That’s what I was thinking as Punkin moved aggressively to take Zink’s wheel. Punkin had been pedaling madly and never spent a second at the front. Now, just before the launch up the first nasty roller, he had decided that what he wanted was the Cadillac draft: Zink, he figured, was big, strong, and able to tow him to the promised land.
I let him in. “You want Zink’s wheel, Punkin?” I thought. “Okay. Let me know how that works out for you.”
Punkin grabbed The Wheel, and The Wheel surged up the hill with the ferocity that only Zink seems to have in these situations. Punkin pedaled hard, then harder, then started trying to find the right gear, something in between an 18 and a 19, say, an 18-1/2 or perhaps an 18-3/4.
Smoke began pouring out of his ass. His head drooped. Zink beat the pedals even harder and Punkin rolled out of the formation, his left engine hit, his right engine in flames, and the nose already pointing downwards as he began spiraling out of control. We didn’t see him again.
This day had started like every other Big Ride Day. The night before I’d laid everything out, packed my bag, ground the coffee, charged my lights, and set the alarm for 3:45 and then again for 4:00 AM to make sure I would be able to wake up and be out the door on time at five.
And like every other cyclist since the beginning of time who has prepared the night before, I was late. I continually woke up all night, anxiously awaiting the alarm, but it wasn’t until 3:30 that I fell into the sleep of the dead so that when the clock went off fifteen minutes later I was in the profound REM sleep of someone who’s been up all night.
I snoozed the alarm until four, staggered up, fixed the coffee, put on my kit, drank my coffee, and checked email. The next time I looked up I only had five minutes before departure. No problem. I got up and remembered I hadn’t aired up my tires. No problem. Aired ’em up. Then I noticed my taillight wasn’t affixed. Ran into the bedroom. Couldn’t find it. Began hollering. Woke up the household. Finally found it, amazingly, where I’d left it the night before.
Went to put it on. The velcro strap came loose. Dashed back into the bedroom. Wife now livid. Turned on the light. Wife started throwing ashtrays. Ran to the drawer where I kept random bike shit that doesn’t go in the toolbox but can’t be tossed because you might need it someday. Dumped out the drawer and began feverishly looking through spare helmet pads, extra GoPro sticky pad thingies, spare bolts and washers, extra tire levers, and a stack of decals. Where was the fucking extra velcro strap?
Now my five minutes were long gone. Ran to the bike. Strapped on the velcro. Hooked on the light. Stumbled out to the car. Forgot my coffee. Ran back up three flights of stairs. Got the coffee. Ran back to the car. Got the bike and bag into the car. Now I was fifteen minutes down. The drive to North County would be insane, and it was.
First, my son, ye shall have communion at the holy Leucadia Donut Shoppe
I got to Leucadia with fifteen minutes to spare and hit the donut shop. Then I sped over to the Starbucks where the ride started. I scarfed the donuts, drained a coffee mug, and hopped on my bike just as the ride rolled out.
All of the other riders had ridden there and were warmed up. I was colder than a math teacher.
We set a wonderful, leisurely pace for the first hundred yards. Then Lars the Viking gently increased the speed to thirty-five. Zink came through at 36. Nails came through at 37. Ryan came through at 37.5. Everyone else got kicked out the back, reducing our starting group of forty to about five riders.
We regrouped at a light, if “regrouped” is what you call a gaggle of gagging, gasping bicycle riders whose tongues are stuck in their forks. Zink whipped it up again on PCH as he, Dahl, Viking, Sobey, and a handful of other SPY riders pushed it all the way to Carlsbad. The ragtag group of wheelsucks wouldn’t, or couldn’t take a pull, with the exceptions of Stefanovich and Jim, who both found the front just long enough to remember why they’d been in the back.
“Gee, I’d love to, but … “
As we hit the first nasty roller I thought about all the people who had told me how much they’d “love” to come do this ride. None had made it. I appreciated their wisdom.
One flailer who appeared to be on life support rolled up and patted me condescendingly on the head. “You’re doing better!” he said. Zink kicked it up another gear, I followed, and Headpat disappeared into oblivion. I love riding people off my wheel after they compliment me.
After the endless series of rollers, each of which permanently shed another fistful of gasping wheelsucks, we finally eased off. “This one’s tempo,” said MMX.
Viking, Zink, Dahl, and Sobey didn’t get the email, though, as they stomped off with the enthusiasm of a newly licensed executioner trying out a new Zwilling blade. MMX, Dandy Andy and I were gapped out. MMX mashed away for as long as he could, doing 23 rpm in his trademark meatgrinder pedalstroke, then ceded the front to Dandy Andy. Dandy flogged it like a monkey trying to write kanji and somehow closed the gap. I spit up an appendix and part of my shoe, then caught my breath with a 7/0 treble hook on 400-lb. test line and a Daiwa Dendoh Marine power assist reel.
Thanks to the “tempo” climb and the robotic thumping of MMX, Zink and Viking, MMX closed out the day with thirteen KOM’s and a new course record. I finished with a migraine and a sense of astonishment that on a 29-mile ride there could be over three hundred Strava segments. Dahl gave me a funny look at the end.
“Dude,” he said. “When you were eating the kimchi diet and the vegan thing and no gluten and no beer and only masturbating biannually you were slower than an IRS refund. Now that you’ve switched to beer and donuts you’re actually keeping up. What’s that all about?”
“I dunno,” I said. Then I hopped into my car, dashed onto the freeway, drove like mad to the McDonald’s in San Clemente, inhaled a Big Mac, and fell asleep in the parking lot.
Go big or go home? I had gone big AND was going home. And the next time you get a hankering to find out how tough your local Tuesday morning ride actually is, give me a call. The passenger seat’s always empty.