Nature is beautiful. The tiny chicks hatch, featherless, and are carefully tended by momma bird until they fledge. As they get too big for the nest, the timid fledglings are gently nudged out onto the limb. Anxiously, their loving mother sits by their side, gently chirping and encouraging them as they prepare to take their first flutter into the air.
It is a scary moment in a little bird’s life, but made tolerable by the constant cooing of momma bird as she helps the little chickie take its first tentative flaps before leaping off the branch. Momma bird watches nervously and immediately flies to baby bird’s new perch, praising and cooing and urging him to take another tentative flight.
Love, support, encouragement, and the watchful eye of mommy all lead to success. Baby bird quickly gets his “flight wings” and by day’s end is proudly flitting from tree to tree, but never too far from his warm little nest where momma bird can praise him and yes, even reward him with a moist, plump earthworm or two. Baby bird snuggles against momma’s cozy feathered breast and enjoys his yummy snack, proud of his accomplishments on his big day and looking forward to more in the days to come.
The North County Puke & Gulp isn’t quite as tender
When we rolled out from the Starbucks at La Costa and El Camino Real, an entire flock of baby birds was nervously perched on the corner. But rather than being protected by anxious and encouraging momma bird, they were eyed hungrily by ravenous, toothy wolves with names like Full-Gas Phil, Battering Ram Abate, Red Light Davis, Bad Magic Johnson, and MMX.
The baby birds chirped nervously as Full-Gas tossed it into the big ring and simultaneously swallowed a fistful of fledglings — feathers, feet, beaks and all. He spit out the beaks.
When the peloton hit PCH, Bad Magic opened the throttle and, with stomps of his hob-nailed, steel-toed boots, he mercilessly ground up another handful of baby chicks into pink slime, ready-prepped for the McNuggets factory. Battering Ram barreled to the fore, knocking an entire row of terrified fledglings off the branch and into the blood-stained maw of MMX, who chewed off their heads and spit the mangled carcasses onto the bowed shoulders of those who cowered at the back.
I had made the mistake of stirring the North County pot, and on this morning the testosterone stew bubbled and boiled and gurgled and roiled with the intensity of a steel smelter. The first crew of forty-eight was, by ride’s end, reduced to less than a dozen. None was wearing Swami’s blue.
How DO they ride down in San Diego County?
I’ve ridden enough in North County to know that they love welcoming newcomers with a fistful of nails and broken glass rammed down your throat. If you want an extra helping of hard, they always seem eager to serve seconds, then thirds. Moreover, a handful of North County natives have been kind enough to come up to Los Angeles and do our New Pier Ride, so I wanted to return the favor and sample their wares — but not before taunting them as weaklings and slackers. [Note to self: Do not send out boastful emails prior to showing up for a North County ride.]
No matter what anyone says, it’s fun to have visitors on your local ride. The North County Tuesday/Thursday ride I especially wanted to do because one of the people who’s been instrumental in ramping up its popularity and difficulty — my buddy MMX — never fails to pop in on the NPR when he’s in town and ladle out an extra scoop of misery.
If you’re in town on a Tue/Thu, I recommend this ride. It’s exceedingly hard and challenging, but as with any ride it has its drawbacks. Before I extol the virtues, here are the blemishes:
- It’s too short. The whole thing is well under an hour.
- Although there’s some good pre-ride congregating, as soon as the ride finishes everyone hurries off to work or to complete a longer ride. There doesn’t seem to be a permanently unemployed or underemployed leisure class who can sit around post-ride and burn up the rest of the morning quaffing coffee in the sun.
- They don’t have anyone remotely close to Prez. They don’t even have anyone who wears neon yellow shoe covers with bright pink gloves.
- It is a relentless beatdown with nowhere to hide. This is good if you want to leave 90% of the participants inert and blown out the back, but the death knell if you want to have a 100+ wankoton on sunny days, where baby seals and fledglings can leech off the strong while doing little or no work at the back.
- No warm-up. You get on your bike and you’re doing 30.
But then there are the pluses…and are they ever pluses.
