January 12, 2018 Comments Off on The eyes have it
I finished racing Telo on Sunday, changed, and hopped in the car for the drive to Santa Barbara. A few days passed and I got ready to ride again and couldn’t find my riding glasses. “Have you seen my cycling glasses, honey?”
“No. You had them at Telo, though.”
“Probably in the back of the car somewhere.”
“I’ll run look,” she said, and she did, and she came back in a few minutes with my cycling glasses, all right, but the frame was split in half along the top. “You left them under the hatchback and they broke when you slammed it shut.”
These were my SPY Quanta prescription riding goggles, the best eyewear I have ever had. My eyes are very bad and you can’t ride a bike and survive for long at all if you can’t see, and see well. The Quanta was the first wide-screen frame that could accommodate my ridiculously thick prescription.
My awful eye history
I’ve had bad eyes ever since I was a little kid. I always used to fail the eye test in class because the school nurse thought I was “clowning.” She’d set up the chart with the big, giant, monstrously huge “E” at the top and all the little tilted ones getting smaller and smaller as you went down.
She’d call name. “Davidson!” and the class would titter because they knew what was coming as I did it every year.
“First line?” the nurse would say.
“I can’t see it,” I’d say, and the class would break out in howls as even a blind person could see that huge, giant, monstrous, whomping “E.”
I was a cut-up and made bad grades mostly because of my personality, but also because I could never see the blackboard or anything on it. I think I did pretty good, especially in math, considering that.
When I was thirteen we were driving along US 59 in Houston one Sunday on the way to a movie. In Texas every ten feet there is a 400-foot tall billboard along every freeway. “What does that say?” I asked my mom as we passed right in front of a sign so big you could have read the print on Mars.
“Are you serious?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, which everyone knew meant that I wasn’t serious at all.
But later at the movie my parents noticed for the first time that I was sitting on the front row like I had been doing since I was six. Afterwards my mom asked “Why were you down there on the front row?”
“I’m always on the front row,” I said.
“Because I can’t see.”
The next day I was sitting in the office of Dr. James Key, ophthalmologist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. It was my first real eye test ever. I remember what a nice guy Dr. Key was, and how he had the thickest glasses I had ever seen. Afterwards he said, “You don’t really see much of anything at all, do you?”
“No, sir,” I said.
“We will fix that,” he said. And he did.
The day I put on those first eyeglasses it was amazing. The world was so filled with sharply defined objects! The colors all had edges! You could read from a long way off! And I could figure out whether my shoelaces were untied without having to guess.
MMX to the rescue
From that day on, my cycling glasses became the most important article of clothing I owned, and many years later my SPY Quanta glasses were the gold standard for eyewear. If you rode with me even once since 2012 I was wearing those glasses, which were developed and designed by my friend Michael Marckx while he was the CEO at Spy Optic. He went on to develop some of the best cycling glasses ever made by anyone, anywhere, during his tenure, but none worked for me like the Quanta simply because it could handle my thick lenses and had a ridiculously wide field of vision that didn’t distort at the edges.
I stared at those poor broken frames and thought about all that we had been through together: Crossing continents, hitting the pavement, chewing through incredibly bad weather and rough roads … those were the cycling glasses that had kept my eyes safe and had kept the road in front of me focused and clear. All of those things were nice to reflect on but what really struck me was the incredible generosity of which I’d been the beneficiary, because Michael had given me those glasses with the prescription lenses as a gift.
In fact, he gave countless sets of glasses to friends and grifters, most of whom never bothered to say thanks or who thought that because they raced for an amazing masters team of 50+ grandfathers they were somehow entitled to expensive eyewear as they “promoted the brand,” i.e. wore the glasses. Unlike the traditional frames that Michael also designed, these were built to protect your eyes and your face. And that’s exactly what they did, more important to me than any wheel, any frame, any drivetrain, any bicycle outfit.
What was funny is that I never wanted the glasses in the first place because I had no idea how transformative a great set of frames could be. Oakley had just come out with a narrow, razor-band style of glasses that could hold my prescription but that provided almost zero width of vision; they were like looking out of a gun turret slit, and I’d shelled out almost $400 for them. I was dubious that these new glasses would be an improvement, as simply having prescription sunglasses was revolutionary for me. Until then I’d cycled in John Lennon frames, with every manner of grit and shit getting around the lens and into my eyes.
In fact, with those John Lennon specials, every couple of years I’d have to go to the eye doctor to get pieces of steel surgically removed from my cornea, tiny bits of grit and road detritus that got blown into and lodged into my eyeball surface. The Quantas took care of that once and for all.
But Michael is nothing if not persistent, and when the Quantas showed up and I put them on, well, everything really did look different. If it weren’t for him I’d probably still be wearing those crappy Oakleys because, cheap-ass. And of course I wondered how many other people had been the beneficiary of his largesse, how many other people with significant eye problems had found an amazing solution thanks to this and some of his other phenomenal designs.
As I wondered what I was going to do, I rummaged around in my Random Bike Shit Drawer, and there in the back was another pair of glasses. Quantas. Worn maybe twice. It was like finding a winning lottery ticket as I took them out and tried them on; perfect fit and perfect prescription.
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August 9, 2016 § 34 Comments
The worst thing that can happen to you isn’t being tortured and killed. It’s having that happen to the people you love.
You’d think that no matter how testy things got between the Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch and cyclists on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, there would be a line in the sand that even spoiled, failed, class action defendants wouldn’t cross.
You’d be wrong.
The latest spitball in the classroom melee over the world-shaking, hard to answer question of whether or not it’s okay to kill cyclists with your car was flung by the anonymous goon who maintains a hatesite dedicated to attacking everyone and everything that challenges the white supremacy of the PV Peninsula.
And of course, being a bully and a coward (but I repeat myself), he attacked a child.
Let me back up.
The Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch really is a thing. In a recent Daily Breeze article in which the LBBOMC were sporting afro wigs and blackface on MLK Day, one of the alleged perpetrators was defended by … his mom:
According to the lawsuit, a local surfer named Anthony Beukema wore blackface and an Afro wig to the protest, telling organizer Chris Taloa, “You don’t pay enough taxes to be here.” Beukema could not be reached, but his mother vehemently denied the allegations to a reporter.
