June 2, 2019 § 8 Comments
I was in a hurry. I pulled on my bibs, arm warmers, jersey, socks, vest, shoes, and gloves. I hurried out, greeted by a thick mist that turned to light drizzle, a drizzle that lasted the entire day.
We got to the start of the NOW Ride in Santa Monica. On Pacific Coast Highway, at ride’s begin, the group was huge. It had a bad feel. So many people, wet road, light rain.
The fast people immediately twisted the throttle and the speed began to pick up. I wasn’t really sure what to do. I didn’t want to be too far forward because it would be single file and hard, but I didn’t want to be very far back because people would become sketchier and sketchier as the speed picked up.
At that moment Rahsaan Bahati passed me, resolving my dilemma. I’d do whatever Rahsaan did, for this simple reason: He doesn’t make mistakes, and he is the smoothest rider I’ve ever seen. To say he is a smooth rider doesn’t really describe it, though. No matter how fast you are going, if you can stay on Rahsaan’s wheel, it’s as if you are going at half speed. His pedal strokes are so fluid that they look effortless, and he guides his bike by, through, into, and out of spaces so easily that you wonder why you can’t do it by yourself.
The reason you can’t do it by yourself is because Rahsaan thinks four or five steps ahead, whereas most riders, including me, think in briefer and briefer bursts the harder the effort and the tireder we become until we are simply staring at a wheel, hoping not to get dropped. Rahsaan separates the pain from the cognition, so that no matter how much pain, he is still seeing, computing, re-calibrating, predicting, and making choices on things that have not yet happened.
Among really great riders there is a separate group of amazingly smooth ones. After Rahsaan, the smoothest riders I’ve ever raced with are Gibby Hatton and Paul Che, in that order. Gibby was a professional keirin racer for over a decade, and sitting in the 50+ masters pack with him was simply astonishing. At least 50 pounds overweight, and completely unremarkable except for the rainbow stripes on his sleeve, he would ride an entire 60-minute CBR crit and pedal hardly at all. He’d just coast up, slide back, pedal twice, coast up, slide back, repeat.
Until the end, of course. That’s when he’d magically be third wheel and he’d kick it one time. No one was ever even close.
Paul Che, who cleverly quit racing to make money, was another guy who made the hardest thing on a bike, moving around in a pack, look like a child could do it. The handful of races I did with him, I’d try to follow as he floated through the field. He could go from 70th to 5th in a matter of seconds, hardly pedaling, slipping into spaces that didn’t even look like spaces, his hands not even on the hoods. Of course tailing him never lasted more than a few spots.
As good or better than anyone might be Daniel Holloway, but I don’t know because I’ve never been in a race with him. On training rides, though, he was another rider who seemed to move without really moving. One thing is sure, though. These magicians don’t touch, push, bump, bang or slam, although they can if they have to. 99.9% of their motion is premeditated and unopposed; you can’t stop someone you can’t see.
Rahsaan isn’t “next level.” He is “next next next level,” because his movement is based on extraordinary awareness of everything happening in front, in back, and on both sides even as all those elements change by the second. This awareness is backed by instantaneous reflexes–in full gas mode he suddenly lifted his whole bike over a gnarly manhole cover that I never even saw until I’d ridden over it. How had he even seen it, his view blocked by a dozen riders, much less reacted that quickly?
As I was enjoying the confidence of sitting on the magician’s wheel, he began to move up. I didn’t know why, but I knew he wasn’t doing it so that he could get a better view of the ocean. This is another characteristic of Rahsaan: Nothing is random. To the contrary, everything is carefully calculated beyond any description.
This is the biggest difference between magicians and hackers. The magicians act intentionally, whereas the hackers simply survive, until of course … they don’t.
The pace was now so blistering that the first twenty riders were in single file. As Rahsaan moved forward, so did I, amazed at how it just naturally “happened.” At about twelfth wheel, Rahsaan paused. Then with four pedal strokes he shot forward, always protected from the wind, to the position he’d been aiming for. I ran out of follow and was stuck.
My heart was pounding so hard and my breathing was so loud that I only vaguely heard the riders behind me, the gassed mob of hangers-on noisier than usual, then a funny cacophony, and then silence. I knew that silence. It meant that the snap had happened, the door had slammed shut, and I was the last one to squeak through.
The stake usually gets driven through my heart on the NOW Ride at Pepperdine Hill, about a hundred yards from the top, but the speed had been so high on the run-in to Cross Creek that I was utterly shot before we even began the 2-minute effort. I pushed towards the front to try and create some room to latch onto when the group swarmed by, but it was pointless. The riders who’d been driving the train were completely fresh, and when they stomped I shot backwards.
As I reversed by Rahsaan he said, “There was a crash back there. We should go back.”
I certainly wasn’t going forward, and we circled back. Soon enough I saw Foxy’s headlight; she’d been right behind the mayhem and had narrowly avoided a four-man blow-em-up that had thrown several riders into oncoming traffic which, by the grace of dog, there was none. Two ambulances carted away the injured.
