The 2014 edition of Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride had diverse offerings, including the flowers and bushes on the edge of Price Road who were nourished by the projectile vomiting of Uberfred. He had made the fatal mistake of taking a well-aged piece of a sweat-soaked, partially gnawed Snickers bar offered up by Sterno, and instead of magically transforming from Betty White to Eddy Merckx, he almost metamorphosed into Dude With Stomach Cramps Lying In The Ditch Five Miles From The End.
It was a French Toast Ride that began with piles of thick toast soaked in French, pan-fried to a golden glow, and poured down the hungry maws of the hardy riders who had managed to wake up on time and get to the feed zone at Camarillo by 7:30. The delectable toast, cooked in the home of Dave’s parents Jim and Nancy, was accompanied by stacks of bacon, pans of sausage, gobs of butter, buckets of cream, a giant urn of coffee, and a small plate of fruit as a sop to the healthful. No one was fooled, however. There would be nothing healthful about this FTR, just like there had been nothing healthful about any of the other fifteen editions of the ride.
A little something bad for everyone
The genius of the FTR is the way it disappoints, frustrates, humbles, aggravates, and insults each rider in a unique way over the course of 118 nasty, windy miles and almost 9,000 feet of very unpleasant climbing. Despite a day filled with unpleasantness and misery, each year the same cadre of idiots happily reconvene to do it all over again. If you have zero fitness, like Turtle, FTR is simple masochism. You drag your butt over the course, last up every climb, last to every stop, first one to get shelled when the pace picks up, and typically you get up Balcom Canyon by holding onto a gardener’s truck or with a hoist.
If you’re somewhat prepared, FTR is a day filled with cagey wheelsucking, where, like Toronto, you stay near the front in anticipation of a move, but never actually on it. Fear of being shelled cancels the duty to do your share, but of course it all pays off when, like Toronto, you absolutely blaze up the climbs and stick with the lead group when the pace ramps up.
If you’re supremely prepared, like Surfer Dan, the ride is pure agony, because when the group splits at the first climb less than 20 miles into the ride, and you’re ready to ride the remaining 100 miles in a death march with five other guys, the group halts, Dave coddles the weak and the dropped, and everyone gets back together. Yet despite the beatdown, the coddling, the stopping, the hand-holding, the hammering, the climbing, the sprunting, the cramping, and the unholy exhaustion that sets in at Mile 100, just before you tackle the 20-percent slopes of Balcom, the FTR is the best, happiest, most satisfying and rewarding ride you’ll ever do.
How can that be? Because of good love.
The ties that bind
Dave’s parents are in their 70’s, and what possesses them to allow a ravenous mob of cyclists to invade their modest home every year, prance around semi-naked as they change into kit, rub smelly embro all over their bodies, stink up their bathroom with the quaking bowels of twenty men with the pre-ride purge, and occasionally (like the year Stern-O wiped his derriere with four pounds of toilet paper) clog up the pipes in the entire house, I’ll never know for sure. What I do know is this. The Jaegers have good love, and it permeates their home, their family, and every aspect of the FTR.
It’s the kind of love that is built year by year over decades, one day at a time, through the rewards and travails of raising kids, living through the hard knocks and comfortable landings of life, trusting in the person next to you when the chips aren’t simply down, they’re not even on the table anymore. The Jaegers’ good love, quiet and unassuming, solid as bedrock and there as predictably as the sunrise, spills over into every aspect of the FTR. That love is, of course, what gave rise to Dave, and that love is, of course, what Dave and Lynn have in their own marriage — you can see it because nowadays the Jaegers are FTR hosts emeritus. The brunt of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, organizing, and making it happen is done by Dave’s wife Lynn, his sister-in-law, and his daughters.
The good love doesn’t stop with sharing the plumbing and the home and the food. The good love is part of the ride itself, mostly old guys getting older and weaker, along with an infusion of new 30-something blood to keep everyone broken and in pain throughout the day. Every year the pummeling and the projectile vomiting and the pro wheel changes and the butt pats and the towing on the flats and the full-gas sprunting and the empty, vacant looks of misery at the Circle K in Ventura … these things bubble and boil and then harden, solidifying into something that can only be called “I’d do anything for you,” also known as “love.” That love is especially poignant when it involves doing your utmost to crush your closest friends and bring them to their knees.
