On the rivet: Interview with Phil and Metal — Stagecoach robbers

January 28, 2015 § 20 Comments

Phil Tinstman is one of the top masters riders in America, and he’s a factor every time he pins on a number. But you can’t pigeonhole him — he excels in road races, crits, and time trials. Still, when I heard that he’d gone out into the desert and knocked out a 100-mile team time trial at the Stagecoach Century, I had to know more. So we set up a time to talk, I missed the appointment, and we spent the next four hours playing phone tag. By the time we finally got hold each other it felt like a grueling time trial of its own.

A few hours later I had the chance to also speak with Andrew Danly, a/k/a Metal, a 125-mile-a-week commuter turned ultra endurance shred machine. His take on the ride was as entertaining as Phil’s, although I have to say that spending a day in the desert on a bike with either one of these motorheads sounds like the honeymoon from hell. The team was made up of Adam Bickett, Andrew Danly, Jeremy Gustin, and Phil Tinstman.

TTT precision, beauty in motion -- Incredible photography by Connie Hatfield, Pinkshorts Photography, c 2014, used with permission.

TTT precision, beauty in motion — Incredible photography by Connie Hatfield, Pinkshorts Photography, c 2014, used with permission.

CitSB: What is this ride?

Phil Tinstman: It’s the Stagecoach Century, a standard century ride but one that’s cool because it’s a timed event and you can start whenever you want during a certain starting window.

Metal: It’s in Ocotillo, remote and in the desert with about 4,800 feet of climbing. It’s a fun ride but I think it’s a great ride to throw yourself into. There’s a lot of support and fun — and it’s a great day on the bike, more so if you want to really go hard.

CitSB: Why was the variable starting time a good thing?

PT: You can plan your start according to how you plan to do the ride. If you want to cruise with friends you can opt for a later start, or you can start earlier to take advantage of the wind.

Metal: Or you can stand around watching Adam Bickett fiddle with his rear wheel for an hour while you’re champing at the bit to start.

CitSB: Why did you want to do a four-man TTT for 100 miles?

PT: It’s one of the categories, and the other three guys have all done it; two of them did the four-man last year and they had a good time and they needed another rider so I thought that would be kind of fun. So I did it.

Metal: I’m just a commuter, but I’ve done RAAM three times on an 8-man team. I won’t crit race because of the crashing risk, but I went to Utah with Adam Bickett and did a 500-mile ride, switching off every 20 minutes, this kind of thing is so fun, so challenging. I’m almost 50 and getting stronger every year and 100 miles with these guys was so much fun; great teammates and it was a huge challenge. Of course, we would have gone that hard even if no one was looking.

Battering up the climbs. Amazing photo by Connie Hatfield, Pinkshorts Photography, c 2014, used with permission.

Battering up the climbs. Amazing photo by Connie Hatfield, Pinkshorts Photography, c 2014, used with permission.

CitSB: It’s bizarre to hear you describe a 100-mile TTT in the desert as fun. What’s up with that?

PT: Cyclists do 100 miles a lot, but as a TT it gave me a chance to work with a different position on the bike and ride with ultra endurance guys I don’t normally train with. There were a lot of unknowns and the dialogue before the event was entertaining.

CitSB: How so?

PT: There was a lot of talk about wearing Camelbacks–these guys do 200-mile rides just for giggles, they’re ultra endurance athletes and one of my jokes was that I can’t wear a Camelback; someone would take a picture and post it and I’d never live it down. Just fun stuff back and forth.

CitSB: How did you handle hydration without a Camelback?

PT: I started with two bottles on my bike and got one at the turnaround. It was nice and cool out.

Metal: We didn’t want to stop so we did Camelbacks, which is so humiliating for bike racers, and at Mile 75 I pulled the valve out and the water bled all out and so I not only looked like a dork with a Camelback but it didn’t even give me any water. I do 200-mile rides every Saturday and have ridden the last 100 miles with no hydration and that kills my performance, so it made sense to me to go with the guaranteed hydration, which didn’t really work. It was horribly embarrassing to wear those dorky things but I’m happy to say that Adam looked like a hunchback, as he stuck his under his jersey, truly the ugliest creature on two wheels, worse than a wildebeest.

CitSB: What was your time?

