April 27, 2015 § 21 Comments
The 2015 SPY Optic Belgian Waffle Ride is a wrap.
It was uneventful for me, except for that one part where I was on Sandy Bandy behind some wanker who was in turn stuck behind a woman who had gapped us out. The guy said, “I’m passing!” and the gal said, “Pass me on the left!”
He did and she moved hard to the left as he passed, sending him sprawling in the sand and scratchy planty things. I was now terrified, and sat waiting for an opportunity to sprunt past. I did but then had a big gap to make up on the receding leaders.
Turning onto a wide dirt road I shifted the U.S.S. Aluminum into the biggest gear and raced to catch up. Dropping my head briefly, when I looked up I noticed:
- There was a 90-degree turn immediately in front of me.
- I was going way to fast to make the turn.
- This was gonna hurt.
And it did. I launched like a SpaceX rocket, hands out, legs akimbo, and face exposed to fully absorb the full impact of the rocks, cactus, and gravel. I lay there for a few seconds, then jumped up and tied my chain into a double half-hitch trying to get it back on the chain ring. A SPY van rushed up and got me going again. My neck throbbed and my legs dripped a mixture of blood and gravel slurry. With more than a hundred miles to go, it was going to be a long day.
But it wasn’t. I had been sent off in the Wanker Division, a/k/a Wave Three, and spent the day sweeping up and spitting out countless riders who had gone off almost half an hour earlier in Preen Wave 1 and Women’s Wave 2. At the end of the ride, numerous finishers came up to me, test-lifted my 30-lb. behemoth with its 38mm bulldozer tires and said, “Think how much faster you would have gone on a road bike!”
Of course, on a road bike I would have died on the very first dirt descent, and if I hadn’t I would have shattered the frame and wheels on my SpaceX launch. Far from hindering me, the heavy bike with massive tires reminded me early on to go slowly and conserve– and it all paid off with a finishing time of 7:42:04, fifteenth in the Wanker Division and good for about 50th overall. Most importantly, I beat Surfer Dan with whom I’d carpooled (he still owes me ten bucks) by .5 second.
There were amazing displays on offer throughout the day, but none more impressive than James Cowan, who attacked early and rode the thing in 7:11, good enough to eviscerate the Wanker Division and faster than all but fifteen riders for the entire day. Moreover, he did it without the help of the Cat 1 peloton’s shelter and speed.
So many riders got to savor the joy of simply finishing. Guys like Dan Kroboth, who dropped 75 pounds over the course of the year and endured a tough training regimen, came away with his first BWR finish. Behind the scenes the event “seamlessly” happened thanks to people like Victor Sheldon, who marked the course, then when the markings were rained on and blown down, remarked it again on Saturday, after which they were blown down again, requiring him to remark the entire course a third time, finishing at 2:00 AM on Sunday. The turns were impeccably marked and made the difference between the BWR being a ride and an Eagle Scout project in orienteering.
As expected, the food at the Gear Grinder grill was off the hook, as finishers were treated to sausage, chicken, and Belgian waffles heaped with ice cream, chocolate fudge, and cardiac arrest. Those who didn’t die immediately were carried off the Lost Abbey beer tent.
For my own selfish purposes, nothing was as important as the hand-ups of GQ6 and Coca-Cola. I swilled both throughout the ride, and wouldn’t have finished without them–that and my secret stash of Trader Joe’s trail mix, of which I ate an entire half-bag.
I was going to write an epic review in twelve parts, but this will have to do. My neck hurts. See you in 2016 … as a volunteer!
Note: What follows was sent to me by my friend Denis Faye, a fellow sufferer and finisher of this year’s BWR, who followed the strict protocol for requesting a mention something on this blog: 1) Be nice. 2) Hit the “subscribe” button.
From Denis: “I started cycling in earnest 2-3 years ago when my friend Steve Edwards (former La Grange, now a dirty MTBer living in Utah) gave me his old Cannondale Cat 5. We’ve been friends for 25+ years and he’s one of the great human beings. Currently, he’s going toe-to-toe with Lymphoma. I wanted to do something to both honor him and make a difference, so I’m doing a Birthday Challenge to raise funds for the Lymphoma Research Foundation. On May 30-31, Kevin Nix and I are riding from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two days. (That’s a little over 450 miles in 45 hours for my 45th birthday.)”
