It’s that time of year, when folks are downright desperate. On Saturday we will roll out on the annual French Toast Ride, the finest, best, most awesome, wonderful, and miserable smashfest of the year. The ride starts and finishes at the home of DJ’s parents, who stuff us full of French toast, bacon, sausage, coffee, eggs, and other delicious food, then stuff us again seven hours later when we return. As a result, participation is by invitation only. No more than twenty-four riders have ever been privileged to do the ride.
This leads to the inevitable question, “How do I get invited?”
It’s simple, really, even though there are thousands who want one of the coveted slots. First, you have to ride with DJ at Saturday morning at 6:00 AM a couple of dozen times, leaving from the top secret launchpad of CotKU. These rides are long and miserably hard, not because of DJ’s riding ability but because he tells the same three stories for hours on end, week in and week out. After your third ride most people decide that whenever the FTR happens, they’re busy that weekend.
Those who endure the rides must then do this every year for a few years. Eventually, but probably not, you will then get invited. DJ bases his invitations on a secret set of rules that are all subordinate to The Rule, which is this: DJ Makes All The Rules.
Some of the rules are:
- No Freds.
- No wankers.
- No last-minute-undependables.
- No whiners.
- No riders who violate the secret rules.
However, exceptions abound, which give hope to all, for example:
- No Freds, but numerous Long Beach and New Mexico riders have participated.
- No wankers, but numerrous unfit, hopeless peloton anchors and Elron have participated.
- No last-minute-undependables, but … Neumann.
- No whiners, but Wanky.
In other words, hope springs eternal, and if you show up for the secret Saturday rides, laugh at the corny jokes, cajole, wheedle, and get down on your knees to beg, there’s a slight chance you might get invited if someone else cancels. You might think that such a prestigious event would never have cancellations, but you would be wrong.
Because at Mile 102 you hit Balcom Canyon, and there are still sixteen hard miles to go after that. If you don’t know Balcom, it’s the most incredible … never mind. In other words, the Freddies who eagerly slurp up their invitation in October begin getting nervous in November, having doubts in December, and experiencing severe diaper rash in January. There’s a trickle of defections around Thanksgiving, an exodus at Christmas, and one or two quitters in January. Of course the most heinous quitter in the history of the FTR whose name shall remain unnamed (Neumann) had the gall to simply not show up the morning of the ride and therefore be banished from the invite list forever, but that is another story.
This gives the waitlisters, who have been burning incense and slaughtering goats like mad, hope. And don’t think the waitlisters have simply been roasting quadrupeds on a spit and offering up vestal virgins to the FTR dogs. Nope, they’ve been lobbying like crazy, and they lobby like this.
“You doing FTR this year?”
“Do you think you could get me in?”
“What if someone cancels?”
“It’s still full. For you.”
“Aw come on. Don’t you remember that meal I bought you at Charlie’s Cheese and Lard House and All You Can Eat Buffet?”
“So can’t you put in a good word for me? Please? I’m good for two more dinners a Charlie’s, buddy old pal.”
So then Bull, or whichever other FTR participant has been guilted into making a futile request, sidles up to DJ on a ride. “Hey, DJ, how’s it going?”
“No, he can’t come.”
“Whoever. We’re full.”
And that’s how it goes. What’s worse, if the FTR hopeful has never actually done a Top Secret Saturday Ride, or worse, doesn’t know DJ personally, that person’s name gets entered into a Top Secret Shit List and is forever barred from the sacred FTR invitation email.
Of course no one has ever asked me to lobby for them because I have no pull, and I won’t do it, and the answer is always “No.”
Enter the Hopper
I hadn’t seen Clodhopper in a long time. Ever since they shut down the Parkway and we stopped doing the NPR, he had gone stealth on my radar screen. A few days ago I sent him a Happy New Year email. Clodhopper is one of those guys who, like a great case of mold, grows on you. He pinged me right back and returned the New Year greetings. “You doing FTR?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said, knowing what would come next.
“Enjoy!” he emailed.
And that was it.
Of course that was it, because Clodhopper don’t beg. He’d been assiduously doing the Top Secret Corny Joke Rides all year, he knew the chance of admission was somewhat less than zero, and he did them anyway. But among all the pretenders and SoCal profamateurs and not-good-enough-to-ride-pro-but-good-enough-to-be-a-masters-racer fakers who do the FTR, Clodhopper is the only cyclist among us who’s actually an athlete.
Let me put it this way: Even though he looks like he’s had one cheeseburger too many, Clodhopper once held the world record in the 1600-meter relay. We’re not talking a silver medal at the master’s nationals crit, folks. We’re talking the fastest human being on the planet in an actual sport, as opposed to geriatrics in clown suits on wheels.
When Clodhopper took up cycling back in the 90’s, he showed up at the Lake Castaic road race and won by smashing the snot out of Jeff Pierce, who was only a couple of years past his record as the first American to win a stage at the Tour, and the only American ever to win on the Champs-Elysees. Clodhopper, in addition to a world record at the pinnacle of the world’s most competitive sport, was also a badass on the bike … before he met all those cheeseburgers.
Nonetheless, I’ve ridden with him enough to know that he can still crank out more watts on a 5-hour-a-week training plan than most full time profamateurs. Genes + pain threshold + world titles on the track = Clodhopper Don’t Beg.
“Yo, Clodhopper,” I said when I saw him next, “what have you been up to?”
“Been doing the Saturday rides with DJ.”
“And no FTR invite?”
“Want me to put in a word for you?” I never put in a word for anyone, except perhaps the word “wanker.”
“No, thanks,” he said. “I’ll do the Saturday rides this year and hope for a ride in 2016.”
“Let me ask,” I said.
“I’m specifically telling you not to ask. If I’m a fit I’ll get an invite. If not, it’s a blast riding with those guys.”
He had clearly lost his mind. So, I went home and composed a carefully-worded email to DJ that went exactly like this: “Yo, DJ: Clodhopper.”
A couple of days later, I got the email with the finalized list of participants. There at the bottom was Clodhopper’s name. I immediately called him. “Dude,” I said. “Me and Surfer Dan need a ride. Got room?”
“Of course,” he said. “You said something to DJ, didn’t you?”
“Me? No. Never. I got no pull, dude.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Whatever.”
Wankers, start your engines!
The final start list is below. It will be epic.
1) Road Champ
6) Full Gas
7) Dream Crusher
9) Major Bob
11) BP a/k/a Oilspill
14) Iron Mike
18) Surfer Dan
20) FTR DS
22) Limey Carboy
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