December 25, 2017 Comments Off on Greek mythology
My grandfather Jim, who lived to be 89, once told me that the hardest part about getting old was watching all your friends die.
Cycling is kind of the same way, in that people simply vanish from the scene. One day they’re there, present on every ride, never miss a throwdown, and suddenly they’re gone because they took up golf or had a fall or decided to build a house in Hawaii or got tired of riding in circles or decided that life was too short to go around in public with nothing on but your underwear while playing on a child’s toy.
And although sometimes they come back, generally once they’re gone, they’re gone.
The worst is when The Vanished is an icon, a person who stands out and defines an entire region. Stathis the Wily Greek was one such dude, and he followed the trajectory of many: Got his big toe wet, then jumped into the Kool-Aid vat head first. But unlike a lot of other adepts, Stathis got very fast very quickly.
In two years he went from being some dude who rode around in an all-pink Giro d’Italia custom underwear suit to some dude who rode everyone off his wheel. He quickly entered the Cat 1 ranks, and although he never made the mediocre big time in local SoCal semi-sort-kinda-sometimes pro-ish cycling, he left his mark on every single ride that had a bump in it. You know those smears in the road from dead skunks and raccoons? That was you after trying to follow Stathis on a climb.
And of all the climbs he owned, no one ever came close to owning the Donut like Stathis did. Various riders traded fake KOMs, but it was only Stathis who owned the ride, beating every other rider every week every time up every hill. And then, after taking possession of the Donut in fee simple, he brainstormed with G$ and G3 to add in the Domes after the Switchbacks, turning it into the hardest group ride in the country that it is today. It wasn’t simply the fact that he was the fastest, it was the fact that he made a point of no mercy.
No friendship, no teammate, no favor, no kind word would ever get you a free tow on his wheel or a gifted sprint at the end. If you sat on his wheel he eased up and attacked. If you attacked (I never did) he followed you, waited until you were winded, then countered. While the Donut Ride was putting a tramp-stamp on its ass in his image, he was collecting climbing scalps all over the South Bay and beyond.
You knew when he showed up that he was going to beat you. And he knew it. And then he did it. He brought this same clinical dissection to the Flog Ride. Every Thursday there was the workout that he did, and the workout for everyone else. When he stood on the pedals, your workout with him ended and you began doing something else. Your workout, for example. But not his.
Stathis’s relentlessness wore down so many people, simply because most riders have to have some vague hope or fantasy that they will be first in order to show up. For me I always took solace that I got to start with the best and get beaten by the best, and the one time I beat him to the Domes on the Donut I will forever remember, because with him there were never any gifts. You earned it or you lost. I never cared about getting beaten by someone that much better, I just cared about getting beaten, period, and Stathis was the perennial electric rabbit that the greyhounds, or in my case the slughound, was never going to catch.
So when he retired a lot of people rejoiced. Now they could contest the climbs. Now they could actually fake race. Now they could look around and see that they were riding with peers, and I guess that made them happier than having manure smeared in their face.
For me, I was sad when he hung it up. There’s nothing better and more invigorating than a good, old-fashioned beating, and the more vicious the smashdown the more enjoyable the bike ride.
This morning while Kristie and I were riding to the Donut we saw a dude on a bike. He was bone thin and wearing a nose ring, but I knew at a glance it was Stathis. “Dude!” I said. “You’re back!”
He laughed. It was the same old Stathis, but the new one, too. “Just want to be able to hang on,” he said. I could tell from his legs that he wasn’t kidding. He’d been off the bike for a couple of years and hadn’t had more than two full dinners in the interim.
The Donut Ride started, and it went out hot. Stathis was punched out the back before we got out of Malaga Cove and I never saw him again. After the ride I texted him. “How did you feel?”
“Awesome. So great to be riding with friends again.” Did you catch that? He called the people who left him “friends.” Now that, folks, is a cyclist.
Doesn’t his sentiment sum everything up? I think it does. It’s rare when The Vanished reappear, but when they do, it’s awesome. Especially if it takes them a few months to get fit before they start tearing your legs off again.
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March 20, 2017 § 24 Comments
Before the race G3, who won it the year before, told me that “It’s the hardest race you’ll ever do.”