The two of us continued on and climbed Deer Creek, then rode back to the South Bay. My bib shorts, which were way too short, looked ludicrous, like hotpants, riding way up to mid-thigh, exposing a huge white band above the tan line where my shorts usually stopped. Foxy snapped a photo, it looked so silly. I didn’t know if it had been the rain, but the shorts had rubbed me raw every which way, something that never happens.
114 miles and a bunch of elevation later, I got home cold, beat up, and shaky. I stripped off my black bibs with the black pad and realized why nothing had been right all day.
In a pack of a hundred riders no one noticed and no one said a word, not even the rider who’d been on my wheel for several hours, that I’d been wearing my shorts …
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For a fist full of … socks
March 31, 2019 § 8 Comments
On Saturday we rode over to the NOW Ride. The previous week I had been dropped very early when the Subaru Santa Monica pain train led by Evens Stievenart rolled away at express train speeds on PCH.
This week the Subaru team was gone, but in their place, and indeed he replaces an entire team, was Phil Gaimon. Oh, and beast Jeff Mahin, and a couple of other ornery fellows.
We were trucking along PCH at about 35 and I saw Tony Manzella. I handed him a couple pairs of socks.
“Thanks, dude,” he said. Tony has enormous feet along with an enormous heart and lungs and my South Bay socks are the only ones that will fit his boxcars. He tucked them under his jersey.
This was only my third NOW Ride and a lot of people were giving me the stink eye because of my jaunty cloth cap, hairy legs, and general frailty. At Pepperdine Hill, where I always get dropped, I got dropped. First, Phil and Jeff and their pal rode away. Next, a clot of chasers rolled away.
I had about ten bike lengths to catch back onto the chasers but you know that is never going to happen. This time somehow it did. A little dude breezed by and I glommed on. He got me over the top and gave it 100% to close to about five bike lengths. I waited until I judged him spent and dashed past, barely connecting.
There wasn’t any rest, and what had started with 70 or 1,000 people was now down to the three guys off the front and a chase of about 20, make that 18, I mean 17, 16, 15, and finally fourteen. I was the last guy, dangling, and barely hanging on by a meat string each time the young fellows surged, trying to shake loose the old and infirm, me.
As we approached the descent into Zuma, I saw Jeff and Phil on the side of the road. They had stopped with their friend, who flatted, which instantly transformed our chase group into the lead group. At the bottom it is a flat run-in, a couple of miles, to the sprunt finish at Trancas Canyon Road.
The young fellows kept it single file. I hunkered down on Tony’s wheel in last place. I was pretty pleased with myself because I was gonna get fourteenth on the NOW Ride, a miracle. I was already writing up the glorious blog. It was gonna be wondrous.
With about 500 yards to go, Tony glanced back at me. Tony only glances back at you for one reason. It’s because he expects you to follow and he don’t want no excuses.
Tony has done this to me before and it follows a script: He accelerates and I get dropped.
He jumped hard, crazy, insanely, 8,000 gigawatts hard. I don’t know if it was because I was ovulating or because of my oval chain rings … oh, what am I saying???? It was because of my JAUNTY CLOTH CAP that I hung onto Tony’s wheel.
He blew past the front so fast that they couldn’t have caught him if they’d gotten advance notice by telegraph, and once he is going if you are in his draft it is like being towed by a barge that is going 500 knots. “Man, this is great,” I thought, followed immediately by “Man, I don’t know if I can keep this up,” followed by “Fuck this hurts,” followed by “He’s riding me off his wheel. Again.”
At that second he slowed and looked back. “Go, Seth!” he shouted.
I didn’t know what to do. I can’t sprint. I could barely pedal I was so tired. I had no idea what was the correct reaction in such circumstances, so I blurted out what I guess they don’t do in the last 100m of a lead-out at Paris-Roubaix, which is shout back, “YOU GO!”
He shook his head. “Seth!” he commanded. “Go!”
I looked back and saw the piranhas charging hard, so I slingshotted around Tony and got to the imaginary finish line first at the over-ripe age of 55. The young piranhas were not too happy and they kind of glared at my jaunty cloth cap, but not for long because there was a giant, slowing dump truck turning right and we almost slammed into the back of it. Then Tony wheeled into the parking lot of the gas station and shouted in his chain gang boss voice, “Good job, Seth. You just won the NOW Ride!”
On the way back home with Baby Seal and Kristie, I saw a tempting berm of sand and dirt and mud and decided to celebrate my NOW win with a display of the amazing bike handling skills that made me who I am today.
He’s a real NOWhere man
May 20, 2018 § 6 Comments
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!
The tired radicals
May 10, 2015 § 38 Comments
On Saturday morning I rolled up to the Manhattan Beach Pier and was pleasantly surprised to find a large group of riders who had made the 6:30 AM commitment to pedal north for a couple of hours, take the full lane on Pacific Coast Highway, and then lodge an informal protest at Malibu City Hall regarding the illegal ticketing of cyclists on PCH.
