January 22, 2017 § 29 Comments
I learned a great phrase in Book IV of my textbook, “Practical Chinese Reader,” which so far hasn’t been practical or even much of a reader. In addition to chapters called “I Want to Open a Law Office” and “The Foreign Son-in-law Spends the Spring Festival in the Countryside,” this series hasn’t been in touch with my daily experiences.
Until yesterday, when something happened in my life that finally fit with a new Chinese vocabulary phrase, 宁静致远, which means “Quietly achieving over a long time.”
Because that’s exactly what Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride is. It’s been going on so long that no one even remembers when it started. The earliest photos are from 2003, and it predates that by years. Of course Dave often can’t remember what he had for breakfast, so it’s no surprise that he can’t remember into the dim past of the late 1900’s.
However long it’s been going on, it shows no sign of letting up, as each year a new crew of idiots combines with an old crew of sadists to set forth on a death march through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. What’s most meaningful, though, is that each year Jim and Nancy Jaeger open their home to a random assortment of strangers, and then the combined forces of Steve and Gina Jaeger, Cindi and Heather Rogers, Lynn and Carly and Macy Jaeger arise long before dawn to make mountains of French toast, bacon, and scalding hot coffee. The love and effort and work that they put in to create the best day on a bike every single year is amazing, and their compassion at that time Stern-O clogged the toilet with four pounds of toilet paper so that he’d have a rear end clean enough to eat off of qualifies them for sainthood.
Of course DJ’s idea isn’t to provide you with a hearty meal that will get you through the upcoming 117-mile beatdown, it’s to stuff you with bread, sugar, and plenty of grease so that when the sugar crash hits at Mile 20 you will climb into a tiny little hurt locker that gets put into a trash compactor and squeezed, harder and harder, for another five hours until you cry, quit, or take a break with Bull at the Santa Paula all-you-can-eat Mexican-and-Chinese buffet. Or you take Uber.
The key to a successful FTR is having enough new
suckers riders, and this year we had a bumper crop. Of course there was the usual assortment of wankers who canceled the night before due to a sniffle or a diaper rash and the grim realization that all their bold talk was going to be tossed into the incinerator at Mile 100 a/k/a Balcom Canyon (Fireman, Johnny Boy, Dogg, Big Tex), and there were the stalwarts who couldn’t toe the line because they had broken legs (G3), infirm bladders, gout (Gussy), consumption (Iron Mike), extreme old age and vast wealth (Stern-O), congenital lethargy (Elron), degenerative tenacititis, a terrible illness that gradually reduces once-tenacious bike racers into soft and easily crushed buttercups, unable to withstand the slightest hint of adversity (Martin, Turtle, Hair, Manslaughter, too many to name), those who would absolutely love to have made it gosh they were so looking forward to it but kiddie soccer (MMX, G$), and those who did it once out of grim obligation and take me off the list now please (Phil, Randall).
FTR was the cornerstone of my 2017 race season, a building block upon which all others would rest. As my coach told me back in 1984, “You suck and you’ll never improve,” and I’ve been building on that for years.
After having tried to get beyond the “you suck level” of competition via the kimchi diet, the coffee diet, the beer diet, unemployment, 100% carbon made of full carbon that is pure carbon, Rugged MAXX II virility supplements, huge intensity + huge volume training, power meters, Garmins, training by sensation, nose breathing, and finally super low volume of everything except sleep, I decided to try the “leg opening” method of race prep.
Leg opening requires you to do one brief, 15-20 minute semi-hard effort the day before the race, and then spinning for an hour two, max. The idea is that with some moderate intensity and loosening of the spiracles, your pump will be primed for excellent performance on race day.
So naturally a 117-mile smashfest finishing up Balcom Canyon would be perfect. What could go wrong?
What went wrong
The first thing that went wrong was Skippy’s bike. By the second stop light out of town his chain refused to stay on the cogs, throwing the chain every time he put any torque on the pedals. By the time we had ascended the first obstacle, a tiny bump on Stockton Rd. that was won for the first time in decades by someone other than Roadchamp, Skippy was in tears.
I, on the other hand, was behind him and watched him dismount and howl in frustration. “That’s it!” he yelled. “I’m calling Uber!”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“My chain! It won’t stay on!”
“Is it new?”
“Brand new! I put it on last night!”
“And the cassette?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is it new, too?”
“Oh, no reason,” I said, as I sprinted away to catch the group.
Fortunately, Skippy was able to put it in his 34 x 32, the only combo that kept the chain on the chain ring. I say “fortunately” because nothing makes for a better FTR than watching a hapless newbie about to ride the rest of the day in mini-gears, with a high likelihood that even if he made it most of the ride, he’d have to dismount on Balcom Canyon and walk the half-mile, 18% grade in his cleats.
In addition to Skippy, the old boys’ network, which was now a droopy old men’s network, had invited a woman rider after the only other female participant in 2003 promptly gave up cycling forever. I had suggested Iron Maiden as a newbie invitee because it seemed like having a ride where the only people who got ridden to pieces and kicked to the curb were men wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t we also get a woman out there who would implode, beg for a sip from our water bottle at Mile 110 while both legs cramped, and then get left for lost in Camarillo at ride’s end because she didn’t know the Jaegers’ address? I’m all for equality, yo.
However, Iron Maiden, who’d only been biking for a year, was suspicious. This is because to date everything I’d told her had either been completely wrong or an outrageous lie, frequently both. “Is this something I can do? The farthest I’ve ever ridden is 50 miles.”
“No problem. You can race twice the distance you train.”
“But I only train 25 miles a couple of times a week.”
“It’s not a race. It’s a fun ride.”
“Sure. Just friends going out for a pedal. Plus it’s a no-drop ride.”
Her antenna went up, because in her short tenure she had learned that “no-drop” was bikerspeak for “kill the weak.”
“No, thanks. It sounds too hard. Maybe next year.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I didn’t figure you’d do it, being a woman and everything.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, nothing. It’s too hard for a woman now that I think about it. Only one woman has ever done it.”
“Fuck you,” she said. “I’m doing it.”
“Good call. Plus there’s no way you’ll be last. Junkyard is going to be there.”
She brightened. Having Junkyard on the ride was the ultimate form of pace protection. “I’ll just stay close to him,” she said. I forgot to mention that Junkyard had been doing 500-mile weeks preparing for FTR and was in top form.
Giants of the road
Perhaps the next worst decision of the ride was when DJ asked me who else to invite. “Someone who can do it, but who will fit in. A good dude.”
“Oh, that’s easy. Garrot. He’s great.”
“Garrot? WTF kind of name is that?”
“He was a Marine in the Special Forces. Or maybe it was the Ordinary Forces. Or maybe the Special Ed Forces. I’m not sure. Anyway, he’s totally mellow and chill. Good dude.”
“I’m trusting you here, Wanky,” said DJ, which isn’t the first time that people have been led astray by climbing that particular decision tree.
I had forgotten to mention that Garrot only had two speeds, “on” and “off,” and I’d never seen the “off.” A short ride for Garrot was 150 miles. Plus, he was a monster climber. Plus, he had a fierce sprunt. Plus, he was always pleasant and kind, especially when slitting your throat.
And then there was the revelation of the Tour, a/k/a Taco Wagon. Taco Wagon had impressed all in 2015 when, in a driving hailstorm, he had spied a taco wagon and took down half the peloton as he skidded out in his haste to get a burrito, or to shelter himself under the taco wagon’s awning, or both.
This year he had come with a mission, and it was a mission that would clash with Garrot’s and eventually become a battle of the titans. After taking the Stockton KOM, Garrot fell victim to superior road knowledge, and Taco Wagon took the Fillmore sprunt. We had an interlude where Bull took fifteen minutes to change a tire and spiced it up by also yanking out a rear brake pad. In exasperation, DJ flatted too in order to show Bull how to properly change a flat. But no one, including Junkyard, knew how to use Junkyard’s new CO2 inflator, and twelve cartridges later we’d used up all of our air and DJ had used up every epithet he knew and had to start back over with the various combinations beginning with “f.”
The race to Ojai
Bull, Iron Maiden, King Harold, Junkyard, Pilot (who had already lost an engine and was scanning for the Hudson), and I were all immediately dropped on the climb heading towards Ojai. Radio reports confirmed that Taco Wagon took the Ojai sprunt, as Garrot didn’t know that the key to Ojai wasn’t a city limit sign but simply raising your hands when you got in front of everyone else. Now it was a blood feud.
As we droppees pedaled into Ojai, cold, tired, thirsty, hungry, and already beat to snot a mere forty-seven miles in, we were incredibly excited at the prospect of some more Barbie food, a toilet, and ten minutes of rest. Unfortunately DJ was on a schedule that had been delayed by his and Bull’s tire changing lessons, and we got zero rest and only seven or eight thousand calories of Hostess donuts to get us into Ventura, which was a billion miles away.
Although I had been
sandbagging like crazy helping the slower riders all the way to Ojai, my true goal for the day was to have a convincing climb over Casitas Pass. The problem with my goal was that in order to achieve it, I’d have to drop DJ, who I’d never dropped before, Garrot, who I’d never dropped before, and Young David, a 22-year-old who I’d suckered into coming but who was mostly flaying everyone alive. Plus, I’d have to keep Roadchamp in view, a virtual impossibility on the uphill but not out of the question on the descent, as he was famed for the descending skills of a one-legged turtle.
Garrot attacked early and dropped everyone, but had to contend with a bitter headwind, and more importantly with Aston-Martin, a quiet and friendly hairy-legged freddie whose palmares included several national titles as a collegiate rower. Roadchamp jumped and dropped everyone but me, as I had cagily held onto his jersey. Reaching Garrot, Roadchamp kicked again and I wished that I too had put on a brand new chain the night before.
Garrot saw me struggling and attacked, leaving me for dead. I paused and soon enough up came Taco Wagon, pounding like a madman with Aston-Martin in tow. We sat on his wheel, used him up like an old snotrag, and then Aston-Martin jumped. I easily went with Aston-Martin for three or two whole seconds before blowing disastrously. Taco Wagon scooped me up with Garrot in tow, Aston-Martin up the road, and Roadchamp a glimmering dot up in the Crab Nebulae.
Taco Wagon faltered and I engaged my bottom bracket motor, chasing up to Aston-Martin and, incredibly, dispensing with Garrot. A bunch of lies and extravagantly false memories ensued, and we comprised the final threesome over the last part of the climb.
However, we were soon overhauled on the descent, spanked for our temerity, and crushed in the sprunt for the Santa Barbara County Line.
Junkyard runs out of spare parts
After that, a bunch of stuff happened, most of it fast, or probably really slow, but we’d passed the halfway mark and I was done. Iron Maiden looked like Tin Maiden, or maybe Aluminum Foil Maiden. “How are you doing?” I asked, solicitously.
“Screw you,” she said.
Aston-Martin, DJ, and Garrot found the front all the way into Ventura and pounded our entrails, where we stopped at the Circle K, America’s nastiest convenience store. Fortunately, it had none of the things we wanted, like a toilet, but one of the things you learn quickly on FTR is that tradition reigns, and just because something is a terrible idea means nothing. Surfer Dan sidled up to me. “Dude,” he said. “We’ve passed a hundred cool coffee shops with real food in Ventura. Why are we stopping at this dumpster?”
