren’t going to help you this time around. If you were paying attention, the 2013 version was the most challenging one-day event on the calendar. It dragged us over unpaved roads, 120 miles of relentless riding, and 9,000 feet of elevation. The ride was so awful that people milled around in the parking lot afterwards trying to smile, and failing. There wasn’t enough strength left to raise the muscles around the corners of their mouths.
I’m exaggerating, of course. A handful of riders were tired but happy at the end. They were either genetic freaks who have nothing in common with you and me, or they were clever people who kept a steady pace from start to finish, refusing to get suckered into the accelerations of faster groups.
Everyone else was vulture meat.
How bad, was it, really? I was so devastated that I fell off the 3-year teetotaling wagon and have been drinking incessantly ever since. Only recently have the bad memories faded, but not really.
The 2013 BWR, however, was a cakewalk
The 2014 route map has been mostly finalized, and it is senseless in its difficulty. The ride is longer. Instead of a leg-snapping 120 miles, the total distance is 136. The ride is hillier. Instead of 9k feet, it is now 11k. Worst of all, instead of 10 miles of unpaved road, this year offers up more than 30 miles of sand, dirt, rocks, and gravel. That’s bad enough, as in “He put out his own eyes with a fork is bad enough.” But the thing that makes it worse is that much of the off-road portion is uphill. And then, of course, downhill.
Any one or any two of these elements could be properly trained for if, say, you were a full-time professional cyclist in your 20’s or 30’s. But all three elements together — distance, elevation, and road surface — mean that there is no realistic way to be ready for it. It will grind you up and leave you forlorn and mostly lost somewhere in North County San Diego on a fiery hot day in the middle of our first official Globally Warmed Spring.
None of this hell and misery takes into account the high likelihood of a mechanical, or two, or seven, or flats, or ripped out sidewalls or destroyed rims or cracked frames or shattered forks. In other words, if your equipment is right, it will be so heavy and sturdy that you will almost certainly never be able to get up the climbs towards the end of the course. If your equipment is wrong, you’ll DNF somewhere in the hinterlands, eyed by hungry pumas and by buzzards who circle overhead. Once you’ve collapsed at the roadside rest assured that the survivors will part out your bike and empty your pockets for extra food.
What’s a poor registrant to do who’s already paid his entry fees?
Below are my suggestions for surviving this miserable beatdown of a day, a day in which you will go through the spectrum of human emotions, from anger to rage to resignation to exhaustion to depression to fear of impending death to not caring anymore to beer. The happy end of the emotional spectrum will not manifest until months after the event, if ever. So:
- Do not pedal hard during the first 120 miles. That’s right. If you squander so much as a pedal stroke early on, thinking you can hang with the Bordines, the Rogerses, the Shirleys, the Cobleys, and the Dahls, you will come apart at Mile 60 or earlier. Trust me. I’ve done it.
- Do not be suckered in by the tasty waffle breakfast. Have your normal big ride pre-dinner and your normal big ride breakfast, whatever that is. Last year I ate 17 waffles and a pound of eggs and washed it down with a quart of coffee and paid the price beginning at Mile 5. That price was destruction.
- Avoid the rest stops unless you need water. If your nutritional plan is to fuel up on the Barbie food that will be available by the fistful, you’ll never make it. Carefully pack substantial, real food, like peanut butter sandwiches or a large t-bone steak.
- If you stop for water, get back on your bike immediately. Every minute you stop equals fifteen minutes of pedaling to exorcise the coagulated death sludge that will immediately clog your vascular system. If you’re not moving forward, you’re rocketing backwards.
- Carry three spare tubes and a mini-pump. Share your tubes with no one. This is not the day to help out people who are unprepared, or who showed up with threadbare tires, or who were too cheap to bring an extra tube, or who are riding on paper thin race tires and latex tubes, or who are simply unlucky. This is their day to die. So it is written.