The beaches of Normandy a/k/a Balcom Canyon Road
This is a nasty climb, just under one mile long, that averages ten percent and slams up to twenty on the steepest ramp. On any day it would be a beast, but Dave has it positioned at about Mile 100 into the ride, after huge efforts up Grimes Canyon, the 4-mile race to Fillmore, the 7-mile climb from Santa Paula towards Ojai, the 3-mile race and sprint into Ojai, the murderous twin peaks of Lake Casitas and sprint for the Santa Barbara County line, and the miserable, endless climb out of Ventura when your legs are filled with poison and your morale is at its all-time lowest.
Then, and only then, with the tank on empty and your mental fortitude in the gutter, do you hit Balcom Canyon. It gets in your head, starting pretty much with the first piece of French toast. As we plowed along Mountain Road, each pedal stroke along the five miles leading to the turnoff onto Balcom Canyon Road felt like I was pedaling towards my doom. The flurry of tiny, twanging, twinges that had begun in Ojai gradually morphed into full blown cramps. That’s a good sign before the steepest, hardest climb of the day right? The one where it’s common to paperboy just to get up it, right? The one where you count it as victory just getting to the top, right?
Wrong. It was a bad sign.
Everyone felt the doom. This is how soldiers felt sitting in little steel boats with tiny motors as they churned towards the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. It’s a sickness in your stomach and a bitter misery in your head. Reality has something ugly in store for you and you cannot avoid it. Whether that bad reality will be your complete undoing or not is the only question. But whereas the soldiers on D-Day leaped into frigid water to face the murderous rake of machine guns and mortars and artillery and mines and concertina and horrific injury and death, we faced something much worse: The knowledge that each pedal stroke would be painstakingly analyzed on Strava by all of our friends.
When we made the turn, it was clear that honor for the Balcom KOM would be decided among Surfer Dan, Manslaughter, G$, and Unpronounceable. Before the Balcom climb proper, you have to batter for 1.5 miles, usually into a headwind, up a 2-percent grade to the base of the climb. Although it had been tried before, most famously during the Pee Stop Attack by Wanky in 2010, no one had ever succeeded in stealing a march on the group before the base of the climb.
This year was different. Surfer Dan took one look at the haggard, frightened, sniveling, and broken faces of his competition and rolled away. Everyone wanted to chase, but only one rider could, and it wasn’t enough. Mike Frias, who had been pulling his brains out, never shirking the front, and digging like a DitchWitch all day long, took over the nastiest chore of the entire day. For the entire 1.5 miles he towed us at full speed, keeping Surfer Dan in our sights but unable to close the gap. We hit the base of the climb and Mike swung over, waving us through. “All yours, boys,” he said, planting his foot squarely on a land mine just as he took an artillery round, a machine gun strafing, and a mortar round to the chest all at once.
Surfer Dan was just ahead of us, but on Balcom Canyon, “just ahead” is a meaningless term because the gradient is so steep that even a few feet can prove impossible to close. Dan churned away as what remained of the chasers detonated. Manslaughter saw his chance and punched it, followed by G$ and Unpronounceable, with BB-gun in hot pursuit. I sent all power to the engines, who, already blown, simply giggled.