In addition to defending the public coastline that they’ve stolen from the people of California, which is right in line with what their soul-brethren in Rancho Palos Verdes Estates are seeking to do with Crest Rd., i.e. convert public roadway to private property so that bikers can’t ride there, the Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch have taken up the anti-bike cause on the peninsula as well.
One local realtor has gone on social media sites such as NextDoor and proclaimed that if cyclists get killed when disobeying traffic laws, it’s simply Darwinism at work. It makes you wonder what this must mean for his real estate pitches (“You’ll love this house. Great view, nice pool, friendly neighbors unless your kid’s on a bike then they will kill you.”) A small cadre in PVE have even brought into the cycling discussion such ideas as the Hajnal Line, and have pointedly suggested that that the reason PVE is so nice is because it is so white.
By now you’re probably wondering, “All this over a couple of bike signs?”
Answer: Yes. Oh, yes.
Anyway, at the last two PVE City Council meetings, one of the pro-bike speakers spoke, followed by his 12-year-old daughter. A few short weeks later the kid had become a target, with offensive and false comments posted about her on social media, comments so awful that the NextDoor admin took them down and even (Gasp!) admonished the poster.
So we’ve descended into 21st Century Online Hell, where grown men defendants sleeping on mom’s couch and their enablers are actually targeting children who dare to approach the lectern at a public meeting. And as repugnant as that sounds, well, maybe it’s not.
The first lesson in civics reminds me of this Japanese proverb: The nail that sticks up will get pounded down.
There are no risk-free public lecterns, whether you’re a kid advocating for safe streets or the parents of a soldier killed in the line of combat. Democracy and the defense of free speech mean that in order for good people who stand for justice to be heard, we must also hear the voices of Westboro Baptist Church.
It’s painful on a personal level when a surf gang member of the Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch attacks your kid (but less painful, perhaps, when you consider MMX’s question, “Have you seen them surf?”), but as a parent and a citizen you’ve already won. Your kid has stood up to the bullies, just like this kid did, and when the Palos Verdes City Council had to take a vote on making the streets safer, they voted to make the streets safer.
Take note of that, Boys on Mom’s Couch: The city council sided with an articulate 12-year-old and rejected the rantings of droopy, failed, defendant old men who are guilty of the worst crime you could ever commit in California, i.e. crappy surfing.
The Kooks on Mom’s Couch were too fearful and outnumbered to show up at the council meeting, and they lost. Their only recourse was to make some ugly videos, spew a little hate, and yell at mom to pick up another tub of ice cream at the Malaga Cove Ranch Market. And a sixer.
We teach our kids that sometimes the right thing is the hard thing, but maybe we’ve lied to them a little bit: The right thing is always the hard thing. The right thing is the Gandhi thing, the MLK thing, the Lincoln thing. It’s the path everyone wants to take until they note it’s overgrown with weeds, and each blade of grass is the serrated edge of a knife.
Like every leader, this kid has made the rank and file who support her dig in. If she’s willing to go to the lectern and advocate for safer streets, the nameless hundreds in her corner are willing to dig in, too, from the elected officials to the police to the Lycra-clad to the overwhelming majority of decent people in PVE who are sickened by these clowns.
Doubt me? Just watch. ‘Cuz three feet, fellas, it’s the law. Even in good old PVE.
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September 23, 2015 § 22 Comments
The big off-season news this year is that SPY Optic has lost its charismatic and cycling-centric CEO, Michael Marckx. It’s big news mostly because of the void that Michael’s departure will create in the local bike racing scene.
The most obvious result has been the merger between the former SPY Elite Cycling Team and Monster Media a/k/a Team Sponster. Whichever way you look at it, one less team is bad news. The obvious reason it’s bad news is that fewer teams means more strength among the teams that have stable squads and sponsorship. If you thought it was hard beating Surf City, try lining up against stacked Surf and stacked Monster.
But other things are swirling about, too. Michael’s interim replacement has indicated that SPY Optic won’t be the cycling-friendly company it has been for the last four and a half years. Sure, we’ll whine about the tourniquet being applied to all the cool stuff Michael so generously handed out, but there’s more to it than that.
SPY infused an amazing amount of enthusiasm and energy into SoCal cycling with Michael at the helm. Like any CEO he had his detractors, but I’ve never heard anyone dole out anything other than praise for his financial, time, and emotional commitments to bicycling. And those commitments were incredibly substantial, as Michael sponsored juniors, women, aspiring Cat 1’s, Cat 2’s living with their girlfriends, and legions of vain old men with too much money and too little sense.
At its zenith, SPY boasted a squad of 80 riders, a handful of whom were truly national caliber competitors, several handfuls of whom were state level competitors, and a whole bunch of posers and fakers like me who rarely raced but who flew the team colors with pride and who were visible and vocal proponents of competitive cycling. In addition to SPY’s own team/club, few people are aware of the degree to which Michael poured resources into other clubs, teams, and events, yet his encouragement gave a handful of truly talented racers the opportunity they needed to showcase their talent, get results, and turn pro.
From Udo Cross in honor of his good friend Udo Heinz, to sponsoring USAC at the national level, Michael willingly lent his logo to clubs and teams, offered great deals on world class eyewear that was innovative, stylish, and functional in the extreme, and did everything in his power to promote local events, including road, track, cyclocross, and MTB. If you were on two non-motorized wheels and were dedicated to it, Michael lent a sympathetic ear that was often backed with product, time, staff, and resources.
This grass roots approach was epitomized in his development of the Belgian Waffle Ride. “Most unique” or not, this 130-mile monumental beatdown over paved and unpaved roads became the high point for many people’s entire seasons, and the boneyard of dreams for many, many others. A celebration, a festival, a good old fashioned hard-ass bicycle ride that tipped its hat to the past while casting a hungry eye on the future of cycling marked everything that MIchael did at SPY. Thankfully, the BWR will survive his departure as a separately managed event under his new company, Creative Disruption, but it’s a loss to not have the full SPY corporate backing behind the event. Knowing Michael, the 2016 edition, which is already calendared for April 26, will be the best one yet.
As much as anything, local racing has been further hit by the departure of key staff at SPY who were hard core devotees of cycling. We may not have realized what a boon it was to have so many advocates within a company, advocates who showed up at races, who helped make events happen, and who worked social media to keep the world apprised of what was happening in SoCal cycling, but their absence is already felt. People like Phil Tinstman, Victor Sheldon, and John de Guzman, to name only three, were powerhouses on the bike and powerhouses in their corporate roles as well.
