October 23, 2019 § 2 Comments
I got an email from some dude named Ramy Khalaf.
“Hey,” it went, “I found you on the Internet and I’m making a video about rides in SoCal can I come to your office and make a video?”
“Sure,” I said, knowing I’d never hear from him again.
A couple of weeks later Ramy showed up with a world of legit cameras and equipment. Thankfully, I’d bathed that morning. You can’t always count on that.
Ramy has a YouTube channel, Bar & Pedal, where he combines amazing video skills and a love of cycling into some fantastic stories.
I would tell you about the video, but then I’d be telling the tale twice.
October 6, 2018 § 1 Comment
We had our Big Day 2018 two weeks ago. It was a hard, fun ride and blah blah blah.
Afterwards several of the riders went out of their way to say “Thanks!” to Yasuko for doing the hand-ups and spending all day supporting the ride, a day that began for her at 3:00 AM.
One friend gave her a mug and a whopping gift card from our beloved Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica.
Another friend dropped some cash anonymously on the passenger seat of her car.
A thankful rider gave her a lovely bouquet, while a different rider gave her a beautiful orchid and a Starbucks gift card. One rider said “thanks” by picking up her post-ride tab at Rockefeller’s.
A fantastic video and a day spent taking, then sharing great photos was how one rider said thanks, and three others formed a combine and added a coffee card to Yasuko’s haul.
But what really made the difference was that every single rider said thank-you with warmth and appreciation and sincerity. That is what makes what could have been a chore into something special. Gratitude and appreciation aren’t measured by money but by warmth, human warmth.
One more thing …
As if all that weren’t enough, two of the crew came by yesterday. They brought a pair of Japanese sushi trays that they had painted by hand and adorned with the kanji for “Love” and “Bicycle.”
It made me think about doing things by hand, and about how when you give someone a gift that you made, you take a risk. It made me think that you don’t have to be Picasso to make art. It made me think that when art is personalized, like this was, and transformed into a gift, the object takes on perfect beauty, shared by the artist and you.
September 24, 2018 § 13 Comments
Once upon a time there were twenty-two bicyclists who decided to go on a bicycle ride. The ride started very early. One of the bicyclists was a little sleepyhead, like David Ellis last year, and the other bicyclists went on without him.
The bicycle ride was at 5:30 in the morning. This was verrrrrrrry early for the little bicyclists who were all little sleepyheads. When the bicyclists got together at the meeting place they all needed to go potty. One of the little bicyclists went into the potty to go poopy. He was sitting down and he could hear the other little bicyclists talking outside. He sat there going poopy.
Then he didn’t hear anyone outside. He looked at his watch. “Oh, no!” he said. “I wonder if they left me?” He ran out of the potty in a very big hurry but there was no one there. The little bicyclist asked a nice lady, “Where did they go?”
The nice lady pointed down the dark street. “That way,” she said.
The little bicyclist slammed it into the eleven, put his head down, and time-trialed at 29 mph like a crazy fuck for seven miles until he caught the group, which had, incredibly, left at 5:30. The Hun was now completely blown. He still had 223 miles to go.
From friend to enemy
Saturday was the 2018 Big Day. Twenty-one riders minus the one who slept in and the one in the bathroom left at 5:30 AM, pointy sharp. The Hun caught us at the Marina bridge, where we picked up Ruins. This comprised our final contingent for the day, not counting the two hop-in wankers who slipped in somewhere along PCH, but eventually left due to their failure to sign a waiver.
We got to the pier in Santa Barbara in a little over four and a half hours. The pace was fast but not crazy unless you were sitting on the front next to Evens, Cowan, or Rudy. Then it was unbearable. The ride rules were simple:
- Leave on time.
- No drop to Santa Barbara.
- One stop for a mechanical. Second mechanical will be chasing.
- Pee, fill bottles, grab food from our musette bags in Santa Barbara.
