September 4, 2016 § 11 Comments
People don’t often invite me places and there’s a reason for that. I’m not fun. In fact, I have it on good authority that whatever “fun” is, I’m pretty much the opposite of it. Of all the places I don’t get invited, the place I don’t get invited to the most is (of course) bicycles rides.
So when someone is foolish enough to invite me somewhere, I always say yes. I don’t even check the calendar because it’s sure to be blank. Day? I’m free. Time? No problem. Three-hour drive to your vacation place at the bottom of an unlit mine shaft filled with toxic gas? Count me in. In, in, in.
A couple of days ago El Presidente invited me to go for a bike ride in San Diego. He, Th Surfer Dan, Okie, Head Down James, OC James, Wattbomb, Happy, and Goat were all going down to San Diego to crash the world famous Swami’s Ride.
Problem was, none of them had ever done it except for Th Surfer Dan, and he wasn’t talking. “Yo, Wanky,” penned El Presidente. “You’ll be chauffeured to the start line in our Mercedes UPV, fed a breakfast of Yum-Yum Donuts, slathered with sunscreen and testosterone gel, and fed a kingly lunch on the way back.”
“What’s the catch?” I knew that this fun-loving bunch of defectives didn’t want to spend the day cooped up in a Mercedes UPV with Wanky the Grim.
“We need a pilot fish, someone who can tell us about the ride, and Th Surfer Dan’s not talking. Since you’re the closest thing that LA has to a North County specialist, leaving aside for a moment that you always get dropped when you go down there, we thought that in exchange for the above amenities you might, you know, show us the way, give us some tips. That sort of thing. Also, gas is paid for.”
That sealed the deal except for one thing. “What’s a Mercedes UPV?”
“Oh, that. Stands for Un-Parkable Van. Long story.”
At 5:45 AM I found myself standing on the corner of Hawthorne and Manhattan Beach Boulevard, being accosted by a person who was either homeless or whose home was several hundred miles away. “Do you have a cell phone?” he asked.
“I got PTSD from the war and I been riding this fucking bike without a saddle all the way from Wyoming and I need to make a phone call.”
I looked at his bike, which really did look like it had recently been in Wyoming and which really was missing a saddle. “Who do you want me to call?”
“The cops,” he said, shoving into my face a business card for Officer Melvin Muggley of the Hawthorne Police Department.
I looked around, anxiously hoping that the Mercedes UPV would show up. “Uh, I ain’t calling the cops,” I said.
“I got two outstanding warrants.”
“One DUI and a hot check.”
“What was the hot check for?”
“The booze that got me the DUI.”
He nodded. “Respect, man. Respect.” Then he pedaled off, butt carefully poised above the rusty prong, and vanished into the darkness.
When the Mercedes UPV showed up, it was stocked with donuts, hot coffee, licorice, three boxes of chicken nuggets, and a chocolate croissant. “Where is everyone?” I asked.
“Head Down James and Wattbomb got scared and couldn’t make it.”
“Dang,” I said.
“Hey,” El President asked. “Where’s your bike?”
“Dude, we’re going to the world famous Swami’s Ride in North County San Diego. It’s a bike ride. Where’s your fuggin’ bike?”
“Oh, that,” I said, craftily. “I didn’t know I was supposed to bring it.”
“I thought you just wanted intel on the ride.”
“Hell, man, we do.That’s why we’re bringing you along.”
I climbed into the van and plucked a steaming nugget out of the box, topped with a choco cruller and a tube of energy gel. “Never fear,” I said. “‘Cuz I brought you wankers this.”
I pulled out a few sheets of paper and handed them out. “This,” I said, “is all you need.”
Swami’s Ride Secret Inside Intel for Team Ride Crashers: Top Secret For Your Eyes Only Super Confidential And Secret And Etc.
