The pigs’ revenge

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.

“Yeah?”

“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.

END

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Clodhopper gets a bid

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:

  1. No Freds.
  2. No wankers.
  3. No last-minute-undependables.
  4. No whiners.
  5. No riders who violate the secret rules.

However, exceptions abound, which give hope to all, for example:

  1. No Freds, but numerous Long Beach and New Mexico riders have participated.
  2. No wankers, but numerrous unfit, hopeless peloton anchors and Elron have participated.
  3. No last-minute-undependables, but … Neumann.
  4. 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.

Why?

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.

“Hey, Bull.”

“Yeah?”

“You doing FTR this year?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think you could get me in?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“It’s full.”

“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?”

“Well, yeah.”

“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.”

“No what?”

“No, he can’t come.”

“Who?”

“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?”

“Nope.”

“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
2) Dogg
3) Flatback
4) Manslaughter
5) SternO
6) Full Gas
7) Dream Crusher
8) G$
9) Major Bob
10) Spyvee
11) BP a/k/a Oilspill
12) Dally
13) Hair
14) Iron Mike
15) MMX
16) G3
17) Hottie
18) Surfer Dan
19) Bull
20) FTR DS
21) Wanky
22) Limey Carboy
23) Clodhopper
24) LRon
25) Marmaluke

END

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Good love

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:

  1. Grimes Canyon: Frias
  2. Fillmore sprunt: Hair
  3. Santa Paula sprunt: Hair
  4. Ojai climb: G$
  5. Ojai sprunt: Hair
  6. Casitas climb, first peak: Surfer Dan
  7. Casitas climb, second peak: Surfer Dan
  8. Santa Barbara county line sprunt: Hair
  9. Ventura county line sprunt: King Harold
  10. Balcom Canyon climb: Surfer Dan
  11. Golf Course climb: Manslaughter
  12. Most trash talked: Wanky

Honorable and Dishonorable Mention

  1. The last-minute cancellations, including Elron who bailed because he was too lazy to get up in time.
  2. Mike Frias for pulling like a Trojan All Fricking Day Award.
  3. 60-year-old Jim Bowles for Octogenarian of the Ride Award.
  4. Stern-O for Toughest Old Boot of the Ride Award.
  5. Turtle for Finishing Award.
  6. Manslaughter for Dude We’re Going to Really Fear Now That He Knows the Route Award.
  7. Unpronounceable for If He Ever Gets Serious About the Road We’re Doomed Award.
  8. Hair for All Around Champion Award.
  9. Surfer Dan for KOM, BOM, and SOM Awards.
  10. Uberfred for Best Projectile Vomit Award.
  11. Toronto for Best Self-Praise Award.
  12. G$ for Best Old Dude Who Rides Better Than the Kids Half His Age.
  13. Danny N. for Gutting It Out Award.
  14. King Harold for Best Recovery After Contracting Bubonic Plague at Training Camp.
  15. Jaeger for Best Mother Hen Award.
  16. Polly for Best Driver Award.
  17. BB-Gun for Best Shock Therapy on Balcom Award.
  18. 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.”

On the French Toast Ride, no one can hear you scream

January 11, 2013 § 20 Comments

[Private message sent out to lucky invitee participants of Dave Jaeger’s Annual and Legendary Southern California French Toast Ride Beatdown and Smacktalk Session]

Dear Wankers,

By now you’ve checked the weather forecast. Rather, you’ve been compulsively checking it for the last month, hoping for rain, or snow, or even heavy clouds, anything to make Jaeger call off this nonsensical affair.

The bad news is that in Camarillo tomorrow it will only be partly cloudy with no snow or tsunamis in the forecast. The worse news is that when we roll out it will be 35 degrees. The worst news of all is that you have no idea what to wear.
Leg warmers? But what if it doesn’t warm up in time?

Tights? What if it gets too hot? Isn’t the high supposed to be 58?

Shoe covers? But aren’t they heavy and won’t they slow you down? Plus, they’re too bulky to put in your jersey, right? And they look clunky. But you hate cold feet. You bonk when your feet get cold, remember?

Maybe you should wear toe covers? But toe covers won’t do anything in 25 degree weather. Twenty-five degrees? Right, twenty-five, because with the wind chill you can knock off a good ten degrees, and that’s assuming the wind isn’t already blowing straight into your face, which it did last year for the first ten miles. If it does that tomorrow at 35 degrees, you’ll be dead by mile six. How will you keep warm?

Embro? You haven’t used it all year because you’ve been golfing and cooking Cornish hens in your new, oversized George Foreman Cooker like Harry, or sleeping ‘til noon like Yuletide, or not riding at all like Toronto. If you use embro now you could end up with hot parts, like Skeletor did two years ago. Hot parts for seven hours is a long, hot time.

And so it goes, one worry after another, one nagging concern followed by another bothersome consideration, the concatenation of which will lead to rack and ruin at about mile 80, or much earlier if your name is Dalrymple or some other impossible-to-spell surname.The good news is that there’s nothing you can do about it, and freezing to death might actually be preferable to what’s really in store for all but a tiny handful of riders whose preparation, fitness, hardiness, and  lust for pain are perfectly tuned (that would be me). Longhaired Dude, I’m not talking about you. You’ll get a few sprint points that no one wants anyway and then suffer like a dog the rest of the ride as you suck wheel and refuse to do any work and get shelled on all the climbs before the pace even picks up and then go back to your Team Helen’s wanker buddies and thump your chest.