The Hun, who was driving, nodded savagely. “Absolute fucking hardest,” he said.
When two good friends, experienced road racers, and all-round tough guys tell you that it’s the hardest race you’ll ever do, my (obvious) reaction was to discount everything they said because they were such soft little cream-filled cupcakes.
“So what’s so hard about it?” I asked, bored and hoping they would fill the rest of the 2-hour drive to Desertmethtrailerville with epic lies about their awesomeness and somewhere along the way I could pick up some good intel that would help me attack my teammates and cover myself in glory at their expense.
“Wind,” said G3.
“Fucking wind,” said the Hun.
“Incredible wind,” said G3.
“Wind so fucking bad you gonna cry your mommy,” cursed the Hun.
“The wind is so ferocious it will destroy everyone who doesn’t have a wheel the entire race.”
“Fucking wind gonna break your balls and you gonna quit right away you don’t ride smart.” He cast a sideways glance indicating that “ride smart” wasn’t something he necessarily credited me with.
We got to the course outside Lancaster, which is part of California, but not the good part. I had made sure to fuel up on a Burger King double bacon cheeseburger and fries when we stopped for gas, so although I was properly nutritionized I was not prepared for …
On the course, way over in a field, four Big Orange teammates were fighting with a team canopy that had blown several hundred yards into the middle of someone’s dirt and plastic trash orchard, where this year’s crop also included used syringes and not-brand-new condoms.
By the start-finish, all the port-a-potties were lying on their side.
The paperwork at registration was on the ground, weighted by thirty-pound rocks.
Everyone was covered in sand, grit, and anger. Lots of anger.
I got on my bike to warm up and unwisely pointed it with the tailwind. Without pedaling I quickly hit 30 mph, then 35, then with a pedal stroke or two was doing 40. By the time I turned around I had gone so far that returning to base camp took almost thirty minutes and I was already tasting bacon.
Head Down James had just finished racing. “How’d it go?”
“Breezy,” he said.
“How was the climb?’
“Headwind. Three miles. Not too steep. You’ll do fine. But watch the downhill.”
“Straight as an arrow with a couple of gentle curves you can hit without touching your brakes. You’ll easily hit 55. Watch out for the potholes and cracks, and big pieces of cactus blown onto the course, and of course the trash and there’s one place where a load of logs spills out into the road. If you hit one of those at speed it won’t be good.”
“No,” I agreed.
“One guy in our race did and took down five other people.”
“Is that what those five ambulances were for?”
“Yes. No one died though.”
“Yeah, and watch out for the puppies. There are so many puppies and people have all driven up from LA to photograph them. Gets dicey at 55 with people running back and forth across the highway and pulling over.”
“Yeah. They’re gorgeous but watch out.”
“How’d you La Grange guys do?”
“We swept the podium.”
At that moment a blast of sand swept in and covered us, sticking to James’s sweaty face and my sunscreened one.
Our race began straight into the headwind up the 3-mile climb, with about twenty very old, very tired, and very apprehensive fellows engaged in a fierce competition to do nothing but hide. Contemptuously I went to the front half a dozen times and tried to up the pace.
G3 pedaled up alongside. “Dude,” he whispered. “Hide. You don’t know what you’re doing.” I spat in reply.
We crested the climb, having culled a few of the weak, sick, and mentally infirm, did a short easy downhill, and then made an easy right-hander. In front was a short 200-meter bump. This was the bump where G3 had warned me to “Be at the front because it’s short and easy but they will race over it and if you have even two bike lengths between you and the group you will never see them again because the second they crest it they will be going 60 with a huge tailwind and your day will be over.”
“More silly exaggeration,” I had thought as I saw the leaders begin to accelerate. “But just in case …”
Horribly positioned at the very back I sprinted with everything I had, which wasn’t much, and just latched on as the leaders crested the bump. The four riders who were a few wheels back were never seen again. It was that instantaneous.
The fear was awful, the chug holes in the road were abysses, and everyone except me seemed fine with the idea of dying, if that’s what it took, to get to the bottom quickly. Before long we began rocketing through corridors of cars and SUVs parked on the road side, with city folks wandering randomly across the road.
“The fucking puppies,” I thought. “The puppies. Where are the puppies? All I see are giant orange fields of poppies.” Then it dawned on me. “Puppies. Poppies.”