Many of the Swami’s riders do a pre-ride that leaves at 7:00 which is reputedly harder than the Swami’s Ride itself. Whether or not that’s true, they get to the ride warmed up and ready to go. Starting Swami’s cold is a huge disadvantage and since you will all be starting stone cold you can expect to be instantaneously dropped.
The ride has no significant climbs to speak of. An analysis of the course profile on Strava indicates that for you hardmen of the Santa Monicas, it’s a piddling 2400 feet of elevation over 30 miles or so. Of course the problem, by way of analogy, is the “hill” on the PV Golf Course, which many of you have done.
Under normal conditions you don’t even notice that it’s a hill. But under Flog conditions, people quickly splinter and crack and are never seen again. Certain among you have shown up for the Flog once, twice, a handful of times, or not at all. My point? It’s not really the course that makes a ride hard, it’s the people in attendance and how fast they are pedaling, and on Swami’s they tend to pedal very, um, vigorously.
You may be hoping that because it is September and it is the off-season that the Swami’s predators will not be pedaling in anger. This is a vain hope. The moment they scent outsiders, they will turn into a frenzied pack of ball-chewing-cannibals.
The Swami’s Ride’s first climb is up Levante to Rancho Santa Fe. Be warmed up if you can, towards the front at all costs, and drift back if you have to. You will have to. The group is usually so large that you can’t get dropped here, even if you are really weak, but if they are going all out (they will be) *and* they catch the light going left on Rancho Santa Fe just over the top you will spend the morning by yourself. It’s a big ring power climb, short and difficult depending on who’s there, but nothing that a cagey bit of wheelsucking can’t get you through. El Presidente, this means you. Since the left-hand turn signal is almost always red when the bikes get there, it’s a chance to gasp, catch breath, scoot forward, check timber, regroup, and desperately fondle prayer beads.
Which brings us to the real beginning of this ride, which isn’t the course, but the “Who’s there?”
If Phil Tinstman, Thurlow, any young snotnose punkass kid in a Lux jersey, or any other of a large number of North County hammers show up, don’t even think about riding away. In fact, don’t think of riding away no matter what because it’s simply not a ride-away course. What you should think about is insurance, life insurance, and about naming me as your sole beneficiary. Just sign at the bottom of this paper to indicate your acceptance.
The one section where I’ve been dropped is the next one, going up San Elijo just before the turn onto Elfin Forest. If Karl Bordine hadn’t also been lollygagging at the back, then recovered, then dragged me back, my day would have ended. But realistically that’s the only place there is any chance at all of coming unhitched, and if you haven’t been battering at the front (for some, even if you have), there’s nothing on this ride that is hard enough or long enough to kick you out the back.
Unhappily, despite the easiness of the course, all of you will set new PRs for power, distance, speed, time dimensions, and multicolored spittle because Tinstman will be stomping dicks like a boot tester in dildo factory. It is an easy course that may well be your hardest day on a bicycle, including that time you had to push Billy Bohunks and his rock collection over Pepperdine Hill.
Unlike the Donut Ride, which really is a test of VO2 + masochistic tendencies, Swami’s is a series of secret sprint points that you’ll never know about until they are past and someone else has won. The regulars have done this ride a million times and they all know where to go hard, where to ease up, and where to collect the trinkets. The big sprint at the church is a barely visible wooden sign nailed to a tree overgrown with foliage. Or at least it used to be. Or at least that’s what they used to tell me.
Once on Elfin Forest (there are no elves and it’s not a forest) there are a couple of rollers where you don’t want to be caught unawares, but nothing that will drop you. By the time you figure out there’s a sprint it will be over, and everyone will be stopping at the church to urinate on holy objects, unless of course they don’t stop there anymore, in which case it will be more pain for much longer unless you’ve been dropped, in which case you will never find your way home because all the roads in North County San Diego are crooked, filled with lethal potholes, and paved with drunk drivers.