- Race from the parking lot to the top of Gibraltar back to Manhattan Beach.
At the start everyone dropped off a musette bag with Yasuko, who drove to Santa Barbara, handed off the food and water, then waited in the parking lot for a couple more hours so that most but not all riders could make a stop if needed on the way back. The vibe was “friends” to Santa Barbara, “enemies” from the parking lot home.
Gibraltar is a 6.3-mile climb up into the scalding 103-degree heat, and it’s about three miles uphill from the parking lot to the base of the climb. People pretty much fell apart on the climb. Last year I made it past halfway up and quit. This year I was determined to get to the top, and had actually trained for it. I was fourth to last, and all but five riders summitted.
Rudy got the KOM, Lauren got the QOM, and Baby Seal got the best summit selfie, a middle finger salute. My climb was greatly aided by Wes, who as he descended, actually answered me when I asked him, “How far?” and what’s more, told the truth.
I got back to the parking lot, filled my bottles, and rode on with Ivan and Stathis. Ivan was taking crazy hard pulls and I knew that if I tried to hang on I’d be dead in Ventura, motionless, with 70 miles still to go.
Stathis swung off. “You flat?” I asked, not caring.
“Yeah,” he said, knowing I didn’t care.
I rolled on. Ivan, who was up ahead, realized he didn’t know the way, so he slowed down for me, way down. We rode together for a couple of miles until we got through Carpinteria and he left again, this time for good. I spent the next four and a half hours doing a very smooth paceline with Seth Davidson.
Somewhere along the 101 I got passed by Attila and Wes. I heard them come by. “You okay, man?” Attila asked in the voice that says, “I hope you are okay because I’m not stopping.”
“I’m good,” I said, knowing he didn’t care. They vanished quickly.
The leading group of Rudy, Evens, Alex, Mathieu, and James was having many adventures. James had come down off Gibraltar with less than half a water bottle for the remaining 100 miles. But since REAM were ahead of him he didn’t stop and chased them down. He didn’t need water anyway, and he figured that they weren’t stopping, as Rudy would complete the entire ride on two water bottles and a Pop-Tart.
Did I mention that James and Leo had gotten up at midnight to get in some extra miles, and that they already had 100 miles on their legs by 5:30 when we left? That’s not a sick joke. Actually, it is.
After a while the pace became unfavorable, and then for Mathieu and Alex it became favorable because Mathieu flatted. Alex agreed to stop to “help his friend” but what actually happened was that he lay on the ground and turned an unhealthy shade of pale green.
Mathieu feverishly dug into his pocket for a defibrillator but all he had was an unopened crispy waffle snack. The wrapper was covered in GU slime and bent in thirds. He tore it open with his dry, spit-caked teeth. The waffle caramel had melted and oozed out, mixing in with the crusted snot and boogers beneath his nails. He mashed the caramel, GU goo, and waffle crisp into a ball and handed it to Alex, who received it as if he’d been handed the finest steak dinner. Narrowly avoiding losing a finger as Alex snapped it up, the two were soon good to go.
At the Malibu Colony turnoff, where all riders had sworn a blood oath not to turn and instead to mount the backside of Pepperdine Hill, Mathieu and Alex made the turn onto the Malibu Colony turnoff, knowing that Seth didn’t use the Stravver. Mathieu, who had been sleeping, drove straight into the curb, did a header, knocked his chain off, and bent his front wheel.
Alex stared through his chest. “Are you okay?” he asked without caring.
“Yes,” Mathieu answered, also without caring.
“That wheel doesn’t look good,” Alex said, caring even less.
“No, it doesn’t,” Mathieu said, caring slightly more as he began kicking the wheel as hard as he could until it became un-bent enough to fit into the fork, but still violently bent enough to pose as a Frisbee. They continued on until they finished, which was still faster than all but four people.
