Holiday to Hell

Holiday: [From the New Intergalactic Panlinguistic Dictionary] n. “A period in which a break is taken from work for rest. Many holidays of the world tend to occur at the approximate dates of more ancient, pagan festivals.”

In the South Bay, the Holiday Ride occurs every Monday on which there is at least a 3-day weekend commemorating a national holiday. Unlike other “holiday” events, which in America generally focus on beer or working overtime at the office, the Holiday Ride, far from being a break from work, is a celebration of suffering, akin to having nails driven into your eyes, or beating your knuckles over and over with a hammer. It coincides with the ancient pagan festival of Huitzilopochtili, in which a living human heart was ripped from the ribcage of a sacrificial victim and offered to the Aztec god.

You Actually Get to Keep Your Heart. Sort of.

The Holiday Ride always begins at 8:00 a.m. sharp, and leaves from the center of the known universe in Manhattan Beach. In decent weather, such as we had today, it easily draws 150+ deluded idiots and an even smaller handful of the truly crazy. Blocking traffic and often spilling out into the opposing lane, it lazily rolls through Santa Monica and makes a right turn onto San Vicente, where infuriated motorists have alerted the Santa Monica police, who in turn lay in wait, praying that someone is foolhardy enough to run a yellow light.

This morning we moved up onto San Vicente in a giant clump, and after a few seconds the sound of a squad car’s PA spewed out over the whirr of chains, cogs, and echoing carbon rims. “Single file,” an idiot bellowed, unaware that one of the men in the group was Rahsaan Bahati, the undisputed King of the Peloton.

“Single file?” Rahsaan mused. “We can do that.” In a matter of seconds the clump turned into a single file of idiots, wankers, pretenders, dreamers, schemers, wannabes, couldabeens, shouldadones, and gonnatries. Thirty seconds into Bahati’s effort, the scab-like, globular accretion of  cyclists became a tight wire line stretched to the breaking point before, of course, it broke. Egos shattered with the force of eggs on marble, dreams came crashing down onto the rusty and pointed nails of reality, and tales of Holiday Heroism, carefully rehearsed for the wife and kids, became labored, grunting, panting wheezes as each drowning rat lunged for the life-saving slipstream of whatever wheel lay immediately ahead. We hit the red light at 26th Street with five guys. The remainder of the group caught up and exhaled a collective heave, reminding everyone that the climb hadn’t even started, and that it was going to be a hard, nasty, unpleasant, ratfucking business.

“Game On.” Make that “Game Over.”

We queued at the light before Mandeville Canyon Drive, the tired and nervous group waiting for the execution. The light turned green and Noel slapped the snot out of the peloton with a hard jump. Those who were still hoping for a gradual windup were sorely disappointed, as he drilled the first mile full bore before blowing up in a shower of sparks.

Rahsaan’s subsequent acceleration at the front after he pulled off unleashed the mother of all wind-ups. More than a hundred hopeless souls were instantaneously consigned to the hellfire and damnation of an 800-watt acceleration that scorched the lungs and incinerated the spirits of all but the hardiest.

The hardiest, of course, included Devon, King Harold, DS Jaeger, Stathis the Greek, and Doug P. I brought up the rear of the group, making sure that bits of puke, lung, and blood were deposited in the appropriate places. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to sit on the wheel of a national champion or of a guy who’s won the Athens Twilight Criterium along with a slew of other major pro domestic races, all I can tell you is that I don’t really know. There’s a feeling of helplessness and pain, of defeat mixed with gagging, suffocating, despair, and of course the sensation that every elephant in India has decided to step on your legs at once…other than that…

He’s the Teacher, and You Just Got Schooled

Rahsaan towed the struggling line of hackers for most of the climb, swung off, and watched as a small group detached itself and rolled up the road. Doug P. then sat up and waved me ahead as his deuterium isotope fused with his tritium isotope, setting off one of the more memorable blow-ups I’ve yet to witness on Mandeville. Unhappily, as I sprinted through the fallout to catch Rahsaan’s wheel, the fallout from Doug’s blast contaminated my drinking water and set off a chain reaction in which my lactate ions fused with my crack-and-whimper ions, leaving me adrift between the break and the wanker brigade. Just as it appeared things couldn’t possibly get worse, Rahsaan sat up, finally spent from his superhuman effort. The break was in sight, now comprised of King Harold, Devon, and DS Jaeger. But they were gone.

It Ain’t Over ‘Til it’s Over. And it was Over.

As we hit the final 300m wall that concludes the canyon climb, I was tucked on Rahsaan’s wheel. The three leaders were wobbling and weaving with a massive gap on the chase. The Man jumped out of the saddle, and despite having towed the entire group up the entire climb, rocketed up, caught and dropped the leaders, and reached the gate first. South Bay Tom, Jay the River, and Doug P. blew by me and even took time to kick sand in my face.

On the way back we stopped at the off-center of the known universe, Peet’s Coffee on Main Street in Santa Monica. Shreds of self-respect were carefully scraped together as we all sat in a circle around Rahsaan, hoping that some of his greatness would rub off on us, but knowing deep down that it wouldn’t.

But that’s okay. There’s always another holiday.

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