Tink’s mom looked at my car and wasn’t much reassured by the dented fender and legion of scrapes. “Where’s his bike rack?” she asked.
“Pretty sure he doesn’t have one.”
“How is he going to get both of your bikes down to North County?”
“I don’t know.”
They sat there and waited for me in the pitch dark. “I hope he has some way to carry your bike.”
“He said it would be no problem.”
“I really don’t want to drive you down to San Diego this morning for that bicycle ride.”
“He said there was room.”
Oh, ye of little faith
I appeared out of the 5:30 AM darkness. Tink had already unloaded her bike from her mom’s SUV. I laid my bike in the trunk, knocked down the back seats, threw down some towels, and laid Tink’s bike, wheelless, atop mine. Her bike was so small we could have tossed in a barbecue grill and still had room for the wheels.
Then we were off.
Tink has been in winter build and Strava stealth mode. Unlike the rest of the year, when it’s one epic crushing after another, she’s been quiet for months. This New Year’s Eve, SPY Optic and RIDE Cyclery were putting on an event to celebrate all the good things that had happened in 2012. Unlike the typical North County ride menu, this one was billed as “no hammering,” “anything but a race,” “good times for all” and encouraging “riders of all abilities.
What could possibly go wrong? I was already tired and needed an easy pedal to finish out my year.
What could possibly go wrong
The wise Marvin Campbell had tried to dissuade those lulled into a false sense of security by posting on FB these immortal words: “It’s a trap.”
The victim of several sorties down south, Marvin knew an ambush when he saw one. I, however, actually believed MMX. Again.
As we rolled out, there were all sorts of red flags waving–blowing–whipping–in the early morning chill. The red flags went by the names of Thurlow a/k/a The Hand of God, Tintsman, Hamasaki, Dahl, Gonyer, Johnson, Quick, Day, Pomerantz, and Shannon. In addition to these evil omens, there were another twenty to forty lean, sculpted pairs of legs that looked anything but “encouraging” or in the least bit interested in “good times.”
“Is this really going to be an easy ride?” Tink asked. She’d never ridden down south and was looking forward to a social pedal during which time she could meet this new cast of characters.
“Oh, yes,” I assured her. “MMX would never bill something as an easy ride, attract a ton of riders, and then tear their legs off. He’s just not cruel like that.”
I looked around at the estimated two hundred riders that were now swarming along the coast road and hoped I was right.
Hidden Valley, where all is revealed
At some point in the ride the throng had been reduced by half. One of the reductees was Paige DeVilbiss, who had hurried down from Fullerton, missed the pre-ride coffee chat, gotten shelled at mile four, chased back on, and then gotten kicked out the back for good at mile eight. This was a classic North County welcome: “So glad you’re here, hope you enjoy this kick in the face and the solitary ride back to your car and the even more solitary ride back to your home.”
By the time we hit the bottom of the Hidden Valley climb, thanks to the “conversational pace” and “happy times,” Tink was the only woman left. If there were any conversations that took place the entire day, they turned out to be monosyllabic grunts and nods of the head interspersed with the random moan and plea for mercy.
Unaware of what lay ahead, Tink took an inopportune moment to start in on a candy bar just as the group hit the first climb. Her mouth full to prevent breathing and one-handed to prevent effective climbing, the road kicked up. Tink struggled at quarter power to get up the nasty climb. She wasn’t about to spit out and lose her precious riding fuel.
Those who were behind her, and there were many, were disturbed to see her easily power up the climb one-handed while chewing a mouthful of food.
A small contingent of nine riders crested the climb. I struggled over in tenth place many bike lengths between me and the leaders. After a few twists and turns, we regrouped, hit the short dirt section made famous by last year’s BWR, and climbed the back side of Summit.
This time I stayed on the wheel of The Hand of God, who cracked jokes all the way up the climb. “My coach told me not go any harder than I’m going now,” he said with laugh. Everyone else gasped and struggled and grunted.
Tink was just behind us, never in any trouble at all, easily pedaling among the leading ten or fifteen men. With the exception of me and MMX, none of the other riders knew her or had any inkling of what they were dealing with, and over the course of the morning her presence began to stand out more and more.
It slowly dawned on them. Tink wasn’t just the only woman left. She was out-riding most of the men who remained, and the men who remained were the good ones.
Going out in style
A solid 60 miles into the 67-mile ride, there were less than forty riders left. After a gradual uphill punctuated by a roller where MMX smashed the group, we got back together in time for a screaming flat, tailwind run-in to something. Not knowing the course, the only thing evident was that everyone knew what was going on except me.
The friendly “Sure, take that wheel, mate” instantly transformed into “That’s my wheel, fucker, and I’ll kill you if you try to get it.”
The survivors stretched out into one long, unbroken line of pain until whatever it was we were so desperately eager to get to was gotten to. Everyone sat up and stared at the road ahead. The back side of San Elijo marched off into the sky.
I looked at Tink. “We’re going up that bastard. Get on MMX’s wheel. Now.”
“I can’t hold his wheel!” she protested.
“Get the hell up there,” I grumbled. And she did.
Three quarters of the way up this miserable, endless, soul-crushing climb, the 40-strong pack was mostly together. MMX and The Hand of God rode tempo on the front, having commanded that “None shall pass, and neutral shall this climb remain.”
I swung over to the right-hand gutter and pushed through the front, sailing by The Hand of God and MMX.
Note to self: Never, ever, ever, simulate an acceleration or an attack in the presence of THOG.
See that slumbering bear? Why don’t you poke its eye with a stick?
The other wheelsuckers, seeing my effrontery, responded in kind. The peloton detonated and I was soon swarmed, and shortly thereafter dropped. As the heaving, gasping, grunting, groaning cadavers spiraled off the rear like a spent roman candle, one rider was having no difficulties at all.
It was Tink.
She shed the group and raced ahead to the leaders, who were being slowly roasted, then cannibalized, then dropped, by The Hand of God. As she passed me she rubbed salt in the wound by smiling. Then she rubbed arsenic into the salt by speaking. She said something that sounded like “Atalzchstsaek talk?”
But all I could respond with, and it was only in my head, was “How the fuck do you have breath to waste on talking?”
She sailed by MMX, sailed by the remaining human shrapnel, and easily crested the peak. Only a handful of the best riders in the state, and one of the greatest American bike racers of all time, were ahead of her.
That was the last climb of the day. I was toasted. She was warmed up and smiling.
“What a great climb! Are you okay?” she asked, unused as she was to seeing my bloodless lips and eyes hanging 3/4 out of the sockets.
“Tink,” I muttered, “if I keep riding with you in 2013…”
“It’s going to be one long, miserable year.”