Here’s the FB page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1447394325551415/
Here’s a blog post going into more detail: http://denisfaye.com/2015/03/26/450-miles-in-45-hours-my-birthday-challenge-to-beat-cancer/
And here’s the donation page: http://www.lymphoma.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=306330&supid=418211276
March 5, 2015 § 40 Comments
This ride is not sponsored, authorized, approved, recognized, encouraged, abetted, aided, promoted, offered, suggested, referenced, affiliated with, created by, managed, supervised, regulated, reviewed, evaluated, or in any way, shape, method, means, form, or function related to or otherwise connected with SPY Optic and its officially endorsed Belgian Waffle Ride.
But that is not all,
Oh no, that is not all!
On Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 7:00 AM pointy sharp I’m leaving from the bricks of the Center of the Known Universe a/k/a CotKU a/k/a the Manhattan Beach Pier Starbucks in order to ride my bicycle. I will be riding my bicycle for one reason and one reason only: To prepare my spindly legs and spongy lungs for the battering that awaits on April 26, 2015, the day of the 4th Annual Belgian Waffle Ride.
This BWR practice ride of mine, which is wholly unaffiliated with the actual Belgian Waffle Ride and its sponsors, will ride from CotKU to Pacific Coast Highway and from there to The Rock, where I will pee, take in the view, and then turn around and head back towards Los Angeles.
On the way I will make a left-hand turn up Yerba Buena, and when I get to the top I will go down Mulholland Drive until it hits Pacific Coast Highway again, where I will turn left. After a little while I will make another left-hand turn, this time up Decker Lane. When I reach the intersection with Encinal I will turn right and go back to PCH.
Then I will pedal back to CotKU and from there back to Palos Verdes where I will climb another long hill. After it’s all said and done I will have ridden about 140 miles, which is a long way, and will have gone uphill a whole bunch. I will be very tired.
You can come if you want and you can ride as much or as little as you see fit, and here’s the thing: Anyone who wants to join me on this practice bicycle ride can. The same way that you can jog behind someone on the bike path, or follow someone on the freeway, or hop onto the tail-end of a bunch of wankers sliding along a cross-country ski trail, well, you can ride in my vicinity when I go ride my bike, too.
The catch? I’m not promoting the ride other than to note its existence, and I’m certainly NOT suggesting that you do it. I’m not providing protection, medical care, organization, road permits, or anything else. Why? Because it’s my own private bicycle ride that I plan to do alone. If you show up, that’s your business. It’s not a race or century ride or a Grand Fondue or a public event or a private one. It’s not an event of any kind. It’s my own personal bicycle ride.
What does this mean? It means that if you decide to leave from the same place at the same time with the same destination in mind as I, you may well die or suffer horrible, catastrophic injury. You may get hit by a car, you may fall off your bicycle and split your skull, you may have some wanker smash into you, you may slide out on a descent and get killed, you may blow a tire, bust a rim, snap a chain, crater a fork, or have any of a million other bad things happen to you.
And unfortunately, this is the risk you take when you ride a bicycle on public roads. You are trading the fun of riding your bicycle on the street for the risk of death or catastrophic injury. I’m not encouraging you to do it, to the contrary. I’m warning you about the danger and telling you that if you show up, it’s your life, it’s your safety, and it’s your responsibility to come home in one piece — not mine.
If you do decide to meet up with me, it will be good training for the BWR. I won’t be hammering, that’s for sure. And at the end of the day, although you may well get killed, you may well not. It could even turn out to be fun. Your call.
So see you on the road. Or not!
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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 second 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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February 9, 2015 § 50 Comments
Before the first waffle has been eaten, the first sausage scarfed, or the first ale quaffed, the 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride has its first bona fide controversy: Catgate.
On the online entry form, riders were asked to list their USAC racing category. Mistakenly thinking that their starting position would be determined by their racing category, some registrants took the opportunity to misstate their category and thereby get placed ahead of the lowly Cat 5’s, public, and “unranked” riders, not a few of whom are absolute beasts. Unfortunately for the sneaks, each registrant was checked against USAC records, and several riders were caught red-fingerboarded.
Since the “ride” will go off in three waves, some riders apparently believed that there was an advantage to going in the first wave even though it’s a timed event, with each wave starting at 0:00:00. A lively discussion of Catgate ensued on Facebag, where various punishments were discussed. Although I offered to do the beheadings, that option was not selected, and the fate of the would-be cheaters remains undecided.