The day before Destructionmas
Somehow, while I can’t actually call it “finding a rhythm,” I managed to keep from tipping over by pedaling, and that effort led me ever closer to Unpronounceable. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, came charging Toronto with bounds like a deer. With granny gear twirling, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment he’d stomp on my dick. More rapid than spin class his pedals they turned, and he grunted and labored, and calories burned. “Now, Surfer! Manslaughter! Now, Money and Aaron! On Wanky! Up Balcom I’m rarin’ and tearin’! To the top of the climb! To the top of the wall! It may cost my life, but I’ll pedal, not crawl!” As old men that before the steep obstacle faint, when they meet with the obstacle, rub their sore taint, so up and past Wanky, Toronto he flew, with a grin on his face because deep down he knew, that then, in a twinkling, Wanky would feel, the sting and the bite of Toronto’s sharp steel. And then, in a twinkling, I heard with a start, the breaking and rupture of valves in my heart. As I hung down my head, and was watching his ass, I knew I could not let this old wanker pass. He was pedaling fast, like the canyon he owned, but I knew once he wobbled his engine was blown. A bolus of snot then poured forth from his face, then he tottered and faltered, the end of his race. His eyes how they stared! How bloodshot and red! His cheeks were like corpses, all sunken and dead! His droll little mouth was drawn up in a frown, while spittle and mucous both oozed slowly down. The stumps of his legs shaved clean of their hairs, had gone from full circles to pedaling squares. His lined, broken face and his wheeze from the battle, escaped from his throat in one final death rattle. I left him there quick with a pat on his rump, as if he’d been beaten and chained to a stump. But though he sank back like a great anchor’s plunge, he somehow dug deep and with one final lunge, he gasped and he choked and he coughed up a lung, and finally onto his seventh place hung. Atop mighty Balcom he leaped off his tool, and he pranced and he danced and he texted Joe Yule. “I did it!” he said, “With Clif bars and java! A number I’ll proudly now upload to Strava!” But I heard him exclaim, ere I bombed down the hill, “With a compact next year I will climb faster still!”
Just this one last little bit
Surfer Dan was never reeled in, Manslaughter finished hard on his heels, G$ crested the hill next followed by BB-Gun, me, and Unpronounceable. We regrouped, descended, then hit the gas all the way to Golf Course Hill, a nasty little .3-mile kicker that finishes on a 13 percent grade. The final FTR tally looked like this:
- Grimes Canyon: Frias
- Fillmore sprunt: Hair
- Santa Paula sprunt: Hair
- Ojai climb: G$
- Ojai sprunt: Hair
- Casitas climb, first peak: Surfer Dan
- Casitas climb, second peak: Surfer Dan
- Santa Barbara county line sprunt: Hair
- Ventura county line sprunt: King Harold
- Balcom Canyon climb: Surfer Dan
- Golf Course climb: Manslaughter
- Most trash talked: Wanky
Honorable and Dishonorable Mention
- The last-minute cancellations, including Elron who bailed because he was too lazy to get up in time.
- Mike Frias for pulling like a Trojan All Fricking Day Award.
- 60-year-old Jim Bowles for Octogenarian of the Ride Award.
- Stern-O for Toughest Old Boot of the Ride Award.
- Turtle for Finishing Award.
- Manslaughter for Dude We’re Going to Really Fear Now That He Knows the Route Award.
- Unpronounceable for If He Ever Gets Serious About the Road We’re Doomed Award.
- Hair for All Around Champion Award.
- Surfer Dan for KOM, BOM, and SOM Awards.
- Uberfred for Best Projectile Vomit Award.
- Toronto for Best Self-Praise Award.
- G$ for Best Old Dude Who Rides Better Than the Kids Half His Age.
- Danny N. for Gutting It Out Award.
- King Harold for Best Recovery After Contracting Bubonic Plague at Training Camp.
- Jaeger for Best Mother Hen Award.
- Polly for Best Driver Award.
- BB-Gun for Best Shock Therapy on Balcom Award.
- Golden Boy for Most Awesome Ride With Less than 12 Miles of Training.
About two blocks from the Jaegers’ driveway, both of my legs seized up with those full-body cramps that bring you to a complete standstill while shrieking and grimacing in agony. Fortunately it was downhill, so I cruised into the driveway and tipped over, where I was shortly resuscitated with the Jaegers’ famous post-ride sandwiches and beer. As I stood in the kitchen, shaking, drinking beer, and refilling my plate, one of the family members looked at me. “I noticed that you were the last one in the driveway,” she said. “Does that mean you were last place on the ride?”
I sucked in my breath and got ready to tell her about the fireworks on Grimes, the carnage in Ojai, the warfare up Casitas, the death sprints, the Normandy charge up Balcom, and the final launch up Golf Course, and my incredible heroics at every step of the way. Then I thought about it and it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was the last one up the driveway.
I hung my head. “Yes.”