A funeral dirge

March 17, 2014 § 29 Comments

There is still more than a month left before you line up for the the third SPY Belgian Waffle Ride. But it might as well be tomorrow.

You see, training and preparation aren’t going to help you this time around. If you were paying attention, the 2013 version was the most challenging one-day event on the calendar. It dragged us over unpaved roads, 120 miles of relentless riding, and 9,000 feet of elevation. The ride was so awful that people milled around in the parking lot afterwards trying to smile, and failing. There wasn’t enough strength left to raise the muscles around the corners of their mouths.

I’m exaggerating, of course. A handful of riders were tired but happy at the end. They were either genetic freaks who have nothing in common with you and me, or they were clever people who kept a steady pace from start to finish, refusing to get suckered into the accelerations of faster groups.

Everyone else was vulture meat.

How bad, was it, really? I was so devastated that I fell off the 3-year teetotaling wagon and have been drinking incessantly ever since. Only recently have the bad memories faded, but not really.

The 2013 BWR, however, was a cakewalk

The 2014 route map has been mostly finalized, and it is senseless in its difficulty. The ride is longer. Instead of a leg-snapping 120 miles, the total distance is 136. The ride is hillier. Instead of 9k feet, it is now 11k. Worst of all, instead of 10 miles of unpaved road, this year offers up more than 30 miles of sand, dirt, rocks, and gravel. That’s bad enough, as in “He put out his own eyes with a fork is bad enough.” But the thing that makes it worse is that much of the off-road portion is uphill. And then, of course, downhill.

Any one or any two of these elements could be properly trained for if, say, you were a full-time professional cyclist in your 20’s or 30’s. But all three elements together — distance, elevation, and road surface — mean that there is no realistic way to be ready for it. It will grind you up and leave you forlorn and mostly lost somewhere in North County San Diego on a fiery hot day in the middle of our first official Globally Warmed Spring.

None of this hell and misery takes into account the high likelihood of a mechanical, or two, or seven, or flats, or ripped out sidewalls or destroyed rims or cracked frames or shattered forks. In other words, if your equipment is right, it will be so heavy and sturdy that you will almost certainly never be able to get up the climbs towards the end of the course. If your equipment is wrong, you’ll DNF somewhere in the hinterlands, eyed by hungry pumas and by buzzards who circle overhead. Once you’ve collapsed at the roadside rest assured that the survivors will part out your bike and empty your pockets for extra food.

What’s a poor registrant to do who’s already paid his entry fees?

Below are my suggestions for surviving this miserable beatdown of a day, a day in which you will go through the spectrum of human emotions, from anger to rage to resignation to exhaustion to depression to fear of impending death to not caring anymore to beer. The happy end of the emotional spectrum will not manifest until months after the event, if ever. So:

  1. Do not pedal hard during the first 120 miles. That’s right. If you squander so much as a pedal stroke early on, thinking you can hang with the Bordines, the Rogerses, the Shirleys, the Cobleys, and the Dahls, you will come apart at Mile 60 or earlier. Trust me. I’ve done it.
  2. Do not be suckered in by the tasty waffle breakfast. Have your normal big ride pre-dinner and your normal big ride breakfast, whatever that is. Last year I ate 17 waffles and a pound of eggs and washed it down with a quart of coffee and paid the price beginning at Mile 5. That price was destruction.
  3. Avoid the rest stops unless you need water. If your nutritional plan is to fuel up on the Barbie food that will be available by the fistful, you’ll never make it. Carefully pack substantial, real food, like peanut butter sandwiches or a large t-bone steak.
  4. If you stop for water, get back on your bike immediately. Every minute you stop equals fifteen minutes of pedaling to exorcise the coagulated death sludge that will immediately clog your vascular system. If you’re not moving forward, you’re rocketing backwards.
  5. Carry three spare tubes and a mini-pump. Share your tubes with no one. This is not the day to help out people who are unprepared, or who showed up with threadbare tires, or who were too cheap to bring an extra tube, or who are riding on paper thin race tires and latex tubes, or who are simply unlucky. This is their day to die. So it is written.
  6. If you’re not on ‘cross or MTB tires (either of which is a suicidal choice, by the way), run 25-mm heavy-duty training tires. Run new ones, but make sure they have a hundred miles or so on them.
  7. Inflate your tires to 80 or 90 psi, max. The course will be covered with sharp stones, thorns, rough gravel, roots, glass, and dead people. The lower psi will greatly reduce the number of punctures as you roll over the teeth and bones of the dead and will add immeasurably to your comfort over the course of this 10- or 12- or 14-hour day.
  8. Go all-out with your gearing. 50 teeth max in front, 28 in back … 30 if you can make it work with your derailleur. When you hit the slopes of Double Peak and can crank it into your 36 x 30, you will love me and buy me free beer for the rest of the year. If you cheap out or lazy out and show up with real road gearing you’ll founder and die somewhere in the sandpits of backroad North County, never to be seen again.
  9. Do not have a single article of clothing or piece of equipment that you haven’t thoroughly tested and ridden in adverse conditions. This is not the day to try anything new, even that cute chick or guy you picked up at Green Flash Brewery the night before. Sample them later, after you’re dead.
  10. Ride with full-fingered gloves and a shit-ton of sunblock. The sun will drain and waste and sap your vital juices, so cover whatever you can stand as long as you don’t overheat.
  11. Max out your uninsured motorist coverage. In the unlikely event you are injured or killed on the course by a car, this will provide you with an avenue for compensation that you or your heirs will badly need.
  12. Make sure you’ve got at least one 120-mile day on your legs before the Big Day, but don’t bother trying to recon the whole route or to simulate it. You can’t, and the attempt will only destroy your will to live. Treat it like the invasion of Normandy. Prep the best you can, but leave the actual catastrophe to the day itself.
  13. Spend the night in Carlsbad or somewhere close to the start. That way we can all go pound IPA’s until the wee hours. Really. Because whether you show up with a bleeding hangover or fresh and rested, the end result will be the same.