Choices on the table include public shaming, relegation to the last wave, being banned from the ride, and having a note sent to your mother.
On the other hand, if there’s one thing about bikers you can count on, it’s the certainty that given the chance they will cheat. Actually, they will cheat even when they aren’t given the chance. Why?
Because cheating is fun.
The whole concept of the bike race is little more than organized cheating. You hunker behind the rider with the biggest butt to cheat the wind; you descend pell-mell or bang bars in the sprunt to cheat death; the winner of the race is the one who forces everyone else to work more while he hides like a thief in the night, waiting to slit the throats of those who ride with courage and honor. What could be more natural for a cyclist than cheating on a registration form, or cheating your way to the finish of a fun ride?
Moreover, the Belgian Waffle Ride was quite literally born amidst the pangs and throes of cheating cheaters who love to cheat. I will never forget the inaugural 2012 BWR, when a certain South Bay rider showed up and pirated it from beginning to end, eating the free breakfast, stopping at each aid station to gobble the food and drink, and enjoying the post-ride festivities to a fare-thee-well.
I caught up with him the following week and said, “Don’t you feel bad for being such a thieving, cheating, Delta Bravo, and generally worthless POS?”
“Nope!” he happily smiled. And he meant it.
Other infamous characters stamped the first BWR with a miscellany of misbehavior. One wanker held onto a truck for miles at a pop over the deathly dirt section of Country Club Road. Another cut the course. Another infamous cheater whose mendacious misdeeds were rewarded with the dreaded purple card not only cut the course but sneaked past Double Peak at the end of the ride, zoomed into the start-finish area, changed into his bicycling lounge suit, and displayed an “I got here first!” grin while those who had manfully done the ride struggled in beaten and exhausted wondering “How did that brokedown wanker beat me here?” — then he topped it off by disappearing with his finisher’s swag once people got suspicious and started asking to see the stamp that every honest rider received for passing the checkpoint atop Double Peak.
The invention of the purple card, in fact, was an acknowledgment before the ride ever started that bicyclists are some of the scurviest, cheatingest, least reliable mendicants known to man. Before the first BWR ever rolled out, a series of Freddie Freeloader cards were printed and handed out to the ride’s “Secret Police,” who were ordered to patrol the peloton and punish the perpetrators for their purplish pecadilloes.
In the second edition, even though there were no purple cards awarded, numerous riders who claimed to have completed the entire course failed to upload their required Strava data to confirm that they did in fact finish the route. You would think that having GPS data would be sufficient to deter the cheats, but no — if forced to choose between cheating and not, cheating wins out every time.
Last year the noose tightened a bit, with timing chips making it impossible for veteran course-cutters to ply their trade, and wholly eliminating the ride pirates, but misdeeds abounded. The most egregious included vehicle assistance at critical points in the ride.
Short of sailing a cargo ship bound for the Horn of Africa to smoke out the pirates, there’s no way to run a cheat-free event. And that’s a good thing.
For 99.9% of participants, the ride is so hard that whatever advantage you might eke out from marginal gains cheating is nullified somewhere around Mile 80, if not far sooner. And while it’s patently untrue that cheaters never win, especially in cycling, no cheater has ever won the BWR. To the contrary: In the inaugural event the leaders went off course, which couldn’t be detected because there were no chips being used, and rather than hop back on course they retraced their route to the point where they left the course, got back on, and finished — even though it cost them the win as Dave Jaeger, who had made all the right turns, beat them to the line and claimed the yellow jersey.
Neil Shirley, two-time winner of the non-race, is regarded as one of the cleanest, most honorable guys in the sport. No matter how many places in line you try to jump, you still have to pass Neil. Good luck with that.
The BWR is beautiful because it showcases the best and also the worst. You get to ride with champions and chumps, heroes and whores.
And at the end, if you’ve done it right, you finish with a satisfaction unlike any other. So go ahead and cheat your little heart out. If you dare.
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February 8, 2015 § 18 Comments
The 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride is full. It took four days. Riders who didn’t get one of the coveted 700 slots are now on the waiting list, which will have 200+ names on it by the time the event goes off.
When the ride was announced, a big hoo-hah of publicity went out, which was awesome. However, not all of it was particularly beneficial. Especially disturbing were the “Top 10 Tips to Finish with Dignity” by Neil Shirley, and the “SPY Belgian Waffle Ride Tips” by some foreigner named Hupthur. If either one of these tip sheets comes across your inbox, please delete ASAP as they will lead you to ruin.
