I rang the doorbell. “Come on in,” said Eric, so I did. The Donut starts at 8:05, he lives about ten minutes away, and it was 7:45. “Want some coffee?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
He ground the beans and started boiling water as he leisurely poured some cereal into a bowl. I wasn’t worried about being late, because Eric’s never late. I was worried about the pain.
At 7:55 he ambled off to fill his bottles and “get ready.” I went outside and waited. I was shaking because I knew what was coming.
At 8:00 he rolled down the driveway with me. “We got plenty of time,” he said. “That ride never leaves on time anyway.”
What he meant was, “We’re going to go really fast now.”
It’s a long gradual downhill after climbing from his house up to PV Drive all the way to the start of the Donut Ride in Redondo Beach, with only one brief bump. You know what it’s like when you go, cold legs, from zero to thirty-five in a few pedal strokes? It was like that.
Hanging onto his wheel for dear life, a black Suburban came up behind us but wouldn’t pass even though we were on the shoulder. I kept flicking it to come by, but it wouldn’t. We were doing forty, and finally it came through. No wonder it wouldn’t pass: Clodhopper was at the wheel. “Hop on, boys,” he shouted.
Eric dived onto the bumper as Clodhopper wrapped it up to fifty. I came off at fifty-five and Eric vanished. I caught up to him at the start of the Donut, legs completely blown before the ride even started.
The 80-strong ride tore out of Malaga Cove lickety-split, mercilessly kicking the weak, infirm, and hungover riders out the back. A month or so ago we started doing “the Alley,” a vicious little wall-and-rest-and-steep-kicker that comes early on in the ride. The Alley has eliminated the safe-haven wheelsucking that has always plagued the Donut Ride by allowing wankers to coast along until the big climb up the Switchbacks. Now, the group separates early. One group does the Alley and pays for it the rest of the day; the timid and weak avoid it, only to be swept up and spit out later in the ride. Those who consistently do the Alley get stronger or they quit cycling, what’s known in the business as a “win-win.”
Although initially despised by all who did it, the Alley is now not so much despised as it is thoroughly hated.
Today was no exception. Boy Wonder Diego Binatena led the charge; Sausage, Rudy, Aaron, and a handful of others roared after him. Everyone else was pinned, by their foreskins, with rusty carpet tacks. Shortly after the first stop light, the Wily Greek attacked and took Derek, Rudy, Boy Wonder, and a couple of others. We came close to catching them, as in “the three-legged dog came close to catching the cheetah.”
Chatty Cathy, who had hopped in at the stoplight with a bunch of other course-cutters, came up to me after the break escaped. “Nice new kit you’re wearing!” he said.
“Why don’t you shut up and get your sorry fucking ass up to the front and chase down the break instead of hopping in after the hardest part of the ride and sucking wheel like a leech?”
Chatty Cathy shrugged. “Okay,” he said. Then he went to the front and obliterated about twenty people who were already hanging on for dear life. Then he ramped it up even more and came within 200 yards of pulling back the break. He swung over. “How was that?” he asked.
I spit blood and pooped a little poop. “Urgle,” was the best I could manage.
On the way down from the Domes I spied my teammate Derek on the side of the road with a flat. There is nothing better than being on a ride, feeling destroyed, looking for an excuse to quit, and spying a friend with a flat. I pulled over, and a few other broken souls did, too. The ride roared by.
We spent the next hour riding slowly and enjoying the day. On the final climb up Via Zumaya, a miserable, steep, and endless slog, I was alone and tired and didn’t care. Midway up the climb there was another clump of riders, also changing a flat. More happiness ensued as I dismounted and sat on the curb. Some lady from the neighborhood was walking her poodle and had stopped to chat. She had a very strong South African accent.
“Are you from Texas?” I asked.
“South Africa,” she archly replied.
“Oh,” I said. “You sound like a Texan.”
She laughed politely and the conversation seemed poised to end, which was bad since the flat had been changed and that meant I would have to remount and keep riding. “Where did you go to high school?” I asked her.
“Really? I had an old girlfriend who went to high school in Johannesburg.”
The nice lady could now tell she was being hit on by some idiot who didn’t know South Africa from Texas. She raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”
“Yep,” I said. “She went to King David.”
The lady’s jaw dropped. “You’re joking.”
“Nope,” I said. “But you wouldn’t know her. You’re way too young; she’s fifty now.”
“And how old do you think I am?” she coyly asked.
I looked at the landmine and deftly stepped over it. “Early 30’s max,” I lied.
She blushed. “I’m fifty. What was your girlfriend’s name?”
By now the other bikers had regained their composure and stood there, laughing. “I like your style, Wanky,” said Aaron. “Ride up and swoop in. Nice work.”
I ignored him. “Her name’s Annette. Annette Davis.”
The blood drained out of her face. “This can’t be happening. We were best friends.”
By now I had thrown a leg over my bike and got ready to pedal off. I looked at her intently and paused. “Yes,” I said. “I know.”
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