People don’t often invite me places and there’s a reason for that. I’m not fun. In fact, I have it on good authority that whatever “fun” is, I’m pretty much the opposite of it. Of all the places I don’t get invited, the place I don’t get invited to the most is (of course) bicycles rides.
So when someone is foolish enough to invite me somewhere, I always say yes. I don’t even check the calendar because it’s sure to be blank. Day? I’m free. Time? No problem. Three-hour drive to your vacation place at the bottom of an unlit mine shaft filled with toxic gas? Count me in. In, in, in.
A couple of days ago El Presidente invited me to go for a bike ride in San Diego. He, Th Surfer Dan, Okie, Head Down James, OC James, Wattbomb, Happy, and Goat were all going down to San Diego to crash the world famous Swami’s Ride.
Problem was, none of them had ever done it except for Th Surfer Dan, and he wasn’t talking. “Yo, Wanky,” penned El Presidente. “You’ll be chauffeured to the start line in our Mercedes UPV, fed a breakfast of Yum-Yum Donuts, slathered with sunscreen and testosterone gel, and fed a kingly lunch on the way back.”
“What’s the catch?” I knew that this fun-loving bunch of defectives didn’t want to spend the day cooped up in a Mercedes UPV with Wanky the Grim.
“We need a pilot fish, someone who can tell us about the ride, and Th Surfer Dan’s not talking. Since you’re the closest thing that LA has to a North County specialist, leaving aside for a moment that you always get dropped when you go down there, we thought that in exchange for the above amenities you might, you know, show us the way, give us some tips. That sort of thing. Also, gas is paid for.”
That sealed the deal except for one thing. “What’s a Mercedes UPV?”
“Oh, that. Stands for Un-Parkable Van. Long story.”
At 5:45 AM I found myself standing on the corner of Hawthorne and Manhattan Beach Boulevard, being accosted by a person who was either homeless or whose home was several hundred miles away. “Do you have a cell phone?” he asked.
“I got PTSD from the war and I been riding this fucking bike without a saddle all the way from Wyoming and I need to make a phone call.”
I looked at his bike, which really did look like it had recently been in Wyoming and which really was missing a saddle. “Who do you want me to call?”
“The cops,” he said, shoving into my face a business card for Officer Melvin Muggley of the Hawthorne Police Department.
I looked around, anxiously hoping that the Mercedes UPV would show up. “Uh, I ain’t calling the cops,” I said.
“I got two outstanding warrants.”
“One DUI and a hot check.”
“What was the hot check for?”
“The booze that got me the DUI.”
He nodded. “Respect, man. Respect.” Then he pedaled off, butt carefully poised above the rusty prong, and vanished into the darkness.
When the Mercedes UPV showed up, it was stocked with donuts, hot coffee, licorice, three boxes of chicken nuggets, and a chocolate croissant. “Where is everyone?” I asked.
“Head Down James and Wattbomb got scared and couldn’t make it.”
“Dang,” I said.
“Hey,” El President asked. “Where’s your bike?”
“Dude, we’re going to the world famous Swami’s Ride in North County San Diego. It’s a bike ride. Where’s your fuggin’ bike?”
“Oh, that,” I said, craftily. “I didn’t know I was supposed to bring it.”
“I thought you just wanted intel on the ride.”
“Hell, man, we do.That’s why we’re bringing you along.”
I climbed into the van and plucked a steaming nugget out of the box, topped with a choco cruller and a tube of energy gel. “Never fear,” I said. “‘Cuz I brought you wankers this.”
I pulled out a few sheets of paper and handed them out. “This,” I said, “is all you need.”
Swami’s Ride Secret Inside Intel for Team Ride Crashers: Top Secret For Your Eyes Only Super Confidential And Secret And Etc.
Many of the Swami’s riders do a pre-ride that leaves at 7:00 which is reputedly harder than the Swami’s Ride itself. Whether or not that’s true, they get to the ride warmed up and ready to go. Starting Swami’s cold is a huge disadvantage and since you will all be starting stone cold you can expect to be instantaneously dropped.
The ride has no significant climbs to speak of. An analysis of the course profile on Strava indicates that for you hardmen of the Santa Monicas, it’s a piddling 2400 feet of elevation over 30 miles or so. Of course the problem, by way of analogy, is the “hill” on the PV Golf Course, which many of you have done.