James, Rudy, and Evens all finished together in some awful time that hurts even to think about. As a result, they won and shared first place, which was a monthly year-long subscription of Wanky Sourdough and Mrs. Wanky Raisin Bread. Lauren earned a similar grand prize for her efforts.
There were many amazing stories of the day, not least of which being that after making love to a couple of hamburgers and half a gallon of beer, Rudy and James got on their bikes and rode another fifteen miles or so home. Equally amazing was Leo, who ran out of gas at mile 200, then still climbed Gibraltar and rode back to Santa Monica.
The only down side to netting 300+ miles on a ride that’s only 230 is that you are very poor at arithmetic. The up side is that there will always be a slot for you in any insane asylum, anywhere, any time.
Every rider accomplished something, and no rider accomplished anything significant. The Hun learned that all of his friends are cheating liars. Wesley learned that all of his friends are cheating liars, especially the Hun, who begged to go 22 until, after refueling, he was able to kick it up to 27 and skewer his friends, er, enemies. Stathis already knew his friends were cheating liars. Baby Seal already knew that none of these people were his friends. Kristie learned that the ride takes two hours longer when you’re dragging around a pink-colored corpse named Leo. Leo learned that it’s a long way to Tipperary, but it’s actually a longer way to home. Adam learned that Gibraltar is steep and long, but that he can still ride close to 230 miles in a day. Michael learned that gravel bikes and 36 mm tires make Gibraltar … tough. Eric learned that getting home early is all that matters, and Cobley learned that when you haven’t put it the miles, it’s a heck of a lot better to turn around at the Rock than to break the Rule of Holes, which is this: When you’re in one, quit digging.
Mathieu learned not to sleep when you ride, Ramon learned that Gibraltar is just as long this year as it was last, and Alex learned that hunger is the best sauce. Lauren learned that some bread is worth fighting for, and Ivan learned that just because you are blazing fast in Carpenteria doesn’t mean you’ll be blazing fast in Ventura, ten miles later. Fred didn’t learn anything but he did get to sleep in.
Bjorn learned that you can go from longest-ever-ride of 120 to longest-ever-ride of 230 and not suffer (more) brain damage. Evens learned that there are other people whose judgment is at least as bad as his, and that there are people like Cowan and Leo, whose judgment is actually worse. Major Bob learned that the feed zone can be pretty darned entertaining. Rudy taught everyone a lesson, at least on Gibraltar, but it’s not clear that they learned it.
And me? I learned that sometimes it feels good just to finish.
Photo credits to Leo, Cowan, Baby Seal, Yasuko, Michelle, Bjorn, and everyone who snapped a summit selfie!
August 6, 2018 § 7 Comments
I stared at the three fried eggs and sausage dripping in hot grease, bit into the thick slab of toast covered in jam and butter, and savored the pungent coffee. “This,” I thought, “is the best I’m gonna feel all day.”
Last year we did a ride simply called Big Day, in September, 240 miles to Santa Barbara and back, with the feared Gibraltar climb thrown in to separate the living from the dead. As with so many bad ideas, this one, fermented over the course of a year, lost virtually all of its awful overtones so that only a fruity, mellow flavor with overtones of camaraderie and notes of good times remained. The tannins of hatred, rage, depression, pain, loneliness, failure, inadequacy, and collapse had all magically been softened, reduced, and left to drift to the bottom of the barrel, dregs that memory would never touch.
Due to this gradual process of delusion regeneration, we decided to follow Big Day 2017 with (surprise) Big Day 2018. Oddly, many of those who participated in 2017 were unavailable, busy, training for other events, or simply ignored my kind invitation for 2018. I suspect that it is because they had too much fun the previous year, for example lying on the cement at Cross Creek and moaning at 8 PM, with only forty miles or so to go.
If there is one thing I have learned in a lifetime of cycling, it is that I haven’t learned anything. But it seemed like a good idea to set up a few training rides before the Big Day, so I emailed the seventeen riders on the start list. “160 miles, leaving PV at 5:00, CotKU at 5:30, pointy-sharp.”