After the church the Real Cyclists may go on and do a Real Bicycle Ride. Don’t be tempted unless your name is Th Surfer Dan, and trust me, it isn’t. Instead, follow the meeker folks (not Meeker, folks) along the Swami’s route through the Lake Hodges section and back to the coast highway. Lake Hodges has a screamingly crazily insanely fast eternal downhill with no turns, a 2-inch shoulder, and traffic passing on your left at 80. So, it’s perfectly safe, especially with the frame-wobbling, cross-eyed beginner on tri-bars in front of you and the Cat 5’s on your left sprinting out of the saddle three abreast to keep up because no one has yet told them about that word “draft.”
Once the road bottoms out there is a gradual climb with a few rollers at the top. Whoever’s on the front (Thurlow) will be grilling and drilling, but everyone on a wheel will easily hang on, and that’s “easy” as in “it hurt so bad my eyes broke.” There’s another magic sprint point after the climb but before the stop sign. Then everyone checks timber, sips their sippy cup, and soldiers on to the coast highway. It’s interesting the first time you do it, and it can be blazingly fast, but the short distance, lack of elevation, and size of the group mean that you will get to the ocean and be disappointed … unless you win the final invisible sprint, which you won’t due to its aforementioned invisibility and Tinstman.
Did I mention Tinstman?
In addition to disappointment, of course you will also feel a sense of inadequacy and failure, which more than compensates.
There’s also a pecking order in North County and people aren’t overly friendly unless they owe you money, and then they sometimes will push you into oncoming traffic to cancel the debt. Be on the lookout for Stefanovich and Dandy Andy, two people who are actually friendly, and who are well regarded as the only people on the ride who once almost came close to barely being slightly faster than Tinstman that day he was home in bed with a cold. Both will lend you money or a GPS coordinate in a pinch, but both will be so far ahead of you that, well, they won’t.
Of course you’ll be tooling up to the start in the Swankmobile, and everyone knows Team Mercedes UPV, so it’s not as if you’ll be pelted with raw eggs. And if you are, whatever you do, don’t retaliate by hitting them with your empty syringes. In general they take this ride very seriously and don’t like it if you show up and tear their legs off.
But then, who does?
Unfortunately, although I’ll be in the van and available to do mortuary runs, casket pick-ups and drop-offs, massages (I’ll wear rubber gloves to cover my bleeding, open sores), mouth-to-mouth, CPR, and some crack mechanical skills (changed a front flat last week in .03 days), you won’t have anyone to hold your hand or refill your sippy cup or change your didy until the ride finishes. Be safe, enjoy the new terrain, and DO NOT FORGET to add me as the beneficiary to your policy.
I promise to take lots of photos beforehand that showcase you primped, pimped, and ready to roll. After-ride photos will be discretionary depending on how many limbs you return with. Also, please don’t finish up telling me that “It’s the hardest ride you’ve ever done,” because all that means is that you haven’t done the Carlsbad Wednesday Ride.
If something happens during the ride, my cell phone is (424) 301-9118. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you no later than Tuesday.
We got to Encinitas and they all rode off to their doom. I settled down at a cozy coffee shop, read a book, napped, and had a wonderful morning chatting with a young lady named Merlin, who, she said, was studying to be a witch. “Isn’t that a wizard’s name?” I asked.
“It used to be, but it’s all gender neutral now. You have witches named ‘Merlin’ and wizards named ‘Hilda.’ Actually, you have a lot of male witches now.”
“Yes. Better clothing options.” She stuck out a leg that was covered in black fishnet and had sequins along the inside of her thigh that spelled out “Broomrider.” She was also reading a book called “How to Get to Heaven.”
“Is that a good book for a witch?” I asked. “And don’t they already have a book about that called the Bible?”
“Oh, yes. But this one has all the shortcuts.”
“Yes. The Bible is old school. Love your neighbor and money is the root of all evil and that stuff. Takes forever and everyone agrees that it’s no fun at all.”
“What are the shortcuts?”