Old Lug, we know you’ve been silent and training your butt off, but you should have been training your stomach off, because the way that thing hangs down it’s a wonder it doesn’t get caught in your chain. Isn’t there cosmetic surgery for that? And even though you’ve been training like mad, the best you can expect is survival, tucked in at the rear, never sharing the work and letting others drag you across the highways and byways of the FTR.Major Bob, you and Fence will take turns hiding from the wind and then fighting to the death for “biggest dude to make it up the climb without recourse to a defibrillator.” If it’s a tie there will likely be an arm wrestling contest. I’m putting my money on Fence, just because he’s from Philly and has arms like a cheese steak sandwich, although Bob’s military affiliation means that he might be expected to have the heavier caliber weapons or a bayonet that he might use in a pinch.

Punkster, I can’t believe you’re coming back for this ride. Thirty years younger than the next youngest rider, you’ve failed to ever distinguish yourself except as fodder for the first easy attack into Fillmore. After that you’ve been crushed, beaten, dropped, and ground up by people old enough to be your grandfather’s grandfather, or older than Stern-O, even. Well, not older than Stern-O.

G3, your excuse of loose bowels is finely honed and we’ve all been led to expect that you’ll just barely be surviving, but we know it’s cover for the fact that you’ve logged 14,000 base miles this winter squiring the whole pack of Big Orangers up and down PCH at 13 mph on no-drop rides. We know that secretly you’re going to make a surge after sucking wheel the whole ride, sandbagging to the very end and then, if you flail, blaming it on the bowels, but if you succeed, rubbing salt in the wound by saying you did it “At 50%; imagine if I hadn’t been sick.”

Bull, you’ll avoid blowing up in the first mile, maybe, and will do everything in your power to “ride strategically.” However, there’s no “strategy” for getting a boxcar of lead up Casitas and Balcom without a hoist, and the closest thing we had to a hoist in terms of weight, girth, and immobility was Oldman, and he’s quit in order to replace his La-Z-Boy reclinacouch with a triple wide version and built-in brewpub. So you’ll lug yourself up on your hands and knees and promise to do better next time. Hint: you won’t do better until you learn to say “no” to the fifth trip up the buffet line at those 1-percenter conferences you attend every other week.

Stern-O, you’ll suck wheel except for one glory pull where there’s no danger of getting dropped, remind everyone that you’re ten years older in horse years than Methuselah, and will make sure that whatever happens you’re not the last one up Balcom. Then you’ll go home and brag to the obese dude with heart problems who’s your riding partner that you “Hung with Roadchamp and G$ on the climbs.”Roadchamp, no matter how many KOM’s you take, you’ll get no respect because, well, there’s nothing you’ve ever done that’s worthy of it. Except your blingmobile. That is truly awesome. Along with the butcher trophy that you sleep with. (PS: Would you put in your will that I get the butcher trophy? I’ve been sleeping with my ribbon from Brad House’s PV Hillclimb back in ’09, and it’s just not the same.)

Überfred, I’m lumping you with the other Long Beach Freddies as toxic material barely worthy of mention. The entire pack will be pedaling madly to stay away from the cadmium/mercury/radioactive isotopes that all you guys carry on your skin. And frankly, they won’t have to pedal very hard to do it. We’ll see how late into the ride you keep yelling for everyone to “take a pull.” My prediction is that you’ll be silently sucking wheel the entire day, praying that no one sends you into the wind.

Becker Bob, the last time you did this ride you got the award for Dude Who Rode Longest With Fewest Training Miles. That was honorable then, but it’s been two years and you should have ridden your bike in the interim. This year you will be coyote fodder. The Circle K has been boarded up, though, so if you carry a hammer you can pull a few nails, climb in, and at least have somewhere to spend the night.

Bones ‘N Skin, I remember like it was yesterday when you made that acceleration on Lake Casitas, followed by a major engine rupture and rapid reversal of motion. Will 2013 be any different? How? Why? You need to get off the Toronto/Yuletide/Becker Bob training program and increase your mileage to at least three donut shops per week. Really.

Skeletor, you’ve trained for this and this alone for the last three years. Quit pretending otherwise. We’ve followed you on Strava and know that you’re peaking. There will be no excuses this year, no “Wankster blew at the bottom of Balcom after our pee stop attack and collapsed on the guardrails” excusifying. Nope. No broken back, cracked necks, laminated skulls, infected intestines, or anything else. Pressure’s on. Everyone’s got a beautiful, well-polished, handcrafted excuse except you. Welcome to hell.

Anonymous, you’d deserve lots of smack talk except that you’re always hiding so well that I frankly couldn’t pick you out of a crowd of two. Maybe this year you will nose to the front and show your true colors…and as long as they’re not those awful corpse-gray colors you were sporting last year, it will be a good thing. Did you eventually burn those kits? I think they were the ugliest thing in the peloton ever. Until you came up with those checkered things. And Wehrlissimo’s plaid shorts. Yuck!

Gil, you  get a pass for saving that dude’s life in the car. But next year, forget it. The bulls-eye will be so big a blind man could hit it.

Turtle, you’ll cower and shrink again on the 101, unable to pull through, barely able to hang on, a testament to the ill effects of too much beer, too many cheeseburgers, too many videos, and too little time spent riding something other than Überfred’s 26-mile “hammerfests” in the mountains of Long Beach. It won’t be pretty, but we’ll all be watching.

Dalypunzel, Fussy, and Sufer Dan, as newbies you get the fewest words. You are negligible.G$, you’ve already laid claim to doing something spectacular on the climbs and have gone so far as to invoke that little incident last year where you tried to ride your bike under a car. Downhill. At speed. That’s the kind of tactical savvy we’ve come to expect from a dude who thinks that bright green and orange look good together, and tomorrow we expect more poor judgment, reckless displays of strength, and ultimately getting owned by Roadchamp, WHO’S JUST BETTER THAN YOU.

