Death by a thousand pedal strokes

Number of times since 1982 that I’ve been rescued in a car due to a flat/mechanical: 2.

Time one: 2019 BWR.

Time two: 2019 Phil’s Cookie Fondue.

The “flat moment” looked like a lot of “flat moments.” There were four of us and we were about halfway done with the Double Fudge, which should be named the Doubly Fucked. Ride organizer Phil Gaimon begs people not to do this ride and to choose something reasonable instead, and people listen. There were only about fifty riders who signed up, in addition to the 300,000 thorns that had pirated the ride and spread themselves all over the roads.

My $185 entry fee leaked out all the air at the bottom of Pepperdine Hill and I said to my three companions, “Go ahead. I’ll change it and catch up.”

This was the moment of truth. Experienced riders, or frightened riders (often one and the same), never abandon their ride mates unless the mate is truly abandon-worthy, and I obviously was. Yasuko, the Russian, and TB bolted off down the road.

I’d brought one spare tube and it had a defective valve, of course, and after going through both canisters I stood less than a mile from the Starbucks in Cross Creek contemplating my options. Option 1 was to shout at the approaching riders and beg for a tube.

“You okay?” the lead rider said as they came slowly by.

“No, I need a tube and air.”

They all looked straight ahead and kept pedaling.

Option 2 was ride to the coffee shop, catch a Lyft back to Giant Santa Monica, get patched up and ride home, which I did.

But I worried. Not about myself, but about Yasuko, who I’d been training with for this 115-mile, 12k monster. I knew that her friends would leave her immediately and it would be dark, and she’d be alone on steep mountain roads in the Santa Monicas on a Sunday evening. A flat? A mechanical? She’d be in trouble of the kind marked “serious.” I kicked myself for having told her to go on. Not only would I have had a good tube to borrow, but she would have had a wheel to sit on. My legs had felt great the entire day.

The fondue was so sparsely attended that she was certainly the last rider, certainly, and the aid stops for the Double Fudge, in contrast to the happy ones at the beginning of the ride, were depopulated. They’d likely be closed by the time she got there. Still, it was PCH in SoCal on a cool, clear Sunday. What could go wrong? Aside from, you know, everything.

Unlike past editions of Phil’s Fondue, which were marked by howling Santa Ana winds, blistering temperatures, bone-dry air, and people getting blown off the road, this one had begun auspiciously.

We’d missed the start due to a bladder malfunction, I’d gotten yelled at by some dude for not wearing a helmet, and with the exception of one quick water stop, we’d made solid time. The aid station staffed by Big Orange’s Alan, Brooks, Joann, and Franzi was the best aid station on the route. I don’t know if fondues are going out of fashion, because judging from the numbers pinned to rider jerseys, there only appeared to be about 700. A good chunk of those you can presume were either comped or riding with a discounted entry fee. For a 2-day event with huge logistics spread all the way from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, I don’t see how it all adds up.

Nor was there much excitement. People seemed like they were going through the motions, which I chalk up to the fact that at this stage in the game most fondo riders have done a ton of fondos. It’s like a USAC masters bike race minus the beauty of the industrial park. This makes sense because the fondo demographic is very much like masters racing: old people who aren’t really excited about anything. Like me.

There was minimal participation from local clubs; I saw a smattering of VCLG and Big Orange riders, no one from the fondo’s backyard powerhouse Serious Cycling, and at $185 a pop to ride local roads, even with the cookies and the desire to support local events, that’s a big price tag. Levi’s Fondue, the original “must ride” event, used to cap out at 7,000. Now they beg and hustle for entrants just like everyone else. Few have mastered the magic incantation of the BWR, which still sells out every year and has the feel of something new and exciting no matter how many times you do it.

But none of that mattered as I ate a couple of stale biscuits at home and wondered about Yasuko. She had sent me a photo somewhere up on Deer Creek around 4:08, which was nearing the 9-hour mark, the sun starting to go down, a long, long way from the finish, and perhaps the nastiest part of the route left to do: the howling, 20-mph headwind for the last eight miles.

I called an hour later and she answered, having just turned into the headwind on the home stretch down Las Posas. She sounded drained, miserable, and at wit’s end, in short, like she was just about to finish the Doubly Fucked. And she did. They’d closed up the finish line but she circled round the back, the final rider.

People were impressed.

Phil’s Fondue Double Fudge. In tennis shoes.


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3 thoughts on “Death by a thousand pedal strokes”

  1. Nice work Yasuko, I’m hoping she doesn’t ready this drivel so please pass on my wishes.
    Oh and that’s a very jaunty cap you are wearing.

  2. And while I am reading your quandary, I am recalling your Carmageddon posts which I believe started out with “I surrendered my drivers license”.

    Good Job to Yasuko. Very impressive.

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