Tucked into the back of the group we made a right turn into the worst cross-wind in history. The leaders punched it hard. If you were in the first six wheels you had a draft; everyone else was shoved against the double yellow line in a vicious echelon with no shelter.
The moto ref helpfully yelled and honked at us to “get off the yellow line,” which only made us move farther to the left such that the giant mirrors of pickups passing in the opposite direction at 75 came within inches of our heads. Gaps opened and I began having to close them.
If you’ve never had to close a gap in an echelon with a howling cross-wind, it is like being Sisyphus but instead of pushing a giant rock up a hill you are pushing a giant rock off your head only to have it fall back and spatter more brains when the next gap opens.
I closed four gaps and then almost ran over the red cones before the next turn, a right-hander that went straight into the wind, back through the start-finish and up the climb. After two minutes of sitting at the back cursing the dirt, the puppies, the poppies, G3 and the Hun for telling the truth, the wind, the tumped-over toilets, and praying the moto ref would DQ me, I gave up.
One lap, quit, wobbled into the start-finish area where I was cheered by no one except my good friend Kristie. “What are you quitting for?” she said. “Finish the race!”
“I double flatted,” I said.
“Oh my dog! That’s terrible!”
“Yeah,” I said.
She looked at my tires. “Your tires are fine, Seth.”
“Yeah, but it was a right flat and a left flat.”
Two small children who were there to watch their dad race quizzed me in great detail about my weakness, why I had quit, why I had come if I only rode one lap, whether I usually quit, whether my kids also quit, whether quitting was okay (their teacher said never quit), did I like quitting, did my dad know I had quit, did I know their dad wasn’t gonna quit, had I ever beaten their dad and if so how come I had quit and couldn’t beat him today, and did I want to try and beat them playing Gorgonzola Space Destruction Zombie Catchers.
Next, I got to sit on the side of the road for another hour and a half and watch the miserable faces of the racers come by in gradually reduced numbers until they slow-motion sprunted across the line, faces caked in salt and grit and misery. “One lap to go!” I shouted as they finished, Cruelty Thy Name Is Bicycle Racing.
G3 got second and the Hun got third, which was awesome because before they even dismounted I demanded my share of their winnings. “You couldn’t have done it without all that work I did on the first lap.”
Too tired to resist, they staggered to the car and deflated, thousand-yard stares pasted on their drawn faces while the wind howled and moaned.
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February 19, 2016 § 11 Comments
I was talking with Major Bob about road racing the other day. “It’s funny,” I said. “The races that we profamateurs admire the most are the really hard races. Flanders. Roubaix. The Tour. But when it comes to actually doing hard races, people flock to crits and avoid the monsters like UCLA, Boulevard, Tuttle Creek, and anything that says ‘NorCal’ … why?”
“Because people,” said Major without missing a beat “don’t like to work.”
“Really? Like Congress?”
“Look at the peloton. Same old faces taking the hard hits, making things happen, riding the breaks, while everyone else kind of hangs around towards the back hoping they get lucky.”
That reminded me of a day-long argument I had with G3, followed by several terabytes of email discussion in which we fought tooth and kneecap over whether the leaky prostate 45+ category at UCLA was harder than the Cat 3 race.
“Dude,” I said. “The fuggin’ old farts’ race had a faster overall time, ergo harder. Plus, THOG.”
“Nope,” he said, after analyzing various sections of the course for different racers who’d won their category. “The Cat 3’s climbed faster on two of the laps. Old farts were faster overall, but Cat 3’s suffered more, ergo harder.”
“How can you say they suffered more? They are all young and stupid and recover in 30 seconds and can enjoy conjugal relations the night after the race. That’s not suffering. Suffering is being a worn out shoe, getting stuffed in the box, staying there for 2.5 hours, then drinking Alleve six times a day for the next week until you can get out of bed without groaning.”
The argument was put to rest by Leibert, the guy who actually won the race, and his logic was impeccable. “Would you two please shut up?”
It is kind of odd when you think about it. Road races, especially hilly ones, may be harder to finish in terms of watts and carbon and weight weenies and 100% carbon wheels and Chris T. doing a 50-mile race on half a water bottle to save a few grams.