I can’t thank Michael enough for the support he gave me personally, and for the support he gave to pretty much anyone who asked for it. His impact on local cycling was huge and I, for one, am going to miss having him at the helm over at SPY. I have no doubt that his new business will boldly go where none has gone before, but in the meantime my hat’s off for the superlative work and the amazing contributions he made, contributions that have benefited every bike racer in Southern California, and thousands of others who’ve never pinned on a number.
I’m riding for a new team in 2016, but will proudly wear my SPY underwear costume until it reaches that Brad House level of threadbare when the rider behind is quite literally staring into the black hole of the abyss.
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February 5, 2015 § 20 Comments
Jessica Cerra is one of those riders who has earned her spot in the peloton through skill, toughness, resilience, and force of will. She came to road racing via triathlon and MTB, and burst onto the local North County San Diego scene a couple of years ago as she was recovering from surgery to correct a severe case of iliac artery compression syndrome in her right leg.
By the time she had healed, she was thrashing men on the group rides, and from there it was a short hop to dominating the local road races, riding as the marquee women’s racer for SPY-Giant-RIDE. With powerful performances on the national stage, notably at Redlands in 2014, Jess was picked up for the 2015 season by Twenty16 p/b ShoAir.
It will be her first full year with a professional women’s team, and although she had calendared an ambitious season, a few weeks ago she learned that she was also suffering from iliac compression syndrome in her left leg. She’s had the surgery and is expected to make a full recovery, though she’ll have an obviously different racing schedule. Jess was kind enough to talk with me about a whole host of topics related to racing. Enjoy!
CitSB: What are your goals for 2015?
Jessica Cerra: My biggest goal was a stage win at Redlands and a top-3 GC finish. I don’t know that that’s a reality anymore [due to surgery — ed.]. An NRC stage win, a podium at nationals, definitely a podium at Winston-Salem or in Philly. Qualifying for the road world championship team, I guess that’s the biggest goal that I have overall.
CitSB: What kind of mental prep goes into a shot at making the road team for worlds?
JC: The more I try to hold back expectations the worse things go. The more I go in relaxed, remembering that I’m here because I like to race my bike, then the more instinctual decisions I make and things turn out better. This year I planned to go in being the strongest, most durable, fittest person out there because in those situations you can think more clearly; you’re not hanging on, you’re affecting the race. That’s how I want to race this year. I put in a huge base this year, 2,000 miles just in December, and I took good care of my body, got consistent massages, and have been working with a coach now, documenting sleep and weight, and taking a more professional approach. But my coach also likes me just being me; I like numbers and knowing my power but I also like doing the group ride with Thurlow on the front just killing it, and putting myself on the front, in the wind, so I know what my body can do in those super tough scenarios and then I can rely on those things to get me ready for racing, where those super hard moments happen all over again. Since I don’t have a lot of experience as a racer, the group rides are a huge part of my training.
CitSB: How does it feel to be the only woman in the first 25 wheels or on the entire ride when Thurlow and company are drilling it?
JC: It’s my favorite part about riding my bike. It’s pretty cool! After a while I don’t even feel any different from anyone else. I compare myself exactly to the peers I’m riding with. I’m hard on myself, too, I only see my weaknesses.
CitSB: What’s the hardest thing for women throwing their hat in the ring on the hard group rides?
JC: A lot of women are intimidated. There’s the fear of getting dropped, that everyone will notice, and it’s so embarrassing. I always try to encourage other women and make sure to compliment them when they do well or make it to certain points in the ride. I remember being nervous going to the Swami’s Ride, feeling exactly like I was going to a race! It’s intimidating and you don’t want to do something goofy and be “that person,” and you’re obsessed about training and don’t want to ruin your training by getting dropped. I encourage every woman to get out there. It’s the reason I’ve gotten as strong as I am; I’ve put myself in situations that are harder than what I have the strength for. You learn so much about racing and handling when you’re over your limit. It’s true, too, guys have better bike handling skills. You learn so much by racing with guys in a crit, about the lines that they take, and you start to see things, like how they can squeak through the inside of corners. It’s faster and more aggressive so there’s less time to think about what you’re doing. Most of the riders have the fitness to race but a lot of it is, “Why am I getting dropped when there’s five laps to go?” The more you do it, you realize it’s not fitness, it’s efficiency and awareness. You keep putting yourself in those situations, and it’s scary and you just do it. That’s how I learned.
CitSB: Now you’re a fixture on the North County rides and guys know that you can grind them up into little chunks of meat and they fear you. How does that feel?
JC: I don’t know if I look at it like that. I’m so focused on my own internal fears of what’s going to happen when I get to the power climb, and I know the women’s pro field is so strong and they know what they’re doing and are so good. NRC races are so different from local ones. I was supposed to go with the national team to do the spring classics which I’m not doing now, but I think of those situations on the local rides getting me prepared to be in those types of pelotons. When you don’t have a ton of experience in these races but you live in a place where there are 150 people on a group ride, you can apply the same things you know are going to happen in a race. If you want to be part of a race, then I go into a group ride practicing rotating through in the first 10 or 15 positions, gauging the effort to pull through, really what I’m doing is preparing myself to have to do those things in the peloton. It’s nice to ride with the guys; it used to be fun but now it’s more about completing a job. I expect them to make it hard and I expect them to look at me like I’m one of the people up there where it’s windy and not to make it easy because I’m a girl.
CitSB: Do you feel guys cut you slack? Or do they try to slaughter you like everyone else?
JC: They treat me like everyone else.
CitSB: How do you make the jump from racing Boulevard to the national or international level?