Harry, what can I say? As long as you get on my wheel once, I have the medicine to punish you for your insolence. You inhaled it once on Encinal. You will inhale much, much more tomorrow. I’ve been snacking on a special variety of double-fermented cattle offal kimchee for you and you alone. And no cheating this year on Casitas, you cheating cheaty cheater.

DJ, your efforts on Casitas will be marked. By me. I will drop you just like two years ago, when you flailed, struggled, and surged, only to get kicked out the back at the end at the end of the climb. Okay, so you caught up and dropped me later on the second mini-peak, but that’s because I let you. Tomorrow I will simply let you dangle, then garrot you with an attack of such speed, power, and wild abandon that your last memory will be of a pink flash traveling at the speed of light. No manner of home remodel excuses or fan thingy routing or placement of the urinal (Next to the bed? In the kitchen?) will earn you anything other than a merciless drubbing.

Yuletide, you know you shouldn’t be doing this. You’ve not been riding. You’ve had surgery. Big surgery. Massive surgery. You’ve had kidney failure. Potassium depletion. Erectile dysfunction. Echinaea of the postpartum. And worse. Even without those things you’re a first-class wanker. But your foolish pride and desire to be with the boys is forcing you do something that even Oldman recognized was folly. Repent now, and give your spot to Tink. She’ll ride better, punish more people, and get more out of it than you, who will be in the passenger seat of the sag wagon come mile fifty.

Toronto, as the only person weaker and less trained than Yuletide, people are counting on you to act as a cushion for their own flailing. That would be Fussy, who was, in fact super depressed to learn that Oldman was bailing because he’d pegged Oldman as the one rider who, even mathematically, had no chance of finishing ahead of him. Marc, you had so many great excuses! Too much work; romancing a lovely lady; trips to Rome; ballet lessons. Why not cash in on them now? You’ll crawl up the climbs and be lucky to make it to the top, and I’m just talking about that little bump after we leave the Jaegers’ driveway. Really. This is madness. Quit while you’re still behind.

As for me, I’ve shaved 76 pounds off my normally large frame and now have a power-to-weight ratio of Huge : Tiny. There will be no mercy. I’ve logged more miles than G3 and more intensity than all of G$ and Roadchamp’s big ring workouts combined. I rode one-legged around the peninsula yesterday in a 30-degree sleetstorm wearing only a Speedo and t-shirt. It took fifteen minutes.

I’ll be pre-fueling tonight with a special kimchee combo for Harry, and will be bringing the magic dates-and-almond rocket fuel for in-ride power boosts and speed enhancement. In short, there’s nothing any of you will be able to do in the face of my awesomeness, other than take photos (from a distance) and post cool things on my FB page like “You’re the best!” and “Like” and “Über like.”

Free autographs to the first five who finish after me, $45 each for the rest of you.

There will of course be fine, warm, tasty French toast prior to the screaming beatdown, but here, too, your choices are fraught with peril. Eat too much and ride like you’re dragging a railroad tie. Eat too little and no amount of in-ride fueling will feed the beast on the 101, let alone Casitas and Balcom. But with all the clothes you’re bringing, will there be pocket room for food? How many Gu’s can you force into your jersey? And what’s the best food to take out and eat without having to shuck off three layers of clothing to get to it? And what about zipping and unzipping while you ride? What if you’re not so good at that, and you have to stop to zip back up? What if you get dropped, or if you’re already dropped? Toilet stops? What if the cold makes you pee more than normal? What if “normal” is as often as our leader’s tender prostate, one-urination-per-kilometer?

Oh, and how’re you going to climb Casitas with twelve pounds of wool clothing tied to your waist?

Let’s not forget that your S.O. has a honey-do list for you tonight so you won’t get to bed before one o’clock. Then you’ll toss and turn. And you have a hard time riding on insufficient sleep. I suppose you can keep hoping that maybe it will snow, like it did this week in Palestine for the first time in recorded history.

Well, it’s been fun. I’m going to start my taper now. Say your prayers, if you believe in that sort of thing. The only one who’ll be listening is the stony slope of Balcom Canyon.

Are we there yet?

January 10, 2012 § 5 Comments

It’s that time of year…in a mere four days the epic French Toast Ride will launch from sunny Camarillo, and the lucky invitees will get to enjoy the best breakfast in Southern California prepared by two of the world’s greatest parents, one of the world’s greatest wives, and two of the world’s greatest daughters. After filling up on french toast, butter, syrup, bacon, sausage, coffee, french toast, coffee, syrup, butter, sausage, bacon, and some butter, syrup, coffee, sausage, bacon, and french toast, twenty-five plump and lard-swollen pedalers will leave Camarillo for the morale-sapping, leg-breaking, spirit-crushing, 117-mile sojourn through sunny SoCal in January.

For those embarking on their first FTR, and for the hapless millions who won’t get to sample the wonders of the FTR breakfast, here are the nuts and bolts of the ride, and a stage-by-stage recounting of why it achieves the status of “epic.”

Stage One: The French Toast

In the days of the Aztecs, prior to sacrificing a victim to the god, the priests would fete the victim, feed him every delicacy, and lead him with great pomp and circumstance to the high ground atop the temple, there to remove his beating heart before the eyes of the throng below. The parents, wife, and daughters of FTR DS prepare a feast that is truly memorable. It is tasty. It is delectable. Most importantly, it is comprised almost wholly of food items that are not recommended for a 6-hour deathfest on the bike. The combination of great food, wonderful people, and being generously welcomed into their home paints a bitter and brutal contrast to the misery and pain to be meted out for the balance of the day. Each bite, each chew of the french toast reminds the participants of their mortality, of their impending doom, and of the beatdown that awaits.

