October 6, 2014 § 9 Comments
I rode out to the memorial ride this morning for Stuart Press. He was 39, and left behind a one-year-old son, wife, grieving mother, and devastated cycling community after fighting a brief battle with brain cancer.
I never met Stu.
Well over three hundred riders massed at the start of this Sunday’s legendary west L.A. Nichols Ride, which had been dedicated to him. Like me, many of the riders had never met him.
One block up from the start there is a Starbucks, and riders crowded into the small store to get a snack and a cup of coffee. They had come from all over, with the Surf City team fielding six riders from as far away as Orange County and Long Beach. Starbucks is a natural place to start a ride from, simply because so many cyclists enjoy a quick jolt before they start pedaling in earnest.
But you don’t start the Nichols Ride at Starbucks. Founded by Raymond Fouquet, the oldest and most venerable ride in L.A., the La Grange ride, always began at Raymond’s restaurant. That restaurant, long gone, is now the site of an anonymous west L.A. office building. A few years ago the tradition of starting at the former site of Raymond’s restaurant began to erode, just because it was easier to roll out from the Starbucks.
The old guard saw what was happening, and quietly put the word out: Get your coffee wherever you want, but the La Grange ride starts where Raymond’s restaurant used to be. The new folks got the message.
Why should anyone care? It’s only one block. And why start from an antiseptic office block when you could start from a food-and-coffee-infused eatery?
The answer of course is that details matter, because history is in the details, and our present is constructed on the building blocks of the past, and our future will be built based on how we conduct ourselves now. This is another way of saying that sentiments matter. Because Raymond Fouquet was beloved, and because the things he began changed people’s lives, and because those he affected felt love for him, the sentiments surrounding something as simple as the starting point of a bike ride have meaning. By honoring the past we are honoring the sentiments of the past, and we are allowing those sentiments of love to stay alive and empower us, even though the people themselves are dead.
It’s through the details that we cheat time, and cheat death.
If you ride bikes, and if you write about bikes, you will become familiar with death. People fall, get hit, get sick, get old, and then they’re not around anymore, forever. But in our cycling community, those losses are keenly felt. Riders we used to laugh with, race against, talk trash about, and count on are people who have made us what we are, for better or worse, and almost always for better. When they die, it hits us so much harder than the passing of a distant relative in a distant place, or a celebrity on the screen.
When Stuart died, we all gasped and said, “That could have been me.”
We hit the lower slopes of Nichols Canyon. The only other time I had done this ride, three years ago, KP and Surfer Dan had exploded the massive field and gone on to “win” the ride. It was a searing exercise in endless pain and abject terror as we shot through red lights, bounced over chugholes, and flailed our way to the breathless finish.
Not today. We climbed slowly and densely bunched. We descended quickly but carefully. We ended in Brentwood still filled with adrenaline and excess energy, a huge group of hundreds that had done anything but “leave it all on the road.” Along the way we talked about Stu, we talked about our own mortality, and we gave thanks, each in our own way, for simply being allowed the gift of life.
The details of where we started, where we finished, and what we did in between to honor the life of a good man, those details, like the details of Stuart’s life, mattered.
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December 28, 2013 § 5 Comments
December 29: On what would have been Raymond’s 93rd birthday, Velo Club La Grange invites everyone to join them on a memorial pedal along the famous Nichols Canyon route. This is one of the iconic rides in Southern California, and was started by Fouquet, a French immigrant, waiter, restaurateur, and passionate cyclist. Riders meet at the traditional meeting place on the corner of Westwood Boulevard and La Grange Avenue. Please meet by 7:45 AM. The ride will be a “No Drop” pace led by Marco Fantone. VCLG asks that you obey traffic laws and be courteous to motorists, even the ones who are obviously trying to kill you. The ride is about 30 miles long and ends at Peet’s Coffee in Brentwood, so you can also park there, as it is about three miles to the start in Westwood. Estimated end time is 10:00 AM. All La Grange members are encouraged to wear their current kits in honor of Raymond’s memory, and other area riders are also encouraged to wear their club colors, as Raymond’s life was all about supporting Southern California amateur bicycle racing.
December 29: Tour of Palos Verdes. This will be a moderately paced wankalong leaving the Malaga Cove fountains at 7:30 AM sharp for a more easily paced loop around the PV Peninsula. Everyone is invited, and like all good rides this one ends at a coffee shop, also in Malaga Cove. There’s plenty of parking if you’re driving. The route will follow the Donut Ride, but at a pace where you’re not hocking up a lung.
Jan 1: South Bay Holiday Ride. This ride goes off at promptly at 7:59:18 from the Center of the Known Universe, a/k/a CotKU, a/k/a Manhattan Beach Starbucks by the pier. It is a complete fredfest, and when the weather is good, which it will likely be on Wednesday, the ride can attract well over 200 alleged cyclists, all of whom will be surging and charging to get to the front so that they can promptly slow down. The festivities start on Mandeville Canyon Road, where the massive gaggle, which will have already shed a hundred riders up San Vicente, will lose another 175 or so riders as the pace hits warp speed up this 6-mile climb. So, if you’re reading this carefully, yes, you got it right. It’s an all-day pedal (70+ from PV) so that you can do an 18-minute effort with some very fast riders. The rest of the time you’ll be terrified for your life trying to avoid the tandems, in-line skaters, racquetball players, and freddies who are trying out their $15k Christmas rig for the very first time.