“Well, it says here that you can get all the Heaven points you need by giving some spare change to a homeless person.”
“Sure. This book explains that Heaven goes by a points system. You need 150 points to get in. Donating spare change is worth 2o points, and once you get to 150 you can do whatever you want.”
“Kind of like being Catholic?”
“What’s that?” she asked. Then she brightened. “You’re not homeless by any chance, are you?”
I squinted hard at her and went back to my book.
A couple of hours later the troops returned looking awful, as they muttered, rather incoherently, “PR” and “Strava trinket” and “Fucking Tinstman” and “Fucking Thurlow” and “Fucking Snotnosed Lux Punk” and “Ouch” and “Almost got dropped” and “More testosterone gel” and “Jill Easter” and “Invisible fucking sprints” and “Oof” and “Stupid ride” and “Fuck I’m wrecked” and “Coffee” and of course Th Surfer Dan, who said the only complete sentence, which was “Four slices of pepperoni and a foot-long bacon-steak subway sandwich with marinara sauce, please.”
I looked at their broken visages and salted down appendages and hollowed out cheeks and straggly hair and bony bent shoulders and thought that it was pretty much the best ride I’d never done.
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July 24, 2014 § 40 Comments
A new bobble has been added to the weekly Donut Ride, and I contemplated it as the wankers of the South Bay chewed me up and spit me out. It’s a short, steep, nasty little alleyway that comes after a long uphill slog followed by a fast downhill followed by a gradual climb followed by a very short wall.
The point behind the alley is to crush the spirits and impoverish the souls of those who, even at the outset of the group ride, are already broken.
The Donut Ride has evolved into an almost perfect group ride. It is so hard that to properly complete it you must cheat, cut the course, suck wheel, sneak ahead while everyone is regrouping, or all of the above. The climbs are so vicious that hordes of South Bay bicycle owners refuse to even show up. It drops people while they are still in bed.
In common with all great group rides, it crowns a winner who everyone can dispute, but not actually beat. “Wily Greek is a wheelsucker,” we mutter each time he deftly sprints away at the bottom of the Switchbacks. And like all group rides, great or not, you get to declare yourself the winner of something. “I was the first one to the Domes out of the fastest people who got dropped in the alley.” “I was the fastest climber out of the non-climbing sprinters who live in Long Beach.” Etc. It’s almost as good as Strava.
The Donut Ride also contains the race-within-the-race element that so many of us live for: the OTB flailer who nonetheless fights tooth and toenail to finish ahead of the other OTB flailer who said something rude to him on Facebook. Best of all, like all group rides it’s free, starts close to home, doesn’t require an entry fee or a license, and when done properly will effectively wreck any legitimate training plan or racing goal.
The ideal group ride, which the Donut is, will be intense enough to destroy your legs but not make you faster. It will be long enough to exhaust you but not long enough to build your endurance. It will force you to ride either too slow to build your engine, or so fast that you’ll need an entire week in order to recuperate. It will expose all of your weaknesses and develop none of your strengths. Best of all, if you are a Donut vainquer, your victories will translate into little more than DNF’s and barely-finished’s at legitimate stage races.
It is a cul-de-sac for performance, and crystal meth for the legs. Plus, it finishes near several brewpubs which open about the time the ride finishes.
But the hardest group ride in America … Where is it?
My default vote goes to my own backyard; yours probably does, too. After all, no kid is smarter or better looking than your own. The Donut Ride is about 50 miles long and boasts about 5,000 feet of climbing. It goes off every Saturday, with anywhere from 80 to 100 idiots lining up at the start in Redondo Beach in the summer … and less than a dozen making it to base of the Switchbacks-to-Crest climb thirty minutes later, after which the smashing begins in earnest.
But is it the hardest?
