June 15, 2016 § 16 Comments
We had six laps to go at Telo last night, which has evolved from a skull-splitting massacre by the strong of the weak into something even worse thanks to the introduction of the now-famed Telo World Championship jersey.
The rules are unclear as to whether you have to turn over your jersey if you lose, or whether former winners can wear their jersey during the race, but if you win the race you get the jersey, designed by StageOne Sports with curlicue flourishes to remind everyone that whatever else Telo is, it’s nastily windy.I showed up last night for the first time since the jersey was introduced and noticed that not only were all the hitters present and accounted for, but a Velo Club La Grange squad comprised of Austin Powers, Sausage, and Surfer Dan had shown up with the specific intent to rip the jersey off of David’s back and take it back to the west side, preferably with a few heads mounted on pikes to serve as warnings or as appetizers for Patrick Barret’s legendary barbecue.
The plan to keep my powder dry for the first thirty minutes didn’t survive first contact with the enemy, or the second, or the third, and in fact after five minutes my powder was soaking wet. The second 2:20 lap shed half the field and the third lap split the field again. Simple math suggested that if the field continued its torrid process of mitosis there would soon be no one left.
Stuck in the chase group I chased hard, which is another way of saying I sat on Davy’s wheel while he chased hard, then sat on Sausage’s wheel while he chased sort of hard, then sat on Carlos’s wheel while he didn’t chase hard at all, then sat on Patrick’s wheel while he sat on other people’s wheel, and then barely stuck my nose into the wind, realized it was blowing hard and directly into my face, and crawled back into my hole.
Soon the entire school of remoras were firmly attached to Davy’s mighty thighs, and after much sturm, much drang, and extreme discomfort, Davy dragged us back to the leaders.
Smasher and Derek attacked repeatedly and were repeatedly brought back. Then with six laps to go and everyone starting to calculate just exactly how they were going to get that pretty new jersey, I cruised into the headwind section and gradually pulled away.
I looked back and saw a huge gap which was bad. When you are old and weak and alone and in a headwind, the only possible outcomes are bad, worse, and worst. In this case of course it turned out being worst, because Smasher, Rico Swervy, and Austin Powers bridged up. Imagine being a guppy swimming happily with your other guppy tankmates and then suddenly some idiot dumps a catfish into the aquarium.
The first thing that the bridgers did, of course, is ride past me so that I had to swim extra hard to latch on. After a lap they began riding even faster. Then they began screaming at me. I wasn’t sure what they said due to the wind and my breathing but piecing each of the shouts together it sounded like this:
Smasher: …. through … catch … !
Austin Powers: Pull … you … the … gonna … you …!
Rico Swervy: … field … us … sake!
I marveled at the air from their lungs they were able to spare in order to repeatedly shout and spit at me; having none myself I endured the singularly horrible combination of verbal and physical abuse. At one point on the tailwind straightaway Austin Powers went so fast that my field of vision became a tiny dot of wheeze, not a speck wider than the 23mm of his rear tire.
Did they not know that I was 52 years old? Did they not understand that 52 is no match for 20, 30, and 40? Did they not understand that I had sprinters back in the field? Did they not understand that I wasn’t pulling through because I was totally pinned? Were they frustrated at my presence, which seemed to indicate that none of them were really all that good if they couldn’t ride away from a grandfather?
Smasher urged some more and then attacked and rode away and won.
Austin and Rico screamed and attacked but didn’t ride away, perhaps because they couldn’t. As we approached the finish they looked back in a panic. “You sprinting?” Austin begged, unaware that of all my bad qualities, sitting in a break at a training race and sprinting for second wasn’t one of them.
I said more nothing, as I’d been saying for the last six laps.
After the race Smasher was awarded the jersey as all of the dead, near-dead, and going-to-be-dead-later riders stood around and imagined themselves in that natty Lycra pullover. He smiled. He mugged. Then he singled me out: “Why didn’t you pull through?”
Everyone looked at me. “Congratulations, Josh,” I said.
