Just add bacon

October 25, 2018 § 10 Comments

Have you ever wondered where rest stops come from?

You’ll be out in the middle of nowhere, famished, both bottles empty, halfway between nowhere and purgatory, alone, miserable, regretting the last-minute decision to do the stupid ride, and then bam! You’ll see a rest stop on the side of the road.

It will have water and drink mix, bananas and pbj squares, cookies (if you’re at Phil’s Fondo), and all manner of heavenly delights. It seems so natural, but really, it’s kind of amazing. Let’s go over it again:

  • You are in the middle of nowhere.
  • On a bicycle.
  • Starving and thirsty.
  • Wishing you were dead.
  • Up pops a fully staffed aid station.

How does it get there? Does someone plant seeds the year before, water them, and then they magically grow, perfectly timed?

The birds and the bees and the bacon

Actually, aid stations occur because these mystery things called “volunteers” get up long before dawn, drive to the start/finish, load their car with tents, food, water, and pickle juice, drive way out into nowhere, and set it all up.

Take, for example, last Saturday on the Circle of Doom, where the first rest stop atop Crystal Lake wasn’t simply an assortment of bananas and energy drink, no, it was something way more awesome than that. It was fried taters and bacon.

Scientists have concluded that the very finest fondo food is bacon and taters, and at the Circle of Doom, this magic was created by the Flawless Diamonds, a group of women who donate their time, energy, and money to feeding children, feeding the homeless, and feeding the hungry in southeast L.A. In other words, they know how to fry up bacon.

And fry it they did, as Flawless Diamonds Toni Smith, Valerie Casborn, and Special Jones lugged their deep fry skillets, cooking oil, cooking utensils, and everything else up the mountain, setting it up, and cranking out the best bacon ever served anywhere, much less on a bike ride.

Even though they fried up what looked like a hundred pounds, the riders scarfed it so quickly that the stragglers almost didn’t get any. It was inhaled.

Of course no good deed goes unpunished, because as they were driving to the set-up, a CHP motorcycle cop cited them for DWB. No matter that the cop could have pulled over dozens of other cars for crossing the yellow line in order to safely pass the cyclists, DWB is apparently a very serious crime in the San Gabriel Valley.

They didn’t let it dent their day, though. They set up, fed the hungry, then broke camp and did it all over again at the start/finish party area. I guess it doesn’t really take a village. It just takes the Flawless Diamonds. And bacon.




Head Down James

October 23, 2018 § 6 Comments

Some people are amazing. Some people are fuggin’ amazing. Some people defy belief.

And then there’s Head Down James.

His story is brief. He showed up on the NPR a few years back, fresh from Jolly Colde England, and went to the front. That was when “Go to the front!” was in fashion and imprinted on the bib shorts of the NPR kit, which was seen predominantly at the back.

Head Down James would pull hard, blow up, and then get yelled at. “Dude! You pulled too hard!”

He would listen carefully, recover, and go back to the front. Pull hard. Blow up. Get yelled at. Repeat.

If he ever won the NPR #fakerace in those early years, I never saw it.

Drummed out of the Flog

Head Down James started coming to the Flog and dropping everyone except the Wily Greek. “Dude!” I would yell. “Quit bombing the descents! You are gonna fall and get hurt!”

HDJ never fell and never got hurt, but other people chasing him did.

One day after promising to go slow on the hairpins, he didn’t. I yelled at him some more. “Dude!” I said, using lots of ugly words, “you were bombing the fucking hairpins again!”

HDJ listened to the tirade. Then he answered quietly. “I wasn’t actually bombing it. I was only doing 34.”

Head Down James never came back.

Out in the canyons

Over the years, Head Down James earned a reputation none could match, like the time he rode to Laguna Seca, raced, then rode home. Or the time he did a 300-mile ride just for “fun.” Or the way he made Las Flores a regular morning leg stretcher. Or the way he did all that and raced USA Cycling events as well. Or placed in the top five of the BWR.