Stage Two: The Happy Rollout

Remember when you used to take family car vacations as a kid? The car was loaded, everyone was excited, you had your coloring books and crayons, and the dog was on your brother’s side of the car. Everyone was happy, thrilled to be together, and looking forward to a great time spent riding brokedown nags on some rock-strewn, desolate moonscape masquerading as a working ranch while drunken “cowboys” made fun of the klutzy city kids and ogled their moms.

This is the part of the FTR when everyone is merry and bright. Like the car trip, it won’t last.

Stage Three: Make Billy Stay on His Side

At approximately 32:10 into the ride you hit the first little bump, a modest 400-foot climb that feels like your big brother’s first incursion into your side of the car. It’s a little probe, a test, a brief bump in the heart rate, and it’s the short stab that Roadchamp always takes to let you know that if you want any KOM of anything on FTR, it will go through him. You try to push Billy’s leg back onto his side of the car, but he doesn’t budge. “Dad!” you yell.

Stage Four: Billy Breaks Your Favorite Crayon

You descend for a couple of minutes and then start to climb again. This time it’s more than just Billy’s leg in your space. This time it’s about a 9-minute climb, going from 845 to 1,329 feet. The pace is steady, and this is the first time on the ride that you get a sustained bit of heavy breathing. You’re 53 minutes into the ride when you hit the top, and Billy has reached over and snapped your favorite green crayon quite in half. You’d really yell for Dad now, but you’re out of breath, and no sooner do you hit the crest than it’s a full-gas descent, replete with switchbacks and pissed off traffic. The next five miles you can’t do anything but hang on, as it’s a death battle all the way to the sprint sign in Fillmore. Billy has now taken the broken pieces, tossed one out the window and shoved the other one up your nose. He whispers in your ear: “If you tell Dad I’ll kill you you tattletale baby.” You choke back the tears as everyone regroups. If you made the mistake of getting dropped and chasing, or of hammering for the sprint win, you take note that it’s only 1:06 and 20.7 miles into the ride.

Stage Five: The Dog Starts to Fart

The next 25 minutes are rolling to downhill. You rationalize losing your favorite crayon by reminding yourself that there are still 63 other colors, including white, which isn’t really a color and which you suspect Crayola just stuck in there to fill up the box. Soon you’re at the bottom of a valley, and you begin a 35-minute climb that takes you from 300 feet up to about 1,600. The dog starts to fart. Since his nose is out Billy’s window, his butt is pointed to you. Everyone complains, except Billy, who laughs. You open your window, which draws the farts right into your face. So you tear up a little. It really stinks. You’ve been dropped on the climb by now and are flogging with Yoda, who is mumbling some shit about light sabers and Beggar’s Canyon. You tell him to shut the fuck up. From the top of the climb there’s an insane 8-mile race into Ojai. You’ll hit 45+ mph and still be nowhere near taking the sprint. You’re now 46 miles in. The car stinks like perpetual dog fart. Billy’s started kicking you. Everyone’s hungry and needs to pee. Just before the first shitstorm of the day breaks out, you pull into the convenience store in Ojai. You feel okay. Tired, a little. More tired than you thought you’d be. “How long is FTR again?” you wonder.

Stage Six: “I’m pulling the car over NOW.”

Shortly after Ojai, just as your legs have gotten good and cooled down and stiff as boards, you hit the bottom of the Casitas Lake climb. It’s a mere 25 minutes to the top, and it only goes from about 500 feet to 1200 or so. Why does it hurt so bad? Because Billy has gone from filliping the back of your head to punching you just below your kidney. Perhaps it’s Roadchamp. Perhaps it’s G$. Perhaps it’s FTR DS. Whoever it is, by the time you’re halfway up the hill it’s just you, the gradient, and a world of hurt. Consider your ass officially kicked. You moan and whine a little. Dad has finally had enough. He pulls over, grabs whichever kid is handiest (it’s always you), strips off his belt and tans your hide while you dance on the roadside. It’s the first nasty, bitter, brutal beating of the day. Billy looks on in glee. The dog gets his nose into your knapsack and eats your peanut butter sandwich. You reach the top thoroughly smashed…but that’s not all! Three miles later there’s a horrific sprint at the sign for Carpinteria. You hit 1200 watts. Not even good enough for third. Everyone regroups. You’re exhausted. You’re hungry. You didn’t just shoot a few bullets, you emptied the clip. And you’re only 66 miles in.

Stage Seven: Are we there yet?

Sixty-six miles and 3:15 into the ride you roll out onto Highway 101. If the sun, wind, and tide are aligned you’ll see the Queen of the Coast cranking out immaculate coke lines on the carpet of blue ocean. For a few seconds you’ll think, “Wow, I’m in paradise.” But only a few. Because the next thirteen miles will involve King Harold beating the pedals into a 30-mph tattoo. It will be your own personal hell as the highway clips away, all the thrill of the trip faded away, Billy asleep and drizzling spit onto your leg, the dog scratching his fleas over onto your exposed skin, and nothing left but monotony and numbing pain. “Are we there yet?” you mutter miserably. “No,” Dad says. With finality. You cry a little bit into your sleeve and try not to lose the wheel in front of you, as nothing on earth is as horrific as a solo flail on the 101 as the rest of the group recedes into the distance. Hockey Stick…you listening?

Stage Eight: How come you put oil in the motor, daddy?

