April 27, 2016 § 47 Comments
I got a message from Scott S. the other day. He had heard about the collision from two weeks back in which South Bay cyclist Steve Shriver was run over on PCH, suffering catastrophic injuries. Coming hard on the heels of Jon Tansavadti’s death in March, as well as a rash of near misses in Long Beach, Scott was concerned.
“Anything we can learn from these tragedies?” he asked.
My answer was simple. “I don’t have the answer, Scott, but I can tell you this: What we’re doing now isn’t working.”
Then we talked about the gaping hole in our cycling experience, otherwise known as the utter lack of formal cycling education. Steve had been run over riding single file, up against the edge of a construction zone. Jon had been killed by a right-turning moving van.
We can argue all day about where they were and where they should have been, but we can’t argue about this: Neither rider had ever taken a formal bike education course–one, with more than 30 years of experience, the other, with less than twelve months.
Perhaps education isn’t the answer, but it sure seems like a great place to start. Moreover, whether education can save any one person is less important than the grim recognition that collectively the cycling community spends way more time on gear and clothing and equipment than it does on education. We encourage people to ride, help them select a fancy bike and a cool kit, and throw them to the wolves.
“Would you come ride with us next Wednesday and talk about this?” Scott asked.
“Sure,” I said. “What time?”
“We roll at 6:00 AM sharp.”
I gulped because that meant a 4:50 roll-out from PV, and there was only one other person in all of Los Angeles crazy enough to get up at 4:30 so he could meet me at 5:15 and pedal through the bowels of the nation’s biggest port at daybreak to ride with the Long Beach Freddies.
In short, this was a job for Major Bob, the grumpiest guy with the biggest heart in all of cycling. “Can you squire me to the Freddie ride on Wednesday?”
“Sure,” Bob said when I explained the misssion. He didn’t mention that on Sunday he’d be doing the 145-mile Belgian Waffle Ride, and that on Tuesday he’d knock out a cool 90 doing the NPR beatdown and a legstretcher up the 6-mile Mandeville climb.
At 5:15 sharp he was there at the corner of Vermont and Anaheim and Gaffey and PV Drive, and a happening place it was.
I was apprehensive about proposing education to the Freddies because despite their name they ride with some of the best people in cycling. Tony Cruz is one of the Freddies, as well as Olympic gold medalist Steve Hegg and Rio aspirant Nate Koch, and their fast Fridays are, well, fast. Very fast. One of the walls in cycling has always been between the fast people in lycra and the slow people with mirrors. Needless to say the one don’t always take kindly to advice from the other.
Problem is that the mirror dorks are the ones who have actually studied riding in traffic from a perspective more sophisticated than “bunnyhop the curb, flip off the asshole driver, and keep going.” Going to the Freddies and pitching a dork session was, I feared, going to be a hard sell.
It was anything but. Unlike most clubs, which operate with multiple levels of decision making atop glacial epochs of implementation, the Freddies have a “Fuck it, let’s go,” attitude. They politely listened to my speech.
“So where should we start?” Scott asked after I finished.
“Maybe four or five of you should take the Cycling Savvy Dorkcycle and Autopsy Avoidance Course like we did at Big Orange, see if it works for you, and then think about encouraging some of the other members to do it.”
“Nah,” said Scott. “We’re in, all of us.”
I blinked. “All of you?”
Bill H., not known for his lengthy speeches, stood up. “This is important and we need to do it. We’re in.”
So as far as I know, the guys down in Long Beach are the nation’s first speed club to take formal cycling education as seriously as they take their clothing. Which is, frankly, incredible, and which, if it prevents even one collision or saves even one life is worth it a million times over.
I’m humbled and awed.
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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.
November 15, 2012 § 36 Comments
I don’t believe in heroes. I don’t believe in gods. I don’t believe in heavens or hells. I don’t believe in things that transcend nature. I don’t believe in miracles. I don’t believe in anything that can’t pass the Missouri motto simply because I live in a continual show-me state.
These are just a few of the casualties of the hard boiled atheism, devout skepticism, and jaundiced slant of my world view. It’s a view that is basted with cynicism, flavored with sarcasm, and lightly sauteed with reflexive disbelief. If I don’t think you’re lying, I can’t possibly believe anything you say.
The unbearable heaviness of miracles and the heroes who work them
Heroes are so unremarkable, precisely because they’re so heroic. What else can Superman do, but save the bus from plunging into the turbid waters below? As my favorite blog and Facebook troll, Mr. Troll.I.Am Stone would say, “Yawn.”