- If you’re not on ‘cross or MTB tires (either of which is a suicidal choice, by the way), run 25-mm heavy-duty training tires. Run new ones, but make sure they have a hundred miles or so on them.
- Inflate your tires to 80 or 90 psi, max. The course will be covered with sharp stones, thorns, rough gravel, roots, glass, and dead people. The lower psi will greatly reduce the number of punctures as you roll over the teeth and bones of the dead and will add immeasurably to your comfort over the course of this 10- or 12- or 14-hour day.
- Go all-out with your gearing. 50 teeth max in front, 28 in back … 30 if you can make it work with your derailleur. When you hit the slopes of Double Peak and can crank it into your 36 x 30, you will love me and buy me free beer for the rest of the year. If you cheap out or lazy out and show up with real road gearing you’ll founder and die somewhere in the sandpits of backroad North County, never to be seen again.
- Do not have a single article of clothing or piece of equipment that you haven’t thoroughly tested and ridden in adverse conditions. This is not the day to try anything new, even that cute chick or guy you picked up at Green Flash Brewery the night before. Sample them later, after you’re dead.
- Ride with full-fingered gloves and a shit-ton of sunblock. The sun will drain and waste and sap your vital juices, so cover whatever you can stand as long as you don’t overheat.
- Max out your uninsured motorist coverage. In the unlikely event you are injured or killed on the course by a car, this will provide you with an avenue for compensation that you or your heirs will badly need.
- Make sure you’ve got at least one 120-mile day on your legs before the Big Day, but don’t bother trying to recon the whole route or to simulate it. You can’t, and the attempt will only destroy your will to live. Treat it like the invasion of Normandy. Prep the best you can, but leave the actual catastrophe to the day itself.
- Spend the night in Carlsbad or somewhere close to the start. That way we can all go pound IPA’s until the wee hours. Really. Because whether you show up with a bleeding hangover or fresh and rested, the end result will be the same.
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March 28, 2013 § 17 Comments
After the forty-seventh person sidled up to me and asked, “So, why’d you kill the blog?” I decided that an explanation was in order. Speculation and gossip always trump reality, and I heard some good faux explanations. My top three faves:
1. You’ve been sued, right?
2. Someone powerful is very angry at you, huh?
3. You ran out of [expletive] to write, didn’t you?
I did in fact run out, but not out of [expletive] to write. I ran out of time.
I had always told myself and anyone who asked that this blog only took up “An hour a day, max, and often not even that.” That much was true as far as the writing was concerned. I type quickly, and compose as I type.
But the planning and thinking that preceded each post, and the mental exhaustion that set in after each topic went live meant that the true toll was much more than an hour. I’d need multiple martinis after each posting, which was a huge problem as I’ve been sober for over three years now, give or take a couple of beers.
My work flow was disastrous. As soon as an idea occurred to me, or a funny thing happened on the road, I had to write it down and couldn’t rest ’til the job was done. That was partly practical. I have great difficulty holding onto ideas, and if I don’t sit down and whack ’em out they go away, never to be found again. Sure, there are notepads and voice recorders and all kinds of ways to memorialize ideas, but none of them worked well whistling down Latigo at 40 mph, and if I sat at the desk and began notating, the notes would turn into full-blown posts. Boom. Day shot.
I also had self-imposed deadlines. My two readers were eager for the latest burnt offering, and they would let me know it. Being the kind of guy who likes to please everyone and who can’t stand it when people are unhappy, and having a day job that is all about deadlines and time limits, I fell into the manic state of “gotta blog now,” and somehow maintained it for a very long time. Note: More than a week was a “very long time.”
As much of a relief as it has been not to blog, it’s been frustrating, too. Hundreds of great topics have slipped away never to be recaptured, things that could potentially change our lives forever, like the big group ride on PCH where countless riders were almost taken down by a gigantic, glistening, pink self-pleasuring device that had been abandoned on the side of the road.
What was the story of that device? How got it there? From whence did it come (so to speak)? Wherefore wert it cast aside?