Shirley’s list should be ignored simply upon seeing the title. There is no dignity left when and if you finish the BWR. In fact, there’s not much of anything left. Spit, sweat, mucous, blood glucose, pride, dreams, hope … everything will have been torn from your chest, beheaded, and left wriggling on the roadside back around, say, Mile 100. If you’re lucky. Many will have suffered the Junkyard Implosion much earlier. Others will have simply quit. Still others will have abandoned before the race even started.
When Shirley talks about “finishing with dignity,” he’s referring to about ten people, and you will never see them except perhaps, briefly, at the start. Everyone else will finish with desperation. Exhaustion. A sense of bodily collapse and mental defeat. But not dignity. No fuggin’ way.
You are also advised to ignore everything Shirley says because he’s a two-time winner. Right. We have nothing in common with him. If he’s talking about the BWR, go ahead and turn up your iPod. As one of the best and most accomplished riders in SoCal, a guy who is devastatingly good no matter the discipline, he simply has nothing to offer the rank and file, not to mention the file shavings like you and me.
So here’s my reality tip sheet for the 2015 BWR. It won’t help you do better, but that’s because there is no “better.” To crumple and fold like bad origami is your destination. Trust me on this.
- Blab & Brag: Tell everyone you’re going to crush the BWR. This is the only pleasure you will get from competing in the event. Everything else will be a reduction of your humanity into a quivering puddle of failure and defeat.
- Polish & Purchase: Have your bike polished, cleaned, overhauled, and detailed. Then add the trick shit you’ve always wanted — Di2, full carbon wheels made of carbon, and lots of carbon. Plus carbon. The only chance you have of looking good and making next year’s video is either in the Preen Area at the start finish, or with your guts torn out after crashing along Lake Hodges. Also, lots of lightweight trick shit ups your chance of a ride-ending mechanical, which will get you back to the celebratory sausages and beer that much more quickly.
- Stamp Your Authority: True, the BWR is a 140-mile long odyssey that demands almost perfect resource management and conservation of energy simply to finish. But you don’t care about that. Those sausages are calling your name and Sam Ames has extra ice cream for the waffles left over from breakfast. Finagle your way into the first starting wave and drill it. If you’re not pushing 450+ watts on the rollers out of town, you’re losing. Plus, this is a great way to maybe get into one of those cool photos that has you riding next to all those hammerheads at the front.
- Ink up: The Preen Area will be filled with the legends of SoCal. They will be doing last minute equipment checks, reviewing the course map for changes, and making sure everything is ready. Take the time to interrupt them and request autographs, preferably onto obscure body parts. “Hey, Phil, I’ve always been a fan of yours. Would you autograph my scrotum?” is always a winner. Plus, you’ll have a unique memento to show your wife as she wraps you in a huge sheet of Tegaderm.
- Cower and Hide: If you really are planning on finishing the BWR, don’t ever take a pull. Ever. Not even one. My best moment in 2014 was drafting for 20 miles behind Hines, Chatty Cathy, Junkyard, and a string of South Bay wankers all the way into Ramona from Black Canyon, then sprunting by them as they stopped for drinks and organ transplants.
- Use Up Others: When you get shelled, immediately soft pedal until you’re overtaken by the next group. Slink to the back and occasionally yell encouragement to the people doing all the work. When they collapse and fall of the back, just remember, “Sucks to be them.”
- Cheat Where You Can: The BWR has a long and illustrious history of people who cheat, cut the course, hang onto follow vehicles, and take advantage of the fact that there are no race commissars or firing squads. Have your S/O wait for you at the 25, 75, 50, and 100-mile marks with her Prius and give you little 5-mile tows. If your conscience is a bit squeamish, just remember the BWR Wanker Motto: Rules are for losers!
- Dope: This one is obvious, but with no doping controls you should be loaded up with your favorite brand of cortisol, HGH, EPO, and steroid inhalers for your “asthma.” The joy of destroying some hairy-legged Fred to secure your 286th place is something you will cherish forever.
