It’s a very nice sidewalk

November 4, 2014 § 10 Comments

I sat on the sidewalk, twisted up in the human pretzel that only comes when your quads, hamstrings, and calves all cramp at the same time. “Here, dude,” said Fireman. “Take these fuggin’ salt tablets and drink this water.”

I swallowed the tablets and drank. My legs knotted up even more, just as the wankers who had been shelled on the run-in to the finish of the 7th Mike Nosco Memorial ride whizzed by. They pointed and laughed, and they were right. Live by the attack, die by the attack.

The Nosco Ride is an amazing thing. Jack Nosco has taken the grief and loss of his brother’s death and transformed it into an event that today brought together almost 600 riders — on a Monday — to participate in a free, fully supported ride up and down the hills of the Santa Monica mountains. For participants who wanted to make a donation, and it seemed like almost everyone did, their contributions were heaped into a pile and given to two recipients suffering from life threatening diseases.

I don’t know how much money the event raised today, and it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that a host of sponsors joined in to make the event happen, and they all did it for no apparent financial benefit. They did it because it was a good thing to do.

Among the participants was Lance Armstrong. Road Bike Action magazine has long been one of his stalwart supporters, and as one of the major sponsors of the Nosco Ride they included him in the event. Many riders were excited to see him, and as near as I could tell he was just another rider, albeit one who rode up the dizzying pitch of Deer Creek at a blazing pace.

What was notable about his presence was its lack of significance. The ride was for the memory of Mike Nosco, and that’s what it was. With a killing pace out of the blocks, the brutal climb up Deer Creek, and follow-up punch-ups on Mullholland and Latigo, the 80 miles and 9,000 feet of climbing left everyone somewhat addled. At the end, the ride gave free, delicious Mexican food dinners — as much as you could eat — to the riders. Those who wanted to cap off their day with a beer could quaff free cans of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Sierra Nevada Torpedo.

The terrible difficulty of the ride means that there’s no training or fitness reason to do it more than once. But the unique feel of people coming together for a cause makes it special, and the realization that Jack Nosco has taken profound loss and turned it into good is an example for everyone. It’s the kind of ride you can do over and over again, even though each time you swear that this time will be your last.

Part of the good vibe of this ride is that most people seem to know the story of Mike and his premature death. You can tell that among the riders and the volunteers almost everyone has suffered the same kind of loss, or something very close to it. The kind of monument that Jack has created to his brother, a monument of giving and of good, is the kind of thing we all wish we could do for those we love who have died, but somehow we can’t. Being able to participate and be part of this event, and to contribute to it in whatever small way, is its own kind of gift.

At the feed stops, at the registration table, and at every sponsor tent, whenever you thanked people for making this event happen they all said the same thing: “No, thank you for coming.”

Thanks for the gift, Mike and Jack.


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November 4, 2013 § 37 Comments

I’ve done tons of group rides in my life, century rides, memorial rides, fundraising rides, whatever. I’ve never done anything like the Nosco Ride, nothing even close.

Let me tell you about it.

This guy, Mike Nosco, died in a car accident. He was a Navy vet who did two tours in Iraq and an employee of Amgen. I’m not even sure he rode a bike. His brother Jack, a cyclist and Ventura County firefighter, was devastated. He decided to grapple with his grief by helping other people, so he put on a memorial ride. Jack asked for donations, and he gave the money to sick people.

This year was the fifth running of the ride. I don’t like charity rides because they remind me how fucked up our healthcare system is. We’re the only “advanced” nation that has to help people defray crippling medical bills with bake sales and bike rides. It makes me sick to my stomach.

But my good friend Suzanne Sonye threw up a last minute plea on FB the night before the ride. “This one is worth it,” she said.

I looked at the ride’s details, and it didn’t look like a very good ride for me. Rather than preparing with a solid one-month block of climbing (the ride covers 9,500 feet of elevation in 81 miles), I’d been preparing by doing 45-minute ‘cross races and the occasional high-speed crash on my head.