Jan. 1: North County Holiday Ride. This ride goes off not-so-promptly at 8:00 AM or 8:05 AM, leaving from RIDE Cyclery in Encinitas. What began as a friendly, welcoming way to get people to enjoy a holiday pedal together — modeled after the South Bay ride of the same name — has become a kind of low-watermark in vicious brutality. The ride eases along for about 20 minutes, and can have pretty big numbers depending on the weather, but as soon as the group hits the San Dieguitos climb, well, the effluent meets the rotating blades. This ride is not for the meek, the weak, or the fragile of ego, because your legs will get torn off and your sense of self-worth will be completely destroyed. Expect to spend a lot of time by yourself, wondering why you drove 100 miles at 5:00 AM to pedal, lost and broken, amidst the endless rollers of North County hell. The ride climbs up Lake Hodges, which invariably reduces the already reduced gathering into a final selection of ten or fifteen of the true strongmen and strong women of SoCal cycling. Make it to the top of this bad boy with the leaders and you’ll be rubbing shoulders with Tinstman, Rogers, Dahl, MMX, and a handful of other bloodthirsty warriors. The ride is quick and short; 60 miles finished by a graveside service.
Jan 1: Long Beach NYD Ride. If you’ve never ridden with 10,000 other freddies, this is your chance. A wilder, crazier, more reckless, bizarre, dangerous, flailing group of whackadoodles hasn’t gathered in one place since the last full session of Congress. It’s a hundred miles and the pace starts hot, shedding the freddies, until only the strong freddies are left. The ride goes south from Long Beach; check the ride route here. The ride finishes in San Diego, so you should be prepared to either ride 100 miles back, or have someone waiting to pick you up, or have money for a motel room, or belly up to the bar and start drinking. Enjoy, and stay alive, or at least in one piece.
December 21, 2013 § 30 Comments
When Raymond Fouquet died, those close to him were aware that his health had been failing, and that at age 92 his end was near. His death was not tragic or shocking; it came at the end of a long live that had been wonderfully lived. Raymond’s death punctuated a lifetime of kindness, but death could not erase or even diminish the ripples of goodness that continue to fan out from the warmth and humanity of his good deeds.
In a profound and complex way, Raymond lived the American Dream. Not the dream of textbooks or political ideology, but the dream that all people have of providing for those they love and giving their children a better hand of cards than the ones they were dealt. In his case, Raymond had been dealt a pair of twos.
Born outside Paris in 1920, France was still in ruins from World War I. The loss of an entire generation of young men, the wholesale destruction of the northern part of the country, and the political instability created by the Treaty of Versailles meant that by the time he turned nineteen the continuation of World War I, otherwise known as World War II, had erupted with Hitler’s invasion of Poland. France quickly fell and Ray was sent to work in a forced labor camp in Germany.
An athletic and competitive young man, once the war ended he followed his passion for bicycles and raced for Montmartre Sportif, a cycling club based in Paris. This passion for bikes he brought with him to the United States, where he emigrated, finally settling in Los Angeles in 1956. Ray worked as a waiter until he saved up enough money to open his own restaurant, La Grange in Westwood, in 1968. This was the same year that he formed the La Grange cycling team, one of America’s oldest and most highly regarded bike clubs.
The real American Dream
Raymond’s life was a kind of cardboard cutout of “Succeeding in America for Dummies.” Work hard. Make friends. Save money. Take risks. Reap rewards. Although Ray did all of these things, his American Dream was something different. It involved planting a seed in the relatively barren cultural soil of 1950’s Southern California, and nourishing that seed with the passion and reverence that only those who have left a homeland for another country can understand.
For Ray, the dream was to infect his new homeland, one person at a time, with his passion for the most revolutionary peacemaking machine ever invented, the bicycle. As a restaurateur, nothing could have been simpler than doing group rides with his waiters, rides that started from the restaurant, of course. The late 1960’s was a time of political and cultural revolution in American history, and in his solid, quiet, middle class immigrant way, Raymond fomented change of his own in the form of bikes and bike racing.
Velo Club La Grange became the anchor for cycling in Southern California, and it formed along with the Nichols Ride, a legendary Sunday beatdown started by Ray and featuring a nasty 3-mile climb up into the Santa Monica mountains followed by a punishing 10-mile smashfest along Mulholland Drive. Had Ray only created the club and this one ride and nothing more he would still rank as one of the pioneers who helped make Southern California a national icon for bikes and bike racing.
But his real contribution was much greater than that.
Spreading the gospel with a gentle hand
In a sport where social graces are often wholly absent, and where a kind of nasty, rude clubbiness is painfully common, Ray believed that cycling wasn’t nearly as important as people. He believed that, since each person had a name, it was incumbent on him to know it. His rides began with a personal greeting to each friend and to each new face. This was in tandem with what became legendary hospitality. One rider still remembers with reverence how he went to Fouquet’s home to pick up his first kit and the kindly Frenchman invited him to sit down for dinner.
People who joined Ray’s circle of cycling friends –and everyone was welcome regardless of ability, ethnicity, or equipment — found themselves in a community that looked after its members and that practiced the camaraderie and joy of cycling embodied in Ray’s daily life. I didn’t know Ray Fouquet, but his goodness and his humanity touch me through those who knew him and through the good works of his club, which continues to be one of the best in the nation. This beachhead of bike racing and cycling culture that Raymond Fouquet established in California, however, is not his legacy.
His legacy is the grace and kindness and gentleness that he brought to the task. We can honor him by learning the lesson, and passing it on.