JC: Without my mountain biking background it would have been harder. I have lots of natural positional awareness and muscle memory where things happen in a race and I can read where to be, how to navigate through tricky situations, and how to feel confident about how I ride my bike. That’s huge. The second you don’t have confidence it’s going to be the worst day. When you’re riding scared nothing goes smooth. You bobble and crash, and it’s the same in the peloton. Confidence is so huge. You take control and put yourself where you need to be. Combined with my fitness, I was lucky. I went into pro racing and figured I can handle a bike and am one of the best descenders, I’m fit enough to see what’s going on, to read how the lead-out will go, so in a lot of races I could freelance and observe and notice, and you know, I could also be focused on what I was bad at–I tried to practice those situations to get better because I didn’t have a lot of racing experience. I think the biggest thing about the transition was positioning and being efficient, and that same transition happens going from the national to the international peloton. It’s a whole different level. The courses are harder, the conditions are worse, the fight for position is constant, you have to keep putting yourself in position over and over and over again. I also learned that every time at end of a race when I decided to think through what was happening, I got my face kicked in, zero results. When I just “did” it rather than think it, something inside told me what to do and it seemed to work. It takes time to trust that inner feeling. I also didn’t feel I belonged. I was stoked with a top 20 at Redlands, and had no idea about my potential. I figured out that I was more prepped than I thought I was. It’s a hard balance, though. You can’t let it go to your head but you still have to be confident enough to trust your instincts to put yourself where you need to be.
CitSB: How are things going with Harmony Bar?
JC: We had a setback with the name. We filed for a trademark and then a couple of other companies filed for the same name and our application was denied. So now we’ve filed for a new name and have been in a year of a holding pattern because we can’t make our packaging and take the next step; without the name and the brand it’s hard to move forward. The good news is that we’re still consistently selling all of our inventory online and in the bike shops we work with. There’s no marketing except word of mouth. People say it’s the best they’ve ever had and they tell our story. The next couple of months will be quiet because we’re sorting out the name. We also signed up with SmartStop, which is a big opportunity for us. By Tour of California time we’ll be with SmartStop and ready with our new name, branding, and packaging.
CitSB: For someone not familiar with Harmony Bar, how is it different from the zillions of other energy foods out there?
JC: It’s unique because I never made it to market and sell. I made it because I have a master’s degree in exercise physiology, I was in the kitchen with ingredients, paper, and pen, and mixed them a hundred times over, over, and over until I got a bar that tasted like a cookie and had all the macro nutrients that I wanted for my training. This was something I was making for myself. I knew the research was there showing that bars higher in fat were good for endurance athletes. So basically, I wanted to eat cookies on the bike! I love food and eat a ton of calories on the bike and wanted to eat things that tasted good and were like real food. Everyone said “Holy crap, this tastes like a cookie and works so well and can I buy some?” It got popular on its own because, you know, athletes out there like cookies and like to eat!
CitSB: Do you see yourself as a role model for other cyclists?
JC: I’m starting to. Unfortunately, as much as we’re trying to grow the sport of women’s cycling, coming from triathlon and MTB, I can say that road racing is by far the most intimidating to get into. Its very clique-ish, the teams and their kits and the people keep to themselves. I remember feeling like “Whoa! This isn’t like mountain biking where we finish a race and all have a beer together!” It’s hard to feel like you have a place in it. For me it’s important to change that atmosphere and for women to feel like the sport is approachable, the people are approachable, that I’m approachable. People come up after a race and they’re intimidated and I don’t like that. I’m open to talking to everyone. Lots of people are continually asking for advice about food and particular race courses and I spend lots of time answering questions on Facebook and getting to know people. I’m genuinely interested in people and their goals. After having my setbacks, the biggest joy for me is seeing others succeed. I gave a girl my racing clothes from SPY because she didn’t have any; the team kits weren’t ready yet. There’s more I can do than just racing and trying to win.
CitSB: How do you help people break into the secret society of road racing? How do you get them to take the step to enter a race?
JC: Maybe it’s different for women? I just go up to women and tell them how well they’re riding. For women it’s different. A lot of people wlll approach me and say, “My friend said you’d be on the ride,” and it’s someone new or who’s not in a club and I’ll be cool and tell them to keep coming out, and find out what they like, do they like climbing or sprinting, and the more you start hanging around the more you’ll learn. It’s in my nature to help. When I started cycling in grad school I was a a Fred, or a Frieda, I didn’t have any money for equipment and cool, nice people helped and supported and gave me pedals, for example, and had that never happened I would have never gotten to the point I’m at now. I want cycling to grow, and rides to grow, and races to grow, and people who complain about prize money or promoters are missing the fun–it’s about knowing people and being excited about seeing people you know, not avoiding the race because you don’t fit in and aren’t going to beat Monster Media and Surf City and SPY and not get a result. I try to imagine if I were a Cat 5 dude how tough that would be and how intimidating. But there are enough people who are cool and who have the same perspective that I do, who want to help. We want local racing and good group rides and an atmosphere of mutual respect. There are a lot of really good people on SPY, the team I rode with last year, people who are great riders and humble and who want to help. Without the opportunities given me by SPY and Michael Marckx I wouldn’t have ever gotten to race Redlands and then gotten the call-up to the pro ranks. MMX knew I wouldn’t be at SPY in the long run but he saw the potential and the opportunity to help grow and launch an athlete. He really put his faith in me and I couldn’t have done it without him and the support–the financial support, the logistical support of getting to races, and just a group of people who were always so cool and who believed in me.
CitSB: Tell me about your new team.
JC: The new team is amazing! It’s called Twenty16 p/b ShoAir, and we’re a UCI team this year. The director is Mari Holden and the GM/owner is Nicola Cranmer. They appraoched me and had watched my racing earlier and saw something they liked and it seemed like a great match. We’re a unique team. We have a lot of team goals and do a lot of big races but we also emphasize individual goals like doing ‘cross or track or the national team and racing in Europe. The theme of the team is “Women that race with continued education.” They encourage college and want us to have things off the bike to contribute and bring to the team as well. I’m 32, I did the reverse — went to school first and then found pro cycling!
CitSB: How many teammates live in SD?
JC: Only me. A couple live in Orange County, but we’re from all over the place.
CitSB: Has the team targeted any races this year?
JC: Redlands, which is big for women, and this year TTT nationals is a good one for us because it will be good prep for TTT worlds, which is in the USA in Richmond. One of the big sponsors is SRAM so having them support the TOC women’s race is a huge addition to our calendar and something we’ll focus on. Tour of the Gila is UCI for women this year, so it’s a focus for all of the teams, as well as Winston-Salem and the Philly race, and Philly is a world cup event. All the races are around the same time as nationals, which will be key racing for our team.
CitSB: Anything you want to add?
JC: The team has been really supportive so it’s scary being the new person on the team and I’ve been waking up every morning with photos and texts from team camp. It’s a pretty good feeling to not have really met teammates and already be included. They truly have my best interests at heart! I know that it’s going to be a good season this year–a bunch of bad-ass women with a lot of horsepower on this team!