“Urgle,” I said. “I mean, tradition.”
“Tradition? What’s tradition about NO PUBLIC BATHROOMS?”
“Tradition is forgetting the reason for something you’re afraid to change.”
Surfer rolled his eyes, swung off at the Sckubrats, had the only square meal of the day, and continued the ride without ever having broken a sweat.
The climb out of Ventura is gradual but murderous, like eating opened safety pins. Somewhere along the way Junkyard began running out of spare parts. First it was a lung, then a ventricle, then a kidney, then a right leg, but it wasn’t until a big puff of smoke came out of his butt that I realized things were serious. With a couple of perfectly timed pushes from friends he dug all the way to China, hung on, and made it through to Santa Paula, setting us all up perfectly for Balcom Canyon.
There’s not much to say about Balcom Canyon except this:
- Roadchamp annihilated it.
- Taco Wagon fell over and into a barbed wire fence.
- Skippy walked it.
- Junkyard, defending his hard-won last place, hitched a ride in a passing car and arrived without mussing a hair.
- Everyone else
wanted to puke and dierode gallantly, and put in a patheticmasterful performance.
With only fourteen miles to go to the barn, I turned to Iron Maiden. “How are your legs?”
“Tired but I’m okay. You?”
“Both legs. Same time. Oh, shit.” I did the little wheezy-sheezy crampy moan.
“Where’s your water bottle?” she asked.
“I forgot it back atop Balcom.”
“I’ve still got some energy drink left. Will that help?”
“Yes.” I looked at her with pleading, big-doe eyes. “Can I have a sip?”
“No,” she said, and pedaled away. Then at the very end everyone dropped me on the golf course climb.
Back at the Jaegers’ home we ate, but not before Skippy complained about his chain some more. “Dude,” I said. “You killed it.”
“What do you mean?”
“You did the whole fucking FTR with a broken chain.”
“Yeah, but I wanted to …”
“Beat Roadchamp? Take a fucking number, buddy. You just did the most epic thing ever.”
“Yeah, but I …”
“Think about it. If you hadn’t had the wrong chain you would have just been another knucklehead out getting his dick stomped on a long bike ride. Instead you created an entire legend for an entire chapter of the FTR.”
“Really. Chapeau.” And for the first time all day I said something I actually meant.
A proper leg-opener
The next morning I awoke at 5:00 AM wondering who turned on the fire hydrant and who had beaten my thighs with a meat tenderizer while I slept. The hydrant, it turned out, was the deluge hitting SoCal, continuing the heaviest rainfall here in decades.
The stabbing thigh pains were apparently from my FTR leg-opener.
I put my bike in the car to go race. The closer to the race I got, the more my phone started to smoke with “I ain’t racing today, bro” messages. Our leaky prostate race captain, who had spent the last two weeks urging everyone to sign up and go race, rain or shine, had cleverly bailed at the last minute, leaving only the truly stupid to stand around beneath a freezing downpour in their underwear.
I could see why he abandoned us in our hour of need. There was zero feet visibility. The road was a river. It was raining meatballs. The risk of death and carbon destruction was high. The rewards were nil.
And of course, Mrs. WM had said as I left, “It’s onna crazy rainin’ so you the only dummy and maybe win because other dummy all in bed.” Mrs. WM knew a thing or two about bike racing.
At the line there were only five other dummies, each clearly foiled in his race plan of “I’m doing this race because there can’t possibly be anyone stupid enough to do this besides me so I’ll automatically win and get $20.”
The race started and was miserable in a very fun kind of way and we went round and round until all the fun got washed off and we were left coated in hell and drinking each others’ rear-wheel spew and then we were numb and then with eighteen minutes to go I hit it and felt very tired and wheezy and suddenly it was sprunt time and everyone knows Wanky don’t sprunt and I didn’t today either, just pedaled a little harder and the other handful of numbskulls either gave up (unlikely) or weren’t strong enough (highly doubtful) or were unable to see the finish line due to the pounding sideways sheet rain (certainty) and somehow I notched a win and got a check for $50 which almost offset my $3,000 sponsorship of the race, and a sippy cup that says “Race Winner” and you know what?
I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. But I might shave a mile or two off the leg-opener.
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January 20, 2017 § 4 Comments
Tomorrow is the big day. The big ride. The one you’ve been training for. Planning for. Buying lots of new everything for, especially carbon that is always pure carbon, made with 100% all-carbon fiber fibre.
“The hay is in the barn,” as G$ likes to say, “so relax.”
BUT YOU’RE NOT G$.
So you lay out your clothes and man are you selective. Those shorts with the white rear panels that give everyone a view of the gate when the sun hits them right? Out.
That beloved-but-stained heroine’s jersey from your KOM up Kidneystone Pass? Not tomorrow. Tomorrow you have to look fresh. New. Perfect.
And you’re not ashamed to sock measure, either, laying out your six pairs of identical socks and making sure that the right and left are exactly the same height.
Bike? Buffed and spiffed, chain redolent with the smell of fresh Wend chain wax.
Tars? New front, new back, filled up with brand new air, two spares and two cartridges in case Ms. Very Bad Luck strikes not once but twice.
Glasses washed, helmet wiped, phone charged, wallet crammed with money and credit card, Barbie food laid out, bottles topped off with super power drinky stuff, Garmin charged, alarm set, you climb into bed and lie there, eyes wide open, heart pounding, butterflies fluttering without rest.
Yep, it’s those darned butterflies, and the more you skip and hop around with that big floppy net the less you catch ’em. What color are yours?
Are they gray butterflies of dread, certain that the whole thing is going to be a massive catastrophe?
Are they little pink butterflies that anxiously flap up to the door of the blast furnace and then skip back with their butts singed?
Are they terrified yellow butterflies, deeply concerned about falling, flatting, getting dropped, knocking someone down, getting lost, bonking, and pretty sure that it will be all of the above?
Are they blue butterflies of unavoidable fate, destiny locked in, the exact result unknown but who cares because it’s going to be bad?
Are they bloodshot butterflies of exhaustion, wondering how you’ll complete a 118-mile beatdown that finishes up Balcom Canyon on two hours of sleep?
Well, here’s a little secret.
It doesn’t matter what color your butterflies are.
Because everybody has ’em.
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January 11, 2015 § 37 Comments
It began like any other Saturday morning. There we were, twenty-five old fellows, buck naked in the bedroom of a someone’s parents, discreetly eyeing each others’ wrinkled junk as we slathered goop on our legs and put on stretch underwear. Was it a bad home video with distasteful subject matter? No. It was the 17th Annual French Toast Ride, and we were kitting up for the big showdown.
We had already scarfed down the finest breakfast in America: French toast, hot coffee, muffins, fresh fruit, and two delicious kinds of pork — sausage and bacon. As we gratefully devoured the incomparable meal prepared by Cindi, Gina, Lynn, Nancy, Jim, and Steve Jaeger, little did we know that the porcine gods were frowning on our consumption of their brethren.
Instead, we gaily prepped for what promised to be another edition of the most amazing bike ride in America: 117 lethal miles of Ventura County torture, capped by the steeps of Balcom Canyon and terminated at Mile 115 by the stabbing, punch-em-up Golf Course Climb. As King Harold put on his leg warmers, his arm warmers, his two undershirts, his long-sleeve jersey, his shoe covers, his long-fingered gloves, and his headwrap, the other riders chortled.
“Planning for a snowstorm, Harry?”
“Gearing up for the Iditarod?”
King Harold merely smiled as he glanced out the window. “Maybe you wankers didn’t notice that it’s raining.”
“Rain, schmain!” the chorus shouted back. “The forecast says 5% chance of rain and overcast skies.”
“Well, it’s half right,” he said.
“Anyway,” said Bull, “this is SoCal, and it’s always perfect weather for the FTR, and we’re in the middle of the worst drought in recorded history. This sprinkle will be gone before we get to Fillmore.”
On cue a bolt of lightning hit the house across the street, a peal of thunder ripped across the sky, and the light drizzle picked up ever so slightly.
I thought back to 5:30 that morning, when Mrs. Wankmeister had driven me over to Clodhopper’s. He had generously offered to drive me, Surfer Dan, and Toronto up to Camarillo, and we had accepted because Clodhopper, in addition to being the world’s most prepared man, always travels in style.
“Honey, let’s go,” I said as I roused her out of bed.
“You goin’ onna French cupcake ride? It’s gonna rain onna dogs.”
“Toast, not cupcake. And we aren’t cupcakes, honey, we’re hard men. And there’s only a 5% chance of rain.”
“It’s gonna rain onna cats so don’t call me up because you’re crashing onna slickery street.” She didn’t seem too happy about the early departure, but she drove me down to Clodhopper’s anyway.
As I arrived Clodhopper was putting the finishing touches on his brand new Xyplonk bike rack.
“Like it?” he asked.
It was the most amazing bike rack I’d ever seen, and obviously cost more than my Prius. “That’s incredible,” I said.
“Yep. Xyplonk is handmade in Finnland by artisan bike rack makers. Each one is made from hand-mined bauxite and assembled by 9th generation bike rack makers.”
“Wow,” I said.
“Yep. They’re a bit pricey; this one set me back six grand. But that’s less than the cost of the bike, right?”
He wasn’t kidding. Clodhopper’s bike cost $15k, plus $9k for the handmade wheels, which are made from virtually unobtainable profamatanium. I put my bike on the rack and we got ready to go. “Where’s your bike?” I asked.
“In the back of the Avalanche. I’d never put my bike on a rack. What if some knucklehead rear-ends me, or I rip the rack off by going up a driveway that’s too steep?”
“Good point,” I said. “But if you’re never going to use it, why go to all the expense?”
Clodhopper looked at me. “If I was going to use a bike rack, I’d use the best one I could buy. And in my world, you take as good care of your friends’ stuff as you would with your own.”
“Well, if it was me you’d be getting one of those aluminum jobs with fabric straps that hang onto the rain gutter.”
“I know,” he said. “That’s why I’m driving. Let’s go.”
Clodhopper sent off two text messages to Surfer and Toronto to let them know we were en route. “I drafted the texts last night and put them in the queue. Be prepared. That’s my motto.”
I’d rather be wet than cold: dash to the Fillmore sprunt
Our resplendent group of 25 riders rolled out in the drizzle that had turned to moderately pounding rain, and our immaculate bikes were almost immediately covered in dreck. Manslaughter turned to me as we went from damp to wet to soaked. “It’s not a cold rain at least,” he said.
“Nope,” I said.
“And I’d rather be wet than cold,” he said.
“Yep.” We both looked at King Harold, who was dry as a bone and quite cozy in his Iditarod get-up, and we wondered the same thing: “What if we end up wet and cold?”
We needn’t have wondered …
The first tiny climb, which was so small and brief and easy that I hardly inhaled, was soon past. At the next little bump we had a flat, and Manslaughter leaned over to me as we waited. “Hey, Wanky,” he said.
“Is it a bad sign if those first two little non-climbs really hurt?”