PT: 4:04:53.

Metal: I was happy with the time but the conditions were slower than the previous year. The wind wasn’t favorable and we wanted to break four hours. I threw in some hard efforts and was asked to slow down but on the way back I was hurting so bad; it was harder to stay on Phil’s wheel going back than it was sitting on the front going out. Phil was amazing. Over the 100 miles we all worked together very well, very measured. With better wind and we would have broken four hours.

CitSB: Is that a course record?

PT: Yeah, the old one was 4:17.

Metal: We can take another eight minutes off with the right wind. Temperature is a variant too, cold air is denser and over 100 miles the small things can slow you down because they add up. I hope we go back and race even harder. I was never really thinking about the time, just wanted to race hard and we did.

CitSB: What kind of prep does someone do for a 100 mile TTT?

Metal: I commute 125 miles a week and every Saturday I ride for 200 miles, so 100 miles for me is very doable. I can push that hard, and then I mix in some intensity on Fiesta Island, everyone’s favorite place, so it’s a combination of base and intensity. All four guys were well prepared, and Phil had both the endurance and the explosive strength.

PT: Two weeks before the ride I thought maybe I should actually get on my TT bike, which was pretty dusty, so I thought I that would be a good start. Then I had to change the position, raise it up so it was a little more comfortable, put in a couple of hard efforts during the week, and be well rested.

CitSB: What’s the hardest thing about doing a TTT for that distance?

PT: Getting everyone on the same page regarding the pace and how long to pull. That will work itself out as you go along but we’d never ridden together and these guys have all done the event, and were preaching about starting slow because a lot of people crack on this ride at the end because it’s gradually uphill all the way out with a couple of pitches, then downhill on the way back and you can implode and lose a lot of time. The key was finding a comfortable pace for everyone.

Metal: Concentration is difficult because you are within inches of three other guys who you respect and you don’t want to knock anyone down; you want to provide a good wheel and be smooth. People have asked me, “Isn’t it boring for such a long time?” It’s not boring! I was focused the whole time. The way to do this is to really be passionate about it, seeking my best performance, digging deeper.

CitSB: What was the pace?

PT: On the way out we started uphill with a headwind and we were at 22-ish, 23, and dropping to 20 on some of the climbs. I wanted to do the ride in under four hours so I was calculating that every minute we spent at 22 we’d have to make it up at 28 somewhere else, so on my pulls I started upping the pace slightly where I was comfortable but it was having a negative impact on a couple of the guys, putting them in the box a bit, so we took it a little easier on the climbs and drilled it everywhere else.

CitSB: How long were the pulls?

PT: We started at one minute pulls, rotating easy, and on the way back I started taking longer pulls because I felt really good.

Metal: We decided at the starting line. We picked the sequence and agreed on one-minute pulls to see where we were at. I was pulling 3-5 minutes and my intensity was close to all out because I was getting such good rest from the other guys. We’d audible on the road as energies ebbed, and on the way back it was all Phil. It was beautiful. He just wanted to go all out, and the last 25 miles he did way more than me, that’s just how it shook out. Phil became totally dominant at the end. I had no idea. It was amazing. Everybody was throwing everything into it, but Phil was on fire.

CitSB: What’s the hardest part technically for a TTT like that?

PT: On your body it’s the neck, being down that low. I was sore the next day. The biggest thing technically is riding that close to other people on your aero bars because you can’t touch the brakes or adjust your speed as well, and the closer you ride the faster you go.

Metal: To stay in position, and your neck gets stiff. Holding the position for four hours is hard; you get little breaks on the hills but you’re locked into one position basically. We did some testing on the track before RAAM last year and Adam could tell looking at my numbers where I was sitting up–that’s how important position is. And the man parts when you’re on a TT bike are not happy. You have to just endure it. It’s like being put in a microwave oven. The first time in, you want to jump around and get out, your face is banging against the glass, and then the second time you realize you’re in a microwave and you can’t get out, you can’t make faces, and you just accept the searing pain and don’t think about the little bell going “ding.” You stop thinking about the finish line. And you also concentrate on making something crack other than your will. It has to be your body, you don’t ever crater mentally.

CitSB: Did you have any “Oh, shit!” moments?