The Swami’s ride in Encinitas is horrifically hard and staffed with twisted mutants like Tinstman, Bordine, Marckx, and Thurlow, but it’s shorter (about 30 miles) and “only” has 3,500 feet of climbing. Then there’s the SPY Holiday Ride, a beatdown so vicious that if I make it up the first climb without getting shelled I consider it a total victory: 60 miles, 4,000 feet of climbing, and a 100+ field that is always stacked with state champions, national champions, and group ride champions who live just to dish it out on gang slugfests like this one. The ugliness is sharpened by competition for KOM and sprint awards given out post-ride in the form of BWR Ale brewed by the Lost Abbey.
But is it the hardest?
I don’t know. America is filled with group rides that go off every Saturday, Sunday, holiday, Tuesday, Thursday, and every other day that ends in “-day.”
How do you evaluate their difficulty? The following criteria, for sure …
- Length. Should be more than 40 miles, less than 70. It has to be long enough not to simulate any race you’d actually do, but short enough that it can be completed before your wife goes completely apeshit at another wasted weekend on the bike. Also, it must be long enough so that you perform all chores and kid-activities with a glum face and lagging step.
- Elevation. Enough to make it hard, but not so much that the only champions weigh less than 130-lbs. Ideally, the elevation is spread throughout the ride rather than dumped at the end like the LA Holiday Ride, which is a joke. Having at least one 20-minute climb to obliterate the chubmeisters, the old people, the “just getting into the sport-ers,” and juniors is ideal.
- Number of riders. 30, minimum. Having somewhere to hide and suck wheel is crucial for a group ride. Too few people forces everyone to work, which reduces or eliminates the ability to name-call and point the finger after you get shelled.
- Wind. The more, the better. Wind is the great unequalizer, because it strips the skinny climbers of their watts/kg advantage and grinds them up into little rat pellets. Wind, preferably cold (although frying-pan hot furnace blasts are good, too), increases the chances of crashing and quitting.
- Elements. Freezing rain/brain-scalding heat/crushing humidity are always a plus. Especially in SoCal, where eternal sunshine cultivates softness, a good dose of terrible weather does wonders for separating the wheat from the cadavers.
- Pavement. Shitty road surfaces, hairball descents, off-camber paving, unannounced changes from tarmac to gravel … anything that will cause a flat or a crash or potentially crack your frame gets extra points.
- Quality of field. This is hard to evaluate, but generally, if the average age is “gets an annual prostate check,” then you’re playing with a worn out deck of cards. One good way to evaluate the field is financial stability. The more people living with girlfriends, out of cardboard boxes, sleeping on couches, the faster and more brutal the ride.
I’ve heard lots of stories about “our local group ride is the toughest,” and would like nothing better than to find out for myself. Is the real badass group ride yours? Post the info in a comment or shoot me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, with a link to the Strava segment if there is one. Extra points if the ride is so badass that it’s not even on Strava. It certainly won’t be any fun to go check it out in person, but it might assuage those late-night worries, i.e. “What am I going to write about tomorrow?”
September 30, 2012 § 13 Comments
Aging is like driving an old car. We try to make the best of a deteriorating situation, hoping that the failures are incremental rather than catastrophic. My Camry is in fantastic shape for its 195,000+ miles. It’s got a character ding on the rear bumper, a character gash on the passenger door, and a driver-side window that won’t close all the way.
The window makes a huge whooshing sound once you hit about 40, a whoosh that drowns out radios, cell phones, directions from your spouse, screaming kids in the back seat, and sirens. I’ve been meaning to get it fixed for the last 30,000 miles or so. Meaning to. A great concept.
A brief psychlocross instructional
I left at 5:30 AM to meet up with MMX in North County to borrow a pair of ‘cross shoes, do the Swami’s ride, and get some pointers on how to succeed in my first psychlocross race, which is Sunday. I whooshed all the way to Encinitas, where MMX handed me the shoes.