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January 11, 2015 § 37 Comments
It began like any other Saturday morning. There we were, twenty-five old fellows, buck naked in the bedroom of a someone’s parents, discreetly eyeing each others’ wrinkled junk as we slathered goop on our legs and put on stretch underwear. Was it a bad home video with distasteful subject matter? No. It was the 17th Annual French Toast Ride, and we were kitting up for the big showdown.
We had already scarfed down the finest breakfast in America: French toast, hot coffee, muffins, fresh fruit, and two delicious kinds of pork — sausage and bacon. As we gratefully devoured the incomparable meal prepared by Cindi, Gina, Lynn, Nancy, Jim, and Steve Jaeger, little did we know that the porcine gods were frowning on our consumption of their brethren.
Instead, we gaily prepped for what promised to be another edition of the most amazing bike ride in America: 117 lethal miles of Ventura County torture, capped by the steeps of Balcom Canyon and terminated at Mile 115 by the stabbing, punch-em-up Golf Course Climb. As King Harold put on his leg warmers, his arm warmers, his two undershirts, his long-sleeve jersey, his shoe covers, his long-fingered gloves, and his headwrap, the other riders chortled.
“Planning for a snowstorm, Harry?”
“Gearing up for the Iditarod?”
King Harold merely smiled as he glanced out the window. “Maybe you wankers didn’t notice that it’s raining.”
“Rain, schmain!” the chorus shouted back. “The forecast says 5% chance of rain and overcast skies.”
“Well, it’s half right,” he said.
“Anyway,” said Bull, “this is SoCal, and it’s always perfect weather for the FTR, and we’re in the middle of the worst drought in recorded history. This sprinkle will be gone before we get to Fillmore.”
On cue a bolt of lightning hit the house across the street, a peal of thunder ripped across the sky, and the light drizzle picked up ever so slightly.
I thought back to 5:30 that morning, when Mrs. Wankmeister had driven me over to Clodhopper’s. He had generously offered to drive me, Surfer Dan, and Toronto up to Camarillo, and we had accepted because Clodhopper, in addition to being the world’s most prepared man, always travels in style.
“Honey, let’s go,” I said as I roused her out of bed.
“You goin’ onna French cupcake ride? It’s gonna rain onna dogs.”
“Toast, not cupcake. And we aren’t cupcakes, honey, we’re hard men. And there’s only a 5% chance of rain.”
“It’s gonna rain onna cats so don’t call me up because you’re crashing onna slickery street.” She didn’t seem too happy about the early departure, but she drove me down to Clodhopper’s anyway.
As I arrived Clodhopper was putting the finishing touches on his brand new Xyplonk bike rack.
“Like it?” he asked.
It was the most amazing bike rack I’d ever seen, and obviously cost more than my Prius. “That’s incredible,” I said.
“Yep. Xyplonk is handmade in Finnland by artisan bike rack makers. Each one is made from hand-mined bauxite and assembled by 9th generation bike rack makers.”
“Wow,” I said.
“Yep. They’re a bit pricey; this one set me back six grand. But that’s less than the cost of the bike, right?”
He wasn’t kidding. Clodhopper’s bike cost $15k, plus $9k for the handmade wheels, which are made from virtually unobtainable profamatanium. I put my bike on the rack and we got ready to go. “Where’s your bike?” I asked.
“In the back of the Avalanche. I’d never put my bike on a rack. What if some knucklehead rear-ends me, or I rip the rack off by going up a driveway that’s too steep?”
“Good point,” I said. “But if you’re never going to use it, why go to all the expense?”
Clodhopper looked at me. “If I was going to use a bike rack, I’d use the best one I could buy. And in my world, you take as good care of your friends’ stuff as you would with your own.”
“Well, if it was me you’d be getting one of those aluminum jobs with fabric straps that hang onto the rain gutter.”
“I know,” he said. “That’s why I’m driving. Let’s go.”
Clodhopper sent off two text messages to Surfer and Toronto to let them know we were en route. “I drafted the texts last night and put them in the queue. Be prepared. That’s my motto.”
I’d rather be wet than cold: dash to the Fillmore sprunt
Our resplendent group of 25 riders rolled out in the drizzle that had turned to moderately pounding rain, and our immaculate bikes were almost immediately covered in dreck. Manslaughter turned to me as we went from damp to wet to soaked. “It’s not a cold rain at least,” he said.
“Nope,” I said.
“And I’d rather be wet than cold,” he said.
“Yep.” We both looked at King Harold, who was dry as a bone and quite cozy in his Iditarod get-up, and we wondered the same thing: “What if we end up wet and cold?”
We needn’t have wondered …
The first tiny climb, which was so small and brief and easy that I hardly inhaled, was soon past. At the next little bump we had a flat, and Manslaughter leaned over to me as we waited. “Hey, Wanky,” he said.
“Is it a bad sign if those first two little non-climbs really hurt?”
I looked at him and thought briefly about telling the truth. “Nah,” I said. “Those are just warm-up pangs. Everybody’s hurting.” He knew I was lying, but just hearing my blatant dishonesty said with such kindness and sincerity made him smile. The group continued on, pushing up and over the first rated climb of the day, the Fillmore Hump. I skittered to the front in order to take the descent first. I’m a terrible descender, and my full-carbon wheels, which are made completely of carbon, don’t stop at all when they’re wet, although they make a very cool full-carbon “sheeeeee” sound when you squeeze on the brakes that don’t stop, which is cooler than the “shirrrrrr” sound they make when they brake dry and do stop.
I figured that since I couldn’t stop and would likely crash, better to take out as many people as possible by riding at the front. The minute the steep, hairy-pinned descent commenced, we all noticed giant puddles of fresh motor oil in the middle of the road. Bikes began twitching sideways, sphincters began clenching (then, unfortunately, unclenching), oaths were shouted, and Hair bombed the descent with Dally Rumple at full speed. With no one able to catch them, Hair blitzed across the Fillmore city limit sign to collect the first scalp of the day.
We had a couple more flats, and raced on towards Santa Paula. Hair took that sprunt, too.
Super boring bike stuff
[This next section details the blow-by-blow of the Ojai climb, the run across the valley, the descent, and the sprunt into Ojai. It is incredibly boring and filled with mindless cycling details that are numbingly inane unless you were one of the people involved. Others may skip to the next section, “Slip sliding away.”]