For me, the levers that work my mind into a bleeding froth are the ordinary people with whom I daily or casually connect through cycling. Guys like Keith Dodson who, in case you couldn’t guess, is a wanker. I know he’s special to his family. His mother likely thought he was extra special, perhaps the specialest little boy ever born.
To the rest of us, though, he’s just another Long Beach freddie, a planet who revolves around the sun that is Martin Howard, a flailer who pounds the pedals ’til he blows, then laughs at the ridiculous fun of it all, then washes the whole thing down with pizza and beer.
If you can’t enjoy a few pedal strokes and a few laughs with Keith, there is something profoundly fucked up with your wiring. He’s as regular as they come, exceptional in his regularity.
How ordinary? He jogs, for Dog’s sake
Yesterday, as Keith jogged down the jogging path for joggers on the San Gabriel River jogging path, right there in the heavy element broth before the toxic river meets the poisoned waters of the Port of Long Beach, he heard a loud noise and watched in disbelief as a pickup burst through a chain link fence and slid off into the river.
The driver began trying frantically to escape through the rear sliding glass window, but his shoulders were too wide. The power windows had shorted, and he was trapped inside.
Keith then disproved the theory of evolution and laid waste to the notion that only the smart ones survive. He grabbed a big rock, sprunted fifty yards to the sinking truck, and did the unthinkable without thinking, ran the wrong way down the one-way street of survival of the fittest: He dove in.
The driver tried to kick out the window, but couldn’t. Keith tried to bust the window, now underwater, but couldn’t. After two more futile attempts, he finally smashed through the window…with his fist.
Where heroes fear to tread
However ordinary and plain and pedestrian and flailing Keith may be as a Long Beach freddie, he’s an exceptional man in the real world. He’s profoundly loved and depended upon by his family. He’s respected by his peers. He’s a giant among men in the non-lycra world of family, work, and friends, which is to say the only world that matters.
This was a problem, because the water was about to claim him, and he was getting ready to die, and that was going to be a loss for the people who loved him, who depended on him, who respected him, and who rode with him. He was getting ready to die because he had succeeded too well. The window had smashed open, and the inrushing water had sucked him partially into the cab.
“This is it,” he thought. “I’m getting ready to drown in some dude’s underwater pickup truck.”
With a strength that Hercules would have easily mustered, but an ordinary wanker wouldn’t even know where to start looking for, Keith thrust himself against the onrushing water and patiently waited for three or four seconds while the water pressure equalized. You know, those quick three or four seconds underwater when you’re drowning and a drowning man is clutching you in a death grip and the truck you’re tangled up with is dragging you to the riverbed and out to sea. Those three or four seconds. The ones that prove relativity with more power and eloquence than any Einsteinian formula ever will. The ones that last about ten billion years each.
Impossibly for a mortal, Keith then wrestled the other drowning man out of the cab, and as lifeguards will tell you, this is where the amateur rescuer always becomes the second drowning victim of the day.
But not today.
Breaching the surface, a second ordinary, suit-clad office worker who had watched the whole thing on his first day at work in the Wells-Fargo bank building came plunging into the water, slacks and dress shirt and shiny banker’s shoes and all.
He and Keith got the driver out alive. Then they got themselves out alive. And after the cops and ambulances and news media came and did their thing, they went back to work.
They went back to work like the ordinary, pedestrian, unexceptional men they never were, and immediately became again.
February 12, 2012 § 4 Comments
“I’ve got a spare seat on my plane if you’d like to join me for the Tour de Palm Springs Century this weekend,” read Wehrlissimo’s email.
“Fuckin’-A!” I replied, still not sure, even after all these years, what the difference was between, say, a fuckin-A and a fuckin-B, or a fuckin-C for that matter. The chance to do a century ride after my recent beatdowns at Boulevard and Red Trolley would be a significant ego-building opportunity, where I could whizz by lumbering freddies and feel fast, superior, and successful. No matter that “I won the century ride” has all the street cred of “I got laid last night…by my wife.”
The last time I had flown a private plane was when I did the hop from Geraldton, in West Australia, over to the Abrolhos Islands to see a colony of Brown Noddies and to get a picture of a nesting Red-tailed Tropicbird.
It was a red two-seater crop duster with pontoons. The pilot was 80 years old and coughed the entire way like he was going to die as he smoked no-filters and spit bloody phlegm out the window. The noise had been deafening, and the water landing horrible beyond belief.
I, Triple, Polly, FTR DS, and Wehrlissimo stood on the tarmac in the dark as Levi loaded our bikes into the King Air Turboprop radmoplane. This was traveling in style. Rather than driving across the desert for two hours and then fighting four hours back through LA traffic we’d be landing in Palm Springs in thirty minutes and home by three in the afternoon.