But crits are more difficult to win because they require actual bicycling skills like cornering, positioning, maneuvering in tight places, timing, fakery, coordination with teammates except for Prez, preening, fist-pumping, and cauterized nerves in the finale. So you could argue that as a complete package, crit racing is actually harder.
Then I got a great idea. Why not call up Filds? It was 2:00 AM, which meant it was only 4:00 AM in Milwaukee. With any luck he’d still be on the third bottle of Cutty.
“Hey, man, it’s me, Seth.”
“What do you want?”
“Is it harder to win road races or crits?” Filds had won them all.
“You called me at four in the morning to ask me that?”
“It’s for the blog, dude.”
He chewed his cud for a second. “Listen up.”
“There’s no such thing as an easy win.”
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February 14, 2016 § 16 Comments
Team Lizard Collectors rolled up to the start of the UCLA Road Race in our pimping Bonk Breaker Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van and Hotel and Restaurant. G3 and I had argued the entire 1.5 hour drive to the McDonald’s toilet about race strategy.
“The Cat 3 race is harder than the Leaky Prostate 45-plus Profamateur race,” he said.
“You are insane,” I diplomatically replied. “Our field is stacked with THOG, the desert rat brothers, Roadchamp, Capture the Flagg, Strava Jr., and a host of other mutants. They will kill it from the gun and we’ll all be dropped. We’ll never make it over the first climb.”
“Yes, we will,” said G3. “We’ll do them just like in the Cat 3’s.”
“Oh, brother,” I said. “How is that?”
“We’ll roll up to the front and ride tempo.”
“Great. Until the desert rats and Roadchamp and Strava Jr. hit the gas and drop you like Chinese egg soup.”
“Nope. I’ll chat them up and make small talk, ask about the kids and stuff. By the time they get through telling me about their new chain lube and Strava Jr.’s 1-oz. derailleur we’ll be through most of the climb and you won’t get shelled.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Works every time in the Cat 3’s.”
“This ain’t the Cat 3’s.”
The race started, G3 rolled to the front, and holding a steady tempo began chatting with the rat brothers about the carpet cleaning business, the pool cleaning business, and whether they thought it would rain in the desert anytime soon.
Even at tempo half the field was shelled, and when we made the first turn by the blowing trash and the flimsy gates that only barely restrained a rabid Rottweiler and a foaming pit bull who thought we had come to raid the meth lab, the hitters realized they’d been tricked and three of them scampered away.
“You did it!” I exulted to G3. Making it over the first climb was the hardest part of the race; even though we had four laps the remaining times around would be easy in comparison.
Since we were there to sacrifice all for our team leader G$ (easily confused with G3, at least on paper), and since we still had seven riders in the lead group, we all slunk to the back to let G$ do the hard work of reeling in the break, which he did. Once he made the catch, G3 yelled, “Come on guys, let’s get to the front and bring back the break!”
“They’re already back,” we said from the back.
Now that the hard part was over, all we had to do was continue lurking and shirking while the peloton dragged us to the finish, where we would gloriously win the first seven places, and maybe G$ would get eighth.
However, as we started the climb for the second time, the group seemed to shrink and Team Lizard Collectors suffered a major reduction of its core members, including Dr. Whaaat?, who was experimenting on a hot and hilly road race with a new homemade energy drink made of pickle juice and salt. Just as we approached the rabid dog gate, one of the pre-race favorites, Strava Jr., rode straight into the back of G$’s rear wheel and fell off his bicycle.
The leaders, realizing that one of their chief competitors was down, stomped on the pedals, shredding the group. Strava Jr. lay writhing in not really pain, and after determining that his handlebars were twisted 5-degrees he declared his day over and went home to collect some more KOM’s. In the meantime, our valiant team leader G$ had pulled over to check the wheel that Strava Jr. had smashed into. As the sole remaining member of Team Lizard Collectors near the leaders, I considered my options:
- Stop and help my team leader with his repair, give him a wheel if necessary, help him remount, get him speedily on his way, and tow my heart out so he could rejoin the leaders and win the race.
- Pretend I didn’t see him, pedal blindly by, and try to catch back onto the group I had no hope of staying with so I could possibly get 14th.