People still lectured him about “going too hard” and “needing rest” and “conserving energy,” but the lectures were always from way, way back. Waaaaay back.

Conventional wisdom says you can’t just keep pounding. You gotta conserve.

Doomsday ride

On Saturday Head Down James stopped at the bottom of the 30-mile climb to pee. The leaders raced on. He put his head down and chased. “My only goal for the day,” he told me later, “was to ride with the split.”

He caught the split after a 7-mile chase, took a deep breath, then got dropped. The leaders were 20 years younger and most of them rode for a living, or close to it.

Head Down James put his head back down, chased for seven more miles and caught back on. A minute later he was OTB.

“Why am I riding with these guys?” Head Down James wondered. “They are better than I am.”

Before long his head was down, and far ahead he saw a lone rider who had been shelled from the split. “If I can just catch that guy I’ll be done for the day. All I wanted to do was ride in the split, and that dude was in the split, so that’s kind of like riding in the split.”

Head Down James caught the split-ee, dropped him, and rode some more.

Over the top of the climb the road turned into hard rollers. The split only had about five guys in it now, and James passed two of them, who had flatted. He put his head down and kept smashing. “It’s only 95 miles and 9,000 feet for the day,” he told himself.

Before long, far ahead, he saw two riders, tiny specks. “I couldn’t catch them,” he admitted. “One of them was hammering it on the uphill and the other on the downhill, and it was just me chasing. Hopeless.”

“Well,” I said, “fourth is pretty amazing given the caliber of the field.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It took me thirty minutes, you know, turning myself inside out before I caught them.”

“So you caught them?”

“Just barely.”

“Then what?”

“I put my head down, you know, and got second overall. It was like a dream.”

Conventional wisdom. So wise.





Sag of Doom

October 22, 2018 § 5 Comments

I drove sag for the Circle of Doom ride on Saturday. It’s the first time I’ve ever done this and I wondered where the word “sag” came from.

No one knows, of course. Some say it means “support and gear,” some say it comes from “supply and grub wagons” from WWI, and some say it is to support “sagging riders.”

On Saturday, “sag” referred to the physical and mental status of me, the driver. If I hadn’t been sagging before the ride, I sure would have been after watching the cyclists ascend the 30-mile climb up to Crystal Lake.

When you sag a ride it is pretty awful in the beginning. All the happy cyclists stage and roll out and everyone is FRESH and HAPPY. You feel like you’re in kindergarten and you can’t play during recess because you wet your shorts or you spit on the teacher. But then when you see people falling apart at the seams a few miles later it doesn’t feel bad at all.

Mixed picture

Like a dream, where images of the King of Sardinia are mixed in with images of your parents, a cow, and a flock of termites, after the ride there was an amazing admixture of stories. Every single person had a tale, not unlike Sausage, who pithily said “This ride had two phases. Pre-cramp and post.”

One rider almost got taken out by a huge boulder that bounded down the mountain, another got a bee sting in the belly, etc. Like every fondo, people go way too fast too soon, and you could see them hit the bottom of the climb full gas, after which there was 2.5 hours of shrapnel and grimaces all the way to the first feed station.

Sorry, I meant to say “Bacon Station,” because the Flawless Diamonds were at the top of the pass frying up endless pounds of bacon and potatoes. I heard one guy say he was vegan. “Well, sonny, those pigs ate nothing but veggies their entire lives, so chow down.”

Dan Chapman was everywhere snapping pictures, including one of my sagging gut and droopy chest which he sent me as a memento. Methodist Winning and VC La Grange were everywhere. On the trip down the hill I passed Dan Funk battering the brains out of a small group that was trying to hang onto his wheel.

Sag means giving back but you also feel like a coward. People ride by and they are either on a mission (often unclear to anyone, including them, what the mission is), or they are happy and grinning and high-fiving. Sag also means appreciating the skill with which a hangry cyclist can scavenge a couple of crates you have told him is “empty” and come up with a bottle of pickle juice and a half-emptied packet of drink mix.

