November 4, 2013 § 37 Comments

I’ve done tons of group rides in my life, century rides, memorial rides, fundraising rides, whatever. I’ve never done anything like the Nosco Ride, nothing even close.

Let me tell you about it.

This guy, Mike Nosco, died in a car accident. He was a Navy vet who did two tours in Iraq and an employee of Amgen. I’m not even sure he rode a bike. His brother Jack, a cyclist and Ventura County firefighter, was devastated. He decided to grapple with his grief by helping other people, so he put on a memorial ride. Jack asked for donations, and he gave the money to sick people.

This year was the fifth running of the ride. I don’t like charity rides because they remind me how fucked up our healthcare system is. We’re the only “advanced” nation that has to help people defray crippling medical bills with bake sales and bike rides. It makes me sick to my stomach.

But my good friend Suzanne Sonye threw up a last minute plea on FB the night before the ride. “This one is worth it,” she said.

I looked at the ride’s details, and it didn’t look like a very good ride for me. Rather than preparing with a solid one-month block of climbing (the ride covers 9,500 feet of elevation in 81 miles), I’d been preparing by doing 45-minute ‘cross races and the occasional high-speed crash on my head.

Nor was I thrilled about what I was sure would be a pretty expensive donation.

Reality check

I showed up the morning of the event and learned that it was free. You could donate if you wanted, or not. “What size t-shirt would you like?” asked the wonderful young lady at the registration booth. You see, you got a t-shirt and a swag bag whether you donated or not.

“What kind of asshole would come to an event like this and not kick in, at a minimum, the equivalent to a race entry fee?” I wondered.

Answer: Bike racers.

In addition to those who brazenly signed up and accepted the swag and donated little or nothing, many others pirated the ride, waiting a few miles up the road and hopping in, where they got to spend the day lapping up the energy drinks and snarfling down the food at the incredibly well-stocked rest stations.

Reality check redux

There is no easy way to describe the Nosco Ride, except to say it’s mind-bendingly difficult. Whereas Solvang and any number of other rides shoot for the lowest common denominator in terms of difficulty, the Nosco Ride reflects the kind of person Mike Nosco actually was. Gritty, tougher than nails, up for the biggest challenge, and ready to give it his all.

The ride started with a 600-person lemming rush from Borchard Community Park to PCH, and from there the huge swirling wankoton rushed at max speed to Deer Creek Road. This is the one big climb in the Santa Monica Mountains I’ve never done because one time Dave Jaeger told me that it was “Really hard.”

“How hard?”

“Bitch hard.”

“Harder than Las Flores?”

“By a long shot.”

So I scratched it off my list.

Starting a group ride of 600 people up Deer Creek is unfathomable. It has an average pitch of 72%. It is 43 miles long, unpaved, and goes beneath several pillboxes that are manned with live .50-caliber Browning machine guns. When the group hit Deer Creek, the same group that had been fighting for inches and scrapping for every single position on PCH, it was complete mayhem.

You’ve heard the expression “blew apart the race”? This blew apart the race. The total climb was over five miles long and was so steep that my 39 x 28 wasn’t nearly enough gear to climb it well. That, and my weak legs and puny lungs …

There was a sag station at the top of the climb and people were hurling themselves at the bananas, BonkBreakers, and water bottles. Others were just hurling.

Several miles later we descended Yerba Buena back down to PCH, got a brief respite, and then climbed Mulholland, all nine miles of it. It wasn’t that steep, but after Deer Creek people were completely wrecked. The only course I’ve ever done that is tougher than Nosco is the BWR, and it’s almost fifty miles longer and has an additional five thousand feet of elevation.

Atop Mulholland there was again mayhem at the sag stop. I ate bananas and pb sandwiches and almonds and watermelon and doused myself in water and then went through the food line again.