It’s not often that life presents such easy choices, so I left him at the side of the road and tried to rejoin the leaders.
However, G$ fixed his bike, remounted, and with no assistance powered across a hilly windswept stairstep to close a 30-second gap and rejoin the front group. I was soon caught by a rather hopeless and dispirited group of people who once resembled cyclists but now looked a lot like homeless desert people on bikes. They dropped me after a few miles.
One by one, everyone remaining in the race passed me except for one fellow who was afterwards declared retroactively dead. I sensed that he was a real threat to the leaders and even though we were 40 minutes back I knew it would take a lot of skill to keep him from going across to G$, who eventually attacked the lead group and won the race.
Fortunately, Mr. Corpse was unable to execute his plan and I kept him blocked safely in 39th place, just out of reach of G$, who was mostly in another county. It was a super valiant team effort and I was humbly honored to play such an important role in G$’s win.
Thanks to my hard work, I demanded that G$ buy the whole team lunch with his $80 in winnings. He agreed and we went to the Hungarian Sausage and Meat Company, located back in Pearblossom between the bail bondsman, the liquor shop, and the Baptist church. Since we had Attila the Hungarian with us, we figured he would appreciate some of his native food.
Inside the shop, he went to the counter. “Anyone here speak Hungarian?” he asked.
The young lady shook her head. “No. What makes you think they would?”
“Well,” said Attila, “the sign says Hungarian Sausage, so I thought maybe someone here was Hungarian.”
The woman made a complicated look with her face, straining muscles that seemed attached to her brain, but that hadn’t been exercised much in the last few years. “No,” she said. “We only speak American here.”
Attila looked at the menu. “I’ll have the Hungarian sausage sandwich,” he said.
The woman scowled. “That takes twenty-five minutes. You’ll have to wait twenty-five minutes. It’s a twenty-five minute wait.”
“Then I’ll have something quicker. What do you recommend?”
“The summer smoked Polish blood sausage with spicy entrails.”
“I’ll have that, then,” said Attila. We all ordered the same thing.
Twenty-five minutes later our food came. I don’t know if it was good or we were ravenous, but it was gone in seconds. At lunch we were joined by Derek the Destroyer, who had gotten second place in the much easier 35+ race against a very weak field.
“Second is okay,” I said. “But 38th in the 45+ race was a lot harder.”
“Really?” he said. “Because we had Tony Manzella, Kirk Bausch, Gary Douville, and a few other guys who go pretty good.”
“Pffft,” I said. “They would have gotten 39-41 in our race.”
“But I think we almost lapped you,” he said.
“That’s because I was blocking. We had a dead guy who was trying to bridge and if he’d gotten across G$ wouldn’t have won.”
Derek munched on his sandwich thoughtfully. “I see,” he said.
On the way back we dissected the race. “Good job, G$,” I said. “I think I could have won but I had the wrong gearing.”
“I could have won, too,” said Attila, “if the race had stopped after the first lap.”
“I could definitely have won,” said G3, “if I hadn’t ridden tempo for Wanky in the beginning. And Dr. Whaaat? was on the podium for sure if it hadn’t been for the pickle juice and salt.”
“I was really surprised that I won,” said G$, who has only won the race five times previously. “I guess I just got lucky.”
No one said anything.
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December 14, 2014 § 30 Comments
I was reading an article yesterday about hippo ecology and their poop. We don’t know much about hippos, apparently. Closely related to whales — yes, whales — they spend most of their time underwater and are hard to study for two reasons.
- They hate people and kill them.
- They all look alike.
Yep, no one’s ever figured out a way to tell Hippo A from Hippo B. You can’t put a radio collar on them because they don’t have necks. You can’t tell them apart based on scars, nicked ears and such because they are underwater all the time, and if you get in their river they will kill you. The only time they come on land is at dusk and at night, to eat and poop. Hippos also display male dominance by madly swishing their tails as they poop, spraying it into the faces of the junior males.
The magazine, a respected scientific journal, actually called it “poop.”
I’m no hippo scientist, but I’ve been to plenty of zoos with hippo pools, and I can tell you one thing. It isn’t “poop.” Hippos shit, folks. Hugely massive endless streams of stinking shit. It’s not feces and it’s not crap and it’s not manure. If you doubt me, go to a hippo pool and take a whiff, then tell me if it smells anything like what’s in your baby’s diaper. If it does, you need to get another baby.