“Because the oil lubricates the moving parts, reducing friction, which reduces heat, which allows the engine to run. That’s why.”

“What happens if you don’t put in any oil, daddy?”

“The engine gets overheated and seizes up.”

“What’s seizing up, daddy?”

“Seizing up is when something coagulates into a lump and stops moving like it’s supposed to.”

“What’s coagulates, daddy?”

“Coagulates is what happens when you reach Ventura after the 101 at about mile 83, and you stop at the Utotem for a piss and to fuel up and all the poison in your muscles gels, and your legs get ice cold, and the blood sinks down into your shoes, and your thighs get heavier than bad poetry, and even the thought of throwing a leg over the top tube is more painful and agonizing than you can bear, but a few minutes later you nonetheless have to remount and slog 350 feet up over the town, and then you fall into the paceline from hell and everyone batters along for the next forty minutes in utter exhaustion and despair until you reach Santa Paula. That’s ‘coagulates.”

Stage Nine: Well, gang, we’re here!

There is no way to sugar coat Balcom Canyon Road. It is steep. The two-mile approach is into a headwind. It breaks your spirit, assuming you still have any, daring you to even get up it. It jerks out of the landscape like a jagged fang, sneering at your paperboys that crisscross the asphalt as you try to stay upright. If you have anything left at all in the tank, which of course you don’t, it will be gone at the top. If you’re already running low at the bottom, which of course you are, you’ll die a thousand deaths. If you ride at the front for much of the ride and attack early while the others are remounting from their pee break you will be punished with the cramp of a thousand deaths and the garbled admonitions of an incoherent Yoda on a late-night drunk. Regardless of how you arrive…you have arrived.

Stage Ten: My, what crushed egos you have!

At mile 113.4 there is a 230-foot climb that goes for .8 mile. This is the last stretch of highway where your bladder is so full it’s already started to dribble but you’re afraid to say anything because the last whipping Dad meted out was predicated with, “If I have to stop this goddamned car again to beat your ass it’s the last beating you’ll ever get!” Your legs are ravaged by the flea bites. Your hair is singed by the dog farts. Billy has turned your legs and arms purple from the six hours of pummeling. You’re too hurt, broken, and numb to even cry. So when Big Bowles lumbers by you just grab his wheel and hold it until he shakes you off like the dew from a lily. You stagger up the final few meters, wondering why you’re in a sport that uses the Metric System, and why meters sound so much more brutal than yards.

Then, pop! You’re over the hill and done, screaming downhill to the welcoming front yard of the parents of the FTR DS, where cold cuts and cold beer await. Is there anywhere in the world better than grandmother’s house? Of course not! Never was, never will be.

FTR 2011 write-up and awards presentation

January 30, 2011 § 5 Comments

Some of what is written below is potentially true. All errors, omissions, exaggerations, and falsifications become the property of the finder.

Pass the cyclonite, please

We sat there in the living room, awash in panic, anxiety, and the hormonal flood that comes from having suddenly assaulted our stomachs with the lard count of twelve delicious sausages, a plate of tasty bacon, half a loaf of a bread sopped in the Jaegers’ famous French toast dip, and a scalding cup of coffee. This was the briefing room of Dave Jaeger’s FTR, otherwise known as Mr. and Mrs. Jaeger’s bedroom, where seven of the day’s nineteen participants were hurriedly stripping, dashing into the bathroom, clogging the plumbing, and dashing back out to put on their cycling clothes. If you’ve ever wondered what a group of near-50-ish naked men looks like prancing around in a small bedroom together, you have problems. Plus, I can tell you that it isn’t very pretty.

The key characteristic of the morning was that it was flat fucking cold. Taking 43 degrees and subtracting 10 degrees for the wind chill, it meant that everyone was digging around in their duffel bags trying to find the leg warmers they’d left at home because the forecast said the high was going to be 63.

“Yeah, it’s going to be 63,” Jeff said with a laugh. “At 11 o’clock. So you’ll only have to freeze your balls off for about three hours.” Jeff had brought a plastic windbreaker, arm warmers, and leg warmers.

I, on the other hand, had eschewed the bulky choice of extra clothing in favor of an embrocation produced by a company called Mad Alchemy. I’d used it the day before for the first time, just a very slight amount on my legs, and it had heated them up for the entire 2-hour ride.

“Wanna try some of this?” I asked my semi-nude bedroom mates.

“Oh, hell yeah. Gimme some of that,” they more or less said in unison, scuffling to be the first to dip their fingers into the tawny red gel.

GFT DS Dave J. looked in. “What the fuck are you guys doing?”

“We’re putting on embrocation to keep our legs warm. Like the pros in Europe. That’s how they ride Paris-Roubaix without leg warmers.”

“Listen up, dumbshits. Don’t ever try new stuff on race day. What happens when you get an hour into the ride and find out you’re allergic to that crap, and you break out in hives? There ain’t no sag on this ride, remember?”

By this time everyone was ignoring him as hard as they could, and really ignoring the label on the Mad Alchemy tub that listed the active ingredient “rapeseed oil.” I don’t know what rapeseed is, but it sounds pretty hard core, so to speak.

MMX, whose motto is, “If the bottle says ‘take one’ always take six” was smearing on the Mad Alchemy like icing on a birthday cake. Bull, ever the competitor, saw how much MMX was using and doubled the application. SternO, who actually uses embrocation, carefully applied a very modest amount. The other nitwits smeared it on like putty.

This stuff is great man my legs are hot

When we rolled out of the driveway, the cold morning air hit us hard. Happily, those of us who’d been pro enough and smart enough to ignore Jaeger had toasty, pre-warmed legs which seemed to get warmer with every pedal stroke. Wind, schmind.

