So this was my first grand fondue, and it was a doozy. 18 billion feet of climbing, nothing but Santa Monica mountain roads, and a finishing kick on PCH.
It was the first ever Phil’s Gran Cookie Dough, a fondo that had lots of great stuff, but whose key feature was cookies. Not just any cookies. These cookies.
They were so filled with butter and massive bombs of chocolate that when you held them to eat, the aftermath looked like you’d been digging in dirt up to your elbows. I’m not sure if they were chocolate chip cookies, or giant lumps of chocolate with a few crumbs of flour around the edges.
Whatever they were, I needed them, because I had signed up for the full 117-mile, 13,000 foot beatdown only to arrive and decide that as old and stupid and slow and crazy as I was, I wasn’t old and stupid and slow and crazy enough to throw down with Jesse Anthony, Phil Gaimon, Matt Wikstrom, James Cowan, Michael Smith, Katie Donovan, and all of the other etceteras who were doing the full route.
Instead I chose the easy route, 88 miles and 10k of climbing punctuated with lots of rest stops. Problem was, this. And I’m not talking about the underwear:
The previous Tuesday on the NPR there had been a rather brisk pace and upon returning home I realized that it had been so brisk I could no longer walk. Naturally, this led to fears not of paralysis, but to fears that it would affect my cycling. So I went back out on Thursday and rode a bunch more. The good news was that my injury didn’t impair my riding as long as I never had to get off the bike.
So on Friday I rode some more, took Saturday off, and did the grand fondue with what can only be described as wrenching pain every time I had to get off the bike and stand. Fortunately, a bike makes a great cane!
The ride started with a parking lot flat tire, where I used my only tube. “No worries!” I thought. “I never get flats.”
Then we rode rather briskly up Potrero, which isn’t really a climb so much as it is a 1-mile physics problem. (I failed physics. Then and now.) Over the top I soft pedaled, having set my strategy for the day: Give up, go slow, and eat cookies.
Soon I was joined by Frankie, Delia, and Lloyd, and we gaily chatted, gaily pedaled, and fell like marauding Goths on the first feed stop which overfloweth-ed with cookies. You’d be amazed at how grand fondue math works. It’s like this:
500 kcal expended + 1,500 kcal of cookies = make sure to eat more cookies at the next stop
That’s a real formula, perhaps with the multiplier of gels/sugar drinks/energy bars so that you finish the ride like I did, three pounds heavier.
About halfway through, my ride mates began having technical problems that involved flat tires and broken spokes, which was no problem because there were a pair of Mavic support cars trolling the course, changing flats, and getting everyone going again. The problem was that even though I’d been going slowly and eating bigly, after several hours in the heat it became clear that if I didn’t hustle I’d be going home in the sag van.
So I hustled.
Alistair Fraser and Tom Buffington, two fellows who were in for the full 117-miler, caught up to me on PCH and we turned up Mulholland together, each of us cursing Trump in our own special way, denying that such a person could ever win the presidency. After about a mile we were overhauled by a group that included David Steinhafel, Katy D., and five or six other young people who were clearly in a big hurry to get to the next chocolate chip cookie station.
Unfortunately, the station was at the top of a six or seven mile climb, and the pace was brutal. One by one riders dropped off, however, being a hop-in wanker who had joined the group after resting and going slow whereas they’d already done 80 miles of bitterly hard riding, I was able to struggle to the nasty top, clinging to the wheel of a 20-something kid with big frizzy hair who shredded everyone else.
He pulled over for cookies at the top and I dropped down the Yerba Buena descent. Yerba Buena was last paved in the late Paleolithic, and there’s nothing that feels better when you’re exhausted and in fear for your life than having your front wheel hit giant crack after giant pothole for mile after mile on a harrowing descent.
Kind of like being unable to get away from “that guy” in a crit peloton, the guy who is weaving and guaranteed to crash you out, the guy who no matter how hard you try to avoid but is always in front of you, I was continually hitting massive gashes in the road that I saw, avoided, and smashed into anyway. My rear tire finally succumbed and there I was, flat and out.
This is where you notice there are three types of riders in a grand fondue, and in life generally.
- The ones who pretend they don’t see you on the side of the road in your orange outfit holding a tube in your hand, helplessly.
- The ones who zoom by at 35 and say, “You okay, dude?” and are gone before you can sob, “No!”
- The ones who stop and help.
The great thing about cycling is that no matter how many times YOU may have been a 1 or a 2, there is always a number 3 because, yo, bike riders!
Peter Nesmith was my angel. He stopped, gave me his last tube, waited until I was sure the stem would fit through my all-carbon rims which were made of pure 100% carbon, and then continued on. However, I had misjudged the stem length and was soon standing with a properly mounted tire and tube and a fizzled C02 cartridge. My last one, natch.
Katie D. saw me, slowed, and did a number 3. Why yes, she did happen to have a valve extender. Why yes, she did happen to have an extra C02. Why yes, she would certainly help me get going again. Why yes, she would certainly show me how a pro descends. Why no, she would never see the fear smears in my shorts from following her wheel all the way down to PCH.
Once we got onto flattish, tailwindish roads, within smelling distance of the parking lot, we both got bumper fever, that sudden infusion of power and strength that comes from knowing the misery is almost over. None of the power and strength came from the tailwind. None. We were briefly joined by Patrick Barrett and Chris Miller, and some dude who had come down from Vancouver.
Back in the beer garden and barbecue park I wandered, dazed, eating the best pulled-pork sandwich ever, marveling at the people who had ridden 30 miles farther and finished two hours earlier, and wondering why I was having so much trouble standing. Must have been the cookies.
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