I looked at him and thought briefly about telling the truth. “Nah,” I said. “Those are just warm-up pangs. Everybody’s hurting.” He knew I was lying, but just hearing my blatant dishonesty said with such kindness and sincerity made him smile. The group continued on, pushing up and over the first rated climb of the day, the Fillmore Hump. I skittered to the front in order to take the descent first. I’m a terrible descender, and my full-carbon wheels, which are made completely of carbon, don’t stop at all when they’re wet, although they make a very cool full-carbon “sheeeeee” sound when you squeeze on the brakes that don’t stop, which is cooler than the “shirrrrrr” sound they make when they brake dry and do stop.
I figured that since I couldn’t stop and would likely crash, better to take out as many people as possible by riding at the front. The minute the steep, hairy-pinned descent commenced, we all noticed giant puddles of fresh motor oil in the middle of the road. Bikes began twitching sideways, sphincters began clenching (then, unfortunately, unclenching), oaths were shouted, and Hair bombed the descent with Dally Rumple at full speed. With no one able to catch them, Hair blitzed across the Fillmore city limit sign to collect the first scalp of the day.
We had a couple more flats, and raced on towards Santa Paula. Hair took that sprunt, too.
Super boring bike stuff
[This next section details the blow-by-blow of the Ojai climb, the run across the valley, the descent, and the sprunt into Ojai. It is incredibly boring and filled with mindless cycling details that are numbingly inane unless you were one of the people involved. Others may skip to the next section, “Slip sliding away.”]
A couple of miles after leaving Santa Paula the climb began. How long was it? I don’t know. How steep was it? I don’t know. But I do know this: at some point we went from twenty-five riders to seven. The rain began to pour down with personal animosity until we had all reached the level of wetness that lets you know you’re totally drenched: our balls were soaked.
Riding behind someone with soaked balls is a bummer because when they press down with one leg it squeezes the ball sauce out of the chamois and onto the saddle, from whence it drips onto the back tire and is then violently flung up into your face, imparting a light flavor of oil, hints of grease, oaked flavors of dirt, big and fruit-forward essences of transmission fluid from the asphalt, and a velvety-with-salt-and-sweat finish.
G$ pushed to the front and began shedding deadwood. I started at the back and leapfrogged from shattering grupetto to shattering grupetto. There was Bull, regretting (but not really) all those chili-cheese burritos. There was Aston Martin, looking for a replacement piston. There was Dream Crusher, finding out what it was like to be the crushee. There was Clodhopper, speed-dialing Uber. And there, just ahead, were the leaders — Roadchamp, Full Gas Phil, G$, Hair, Dally Rumple, FTR DS Jaeger, and Marmaluke.
I latched onto the rear like a sucker-fish. Roadchamp attacked and Full Gas Phil followed. G$ repeatedly attacked to try and bridge the gap before settling down to set a searing tempo. Stern-O, arguably the toughest old boot on the ride at 65 years old, had set out ahead of the group and yelled encouragement as we flew by.
We crested the climb and Marmaluke bridged us to Roadchamp and Full Gas Phil. Now we had an 8-man flailaway and the pace went from torrid to unbearable. The rain beat down, washing my sulfuric acid-based sunscreen into my eyes, blinding me so badly that I could only crack my left eye. Sitting two inches off a wheel, eyes burning, the sheets of rain making everything invisible, I feebly rotated through, easily the weakest in the group.
Hair, the supposed sprinter, was again showing his toughness as he hung with the climbers, poured on the coal along the flats, and hung back to give me a break when I started to drift off the last wheel. We hit the long, fast, soaking, twisty descent and everyone sat up except for Phil, Hair, G$, and me. Our bikes were slithering in the turns, and when we hit the flat 3-mile run-in to Ojai, Full Gas Phil opened it up full throttle. As we hit the outskirts of town Hair leaped away, Full Gas followed, and someone won the sprunt. G$ and I just gasped, relieved that it was over.
Slip sliding away
One by one the riders straggled into the Ojai Chevron, wet and frozen to the core. Instead of the usual convenience store fare of cokes and candy bars, Toronto and Surfer scarfed two large cups of instant ramen, a cup of chicken noodle soup, and an extra-large cup of hot cocoa. One rider bought two large cups of coffee, drank one, and poured the other one into his shoes.
“What the fuck are you doing?” we asked.
“Thawing my feet. Hopefully they’ll absorb some caffeine, too.”
I immediately noticed a selection of longshoreman knit caps on a rack and bought one. My helmet sat on it like a cherry atop a scoop of ice cream, but I didn’t care. We stood in a circle under the store’s heating vent, dripping filthy water onto the floor and shivering uncontrollably.
“Well, boys,” DJ said. “I think we should shorten the ride. What’s your vote?”
Various wankers nodded in agreement. We were fifty miles in, and we’d have a hundred hard, miserable miles even with the 17-mile shortcut. One rider protested. “But we’d be missing the epic Lake Casitas climb, the county line sprunt, and more of the general beatdown.”
Another chimed in. “FTR has never been truncated. Ever.”
King Harold spoke up. “What kind of wussy talk is this? Let’s do the friggin’ ride. It ain’t the French Cupcake Ride, is it?”
I thought of Mrs. WM. “Guys,” I said, “this is about pride. Honor. Manliness. Are we hardmen, or are we soggy cupcakes? What’s 17 extra miles with a touch of climbing? Who’s afraid of hypothermia and a slow, agonizing death? Do we want to go home like cowards and pantywaists, or with our heads held high? Whattaya say? Are you with me, men?”
They looked at me like I was insane. “Hey, Wanky,” Manslaughter piped up. “You can go do whatever the fugg you want. We’re frozen. We’re soaking wet. We’re under dressed. We have prostate issues and incipient pneumonia. Iron Mike is curled up in a fetal ball and begging someone to pour boiling water down his shorts. Zero fucks are given whether we do 100 miles or 117. The fact that we’ve even gone this far makes us immortally stupid. So no, we’re not only not with you, we don’t even know you.”
The group nodded in unison and we reluctantly faced the rain again, whose intensity had increased to that of a large-diameter fire hose.
A few miles later, disaster struck. On the outskirts of Ventura we were crossing a particularly slick section of road when Dream Crusher, who was just behind me, took the opportunity to jerk his wheel and go splattering across the pavement. I didn’t look back but could hear the hideous sound of crunching carbon and thunking meat as it hit. I immediately began composing my noble speech.
“Guys, as much as I’d like to complete this FTR, I hereby volunteer to ride back with Dream Crusher in the heated ambulance. Carry on without me, and Mr. EMS dude, please give me another blanket.”
Dream Crusher was dragged onto the pavement where, unfortunately, his bike was fine and he only had two tiny scratches on his leg. “Don’t feel bad, wanker,” said Manslaughter. “That was a tricky section right there. Only a highly skilled rider could have successfully navigated it.”
At that moment a 75-year-old man on a tricycle hauling a steel wagon filled with burritos came whipping through the same section, bunny-hopped the curb with the wagon, sailed off the far curb and careened the trike onto two wheels as he swerved through the street. “Get that guy’s phone number,” Bull said, “and sign Dream Crusher up for some lessons.”
Circle K for “killer”
[More tedious bike crap. General interest readers may skip to “Shitfaced.”]
In Ventura we turned left at the Circle K and began the long climb out of town, which began the 20-mile undulating road back to Santa Paula, and from there to the dreaded Balcom Canyon.
MMX, who had been idling is engine for most of the ride, roared to the fore and immediately distanced the group. Dogg and Dally Rumple charged for a while, then MMX surged again, his tequila-fueled legs beating the pedals with a mad fury. This time, the punch was followed by a stinging counter unleashed by Full Gas Phil. The twosome rode off, with Hair, me, Surfer Dan, and Marmaluke trailing in the fumes.
Marmaluke bridged the gap, and we settled into a terrible six-man paceline where Full Gas, Marmaluke, and MMX relentlessly crushed it. The only rider to never skip a pull besides Full Gas was Hair, who again showed incredible mettle and tenacity. Phil kept the pace bleedlingly fast, with MMX smashing through each time so hard that I finally gave up pulling and hung on for dear life.
We knew the wankoton, which included G$, Roadchamp, FTR DS, King Harold, Dally Rumple, and Clodhopper would be chasing their brains out, not that they had many. Fearing the chase we drove on even harder until I was reduced to a sobbing puddle of spaghetti legs and melted ego. However, far from chasing, the wankoton had flatted twice just past the Circle K, and they were lollygagging along, wholly unconcerned with our heroics.
By the time we reached Santa Paula, Hair was mush. “Hey, guys,” he pleaded, “shouldn’t we wait for the group? Jaeger will be upset.” This was code speak for “Can I crawl off into this gutter and quit?”
Since he’s one of our best friends, and had done a lot of work, and had never skipped a pull, we accelerated, dropped him, and left him to fend for himself. By now all pretense of warm, hard rain had stopped and we were slogging through a frozen, complete deluge.
When the wankoton got into Santa Paula, King Harold, who was the designated sweeper, was facing a scenario unlike any other in the history of the FTR. Various riders had simply disappeared. G3, Stern-O, Manslaughter, and Toronto were nowhere to be found. And instead of plowing through Santa Paula, the wankoton wobbled to a feeble stop in front of a gas station.
Iron Mike was groaning in a language he didn’t even speak, and Bull, who is very careful with his equipment, flung his $7k bike down into a puddle of mud and rocks. “Bull need cheese,” he grunted.
A line of filthy, soaked, frozen, angry, and demented old fellows followed him into the convenience mart, where they bought the entire kettle of scalding coffee and took turns pouring it onto their feet. Bull grabbed a large styrofoam bowl and heaped it high with chili-cheese burritos, melted quesadilla cheese, and four cheese-covered wieners. Using a plastic knife and his fingers, he ground it up into a slurry, added some hot coffee, water, and Gatorade, and drank it. Two other riders simply stood on the curb and urinated in their shorts, hoping the pee would at least clean them up a little bit, and if nothing else warm their refrigerated junk.
Shitfaced, or, The pigs strike back
Marmaluke, MMX, Full Gas, and I knew nothing of this as we motored through the veil of cold, pounding rain to Balcom Canyon. I had gone from taking no pulls at all to simply whimpering. “Hey fellas, don’t drop me, okay?” I begged.
“HTFU,” said MMX.
“STFU,” said FG Phil.
“It’ll cost you fifty bucks,” said Marmaluke.
“Done,” I said.
We turned up the road leading to Balcom, and a mile in I cracked and fell off the back. Balcom is steep, and this time the right-hand gutter was filled with a raging torrent, whereas the surface of the road was slapping back at my front wheel with cascading sheets of water.
Up ahead Marmaluke broke like a stick in Stern-O’s rear triangle as MMX paperboyed up the climb. Full Gas Phil distanced the duo and claimed his first ever Balcom Canyon FTR KOM … or so he thought. Impossibly, they waited for me. I got to the top; the view to the bottom of the canyon was visible in between the alternating strength of the downpour, but we saw no one.
“Should we wait for those wankers?” said Full Gas.
“I’m frozen,” said MMX.