I have a lot of stress in my life. I used to think the biggest stress was the 27 years of marriage to Mrs. WM (28 in four more days, as she reminded me at a party last night). But it’s not. The biggest stress is wondering what I’m going to put in the blog each day. If I were smart I would write it the night before, when things have just happened and are fresh in my mind, except at night I’m too tired.
So I wait until four a.m. or so. I don’t need an alarm clock anymore thanks to the blog; it wakes me up very early and asks me, “Do you have it yet?” The answer is always “No.”
Great newspaper columnists like Mike Royko and terrible ones like Lynn Ashby, giants who had to write a new column once every single week (how did they survive?), used to keep a “spare” in their desk drawer in case, at deadline time, the well was dry. Me, I have no backup.
Worse, I don’t even have a formula because I hate formulas. BikeSnob can troll through the Internet or his mailbox, pick out a half dozen weird things and make fun of them. The beginning doesn’t have to have anything to do with the end, and it doesn’t. Sit, copy, paste, type, done. Boom. Get on with the day. How awesome is that? Very awesome.
Me, by five o’clock if there’s no theme or story, I have to start writing anyway.
“Why five o’clock?” you ask. “That’s awfully early. Why can’t you organize something, do a couple of drafts, and get started at, say, six or seven?”
“Because,” I say, “cyclists are already pooping by then.”
In addition to writing on a theme every day and my marriage, I have my third biggest stress: Helping my readers poop. I wish that every cyclist who has come up to me and said, “I love your blog, dude. I read it every morning on the shitter,” loved me enough to click the “subscribe” button in the upper right-hand corner of the blog’s home page. I would be a hundredaire by now.
Similar to the absence of research on hippo poop, most of the major cycling publications don’t write much about cycling and shitting. Joel Friel and Training Peaks don’t yet have a data input for TPD, turdage per day. I’m not sure why this is, since shitting is not only one of the most enjoyable parts about cycling (and life in general), but it’s something of particular concern to anyone who rides a bike. Nothing is worse than getting all your stuff on, airing up your tires, preparing for the “big ride,” and then getting that instantaneous feeling of “someone dropped Willy the killer whale in my colon and now he is yearning to be free.”
That’s “now” as in “if you wait another ten seconds we’re gonna have a city-wide brownout.” The pre-ride dump is why so many cyclists show up five minutes late, in fact. That’s how long it takes to rip off everything, uncoil the cookie dough, slaughter half a roll of toilet paper, and get dressed again.
Dump preparation is also the reason that most riders make sure to get up long before the ride. They don’t want to get caught with their pants down, so they form a routine.
- Make coffee, which enhances crappage.
- Eat high fiber cereal or other crap inducer.
- Wait around, usually 30 minutes.
- Lunge for the throne.
As I have found out, for many of my friends, #5 is accompanied by my blog. Yesterday G3 rolled up to me at the beginning of the Donut Ride. “Dude,” he said. “How come your blog was late this morning? It didn’t pop up on my phone ’til I was almost done shitting.”
I didn’t ask him why he had his phone on the toilet, but since he is a subscriber and therefore a customer, and since the customer is always right, I apologized and asked him to send me a text called “morning dump” so I would remember to blog about it. At the same time, I tried not to imagine him seated there, his hairy belly poking out, his legs spread open as his organ dangled down into the black recess of the potty, the glazed-over, blissful grin spreading over his face as each charge hit the water, and the proud review and detailed size/shape/composition analysis of his morning creation before he flushed. I say I tried not to imagine it, but you can see that didn’t work.
So the next time you think you’re having a shitty day, think about me and the pressure I have to not only write on a daily basis, but to also serve as the Internet’s most important cycling laxative. I suppose the whole shit thing could be worse. At least I’m not required to display — or worse, be subject to — male dominance the same way as a hippo.
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July 13, 2013 § 16 Comments
The world-famous Donut Ride, despised by Jack from Illinois (not his real name) as a preening wankfest, derided by MMX as a one-trick pony that boils down to a single power climb on the Switchbacks, and loved by Wankmeister for both those reasons, has entered a new era. It happened thus.