It isn’t over until about midway through

We next descended Encinal back to PCH, where I fell in with a group who kept a nasty tempo all the way to Latigo. This is one of my demon climbs. Nothing good has ever happened to me on it, and today was no exception. Crushing my best-ever time of 46:19, I managed to finish it in 59:00 flat, and that was only after Lee Adams towed me for the first seven miles of the ten-mile climb. I won’t get into a FB war with her again.

At this next-to-last feed station people were zombie-like. I ate a fistful of sliced bananas and realized only hours later that I’d neglected to remove the peels. The remainder of the ride was rolling, with a few short climbs, not enough downhill, and a filthy headwind the last five miles.

At one point a rider was lying on the roadside with a CHP officer hunched over him. “You okay?” asked the cop.

“I’m fine,” said the downed rider.

“Why are you lying in the road then?”

“Cramps,” he grimaced.

I pedaled on.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore

Back at the park we were served unlimited amounts of delicious Mexican food. Free. And we were served unlimited amounts of Sierra Nevada beer, your choice of Pale Ale or Torpedo. Free. In case you didn’t get that last part, let me repeat: Free.

Then there was live music, an auction, free massages, a bone marrow donor registry, and support from top to bottom by Road Bike Action magazine and Robb Mesecher, who did so much to make this event what it was: unforgettable.

And if you were one of the deadbeats who “pirated” the ride, it’s not too late to donate here!

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§ 37 Responses to Unforgotten

  • tanoshinde says:

    That sounds like a charity ride done right. If you can’t suffer by donating a kidney or some bone marrow, you can suffer by parting with some cold, hard cash and then riding your bike up wicked hills in fast company for hours at a time instead.

    • fsethd says:

      Jack Nosco deals with his grief by making other people happy. What a good person.

    • deb says:

      thanks for coming out, seth! with i could’ve chatted with every one of the riders who came out! glad you’re hooked! no doubt, the best event i’ve ever done in all my 30 years of riding and racing!!

  • Jon Trimble says:

    Very nice write up WM. When you mentioned “pirating” the ride, I’m sure all of the readers had the little balloons pop up above our heads with specific names in them. These people are usually the first ones to bash on social programs that help the needy. Glad you’re back on your bike doing what you love. Remember, rubber side down, not carbon and plastic.

    • fsethd says:

      One asshole said that “I was gonna donate but then when I signed in they asked me how much I was gonna donate and I didn’t like being pressured like that.”

  • New Girl says:

    Thanks, Seth. Just donated (take THAT pirates) & marked on my calendar for next year. I have heard nothing but amazing things about this event. Sounds like a greatfunHARD ride for NG next year. 🙂

  • WM. Your write up and New Girl’s generosity motivated me to donate this morning as well. Hope I can give it a whirl next year! The power of the pen… Thanks!

  • Valley Girl says:

    I wanted to do it…alas we had team camp in Los Olivos. Thanks for the link.

  • craig hummer says:

    glad you got to experience the fun…welcome to the club. no better man than jack, and no better way to honor his bro. Deer Creek at the start of a bike ride is like mixing Plutonium in with your kids’ Play-Doh…it’s an experiment every time, but you’re stronger if you survive…

  • Steve Kurland says:

    Great post Seth. I did the ride a couple of years ago and the vibe is very cool. Mike was actually an Amgen employee when he was killed. Next years ride will be on Monday November 3 so mark your calendars. Also this year, donors can choose who they want their cash to benefit. One individual is Andres Knickman, son of Roy Knickman who is fighting bone cancer.

  • Mike says:

    Sounds badass!

  • Mark says:

    Nice write up, but for a little clarification.. The group at the bottom of Protrero did not “pirate” the ride. They simply rode down ahead of the 600+ riders to avoid the always present Crash that has happened several years in a row.. Should you do the ride for the next 5 years you might be one of the “Paying Riders” at the bottom waiting. 🙂

    • fsethd says:

      I was also one of the riders who left early and descended to miss the scary, crowded descent. I saw several riders who didn’t have bands down at the bottom, and several others who pulled up — not coming down the hill — to “join” the ride. Sorry if it sounded like the entire group was pirating.