The only person having issues was MMX, who fidgeted and rotated around on his saddle in obvious discomfort. “You okay? You’re not cold, are you?” I asked.

“Nah, but I’m ah, warm in the wrong place.”

“What do you mean?”

MMX pointed at his crotch. Just before rolling out he’d dashed into the bathroom and grabbed his plumbing with the mitt he’d used to smear on the heat cream. He now had a fearsome case of hot dick, and since the embrocation is gradually absorbed by the skin over several hours, things were literally just heating up. Of course he couldn’t reach into his shorts and readjust his package because that would just smear more embrocation around the danger zone. All he could do was fidget, kind of like you’d do if someone made you set your balls on a hot skillet.

“How long does this shit last?” he asked.

“Well, I was talking to Patrick Brady about it yesterday, and he said that it will keep you warm for eight hours, no problem.”

Fillmore was a worthless president

After half an hour we hit the first small climb, with MMX and his fiery junk driving us to the top until JK sprang out from the back and summited far ahead of everyone else. We descended and began the short climb that  screamingly descends to the city limit sign at Fillmore, for which there is a mad dash for the line.

I rode up next to G3, who was doing the FTR for the first time, and told him that whatever happened, he’d better not get separated on the descent. There’s a 3-mile run in on the flats to the city limit sign, and even if you’re just five or six bike lengths off on the downhill, you’ll never catch back on once the lead group hits the flats. We bombed the descent, and Alex, a young pro who rides for Team Type 1, came unhitched, wrongly figuring that he’d just catch back on at the bottom. He never did.

Harry turned on the flatback gas and started a whipping rotation with MMX, JK, G3, and Bull. With about half a mile to go a second group consisting of Napoleon, Hegg, DJ, and several others bridged up. The big, fat, green sprint sign sat in plain view and Napoleon attacked, smashed the group, and shelled himself out of his own breakaway. MMX took a huge pull, and JK found himself on the front and not at all displeased as he took out the big paddle and prepared to deliver a spanking.

He jumped, followed by Harry, with me locked on Harry’s wheel. The center line had these giant divots spaced at ten foot intervals so that if you hit one of them at speed you were going down. I charged Harry on the left and he eased me right up against the divots. I hit the gas  again and shot clear, raising my arms in a victory salute to myself. Harry and JK rolled up after a while, as the finishing gap was big enough to park a semi in. Both looked sour. “I let you win,” Harry said. “Yeah, me too,” said JK, who had been even farther back than Harry. “I didn’t want to push you over the center line.”

What happens when Harry doesn’t let you win

The next section of highway was fast and long and tailwind. SternO, the next oldest participant after Gil at 60 years old, took a big gnarly pull up the long incline. Bull hit the front and kept the pace high. MMX and his hot balls continued the whipping pace he’d been setting all morning. Before long we reached the second sprint point at Santa Paula, which Alex took without even trying.

After meandering through Santa Paula we began the medium climb that would take us into Ojai. JK launched early, followed by DJ and Alex. I sat in the back, reasoning that I was going to need everything I had when we hit the climb to Casitas Lake in another half hour. MMX went to the front to organize the chase, but Napoleon elbowed him aside and set a phenomenal tempo all the way up the climb, such that by the time we crested we were not far at all from Jaeger and Alex.

Harry unleashed on the downhill, reeling in the two breakaways. JK was so far off the front that we couldn’t even see him on the long straight stretches, but with monster pull after monster pull by Harry, MMX, Bull, Alex, and Napoleon, we reeled him in just before the twisting descent into Ojai. We screamed down to the bottom, paused for a minute, and then I launched with Alex. We were quickly brought back, just in time for the little green city limit sign in Ojai.

I sat up and Harry hit the turbo, surprising everyone as it was still 600 or 700 meters to the line. They belatedly organized a chase, with Bull screaming through for the win…almost. Harry’s hand shot up at the sign, pipping Bull by the width of a tire.

My group, which rolled into Ojai several seconds behind the sprint group and with room for at least twelve semis, was bisected by an Elmo in a POS rusted out pickup who pulled out in front of us making a left turn onto the highway. As he piloted his craft to port, the giant plywood dresser in the bed of the pickup, which was filled with rags, dirty underwear, dirty magazines, tools, and credit card bills came flying out of the truck and smashing down into the middle of the road.

Like any good redneck who’s carting around crap from one mobile home to the next, he casually looked out the window, saw the massive wreckage, and just kept on driving. Welcome to Ojai, about as far from LA County as you can get without hardly leaving it.

Dialing up the heat

By now everyone was warmed up, the sun was doing its job, and it was another gorgeous day in sunny Ventura County, served up as ordered by DJ for the FTR. We stopped at the Chevron to void and load up, and several of my bedroom mates sidled up to me, twitching and looking kind of funny.

“Say, Seth,have you ever used this Mad Alchemy stuff before?” they asked.

“Yeah. Once.”

“Well, man, like, um, how long does it last?” Awkward twist and shuffle.

“About eight or nine hours. Why?”

“My fucking legs are on fire. Feels like they’ve been dipped in hot chicken grease.”

“It should wear off by tonight. Just be sure not to touch your pecker when you pee.”

We remounted, wended our way along the highway and turned onto the climb to Casitas Lake. I had bitter memories of this climb from last year, when, hanging onto JK, G$, and Jaeger’s wheel for dear life, they had dumped me like so much refuse about a half kilometer to the summit. I had chased the entire rest of the way, catching them only after they’d stopped pedaling, just past the sprint for the Santa Barbara county line.