PT: No, we rode really well. Everyone was predictable, we had a few gusts of wind and bumps, but we were all good. I wouldn’t want to have an “Oh, shit!” moment in a TTT.

Metal: Yeah, my Camelback. Not really, though, I never came close to crashing, never crossed anybody’s wheel.

Toughest job out there! Photo by Connie Hatfield, Pinkshorts Photography, c 2014, used with generous permission.

Toughest job out there! Photo by Connie Hatfield, Pinkshorts Photography, c 2014, used with generous permission.

CitSB: Were you ever in the box?

PT: I was really comfortable and I felt like I was having a good day. The only time I was in the box was when I put myself there at the end of long, hard pulls.

Metal: The last hill after I’d been out of water for 15 miles, and my stupid iPod had stopped at 50 miles and I had had some special music lined up; that’s when I was close to getting in trouble and then we got over Sweeney Pass and eleven miles from the finish I had to accept just taking occasional pulls and letting the others do the work. I would prefer to lead from the front but that wasn’t happening the last ten miles. Good thing we had three guys to work it hard and get us home!

CitSB: Is this going to help your road racing?

PT: I hope so.

CitSB: How?

PT: It was a great 4-hour super hard tempo workout and those are hard to come by. They’re good for hard races like last weekend. [Note: last weekend was the 84-mile Santa Barbara Road Race, where Phil placed sixth in the pro race.]

Metal: I don’t road race, but this keeps the endurance base built. Going that hard for four hours you get a power jump from the training. It all adds up. I try to keep my speciality of 200-mile events fresh; I’m doing the BWR this year and six days later I’m doing the RAAM Challenge.This ride will help me get ready for that.

CitSB: Where did you feel the benefit?

PT: Any time there was a high tempo, like when we were holding high speeds on the flats, because the first couple of laps we averaged 27 mph it was a very similar kind of deal to the TTT at Stagecoach.

CitSB: Do you have any TT goals this year?

PT: Yes, I really like riding my TT bike and want to ride it more. TT’s on the road would be Murietta and Valley of the Sun, because a good TT sets up the rest of your stage race. I always do all the events at nats and I feel like that’s an event I could do well in at nats.

Metal: BWR and the RAAM Challenge are important and each year the bike is something different for me. It’s got so many challenging dimensions. I’ve ridden in Africa and Europe; I want to be fit and be on my bike. My biggest goal is to help my friend Adam Bickett do well in RAAM. I help him with emails and by making fun of him; seriously, I’d do anything to help him do well. He’s taught me everything and I owe a huge debt to him.

CitSB: On the spectrum of cycling skills, how would you say most amateurs are with regard to time trialing?

PT: The skill issue boils down to spending time on the TT bike; that’s the most important because the bike isn’t easy to ride. It has such quick steering and you’re so far over the front that it’s really twitchy. It’s not the best handling machine going around corners and it’s difficult to get comfortable going fast.

CitSB: Most cyclists don’t like time trialing, right?

PT: Right.

CitSB: Why?

PT: It’s a really hard individual effort in which you have to practice effort management, and that’s hard even for good racers. I know great racers who can’t TT.

CitSB: Do you think time trialing is important to be a good racer?

PT: It helps.

CitSB: Were there any whacky moments during the event?

PT: It all went smoothly. The cool things were on the route; some of the guys doing the filming and the drones got awesome footage. That was the coolest. Connie from Pink Shorts did the photography and David Su was the ultra-pro videographer. All the riders are SPY riders so we were well supported and this was a great way to bring the sponsored ultra endurance guys together with the regular bike racers.

Metal: I always get a kick out of our media lying in the road taking pictures. The guy running the drone, Nick Cohenmeyer, was in the wrong place and the drone couldn’t keep up. We rode so hard we actually dropped the drone, and then it went out into the desert, like it had decided to fly back to China. Nick wandered around in the desert like someone looking for the black box in a downed airplane. And the media guys were hanging out of the van by belts, producing this really cool stuff. It was so cool.


CitSB: Anything you want to add?

PT: The ultra guys can go out and ride 12 hours on a Saturday, and ride it fast. That’s so impressive.

