The Rule, and there’s only one, is this: The harder it is, the better you’ll feel when it’s over.
Bryce came whizzing by us on the bike path. He had hairy legs and a new $7k Cannondale with electronic shifting. Bryce nodded at us as he flew by.
“You know that wanker?” I asked Nate.
“Yeah, nice kid. Fitted him on his new bike last night.”
“He’s going awfully fast.”
“I guess it was a good fit,” said Surfer.
In Santa Monica we ran into him again, after we’d split up from Nate. “Where are you going?” asked Surfer.
“I was about to turn around and ride back to Hermosa.”
“You’re welcome to join us if you want to.”
“Where are you guys riding to?”
“We’re just doing a couple of climbs on the West Side.”
“Oh, yeah, I know all the roads over here,” Bryce said confidently.
Surfer, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of every street in Southern California, paved and unpaved, said “I bet you don’t know all the roads.”
“I work for the power company putting up utility poles. I know all the roads.”
Surfer smiled at him. “Then you’ll know where we’re going.”
I wanted to tell Bryce to turn back now, while he still had the chance. As a new cyclist out to test his legs, the last person you would ever want to run into is Surfer. Instead, I egged the kid on. “You look like a pretty good climber,” I said as we started going up Amalfi.
To his credit, Bryce was game. He punched away at the long climb. “Hang tight here in just a bit,” said Surfer. “It’s going to be unpaved for a little bit.”
We went through the gate and indeed the going got kind of rough. I took another look at Bryce’s deep-dish racing wheels. He was breathing hard, then really hard. We’d been climbing for a long time. “Hey,” he said. “How much farther to the top?”
“We’re almost there,” I lied.
After a while we went through another gate and the dirt climb stretched out forever, still going up. “How long you been riding?” asked Surfer.
“Six months,” Bryce said between deep breaths.
“What’s your longest ride?” I asked.
“Thirty-five miles,” he answered. “How long is this going to be?”
“Longer,” said Surfer.
Bryce got off his bike and started walking. We pedaled up the grade and waited in the shade.
“How much farther?” he asked when he reached us. “I’m done. I can’t go any more.”
“That little section is the hardest part,” I lied again. “You’re doing great. It’s pretty much a gentle climb from here to the top.”
“You’re lying,” he said. “You guys are assholes.” We were high upon a dirt ridge out in the mountains now. It was hot and he was out of water.
“We’re not just assholes,” said Surfer with a grin. “We’re the biggest assholes in Southern California. Want some water?” He handed over his bottle and Bryce thirstily drained it. “Need some food?” Bryce nodded and gobbled up the BonkBreaker. “Know this road?” Surfer asked.
Bryce looked at him, then laughed. “No. No, I don’t.” It was the laughter of “I’m cracked and hot and waterless and lost and I hope these guys don’t leave me.”
We pedaled on for a ways until we came to the final section of the climb, a solid quarter-mile where you had to get out of the saddle and hump it. I was glad I had on a 28. Surfer and I waited beneath another tree for a while. “Think he’s going to quit?” I asked.
“I hope not, because if he does we’ll have to go back down this damn thing and look for him.”
“I think he’s going to quit. Kid’s game, but this would break anybody. He was struggling back on Amalfi.”
At that moment Bryce appeared, grim and covered with red dust. “These shoes suck for walking,” he said. We gave him the last of our water. “I know that whatever you tell me is going to be a lie, but how much farther to the top?”
“This is it,” said Surfer.
He brightened. “Really?”
“Yes, but be careful after we make the right. The downhill can get away from you.” I looked again at his delicate carbon wheels and was grateful to be on my 32-spoke aluminum rims with wide, thick tires. Bryce banged and bumped and bashed his way through the ruts, over the rocks, and along the endless washboard descent, almost crashing hard a couple of times.
We stopped at the old Minute Man silo, filled our bottles, and poured water over our heads in the searing heat.
When we finally hit the pavement, he said “Where are we?”
“Mulholland, just a couple of miles from the 405.”
Bryce perked up. Finally, a road he knew.
We had been going at a snail’s pace up in the hills in order not to lose Bryce, but now we had to get home. Surfer wrapped it up to 30, gave Bryce a very short lesson on drafting, and off we went.
Bryce had gotten a second wind and was a quick study, rotating through smoothly and keeping the speed. Until San Vicente, that is, when the thousand-yard-stare set in.
“I don’t feel so good,” he said.
“You’re bonking,” said Surfer, offering him the last gel packet.
“Next time we do this I’m going to kick you guys’ ass,” said Bryce. The kid was game.
The closer we got to Hermosa, the happier he got. “Hey, guys, thanks for dragging me along. This is my biggest ride ever!”
“You rode like a champ,” I said. “Not many people could have done what you did today.”
“For a couple of old guys you and Surfer go pretty good. But don’t think I’m going to forget about this.”
“We won’t, either,” I promised.
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