Evan D. sprang free past the lake, and JK dialed him into the cross hairs and slowly ramped up the pace. We passed him as our group dwindled to six, five, four, and then with the grenade blast of Alex coming unhitched, to three. JK pulled 80% of the way, with DJ doing monster efforts to keep the pace high and my confidence low.

They took turns looking back at me as I sucked wheel for all I was worth. A pull meant certain extermination. Wheel sucking meant almost certain extermination. What’s a gassed hacker to do? After DJ’s last hard pull, JK turned, saw me, and attacked again. I struggled to follow his acceleration, which kicked DJ out the back. This alone was sweet, because DJ had left me gasping and broken the year before.

JK paused, winded from his effort, and I jumped him. He latched on, waited until I faded, and countered. I held his wheel ever so tenuously as he took the KOM. We crested and as I rolled by him he said, “Hey, let’s wait for Jaeger.”

“Sure, I thought. In Santa Barbara.” I dropped it into the 11 and hammered as hard as I could, forcing my good friend, my generous and kind host, the guy I like and respect above all others, to chase his guts out and suffer like a dog. I’m not sure how much he suffered, but he caught us and we drilled it all the way to the county line, fully aware that Harry and Co. weren’t far behind.

DJ led out the sprint and JK accelerated hard, opening a gap as I tried to get his wheel. I finally got on top of the gear, but not soon enough nail him at the line. “Great sprint,” he said with a smile. “But I beat you.” I didn’t bother to tell him that I’d let him have it.

Moments later Harry, Napoleon, and Hegg came flying by. Hegg had whipped up the chase throughout the descent, and they nearly reeled us in. We took a brief break and waited while the pack regrouped. My legs ached. Incipient cramps had begun in my left leg. I’d burned most of my matchbook. And we were only halfway through the ride.

I’m not waiting on a lady…I’m just waiting on a friend

FTR confirms a universal truth among cyclists: you have no friends. Once astride your mount it’s combat, and the only meaningful outcome is the one in which you crush the other guy. We’d only had a couple of punctures, and coming out of Ventura I picked up a staple and flatted. Half the group waited. SternO, Jim B., Rod G., and the Long Beach contingent sprinted up the road.

Although it was a quick tire change with the aid of Harry, the others were long gone by the time I remounted. DJ started off the chain gang with a monster pull, followed by Harry, who had already towed the gang along the entire stretch of the 101 at 30+. Bull, MMX, JK…each guy in our crew pulled harder than the guy before, but we didn’t see the others again until Santa Paula.

“Thanks for waiting,” I said when we finally rejoined them.

“Oh, we were just cruising,” they answered. I noticed that they were all lathered in sweat.

At this point the Ogre of Ventura County loomed. Balcom Canyon Road is a short, one-mile climb with 21-22% pitches for most of the way. Ordinarily it would be a beast. But coming at the 100-mile mark after a battering day in the saddle it is your worst nightmare. Added to the difficulty of the climb there is a 2-mile run in up the canyon before you hit the climb itself. The run in is uphill, of course, and straight into a howling headwind that blows down out of the canyon.

My strategy was simple. There was no way I could beat JK in a one-on-one race to the top. He’s lighter, he’s stronger, he’s faster, he’s better. However, with a well-timed attack after a group roadside pee, I reasoned that a strong breakaway partner like MMX could get me to the base of the hill with enough time to take the KOM.

That pose is called Arching Cat with Shattered Spine

MMX’s motor only gets stronger the longer he rides. We hit the gas and held a hard, steady tempo until we picked up LRon, who had soft pedaled ahead of those who had stopped to pee. LRon jumped into our rotation, and at the turn into the canyon we overtook the group containing Jim B., he-who-always-goes-on-ahead, and SternO, he-who-everyone-waited-for-when-he-flatted-in-Ventura-but-who-charged-on-ahead-when-I-punctured-shortly-thereafter.

The battering headwind in the run-up hit us like a wall, but we forged ahead, slightly upping the pace and increasing our gap. A couple of minutes before we hit the canyon proper, I fell off my bike. The cramps were so sudden and so complete that I couldn’t even writhe. Instead, I leaned up against the guardrail, waiting for the most awful, horrific moment of my cycling existence…and I’m not talking about getting up Balcom Canyon with fully cramped quads, hams, and calves.

I grimaced, then wrested control of my face, legs sticking out unbent as rulers, and did my best May-I-please-have-a-cigarette-now-that-we’re-done-with-sex pose, trying to look as nonchalant and natural as I could, as if leaning against a hard piece of aluminum on a sweltering day at the bottom of a canyon in a howling headwind with rigor mortis legs was exactly where I had planned to be all along.

And then came the pain. JK’s group rounded the bend and the beams from their smiling faces were bright enough, and their malice-filled grins were cruel enough to easily slice through even my toughened exterior. All of their whining and complaining at having been dumped after the pee stop evaporated in a giant Kum-ba-ya of catcalls and mock sympathy.

“Which pilates pose is that?” hollered Napoleon.

“Good job holding up that guardrail!” snickered another.

And cruelest of all was DJ: “Anything I can do to help?”

I shouldered the abuse as they whizzed by, and they were soon followed by SternO’s grupetto. John W. and finally LRon came up. LRon dismounted, clapped me on the back, and smiled. “You gonna be able to pedal?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “But I don’t see any other way of getting up this bastard.”

The climb up the canyon was forgettable, except for the complete cramping that I pedaled through with each stroke. With my DFL finish, I reached the summit to a small knot of happy faces. “Good job, Seth,” someone piped up. Good job, indeed.