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February 22, 2016 § 5 Comments
“Dude,” G3’s text read. “Can you give me a ride to the church?”
“Sure,” I wrote back. “I’ll snag you at the curb in front of your house.”
Ms. WM needed the car that day, so she drove me over to G3’s in the Prius. He was standing on the curb with his bike, a set of wheels, the team tent, and his race bag, which weighed 80 lbs. and was five feet long, stocked with everything he’d need for 50 minutes of racing and six months in the wilderness and a complete bike overhaul.
“Uh, how’m I fitting my stuff in that?” he asked.
“In what?” I replied.
“Your midget Prius. There are already two people in it and a bike, and the back seats are folded down. Where am I going to sit?”
“Are you blind? In the front seat.”
“But Mrs. WM is already sitting in the front seat.”
“Are you calling her fat?”
G3 sputtered. “Dude, no one’s calling anyone ‘fat.’ That’s a tiny Prius passenger seat and a full grown adult is already sitting in it.”
“You just called my wife fat.”
“I did not!”
“You sorry turd,” I said. “She is not fat.”
“I never said she was fat!”
“She has a very narrow ass.”
“Look, Wanky, I’m sure she has a very narrow and a very firm and nice ass. There’s no dispute about that. But I have a somewhat wider ass and our two asses won’t fit in that single seat. Plus, there’s only one seat belt.”
“There you just called her fat again. And now you said she’s too fat to wear a seat belt.”
“I did not!”
“We’re going to be late for the race.”
“My stuff won’t even fit in the back. This is crazy.”
I sighed, popped the hatch, and showed him how to surgically insert his bike atop mine, then wedge the tent along the side, then cram his massive pack on top of his full carbon rear wheel, which groaned.
Mrs. WM opened the door. “Get in. There’s plenty of room!”
G3 exhaled and squeezed in next to her. Half of his right haunch hung out of the car. “Now what?” he said. “The door won’t close.”
“If we were on the Marunouchi Line at rush hour, here’s what the little man in the uniform and white gloves would do,” I answered, gently pushing the door against his dangling buttock and then mashing it as hard as I could.
“Ouch!” he said.
“That’s just your fat being pinched,” I said. “It’ll grow back.”
We hurried over to the megachurch on PCH where the Hun and Major Bob were waiting for us in his rad Mercedes van with leather captain’s chairs. “Where’s Dr. Whaaat?” I asked.
“We’re going to get him at the usual pick-up spot,” said Major Bob.
A few minutes later we got on America’s busiest and most dangerous freeway and exited at Culver Boulevard. Crossing Culver, we prepared to re-enter the freeway. Dr. Whaaat? was standing on the entrance ramp with his bike. The only thing missing was a big piece of cardboard that said, “Full-time Employed Teacher: Broke! Dog Bless!” and a tin cup for donations.
We bundled him into the van, almost getting smeared by the whizzing traffic, and hustled off to the Rosena Ranch circuit race, which is located at the hypotenuse of the Meth Triangle that comprises Palmdale, Riverside, and San Bernardino. All the way there we plotted strategy.
“It’s simple,” said G3. “We will have eight guys and Major Bob, so we attack every lap.”
“Then what?” I asked.
“Eventually we’ll tire everyone out and then Money can hit the gas and ride off in a break. We’ll have three or maybe even four guys in the move who can either act as clogstacles so that Money escapes on the last lap, or we can activate the Team Lizard Collectors’ asphalt magnets, which will pull a few of us to the ground and impede the others while Money dashes to victory.”
It seemed like a great plan until we got to the starting line, where we were greeted by Meatballs. “Oh, fuck,” I said. “Are you 45 now?”
Meatballs grinned. “In fact, I am.”
Meatballs is kind of a bummer to race with, because he always wins. He clumbs, he sprunts, he time trails, and he attacks. Especially, he attacks. Like, over and over and over until your legs turn to mush and your eyeballs droop and your gonads swelter and you decide that today wasn’t meant to be your day anyway as he goes from being a massive meatball in your viewfinder to a tiny speck up the road to invisible to a massive meatball standing on the top step of the podium taking your gas money and case of Clif bars.