G3: “Okay, we’re taking a survey. What do folks think of the current Donut route?”
Unison: “It blows.”
G3: “Okay, then.”
Problems with the Donut
A careful analysis revealed the following Donut flaws:
- Too much stopping.
- Too much wanking.
- Too much wheelsucking.
- Not enough climbing.
- Not enough sprunting.
The Donut’s route has changed numerous times during its illustrious history of more than thirty years. The Oldnut, which went through San Pedro and culminated in a sprunt at the Korean Bell, was a favorite until laziness took over, with large numbers of riders unable to handle the additional fifteen miles of riding. The Korean Bell sprunt was also rendered problematic when that entire side of San Pedro suffered a massive landslide and fell into the ocean.
Even the hardmen of the South Bay rebelled at having to clamber down a cliff, swim four miles, then remount for the finale.
Spicing up the Donut’s honey hole
The new route, instead of stopping at Marymount College and giving everyone a chance to flex and eye one another’s sweaty legs, continues up Crest to the radar domes. The addition of ten minutes’ hard climbing on top of the soften-em-up power climb on the Switchbacks has already changed the dynamic of the ride.
No longer do crazypants riders dash madly away at Trump National, hoping to eke out a sneakaway win on the Switchbacks. Now, the pace stays steady and measured as riders are ground up and and spit out in ones and twos all the way up the Switchbacks, with the final wreckage occurring on the first ramp going up to the radar domes. No longer does a massive attack at the bottom of the Switchbacks blow apart the group.
After some brief preening at the domes and a bit of reciprocal jocksniffing, the ride then descends all the way to PV Drive North and turns right into San Pedro. The descent, rather than being a completely insane dash to the death, is “neutral,” which means that everyone still goes full-on crazypants, but no one is allowed to claim victory.
Putting in some more climbing feet
The group takes PV Drive to Western and goes right, which remains neutral due to the deadly nature of riding a bicycle through the heart of San Pedro, where aggro soccer moms are going full-throttle in their SUV’s to finish picking up supplies at Wal-Mart before game time. At Miraleste the group turns right, the guillotine blade is again dropped, and the survivors climb up Miraleste, go left at Better Homes, and climb back up the Domes.
Whereas the old Donut route played heavily in favor of climbers, the new route is designed to eliminate all but the tiniest, most anorexic of riders. Participants still carrying around a few extra pounds from last Christmas can expect an outcome even more hopeless than usual. After regrouping at the domes, the ride continues back down PV South to Via Zumaya, where the sprunters can finally get revenge on the climbers by going straight home.
Full Donut Ride participants will, after ascending Via Zumaya, have earned their wings, not to mention a fistful of KOM’s. Critics note that the new Donut Ride has even less sprunting than the old one, which had none.
As the new organizers like to point out, all of whom are diminutive, veiny, twig-legged climbers, “Tough shit.”
May 7, 2013 § 27 Comments
It is part of our bicycling delusion that we are made of the qualities we reveal “on the bike.” The power meter tells you that you’re a badass (the opposite of which is what? A goodass?) Showing up for the NPR when it’s raining toxic sludge in 40-mph sideways sheets proves that you’re a tough guy, whether or not you’re even a guy. Hanging onto Rudy Napolitano’s wheel for the first 50 yards of his acceleration on the Switchbacks makes you a fighter.
That’s who you are, right? Watt pumper, road tough, and a competitor.
Bicycling may or may not reveal character, but it sure is replete with characters. And the character of those characters, in my experience, is most often revealed not on the bike, but off it.
The cast of characters
G3: I still don’t know what “G3” stands for, and I’ve been riding with this wanker for years.
Stathis the Wily Greek: Only smiles for money.
Little Sammy Snubbins: Baby seal pup who loves to ride his bike.
Stitchface: Cat 4 adventurer who’s already gotten 100 sutures in his face this year.
Anonymous Steve: Generic bicycle rider whose chief characteristic was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Cast of Dozens: Amalgamated Idiots, Inc., a/k/a Usual Donut Ride Crew.
Portuguese Bend is a hallowed part of the Donut Ride. It connects Palos Verdes Estates (a fancy enclave whose denizens’ shit doesn’t stink) with the Switchbacks, the epic 8-minute climb that punctuates this weekly beatdown.
