“I got a date this weekend with Konsmo and Leibert,” Strava Jr. said in his email. He was referring to the UCLA Road Race, which is held every year on the Devil’s Punchbowl course, a sparkling gem of cactus and windblown condoms set in the meth mecca of Pearblossom, CA.
“That’s a date you might want to consider breaking,” I said.
“Because it’s gonna be like one of those Internet date thingies where you select the hot blonde woman under 35 who is athletic, has a great sense of humor, loves to fuck, makes a great pizza, and then when you show up at the Starbucks ready to invest a whole $4.25 on Ms. Right you find out that she’s actually Glomhilda Bromdingnag with the one tooth, furry forehead, wart-covered chin, and a meat cleaver in her purse.”
Fast forward to the “date.”
Strava Jr. was making awful, gasping wheezing noises that sounded like high-pressure jalapeno farts being forced out his ears. It was hard to hear him because my gasps were, if anything, worse.
The peloton was in tatters. A tiny lump of fifteen riders was all that remained from the roughly $450,000 in carbon frames and wheels made of full carbon, electronic drivetrains, and designer bicycling outfits that had lined up at the start of the race for the 45+ Leaky Prostate category.
What was worse than the terrible investment that so many had made — $10k in goodies for the chance to pedal across the desert in their underwear — was the fact that for 30 of the 45 riders the fantasy train had come crashing to a halt less than five minutes into the race.
That was when Scrappypants had looked on the rest of the field in disgust and stood on the pedals. Strava Jr. and I weren’t locked in the pain box; it was more like the pain living room, or even the pain country estate. No matter which couch you tried to lie down on, which entertainment room you chose, or which bedroom you wanted to flop in, the entire place was decorated in early 18th Century Torture Chamber.
We made it over the first climb and hurtled pell-mell down the backside of the hill, which was actually named Pell Mell Hill. You could say we pell-melled Pell Mell. Then we trundled along the rollers, thinking about the inevitable destruction that awaited four miles later, when we would turn right and begin the endless climb again.
Just as we made the right-hander, a gaggle of stragglers who had been shelled on the climb the first time around latched on. This was bad judgment on their part, and it violated Rule 1 of Hilly Road Races: Once you are viciously shelled on a climb, reattaching on the descent or after a long fast section will only result in a second shelling, except it will be much worse.
And it was. As I smugly contemplated how badly the reattachees were going to be pooped out the back, I tried not to take it personally that the brief surge was shelling me as well. The peloton scooted away and I pedaled along, my day done at the conclusion of Lap 1.
At that moment a group of four desperadoes rushed by. I hopped on the back, wondering where they were going in such a hurry. Didn’t they know that if they kept hurrying they would catch the leaders? And didn’t they know that up there with the leaders lay nothing but pain and misery and defeat? Didn’t they know that the best way to ride a race like this was by soft pedaling the whole thing and then posting cool pics on Facebag?
They apparently didn’t, and before long they had closed all but the last 200 meters to the leaders, who were now halfway up the climb. I really appreciated the hard work of my mates. They had worked manfully. They had taken gritty pulls. They had left it all on the road, including gobs of spit and sputum. I, on the other hand, had been sitting back doing what I do best, which is nothing.
The final gap was too much, however, and the pace slackened. “Come on, guys!” I shouted, as I slowly rolled to the front and brought each of my friends gently up to the leaders.
That’s what I wanted to do, anyway. Instead, I waited until they were gassed, and sprinted full bore to make sure no one got a wheel. Then I put my head down and closed the gap solo. The friends who had done so much to help me imploded and vanished from view. They were great guys, each and every one, but I hated them anyway.
Towards the top of the climb I was feeling fine. Strava Jr., who had never left the leaders, was in a very bad way. I imagined a lot of friendly encouragement, since we are friends and riding buddies, as I did everything in my power to make sure he had zero draft and was stuck in the sand-and-rock-filled gutter.
While I had been off the back, Scrappypants, G$, and Gus Not Bayle had attacked and put close to two minutes on the broken shards of the field. When we hit the descent one of my teammates, Dr. Jon, looked over at me. “How’re the legs?”
“Can you hit it on the flats? We gotta get those guys back.”
At this point it felt like I was a pig in a slaughterhouse at the point where the big hairy Estonian dude had slammed me in the forehead with a hammer and run a grappling hook through my heel. The hook, which was attached to a chain, jerked me off my feet and now I was dangling in the air, blood spurting out of my heel. The temporary stun from the hammer blow had worn off and I began to squeal.
Suddenly, right in front of me there was another big hairy dude, probably Lithuanian, and he was holding a giant knife that was dripping with the gore of the porkers who had gone before me. As I moved towards him through the hair he laid the blade against my throat. The only difference my dream and reality was that the Lithuanian and Estonian dudes were Konsmo and G$, and they had garroted all comers.
Dr. Jon looked at me. “See what you can do.”
We bombed the descent at well over 55 mph, but the three leaders were tiny bug specks far away. At the turn we launched onto the rollers. I put my head down and pulled for a while. Pretty soon the fly specks became large pieces of cow dung. Then the cow dung turned into actual people. Along the way we overhauled the 35+ peloton, which had started ahead of us by five minutes.
We turned up the climb and the three leaders were a handful of seconds ahead. I wheezed, sagged, and imploded. The field roared by. Shattered, I struggled, slug-like, up the hill. A car cruised slowly by. It was Holloway and Spivey. “Hey, wanker, why are you going so slow? The group is RIGHT THERE! They’re not even a hundred yards away!”
I considered explaining that when you’ve just had your throat cut by a hairy Estonian, a hundred yards is equal to 4.5 parsecs, but my tongue was plastered to the back of my head, so I just slumped some more and pedaled squares.
The remaining two laps proceeded at a snail’s pace. First I got caught by the chasers. Then I got caught by the chasers who were chasing the chasers. Then the gristle stinky horsemeat of the 35+ field came by. Then the leaders of the 3’s. Then the chasers of the 3’s. Finally I was passed by an old lady walking her dog.
Then, when I thought there was no one left to pass me, along came Garrett. We chatted briefly, sharing the lessons we had learned from this epic day of racing. “One thing’s sure,” he said. “There are no lessons to be learned from a shitshow like this.”
“Except that we are slow.”
“And that we suck, even among our geriatric peers.”
An eternity later we finished, but not before an animated young boy in the 12-year-old junior field chased us down and beat us handily in the sprint.
Patrizia R., who had handed up a team Big Orange water bottle to me on Lap 3, was standing at the finish line. “Thanks for the bottle!” I said, reaching down and pulling it out of my bottle cage. As I flung it over to her, I reminded myself why I had spent so much time on the bench in Little League, because the enormous, half-full bottle sailed directly into Garrett’s forehead, who was riding next to me. He wobbled and almost crashed into the judge’s stand, but saved it.
“Sorry, dude,” I said.
“No problem,” he answered with a smile. “That was the least painful thing that’s happened all day.”
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