Sag means encountering a bunch of different attitudes. Grateful, angry, happy, miserable, cheerful, demanding, kind, confused, energetic, nine toes in the grave. Most of all, when you’re doing water sag, which I was, you realize that Water is Life. And maybe you also think of truly dreadful music like this.

For some reason lots of riders took to the pretty rough road with their ultralight, supple crit tires, inflated to 140 psi. It is pretty satisfying to see the look on some guy’s face as he is bent over in a cactus-filled ditch, T-rex arms flailing as he tries to air up his tire with a mini-pump, and then you hop out with a floor pump.

After the ride there was a massive lunch and party at the Mercedes-Benz of bike shops, Velo Pasadena. More stories were told, and people got progressively happier as the food and beer were served up.

It was weird going home from a big ride and not being exhausted, cracked, destroyed.

I kind of liked it.




Circle of Fun

September 14, 2018 § 1 Comment

Circle of Doom was created six years ago by a small group of slightly deranged riders led by Rahsaan Bahati who wanted to extend the already slightly deranged Montrose ride, so they headed up Highway 39. Highway 39 goes up, indeed.

William Todd Buckley, Steven Salazar, Layo Salazar, and Eyob Berhane didn’t know what they were getting into that first Circle of Doom …

Once arriving at the junction of Highway 39 and Highway 2, the riders were flummoxed because all GPS and cell phone signal had evaporated. Confusion reigned, and no one could decide which way back was fastest, a crucial consideration because they were already five hours into the ride. The result was an 8-hour “adventure,” and like most bicycle adventures that end in nothing but pain, dehydration, cramps, curses, and misery, the riders unanimously decided that they would do it again, ditch the getting lost part, and invite other suckers good friends to join them.

The Circle of Doom was born, if “born” is what happens when bad ideas become disasters that are then shared with unsuspecting victims.

Chalk talk

The first and most notable feature of the following Circle of Doom was the practice of carrying along a big piece of chalk. As riders quit, gave up, begged for a diaper change, or slunk back home without completing the ride, their shape was chalked out on the road to memorialize their collapse.

Prez chalked out early and he chalked out often, but in subsequent years fewer and fewer riders rolled over like a harpooned whale, and Circle of Doom has become a doable beatdown, now with support.

2018 is the second year as a bona fide event with sag and support, and the cycling community has rallied together to suffer together, all the while sharing great stories and laughs. What began as a very simple way to bridge the gap between bike racer and bike enthusiast has become a community-wide embrace of a hard, miserable, totally doable and fun bike ride.

Going in circles

Circle of Doom makes a complete loop, and got its name from the event’s timing around Halloween. The ride’s popularity stems from the fact that it is hard as nails and broken glass, but it’s not technical, and anyone who prepares can finish it. For riders based in West LA, the South Bay, and Long Beach, the ride is a great chance to leave the normal ride routine and experience the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains.

The ride’s growth has been aided immeasurably by Rahsaan, who is more than a stand-out rider. He’s also a world-class babysitter and knows how to push at the right time, cajole, encourage, jibe, and make pain fun. The number of fondo-type rides in LA is tiny compared to the cycling population, so there is naturally room for growth.

At the end, though, it’s the same as it was at the beginning, to fulfill the oldest mantra of bicycling: If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong. Working with Methods to Winning, Circle of Doom helps fulfill the mission of a good time on the bike while also doing it safely and giving back to the communities that make cycling exist in the first place.

Icons helping icons

The 2018 Circle of Doom starts and finishes at Velo Pasadena, one the premier bike shops in America and the long-time standard bearer for bike racing in the northern L.A. area. After the ride survivors will enjoy music, food, vendors, and awards, or they will sit around with dumb stare on their face as if to say, “WTF just happened?”

The answer, of course, is “Circle of Doom.”

Register here. Register NOW.






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