On the plus side, my coach had given me some winning advice:
- Don’t do anything.
- Sit in.
- Expend zero effort.
- Avoid the wind.
- Be patient.
- Don’t be over eager.
- Don’t get sucked into meaningless early attacks.
- Save your bullets.
- Let the race unfold.
- Be invisible.
- Then, after doing 1-16, while positioned in the 15th slot or so, wait for the hard, decisive attack that is certain to come, follow it, and you’ll have made the winning split.
However, I slightly modified coach’s plan so that after the 3rd lap my race plan looked like this:
- Attack from the gun.
- Follow every move.
- Chase everyone.
- Attack again.
- Hit the front from the rear coming up the right-side, into the wind.
- Lead up every climb.
- Do at least a dozen max 30-second efforts.
- Scornfully stare at everyone.
- Attack some more.
- Then, after doing 1-10, while positioned at the very front after a futile acceleration and while exhausted and gasping for air on the hardest part of the false flat, I waited for the hard, decisive attack that was certain to come and did, tried vainly to follow it, failed to latch on, and watched the winning split go up the road.
Sure enough, Money had made the split, which was created by Meatballs, who had attacked from the back in the draft of the group before sling-shotting off to the far left side of the road, forcing chasers into the gutter, at a speed that was horrible to even think about following.
No one on Team Lizard Collectors could do anything other than check to make sure their asphalt magnets hadn’t been switched on by mistake and pray for a typoon or swarm of mosquitoes carrying the Zika plague or other natural disaster that would somehow stop the breakaway. At one point in the race, TLC organized a chase, determined to bring back our team leader since it was clear there was no way he could win the sprint.
However, the chief problem with bringing him back so that we could counter and get another breakaway going with perhaps a better composition, was that he was going a lot faster than we were and in order to catch him we’d have to go faster than he was going, which proved difficult since, as mentioned earlier, he was going faster, and as it turned out, a lot faster, really an extra super whole lot faster.
Another problem was that even though Money isn’t known for sprunting, the rest of TLC isn’t known for winning, and even if we had been able to re-shuffle the deck, it would still have included Meatballs (unbeatable) and Fireman (unbeatable by anyone except Meatballs). So instead we attacked each other, with Dr. Whaaat? rocketing away and finishing a glorious ninth.
In the end, Meatballs ground up the breakaway into little pieces of gristle and shit by accelerating every time out of the u-turn, crushing it up the climb, then shattering the group into a few manageable morsels of charred flesh at the very end and handily winning the sprunt.
Back in the van we all hung our heads, cursed our fate, and yelled at each other.
Finally, as we were about to all get kicked out of the van by Major Bob and be forced to walk the seventy miles home, Surfer Dan from Team La Grunge stuck his head in the side door.
“How was the race?” he inquired with his trademark smile.
As we all scrambled to get in our version of how our teammates had ruined it for us, he held up his hand. “Guys,” he said. “Did you have fun?”
We looked at each other and released our fingers from each other’s throats. Because in fact, yes, we did.
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December 6, 2015 § 19 Comments
Dear Baby Seal and Surfer Dan:
I’m still in a state of shock to hear that you, Baby Seal, have swum off to join a different pack of pinnipeds. And I’m still in shock that you, Surfer Dan, have caught the La Grunge wave and taken the innocent, young, and as-yet-unwise-to-the-ways-of-the-world Baby Seal with you.
How could you?
I thought we were a team, and there is no “I” in team, although if you rearrange the letters there’s a “meat,” “mate,” “tame,” “eat,” “met,” and “meta,” to name a few. But you guys can be frank with me. What was it that made you leave Team Big Orange Lizard Club for Velo Club La Grunge?
Don’t tell me it was their dirty little bribe of free tires and race reimbursements. You got that from us, not to mention our sweet bike deals and the new Crash Fund Replacement Program, which will add up to big savings for you two bicycle falling off veterans. That turn on the bike path isn’t called Cobley Corner for nothing.