A couple of miles after leaving Santa Paula the climb began. How long was it? I don’t know. How steep was it? I don’t know. But I do know this: at some point we went from twenty-five riders to seven. The rain began to pour down with personal animosity until we had all reached the level of wetness that lets you know you’re totally drenched: our balls were soaked.
Riding behind someone with soaked balls is a bummer because when they press down with one leg it squeezes the ball sauce out of the chamois and onto the saddle, from whence it drips onto the back tire and is then violently flung up into your face, imparting a light flavor of oil, hints of grease, oaked flavors of dirt, big and fruit-forward essences of transmission fluid from the asphalt, and a velvety-with-salt-and-sweat finish.
G$ pushed to the front and began shedding deadwood. I started at the back and leapfrogged from shattering grupetto to shattering grupetto. There was Bull, regretting (but not really) all those chili-cheese burritos. There was Aston Martin, looking for a replacement piston. There was Dream Crusher, finding out what it was like to be the crushee. There was Clodhopper, speed-dialing Uber. And there, just ahead, were the leaders — Roadchamp, Full Gas Phil, G$, Hair, Dally Rumple, FTR DS Jaeger, and Marmaluke.
I latched onto the rear like a sucker-fish. Roadchamp attacked and Full Gas Phil followed. G$ repeatedly attacked to try and bridge the gap before settling down to set a searing tempo. Stern-O, arguably the toughest old boot on the ride at 65 years old, had set out ahead of the group and yelled encouragement as we flew by.
We crested the climb and Marmaluke bridged us to Roadchamp and Full Gas Phil. Now we had an 8-man flailaway and the pace went from torrid to unbearable. The rain beat down, washing my sulfuric acid-based sunscreen into my eyes, blinding me so badly that I could only crack my left eye. Sitting two inches off a wheel, eyes burning, the sheets of rain making everything invisible, I feebly rotated through, easily the weakest in the group.
Hair, the supposed sprinter, was again showing his toughness as he hung with the climbers, poured on the coal along the flats, and hung back to give me a break when I started to drift off the last wheel. We hit the long, fast, soaking, twisty descent and everyone sat up except for Phil, Hair, G$, and me. Our bikes were slithering in the turns, and when we hit the flat 3-mile run-in to Ojai, Full Gas Phil opened it up full throttle. As we hit the outskirts of town Hair leaped away, Full Gas followed, and someone won the sprunt. G$ and I just gasped, relieved that it was over.
Slip sliding away
One by one the riders straggled into the Ojai Chevron, wet and frozen to the core. Instead of the usual convenience store fare of cokes and candy bars, Toronto and Surfer scarfed two large cups of instant ramen, a cup of chicken noodle soup, and an extra-large cup of hot cocoa. One rider bought two large cups of coffee, drank one, and poured the other one into his shoes.
“What the fuck are you doing?” we asked.
“Thawing my feet. Hopefully they’ll absorb some caffeine, too.”
I immediately noticed a selection of longshoreman knit caps on a rack and bought one. My helmet sat on it like a cherry atop a scoop of ice cream, but I didn’t care. We stood in a circle under the store’s heating vent, dripping filthy water onto the floor and shivering uncontrollably.
“Well, boys,” DJ said. “I think we should shorten the ride. What’s your vote?”
Various wankers nodded in agreement. We were fifty miles in, and we’d have a hundred hard, miserable miles even with the 17-mile shortcut. One rider protested. “But we’d be missing the epic Lake Casitas climb, the county line sprunt, and more of the general beatdown.”
Another chimed in. “FTR has never been truncated. Ever.”
King Harold spoke up. “What kind of wussy talk is this? Let’s do the friggin’ ride. It ain’t the French Cupcake Ride, is it?”
I thought of Mrs. WM. “Guys,” I said, “this is about pride. Honor. Manliness. Are we hardmen, or are we soggy cupcakes? What’s 17 extra miles with a touch of climbing? Who’s afraid of hypothermia and a slow, agonizing death? Do we want to go home like cowards and pantywaists, or with our heads held high? Whattaya say? Are you with me, men?”
They looked at me like I was insane. “Hey, Wanky,” Manslaughter piped up. “You can go do whatever the fugg you want. We’re frozen. We’re soaking wet. We’re under dressed. We have prostate issues and incipient pneumonia. Iron Mike is curled up in a fetal ball and begging someone to pour boiling water down his shorts. Zero fucks are given whether we do 100 miles or 117. The fact that we’ve even gone this far makes us immortally stupid. So no, we’re not only not with you, we don’t even know you.”
The group nodded in unison and we reluctantly faced the rain again, whose intensity had increased to that of a large-diameter fire hose.
A few miles later, disaster struck. On the outskirts of Ventura we were crossing a particularly slick section of road when Dream Crusher, who was just behind me, took the opportunity to jerk his wheel and go splattering across the pavement. I didn’t look back but could hear the hideous sound of crunching carbon and thunking meat as it hit. I immediately began composing my noble speech.
“Guys, as much as I’d like to complete this FTR, I hereby volunteer to ride back with Dream Crusher in the heated ambulance. Carry on without me, and Mr. EMS dude, please give me another blanket.”
Dream Crusher was dragged onto the pavement where, unfortunately, his bike was fine and he only had two tiny scratches on his leg. “Don’t feel bad, wanker,” said Manslaughter. “That was a tricky section right there. Only a highly skilled rider could have successfully navigated it.”
At that moment a 75-year-old man on a tricycle hauling a steel wagon filled with burritos came whipping through the same section, bunny-hopped the curb with the wagon, sailed off the far curb and careened the trike onto two wheels as he swerved through the street. “Get that guy’s phone number,” Bull said, “and sign Dream Crusher up for some lessons.”
Circle K for “killer”
[More tedious bike crap. General interest readers may skip to “Shitfaced.”]
In Ventura we turned left at the Circle K and began the long climb out of town, which began the 20-mile undulating road back to Santa Paula, and from there to the dreaded Balcom Canyon.
MMX, who had been idling is engine for most of the ride, roared to the fore and immediately distanced the group. Dogg and Dally Rumple charged for a while, then MMX surged again, his tequila-fueled legs beating the pedals with a mad fury. This time, the punch was followed by a stinging counter unleashed by Full Gas Phil. The twosome rode off, with Hair, me, Surfer Dan, and Marmaluke trailing in the fumes.