“If we stop much longer I won’t be able to restart,” said Marmaluke.
“Urgle,” I said.
We hopped on our bikes and slid down the other side of the canyon. MMX now rolled to the fore and stayed there. My punishment for asking to be allowed to stay was being allowed to stay. Marmaluke occasionally showed a glimmer of humanity and towed me back up as MMX and Full Gas took turns smashing it into the rain and grime.
Only, as we turned onto the final stretch of highway leading to the feared Golf Course climb, I noticed that we weren’t riding through grime anymore. Instead, we were riding through a thick, light brown sludge that had the suspicious smell, look, and consistency of pig shit. All of the manure from the pig trucks had turned into semi-liquid from the rain and was now being showered into our faces.
I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten a gallon of pig shit before, but it doesn’t taste very good. Perhaps it’s the Hepatitis C, or the lethal piggi shitti killimus bacteria, or maybe it’s the clumps of raw pig sewage mixed with the detritus of the road, but whatever the reason, smearing your face, lips, and tongue with clods of pork poop tastes downright awful.
On cue, cars passed us at 80, showering our sides with more of the lovely piggy perfume. In moments we had gone from filthy, grimy black to shimmering poopy brown. The only thing that would have been worse would have been getting dropped, so I hunkered down, swallowed my portion as it spewed down my throat from Marmaluke’s rear wheel, and pounded on.
At the golf course MMX and Full Gas Phil kicked it one last time, and Marmaluke crumpled like piece of tinfoil. I had crumpled long ago, but struggled up to his rear wheel and made sure that my front wheel was 1mm ahead of his at the summit because, bike racer. And wanker.
MMX and FGP had attacked over the top, determined to gloriously ride in covered in pig shit without us in tow. That was fine, except that since I’d only been to the Jaegers’ home about ten times, I got lost. Somewhere in Camarillo Marmaluke whipped out his cell phone. “I got their address, dude, no worries.”
However, there actually were worries, and the biggest one was that the rain kept pounding his cell phone, which as a result gave us perfect directions to downtown Shanghai, then Kinshasa, then Bobodelasso, then Prague, but couldn’t find the Jagers’. Now the prospects were dire and I thought about how I’d complained about shortening the ride. Marmaluke, who had bragged about his Chicago origins and his imperviousness to this wimpy SoCal weather, was shuddering and shaking so badly that he could barely hold his phone.
“We gotta keep moving,” I said, feeling the hypothermia ratchet up a notch. After five pointless minutes wandering through a neighborhood, we saw a postal truck. “Excuse me,” I chattered, “where is West Kensington Lane?”
The driver wrinkled his forehead. “There’s no street in Camarillo by that name.”
“Yes there is. I’ve been there numerous times. It’s right around here somewhere.”
“I’ve been delivering mail here for thirty years,” replied, “but good luck.”
Just before we decided to throw our bikes on a lawn and let them be washed by the torrent down to the Pacific, Marmaluke spied a school. “Let’s go there and see if we can dry out the phone,” he said.
“Are you sure you’re allowed to go within 150 feet of a school?” I asked. “Plus, how are you going to dry it out? We’re wet from head to balls to toe.”
Marmaluke pulled under an awning and took out his phone. Then he carefully unpacked a small tool bag, which was drenched. Out of the bag he took a piece of paper, which was drenched. He unfolded the paper and inside it was the world’s tiniest plastic bag. He opened the micro-bag and took out a lone, bone dry piece of tissue paper.
“What in the world are you carrying around a dry piece of paper for?” I asked in amazement.
“For something like this,” he said, and proceeded to wipe dry the phone screen, which buzzed to life and mapped us instantly to West Kensington Lane, a mere 3-minute pedal away.
We swooped up the driveway and spied the bikes of MMX and Full Gas Phil, along with the rigs of Surfer and the others who had given up on Balcom and taken a shortcut home.
Cindi, Gina, and Lynn stood in the garage smiling at us. “You made it!” they cheered, draping us in towels. We wiped off the mess and tiptoed into the shower, where the day ended pretty much the same way it had started, with slightly older, infinitely more tired, and much more wrinkled old men standing around naked, except this time doing it together in a shower.
All hail the conquering heroes
One by one the broken and weary riders came in. All were frozen to the core except for Clodhopper and King Harold, who were still toasty and mostly dry. The Jaegers then fed us with Round Two, which consisted of delicious sandwiches on the freshest buns, mounds of cookies, gallons of very hot coffee, and cold beer for those who could ingest anything modified by the word “cold.”
It was the first time in history that the FTR had gone less than the full 117 miles, but had it gone even fifty yards further there were riders like me who would have finished not with a sandwich but with a solemn graveside service. It was still a full hundred miles of suffering hell, of misery beyond compare, of danger, collapse, fear, regret, a ride whose awfulness was encapsulated by the words of Full Gas Phil as we plowed through the pig poop — “Okay. I’m not having fun now.”
In other words, it was the very best FTR ever. Thank you Dave Jaeger, and thank you to the Jaeger family for the gift. My eyes are swollen shut this morning as a result of the bacterial infection from the pig stuff, and later in the afternoon I’ll get my blood tested for hepatitis, but it was worth every terrible turn of the pedal, not least of all because everyone made it home alive.
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January 9, 2015 § 22 Comments
It’s that time of year, when folks are downright desperate. On Saturday we will roll out on the annual French Toast Ride, the finest, best, most awesome, wonderful, and miserable smashfest of the year. The ride starts and finishes at the home of DJ’s parents, who stuff us full of French toast, bacon, sausage, coffee, eggs, and other delicious food, then stuff us again seven hours later when we return. As a result, participation is by invitation only. No more than twenty-four riders have ever been privileged to do the ride.
This leads to the inevitable question, “How do I get invited?”
It’s simple, really, even though there are thousands who want one of the coveted slots. First, you have to ride with DJ at Saturday morning at 6:00 AM a couple of dozen times, leaving from the top secret launchpad of CotKU. These rides are long and miserably hard, not because of DJ’s riding ability but because he tells the same three stories for hours on end, week in and week out. After your third ride most people decide that whenever the FTR happens, they’re busy that weekend.
Those who endure the rides must then do this every year for a few years. Eventually, but probably not, you will then get invited. DJ bases his invitations on a secret set of rules that are all subordinate to The Rule, which is this: DJ Makes All The Rules.
Some of the rules are:
- No Freds.
- No wankers.
- No last-minute-undependables.
- No whiners.
- No riders who violate the secret rules.
However, exceptions abound, which give hope to all, for example:
- No Freds, but numerous Long Beach and New Mexico riders have participated.
- No wankers, but numerrous unfit, hopeless peloton anchors and Elron have participated.
- No last-minute-undependables, but … Neumann.
- No whiners, but Wanky.
In other words, hope springs eternal, and if you show up for the secret Saturday rides, laugh at the corny jokes, cajole, wheedle, and get down on your knees to beg, there’s a slight chance you might get invited if someone else cancels. You might think that such a prestigious event would never have cancellations, but you would be wrong.
Because at Mile 102 you hit Balcom Canyon, and there are still sixteen hard miles to go after that. If you don’t know Balcom, it’s the most incredible … never mind. In other words, the Freddies who eagerly slurp up their invitation in October begin getting nervous in November, having doubts in December, and experiencing severe diaper rash in January. There’s a trickle of defections around Thanksgiving, an exodus at Christmas, and one or two quitters in January. Of course the most heinous quitter in the history of the FTR whose name shall remain unnamed (Neumann) had the gall to simply not show up the morning of the ride and therefore be banished from the invite list forever, but that is another story.
This gives the waitlisters, who have been burning incense and slaughtering goats like mad, hope. And don’t think the waitlisters have simply been roasting quadrupeds on a spit and offering up vestal virgins to the FTR dogs. Nope, they’ve been lobbying like crazy, and they lobby like this.
“You doing FTR this year?”
“Do you think you could get me in?”
“What if someone cancels?”
“It’s still full. For you.”
“Aw come on. Don’t you remember that meal I bought you at Charlie’s Cheese and Lard House and All You Can Eat Buffet?”
“So can’t you put in a good word for me? Please? I’m good for two more dinners a Charlie’s, buddy old pal.”
So then Bull, or whichever other FTR participant has been guilted into making a futile request, sidles up to DJ on a ride. “Hey, DJ, how’s it going?”
“No, he can’t come.”
“Whoever. We’re full.”
And that’s how it goes. What’s worse, if the FTR hopeful has never actually done a Top Secret Saturday Ride, or worse, doesn’t know DJ personally, that person’s name gets entered into a Top Secret Shit List and is forever barred from the sacred FTR invitation email.
Of course no one has ever asked me to lobby for them because I have no pull, and I won’t do it, and the answer is always “No.”
Enter the Hopper
I hadn’t seen Clodhopper in a long time. Ever since they shut down the Parkway and we stopped doing the NPR, he had gone stealth on my radar screen. A few days ago I sent him a Happy New Year email. Clodhopper is one of those guys who, like a great case of mold, grows on you. He pinged me right back and returned the New Year greetings. “You doing FTR?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said, knowing what would come next.
“Enjoy!” he emailed.
And that was it.
Of course that was it, because Clodhopper don’t beg. He’d been assiduously doing the Top Secret Corny Joke Rides all year, he knew the chance of admission was somewhat less than zero, and he did them anyway. But among all the pretenders and SoCal profamateurs and not-good-enough-to-ride-pro-but-good-enough-to-be-a-masters-racer fakers who do the FTR, Clodhopper is the only cyclist among us who’s actually an athlete.
Let me put it this way: Even though he looks like he’s had one cheeseburger too many, Clodhopper once held the world record in the 1600-meter relay. We’re not talking a silver medal at the master’s nationals crit, folks. We’re talking the fastest human being on the planet in an actual sport, as opposed to geriatrics in clown suits on wheels.
When Clodhopper took up cycling back in the 90’s, he showed up at the Lake Castaic road race and won by smashing the snot out of Jeff Pierce, who was only a couple of years past his record as the first American to win a stage at the Tour, and the only American ever to win on the Champs-Elysees. Clodhopper, in addition to a world record at the pinnacle of the world’s most competitive sport, was also a badass on the bike … before he met all those cheeseburgers.
Nonetheless, I’ve ridden with him enough to know that he can still crank out more watts on a 5-hour-a-week training plan than most full time profamateurs. Genes + pain threshold + world titles on the track = Clodhopper Don’t Beg.
“Yo, Clodhopper,” I said when I saw him next, “what have you been up to?”
“Been doing the Saturday rides with DJ.”
“And no FTR invite?”
“Want me to put in a word for you?” I never put in a word for anyone, except perhaps the word “wanker.”
“No, thanks,” he said. “I’ll do the Saturday rides this year and hope for a ride in 2016.”
“Let me ask,” I said.
“I’m specifically telling you not to ask. If I’m a fit I’ll get an invite. If not, it’s a blast riding with those guys.”
He had clearly lost his mind. So, I went home and composed a carefully-worded email to DJ that went exactly like this: “Yo, DJ: Clodhopper.”