And don’t tell me it was our ugly bicycle outfits. Sure, word on the street has it that we are the ugliest. Period. No one even close. But it’s always been that way. Just because 2016 is ushering in a new combo of Calvin Wearing Hobbes, not to mention the ‘cross kit Vomit Specials, that can’t be the motivation.
The Big O Lizard Club has always prided itself on having the ugliest kits in America, outside of the ones designed for the 1008 Poot’n Parkway Century, where the promoter had his 13-year-old kid design the jerseys in Photoshop. And lest we forget, La Grunge used to have those green Herbalife kits, and the red slashed/polka dotted ones, yeah, we haven’t forgotten, not to mention a host of other ugly outfits that were cringeworthy even after a case of good beer.
So what’s changed?
Don’t tell me you got your panties askew because of team sponsor Brad House and Back on Track Productions. Sure, he’s been vocal on Facegag about gun rights and one of his race co-sponsors last year was a crazy gun organization. But you’ve known that about him for years.
I don’t know why you’re trying to spare my feelings. But Baby Seal, you’re a SUBSCRIBER. $2.99 a month. How could you? Don’t you remember the time that I was taking off my jacket on NPR at the light at the alley and it was raining like crazy and everyone rode away and YOU stayed back for me?
Then you towed me at 29 mph into a cross wind all the way down Vista del Mar and up Pershing to where we were 300 yards from the group, and I sprinted around you, bridged, dropped you, and left you to ride the rest of the way by yourself in the rain? Have you forgotten that?
Or the time that we were in a 2-man NPR breakaway and I gave you the win? I, who don’t even give money to Bernie Sanders or Planned Parenthood? I, who wouldn’t push a struggling teammate six inches to help him stay on? I, who would gladly slit my grandmother’s throat for the chance to have an option at possibly being in the mix for a water bottle prime?
Oh, and that is THE ONLY TIME YOU’VE WON THE NPR. And now you’re leaving Team Lizard Collectors and going over to the smooth and supple and well-kitted arch enemy? Why, Baby Seal, why? Are their Cannondales really that much better?
But you, Surfer Dan, who aren’t even a subscriber for $2.99 a month, you! How could you?
If there was one rider who personified Team Lizard Collectors, it was you. Always ready to help. Always ready to put together a five-year training plan for a new Cat 5. Always the first one to clear the last bits of rubble off the chafing trays at the club’s year-end party. Always the first one to show up and eat all the food in my fridge.
But that’s meaningless. Have you forgotten who made you who you are? Others may have forgotten the creaky Look bike, the goofy pedal stroke, and the goofier smile that first appeared in the South Bay bike scene six years ago, but I haven’t.
Remember our first ride, when I dropped you on the Switchbacks? Remember our first three Donuts together, when I dropped you every single time? Remember how after a few rides I started to let you drop me, and then I started to let you finish a few minutes ahead of me, and then I let you start winning a bunch of races I wasn’t in?
Who was it who taught you to attack at the start of the ride and don’t look back until everyone had given up, quit, died, or gone back to pet their lizards?
Who was the ONLY OTHER IDIOT who would join you in Riviera Village breakaways?
And now, because Sausage is buying a new Mercedes Sprunter van (you can’t even sprunt!), you’ve not only refused to sign up for $2.99 per month as severance penalty pay, but you’ve taken the young, innocent, wide-eyed Baby Seal with you.
All of which I could live with. Team Lizard Eaters is strong and we will endure. We still have Dr. Whaaaat? to analyze our power data and post kudos on Facegag and Strive. We still have G3 to organize 300-mile noodle rides for mid-season fitness. We still have G$ to drop everyone else on the team. And this year we have Wike to tell us what to do and then sob hysterically when he sees how incapable we are of doing it.