The only person I heard back from was Frexit. “Sounds good,” he said. “Will we be back by noon?”
“You will,” I said. “We won’t.”
At the appointed time and place I was pleased to see Fancytires, Noquit, and Baby Seal. I was displeased to see no one else, because it meant a hard ride with hardly anywhere to cower.
“If I get dropped, just leave me alone. I don’t want you waiting for me,” said Noquit.
“What makes you think I would wait?”
Then Frexit rode up and everyone began muttering under their breath. “This is gonna suck,” said Noquit.
“It is strange,” said Frexit as we got going. “I think that people like me as a person, but no one likes it when I come along on their bicycle ride.”
Wonder no longer
Leaving Manhattan Beach, Frexit, who was on his TT bike, got it up to speed, which just happened to be my threshold. Normally you relish sitting on someone’s wheel because it means you will go faster with less work, and they will tire themselves out dragging you around, but with Frexit all it means is that you will go faster with more work and you will exhaust yourself being dragged around before you get to Santa Monica.
This is basically what happened, until we hit PCH and Frexit picked it up a notch. The horrible knowledge that you are an hour into a 160-mile ride, and already toast, is awful.
We hit the Rock at Pt. Mugu at 7:45. Frexit dragged us to the end of PCH then sat up. “I’m very sorry I can’t go with you all the way,” he said, “but I have a meeting at noon.”
None of us could speak, but we were ecstatic to see him go as it meant we could go really slow and not hurt so much. We started taking five-minute pulls, with Fancytires pounding extra hard, perhaps to make us feel nostalgic about our special time with Frexit. In Oxnard we needed to make a turn while Baby Seal was on the front, but he was wearing earphones, so despite our screams, yells, and shrieks, he motored away. I contemplated making the turn and leaving him to his own devices, normally a smooth move, but then realized it would be one less wheel to suck, so we chased him down, berated him for riding with earphones, and continued on to Ventura.
Noquit had “QUIT” written all over her face when we pulled into the coffee shop.
White walls and all
“Do you know this place?” I asked Baby Seal, who had found it.
“How’d you find it? It looks like it’s gonna have good coffee.”
“It’s gonna have great coffee.”
“How do you know?”
“I googled ‘coffee in Ventura’ and they came up; the walls inside are white. Any place with white walls is gonna be off the hook.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Dude,” he said. “Think about it. White walls in a fucking coffee shop? Meth heads leaning against the wall with their greasy hair, kids smearing feces on the wall, people dropping black coffee and it spattering the baseboards? You know how much time and money it costs to keep white walls clean in a coffee shop?”
“So they’re obviously insane. And even though they’ll be out of business by March, insane, idealistic people make the best coffee. Insane about the walls, insane about the beans.”
We stood in line forever, noting that the coffee shop had perfected the art of making a lot of people wait a long time for a simple beverage, but when it came, Baby Seal was right. It was lights out coffee.
On the road again
We got back on our bikes, surprised to find that a 30-minute stop fueled with coffee and pastries had taken away most of the pain from our four-hour time trial. It didn’t take long for the sugar-and-caffeine rush to burn off, though, and by the time we hit PCH I was fried and Noquit was deep fried. Fancytires and Baby Seal were feeling sporty, turning the screws with every pull.
Just as things looked pretty dim for the home team, Fancytires got a massive blowout. The gunshot from behind made me hope he’d need to Uber home. Unfortunately it was a sidewall gash that could be fixed with a boot.
However, before that happened Fancytires would have to get his rear wheel off, and he set about changing his tire in a most unusual way, i.e. flipping his bike upside down. We looked at each other as he engaged in a wrestling match with the rear wheel, and despite his prodigious forearms, the wheel was winning.
