“You up for the La Grange ride? It’s fuckin rad, dude. You’ll fuckin love it. It’ll be your new favorite ride.” Fukdude was amped and up as we massed at the Center of the Known Universe for the Sunday Kettle Ride.
“I feel like shit. I’m still trashed from yesterday. I’m flailing. FTR is next Saturday and I’m already overtrained and cracked.”
“So you’re coming, right?”
The choices were bad and awful. I could go with Fukdude and the mixed-Ironfly contingent of Toronto, JDawg, Vegemite, Newlywed, Gonzo, M8, Danc, and Becker Bob, and get thrashed into a pulp on the La Grange Ride, or I could roll north with Roadchamp, G$, McRibs, and TF, and get squished and smeared along the roadway up Latigo.
I ended up going with my team, as I suppose it’s better to get your beatdown surrounded by friends, and the La Grange Ride is one of the most famous rides I’ve never done. As usual, Fukdude had a plan. “You’re going to get on my fuckin wheel, dude, and I’m going to drag you over the wall. Once you’re over the wall just grit your teeth and hang on. It’s all mental after the wall.
“You’ll be rolling out looking at all these fuckin dudes and thinking ‘Fuck, who are all these fuckin dudes ’cause you won’t fuckin know any of them because they don’t race but they’re strong as shit and this is their race. It’s a fuckin beatdown, dude. You’l love it. Just hang on.”
From paradise to Tin Pan Alley
We sheared off from the Kettle Ride at Marina del Rey and headed to West L.A. It was nasty and gnarly, and went down roads that, six and 3/4 days out of seven, were choked with cars. At the rendezvous point, the corner of Westwood and La Grange Avenue, riders began showing up in dribs and drabs until there were about eighty of us. The La Grange cycling club has a description of the ride on its web site which is a masterful expression of understatement and non-disclosure.
The first part of the ride is described as “purely conversational” as we started off by slogging through what seem like dozens of traffic signals, and continue navigating potholes, avoiding treacherous splits in the asphalt that run parallel with your tire, and staying far enough forward that the guys flaunting hairy buttcracks were behind us, not in front. The “conversation” is a variety of “fucks,” “shits,” “whatthehells,” and “oh-oh-oh-oh-heyfuckitHOLE!” as the menagerie bumps, whacks, brakes, stops-and-starts its way to the throwdown.
I turn to JDawg. “When does this fucking ride get hard?”
He looks and grins. “Oh, about…now.”
We begin rolling up Nichols Canyon, the road kicks straight up, Danc spins off the front, and I’m fifth wheel, tucked behind Fukdude per the plan. A few minutes into the climb I’m laughing to myself. “This is nothing.” The group is strung out single file, I’ve got my high cadence on, and Danc is playing rabbit just up the road. The climb continues. What could be easier than this?
We hit a couple of turns and the guy on the front pulls back Danc and it’s full throttle. The easy climb that was perfectly suited to my cadence goes from totally doable to on-the-fucking-rivet-holy-mother-of-Dog-I’m-gonna vomit. Danc latches on, I struggle for another minute, the oxygen debt becomes an oxygen Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, all power to the engines is instantaneously lost, and it’s Teblow Time.
Flail and flog
JDawg whips by me. “Spin, buddy,” he says. I try to focus on the blur as it races past, and try even harder to decipher his words. “Spin.” I know that word. “Buddy.” I’ve heard that before. What can he mean? Who is he talking to? Where am I? What am I doing? What is this hand grenade that has detonated in my chest?
Then there’s a hand on my left leg as Danc gives me a huge push. “Just a couple more minutes, buddy,” he urges. “Minutes.” I know what those are. One minute on Nichols Canyon at full throttle is a time interval equivalent to a billion years. Two minutes is twelve billion years. I gasp, choke, drop my head, and shoot off the back.