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§ 29 Responses to A funeral dirge

  • Arkansas Traveler says:

    Excellent advice all. There will be a keg in my room for your enjoyment.

  • Wankomodo says:

    Watching you stuff all those waffles down your throat last year was quite a sight to see. You were like a bottomless pit. At that time you were so confident that you had the right plan. I was thinking to myself, “that’s gonna make Wanky hurt in an hour our so.”

    Good advice on keeping the stops short. The longer you stop, the more it hurts to get back on. Stop, pee, get water, soldier on…

  • Awsome advice. I hope people will take it to heart.

  • billius says:

    I went back and read Dragon Butt, then thought how much worse it’s going to be this year. Haven’t seen the course yet but I think from MMX’s recent Strava rides – this ain’t going to be pretty…

  • DangerStu says:

    Thanks for the advice, especially the part about not giving up on the beer. Think I’ll order. A 32 cassette before there mysteriously on back order.

  • CPR says:

    Uh, I know I have something else going on that day.

    • fsethd says:

      Me, too. It’s called “last rites” or something like that.

      • Paul says:

        Still, my first reaction to seeing ‘funeral’ in the title, ‘damn, not again’, good to see it’s just a very hard day and noone dead yet!

        (my excuse is I’m 2000 miles away, yeah that’s it)

  • Winemaker says:

    I was thinking of taking some “Before and After” shots of you, and several others, making the “After” shots right at the finish….a photo essay I can LMAO at for years….good idea?

  • sibex9591 says:

    Last fall I did the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo out of Harrisonburg Va. Fortunately all the long uphill gravel/forest road sections were NOT followed by gravel/forest road descents! That would have been murder plain and simple in the first degree. Even still, the one long forest road climb still had some dips and one unfortunate young lady took a serious spill, so it can happen and be careful. The advice about the tire pressure is spot on. We had Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies at our rest stops, and after I ate one, I was completely hooked. That was my go to food for the next 4 or 5 stops.

    We made it, and I can assure you that the 5-10 miles that we latched onto the back of a Japanese Bullet Train early on cost us all big time where there was nothing but big rolling open road hills between us and downtown Harrisonburg.

    Tour of Battenkill is in a couple of weeks, and for some insane reason I signed up for it again this year. All the California snow and rain that didn’t fall this year in California is sitting on upstate NY roadways. That course is going to be a mess.

    One little not about the Battenkill is that some of the non-pavement roads are actually a hard (or spongy soft when wet) clay, which if you have never ridden it before in a peloton is quite different sensory experience. With the clay, there is absolutely no tire noise. None. So you suddenly feel like you enter an anechoic chamber except for the noise of chains turning or freewheels freewheeling. I cannot wait to hear that again.

  • vladluskin says:

    14. Stay in bed.

  • Usta Befit says:

    Well I was going to start training today but sounds like I should go out & buy a new cassette & some fat tires instead. Last year my 39/25 got me up Double Peak just fine but I was 15lbs. lighter….guess I need a motor!

    • fsethd says:

      A motor will help.

      • gear_fetish says:

        Maybe a new helmet with no vents? I heard your cda drops a whole 0.000034 with one as long as you hold your head EXACTLY still for hours at a time.

        How about a Chris Carmichael training plan? I heard that guy coached some fast dudes.

        I sure hope my new “climbing wheels” get here in time. I won’t look good flailing away at the back without them.

  • Rob says:

    I will sit this one out in favor of Stone IPA. A lot of it. Good luck on the ride.

  • Ripley Trout says:

    See now I’m imagining the start of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ but when they lower down the backboards of the boats it’s a pile of demented cyclists who come barrelling out. Probably would have scared the Nazis more actually. (The course will be covered with dead people. – love it)

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