A couple of days later, I got the email with the finalized list of participants. There at the bottom was Clodhopper’s name. I immediately called him. “Dude,” I said. “Me and Surfer Dan need a ride. Got room?”
“Of course,” he said. “You said something to DJ, didn’t you?”
“Me? No. Never. I got no pull, dude.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Whatever.”
Wankers, start your engines!
The final start list is below. It will be epic.
1) Road Champ
6) Full Gas
7) Dream Crusher
9) Major Bob
11) BP a/k/a Oilspill
14) Iron Mike
18) Surfer Dan
20) FTR DS
22) Limey Carboy
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January 19, 2014 § 23 Comments
The 2014 edition of Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride had diverse offerings, including the flowers and bushes on the edge of Price Road who were nourished by the projectile vomiting of Uberfred. He had made the fatal mistake of taking a well-aged piece of a sweat-soaked, partially gnawed Snickers bar offered up by Sterno, and instead of magically transforming from Betty White to Eddy Merckx, he almost metamorphosed into Dude With Stomach Cramps Lying In The Ditch Five Miles From The End.
It was a French Toast Ride that began with piles of thick toast soaked in French, pan-fried to a golden glow, and poured down the hungry maws of the hardy riders who had managed to wake up on time and get to the feed zone at Camarillo by 7:30. The delectable toast, cooked in the home of Dave’s parents Jim and Nancy, was accompanied by stacks of bacon, pans of sausage, gobs of butter, buckets of cream, a giant urn of coffee, and a small plate of fruit as a sop to the healthful. No one was fooled, however. There would be nothing healthful about this FTR, just like there had been nothing healthful about any of the other fifteen editions of the ride.
A little something bad for everyone
The genius of the FTR is the way it disappoints, frustrates, humbles, aggravates, and insults each rider in a unique way over the course of 118 nasty, windy miles and almost 9,000 feet of very unpleasant climbing. Despite a day filled with unpleasantness and misery, each year the same cadre of idiots happily reconvene to do it all over again. If you have zero fitness, like Turtle, FTR is simple masochism. You drag your butt over the course, last up every climb, last to every stop, first one to get shelled when the pace picks up, and typically you get up Balcom Canyon by holding onto a gardener’s truck or with a hoist.
If you’re somewhat prepared, FTR is a day filled with cagey wheelsucking, where, like Toronto, you stay near the front in anticipation of a move, but never actually on it. Fear of being shelled cancels the duty to do your share, but of course it all pays off when, like Toronto, you absolutely blaze up the climbs and stick with the lead group when the pace ramps up.
If you’re supremely prepared, like Surfer Dan, the ride is pure agony, because when the group splits at the first climb less than 20 miles into the ride, and you’re ready to ride the remaining 100 miles in a death march with five other guys, the group halts, Dave coddles the weak and the dropped, and everyone gets back together. Yet despite the beatdown, the coddling, the stopping, the hand-holding, the hammering, the climbing, the sprunting, the cramping, and the unholy exhaustion that sets in at Mile 100, just before you tackle the 20-percent slopes of Balcom, the FTR is the best, happiest, most satisfying and rewarding ride you’ll ever do.
How can that be? Because of good love.
The ties that bind
Dave’s parents are in their 70’s, and what possesses them to allow a ravenous mob of cyclists to invade their modest home every year, prance around semi-naked as they change into kit, rub smelly embro all over their bodies, stink up their bathroom with the quaking bowels of twenty men with the pre-ride purge, and occasionally (like the year Stern-O wiped his derriere with four pounds of toilet paper) clog up the pipes in the entire house, I’ll never know for sure. What I do know is this. The Jaegers have good love, and it permeates their home, their family, and every aspect of the FTR.
It’s the kind of love that is built year by year over decades, one day at a time, through the rewards and travails of raising kids, living through the hard knocks and comfortable landings of life, trusting in the person next to you when the chips aren’t simply down, they’re not even on the table anymore. The Jaegers’ good love, quiet and unassuming, solid as bedrock and there as predictably as the sunrise, spills over into every aspect of the FTR. That love is, of course, what gave rise to Dave, and that love is, of course, what Dave and Lynn have in their own marriage — you can see it because nowadays the Jaegers are FTR hosts emeritus. The brunt of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, organizing, and making it happen is done by Dave’s wife Lynn, his sister-in-law, and his daughters.
The good love doesn’t stop with sharing the plumbing and the home and the food. The good love is part of the ride itself, mostly old guys getting older and weaker, along with an infusion of new 30-something blood to keep everyone broken and in pain throughout the day. Every year the pummeling and the projectile vomiting and the pro wheel changes and the butt pats and the towing on the flats and the full-gas sprunting and the empty, vacant looks of misery at the Circle K in Ventura … these things bubble and boil and then harden, solidifying into something that can only be called “I’d do anything for you,” also known as “love.” That love is especially poignant when it involves doing your utmost to crush your closest friends and bring them to their knees.
The beaches of Normandy a/k/a Balcom Canyon Road
This is a nasty climb, just under one mile long, that averages ten percent and slams up to twenty on the steepest ramp. On any day it would be a beast, but Dave has it positioned at about Mile 100 into the ride, after huge efforts up Grimes Canyon, the 4-mile race to Fillmore, the 7-mile climb from Santa Paula towards Ojai, the 3-mile race and sprint into Ojai, the murderous twin peaks of Lake Casitas and sprint for the Santa Barbara County line, and the miserable, endless climb out of Ventura when your legs are filled with poison and your morale is at its all-time lowest.
Then, and only then, with the tank on empty and your mental fortitude in the gutter, do you hit Balcom Canyon. It gets in your head, starting pretty much with the first piece of French toast. As we plowed along Mountain Road, each pedal stroke along the five miles leading to the turnoff onto Balcom Canyon Road felt like I was pedaling towards my doom. The flurry of tiny, twanging, twinges that had begun in Ojai gradually morphed into full blown cramps. That’s a good sign before the steepest, hardest climb of the day right? The one where it’s common to paperboy just to get up it, right? The one where you count it as victory just getting to the top, right?
Wrong. It was a bad sign.
Everyone felt the doom. This is how soldiers felt sitting in little steel boats with tiny motors as they churned towards the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. It’s a sickness in your stomach and a bitter misery in your head. Reality has something ugly in store for you and you cannot avoid it. Whether that bad reality will be your complete undoing or not is the only question. But whereas the soldiers on D-Day leaped into frigid water to face the murderous rake of machine guns and mortars and artillery and mines and concertina and horrific injury and death, we faced something much worse: The knowledge that each pedal stroke would be painstakingly analyzed on Strava by all of our friends.
When we made the turn, it was clear that honor for the Balcom KOM would be decided among Surfer Dan, Manslaughter, G$, and Unpronounceable. Before the Balcom climb proper, you have to batter for 1.5 miles, usually into a headwind, up a 2-percent grade to the base of the climb. Although it had been tried before, most famously during the Pee Stop Attack by Wanky in 2010, no one had ever succeeded in stealing a march on the group before the base of the climb.
This year was different. Surfer Dan took one look at the haggard, frightened, sniveling, and broken faces of his competition and rolled away. Everyone wanted to chase, but only one rider could, and it wasn’t enough. Mike Frias, who had been pulling his brains out, never shirking the front, and digging like a DitchWitch all day long, took over the nastiest chore of the entire day. For the entire 1.5 miles he towed us at full speed, keeping Surfer Dan in our sights but unable to close the gap. We hit the base of the climb and Mike swung over, waving us through. “All yours, boys,” he said, planting his foot squarely on a land mine just as he took an artillery round, a machine gun strafing, and a mortar round to the chest all at once.
Surfer Dan was just ahead of us, but on Balcom Canyon, “just ahead” is a meaningless term because the gradient is so steep that even a few feet can prove impossible to close. Dan churned away as what remained of the chasers detonated. Manslaughter saw his chance and punched it, followed by G$ and Unpronounceable, with BB-gun in hot pursuit. I sent all power to the engines, who, already blown, simply giggled.
The day before Destructionmas
Somehow, while I can’t actually call it “finding a rhythm,” I managed to keep from tipping over by pedaling, and that effort led me ever closer to Unpronounceable. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, came charging Toronto with bounds like a deer. With granny gear twirling, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment he’d stomp on my dick. More rapid than spin class his pedals they turned, and he grunted and labored, and calories burned. “Now, Surfer! Manslaughter! Now, Money and Aaron! On Wanky! Up Balcom I’m rarin’ and tearin’! To the top of the climb! To the top of the wall! It may cost my life, but I’ll pedal, not crawl!” As old men that before the steep obstacle faint, when they meet with the obstacle, rub their sore taint, so up and past Wanky, Toronto he flew, with a grin on his face because deep down he knew, that then, in a twinkling, Wanky would feel, the sting and the bite of Toronto’s sharp steel. And then, in a twinkling, I heard with a start, the breaking and rupture of valves in my heart. As I hung down my head, and was watching his ass, I knew I could not let this old wanker pass. He was pedaling fast, like the canyon he owned, but I knew once he wobbled his engine was blown. A bolus of snot then poured forth from his face, then he tottered and faltered, the end of his race. His eyes how they stared! How bloodshot and red! His cheeks were like corpses, all sunken and dead! His droll little mouth was drawn up in a frown, while spittle and mucous both oozed slowly down. The stumps of his legs shaved clean of their hairs, had gone from full circles to pedaling squares. His lined, broken face and his wheeze from the battle, escaped from his throat in one final death rattle. I left him there quick with a pat on his rump, as if he’d been beaten and chained to a stump. But though he sank back like a great anchor’s plunge, he somehow dug deep and with one final lunge, he gasped and he choked and he coughed up a lung, and finally onto his seventh place hung. Atop mighty Balcom he leaped off his tool, and he pranced and he danced and he texted Joe Yule. “I did it!” he said, “With Clif bars and java! A number I’ll proudly now upload to Strava!” But I heard him exclaim, ere I bombed down the hill, “With a compact next year I will climb faster still!”
Just this one last little bit
Surfer Dan was never reeled in, Manslaughter finished hard on his heels, G$ crested the hill next followed by BB-Gun, me, and Unpronounceable. We regrouped, descended, then hit the gas all the way to Golf Course Hill, a nasty little .3-mile kicker that finishes on a 13 percent grade. The final FTR tally looked like this:
- Grimes Canyon: Frias
- Fillmore sprunt: Hair
- Santa Paula sprunt: Hair
- Ojai climb: G$
- Ojai sprunt: Hair
- Casitas climb, first peak: Surfer Dan
- Casitas climb, second peak: Surfer Dan
- Santa Barbara county line sprunt: Hair
- Ventura county line sprunt: King Harold
- Balcom Canyon climb: Surfer Dan
- Golf Course climb: Manslaughter
- Most trash talked: Wanky
Honorable and Dishonorable Mention
- The last-minute cancellations, including Elron who bailed because he was too lazy to get up in time.
- Mike Frias for pulling like a Trojan All Fricking Day Award.
- 60-year-old Jim Bowles for Octogenarian of the Ride Award.
- Stern-O for Toughest Old Boot of the Ride Award.
- Turtle for Finishing Award.
- Manslaughter for Dude We’re Going to Really Fear Now That He Knows the Route Award.