Under normal conditions you don’t even notice that it’s a hill. But under Flog conditions, people quickly splinter and crack and are never seen again. Certain among you have shown up for the Flog once, twice, a handful of times, or not at all. My point? It’s not really the course that makes a ride hard, it’s the people in attendance and how fast they are pedaling, and on Swami’s they tend to pedal very, um, vigorously.
You may be hoping that because it is September and it is the off-season that the Swami’s predators will not be pedaling in anger. This is a vain hope. The moment they scent outsiders, they will turn into a frenzied pack of ball-chewing-cannibals.
The Swami’s Ride’s first climb is up Levante to Rancho Santa Fe. Be warmed up if you can, towards the front at all costs, and drift back if you have to. You will have to. The group is usually so large that you can’t get dropped here, even if you are really weak, but if they are going all out (they will be) *and* they catch the light going left on Rancho Santa Fe just over the top you will spend the morning by yourself. It’s a big ring power climb, short and difficult depending on who’s there, but nothing that a cagey bit of wheelsucking can’t get you through. El Presidente, this means you. Since the left-hand turn signal is almost always red when the bikes get there, it’s a chance to gasp, catch breath, scoot forward, check timber, regroup, and desperately fondle prayer beads.
Which brings us to the real beginning of this ride, which isn’t the course, but the “Who’s there?”
If Phil Tinstman, Thurlow, any young snotnose punkass kid in a Lux jersey, or any other of a large number of North County hammers show up, don’t even think about riding away. In fact, don’t think of riding away no matter what because it’s simply not a ride-away course. What you should think about is insurance, life insurance, and about naming me as your sole beneficiary. Just sign at the bottom of this paper to indicate your acceptance.
The one section where I’ve been dropped is the next one, going up San Elijo just before the turn onto Elfin Forest. If Karl Bordine hadn’t also been lollygagging at the back, then recovered, then dragged me back, my day would have ended. But realistically that’s the only place there is any chance at all of coming unhitched, and if you haven’t been battering at the front (for some, even if you have), there’s nothing on this ride that is hard enough or long enough to kick you out the back.
Unhappily, despite the easiness of the course, all of you will set new PRs for power, distance, speed, time dimensions, and multicolored spittle because Tinstman will be stomping dicks like a boot tester in dildo factory. It is an easy course that may well be your hardest day on a bicycle, including that time you had to push Billy Bohunks and his rock collection over Pepperdine Hill.
Unlike the Donut Ride, which really is a test of VO2 + masochistic tendencies, Swami’s is a series of secret sprint points that you’ll never know about until they are past and someone else has won. The regulars have done this ride a million times and they all know where to go hard, where to ease up, and where to collect the trinkets. The big sprint at the church is a barely visible wooden sign nailed to a tree overgrown with foliage. Or at least it used to be. Or at least that’s what they used to tell me.
Once on Elfin Forest (there are no elves and it’s not a forest) there are a couple of rollers where you don’t want to be caught unawares, but nothing that will drop you. By the time you figure out there’s a sprint it will be over, and everyone will be stopping at the church to urinate on holy objects, unless of course they don’t stop there anymore, in which case it will be more pain for much longer unless you’ve been dropped, in which case you will never find your way home because all the roads in North County San Diego are crooked, filled with lethal potholes, and paved with drunk drivers.
After the church the Real Cyclists may go on and do a Real Bicycle Ride. Don’t be tempted unless your name is Th Surfer Dan, and trust me, it isn’t. Instead, follow the meeker folks (not Meeker, folks) along the Swami’s route through the Lake Hodges section and back to the coast highway. Lake Hodges has a screamingly crazily insanely fast eternal downhill with no turns, a 2-inch shoulder, and traffic passing on your left at 80. So, it’s perfectly safe, especially with the frame-wobbling, cross-eyed beginner on tri-bars in front of you and the Cat 5’s on your left sprinting out of the saddle three abreast to keep up because no one has yet told them about that word “draft.”