They were covered with a thick crust of dried mud. They were battered, torn, and had dried mud shoved up into areas where you wouldn’t have thought there was anywhere to shove, like up under the sole. “How do you get mud up under the sole?” I wondered. “So,” I said. “What do I need to know for my first race?”
“Hmmmm. ‘Cross is a lot of fun. After it’s over. During the race you pretty much feel worse than you’ve ever felt your entire life for every single pedal stroke.”
“Oh. Okay. So, like, what do I need to know, technique-wise and stuff?”
“That’s kind of it.” There was an uncomfortable silence as he looked at me. “And don’t crash.”
“B” is for “Babies”
We rolled off to the world-infamous Swami’s “B” Ride, which was founded as an alternative to the leg-shattering, soul-destroying, lung-incinerating Saturday fuckfest now known as the Swami’s “A” Ride.
“You can’t hammer on the B Ride,” MMX said. “Or they’ll kick you off it.”
“Because if you want to hammer, you do the A Ride.”
“So why are we doing the B Ride? Isn’t that kind of like repeating kindergarten after you’ve graduated from high school?”
“We have a race tomorrow, so we’ll just spin our legs, that’s why. And whatever you do, don’t go to the front. That counts as hammering.”
“Even if I’m just soft pedaling?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Yes.”
Karma Strike One
The B Ride really was a flailfest. Even when they were pedaling hard, they weren’t going very fast. Before long I was up at the front. MMX kept waving me back, but by the time we got to Elfin Forest, the herd had thinned a bit. After the church sprunt, it was just MMX, Mark Nagy, and I, rolling along.
Although I thought I’d done a reasonably good job of not hammering, Karma Bitch was unimpressed. She keeps very accurate records, and knows every detail about you, right down to your Social Security Number.
A hero’s welcome
Up ahead as we climbed by the lake was a very old dude. He kept looking back, and was hustling hard to stay away.
“That’s John Howard,” said MMX.
“The John Howard?” I asked.
“Yep. Four-time national champion, three-time Olympian, PanAm Games gold medalist, Ironman winner, four-time RAAM finisher, former holder of the land speed record on a bike, and all-round badass. That’s him. He’s sixty-six, and still rides better than most guys in their 20’s.”
I put my head down, and it took three of us working together to chase him down. We caught him on the bottom of the final ascent. He swung over, MMX pulled through easy, and I came through hard, keeping the gas on until I’d shaken off one of the greatest American cyclists ever, without so much as showing him the respect of saying “hello.”
Karma Strike Two.
Caloric value falls with distance from home
Much like cheating on your spouse, the farther away you get from home the less it counts if you eat chubomatic food when you’re on a diet. After finishing the ride, I got in the car and prepared to swing by HapiFish and get a bowl of cold oatmeal with non-fat milk.
However, I was now 104 miles from home, and the smell of the carnitas wafting out from the open window of Kojita’s Jr. Burrito Palace and Lard Kitchen was overpowering. Doing the caloric math, the 1,500-calorie burrito would probably only be worth 300 or 400 calories this far from home, so I bypassed the healthy oatmeal and went straight for the lard log. Oh, yummmm!
Karma Strike Three.
What’s a whoosh plus a screech?
Tummy pleasantly distended with crunchy, fried bits of fish and tortilla and burrito sauce, I headed up Leucadia Ave. to catch the 5 and return home. As I waited in the left-hand turn lane to get on the freeway, I realized that the window whooshing was caused by the window closing at an angle. It had taken thousands of miles and several years to figure this out.
“I bet I can fix that!” thought the guy who once almost lost his thumb trying to lube the chain on his track bike.
I lowered the window to try and straighten it, and as I raised it I slightly pushed the glass outward, trying to slow the rear part of the window so that the entire edge would seat properly. But I pushed too hard, and the glass popped completely outside the door frame.
The light turned green, and as I turned left I frantically tried to push the window back down with my right hand. That didn’t work, so I even more frantically hit the “down” button with my left hand, temporarily taking both hands off the wheel.