Metal: The roads in Imperial County are so badly paved they bang you around like a jackhammer. There we were at Mile 90 on the jackhammer roads of Imperial County just having our brains battered, it was so bad we rode on the opposite side of the road for a while just to get some relief. That’s the kind of thing that makes a ride like this so memorable and fun; wouldn’t have it any other way!

CitSB: Are you going to do the Stagecoach Century again?

PT: I’d love to. I had a blast.

Metal: I’d like to take the same guys out and get it under four. I hope the race grows because it’s a great event and people should go check it out.

A fantastic video of the ride was produce by David Su: Check it out here.



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The pigs’ revenge

January 11, 2015 § 37 Comments

It began like any other Saturday morning. There we were, twenty-five old fellows, buck naked in the bedroom of a someone’s parents, discreetly eyeing each others’ wrinkled junk as we slathered goop on our legs and put on stretch underwear. Was it a bad home video with distasteful subject matter? No. It was the 17th Annual French Toast Ride, and we were kitting up for the big showdown.

We had already scarfed down the finest breakfast in America: French toast, hot coffee, muffins, fresh fruit, and two delicious kinds of pork — sausage and bacon. As we gratefully devoured the incomparable meal prepared by Cindi, Gina, Lynn, Nancy, Jim, and Steve Jaeger, little did we know that the porcine gods were frowning on our consumption of their brethren.

Instead, we gaily prepped for what promised to be another edition of the most amazing bike ride in America: 117 lethal miles of Ventura County torture, capped by the steeps of Balcom Canyon and terminated at Mile 115 by the stabbing, punch-em-up Golf Course Climb. As King Harold put on his leg warmers, his arm warmers, his two undershirts, his long-sleeve jersey, his shoe covers, his long-fingered gloves, and his headwrap, the other riders chortled.

“Planning for a snowstorm, Harry?”

“Gearing up for the Iditarod?”

King Harold merely smiled as he glanced out the window. “Maybe you wankers didn’t notice that it’s raining.”

“Rain, schmain!” the chorus shouted back. “The forecast says 5% chance of rain and overcast skies.”

“Well, it’s half right,” he said.

“Anyway,” said Bull, “this is SoCal, and it’s always perfect weather for the FTR, and we’re in the middle of the worst drought in recorded history. This sprinkle will be gone before we get to Fillmore.”

On cue a bolt of lightning hit the house across the street, a peal of thunder ripped across the sky, and the light drizzle picked up ever so slightly.

I thought back to 5:30 that morning, when Mrs. Wankmeister had driven me over to Clodhopper’s. He had generously offered to drive me, Surfer Dan, and Toronto up to Camarillo, and we had accepted because Clodhopper, in addition to being the world’s most prepared man, always travels in style.

“Honey, let’s go,” I said as I roused her out of bed.

“You goin’ onna French cupcake ride? It’s gonna rain onna dogs.”

“Toast, not cupcake. And we aren’t cupcakes, honey, we’re hard men. And there’s only a 5% chance of rain.”

“It’s gonna rain onna cats so don’t call me up because you’re crashing onna slickery street.” She didn’t seem too happy about the early departure, but she drove me down to Clodhopper’s anyway.

As I arrived Clodhopper was putting the finishing touches on his brand new Xyplonk bike rack.

“Like it?” he asked.

It was the most amazing bike rack I’d ever seen, and obviously cost more than my Prius. “That’s incredible,” I said.

“Yep. Xyplonk is handmade in Finnland by artisan bike rack makers. Each one is made from hand-mined bauxite and assembled by 9th generation bike rack makers.”

“Wow,” I said.

“Yep. They’re a bit pricey; this one set me back six grand. But that’s less than the cost of the bike, right?”

He wasn’t kidding. Clodhopper’s bike cost $15k, plus $9k for the handmade wheels, which are made from virtually unobtainable profamatanium. I put my bike on the rack and we got ready to go. “Where’s your bike?” I asked.

“In the back of the Avalanche. I’d never put my bike on a rack. What if some knucklehead rear-ends me, or I rip the rack off by going up a driveway that’s too steep?”

“Good point,” I said. “But if you’re never going to use it, why go to all the expense?”

Clodhopper looked at me. “If I was going to use a bike rack, I’d use the best one I could buy. And in my world, you take as good care of your friends’ stuff as you would with your own.”

