Every fall, Starbucks pumps out its seasonal offering of pumpkin spice latte. It sounds great and rings in the autumn excesses of too much sugar, too much food, too much booze, and too many prescription medications, but when you think about it, it doesn’t really sound all that great.
Who eats pumpkin? It’s a giant, orange, nasty veggie-fruity thing that stinks and doesn’t taste very good. Pumpkin salad? Pumpkin soup? Pumpkin steak? Pumpkin burger? Ahhh … no, thanks.
Still, you order one anyway because it looks and feels like fall and it’s extra points in your quest to get a free fifty cent drink for every $150 dollars you spend, and you’re usually doing okay until about halfway through, when you start to get queasy from the pure sugar that is 100% sugar and all the completely sugary sugar that fills half the cup, but you keep slurping away, mixing in the whipped cream sugar with the rest of the sugar, until somehow you get to the bottom of the cup, and there it is: A nasty, orange-brown slurry of toxic sludge that suddenly you can’t believe you ate. You stare at it, grossed out, then maybe you fiddle with the end of your straw and suck down a few drops, which are plain old nasty, like drinking the dregs from the sippy cup of a two-year-old who has a bad cold.
In short, you feel terrible. Sugar bombed, 1,200 calories into the red (it’s only 8:00 AM), and, if you’re feeling really guilty you look up the ingredients on the Internet and learn what you already knew. There isn’t even any pumpkin in it, anyway.
Fact is, we have a little seasonal offering like that right here in L.A. It’s called the Dogtown Ride. It’s a special product only sold in fall. You get tagged on Facebag by Tony Manzella, the ride’s progenitor, or you get a private text message if you’re not ‘bagging it anymore, and at 8:00 AM at Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica the fastest cyclists in L.A. show up to do some early season polishing, and you’re gonna be the whetstone.
Like the pumpkin spice latte, I felt a vague attraction to this seasonal offering, even though I’ve done it before and knew that nothing good ever comes from it. I met up at the appointed hour, thankfully getting there an hour earlier so that I could enjoy what truly is the phenomenal brewing of Dogtown Coffee (no pumpkin spice latte there, folks), and so that I could let my stomach settle.
In small groups the riders appeared, each one possessed of the same silly delusion, that they would be able to hold the pace with Tony, Head Down James, Thomas Rennier, Eric B., bearded British dude, ex-cross country champ-turned-tridork, Kate V., Katie D., or any of the other people who were absolutely going to ride away, see ya. I exited Dogtown and paid homage to Tony and his dad, Rich, and noted that Tony had removed his Garmin. I didn’t know if this was his message that he is no longer into data, or a suggestion that he wasn’t going to go that hard, a feint designed to fool us pack fodder into a few moments of satisfaction.
I chatted with Elijah, who was now on his third team in three years, with Casey, with Patrick Barrett, with Josh, with Joe Pugliese, and with a couple of other riders as we pedaled through Santa Monica. It was sunny, beautiful, warm, and promised to be a horrible day on the bike.
The first climb, Bienveneda Avenue, might be a misspelling of the Spanish word “bienvenida,” which means “welcome.” Like the pumpkin spice missing the pumpkin, there was no welcome in Bienveneda, only the shock and awe as clumps of eager cyclists dashed past me, dangled in front for a bit, and then exploded, spectacularly, on the horribly steep climb. I plodded to the top, where the leaders had already finished checking into #socmed and were ready for the next fake ingredient of this foul-tasting fall seasonal “fun” ride.
Next on the ingredient list was Palisades Drive, much longer and much less steep until you got to the last part, which was just as long as just as steep. The Santa Monica/BMW riders shelled the entire field. I hung on for a bit before getting dropped, then got caught by Eric Bruins, who towed me the rest of the way up. Dave Holland, Michael Penta, Chuck Huang, Christina Oi, Tony Sells, David Mack, and countless others reached the top with the done look of a steak left on the grill overnight.
By now the full effect of the pumpkin spice was hitting our digestive tracts, which meant it was perfect timing to descend Palisades at 50+ mph, replete with riders squatting on their top tubes, massive chugholes blowing tires off the rim, Ferraris coming by in the Number One lane at 80, and everyone behaving as if a head-first fall onto the pavement would be “just a scratch.” We reached PCH and Tony, along with the Santa Monica zombies, beat the pedals all the way to Pepperdine Hill. Even tucked onto a wheel I was in pain. Many riders decided that they’d had enough and went home.
Like a fool, I continued.
We charged up Malibu Canyon Road, where hairy English dude dropped everyone, then created a small group of leaders. The rest of us clumped together on the windy, endless climb, wishing it would either end or finish or conclude or terminate, but it didn’t. I took one last pull, and although I failed to bridge, I did manage to ride everyone in the group off my wheel except four others, who, when I swung over, charged past.
One by one I got caught by everyone I had dropped, and was dropped myself; just me and the dregs in the bottom of the pumpkin spice cup, wondering why I’d eaten so much orange vomit. A few hours later I got home, depleted, cramped, and thoroughly looking forward to the next one. After all, Dogtown Ride only comes around a couple of times a year. And who’d want to miss out on that?
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