“Dude,” I said, “let me help you with that.” I flipped the bike over, removed the rear wheel, booted the tire, and changed the flat. “Don’t ever tell anyone that I changed your tire.”
“It’s like admitting you had your brain surgery done by your car mechanic.”
We examined Fancytires’s tires, and they were really fancy, high-end Vittorias. “Don’t bring these on the Big Day,” I said.
“They’re new,” he protested.
“Yeah,” said Baby Seal “they’re supple and they ride great. Problem is that if you look at them too hard they flat.”
I handed the wheel back to Fancytires, and he proceeded to turn his bike upside down again and challenge the rear wheel to another wrestling match. Baby Seal intervened. “Who teaches people to do it like that?” he mused aloud. “We gotta find that guy and break his thumbs.” Re-flipping the bike, he put on the wheel, aligned it, and off we went.
Everyone gets a break
Although Noquit and I had benefited from the respite, so had Fancytires and Baby Seal, who proceeded to start pounding us on the rollers. Fancytires ground us on the roller at LA County Line, then really ground us coming up from Leo Carillo. Noquit quit.
I dropped back to see if she was going to need CPR or maybe just a discouraging word or two. Baby Seal saw us in difficulty and sprinted off with Fancytires, which frankly is the best preparation of all of Big Day, i.e. killing them off when they falter.
“Just leave me,” Noquit said. She was dripping in sweat, covered in misery, and barely turning the pedals.
“But then I won’t get to enjoy your suffering,” I said.
We fell into a steady pace. After a mile or so, Fancytires dropped back, perhaps guilty about leaving me after I’d changed his tire, perhaps guilty about leaving a friend to die, but most likely curious as to whether he could have my wallet after I expired. “Go on,” I told him. “Noquit has quit, I’m burnt toast.”
“And tell Baby Seal he’s an asshole for attacking his friends!”
Fancytires nodded and sprinted away.
The Big Day Rule
There is only one Big Day rule, and it is this: When you feel really strong towards the end, you’re about to implode.
Fancytires clawed his way back up to Baby Seal, who throttled it hard and shelled Fancytires coming out of Zuma. As Noquit and I straggled into Cross Creek, we saw Fancytires weaving ahead of us, and then saw him veer off into the Chevron for a drink, a snack, an i.v., and a defib. We continued at a brisk clip. For us.
A mile before Temescal Canyon I saw Baby Seal’s water bottle on the roadside. “That’s a good sign,” I said. “Means he’s out of water and so delirious he can’t be bothered to pick up a $40 Camelback.”
“Are you going to stop and get it for him?”
“Fuck no,” I said.
Sure enough, at the Temescal Canyon light we saw Baby Seal, his pelt no longer shiny and his flippers sagging greatly. We sprinted by him without so much as a “hello,” which turned out to be a mistake because as tired as he was, he wasn’t nearly tired enough to be dumped by a grandpa and a shuddering Noquit.
We raced into Santa Monica, where I finally had to tap out. “Starbucks,” I begged.
Love in a cup
I never drink/eat frappucinos, but I ordered a huge one with an extra shot and I can say that it was the finest culinary experience of my life, comprised as it was of pure sugar, ice, and caffeine.
As we sat there collecting our thoughts and thinking how we might get home without riding our bikes, Fancytires shot by. We never saw him again.
Baby Seal felt better the closer we got to home, which made Noquit and I feel that much worse. As we approached the turnoff to Silver Spur, Baby Seal made as if to go left, where he had parked his car.
“Nun-uh,” I said. “We go up Basswood-Shorewood, you go up Basswood-Shorewood.”
“But I don’t live up there!” he protested.
“Quit bragging,” I said.
Baby Seal hung his head, then attacked and dropped us with minimal effort.
Back home my everything hurt. “How was it?” Yasuko asked.
“Awful,” I said.
“Because right now, at 163 miles, completely broken and unable to stand, when it’s the Big Day, there will still be 80 miles to go.”