I tried to remind myself of all these advantages as Levi turned back to us and said, “We’re going to have dip down pretty aggressively once we cross the mountains in order to hit the landing strip, as it’s just on the other side. There might be some turbulence.”
A few moments later the airplane was pointed straight down. We could see the quickly approaching ground through the windshield, and the only thing to make the picture perfect would have been a couple of gunsights through which we could have strafed the airport or the ten zillion wind turbines that littered the valley. “Just like a roller coaster,” I thought. “With no rails.”
I glanced over at Triple. His thighs were held tightly together, as if he were trying to keep something from sneaking out. At that moment we hit “some turbulence.” The entire aircraft shuddered as if it had been hit with a giant club and we plunged, hit another pocket, shuddered again, and a warning light went off with a shrill beep.
I looked at Polly, whose teeth were clenched, not even pretending to be cool. FTR DS had been okay until his engineer’s hearing had picked up the sound of the warning beep. Now he looked scared, too. I took a final glance at Triple, and could only think, “I’m glad I’m not the chamois in his shorts.”
Welcome to Hell
The game plan had been to hook up with UbeRfRed and his Long Beach Freddies, administer a thorough Southbay SPY Blue beatdown to the denizens of Cadmium City, USA, grab lunch, and jet back home. UbeRfRed had other plans.
The moment our group of twenty-six hit the edge of town it became clear why the city of Palm Springs was developed as one of the first wind farms in California: Wind turbines require winds of up to 35 miles per hour in order to achieve the optimum efficiency and profitability. As the route along North Indian Canyon Rd. left the city and exposed us to the full crosswind that was powering the wind farm, mayhem ensued.
We’d started about 7:30, and the road was clotted with thousands and thousands of freddies. So far, no problem. The 30 mph crosswind, however, was literally blowing people off the road. Every couple of hundred yards there would be bicycles lying in a huge tangle, with hapless freddies pulling and pushing and tugging and lugging on their $5,000 bikes that were now part of a giant parts bazaar.
UbeRfRed gassed it, and we clawed onto his wheel as we zoomed by the endless line of flailing freddies. Since the crosswind was so strong we had to echelon across the entire road. This meant that with each clump of freddies that we overook, UbeRfRed would roar, “Riders!”, but the freddies wouldn’t hear until we were right on their asses. Many of them, cleverly riding deep dish wheels, would jerk to the right, the wind would catch their wheels, and they’d go sailing off the road.
By mile three there were long lines of riders who’d simply given up, turned around, and headed back to Palm Springs. For us, there would be no quitting, as the Long Beach Freddies’ favorite epithet is to shout “You’re weak!” whenever someone quits, gets dropped, gets passed, turns around, swings off the front, takes a drink, stops to pee, or sucks his thumb, or cries for his mommy.
A confederacy of dunces
The whole idea of having 12,000 idiots on bicycles in a venue that it designated as “ideal for a wind farm” could not have happened by coincidence. Rather, it took the conspiracy of core stakeholders to come up with something this awful.
President of the local hospital: “Let’s do something that will fill the beds! February’s a slow month; we won’t really be rocking until Coachella in April.”
Coalition of local bike shops: “Let’s do something that will require 5,000 people to have to completely replace their bikes.”
President of the Chamber of Commerce: “We can showcase the beauty of the desert by routing the ride through all 427 stoplights and through each of the 19 bedroom communities.”
Bill Snooker, Owner, Bill & Snooker Used Auto Emporiums: “Make sure the route takes ’em by my fourteen lots. Never know when some idiot’ll throw in the towel and want to drive home.”
Crazy Sam Throckmorton, Desert Survival Adventures, Inc.: “Put 12,000 city slickers on bikes on pothole-filled, thorn-littered, gravel-strewn desert roadways a thousand miles from nowhere, watch ’em flat and wander off into the scrub and ocotillo looking for water, then do emergency rescues and charge $859 a head. Works ever’ time!”
Freddy Freeloader, 2012 president-elect, Palm Springs Friendly Riders’ Club: “It’ll be just like Solvang!”
It really isn’t anything at all like Solvang
After five miles of battering along in a full echelon as the howling crosswind sprayed sand and grit into our eyes and noses and teeth, with freddies flying off the road and smashing into each other, and with UbeRfRed and FTR DS drilling the pace the whole way, we turned left directly into the wind. Never in my life have I been so happy to have a headwind. For one, it meant no more leaning at a 30-degree angle to keep from being blown over. For another, it meant true shelter, not the misery of a partial draft echelon.