  • Mark says:

    No worries… Understood… 🙂 It was a great ride as always..

    • fsethd says:

      Glad I have a full year to get ready for the next one! Will be running a 21-30 on the front and a 32-79 on the back.

  • Nice write up, awesome event and one I enjoy every year. Jack Nosco and Ramona Lennehan and the crew at Road Bike Action, Velo Images, Campy, Primal and too many others to mention work really hard to make it so inspiring…every year it’s over the top. Someday I’m gonna be able to ride the entire route…but even with shortening it, I suffered in a way I know would make Jack proud:)

    • fsethd says:

      Sorry I didn’t do justice to all the great sponsors … just too damned tired to make that extra effort. Thanks for filling it in!

  • Robb Mesecher says:

    Thank you Seth for the great recount of the ride but please myself and RBA is just a little slice, Tom Kattus and his Campy NA guys are the ass busters on the road, Zillion of Volunteers, Jack has a voice of Reason named Ramona who brings the event to life and does all the gritty work and she has a team of supporters who are tireless.

    I was going to take a picture of you when you came in, but I was sick and you kept moaning that was the hardest thing you had ever done. you would of hated me later for that image, speaking of Images, Brian Hodes captures it every year, works like a maniac…just like the ride – for free.

    Your a good man Seth.


    • fsethd says:

      Thanks for sharing the names of all the others, Robb. I was too wiped to give everyone credit who deserved it. I know how many people and organizations it takes to pull off something like this, so impressive, turning grief into good deeds. What a world we would have if we could all do that.

  • Bud says:

    That ride hurt, but as Jack Nosco said, our sufferings are nothing compared to those folks that the ride is helping. I’ll be back next year, but with more climbing in my legs and much better gearing. A huge thank you to all who volunteered, it was a GREAT event for a very worthy cause. I’m sure Mike Nosco would be very proud of what his brother has done.

  • A E Stoddard says:

    Agree with your description, not enough climbing in the legs for those hills, so I volunteered instead. It was worth the drive to see everyone show up for this memorial fundraiser. Jack and his clan are good people.

  • kabir says:

    not insignificant: operating a bicycling does not harm the environment. There is no polluting exhaust released, no oil or gas consumed. And the energy and materials used to manufacture one automobile could be used to created a hundred bikes.

  • Jack Nosco says:

    Seth – Great write up, some things were right-on and others were just plain funny to read, but I think you nailed the ride pretty good in this article.
    I would like to just say a couple things; The ride is much much more than raising money, although this is one of the main points, it is in no way the driving force behind the ride.
    I truly believe that there is something to be said about a large group coming together for the common good, and that is the spirit of this event. Should everyone pre-register and donate? Absolutely (pre-registering allows for us to better plan, as you would naturally think, but we get a 100+ riders registering the day of, which makes it impossible to anticipate how many meals, t-shirts, jersey’s, bibs, food/beverage, aid station supplies, etc), but we somehow pull it off.
    With that being said, I am sure there are those out there that feel we did not do a very good job in various areas, but knowing that we get 100+ riders the day of, and additional out on the road may explain the reasons why we might have run out of aid station supplies, or even meals at the park.
    Not having any cut-off times only adds to our problems, but again this is just a bunch of friends coming together to support our recipients and so the ride ends up like it does almost by design.
    We want as many people to come out, show their support, make new friends, meet old friends, get inspired to make a dfference in this world and lastly and selfishly to learn something about my little brother Mike and the things he did in his lifetime that make a difference.

    Peace – Jack
    Thanks for your support and kind words!

    • fsethd says:

      I can’t say any more than I’ve already said, except this:

      You’ve turned grief into good deeds, and our world would spin differently on its axis if the rest of us followed your lead. Your brother’s life has continued to powerfully affect people for good, through you and through each of the people you have touched.

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