Quality stuff, right?
Although the blog is now baaaaack, it’s not really ever coming back. I’ve limited myself to twenty minutes a day. It’s amazing how long it takes to finish something when you’ve only got twenty minutes to work on it. I’ve also instituted a new policy: Henceforth I will actually read what I’ve written before hitting “publish.” The simple act of reading something through in its completed state was a revelation, not unlike hearing your own voice on tape for the first time. “I sound like THAT?”
In this case, however, it was “I wrote THAT? What was I thinking?”
So that’s the best explanation I can give. What follows is what you’d expect: A preview of the 2013 Belgian Waffle Ride. What else?
Ignorance is bliss until April 7 rolls around
Despite the exhortations of the ride’s founder and the chirpalong “Uh-huh!” of those who have test ridden the 2013 version of the Belgian Waffle Ride’s newest course, only a handful of riders showed up two weekends ago to check out the entire route. This was a shame, because although it was a vicious and brutal day that left the handful of finishers completely shot, it was also the last opportunity before April 7 to experience the final course under fast conditions.
Here’s the take home for those who are somehow going to drag themselves to the start line (Patrick, Gerald, Ted…read carefully!):
1. A few short miles into the ride, and still in the “neutral” zone, the route takes a right off El Camino Real onto Kelly Drive. This immediately leads to a massive wall, which is short but so steep that the field will summarily be reduced from 100 or 150 to 50 riders or less. Maybe much less. There may be opportunities to regroup owing to traffic signals, but the wrong combination of stoplights will effectively separate you from the lead group forever when the pace lights up over this “neutral”-ly grueling hill.
2. Shortly after this monster there will be another wall that starts out as a moderate climb and quickly becomes a “grab for your biggest rear cog.” Panic will ensue, as those who have not pre-ridden the course realize that the ride hasn’t even begun and they’re riding at their limit. How many bullets left in the magazine with 120 miles to go?
3. At the 22-mile mark there is the first feed zone. Do you need food now? You’re doomed. This is where those who are still in the main pack of 50 or so riders will race by the feed zone and leap off the edge of the bike path. Yes, leap. All the funsies officially end here, and the first King of the Dirt segment begins. Sit back in the saddle as you plunge off the ledge or you will endo. There’s some more soft sand, a ditch, and then a long, firm, dirt/grass section where the ‘crossers will go ape. It’s inconceivable that more than twenty or thirty riders will survive this selection. The numbers will reduce further at the end of the trail, where you’ll have to dismount, throw your bike over your shoulder, and clatter up a sheer rock embankment in your roadie shoes to get atop the path again. If you haven’t crashed, flatted, been dropped, or given up, count yourself lucky, or a contender, or not very smart.
4. Covered in your first fine film of dust, you’ll get a breather on the smooth asphalt of the bike path, but it won’t last for more than a couple of minutes. You’ll next encounter some fancy 180-turns, a curb-hop, and a launch onto a really nasty gravel section. It goes on for a couple of miles, and if you don’t thread the beaten section of the gravel you’ll be out amongst the large, loose, gravelly chunks, where crashing, flats, crashing, flats, crashing, flats, and losing control will send you off onto the embankment studded with massive, sharp paving stones, and from there into the river. Make sure you’ve got good tires and girded loins and a life preserver. You’ll need ’em.
5. At the end of this section the pre-final selection has been made. It will be a small group. A little pavement, a swig from the bottle, a deep breath, and folks will be looking around to see who’s left. It will be a select group. There will be a few minutes of peace punctuated by a sprint, after which you’ll ascend the next piece of unpaved road. This is about a mile long and will be the third section in the KOD calculations. If there are any stragglers here who should have been kicked out the back earlier on, they will exit stage rear now. You’ll be thoroughly lathered.