But how will you ever live with yourself, after all the work I did to get Smasher on the team, not to mention his associates? Smasher doesn’t belong with Team Lizard Lickers, you know that. He’s too good, too smart, too pointlessly strong, and too darned contrarian to ever sit down with his fellow lizard aficionados and discuss the finer points of lizard mating.
He joined Team Lizard Copulators for one reason: You. I told him that since you’re 35 he’d now have a real teammate, and not just that, but the best teammate. Now look at him. He’s so sad that he came over last night and ate all my Shoo Fly Pie, which is essentially a baked tin of flour, shortening, and molasses. That’s some sad shit and he gained five pounds in one sitting.
Well, I hope you guys are pleased with yourself. I hope that you find love and meaning over there at Velo Club La Grunge. I hope you enjoy the fancy Beverly Hills restaurants (pro tip: you’ll both need to bathe once a month now whether you need it or not), the overpriced burger shops, and the sinking feeling of stepping into Sausage’s house and realizing that his foyer is bigger and cost more than your apartment complex.
I hope you’re happy, and please don’t send me one of those “Let’s still be friends” bullshit text messages. You’ve treated me like a wingless fly at the annual Team Lizard Collectors Annual Lizard Feeding Contest.
I may be crippled. I may be slow. I may be old. I may not be any good. But I never, ever, ever forget, and I certainly don’t forgive, unless of course your subscriptions are current. And yours, Surfer Dan, is not.
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September 19, 2015 § 8 Comments
Rolling out of Redondo this morning I was talking to this dude. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Roberto,” he said, then he paused. “I pay you.”
I loves me a blog subscriber! Instead of insulting him as I’d planned, I patted him on the back, asked about his wife and children, and exchanged pleasantries. “Another day, another Donut, same old, same old.”
“No,” he said. “The rides, they are all different.”
“Yes,” he said. “You just have to do them enough to find out the differences.”
I tried to count how many times I’d done the Donut Ride. “After five hundred times, this still seems like a ride where one guy climbs up to the top faster than anyone else.”
“But it is a different guy, eh?”
“Yeah. Sometimes it’s Stathis, sometimes it’s Sakellariadis, sometimes it’s the Greek, sometimes it’s Wily, sometimes it’s Dr. Swerve.”
I looked around, but didn’t: the Greek was down for the count after slamming into the front of the guy behind him on the NPR. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “Maybe this really will be different.”
Without Wily to attack from the gun and make everyone chase until they vomit and quit, it was leisurely. Hoofixerman scampered away with Roberto the German with the Spanish Name, then later Rico went, and eventually the pack started to chase. We all came back together at Terranea, but no one was tired.
An Airgas Safeway pro from from Santa Barbara had rolled out with us, and notice therof was duly taken. Surfer started surging in Portuguese Bend, and some new skinny kid from Norcal named Sean began taking digs, and Les Deux Frenchies began stretching the rope.
I cowered and hid, trying as best I could to tuck behind Jules. At age 16 he’s one of the top prospects in America, and recently added three more national track titles to his sagging trophy shelf. Jules began dropping pretty much everyone on the switchbacks when he was 13 and hasn’t let up since.
We hit the bottom of the Switchbacks with a massive pack of about thirty riders, testament to how slow it had been–this point of the ride rarely has more than ten riders in the lead group. The down side to a slow start is that once the climb starts, it goes very fast.
Surfer Dan ramped it up, and then the Airgas-Safeway pro hit the front. The group immediately snapped in half, and after a couple of minutes there were only eight riders left, Les Deux Frenchies, Derek, Surfer Dan, Norcal, Strava Junior, and Jules. We got to the top of the Switchbacks and Airgas was gassed; he hadn’t known that the ride continued up the wall to the radar domes. Course knowledge is key …
Surfer Dan took the bit and charged up the wall. We all hung on. Frenchy Sr. kept pulling through, but everyone else hunkered down and rubbed their rosary beads. For me this was all miraculous. Not being a climber, and not being very fast, and not being very smart, it was shocking to think that I’d survived so much misery so far with so much cruel, pitiless talent. Before I knew it, the final curve was in sight.