“Well, if it was me you’d be getting one of those aluminum jobs with fabric straps that hang onto the rain gutter.”

“I know,” he said. “That’s why I’m driving. Let’s go.”

Clodhopper sent off  two text messages to Surfer and Toronto to let them know we were en route. “I drafted the texts last night and put them in the queue. Be prepared. That’s my motto.”

I’d rather be wet than cold: dash to the Fillmore sprunt

Our resplendent group of 25 riders rolled out in the drizzle that had turned to moderately pounding rain, and our immaculate bikes were almost immediately covered in dreck. Manslaughter turned to me as we went from damp to wet to soaked. “It’s not a cold rain at least,” he said.

“Nope,” I said.

“And I’d rather be wet than cold,” he said.

“Yep.” We both looked at King Harold, who was dry as a bone and quite cozy in his Iditarod get-up, and we wondered the same thing: “What if we end up wet and cold?”

We needn’t have wondered …

The first tiny climb, which was so small and brief and easy that I hardly inhaled, was soon past. At the next little bump we had a flat, and Manslaughter leaned over to me as we waited. “Hey, Wanky,” he said.


“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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My associates

October 17, 2014 § 7 Comments

The alarm went off at 4:00 AM. I had barely recovered from the NPR thrashing of the day before, and hurriedly gulped my coffee in order to make the 6:30 start time of the Thursday SPY ride in Encinitas. In addition to my busy pro masters off-season  group ride schedule, which would be a big part of my resume for the coming year, I also had some serious business matters to attend to regarding a couple of employees who live and work for my firm in North County San Diego.

The ride started gently but finished like every grisly airplane accident: Body parts strewn about the asphalt, muffled groans of the survivors, and horrified looks of impending death carved into the ghoulish faces of the dead. The raging attacks of Abate, Full-Gas Phil, Dandy, Stefanovich, MMX, and Smasher reduced the 50-strong group to less than ten riders at the end.

After the ride, Abate, Smasher, and I pedaled around aimlessly until we found donuts. A fat, greasy, sugary bag of dough later we pedaled some more and said good-bye. I still had my serious business matter on my mind, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant. My associates had frankly been under-performing in some key metrics. Although we’d had a number of performance reviews, nothing changed.

Oliver would always say, “Yes, sir, I understand, I’ll start doing [ —- ] right away,” but he never did.

Stanley, on the other hand, would want to debate things. “That’s not how it happened,” or “You need to take into consideration the fact that … ”

It was very frustrating to have these guys collecting a paycheck and refusing to do what they were told. Very frustrating. And since they’d been with me for a couple of years, and I’d invested considerably in their training, it was going to be hard to let them go.

“What should I do?” I asked Smasher.

“You should have a beer.”

“It’s 8:45 AM.”

“Okay, then you should have two.”

“Only a terrible alcoholic would have beer before nine o’clock, and only a hideously terrible alcoholic would know where to find any.”

“There’s a little cafe near my place,” he said. “They serve great breakfasts and cold beer.”

We went to the cafe and ordered. The “breakfast” was a scrambled egg in a paper cup and a piece of cardboard painted to look like toast. The beer, on the other hand, was tap-fresh Stone IPA served in iced glasses. After a couple, the employee problem didn’t look so bad.

“Look,” said Smasher, who shares an apartment with my associates. “They aren’t bad, they just aren’t super motivated. Some things they do well, other things, not so much. Focus on their attributes, try to see it from their perspective.”

We had two more pints, then another two, then threw away the cardboard and eggs. “Let’s walk over to your place,” I said. “Now’s as good a time as any to have the talk.”

“Agreed,” he said. Through the fog I could see three or four other early morning customers washing down their AM beer with cardboard.

“What a bunch of drunks,” I said disgustedly to Smasher.

We reached Smasher’s place and the associates were there. They knew I meant business, but no matter how much they wagged their tails I didn’t crack so much as a smile.

We sat down on the couch. “Look, guys,” I said. Then I faltered. “I’m gonna take a quick nap and then we’re going to have to talk business.”

I stretched out on the couch and fell asleep for thirty minutes or four hours. As I lay there I could feel the warm furry little bodies of Oliver and Stanley curled up around my feet, which went from cold to toasty. They snuggled against my leg, repositioning only to increase the toasty-leg-factor.

