I got a text from Pornstache. “6:40 AM CotKU. Yerba Buena, 100+. It will be fun.”
Despite the obvious lie I showed up, along with Surfer, Ruins, LoLo, Megajoules, and Medium Banana. Pornstache was in a great mood. “If we hustle we can make the NOW ride and get a free tow up PCH, then continue on to Yerba.”
This made no sense at all, first and foremost because there are no “free” tows in cycling, and certainly not on the NOW ride. Not that I’d ever done it.
In fact, for years I had studiously avoided it. It is the West Side’s answer to the Donut, minus all the climbing. If rumor were to be believed, the NOW ride was a 28-30 mph jaunt up the coast in an insane bike mob of 70 to 100 idiots. It begins in Santa Monica, but that first eight or nine miles of blistering speed on the pancake flat portion of PCH going to Malibu is just the warm up.
The grenade goes off on Pepperdine Hill, and I’ve eaten plenty of grenades in my cycling life. No desire to eat another one.
“Dude,” I said to Pornstache. “Have you ever done the NOW ride?”
“Nope. But it goes up PCH so we can just hop in.”
I shook my head. “Yeah, like you can hop into a steel foundry.”
You shoulda been here yesterday
During my surfing career as the world’s biggest kook EVER, I learned early that no matter how great the surf was when you paddled out, as soon as you commented on its awesomeness the guy next to you would shrug, bored. “Yeah, it’s okay. But you shoulda been here yesterday. Triple overhead, low tide, and hollow AF.”
We joined the NOW ride as they descended from Santa Monica towards PCH and I made mental note of the hitters. Pain was there. Head Down James was there. SoCal Cycling dude was there. Charon was there. Engel was there with a gnarly looking teammate. And there were a dozen or so other bonesnapping riders who were sweating testosterone, in addition to our South Bay contributions, especially Megajoules.
I rode up next to Head Down James. “Hey, man. How’s this ride shake out?”
“You’ve never done it before?” he asked incredulously.
“Things get pretty lively on Pepperdine Hill. I was dropped there the last two weeks when the hitters showed up. It was hard, man.”
My stomach churned. I had never not been dropped by Head Down James. And if he was calling someone else a hitter, what did that make me, besides a roach under the heel of a boot?
Next I rode up to Pain. “What’s up, Tony?” I said.
“Hey, man, good to see ya! You picked a good week. None of the hitters are here this week. Should be easy.”
“Triple overhead and hollow last week, huh?”
Pain laughed. “Exactly.”
I felt a little squirt in my chamois as we hit PCH and the pace immediately went from languid to Very Effin Fast. I hunkered down over the bars and sat at the back, glued to Head Down James. Whatever was going to happen, he would be there.
Bleating of the lambs
According to Head Down James for whom this was a warm-up for what would be his 140-mile, 12k feet of climbing “average day,” we were doing 28, but it didn’t hurt at all tucked in at the back, sucking wheel for all I was worth while the worthies up front gnashed and mashed. And before I knew it we were approaching the bottom of Pepperdine Hill.
By now I knew that there was zero chance of making the split. So I came off of Head Down James’s wheel and surfed over to Surfer’s, who had slotted in second wheel behind Pornstache. I wondered what the hell Pornstache was doing at the front on a ride he’d never even done before at the exact moment the Brownings were about to open fire.
I soon found out as he lit the fuse at the bottom of the hill, quickly gapping out Surfer.
Just so you understand, Pepperdine Hill isn’t long and it isn’t steep. I’m not great with distances and you can find it on Strava if you really want to know what it’s like. Maybe half a mile and seven percent? I dunno.
It doesn’t really matter because about halfway up my legs caught fire. Not that gradual heating up where you start to think “Uh-oh, I am fucked,” but the sudden injection of molten lava and acid into every muscle at once, and the pain hits you like a Trump speech, nasty, awful, unbearable, loathsome, and filled with vileness and bile.
Surfer kept going and I heard the hoofbeats of the onrushing herd, the sound intoning “droppage” from all those carbon wheels starting to accelerate at the very moment I had decided to decelerate in the other direction. [Reader’s note: Technically, acceleration is a change in velocity over time, so acceleration can be both positive, or negative. Unfortunately, along came the automobile, and engineers simply couldn’t have a positive and a negative accelerator pedal. Too sciencey, and the general populace became acquainted with negative acceleration as deceleration.]
The wisdom of Daniel Holloway
However, my decision to post up at the front hadn’t been completely dumb reflex. Best U.S. Bike Racer Daniel Holloway had once told me that it’s better to be at the front of a climb and then drift back as the faster riders pass, trying to latch onto the very end, than it is to be at the back of the chain and try to match their accelerations.
The only problem with his strategy was the “latch on” part.
Elijah blew by. Charon blew by. Head Down James Blew by. Pain blew by. DNA dudes blew by. SoCal Cycling dude blew by. Megajoules FLEW by. Then a string of complete strangers blew by. In the horror fog I got that funny feeling that I was the last guy, and unable to look back, I grabbed the final wheel in the sweep.
There were only about a hundred yards to go. Only. Kind of like “only another hundred yards with both thumbs slammed in the car door.”
If Mr. Scott had been in charge he would have uttered more obscenities than Howard Stern, but the engine was engulfed with flames, smoke, poisonous gas, and eruptions of plutonium from its cracked nuclear core. I played every mind game in my thin and tattered book of tricks until I came to the last page, which was ugly, brutal, and jagged around the edges and writ large: “Don’t quit, wanker!”
Everything went dark around me except the stranger’s wheel, and at that very moment when the collapse of willpower and muscular power intersect, I was over the top. At that precise moment of course the beasts at the front jumped. I mechanically stood, and what I did wasn’t a jump, or even a hop, barely even a skip, but it connected me to the caboose.
I glanced back only to see the brokedick remnants of the peloton smeared along the roadside in little clumps like bugsplat on a windshield.
“You made it,” Pain said with a grin, as if he’d just strolled around the block with a puppy. “Good job.”
I said something no one could understand. Me, either.
Freedom isn’t free, at least on the NOW
To make a miserable story less so, additional people got ejected from the lead group. I brought up the rear as we rolled into the first rest stop at Trancas. Pornstache looked breezy.
“Great idea, getting a free tow with the NOW ride,” I mumbled.
“Aw, come on,” he said. “It wasn’t that bad.”
I looked around at the other riders, none of whom was within ten years, and most of whom weren’t within twenty. “Yes,” I said. “It was.”
Before long the ambitious plan to ride Yerba Buena, an endless, badly paved, faraway road of death had been reconditioned into a trip up Decker Lane, a less endless, well paved, much steeper road of death. I went along, got to the top and gave up, turning tail and riding home.
Fortunately, I was overtaken at Zuma by two very fresh dudes from team Every Man Jack. They set the needle at 26 and hauled me back to Sunset in no time, which was great, but which left me with another 30 miles to go and no legs to get there with. I got to see a motorcycle collision, a police rolling enclosure along PCH for a group of marchers, and my friends Deb Sullivan, Kristina Ooi, Alx Bns, and Matt Wikstrom, all in the course of my ride home.
When I got back, I was, um, tired. Or should I say a zombie?
In any event, if you ever start thinking it’s NOW or never, I encourage you to choose never.
This is called method journalism, where I don’t report on things, I do them and then report on them. As a result, my legs are killing me. Please consider subscribing … Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!