Once the road bottoms out there is a gradual climb with a few rollers at the top. Whoever’s on the front (Thurlow) will be grilling and drilling, but everyone on a wheel will easily hang on, and that’s “easy” as in “it hurt so bad my eyes broke.” There’s another magic sprint point after the climb but before the stop sign. Then everyone checks timber, sips their sippy cup, and soldiers on to the coast highway. It’s interesting the first time you do it, and it can be blazingly fast, but the short distance, lack of elevation, and size of the group mean that you will get to the ocean and be disappointed … unless you win the final invisible sprint, which you won’t due to its aforementioned invisibility and Tinstman.
Did I mention Tinstman?
In addition to disappointment, of course you will also feel a sense of inadequacy and failure, which more than compensates.
There’s also a pecking order in North County and people aren’t overly friendly unless they owe you money, and then they sometimes will push you into oncoming traffic to cancel the debt. Be on the lookout for Stefanovich and Dandy Andy, two people who are actually friendly, and who are well regarded as the only people on the ride who once almost came close to barely being slightly faster than Tinstman that day he was home in bed with a cold. Both will lend you money or a GPS coordinate in a pinch, but both will be so far ahead of you that, well, they won’t.
Of course you’ll be tooling up to the start in the Swankmobile, and everyone knows Team Mercedes UPV, so it’s not as if you’ll be pelted with raw eggs. And if you are, whatever you do, don’t retaliate by hitting them with your empty syringes. In general they take this ride very seriously and don’t like it if you show up and tear their legs off.
But then, who does?
Unfortunately, although I’ll be in the van and available to do mortuary runs, casket pick-ups and drop-offs, massages (I’ll wear rubber gloves to cover my bleeding, open sores), mouth-to-mouth, CPR, and some crack mechanical skills (changed a front flat last week in .03 days), you won’t have anyone to hold your hand or refill your sippy cup or change your didy until the ride finishes. Be safe, enjoy the new terrain, and DO NOT FORGET to add me as the beneficiary to your policy.
I promise to take lots of photos beforehand that showcase you primped, pimped, and ready to roll. After-ride photos will be discretionary depending on how many limbs you return with. Also, please don’t finish up telling me that “It’s the hardest ride you’ve ever done,” because all that means is that you haven’t done the Carlsbad Wednesday Ride.
If something happens during the ride, my cell phone is (424) 301-9118. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you no later than Tuesday.
We got to Encinitas and they all rode off to their doom. I settled down at a cozy coffee shop, read a book, napped, and had a wonderful morning chatting with a young lady named Merlin, who, she said, was studying to be a witch. “Isn’t that a wizard’s name?” I asked.
“It used to be, but it’s all gender neutral now. You have witches named ‘Merlin’ and wizards named ‘Hilda.’ Actually, you have a lot of male witches now.”
“Yes. Better clothing options.” She stuck out a leg that was covered in black fishnet and had sequins along the inside of her thigh that spelled out “Broomrider.” She was also reading a book called “How to Get to Heaven.”
“Is that a good book for a witch?” I asked. “And don’t they already have a book about that called the Bible?”
“Oh, yes. But this one has all the shortcuts.”
“Yes. The Bible is old school. Love your neighbor and money is the root of all evil and that stuff. Takes forever and everyone agrees that it’s no fun at all.”
“What are the shortcuts?”
“Well, it says here that you can get all the Heaven points you need by giving some spare change to a homeless person.”
“Sure. This book explains that Heaven goes by a points system. You need 150 points to get in. Donating spare change is worth 2o points, and once you get to 150 you can do whatever you want.”
“Kind of like being Catholic?”
“What’s that?” she asked. Then she brightened. “You’re not homeless by any chance, are you?”
I squinted hard at her and went back to my book.
A couple of hours later the troops returned looking awful, as they muttered, rather incoherently, “PR” and “Strava trinket” and “Fucking Tinstman” and “Fucking Thurlow” and “Fucking Snotnosed Lux Punk” and “Ouch” and “Almost got dropped” and “More testosterone gel” and “Jill Easter” and “Invisible fucking sprints” and “Oof” and “Stupid ride” and “Fuck I’m wrecked” and “Coffee” and of course Th Surfer Dan, who said the only complete sentence, which was “Four slices of pepperoni and a foot-long bacon-steak subway sandwich with marinara sauce, please.”
I looked at their broken visages and salted down appendages and hollowed out cheeks and straggly hair and bony bent shoulders and thought that it was pretty much the best ride I’d never done.
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