6. At the bottom of the short descent you’ll enter what is a killingly hard part of the course. There’s a short climb followed by miles and miles of rollers. The worst ones come in a series of three, with the longest the last. It will punish you beyond belief, and will take a complete effort to stay with the group. You’ll then hit another long series of undulating ups and downs, none particularly hard, but each one will reduce your arsenal, almost unnoticeably, until you have to stand up and pedal. This is a great time to quit kidding yourself if you’re with the main bunch. Sit up and be ready to spend the rest of the day enjoying the ride and focusing on getting through it. Let the heroes go do their thing. You’re no hero; you don’t even have a thing.
7. If you’ve let your ephemeral fitness fake you into hanging with the group, you’ll eventually wind up on a long grade that goes one endless mile up Old Highway 395 to Rainbow. It will destroy you, because someone in the group will take the opportunity to attack or at least keep the pressure on. If you get over this, the only thing that awaits now is hell. Your reward for perseverance will be a huge serving of catastrophe.
8. There will be a long, undulating run-in through Rice Canyon Rd. that has a couple of short kickers but ends in a glorious, balls-out descent of almost 3.5 miles, railing through shaded, twisting turns that would be beautiful if you weren’t so terrified of clipping a wheel and going down, or cooking a turn and becoming a hood ornament to oncoming traffic. Gather yourself, don’t pedal any more than is necessary, and get ready for the end of the ride, which is much nearer than you think.
9. Couser Canyon climb isn’t very long; only about 2.8 miles with two or three really steep sections. If you’ve been play-acting on LA County climbs like Grandview or Ganado, in theory this one is a piece of cake. You’ll find, however, that this cake is laced with razor blades, which in turn are spiked with cyanide and served on a radioactive plate. All those punchy rollers you’ve been doing the past 60 miles? They come home to roost HERE. You will cross the peak utterly broken, wondering what the hell happened, and screaming at yourself that you can’t believe you wasted so much energy so early on. That’s right. The ride isn’t even halfway over, and all the hard stuff starts now. If you had given up at the very beginning and rolled at an easy pace until the top of this climb, you’d still have your work cut out for you. But you didn’t. You hammered and followed wheels and tried to fake out physics. Mother nature? She still doesn’t like it when you try to fool her.
10. A punishing series of rollers ensue. The Lilac-Wilkes-Sierra climbs take the softening up that’s been administered so far and turn it into a numbing, grinding, slogging struggle just to surmount each roller. Punctuated with terrifying, half-paved descents that require a perfect line to avoid flatting or crashing out, this next few miles will leave you drained and defeated. Which means, of course, that it will be relentless misery from here on out.
11. A quick turn takes you onto the next King of the Dirt section. It’s long, it takes the fastest and best riders three minutes minimum to complete, and it takes the flailers three times that long. Recent rains have left the dirt soft and sandy, which is shorthand for “prepare to do a lot of walking and/or tipping over.” The initial drop into the creekbed has been the site of frames splitting in half and of riders careening off into the barbed wire, where they’ve been shredded to ribbons. The road alternates between navigable and “Thank Dog I brought my 28,” as short pitches rise up almost vertically and are surfaced with loose sand interspersed with terrible potholes. The end is a steep paved climb.
12. By now you’ve been completely subdued, and the thought of finishing is the only thing on your mind. What’s left is so awful that all you need to know is this: Bandy Canyon, Lake Hodges Rock Garden, Questhaven, and Double Peak. This fearsome foursome packs the worst of the BWR into the final 30 miles, not even counting the awful climb from the rock garden back up to Del Dios: Vicious climbs, precarious dirt roads, and the numbing effect of 130 miles and close to 11,000 feet of climbing.
This year’s ride will be even harder because of the sheer number of participants. In addition to the well-known hammerheads, riders from Europe, Canada, and other far-flung hinterlands (even Texas) have registered for this epic beatdown, throwdown, and throw-up. So eat big the night before, and eat big the night before that, and eat big the night before the night before, and pack down as many eggs and waffles as you can on the morning of the big ride.
See you in the infirmary. Over and out.