Home sweet home

Sixteen miles later we arrived at the Jaegers’ home, where they had prepared a feast of sandwiches, cold water, and beer for those who wanted it. Whatever humiliation I’d endured on the guardrail was but a tune-up for the barrage of laughter and whoops that kicked in once the beer began to flow.

G3 put his arm around me and thanked me. “You just gave me a lifetime’s worth of funny memories,” he said. “Thanks from the bottom of my heart.”

A couple of hours later I was back home, thoroughly pleased with the results of the best day I’ve ever had on a bike, and already looking forward to FTR 2012.

FTR 2011 Awards, in no particular order

1. Victor, Champion, and Overall Destroyer of Egos (especially mine) Award: Jeff K., who won a sprint, took the KOM at Lake Casitas, the KOM at Balcom Canyon, and who let me win a sprint.

2. Guy Who Everyone Hopes Doesn’t Lose Ten Pounds Award: MMX, who took second at Balcom, provided daylong horsepower, and whose fearless attack leading up to Balcom demonstrates his conviction to live by the words of Steve Prefontaine—“Most people race to see who’s fastest. I race to see who’s got the most guts.” On FTR 2011, buddy, that was you.

3. Horse of the Day Award: Harold M., who won the Ojai Sprint, got 2nd at Fillmore, reeled in the break after the Santa Paula climb, almost caught the break before the sprint at Santa Barbara, pulled the entire group at 30+ for ten miles along the 101, did the lion’s share of the work chasing the cheaters after Ventura, and still whipped most of the others up Balcom Canyon. Plus he let me win the sprint at Fillmore.

4. Best New FTR’er Award: Dan S., who took two second place sprint finishes, a fourth, and who spent more time at the front than most other riders, even after he’d pretty much hit the wall an hour or so before Balcom.

5. Guy Who Rode Through the Worst Pain Award: Rod G., who started cramping at the 66-mile mark, and gutted out the entire rest of the ride with nasty cramps.

6. Funniest FTR’er Award: Martin H., for his hilarious comments, his refusal to be the least bit intimidated by the ride, and his unforgettable crack about the pilates…not to mention his picture of Napoleon on a horse. Martin also spent a big chunk of the day on the point.

7. Godlike Icon Award: Steve H., who blazed up Balcom for third even though he tips the scales at 190+. A true monster in every way, and proof that they don’t hand out Olympic gold medals just for good looks.

8. Redemption Award: Alex B., “The Kid,” who came back after an epic FTR fail in 2009 to complete the ride, take the Santa Paula sprint, and ride tough from beginning to end.

9. Tough as Nails Award: Gil, who, at 65 years old, not only finished the ride in fine form but kicked my butt up Balcom and up the golf course.

10. I’m Not a Wussy Award: SternO, who proved what no one has ever seriously doubted, which is that he is tough as nails and broken glass. Plus, when he saw me flailing on Balcom, he didn’t laugh. “I really felt sorry for you,” he said, and he meant it.

11. It’s Only a Bike Ride Award: LRon, for his selfless effort in our doomed breakaway, and for actually stopping at the guardrail. He’s not just the best coach around, he’s a great humanitarian, too.

12. Most Lashing Pull Award: Jim B., for his herculean pull towards the end of the ride that was so hard it almost shelled me off the back. Thank goodness he doesn’t find his way to the front more often.

13. Fluffiest Saddle Award: G3, who hands-down had the cutest little orange puffball hanging from the back of his saddle. G3 also had the happiest demeanor, and of the first-timers did lots more time on the point than common sense should have dictated.

14. Best Perspective on Life Award: Doug P., who participated, enjoyed, but took the whole thing in stride, just happy to complete the ride without making it into a soap opera, unlike the writer of this blog.

15. Most Hopeless but Daring Attack Award: Evan D., for attacking Jeff K. on the climb to Casitas Lake. That took balls, son, but it looked like it might have cost a nut and a half, too.

16. Quietest Award: Gil’s son Wyatt, who did the entire ride without saying anything and without even breaking a sweat. With legs like that, on your next FTR you’ll be expected to be ladling out the pain soup.

17. Guy You Better Hope Doesn’t Get Race Fit Award: John W., best descender, toughest rider, and guy who by all rights shouldn’t have gotten past mile 70 but who nonetheless completed the whole damn ride in glorious style.

18. Guy Who Doesn’t Need an Award Award: GFT DS Dave Jaeger. Thanks and words won’t do it. You trolled the back to make sure no one got left behind, you hammered on the front to stamp your authority on the ride, you smiled from start to finish, and you’ve made each of our lives better and happier thanks to your selflessness.

19. People Who Made it All Possible Award: Mr. and Mrs. Jaeger, Lynn, Macey, and Carly. We’re in your debt. Again. You’re the best!

—Please note…this next part is NOT an award—

20. Clueless Bums Who Missed the Girl Scout Cookies Sign-Up Non-Award: In case you missed it, because it was hidden openly in the middle of the table between the beer and hot sauce on a giant white piece of paper with a pen next to it, there was a Girl Scout Cookies sign-up list. I was astounded to see that only a handful of you bums signed up. So the ride wasn’t worth four bucks for a box of cookies to help the girls who made your freaking breakfast?

Of course the real explanation is that you were so whacked by the FTR and so famished, and so enamored of the good beer and good food, and having so much fun at regaling each other with Seth on the Guardrail and Seth the Pilates Instructor jokes that you just overlooked it. Get it? That’s your excuse, bonehead, “I just overlooked it.” Now that it’s been pointed out, please contact DJ and order your danged cookies.

Ride data: 5:56, 116.4mi, 236wNP, 19.6mph, 6049ft, 156lb.

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