The window jerked down slightly, and sucked my thumb down into the crack along with it. I yowled a curse as the window, now hanging entirely outside the door frame, still wedged my thumb. I had to reach over my right arm to grab the wheel as I entered the freeway. The window began flapping in the wind and whacking against the outside of the door frame.
Each smack smushed my thumb, which felt like it had been caught in a door that was slowly opening and closing on it, over and over. It was Simon’s Hand in the Electric Gate all over again. I was afraid to push the button while driving, thinking that it could get my thumb caught up in the door motor, but at the same time I was afraid the window would shatter into a million pieces. The passing traffic looked amazed, as if they’d never seen a screaming madman with his window flopping outside the car, banging the side of the vehicle at 50 on the freeway while he drove with one hand stuck in the door and the other hand crossed over it while wearing a bicycling outfit and knee-high pink socks.
The only good thing was that everyone could see the SPY sticker on my bumper and the SPY logo on my kit, so my sponsors will know that I was representing.
The next exit took forever. I got off, pulled over, and gradually worked my thumb free. Then I sank into the seat and passed out.
Window repair 101
Upon reopening my eyes, it took a minute to remember why I was parked on the side of the road with my front window hanging out of the car. By the time it all came back, the Karma Bitch had gone. Her work was finished. With a little ingenuity and pushing and angling, I got the window back into the door and seated it properly.
Best of all, when I closed it for good the window sealed perfectly, and the whooshing was completely cured. I drove home listening to my only CD, enjoying music in the car for the first time in years.
Karma may be a bitch, but she can be a good bitch, too.
August 4, 2012 § 4 Comments
Over the course of today’s visitation to the Swamis Ride insane asylum in Encinitas, I experienced three full body shudders. These occur just prior to getting dropped. My entire body shakes, my eyes fill with giant black flying saucers, and the bike shimmies uncontrollably. Once I was shoved back up to the tail of the peloton, the second time I was “attaboyed” just in time to reconnect, and the third time, a quarter mile before the final sprunt, I exhaled with the death rattle and shuddered backwards to the chase group.
When we hit the coast highway at ride’s end, MMX was there waiting. He’d made a brief stop at the church and continued ahead of us on his own. “How was it?” he asked.
“It was hard beyond belief. I can’t believe I didn’t get shelled on Elfin Forest.”
He shook his head. “Nah. That wasn’t hard. You oughta be here when Bordine’s really throwing down. That’s when it’s hard.”
“Oh,” I meekly answered.
Nature abhors a monoculture
Cross-pollination and the wide dispersal of seed is a fundamental biological concept that ensures diversity, which in turn assists survival of the species. Biking’s no different. Getting out of your normal group ride and sampling what others have to offer is about as intense as it gets.
When you roll out the first few times on their turf, you have all the cards stacked against you. They know every intricacy of the route, the sprint points, the rest points, the places where, if you go too hard, you’ll pop, the places where, if you go too easy, you’ll get caught out and shelled.
The locals smell fresh blood when you show up, and use their tactical knowledge to your disadvantage. Plus, they want you to go home and show your mates the gaping wounds and smashed ego that you got at the hands of your betters. The best legends are created by visitors.
Most troubling when you’ve gone to sample someone else’s wares is the uncertainly of who’s who. You don’t know the riders, their tendencies, their strengths, and where particular riders like to put in an effort.
In the beginning it puts you completely on the defensive, but as you fall into the routine, realizing that you’ll be lucky just to hang on, it becomes thrilling beyond belief. Kind of like using your left hand, but, like, way more awesome than that. Even after a week of beating the Facebook drum, the only people who wanted to venture out of their usual stomping grounds were Bill Holford from Long Beach, Gerald Iacono, I, and Marc Spivey, who had driven the battle wagon.