No chance at a sprunt.
No chance with an attack.
So I jumped, shook free, and eased off the gas, hoping to latch onto whomever came by.
As luck would have it, the bad kind, Jules rocketed up the right-hand gutter. I could have easily gotten his wheel if I’d been on a motorcycle. Otherwise, no bueno.
Frenchy Sr. and Derek came by, then caught and dropped Jules. I looked back and the broken pieces were strewn way out behind me. I crossed the imaginary finish line marking the end of the imaginary race, and thought about all the beer I hadn’t drunk in order to reach this imaginary level of success.
“Roberto was right,” I thought. “They are all different.” Followed by “Shit, I’m thirsty.”
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January 8, 2015 § 25 Comments
After a brutal two weeks of winter here in Los Angeles, where we had to wear booties, thick gloves, scarves, thermal beanies, a thick underlayer, armwarmers, short-sleeved jersey, insulated jacket, legwarmers, and plenty of embro, the 55-degree morning temperatures finally ended and summer returned. Surfer Dan and I decided to celebrate the end of the cold and bitter half-month of December/January by putting in some hard training.
Before we could train, though, we decided to hit the DK Donut Shop in Santa Monica, and figured we should grab a big cup of coffee at Philz, and then maybe pedal back home for a nap so that we could really chart out a super tough training regimen for February or March. As we pedaled down the bike path we ran into G$, who was going in the opposite direction. He was looking for partners to join him in his super tough interval workout, and so when he found out we were going to the donut shop he was all in.
“Intervals are hard, but intervals after donuts are even harder,” he said.
“Maybe so, but there’s something harder than donuts and intervals,” I replied.
“Yeah. Mountain biking.”
Money made a face. “I never could get the hang of that.”
“Me, either,” I agreed. “Everyone always tells me how fun it is, though.”
“Yeah, it’s a lot of fun, I guess, after it’s over.”
Surfer Dan was listening to us, because he’s a big MTB addict and is always trying to get me to go ride off-road with him, which I have occasionally done, invariably to my own detriment.
“The thing I could never wrap my head around was how they always say … ”
“‘…speed is your friend,'” I finished for him.
“Yeah. Speed really isn’t my friend. We haven’t spoken for years.”
“And all that crap about ‘don’t use your brakes.'”
“I know. If there’s one thing that screams ‘brakes’ it’s falling off a cliff at 40 headed straight for a log at the bottom of a minefield covered with jagged rocks.”
“Or what about that ‘don’t grip your bars so tightly’ stuff?” I laughed.
“Yeah. Like how are you supposed to not grip your bars in a death clench when physics are about to ram your face into a big stone?”
“Yep,” I agreed. “It’s a sport where you can find impending death easier than finding an accordion on an East LA radio station. But you know it wouldn’t be so bad if MTB just meant getting out on some wide and mostly flat fire road where you could pedal along and not have to drop off cliffs and avoid death every twelve seconds.”
“Uh-huh,” Money said.
“That’s what I hate about riding with Surfer. You start off on a nice fire road, no cars, birds chirping, and then he says, ‘Turn left here,’ and ‘here’ is a two-inch trail going down the face of a cliff. One minute you’re all happy and comfortable and having a good time and the next minute it’s nothing but screaming, furious terror, rage, and if-I-live-through-this-I’ll-kill-that-s.o.b.”
“I know,” said Money.
“It’s probably like how women feel when they’re having sex.”
There was a brief pause. “How do you figure?”
“Well, there they are having a good time, feeling all good and stuff and then the guy makes a hard left left turn down a narrow alley and she’s like ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and he’s like ‘Aw it won’t hurt’ and she’s like ‘Get that thing outta there’ and he’s like ‘Let’s just do it once and see how you like it’ and she’s like ‘No way’ and pretty soon everybody’s hollering and yelling and after it’s finished everybody’s all covered in sweat and kinda sore and wondering what the hell happened.”
It got really quiet then. “Uh, I think I better pass on coffee,” said Money. “I’m, uh, late for work.”