The course, the characters
I call this ride the North County Puke & Gulp. It started so hard and fast that I tasted breakfast multiple times on the ride, and especially in the first ten minutes. Tinstman, Bad Magic, et al. set out at a wicked pace on La Costa, and after a couple of miles we hit the coast highway. The leaders sprinted up to speed, a solid 35 or faster, and a handful of riders churned the front with brief, intense pulls.
“Full-Gas” Phil Tinstman made the pace so hard that no one could pull for more than a few seconds. The vast majority of the 48 riders got nowhere near the front, but unlike NPR, where there’s safety at the back, the tiniest of gaps sent riders rocketing backwards, alone, shelled, before the ride had barely begun. Battering Ram, Red Light, Mike Williams, Bad Magic, and MMX busted more freeloaders off the back and put them out to pasture.
There is a small hill going up to Palomar Road but people were already so fagged with the speed that it was devoid of the crazy attacks I’d been assured would be on offer. By now pages of Strava KOM’s had been rewritten, if you’re into that kind of thing, and everyone in North County apparently is, as the short 20-mile ride has been broken down into fourteen thousand segments.
The ride reaches its first neutral zone in downtown Carlsbad, a picturesque little seaside town that would be even more picturesque without the snot and spit and bloody stool that people were leaving on the road. The group had thinned considerably; perhaps a third of the fledglings had already been rolled in batter and dipped in the fryalator.
This first section, the “Front Half,” was the easy part, though I was barely able to hang on. Several riders came up and told me to “be ready” for the “hard part.” I don’t know how you get ready for something that you’re too weak to do, especially when the moment of truth is five minutes away or less. Once on the Back Half, the relative flat of the coast gave way to the punishing rollers for which North County is infamous. It is here that the ride completely and forever leaves aside all comparisons with the NPR.
Unlike our L.A. ride, where a bit of tenacious wheelsucking will get almost anyone through the hard bits, once you hit the rollers on the back side you either have the go-legs or you have a lot of time alone with yourself. MMX drove it to the top of El Camino Real and separated the group for what I was sure was for good. I blew apart halfway up, and the leaders made it easily through the light. My chase group hit the light on dead red, and we were all eternally grateful for the chance to stop, catch our breath, and blame the breakaway on the traffic signal rather than our weak legs and puny lungs.
To shout or not to shout? Primal scream therapy or gentle remonstrance?
There are two schools of thought on shouting at people who screw up on the bike. One school holds that shouting is rude, counterproductive, frightening, and that it ruins budding friendships. The other school holds that if you ride like a dumbshit you deserve to be yelled at, since studies show that dumbshits learn best after a good solid hollering.
In our case, the chase group was populated with adherents to the second school, and when two riders blew through the dead-red light that had traffic stacked up at opposing ends of the intersection, there was more yelling and screaming and cussing than a Westboro Baptist funeral protest.
One wanker turned around mid-intersection; the other sped up the road to join the disappearing leaders. It was impressive to see how the entire group reamed this poor dude out; almost as impressive as watching him humbly accept the tongue lashing and then apologize. Wanker #2 got yelled at later in the ride, yelled at on Facebook, and privately reprimanded by MMX. Like an adult, he accepted responsibility, proffered no lame excuses, and apologized.
This, more than anything else, impressed me. Whereas our ride shout-outs result in lifelong enmity, or in riders pouting for months on end, these guys were able to be dressed down by their good friends and cursed at like sailors, apologize, and have their apology accepted. Cool stuff.
Key ride facts
The beatdown delivered by SPY, Full-Gas Tinstman, and Battering Ram Abate left everyone else hanging on for dear life. It was a record day on Strava in case anyone doubted the intensity; MMX got 9 KOMs on a course he has ridden twice a week for the last two years. Everyone who finished the ride chalked up PR’s, top 10’s, and many set course records for various segments.
The finishing group would have been truly microscopic in size had we chasers not reattached with the leaders who got stopped at the world’s longest light.
Unquestionably, Full-Gas was the single biggest factor in keeping such a torrid pace. If one other thing contributed to the intensity, it was likely the desire of the local crew to show that whatever kind of ride we have in L.A., they’ve got that and then some in North County.
They are, however, now running short on baby birds.