Go South, young man
I advise you to go south and try this ride. We started with a big group of about sixty, including a whole host of folks who seemed as if they were built more for comfort than for speed, and by the time we reached the church for our first rest stop, public urination, and collection of discarded lungs, there were only about thirty riders left. At 22 minutes we were strung out into a nasty, single line of pain going up Levante. By the time I got close enough to the front to see who was there, at 24:29, I saw Todd Parks drilling it on the point. He swung over, an Elbowz dude took a ten second pull, and I hit it as hard as I could for thirty-two seconds. Elbows came through again followed by MMX, who ripped it for the remaining 24 seconds to the top.
By this point you’re barely 25 minutes into the ride and completely gassed. It is a nasty, murderous power climb that the riders ramp up on so quickly you will pop off the back unless you give it 100%.
When we turned left on Rancho Santa Fe, Elbowz and a CashCall dude sprinted off. Parks went back to the front and began lashing the whip, stringing it out and sending people off the back in droves. CashCall and Elbowz came back, we regrouped, and turned right onto San Elijo.
Would you please quit doing that horse thing?
By now I was flatter than a day-old bottle of beer, and breathing like a draft horse pulling a locomotive. Todd went again, MMX followed, Scott Holland attacked them both, Steven Davis followed Scott, while Andy, David, Kelsey, Victor, MMX and I huddled and pedaled. Scott detonated, and then it was Steven flogging the wankers. Everyone swarmed as we approached the final kick before turning off onto Elfin Forest, and by now I was ten or fifteen wheels back and had no idea who was doing what. All I knew is that it really, really hurt, and then came full body shudder No. 1.
Some saint heard my panting and saw my shuddering, grabbed my ass, and gave me a hard push. How’s that for friendly? Without it, I’d have been done.
Onto Elfin Forest Rd. it was a thin, grueling line up to the first bump, a downhill, and then Monster Media John took the controls in hand and switched the dial to “fry.” At 41 minutes in, people were lunging for John’s wheel like drunks after a G-string, bikes swaying, shoulders hunching, necks craning, and wheels bouncing over the poorly shod road surface that was pitted with cracks, holes, bumps, lumps, sand, rocks, birthday cakes, tutus, and tire irons.
Towards the front, but never actually at it
We hit a long 3-4 minute downhill and numerous riders swarmed towards the front as if they were going to finally stick their noses out into the wind and start swinging, but each would ease off just at about fourth or fifth wheel, leaving the same guys who’d been doing all the work to keep doing all the work. Some things are the same in every group ride, everywhere!
I nosed back up towards the front and found one of the hitters, a guy with a bright red Isle of Man jersey, rotating through with Todd, Monster John, and CashCall. I rolled through for a 30-second hit that seemed like an eternity, followed by CashCall and a dude in a B+L kit with blue and white shoes. No one behind him, so I grabbed his wheel and got back into the three-man rotation. Pretty soon it was my turn again, and after a few seconds Isle of Man and Thor the Teen Wanker came blowing by. They were reeled in, and then Isle of Man dude strung it out.
A surge followed, and just before I popped Steven said, “We’re almost at the top!’ even as my second full body shudder wracked me from head to toe.
From that point on I was stuck in the middle of the swirling wankoton, needle gone far beyond red and buried deep in the purple. When we hit the sprunt 7 or 8 minutes later I had no idea who won or even who had been driving the train. I got smattering views of Todd, Monster John, CashCall, Isle of Man, Erik, Steven, MMX, B+L, and some dude in gray and red, but it all blended together into a miasma of blurred vision and gasping breath until, shortly after the sprunt, some wanker clipped a wheel and tumped over at about 3 mph.
I stopped to help the poor schmo, who was unhurt but feeling pretty stupid.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch
The rest of the ride was more of the same. Before leaving, I’d turned on the Strava app on my phone. Over coffee and oatmeal, I checked to see how the ride had stacked up. Hmmm…MMX had set a new course record.
“You should have been here yesterday,” indeed.