The second group comes by. I struggle on as the road continues up, up, up. A few seconds’ rest and we hit the Wall. This is the part of the ride that Fukdude described thus: “We’re gonna hit this fuckin wall, dude, it’s like straight fuckin up and you’re gonna already be on the fuckin rivet and you’ll come off a little but you’ll have to give just that extra bit beyond what you’ve got and then you’ll hitch back on and can just suffer the rest of the way. It’ll just be a few dudes and if you don’t hook on there you’ll be flailing by yourself the rest of the ride.”
He was right about the “on the rivet” part, but he was way wrong about that “extra bit” part. I would have needed a new set of legs and a hoist to close the 50 or 60 yards that now separated Group Flail from Group One. They crested and were gone.
My group of wankers included Newlywed and Vegemite, the 17 year-old team vegan who, like me, was doing the ride for the first time. The other six guys were La Grange, and they punished us mercilessly until Newlywed curled up in a fetal ball and launched back to the next chase group. Vegemite put in one good attack, then melted down into a puddle, but manfully hung on.
Adding to the fun of having your heart up in your throat for about 40 solid minutes with zero recovery was the thrill of trying to hang onto the wheels of the guys who knew the route, a fair chunk of which involved shooting through stone red lights, drilling through narrow corridors of cars at 40 mph, blasting into the middle of high speed intersections, and my personal favorite, doing it all while navigating massive potholes big enough to swallow you whole, jumping giant road cracks, edging through piled up rocks and gravel in the gutter, and stomping full power on the pedals with each punishing roller.
I flogged and flailed as two of the Mexican La Grange guys discussed the sprint finish strategy. “Hay un semaforo, y despues, los mailboxes y el sprint finish.” From my college Spanish, I knew that “semaforo” meant “fat older sister,” and “despues” meant sitting. So the one guy’s sister was sitting on the mailboxes to cheer us for the sprint finish. I was onto their strategy now.
Ahead of us, Fukdude, JDawg, and Danc had three Grangerites in their breakaway. In a well-timed urination on La Grange’s home fire hydrant, Fukdude nailed the sprint, with JDawg taking second. In Group Flail, I waited until the slight rise that presaged the mailboxes atop which the sister would be sitting. I saw the mailboxes, but no sister–and by the time I realized my error the Grangerites had sneaked by, narrowly beating me to the line by a hundred yards or so. Vegemite crept in slightly OTB, and Group Flog, containing Toronto and Newlywed, arrived in the next wave looking quite fresh, strong, healthy, fit, and fast. Had we done the same ride? I staggered over to the bushes at the Skirball and assisted with some emergency shrubbery hydration while all the Grangerites stood around and looked daggers at Fukdude, JDawg, and Danc.
Pedals of love
After fueling up at the CotKU with coffee and a chicken sandwich, I headed for the Hill and for home. In Redondo I was passed by Don and Dustin Webb. Dustin sits in the front of his dad’s customized rig, carefully belted in and wearing a very cool Livestrong helmet as Don does the tough work of pedaling the bike and his 115-lb. son up and around the hills of the peninsula.
As we hit the steep part of the pitch coming out of Redondo, Dustin looked back at his dad in pure happiness as Don cranked the bike up the hill. “He loves it when I suffer,” Don laughed. The customized fairing kept the headwind from chilling Dustin, who was warmly dressed in long-sleeved jersey and tights. As we crested the hill, Don took out Dustin’s water bottle and helped his son have a drink.
We chatted about gearing and about upcoming plans to convert the sturdy but heavy rig into a carbon fiber frame, all the while enjoying the sunlight and the beautiful view as we rolled out atop the Cove. Watching Don’s smooth, almost effortless power as he propelled his customized assistive cycle up the slope, I reflected for a moment on the morning I’d just spent smashing and bashing up Nichols Canyon, and compared that effort to the lifetime that Don has devoted to caring for, and enjoying the time with his son Dustin. My efforts felt small compared to their companionship and love.
We parted at Coronel, and I hit the climb up Via Zurita with a vigor and strength and freshness and happiness that I hadn’t had before.