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February 6, 2015 § 25 Comments
The 2015 edition of the galactically famous Belgian Waffle Ride opened yesterday, filling 528 of the available 700 slots in less than thirty-six hours. Although the ride always fills up long before the event, this year the registrations have been off the charts. Maybe it’s because of all the media. Maybe it’s because of this killer video. Or maybe it’s just because you’re still trembling after watching Jen strut around in her panties, and the thought that she’s going to be at the BWR has caused the servers over at BikeReg.com to break. The remaining 172 slots will be gone in the coming days, but that’s no reason for you to register. In fact, you shouldn’t. Don’t even think about it.
Because based on the last three years I’ve compiled an awesome set of emails and/or Facebag messages you can send to the staff at SPY Optic after the deadline passes. The ideal timing is late at night one or two days before the event, long after the event has closed and everyone is in overdrive putting the last touches on the course, the venue, and the countywide infrastructure that something like this requires.
So DO NOT REGISTER NOW. Wait and send one (or all) of these messages instead. You’ll be in like Flynn, and you can tell ’em that Wanky sent ya.
- The Ol’ Buddy Ol’ Pal Grovel: Yo, MMX, what up? Dooshy McGillicuddy here — we rode together on the Swami’s Ride two years ago, it was in August. You probably don’t remember me but I said hi just before you guys hit the jets at PCH and Encinitas Blvd. Ennyhoo … been planning on the BWR all year, did some BIG MILEZ over the winter (check my Strava, I friended you and kudos on ripping that dirt section last week, BADASS) but dude I completely forgot to register. Can you help a buddy out? Gonna be bummed here in PARADISE if I don’t get to ride, bro. Also, can you comp my entry?
- The Beggar Blogger: Hi, Michael and team. Really looking forward to covering the BWR this year on my blog, Shitheads in the South Bay and my sister publication, Red Kite Bore. We’re hitting some pretty good numbers — site stats are up to 15 views and 3 unique readers per week. Our event coverage is saturation bombing, and I’m glad to do it because I love what you do and want to help grow the sport. By the way, I somehow missed the registration. Did you forget to notify me? Stuff slips through the cracks, and I’m sure you have a lot on your plate. If you could squeeze me in I’d be deeply appreciative, and trust me, you’ll get a big media bump when I turn on the spigot. Also, can you comp my entry and a BWR kit?
- The Cat 2 UCI Pro Proposal: Hey, MMX! Good racing against the SPY guys last weekend. You guys have come a long way, props. I had Anderson and Alverson in the box on that last turn, but decided to sit up after I hit the cones and went off-course and I let them take the one-two. I’ve been on the podium enough this year and don’t mind spreading the glory around, plus it helps your brand. Hey, I was meaning to register for the BWR this year. I have done a ton of miles (no dirt but that’s NBD) and am expecting my Cat 1 upgrade and then the call-up to the pros later this year. Might be nice to have me rocking the SPY shades over in Europe (for a fee! Just kidding!). Anyway, shoot me the pro entry promo code when you get a chance. Also, can you comp my entry and a BWR kit and give me a couple of extra beer tickets?
- The Aged Profamateur Living in a Car: Pretty disappointing to have missed the registration for this ride. Thought you might help. Lots of my life given to the sport. Taught you a few things if I remember correctly. Glad for your success. Doubtless room for one more bike. Out of cat food so need comped entry. Also need comped BWR kit and couple cases of beer, and tell Ames to let me have trash bags with half-eaten waffles and melted ice cream. Calories are calories.
- Greedy Team Leech: Hi, MMX! Sucky McSuckwater here! Team camp was awesome; love the new kits and shades (shoot me a couple of extra skinsuits and maybe another Daft when you get a sec, need it by next Tuesday). I’ve got big racing plans this year after taking a sabbatical in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Can you believe I waited til the last minute to register and now it’s fuggin’ full? The bikereg site is a pain. Maybe use someone else next year for online signups? Be sure to register me. Team guys ride free I’m assuming. I know there are four waves this year, so put me in the first wave. Shirley, Trebon, Prenzlow, and Tinstman are gonna feel my burn this year. Also, aren’t the fees kind of high? I’m not really down with that, for other people, I mean.
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April 7, 2014 § 20 Comments
It was fun knowing that I’d be doing a partial Belgian Waffle Ride recon with Pablo. “Wow,” I thought, “that’s commitment.”
Two days before the ride, I got the call that so often comes from people who, three weeks before a trip down to North County San Diego, are brimming with enthusiasm and commitment. “Uh, dude, I can’t make it,” he said.