- Unpronounceable for If He Ever Gets Serious About the Road We’re Doomed Award.
- Hair for All Around Champion Award.
- Surfer Dan for KOM, BOM, and SOM Awards.
- Uberfred for Best Projectile Vomit Award.
- Toronto for Best Self-Praise Award.
- G$ for Best Old Dude Who Rides Better Than the Kids Half His Age.
- Danny N. for Gutting It Out Award.
- King Harold for Best Recovery After Contracting Bubonic Plague at Training Camp.
- Jaeger for Best Mother Hen Award.
- Polly for Best Driver Award.
- BB-Gun for Best Shock Therapy on Balcom Award.
- Golden Boy for Most Awesome Ride With Less than 12 Miles of Training.
About two blocks from the Jaegers’ driveway, both of my legs seized up with those full-body cramps that bring you to a complete standstill while shrieking and grimacing in agony. Fortunately it was downhill, so I cruised into the driveway and tipped over, where I was shortly resuscitated with the Jaegers’ famous post-ride sandwiches and beer. As I stood in the kitchen, shaking, drinking beer, and refilling my plate, one of the family members looked at me. “I noticed that you were the last one in the driveway,” she said. “Does that mean you were last place on the ride?”
I sucked in my breath and got ready to tell her about the fireworks on Grimes, the carnage in Ojai, the warfare up Casitas, the death sprints, the Normandy charge up Balcom, and the final launch up Golf Course, and my incredible heroics at every step of the way. Then I thought about it and it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was the last one up the driveway.
I hung my head. “Yes.”
January 17, 2014 § 12 Comments
My excuse isn’t great, but it’s pretty damned good: 118 miles on Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride, where I’ll have to smack down young posers like Jay-Jay LaPlante, Aaron Unpronounceablelastname, Greg “I have another mortal virus” Seyranian, Dan “when does the ride start” Cobley, and one or two other flailers like King Harold and DJ himself. Yeah, I’ll bust their chops up the Lake Casitas climb, on the 101, and then with G$ I’ll time trial from Ventura to the top of Balcom while Stern-O, Bowles, Spivey, and the Long Beach freddies take turns licking each other’s open wounds.
Shorthand: I’ll be too tired for the season opening crit in Dominguez Hills, but I’ll try to make it anyway.
What’s your excuse?
The man with the plan and the white Mercedes van
When Chris Lotts kicks off the season opening SoCal crit on Sunday, January 19, lots of people will be complaining. Why? Because it’s a lot easier to complain than to race your bike. Studies show that complaining exerts a biological cost of less than .00001 homeostatic watts, whereas putting on a single bike race shortens your lifespan by roughly twelve years. Chris is now -459.7 years old, and getting younger by the week.
There are a shit-ton of reasons that you need to be at the CBR race on Sunday, and to show you why, I’ve compiled a list of whines that I’ve heard over the years. If you’ve thought or uttered more than three, I’ll call the whaambulance and have you taken (at your cost) to UCLA Harbor so that they can rub salves and ointments on that special place to relieve your butthurt.
1. “That’s a stupid fuggin’ four-corner industrial crit. That’s not bike racin’.”
Riiiiiiight. What you really want is a 100 km kermesse over wet cobblestones in 42-degree weather and spitting rain, because you’re hard like that. So what if you’ve never finished Boulevard or Punchbowl? In your Velominati fantasy life, you are a Hard Man who can’t be bothered with “easy” races like this. Fortunately, your doctor continues to renew your prescription as soon as it runs out.
2. “CBR races are too easy.”
Easy? Then why do the same handful of guys win every race, races that have 100+ entrants? Hint: Because the other 99 wankers feel strong and fast and fit until a) the winning break rolls up the road, or b) Charon opens up his sprint.
3. “Those races are way too expensive.”
Let’s see … $2,500 for your carbon tubulars … $750 for your three team kits and skin suit … $140 every other month for your training Gatorskins … $72/year for your stupid Strava Premium subscription … $3,900 for your Campy SRM power meter … tell me again about how that $35 entry fee for close to an hour of full-on racing is gonna bust your budget?
4. “Lotts annoys the shit out of me.”
Poor baby! Break out the butt salve! So you can take bumping bars, hitting the asphalt at 30 mph, and racing until your eyes pop out of your head, but you can’t take a little diversity of opinion? You crumple up and die when Chris talks about his “Christian Tingles” web site? Awww, I feel really sorry for you, and I envy the little glass bubble you live in and the inheritance that protects you from getting out and LIVING IN THE REAL FUCKING WORLD.
5. “Those races are a clusterfuck. A handful of big teams control everything.”
Guess what, limpster? The guys on those “teams who control everything” got there by racing their dogdamned bikes, not by sitting at home reading Jonathan Vaughters’s Twitter feed. What’s stopping you from making the break, sitting in, and letting the “big teams” do all the work as you cannily outsprint them to the finish line (besides the fact that you always race at the back and don’t train hard and are 30 pounds overweight)?
6. “I’m more of a stage racer than a crit rider.”
Yeah, and I’m more of a Martian than I am a New Jerseyite. Look, stupid, if you want 21-day stage races, you’re living in the wrong city, county, state, nation, and body.
7. “It’s too early in the season.”
Oh, I get it, the Interwebs coach you pay $399 per month to tell you that you’re “making great progress” has advised you to wait until, say, April? Did it ever occur to you that he wants you to wait until April in order to delay the crushing reality that’s going to batter your ego when you still finish 51st after an after-tax-dollar investment of $15k? Hint: P.T. Barnum said it.
8. “Crits are too sketchy.”
I see. Because you’re the one steady wheel out of the 100+ numbskulls, and, like the mother who watched her son in the marching band and commented “Look! Everyone else in the band is out of step!” you think that no one knows how to properly handle a bike except, of course, you?
9. “Crits are too short to give me a good workout.”
Yes, I understand completely. No one in history has ever ridden to a race, raced, then ridden home. You’re obligated to drive to the race. It’s in the bylaws.
10. “We need more road races in SoCal, like they have in NorCal.”
So you’re going to promote a road race? I didn’t think so. Or you’re going to race in NorCal? Nope — too far and hard and expensive, right? So why not shut the fuck up and support the one guy who shows up week in and week out, who has the genius of being able to put on a bike race and make money at it (okay, so the genius is Vera), and who can take your abuse and never take it (too) personally? Answer: Because you’re not very good, your ego is tender, and it’s easier to talk about bike racing than to race your bike.
See you on Sunday. Or not.
January 13, 2013 § 15 Comments
I’m too tired and hungry and dehyrdated and dessicated to do anything besides report the facts regarding yesterday’s 117-mile beatdown, otherwise known as the 2013 edition of Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride.
First, a few stats:
Door to door: 7 hours, 8 minutes
Starting temperature: 40 degrees
Finishing temperature: 55 degrees
Skies: Beautifully clear and sunny. Perfect SoCal winter weather.
Wind: None to speak of
Distance: 117 miles
Total Climbing: +7,500 ft
Steepest gradient: 20%, Balcom Canyon Rd. (at mile 100; thanks, Jaeger)
Pieces of French toast consumed: 4
Slices of bacon eaten: 6
In-ride hydration: 1/2 a water bottle, 2 cups of convenience store coffee
In-ride nutrition: PBS, almonds, medjool dates, totaling 2,072 kcal
Calories burned: 4,200 kcal
Number of wankers who swore a blood oath that they’d start: 25
Number of wankers who actually started: 21
KOM: Jeff Konsmo
Green Jersey: Aaron Wimberley
Overall winners: James and Nancy Jaeger (got the most swag and didn’t have to ride a single mile!)
Individual Results (in order of free association)
Yuletide: Widely predicted to crash, burn, melt, and strew nuts, bolts, plates, and assorted surgical hardware all over Ventura County, Yuletide a/k/a Junkyard a/k/a Van Gogh pulled the ride of the decade out of his ass. Riding within his limits he got shelled on every climb, recovered on the descents, and ended up towing various wankers whose names shall not be mentioned, Jim Bowles, to various resting spots. Redemption is too weak a word for the gut-up, full-on, HTFU ride produced by the man whose logo is emblazoned on ten thousand sweaty butts across Southern California. Unlike last year when he was pulled the last half-mile up Balcom Canyon by a rusted out Chevy Luv filled with thirty lawnmowers and twelve yard workers that just happened to be passing at the right speed (2.4 mph), this year Yuletide brought the blood, sweat, and tears and stomped his way up under his own steam and ahead of various notables whose names shall not ever be mentioned, Jim Bowles. Ultimate proof of Yuletide’s rising tide was his appearance at the Wheatgrass Ride the following day, where he danced on the pedals (albeit a clog dance) and quaffed wheatgrass with the best of ’em.
Fussy: Coming back from a terrible ten-year injury that debilitated him so much he could scarcely complete a lap on the Donut without assistance from an EMS crew, Fussy overcame the awful disease of Put Extra Whip Cream On Everything Please by enrolling in the Wankmeister Diet Plan. After reducing his daily caloric intake from 15,000 to about 65, he shed the better part of four coats of winter bear grease and showed up at FTR ready to ride wheelies all the way up Balcom. For a first timer, he acquitted himself with honor and with the immortal Baylesian good cheer, better humor, and extra-wide butt for the rest of us to draft off. In fact, Fussy fought, hammered, grabbed wheels when he could, pounded alone into the wind when he had to, and produced a ride guarantees an invite for 2014, to the extent that invites are ever guaranteed, which they aren’t.
Becker Bob: Bob put in his usual 10,000 miles of preparation for FTR spread out over the last 25 years, and for the most part didn’t finish last, except for the times he did. On Country Club Climb the rest of the crew had time to put the finishing touches on a 35,000-piece jigsaw puzzle before he crested the top, but until that point he rode well enough to justify the 14 pieces of French toast he’d scarfed before rolling out. Some people may have ridden faster, but no one had a better ratio of food-to-miles than Becker Bob. And of course he brought the trademark good humor and camaraderie that has made him a fixture on this annual death march. “Next year,” he says “I will train. Really.”
MMX: Pulled the most. Pulled the hardest. Drew the fiercest opposition. Left to dangle with no teammates. Perhaps won the sprunt into Ojai (more on that later). Awesome fourth on Balcom behind 42-lb. Alex, 51-lb. Konsmo, and The Lung a/k/a G$ a/k/a Leibert. Next closest rider was still at the Circle K in Ventura. MMX split the field into 300 smaller parts on the 101. Punished the bad boys and girls with a 30-minute smashmouth pull from Ventura to Santa Paula, where only a handful could do anything other than grab a wheel and vomit up the Barbie food they’d eaten at the Circle K along with their dreams and self esteem and delusions of glory. MMX slashed and burned up the Lake Casitas climb, cresting in fourth behind Zombo, Roadchamp, and G$, and hung in on the climb into Ojai despite the dastardly four-man combo of G3, G$, Roadchamp, and Zombo who all worked together to work him over. Never looked tired, and got the Repartee of the Day Award when someone complained, “We can’t spend too long here at the Circle K because all the lactic acid will build up.” MMX’s retort: “You don’t get lactic acid unless you ride hard.” Showered the host and hostess, their son and daughter and grandchildren with chic SPY-ware gift certificates, and gave WM another pair of cool-beyond-cool shoes so that I can now step outdoors in something that was designed (and made) later than 1987. Ripped off a handful of Strava KOM’s on the ride, and never drifted more than a couple of wheels off the front for the entire 7-hour odyssey. Bad news: He’s just starting to build for BWR. Good news: Most of the FTR wankers won’t have to deal with him again until 2014.