Marmaluke bridged the gap, and we settled into a terrible six-man paceline where Full Gas, Marmaluke, and MMX relentlessly crushed it. The only rider to never skip a pull besides Full Gas was Hair, who again showed incredible mettle and tenacity. Phil kept the pace bleedlingly fast, with MMX smashing through each time so hard that I finally gave up pulling and hung on for dear life.
We knew the wankoton, which included G$, Roadchamp, FTR DS, King Harold, Dally Rumple, and Clodhopper would be chasing their brains out, not that they had many. Fearing the chase we drove on even harder until I was reduced to a sobbing puddle of spaghetti legs and melted ego. However, far from chasing, the wankoton had flatted twice just past the Circle K, and they were lollygagging along, wholly unconcerned with our heroics.
By the time we reached Santa Paula, Hair was mush. “Hey, guys,” he pleaded, “shouldn’t we wait for the group? Jaeger will be upset.” This was code speak for “Can I crawl off into this gutter and quit?”
Since he’s one of our best friends, and had done a lot of work, and had never skipped a pull, we accelerated, dropped him, and left him to fend for himself. By now all pretense of warm, hard rain had stopped and we were slogging through a frozen, complete deluge.
When the wankoton got into Santa Paula, King Harold, who was the designated sweeper, was facing a scenario unlike any other in the history of the FTR. Various riders had simply disappeared. G3, Stern-O, Manslaughter, and Toronto were nowhere to be found. And instead of plowing through Santa Paula, the wankoton wobbled to a feeble stop in front of a gas station.
Iron Mike was groaning in a language he didn’t even speak, and Bull, who is very careful with his equipment, flung his $7k bike down into a puddle of mud and rocks. “Bull need cheese,” he grunted.
A line of filthy, soaked, frozen, angry, and demented old fellows followed him into the convenience mart, where they bought the entire kettle of scalding coffee and took turns pouring it onto their feet. Bull grabbed a large styrofoam bowl and heaped it high with chili-cheese burritos, melted quesadilla cheese, and four cheese-covered wieners. Using a plastic knife and his fingers, he ground it up into a slurry, added some hot coffee, water, and Gatorade, and drank it. Two other riders simply stood on the curb and urinated in their shorts, hoping the pee would at least clean them up a little bit, and if nothing else warm their refrigerated junk.
Shitfaced, or, The pigs strike back
Marmaluke, MMX, Full Gas, and I knew nothing of this as we motored through the veil of cold, pounding rain to Balcom Canyon. I had gone from taking no pulls at all to simply whimpering. “Hey fellas, don’t drop me, okay?” I begged.
“HTFU,” said MMX.
“STFU,” said FG Phil.
“It’ll cost you fifty bucks,” said Marmaluke.
“Done,” I said.
We turned up the road leading to Balcom, and a mile in I cracked and fell off the back. Balcom is steep, and this time the right-hand gutter was filled with a raging torrent, whereas the surface of the road was slapping back at my front wheel with cascading sheets of water.
Up ahead Marmaluke broke like a stick in Stern-O’s rear triangle as MMX paperboyed up the climb. Full Gas Phil distanced the duo and claimed his first ever Balcom Canyon FTR KOM … or so he thought. Impossibly, they waited for me. I got to the top; the view to the bottom of the canyon was visible in between the alternating strength of the downpour, but we saw no one.
“Should we wait for those wankers?” said Full Gas.
“I’m frozen,” said MMX.
“If we stop much longer I won’t be able to restart,” said Marmaluke.
“Urgle,” I said.
We hopped on our bikes and slid down the other side of the canyon. MMX now rolled to the fore and stayed there. My punishment for asking to be allowed to stay was being allowed to stay. Marmaluke occasionally showed a glimmer of humanity and towed me back up as MMX and Full Gas took turns smashing it into the rain and grime.
Only, as we turned onto the final stretch of highway leading to the feared Golf Course climb, I noticed that we weren’t riding through grime anymore. Instead, we were riding through a thick, light brown sludge that had the suspicious smell, look, and consistency of pig shit. All of the manure from the pig trucks had turned into semi-liquid from the rain and was now being showered into our faces.
I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten a gallon of pig shit before, but it doesn’t taste very good. Perhaps it’s the Hepatitis C, or the lethal piggi shitti killimus bacteria, or maybe it’s the clumps of raw pig sewage mixed with the detritus of the road, but whatever the reason, smearing your face, lips, and tongue with clods of pork poop tastes downright awful.
On cue, cars passed us at 80, showering our sides with more of the lovely piggy perfume. In moments we had gone from filthy, grimy black to shimmering poopy brown. The only thing that would have been worse would have been getting dropped, so I hunkered down, swallowed my portion as it spewed down my throat from Marmaluke’s rear wheel, and pounded on.
At the golf course MMX and Full Gas Phil kicked it one last time, and Marmaluke crumpled like piece of tinfoil. I had crumpled long ago, but struggled up to his rear wheel and made sure that my front wheel was 1mm ahead of his at the summit because, bike racer. And wanker.
MMX and FGP had attacked over the top, determined to gloriously ride in covered in pig shit without us in tow. That was fine, except that since I’d only been to the Jaegers’ home about ten times, I got lost. Somewhere in Camarillo Marmaluke whipped out his cell phone. “I got their address, dude, no worries.”
However, there actually were worries, and the biggest one was that the rain kept pounding his cell phone, which as a result gave us perfect directions to downtown Shanghai, then Kinshasa, then Bobodelasso, then Prague, but couldn’t find the Jagers’. Now the prospects were dire and I thought about how I’d complained about shortening the ride. Marmaluke, who had bragged about his Chicago origins and his imperviousness to this wimpy SoCal weather, was shuddering and shaking so badly that he could barely hold his phone.
“We gotta keep moving,” I said, feeling the hypothermia ratchet up a notch. After five pointless minutes wandering through a neighborhood, we saw a postal truck. “Excuse me,” I chattered, “where is West Kensington Lane?”
The driver wrinkled his forehead. “There’s no street in Camarillo by that name.”
“Yes there is. I’ve been there numerous times. It’s right around here somewhere.”
“I’ve been delivering mail here for thirty years,” replied, “but good luck.”