When I awoke they opened their eyes, then came over to lick my nose. “Let’s get to work guys, shall we?” I said.

They nodded and bounded downstairs. All good.



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Short news brief in summary and abbreviated form

July 6, 2013 § 8 Comments

I have been banging the drum here in L.A. for some time now regarding the great bicycle riding opportunities in North County San Diego. This is not because I want to encourage people to get to know others, have fun, and enjoy cycling. It is because I get vicarious pleasure out of seeing my friends and riding buddies suffer obliteration. Although riding in North County won’t make you faster, it will permanently devastate your self-esteem. So, as Knoll would say, “There’s that.”

I joined my first SPY Holiday Ride yesterday. The evening before we had a team celebration at RIDE Cyclery. MMX, Slim Jim, and Brent had stocked the deck with giant coolers filled with fresh growlers of beer from Lost Abbey. None of the growlers had fancy beer names like “Working Stiff” or “Take Five” or “North County Rough Road.” No, they just had percentages of alcohol content written on the caps with a Sharpie.

This was beer for people who were serious about drinking beer. The Lost Abbey figured out how to make the beer, and apparently it was your job to figure out what to call it. The next morning I awoke with a screaming, blinding, pounding, stomach-churning hangover from hell, so in the future I will call their beer Sbpsc Hfh. Add vowels as needed.

It would be easy to blame the next day’s dismal ride performance on the hangover were it not for the fact that I have never done a hard ride in North County that didn’t either kick me out the back or reduce me to a whimpering puddle of drained legs and melted ego.

Why you should do this ride

1. There is no “B” ride. It is uncompromising. You will suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, be kicked out the back, and forced to find your way home alone or in the company of other lost damned souls. How many things do you do in life that are uncompromising? That demand everything of you and guarantee nothing but defeat? (Don’t answer this if you’ve been married for more than five years.) That bring out the best in you even when your best is a pathetic, sniveling NOTHING? So, you should do this ride because it replicates, in the tiniest of ways, your natteringly, immeasurably insignificant place in the universe.

2. You are a chickenshit. Yes, you. You, who hide behind wheels, always take the short route home, sandbag in the easiest categories, or “compete” by “racing” exclusively against Strava and your own “personal records.” Thing is, you don’t have to just be a chickenshit. You can go on this ride and be a smashed chickenshit and earn the contempt of the august men and powerful women on the SPY Holiday Ride who will crush you like an eggshell beneath the wheel of an Antonov An-225.

3. There is order in the court. Unlike the Manhattan Beach Holiday Ride, in which 300 freds and 50 solid riders usurp the roadways of coastal L.A. in a mad, undisciplined dash to Mandeville Canyon, the SPY Holiday Ride is ordered. Yesterday about 175 riders went two-by-two for the first five miles, a sick single file for the next four, and all-hell-breaking-loose at the nine-mile mark when the peloton shattered at the base of the San Diegueno climb.

4. Prizes galore. Yesterday an entire case of The Lost Abbey’s BWR Bad-Ass Ale was awarded to the sado-masochist who spent the most time on the front. Unsurprisingly, the winner was Phil Tinstman. KOM winners got cool SPY sunglasses. OTB-wankers got as many servings of ridicule and contempt as they could swallow.

5. Natural selection. This ride rather quickly separated the wheat from the chaff, and you eventually rode with the category of your true ability. Once the pain train hit Lake Hodges, those who had pulled early, blew early. Those who had sucked wheel in hopes that a miracle would get them up the punishing rollers had to re-evaluate their faith. Those who had saved so they could punish finally “Let the Dogs Out.”

6. Variable terrain. The terrain in North County is different from much of SoCal, and punishing. It doesn’t feature many long climbs, but it continually throws rollers in your path no matter which direction you go. These variations wear you down, break your will to live, and leave you looking for a quaint coffee shop with yummy pastries, or failing that, a Starbucks, or failing that, a house with a garden hose. But there are none.

7. Heatstroke. Once you leave the coast it gets A-fucking hot. The poorly hydrated crack, crumple, and cave. The lucky ones die.