Punkster: After years of quitting, getting dropped, flailing, and generally behaving like a kid who trains in a basement in Indiana, Punkster brought his A Game to the 2013 FTR, or at least someone else’s. He challenged for every sprunt, made the first or second split on every climb, and beat Konsmo on the Balcom Climb except for a technicality: In the event of a tie on Balcom, the vee goes to the older guy, or the guy who has won it more, or the guy who first claims that it was a “tie.” Unlike others who rode well at key strategic points, Punkster shared huge miles with MMX on the front, never shirked, and unleashed a number of solid, battering pulls. On the run-in to Ojai, he claimed a shared sprunt victory with MMX, however, that is disputed by G$ and Wankmeister. More below. If Punkster continues this upward trajectory (and it should, as he now appears to have reached puberty), next year no one will hold his wheel anywhere.
DJ: Like a fine old wine that’s gone sour from sitting too long in the dumpster, Dave Jaeger, founder of the FTR, racer extraordinaire, vanquisher of the inaugural BWR in 2012, icon of the South Bay and Dude Who Thinks He’s Getting Paid To Remodel His Home, produced yet another astounding ride. Why astounding? Because despite doubling his mileage for the last six months in a single day, DJ hammered, placed respectably on every climb, made the split going over Ojai, and mother-henned all the brokedown wankers spread from Camarillo to Ventura and back. Moreover, he produced yet another version of the often-copied, never imitated French Toast Ride, the prime ingredients being 22 oz. of Beatdown mixed with 1 cup of Cajoling, then adding a lightly battered 899 grams of Encouragement to 149 lbs. of Taking Care of Everyone Else. Dave, we love you, and especially love the FTR because it’s the only time you go slow enough for us to get ahead of you, even if it’s only for a mile or two.
Zombo: Remember Columbo? Looked like a doofus? Tricked everybody into thinking that he was a clueless knucklehead who you could easily fool? Then in the end he’d turn out to have had the upper hand the whole time, was playing the bad guy for a fool, and would nail the sorry flailer’s ass to the floor? Okay, and you’re familiar with zombies, right? The ones you kill and smash and obliterate and wreck and throw into the meatgrinder and shoot through the heart and push off a cliff and burn into ashes and make watch Oprah and then they just get up and come right back at you, strong as they ever were? Your worst fucking nightmare on the FTR is a blend between a zombie and Columbo, a/k/a Zombo, f/k/a Surfer Dan. This was Zombo’s first FTR and he ate so much living flesh off his victims that there was nothing but a scattered, tattered pile of stinky shorts at the end (zombies don’t like poopy bike shorts). Hairy legged, grinning goofily, faux clueless about where to attack and where to rest, Zombo made the strongest and scariest FTR debut in recent memory. That’s all well and good–turning on the screws early, keeping the pressure high, being game for the hammerhead tactics of MMX, showing that he was worthy…but where he earned his keep forever was on the 101. This was one of those things that’s life and death, where a rider is more than a rider, where your life is in someone else’s hands and they keep you from getting ground under the wheels of a tractor-trailer moving at 80 mph at huge risk to their own life. We were in single file, with MMX absolutely stuffing our entrails back down our throats with each mash of the pedals, rolling up a slight rise, freeway traffic blowing by at 80+, and all I could do was grimace, choke back the bile and the mostly gone French toast and date juice and earwax and latch onto Konsmo’s rear wheel with a bitter prayer, who in turn was trying to pedal through a wall of sweat and snot while latched onto Zombo’s wheel, who like the rest of us was hunkered down and praying to Dog that this hell would end. With no warning, Zombo’s left hand shot off the bars and made a huge, wild sweeping motion that only meant one thing: Look out for DEATH! His bike moved a centimeter to the right. By taking his hand off the bars and flailing wildly to warn Konsmo he’d risked losing control of his own bike and therefore his life, as the “obstacle” was a manhole-sized gash in the pavement that was about a foot deep and two feet long. I’ve seen some fancy bike moves before, but to have the presence of mind to avoid the uncalled-out hole, quickly warn the guy behind you, and steer without swerving was unbelievable. Zombo’s trust factor was high; Konsmo acted with total instinct, the buddy-in-a-foxhole kind of trust move that you blindly make when you know the wheel in front of you and depend on it. Konsmo saw the wild sweep and knew that whatever it was, it was bad. He didn’t know if I was echeloned, so he couldn’t veer. Instead, he followed Zombo’s slight deviation from the line in a controlled and instantaneous reaction and as I followed Konsmo I saw his wheel graze the edge of that black pit of death by a margin so slim you could have put a pencil lead between the edge of Konsmo’s tire and the gaping crevasse. Of course by the time I reached it I was safe; my eyes had been able to follow the arm-sweep to the pavement and move accordingly. Had Zombo plunged us all into that hole, someone would have flown out onto the 101 and met the fate of G3’s Go-Pro…more about that disaster later. In short, it was the unsung hero move of the day. Konsmo was shaking afterwards, well, after MMX had cracked the group and ridden away, leaving us to lick our wounds and do a Kum-Ba-Ya around Zombo.
Überfred: Long-hailed by himself as one of the greatest national team members of the 1980’s, and one of the dudes still riding who can regale us with that same awesome story of how he beat Greg Lemond in a race once (it was the Hooterville Crit, where Lemond flatted in the final turn and crashed into the barriers), Überfred turned in one of the most impressive and amazing FTR performances in his storied career. After telling DJ that he’d be there, and taking up a valuable starting spot (thousands of South Bay wankers, and a contingent of LB Freddies including Checkerbutt had tried every means possible to obtain one of the coveted slots), Überfred emailed the night before the big event to say he’d gotten a boo-boo on his hoo-ha and wouldn’t be able to make the ride. There has never been an FTR night-before cancellation, and some noted that it was more than mere coincidence that Überfred’s boo-boo happened about one hour after WM sent out the Final FTR Email Warning of Death, in which all were reminded that their hour of judgment was nigh, and there was naught left but to suffer the beatdown and tow up Balcom by the passing gardener’s truck, if they were so lucky. Subsequent investigation revealed that Überfred had been in NYC the previous week, hanging out with cheerleaders and practicing his arabesques and assemblés.
BJones: BJ showed up in a decidedly non-ugly kit and suffered like the LB Freddie dog that he was. Fresh and keen in the first few stabs on the way to Fillmore, and game for the finish at the bridge, BJ found a spot in the back third of the wankoton and pounded all 117 miles of misery back to the ranch house in Camarillo. Then, unlike the mere mortals who changed clothes, wolfed sandwiches, then drove home, where they fell asleep in their jeans, BJ left without eating and drove back to Brea where he watched his daughter play in three consecutive soccer matches. A more awesome FTR performance is scarce to be imagined. On Balcom, he was the final corpse that I passed, and watching him paperboy up the slope in tandem with Bull reminded me of two pilot whales doing a synchronized swimming routine on a trampoline. It wasn’t pretty, but it got them up the damned thing. BJ also stood and kicked hard twice at the top of the climb, so hard in fact that I had to cough up a lung to pass him.
Brokeback: Without question the least fit, least prepared, most woefully undertrained wanker on the entire ride, Brokeback was not only suffering from the combined effects of his Reise nach Italien, a prolonged courtship which has included all manner of lard, foie gras, crème brûlée, chocolate eclair, Napoleon, apple tarte tatin, lemon meringue, chocolate fondue, and Teste-Cubières, but also in constant agony from severe lower back pain which he had been treating with the above-mentioned desserts on an almost hourly basis. In short, Brokeback knew that from Mile One he would be in hell, that no savior or sag would come to his aid, and that the only way he’d get through FTR 2013 was with grit and a suitcase of courage the size of Dallas. Unlike certain unnamed Long Beach no-shows, rather than betraying the Brotherhood of the Toast, Brokeback strapped on his strap-on, threw a leg over, and didn’t finish last on every single climb. I’m not sure whether he deserves credit for starting this odyssey on an empty tank and finishing it on willpower, or whether he deserves contempt for not making some minimal preparation for it, but I do know this: I could never have done what he did. That amount of guts and determination do not exist in my family tree.
Hair: Generally considered a Cat 3 sprunter, Hair set fire to this year’s FTR. He won’t admit it, but he doesn’t have to because we all have eyes: He’s trimmed off all the baby fat and, thanks to Wankmeister’s diet advice, has dropped a solid 10-15 pounds. Gone is the Hair who had rolls of neck fat. Gone is the Hair whose size tiny jersey had an extra front pocket for his hairy tummy. Gone is the Hair who had little grab-aholds under his armpits…and in his place is a lean, hard, badass bike racer. He took the Fillmore sprunt by several football fields even after starting on fourth-and-400 yards back. But then he showed some serious cards, hanging with the leaders on the climb into Ojai, sticking his nose into the wind all day long, and consistently being the only rider besides Zombo who could play ball with MMX doing the hard work on the front. Hair flew up Casitas and then hit the downhill with such speed that all I could do when it was my turn to pull through was not pull through and whimper. He got outfoxed on the Ojai sprunt, but closed the gap to MMX and Punkster singlehandedly. Most incredibly, he was among the top finishers on Balcom, a place where no pure sprunter dares show his mettle. Then, in addition to all that, he did it with his usual smack talk, good humor, and encouraging words to those of us who could do nothing but drool in his nonexistent slipstream. With no teammates, no natural climbing talent, and no performances in previous years on the FTR’s hardest sections that were anything other than flail-worthy, this year garnered him the award of Dude Who Is Flat Fucking Badass. I can’t take credit for doing anything other than unsuccessfully hanging onto his shadow, but he owes me 25% of 2013’s race winnings thanks to my diet advice, even though he pretends to be doing it on Jenny Craig.
Wankomodo: Every once in a while you trash talk a person, say bad things about him, drag his name through the mud, and bash him to a fare-thee-well, only to learn that he’s a first rate, stand-up guy, and then, feeling awful about the terrible things you said, you apologize. Well, that ain’t gonna happen. But I will say this: If one person made the 2013 FTR an over-the-top success, it was Wankomodo, who showed up with his brand new Lambo, $873,000 in Canon bodies and lenses, and did the most incredible job of sag + custom photography that FTR has ever had, or even dreamed of having, since most of us drive rusted out cars with more than 200k in mileage, and our “camera equipment” uses film. He picked great vantage points, got super photos of everyone, had them edited and posted less than 24 hours after the ride, and asked for nothing in return. So many good things were said about you during and after the ride, Wankomodo, and a whole bunch of them by me, that your ears must have burned down at least three sizes. Thanks for making it a special day and for giving us lots of fodder with which to waste our entire weekend, and for giving us stuff we can use to holler, “Hey, honey! Come look at this!” while our bored wives trundle into the room to look at another photo of G3 or MMX or some shattered wanker struggling up a pockmarked road with his tongue dragging in the gutter. You’re the man!