Just before we decided to throw our bikes on a lawn and let them be washed by the torrent down to the Pacific, Marmaluke spied a school. “Let’s go there and see if we can dry out the phone,” he said.
“Are you sure you’re allowed to go within 150 feet of a school?” I asked. “Plus, how are you going to dry it out? We’re wet from head to balls to toe.”
Marmaluke pulled under an awning and took out his phone. Then he carefully unpacked a small tool bag, which was drenched. Out of the bag he took a piece of paper, which was drenched. He unfolded the paper and inside it was the world’s tiniest plastic bag. He opened the micro-bag and took out a lone, bone dry piece of tissue paper.
“What in the world are you carrying around a dry piece of paper for?” I asked in amazement.
“For something like this,” he said, and proceeded to wipe dry the phone screen, which buzzed to life and mapped us instantly to West Kensington Lane, a mere 3-minute pedal away.
We swooped up the driveway and spied the bikes of MMX and Full Gas Phil, along with the rigs of Surfer and the others who had given up on Balcom and taken a shortcut home.
Cindi, Gina, and Lynn stood in the garage smiling at us. “You made it!” they cheered, draping us in towels. We wiped off the mess and tiptoed into the shower, where the day ended pretty much the same way it had started, with slightly older, infinitely more tired, and much more wrinkled old men standing around naked, except this time doing it together in a shower.
All hail the conquering heroes
One by one the broken and weary riders came in. All were frozen to the core except for Clodhopper and King Harold, who were still toasty and mostly dry. The Jaegers then fed us with Round Two, which consisted of delicious sandwiches on the freshest buns, mounds of cookies, gallons of very hot coffee, and cold beer for those who could ingest anything modified by the word “cold.”
It was the first time in history that the FTR had gone less than the full 117 miles, but had it gone even fifty yards further there were riders like me who would have finished not with a sandwich but with a solemn graveside service. It was still a full hundred miles of suffering hell, of misery beyond compare, of danger, collapse, fear, regret, a ride whose awfulness was encapsulated by the words of Full Gas Phil as we plowed through the pig poop — “Okay. I’m not having fun now.”
In other words, it was the very best FTR ever. Thank you Dave Jaeger, and thank you to the Jaeger family for the gift. My eyes are swollen shut this morning as a result of the bacterial infection from the pig stuff, and later in the afternoon I’ll get my blood tested for hepatitis, but it was worth every terrible turn of the pedal, not least of all because everyone made it home alive.
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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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April 18, 2014 § 28 Comments
The big day for the 3rd SPY Belgian Waffle Ride is almost upon us. I did a final recon ride on Tuesday with MMX, who is not used to waiting for slow people, but since he was stuck with me for the balance of the day he ended up having to do a lot of waiting. Usually by the time I crested a climb he would be answering work emails or putting the finishing touches on a complex annual report, but at one point in the ride he got so far ahead that when I passed him he was sound asleep underneath a shade tree. I’ve now done the entire course, and he’s slept through most of it, and I can confirm that it’s doable. Sort of. Here are some details that I hope you will find useful if you’re lining up simply to enjoy the day and be able to brag that you finished. If you’re racing it, or trying to win one of the jerseys, dog help you. I can’t.
- Despite its rugged profile and challenging route, this, the toughest edition yet of the BWR, is completely doable. But you have to avoid going out hard, and you have to avoid pushing it on the climbs, and then, once you hit the midway point, you have to really start saving energy. A good rule of thumb that you can use throughout the ride is to ask yourself, “Am I pushing myself?” If the answer is “Yes,” then throttle back, although by then it’s probably too late.
- If you keep a steady, never-uncomfortable pace, you can expect this to take 8.5 – 9.5 hours. The beer may be gone by the time you finish, and the award ceremony which is scheduled for 5:30 will certainly have concluded, but it will have been worth it because the alternative is a catastrophic collapse somewhere around Black Canyon and perhaps a search-and-rescue party as well. More about that below.
- You won’t have a good idea of how you’re feeling until you summit Black Canyon. It’s a 3-mile dirt climb followed by a 2- or 3-mile dirt descent followed by a 1- or 2-mile dirt climb up to Sutherland Dam followed by another two miles or so of climbing on an asphalt road. This road really is a mother. If you’re in the pack fill category along with me, don’t dare push it up this thing, because even though it’s long and hard, it only marks the halfway point in the ride.
- The worst has been saved for last. After Black Canyon there’s a long easy descent all the way to the Bandyweg sand section. Bandyweg is about five miles long and saps the hell out of you. It’s not technical, just soft enough and narrow enough to keep draining away your precious bodily fluids. Once off the Bandyweg trail you have to climb Bandy Canyon, which is not long or very steep, but at this point in the ride everything feels harder, steeper, tougher.
- The final run-in is where you will have to fire off everything you’ve been hoarding the entire day. You’ll do the Mule Trail in reverse, you’ll climb the Rock Garden in reverse, you’ll climb up out of Lake Hodges, you’ll climb dirt Questhaven, you’ll climb San Elijo, and you’ll really, really, really climb Double Peak with its 20% pitches up to the top of North County San Diego. Putting this much dirt and elevation in the final 30 miles will be the test of whether you husbanded your awesome sauce or squandered it early on, say, in the first 5 miles out along PCH.
- For my final practice run I again set out with three PB&J halves on dense wheat bread. Barbie food won’t get you through this ride. Bring something substantial — ham hocks, for example. Eat steadily and stay hydrated. Chances are it will be hot on the 27th and you don’t want to run out of water halfway up Black Canyon. Another Black Canyon note: TURN RIGHT AT THE BRIDGE. If you bear to the left you will be lost forever in the scorching, desolate hills on a dirt track that goes all the way to Zihuatanejo, or to Saskatchewan. Likewise for Bandyweg, watch for the left turn back up onto the main road or you will descend off into an endless network of dirt horse trails that are patrolled by hungry cougars. Not the lipstick-wearing kind, either.
- Lots of people have asked about tires, and my final setup will be on 28mm Continental touring tires at about 80psi. These performed beautifully. The were thick enough and had enough tread on the sides to grip the sand, and they had a smooth enough center so that it didn’t feel like I was riding on tank tread. There’s no question that a road bike can handle this route, and a sturdy 25mm tire will probably work fine. Where my ‘cross bike made the difference was comfort.
- Celebrate the night before, but don’t over celebrate … unless you want to have a really, really interesting day.
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