“Yeah, sure.” I was used to it. The only thing I really cared about was the excuse, because I collect them.
“I think I got the sniffles,” he said.
“Sniffles. I been having a little runny nose and my poopies aren’t as firm as usual. I think I’m coming down with a very uncomfy case of the sniffles.”
“Okay,” I said. “Wouldn’t want you to have to wipe snot on your shirt sleeve during the ride. Heal up, pal.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I’ve got a big box of Puffy Luvvy tissues right next to my bed. Hopefully I can beat this thing.”
“Don’t beat it too hard,” I advised, and hung up.
Riders susceptible to sniffles, soft stool, and diaper rash need not apply
I ended up riding down with Dan and Major Bob, two of the best riders I know. None of us had seen this year’s course, which was supposed to drastically differ from 2013 and 2012 in length, elevation, and difficulty. Especially difficulty. I got up at 4:00 AM and made the drive with foreboding. So many times I’ve wound up in the clutches of the sick fanatics in North County San Diego, and today would be no exception.
As we rolled out from RIDE Cyclery in Encinitas I took note of my fellow travelers, and the feeling of doom deepened. In addition to Cobley and Major Bob and MMX there were Tinstman, Stinger, Abate, Joshes A & G, Andy & Dandy, Tait, the Pilot, Canyon Bob, Boozy from the South Bay, and another dozen or so North County pit bulls. The only riders I was certain not to get dropped by were the secret triple agent from Germany, Jens Nerdenheimer, and Jeff Beeswax.
Thirty miles into the ride less than twenty riders remained. Nerdenheimer and Beeswax dropped me heavily as I struggled up Hidden Valley, preparing for a very long and very lonely and very cracked day in the saddle.
Three and done
What follows is a somewhat serious report on what awaits you in the 2014 SPY Belgian Waffle Ride, and some very serious advice about how to prepare for it, and some deadly serious advice about what you can expect. I made it through the first three dirt sections before cracking completely somewhere around Mile 28. Here’s how you (and I) can avoid that nasty fate on April 27. More importantly, what follows isn’t for the strongmen and women who are actually trying to finish first or with the fastest riders. It’s for the weak, the unprepared, and those who are way in over their head without even knowing it.
- Bring real food. Keep a couple of Harmony Bars for quick energy boosts, but make your main food arsenal solid food that will stick to your ribs. You will need substantive food throughout the ride. I brought three PB&J sandwiches on wheat bread that was denser than an imploding star, and even though Cobley ate one of them, it was the other two that got me through what ended up as morale-and-leg-shattering 85 miles that covered only three of the numerous dirt sections. As I learned in 2013, it’s a very bad idea to fall for the “yummy waffles” trap prior to riding. Do not eat 24 waffles beforehand, no matter how tempting.
- Run 25mm tires that are the beefiest you can find. Trying to descend the Lake Hodges Rock Garden on regular tires will leave you punctured at best, crashed out at worst. It’s not like last year, where we only came up the Lake Hodges trail; this year we do it both ways and the descent is hairy and fast. I had 38 mm tires and floated over the rocks, but suffered like a dog on the pavement. Phil, Jeff, and Jens were running ‘cross tires and that seemed like the ideal compromise between skinny road tires and super wide ones. Some riders will even be swapping bikes during the ride as it transitions from the first phase of heavy dirt to asphalt.
- Go out easy. I was panting hard before we hit the first dirt section. Every bullet you shoot early on will equate to twenty missing bullets as the ride progresses. Resist the temptation to keep up if your group is going faster than you are, especially on the first dirt sections. A hard effort here will leave you with nothing. This is so important in the beginning because you’re hit with three dirt sections right off the bat, one of which is brutal, the second of which is fast and technical, and the third of which is long and flat. This third section ends and you go immediately up the backside of Bandy Canyon, a super steep, twisting climb about a mile or so in length. Your legs won’t have recovered from the dirt when you hit the climb, and at the top you’ll be gassed only to now be faced with the incredibly long, steep, and arduous 5-mile, endless climb up Hiddn Valley. In other words, even if you take it easy you’re going to be cracked very early on. If you go out hot you’ll be whatever is worse than cracked, with most of the climbing and most of the really hard dirt riding in front of you.