Nor was I thrilled about what I was sure would be a pretty expensive donation.

Reality check

I showed up the morning of the event and learned that it was free. You could donate if you wanted, or not. “What size t-shirt would you like?” asked the wonderful young lady at the registration booth. You see, you got a t-shirt and a swag bag whether you donated or not.

“What kind of asshole would come to an event like this and not kick in, at a minimum, the equivalent to a race entry fee?” I wondered.

Answer: Bike racers.

In addition to those who brazenly signed up and accepted the swag and donated little or nothing, many others pirated the ride, waiting a few miles up the road and hopping in, where they got to spend the day lapping up the energy drinks and snarfling down the food at the incredibly well-stocked rest stations.

Reality check redux

There is no easy way to describe the Nosco Ride, except to say it’s mind-bendingly difficult. Whereas Solvang and any number of other rides shoot for the lowest common denominator in terms of difficulty, the Nosco Ride reflects the kind of person Mike Nosco actually was. Gritty, tougher than nails, up for the biggest challenge, and ready to give it his all.

The ride started with a 600-person lemming rush from Borchard Community Park to PCH, and from there the huge swirling wankoton rushed at max speed to Deer Creek Road. This is the one big climb in the Santa Monica Mountains I’ve never done because one time Dave Jaeger told me that it was “Really hard.”

“How hard?”

“Bitch hard.”

“Harder than Las Flores?”

“By a long shot.”

So I scratched it off my list.

Starting a group ride of 600 people up Deer Creek is unfathomable. It has an average pitch of 72%. It is 43 miles long, unpaved, and goes beneath several pillboxes that are manned with live .50-caliber Browning machine guns. When the group hit Deer Creek, the same group that had been fighting for inches and scrapping for every single position on PCH, it was complete mayhem.

You’ve heard the expression “blew apart the race”? This blew apart the race. The total climb was over five miles long and was so steep that my 39 x 28 wasn’t nearly enough gear to climb it well. That, and my weak legs and puny lungs …

There was a sag station at the top of the climb and people were hurling themselves at the bananas, BonkBreakers, and water bottles. Others were just hurling.

Several miles later we descended Yerba Buena back down to PCH, got a brief respite, and then climbed Mulholland, all nine miles of it. It wasn’t that steep, but after Deer Creek people were completely wrecked. The only course I’ve ever done that is tougher than Nosco is the BWR, and it’s almost fifty miles longer and has an additional five thousand feet of elevation.

Atop Mulholland there was again mayhem at the sag stop. I ate bananas and pb sandwiches and almonds and watermelon and doused myself in water and then went through the food line again.

It isn’t over until about midway through

We next descended Encinal back to PCH, where I fell in with a group who kept a nasty tempo all the way to Latigo. This is one of my demon climbs. Nothing good has ever happened to me on it, and today was no exception. Crushing my best-ever time of 46:19, I managed to finish it in 59:00 flat, and that was only after Lee Adams towed me for the first seven miles of the ten-mile climb. I won’t get into a FB war with her again.

At this next-to-last feed station people were zombie-like. I ate a fistful of sliced bananas and realized only hours later that I’d neglected to remove the peels. The remainder of the ride was rolling, with a few short climbs, not enough downhill, and a filthy headwind the last five miles.

At one point a rider was lying on the roadside with a CHP officer hunched over him. “You okay?” asked the cop.

“I’m fine,” said the downed rider.

“Why are you lying in the road then?”

“Cramps,” he grimaced.

I pedaled on.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore

Back at the park we were served unlimited amounts of delicious Mexican food. Free. And we were served unlimited amounts of Sierra Nevada beer, your choice of Pale Ale or Torpedo. Free. In case you didn’t get that last part, let me repeat: Free.

Then there was live music, an auction, free massages, a bone marrow donor registry, and support from top to bottom by Road Bike Action magazine and Robb Mesecher, who did so much to make this event what it was: unforgettable.

And if you were one of the deadbeats who “pirated” the ride, it’s not too late to donate here!

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