Portuguese Bend is so geologically unstable that a permanent road crew is assigned to the 2-mile stretch of twisting roads, which shift and crack daily. The instability is such that sewer lines are placed above ground and re-paving the entire roadway is done multiple times each year. The crews make weekly repairs to gaping crevasses that open up overnight as this side of the slope slides relentlessly into the sea.
With steep ups and downs, cracks that appear suddenly, narrow lanes, speeding traffic, and a long downhill from the Switchbacks, of course it’s the perfect place for the weekly gaggle of idiots to charge through the area at speeds exceeding 40 mph.
What could possibly go wrong?
The delicately choreographed Dance of the Club-footed Oafs
Cold logic, or even cool reason, don’t live in a peloton (“peloton” is French for “speeding gaggle of imbeciles.”) When you drop off the Switchbacks it’s a straight plunge several miles long to the bottom of Portuguese Bend. You wind up tightly bent into a densely packed anthill of carbon and meat and wires and metal, crammed into a tiny bike lane with livid pickups passing on the left three inches from your bars, your nose jammed up the next rider’s rear end, your front wheel an inch out of the next rider’s spokes, the busted and uneven and pockmarked road rattling your wheels and your frame and your legs and the tiny pea inside your skull but instead of sitting up and braking and letting the crazies dash off to their doom you bury yourself into the heart of the swarming beehive where there’s no escape hatch and the slightest waver will slam you to the pavement or worse catapult you off your bike into the oncoming traffic where Suzie Q whose shit doesn’t stink will mow you down in her Range Rover while talking on her cell phone and sipping a latte, as she’s wholly untrained to avoid catapulting bicycles flying across the road onto her grill which is pretty much what happens in the next instant when Little Sammy Snubbins, tucked deep in the hive at tenth wheel, hits a crack and, because he’s Little Sammy Snubbins and still on the lower part of the learning curve is rocketing along the jarring bumpy roads with his hands loosely gripping the bars instead of clenching them like his life depends on it which in fact it does and the crack that he smacks full-on with his front wheel jolts his left hand off the bars and his right hand steers him t-bone style into the side of Stitchface who, at 40 mph, is hit by Generic Steve full force in the rear, taco-ing Stitchface’s rear wheel and tossing him into the air like a rag doll and hurling his bike and him into oncoming traffic but actually against all odds Suzie Q WAS expecting a flying bike and Raggedy Andy biker to come sailing airborne over into her lane from thirty feet away and she locks up the ABS and doesn’t squash Stitchface like a bug or even hit him but down goes Generic Steve and down goes Little Sammy Snubbins and the Dance of the Club-footed Oafs goes from being a sort of delicately clumsy waltz to a screeching, screaming, clattering, skittering, pandemonic mishmash of smoking rubber and hands filled with maximum brake and, miracle of miracles, no one else chews the asphalt and Little Sammy Snubbins only breaks his bike and Generic Steve barely gets a scratch and Stitchface peels his body off from the pavement and declares himself unhurt even after the shock wears off.
Unfortunately, someone has to be the grown-up
So for the moment the bicycling is over. Everyone stops; well, almost everyone. There are a handful for whom getting in their miles is more important than stopping to see if Stitchface has been gored to death or to find out if Little Sammy Snubbins needs mouth-to-brain resuscitation, and…
…there is no “and.”
It’s now, off the bike not on it, that character is revealed.
The character is revealed of G3 who swings back, gets the riders off the road, orders others to control the traffic, and swiftly calls the rescue wagon with Nurse Jeanette and Nurse Ava to come and haul back the broken bikes and thankfully unbroken bodies.
The character is revealed of Stathis the Wily Greek, who despite his stone-faced demeanor is one of the first to dismount and leap to the aid of the fallen, though he was on Generic Steve’s wheel and narrowly avoided catastrophe himself.
The character is revealed of numerous other riders whose first and only impulse was to stop and help.
And the character is revealed of those who couldn’t have cared less.
The little drama plays out again, reminding us that it’s not about the bike, it’s about what happens on the bike, and what happens off it. The unsophisticated and uninitiated might even go so far as to call it “life.”