This respite only lasted a couple of miles before we turned right again and back into the crosswind. UbeRfRed now really hit the gas, exploding the remnants of his flailing Long Beach soulmates. I hadn’t bothered to look at the course map and had no idea how long the hell was going to last. For all I knew, it would be fifty miles out into this sandstorm and fifty miles back. My resolve began to fade and defeatism set in as the line of quitters and the clumps of the crashed flashed by.
After a mere 1.5 more miles of crosswind hell, the road turned right into a tailwind. I couldn’t believe it. UbeRfRed, after flagellating us mercilessly for the first twelve miles, held up his hand. “Let’s regroup!” he said.
I looked at FTR DS. He looked at me. We both thought the same thing: “He’s weak.”
I love you, that’s why I hate you
The next sixty miles went by quickly, a combination of straight tailwind and tail-crosswind. UbeRfRed would hammer until he’d dropped all of his best friends, and then make us stop so that they could all catch up and he could catch his breath. Repeat. By mile seventy we were well into the bowels of the poorly marked, suburban, stoplight-filled portion of the course.
At the final rest stop one of the Long Beach Freddies regaled me with the heart attack he’d had while cycling a few months back. “Yeah, I was with the guys and just keeled over.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Heart attack. Piece of plaque came off an arterial wall and chugged into the heart. Everybody has plaque on their arteries. Mine just lodged in a bad place.”
“Yeah…right,” I said, eyeing his beer belly. “Is that what the doctor said?”
“Yeah. Said everybody has it.”
“Did he graduate from a medical school in the Caribbean by any chance? Last name Sojka?”
Freddie looked at me funny. “No. But the good thing about it was, the guys were there for me.”
“Hell yeah. They waited until I’d stabilized in the ICU before they all came in and told me I was weak.”
“Well, at least you’re back on the bike,” I said, trying to make a positive out of a quadruple negative.
“Yep. I took a long time off the bike to recover, it being a heart attack and me almost dying and everything.”
“That’s good. How long were you off?”
Realizing that I was dealing with a true madman, I got back on the bike and continued pedaling.
Anybody can pedal a bike 70 miles…
“But can they drill it for the last thirty?” That was FTR DS’s question, and UbeRfRed answered it with a simple question phrased as a whimper.
“Hey guys,” he said. “Let’s just ride two by two for the rest of the way. Okay? Okay?”
FTR DS smiled a nasty smile, then went to the front and set an, um, steady pace. Alex the Poseur sidled up alongside him to match the pull, but after a couple of minutes went rocketing off to the side in the rickety wobble of someone who is blown and not coming back.
I came to the fore and was joined by Long Beach Freddy Rick. He had done the entire ride in booties, a skinsuit and full TT rig, which included Speed Racer-style bottle ejectors that caused his $40 insulated water bottles to fly out of the saddle-mounted holders and into the spokes of whomever was on his wheel. Showing the most grit of all the LBF’s with the exception of Heart Attack, who we fully expected to die at any moment, Rick matched the pace for a solid five miles.
Ultimately his head drooped, his fanny pooped, and he did the wobble-and-fade back to the ignominy of the rear wheelsuck with UbeRfRed and the Cadmium Crew. With eighteen miles to go, FTR DS came up and joined me. It was as nasty and unpleasant a finish as I can recall, with countless stoplights, and so many wrong turns that we were eventually stuck on the truck-car-senile-retiree highway to hell that is the 111.
So long, it’s been good to know ya
Wehrlissimo had reserved a spot for us at PS Wine, and we rolled up to sandwiches, water, chips, and lots of wine. As each group of finishers passed us by, from their perch on the sidewalk the LBF’s shouted “You’re weak!” to the broken, salt-encrusted, beaten down tourists.
Suddenly one of the LBF’s commanded, “Everyone! Stick your finger in your left ear!” Too drunk, frightened, tired, or confused to object, we all did as we were told. “Remove fingers!” We did. “Inspect fingers!” We looked at our fingertips, which were coated with a 1/8 inch layer of sand and grit stuck together with earwax. This, then, was our souvenir from Palm Springs, finer than any blue and yellow jersey designed by a middle schooler who “wanted to be an artist.”
We said our goodbyes, and Levi the Pilot proved again that he was the real man among men. He’d not only flown the plane and ridden a hundred hard miles, but he’d abstained from so much as a sip of alcohol and looked like he’d hardly exerted himself.
Back on the tarmac in LA, we deplaned and said our goodbyes. I thanked Wehrlissimo for his incredible generosity, and offered him $15 to help pay for gas. “Thanks,” he said, refusing my generous offer.
“So how much does a tank of airplane fuel cost for one of these, anyway?” I asked.
The other guys thanked him, too. He laughed. “All this stuff,” he said, waving at the airplane and hangar, “isn’t really worth anything if you can’t share it with your friends.”