8. Benign indifference. Although close two hundred riders started, only a tiny handful finished with the lead group. The rest were ground beneath the wheel, or, as Hesse would say, “Unterm Rad.” This is of course how the universe views you: With benign indifference. Many people go to Sedona or buy crystals or use Feng Shui to align themselves with the universe’s forces when really all they need to do to discover their true quotient of universal meaninglessness is go get their balls stomped on the SPY Holiday Ride.

9. Free salt for wound-rubbing. Post-ride, one wanker said “We normally ride a bit faster going up to the first climb, but we had a pretty gentle roll over there today.” This was the section where I pulled my fucking brains out, drove the pace like a madman, then cracked and split open at the bottom of the first climb only to learn that it had been a tad on the slow side. Sorry bastard motherfuckers.

10. Lots of awesome Strava KOM’s. The SPY Holiday Ride is a great chance for you to bag some prestigious KOM’s, kind of like “The lottery is a great chance for you to get rich.” Only, the chance for you is zero.

11. Regrouping. The SPY Holiday Ride regroups a couple of times, although neither time is for your benefit. It is to allow the baby seals to rejoin so they can be re-clubbed and re-skinned. And you will be.

12. Race simulation. The pace was very much like a tough road race with a series of difficult sections, each of which caused destruction at the back of the pack. Unlike real road races, however, where you can conveniently categorize yourself according to age and gender, this ride forced you to match matches against monsters like Thurlow, Full Gas Tinstman, MMX and the SPY Train, Brett Clare, and a handful of very strong wheelsuckers who never took a pull but attacked and attacked hard.

13. Fireworks. Although illegal due to the dry conditions and high temperatures, the ride offered constant explosive detonations that occurered when riders like Zink, Hatchitt, David A., Stinger, and Tait lit the fuses of Those Who Shall Not Be Named For Now and watched as they snapped, crackled, fizzled, and popped with a whimper.

14. Del Dios KOM. This bad boy has over 6,500 riders on Strava, but yesterday Full Gas Phil whomped the snot out of the record time and set a blistering new pace of 12:38. You should do this so you can be like me, who gave it everything he had and got 98th place. 98th.

15. The 130-lb. Exemption. After the first pitch the road flattened out and this was where, if you were still there (you weren’t), various hardmen went to the front. Then some dude hit the jets, even though he had never taken one pull the whole day. His reasoning? “I don’t have to pull, dude, I’m only only 130 pounds.” So take notice: Anyone 130-lbs. or less need not bring along so much as a shred of self-respect.

16. Watch Brett sprint. On the return there was a sprint into Rancho Santa Fe. Those hoping to pass Brett, Full Gas, Thurlow, MMX, Josh, etc. brought mopeds.

17. Pity the fools. The 3 Witches ascent had the next sprint at the top, featuring three risers that topped out with a nasty sprint. For the first two witches, a couple of wankers from SDBC set tempo with Thurlow, Full Gas, and MMX sitting behind. For the third and final witch, Thurlow pulled and dropped the fools, with Full Gas Phil taking the sprint, MMX next and followed by Thurlow. Everyone else was shelled here. You were, too. Oh, wait, no you weren’t — you were shelled like an hour ago.

18. Visionary delusions. After a few more merciless beatdowns, sprunt points, and complete draining of all bodily adeonsine triphosphate, the handful of remaining riders “remarked what a great ride it had been.” Uh, sure. Whatever. Bunch of fucking liars.

19. Horrific inland heat. The weather got hotter as the ride went inland. The heat sucked the life out of the weak, the lame, and the too-many-Lost-Abbey-brews-the-night-before. I staggered into a convenience store in Del Mar and doused my head in water, then lay on the cool pavement and hoped for a gurney or for someone to run over me. No one did.

20. Making great friends. After Zink flatted I was miserably stuck on his wheel for 30 miles while he “repaid” my assistance with the tire change by dragging me up hill, down dale, periodically dropping me, sitting up and waiting, towing me for a while, dropping me again, and generally making my life a living hell while trying to help me out. Note to self: Don’t ever stop to help Zink change a flat.

Ride facts:

— 60 miles with 3800 feet of climbing

— 4 sprint waypoints, and the KOM at Del Dios

— Held every national holiday. Next one will be on Labor day.

— Ride size: 100-200, depending on weather and time of year

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