“Yeah,” said Surfer. “Me, uh, too.”
I got most of the way through my fourth donut before I realized that Surfer doesn’t even have a job.
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September 19, 2014 § 19 Comments
The Rule, and there’s only one, is this: The harder it is, the better you’ll feel when it’s over.
Bryce came whizzing by us on the bike path. He had hairy legs and a new $7k Cannondale with electronic shifting. Bryce nodded at us as he flew by.
“You know that wanker?” I asked Nate.
“Yeah, nice kid. Fitted him on his new bike last night.”
“He’s going awfully fast.”
“I guess it was a good fit,” said Surfer.
In Santa Monica we ran into him again, after we’d split up from Nate. “Where are you going?” asked Surfer.
“I was about to turn around and ride back to Hermosa.”
“You’re welcome to join us if you want to.”
“Where are you guys riding to?”
“We’re just doing a couple of climbs on the West Side.”
“Oh, yeah, I know all the roads over here,” Bryce said confidently.
Surfer, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of every street in Southern California, paved and unpaved, said “I bet you don’t know all the roads.”
“I work for the power company putting up utility poles. I know all the roads.”
Surfer smiled at him. “Then you’ll know where we’re going.”
I wanted to tell Bryce to turn back now, while he still had the chance. As a new cyclist out to test his legs, the last person you would ever want to run into is Surfer. Instead, I egged the kid on. “You look like a pretty good climber,” I said as we started going up Amalfi.
To his credit, Bryce was game. He punched away at the long climb. “Hang tight here in just a bit,” said Surfer. “It’s going to be unpaved for a little bit.”
We went through the gate and indeed the going got kind of rough. I took another look at Bryce’s deep-dish racing wheels. He was breathing hard, then really hard. We’d been climbing for a long time. “Hey,” he said. “How much farther to the top?”
“We’re almost there,” I lied.
After a while we went through another gate and the dirt climb stretched out forever, still going up. “How long you been riding?” asked Surfer.
“Six months,” Bryce said between deep breaths.
“What’s your longest ride?” I asked.
“Thirty-five miles,” he answered. “How long is this going to be?”
“Longer,” said Surfer.
Bryce got off his bike and started walking. We pedaled up the grade and waited in the shade.
“How much farther?” he asked when he reached us. “I’m done. I can’t go any more.”
“That little section is the hardest part,” I lied again. “You’re doing great. It’s pretty much a gentle climb from here to the top.”
“You’re lying,” he said. “You guys are assholes.” We were high upon a dirt ridge out in the mountains now. It was hot and he was out of water.
“We’re not just assholes,” said Surfer with a grin. “We’re the biggest assholes in Southern California. Want some water?” He handed over his bottle and Bryce thirstily drained it. “Need some food?” Bryce nodded and gobbled up the BonkBreaker. “Know this road?” Surfer asked.
Bryce looked at him, then laughed. “No. No, I don’t.” It was the laughter of “I’m cracked and hot and waterless and lost and I hope these guys don’t leave me.”
We pedaled on for a ways until we came to the final section of the climb, a solid quarter-mile where you had to get out of the saddle and hump it. I was glad I had on a 28. Surfer and I waited beneath another tree for a while. “Think he’s going to quit?” I asked.
“I hope not, because if he does we’ll have to go back down this damn thing and look for him.”
“I think he’s going to quit. Kid’s game, but this would break anybody. He was struggling back on Amalfi.”
At that moment Bryce appeared, grim and covered with red dust. “These shoes suck for walking,” he said. We gave him the last of our water. “I know that whatever you tell me is going to be a lie, but how much farther to the top?”
“This is it,” said Surfer.
He brightened. “Really?”
“Yes, but be careful after we make the right. The downhill can get away from you.” I looked again at his delicate carbon wheels and was grateful to be on my 32-spoke aluminum rims with wide, thick tires. Bryce banged and bumped and bashed his way through the ruts, over the rocks, and along the endless washboard descent, almost crashing hard a couple of times.