Stern-O: Older than dirt, but never having let any stay on his bike for more than twelve seconds, Stern-O represented the tough guys of New Mexico with a bravado, power, strength, and courage that we have come to expect from a state where there are more children born in wedlock to their immediate relatives than there are meth houses per square mile…if only barely. Stern-O, the guy who never turns down a dare, whose reputation was carved on the hard roads of LA County, legend among myths, an unsolved problem on par with P versus NP, with the Hodge conjecture or the Riemann hypothesis, a complex mess of contradictions, confusions and bewilderment built on a base of dyspepsia and flatulence, Sterno-O The One And Only played his last FTR card. It was a dark and stormy night (in New Mexico). A band of fathers and children all born within the first degree of consanguinity sat around the campfire bright. “Ain’t the FTR tomorrer, Pappy?” asked one. “I reckon it is,” said Stern-O. “But I ain’t a goin’.” A gasp went up. “How come, Pappy? You ain’t never skunked on at ‘ere rat race afore.” “This here year’s differnt,” said Stern-O. “I’m fattern a Greek bride. Slowern a New Mexico University perfesser of addition and subtraction. Legs is spindliern the spokes on my racin wheels. They’s gonna be layin fer me over there in Californey. They’s gonna whup me good. Even ol’ Yulester’s gonna whup me. Bowles. Brokeback. All them fellers is gonna mash mah dick into the dirt and call me ‘Ol Grizzles,’ an’ ‘Softy,’ an’ I ain’t gonna stand for it. I’m a bailin.'” “But Pappy,” said his children, “you cain’t just quit the night afore the rat race. They’s done turned others away so’s you could do that there rat race. ‘Tain’t rat.” But Pappy would not be dissuaded. “I’ve done made fun a more wankers in my day than us New Mexicans have chillun who we’ve done married up to once they got over the age of twelve,” he said. “And I ain’t a gonna let ’em call me a wanker. No sir, I ain’t a gonna.” And with that, Stern-O fired off an email to DJ and bailed. Just. Like. That.
G3: The week before FTR, G3 had spent each day nestled up close to the toilet, pooping like mad in an attempt to dislodge the gastrointestinal bug he’d picked up from licking too many doorknobs. Faint, thin, covered in a Jeremiah Johnson beard, rickety at the knees, and begging to be excused for frailness even before he finished his sixteenth piece of French toast, G3 led out the FTR by attacking early and taking the first KOM on the climb into Fillmore. Then the sorry fuck landed the first blow in a four-man orchestrated project beating going up the climb into Ojai which was designed to, and which did, dislodge MMX from the wheel of G$ and Roadchamp. No matter that G3 exploded into a mass of poopy bibs…he knew his part and played it well, including his sneak attack on DJ going up Balcom, where he pounded the ride leader to cross the legendary Balcom threshold a few bike lengths ahead. If this was a weakened, broken, poop-covered G3, thank Dog we didn’t see him at full force. With his orange froo-froo talisman dangling from his saddle he rode smart, he rode hard, and he punished all who thought they’d smack him while he was down (that was mostly me). However, the one part of the ride where his wheels were coming off as MMX exacted revenge on the 101, with G3 blown off the back and buffeted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, his brand new Go-Pro bar mount snapped and the camera flew off onto the highway. The timing was perfect, because he could now legitimately do what the rest of us were praying we could do: Stop and shudder and gasp until the big black spots vanished and the guy in the white robe surrounded by the shimmering white light receded into the distance a bit. As he went back to collect his camera, composing in his head the angry letter he’d dash off to Go-Pro demanding a refund for a product he hadn’t paid for, as it had been a Christmas gift, he was faced with a major decision: Should he reach down and pick up the camera, or get the fuck out of the way of the 18-wheeler that was listing over into the bike lane and headed straight for the camera. “Lunge for the $300 camera and likely die? Or get out of the way and dash off that nasty letter?” It was a tough decision since he had so much good footage of MMX and others riding him off their wheel, but smarts won out over thrift. He jumped back just in time for the big front wheel to hit the camera, explode it into a million pieces, and plow onward with the driver laughing in the mirror.
G$: Raging. Roaring. Full throttle. Destruction on the climb into Ojai. Beatdown on the climb up Lake Casitas. 1-2 finish at the Santa Barbara County Line. Punishing beatdown on the 101. Third-place finish on Balcom. Brilliant orange socks blazing, G$ checked the oil level, found it full, checked the gas gauge, found it full, and turned in another awesome FTR ride. Of all his impressive moves, none matched his 1-2 finish at the Imaginary Sprunt Finish in Ojai, duking it out with Wankmeister for imaginary victory. MMX and Punkster had already crossed what they thought was the finish line, but the Ojai sign had been taken down, so in our opinion they finished too soon. Hair then jumped, but he, too went too soon. In our opinion. This meant that the true sprunt line was just ahead of where the others sat up. G$ jumped once, jumped twice, and with Wankmeister on his wheel, then battling into the wind, these two titans of the big ring, both known far and wide for the sprunting ability, took an imaginary first and imaginary second at the imaginary line. Or so we imagined.
Roadchamp: It gets really boring trying to say something new about Roadchamp. He took the climbs at will. He had no peer on this FTR, or any other. Punkster will beat him in a year or two, but for now he’s the King of All Mountains. Will his abject terror and fear of bad roads scare him away from the Belgian Waffle Ride again this year? Probably. But rest assured that when the road tilts up in 2013, he’ll be a force and the only assured way of beating him will be with a moped.
Dlrmpl: Would have easily gotten the Newbie Award if it hadn’t been for Zombo. Dude rode strong, smoked it up Balcom, climbed great on Casitas, and only really got shelled on the climb into Ojai. Never showed weakness in the form of sobbing, calling out his mother’s name, or offering Wankomodo money for a ride in the Lambo. Dlrmpl will only get stronger, faster, and more intent on whipping up on the old dudes as time goes by. Plus he’s already DM’d all his wanker buddies, rubbing their nose into the fact that he got to ride and they didn’t.
Turtle: Realized that the 101 was going to be even more unforgiving than it was last year. Night before bailer and quitter.
Bull: Go and blow. For 117 miles. Bull hit the front, popped, recovered, and hit the front again so many times we all lost count. He and BJ’s synchronized paperboy on Balcom was poetry in motion, especially if you like bad poetry. Tough, resilient, always grinning despite the sheet snot hanging off his face like icicles, he asked for no mercy, not because he didn’t want any, but because he knew he’d get none.
Taylor: Gritted it out. Gutted it out. Showed up for FTR with no illusions, and left it with even fewer. It was a hard, miserable, lonely beatdown in Ventura County for Big T., and he took his beating like a man. No whimpering or whining, just slogging through the miles grimly and without complaint, lugging himself up Balcom and coming to rest in front of the food buffet Chez Jaeger, where he got all the reward he ever expected.
Bowles: Taking the part of Stern-O as Oldest Gentleman To Ride The FTR And Not Require Medical Intervention, Bowles pounded, hammered, got dropped, latched back on, and achieved the ultimate goal in his storied FTR career: Dropped Yuletide again on Golf Course Hill. Always glad to be part of the circus, and never the last elephant in the parade, he acquitted himself honorably again, and it was with an honorableness that will only increase as he keeps showing up.
Gil: Showing up…showing up…rings a bell…Even Superman has to show up when he signs on the dotted line. We were all disappointed and surprised that you joined the LB contingent of night before bailer and quitter. Damn.
Major Bob: You and Frias are the lucky ones. I’m too dogdamned tired to write anymore, and can’t imagine that anyone is still reading, except Harold and Leonard, who are wondering when I’m going to sing the praises of King Harry. Major Bob wrote his name large again in the storied history of the FTR. He came. He saw. He ate four helpings of French toast and enough bacon to make a Denny’s patron blush. And he charged all the climbs, bombed all the descents, spent time on the front, and was cracking jokes and grinning up to the bitter end.
Frias: Frias ground out yet another FTR. He wasn’t the first, but was by no means the last. Dude, I’m all typed out.
King Harold: Won the Best Pre-Ride Smacktalk Email Award of 2013. Whereas other smacktalking greats like Uberfred and Bull were strangely silent, King Harold unleashed a pair of disses that were truly wankworthy. Our time together on this year’s FTR was limited to the second bump, when Harry threw a chain and I made the horrible mistake of dropping back to help, like I know anything about chains other than “Don’t wrap them around the outside of the pulley-wheel cage,” and like I could help him bridge in the middle of a climb when the main group was sprinting away. What was I thinking? I know what I was thinking: King Harold is one of the best guys with one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever met, and I figured I’d rather flail alone into the wind with Harry for 100 miles than spend the next six hours curled up in a fetal ball of pain trying to follow MMX or G$. This of course was a terrible decision as we wound up in another OTB two-man flail of death, where Harry’s effort to get us back to the group was so ugly that neither of us had the legs to do anything besides pant and pray for the rest of the climb. Incredibly, he didn’t crush and drop me on the climbs. Perhaps it was his fear of the kimchee gas? We’ll never know…
Wankmeister: I sucked. Surprised? And it had nothing to do with the fact that I did the ride on two cups of gas station coffee, half a bottle of water, some dates, almonds, and a PBS.
Get your application in for 2014!
With the fame of the FTR having spread far and wide, and numerous friendships having been sundered due to one person getting in and the other not getting invited, and with much mystery surrounding the selection process, I’ve posted the guidelines below so that you can be guaranteed a spot in 2014.
- Receive an invitation from the previous year. This is the simplest, quickest, most generally successful way to get invited. Oh…you’ve never been invited? Hmmm, you might be hosed. But read on.
- Meet up with the early morning Manhattan Beach crew on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at CotKU for the better part of a year. Become friends with DJ, ingratiate yourself with him, demonstrate your prowess on the bike, be generous and safe, don’t act like a prick, and know your place in the group, which is above that of a germ but below that of a dingleberry, and listen to his same twelve stories over and over but pretend that it’s the first time every time. They leave at 5:30 AM. Oh…you don’t like riding that early? You live too far away? Hmmmm, you might be hosed. But read on.
- Ride somewhat regularly with DJ throughout the year at the NPR or Donut Ride, or race against him. Demonstrate your skills without being a tool. At the same time, ingratiate yourself with an FTR multi-year participant. Then, a couple of weeks before the ride, whose date is kept secret, find out through the grapevine if there have been any cancellations. On pain of permanent rejection til the end of days, never ever ever ask DJ directly if you can do the ride. Have your “connection” ask for you. The answer will always be “Hell no.” However, the following year the answer will be “No way.” Third year, “Maybe.” Fourth year “I’ll think about it if we have mass cancellations by the Long Beach Freddies.” Fifth year (reluctantly), “Okay, that wanker’s in.” Oh…you don’t want to wait five years? Hmmmm, have you considered the Solvang Century? No? Okay, read on.
- Send DJ a large suitcase stuffed with cash. You’re in like Flynn.