- Whatever gearing you have, it isn’t enough. The first dirt section is a 3-mile climb very early in the ride. It is steep, endless, and will utterly wreck you without the right gearing. The final little kick is so steep that you can’t even think about getting out of the saddle, so if you lack the gears you are in trouble. I had a 36 in the front and a 25 on the rear, and will likely go up to a 28 or a 30 on game day.
- Underinflate your tires rather than overinflate them. The long horse track that we rode last year was firm yesterday due to the rain, but on the day of the ride it will be very sandy and very deep in places. Worse, on the return route we’ll be in a sandpit that goes along for more than five miles. Even after rain it was so soft that it looked like the sandbox on a playground. I didn’t ride it, but could see that there were countless areas where riders are going to get stuck and fall over.
- Shoes — I went with ‘cross shoes and Eggbeater pedals, but everyone else ran road cleats. If you have any questions about how you’ll do in soft, sandy, hilly conditions, go with the MTB configuration rather than road, as your cleats and pedals and shorts will fill with sand if you have to dismount.
- Don’t stop except for water and to pee. The course is so long (136 miles) and so arduous that you’ve got to keep pedaling. There will be endless temptations to get off and rest or catch your breath or buy another box of Puffy Luvvies for your sniffles or even kill yourself, but except for that last one, don’t give in.
- Remember that this isn’t a race except for a handful of riders. For the rest of us mere mortals it’s a hard day on the bike that you hope to finish in enough condition to be able to lay prostrate in the parking lot at the finish, choking on your own vomit.
- Many people have told me that they’ll just “find out what it’s like on the day of the ride” or “no sense knowing too much beforehand.” I think this is a grave mistake. Even if you just do a couple of the dirt sections, you’ll be much better prepared, especially in terms of deciding what equipment to use. And with regard to equipment, make sure it’s all in top running order. Do a trial run to get the kinks out and to find out what parts need adjustment or replacement.
- This combination of road-and-dirt, with the distance and hilly topography, make it unique. If you finish it, you’ll feel an incredible sense of accomplishment. If you don’t finish it, you’ll be impressed with yourself after the fact for even having tried.
Getting a tow home
As I was wandering around lost somewhere the eastern hell of San Diego County, grimly realizing that I’d be out for the rest of the day, and even more grimly regretting not having brought my phone and iMap, a rider came whizzing by. It was MMX. He’d had enough and turned around early.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
He grinned. “Three weeks of hard training and I’m tired. Hop on.”
The timing was perfect because I was at my most lost. He started mashing into the wind, then looked back. “This headwind we’ve been fighting all day?”
“We’ll be fighting it on the 27th, too.”
“We?” I said, tucked in on his wheel.
Back at Lake Hodges we stopped for water and ran across Jens and Jeff, who were as defeated and crushed as I was. They stared vacantly into the puddles of transmission oil at the service station. “Hey, guys,” said Jens to MMX. “We tried to help Seth but he was so tired and weak that he couldn’t come with us.”
I was finishing up a bottle of coke and my last PB&J sammich. The four of us got on the Lake Hodges dirt trail and stayed together until the water crossing, when I heard a lot of noise behind me and some pitiful cries for help. Then it got silent, and we never saw them again. “I tried to help them,” I said to MMX. “But they were so tired and weak they couldn’t come with me.”
On Del Dios Highway MMX put it in tractor beam mode, hammering the headwind downhill, then really hammering the uphill. I cursed my 38mm tires as he caught and dropped a small group with a dozen or so riders. Once he got tired he began going even faster.
It’s not simply that I didn’t take a pull, putting myself in the early running for a purple jersey … I couldn’t. In fact, it wasn’t until we were back at El Papagayo in Leucadia, surrounded by fish tacos and several foamy pints of Belching Beaver IPA that I was even able to speak.
An hour later Major Bob, Cobley, Craig, and Canyon Bob showed up, which was just in time for me to have a second order of lunch. I probably shouldn’t have had the garlic-and-black-bean soup since the ride home would be in a small enclosed space, but what can I say?
The minute I got home, my day that started at 4:00 AM continued with an evening engagement Chez Starvin’ Marvin, where he poured great quantities of his famous Belgian homemade brew into my glass and stuffed me with barbecue, taters, and banana cream pie. Sometime around midnight I flopped in bed.
Oh, and one other thing about the BWR I forgot to mention: The following day you’ll be looking for the monster truck with the giant studded tires. You know, the one that ran over every bone in your body out there on the course.
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