We stopped at the old Minute Man silo, filled our bottles, and poured water over our heads in the searing heat.
When we finally hit the pavement, he said “Where are we?”
“Mulholland, just a couple of miles from the 405.”
Bryce perked up. Finally, a road he knew.
We had been going at a snail’s pace up in the hills in order not to lose Bryce, but now we had to get home. Surfer wrapped it up to 30, gave Bryce a very short lesson on drafting, and off we went.
Bryce had gotten a second wind and was a quick study, rotating through smoothly and keeping the speed. Until San Vicente, that is, when the thousand-yard-stare set in.
“I don’t feel so good,” he said.
“You’re bonking,” said Surfer, offering him the last gel packet.
“Next time we do this I’m going to kick you guys’ ass,” said Bryce. The kid was game.
The closer we got to Hermosa, the happier he got. “Hey, guys, thanks for dragging me along. This is my biggest ride ever!”
“You rode like a champ,” I said. “Not many people could have done what you did today.”
“For a couple of old guys you and Surfer go pretty good. But don’t think I’m going to forget about this.”
“We won’t, either,” I promised.
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August 30, 2014 § 23 Comments
He was the kid your mom didn’t want you to play with, but you did.
“Dude,” I said as I rolled up to his shop, a small mountain of surfboard shavings piled in the corner. “I gotta be back by 10:30.”
“No problem,” he said. Even for him, 10:30 sounded like a reasonable time to start the day. “What’s going on?”
“I have to get a couple of documents back to clients and they need the drafts by noon.”
“What were you thinking of doing?” He had that smile, and fastened his helmet.
“Santa Monica, then Amalfi, down Sunset and over to Mandeville. That should put me back with a couple of minutes to spare.”
“No problem.” Smile.
In Santa Monica we started up Amalfi. “Hey,” said Surfer Dan. “You ever do Sullivan Ranch?”
“No,” I said.
“Wanna do it? It’s got a little stretch of pretty cool dirt.”
We were on our road bikes. “I don’t care what we do,” I said. “But I gotta be back by 10:30.”
As anyone who doesn’t know Los Angeles will tell you, it’s a concrete jungle. Surfer knows every nook and cranny of the city, and before long, high above the millionaire mansions of Brentwood, we were past a locked gate and climbing a steep dirt trail. “Glad I got these CX 2-mm’s.” I muttered a prayer of thanks to Moonshine, who had given me the tires a few weeks back. I dodged rocks and slogged uphill, barely keeping Dan’s ass in sight. We’d been climbing for miles now, ever since the base of Amalfi at sea level.
“You okay?” asked Surfer, smiling.
“Yeah,” I grunted. “Glad I got this 28-cog on the back, though.” My frame shuddered through another chughole.
A couple of mountain bikers came by, hanging on for dear life and giving us the crazy look. “You can’t do that,” their faces said. “You’re on road bikes.”
We came to another gate. Beyond it was a dirt road that went on forever.
“Wanna keep going?” Surfer ask-smiled.
“Look, man, I don’t care, but … ”
“… you gotta be home by 10:30.”
“Let’s keep going, then.”
Now we were far from anything. There was only the sound of our tires crunching the dirt and our frames bouncing along the washboard and my labored breathing as we climbed, climbed, climbed, and Dan chattered on.
A long time later we reached an old deactivated Minute Man ICBM silo. We finally descended to pavement. Our bikes and we were covered from head to toe in dust, which made sense because I’d cleaned my bike that morning.
The road dumped out at Sepulveda and the 405, smack in the center of the worst traffic in America, as magical as if we’d walked through Alice’s looking-glass, from silence and endless green vistas that reached to the glittering sea to the thrum and impatience and sweating frustration of a million cagers locked in their steel coffins.
“How far are we from home?” I asked.
“Two hours if we drill it.”
It was 10:30.
“Let’s go, then.” I grinned at him and he grinned back. We put our heads down and pinned it, me and Trouble.
Of course I ended up being late, but I wasn’t, really.