By the time we arrived we had added another ten riders or so, and a handful had only ridden part of the way. The pre-ride publicity was pushed by Greg Seyranian of Big Orange, and I got a lot of help from Mario Obejas at the Beach Cities Cycling Club, as he invited me to come speak to the group about our protest and included ride information in the club’s newsletter. I also greatly appreciated the efforts of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, who sent their president from San Diego, Jim Baross, and his henchman from San Clemente, Pete van Nuys.
Don Ward of Wolfpack Hustle also put the word out on Facebook and Twitter, and a random and incomplete list of people who showed up includes Dan Kroboth, Steven Thorpe, Robert Cisneros, David Huntsman, Mikki Ozawa, Tamar Toister, Debbie Sullivan, Michael Barraclough, Pete van Nuys, Gary Cziko, Jim Baross, Eric Richardson, Bob Kellogg, Peter Richardson, Connie Perez, Alx Bns, Mark Jacobs, Don Young, and Les Borean.
The day before the ride I got a call from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The lieutenant and I spent close to an hour talking about cycling on PCH. Although the department understands the right of cyclists to control the lane when there are debris or other hazards that make riding as far to the right as practicable unsafe, the bone of contention continues to be what constitutes a substandard width lane, because it is this exception to the FTR law that cyclists use to get away from the fog line and out into the full lane on PCH.
Our position has always been that the statute, CVC 21202(a) is plain. It defines a substandard width lane as one in which a bike and a car cannot travel safely side by side. Some of the sheriff’s deputies believe that on PCH this is a matter of judgment and interpretation, whereas regular cyclists who simply want to follow the law insist that it’s no more subject to interpretation than the rules governing stopping at traffic lights.
Simple math shows beyond any reasonable dispute that the substandard width exception applies on PCH. Why? Because nowhere on the stretch from Santa Monica to the Ventura County Line do the lanes exceed 11 feet in width, 12 at the absolute most. The width of a cyclist, when you add in one foot for variation of the line of travel, is about 4 feet. California law now requires cars to pass bikes with a minimum 3-foot buffer. This puts the effective width of the cyclist at about 7 feet. The width of a car or truck, including its mirrors, is at least 6 feet.
6 + 7 = 13, and 13 > 12. In words, a 12-foot lane isn’t wide enough to accommodate 13 feet of bike and car. And of course along many sections of PCH, the lanes are only barely 10 feet wide.
We took the lane as soon as we exited onto PCH at Chautauqua, and the entire morning we saw only two squad cars, neither of which paid us any attention whatsoever. It’s my opinion that the upper management at the sheriff’s department agrees with our interpretation of the law, but I also think there are deputies on the line who simply don’t accept the right of cyclists to take the lane no matter what the law says. They see a group of riders who aren’t cowering in the gutter and think, “That can’t be legal.” But during our ride we got nothing but courtesy from the law, which was kind of the point: The ride was staged as a protest against a ticket issued to a Big Orange rider several months ago for failing to ride in the bike lane, and at the time there were no bike lanes on PCH.
At Temescal Canyon we took a break, waited for the West Side riders to show up, and tweeted/facebagged our protest ride info to the Lost Hills Substation, the City of Malibu, and the CHP.
The entire ride from Temescal to Cross Creek, about six miles, we got honked at exactly once and were chopped exactly once — by an asshole on a motorcycle, no less. I always find it hilarious and pathetic when the second-most vulnerable users on the road treat us with aggression and hatred.
Although getting our message across to law enforcement and to the City of Malibu was the main purpose of the ride, as it turns out the real impact of this type of cycling is the message it sends to cagers. Hundreds of motorists were educated this morning about the rights of cyclists to take the lane on PCH–it was a lesson worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in radio spots or TV ads. Forcing drivers to see cyclists in the lane and accept the reality that as with a slow moving bus or cement mixer you have to slow down, put on your blinker, change lanes, and pass on the left, are the most important results of this type of activity.
Which leads to a couple of other observations: First, of the couple of hundred cyclists we saw on PCH that morning, none was in the lane, all were huddled in the gutter. Several times we even had riders catch up to us, sit on for a few minutes, and then come racing around on the left, only to dive back into the gutter. Whereas law enforcement seems to be coming around to our point of view, judging from the cyclists on PCH, most riders prefer to be entirely out of the roadway. This is where the actions of large groups like La Grange, Big Orange, and semi-organized rides such as NOW and Kettle need to continue pounding home the message that the lane is legal and it’s safe. In fact, when I did the NOW ride a few weeks ago it was amazing to see the entire 70-person peloton crammed up onto the shoulder.
The most extreme example of the cower mentality was on the BWR a few weeks ago, when riders refused to take the lane even when protected by a police-escorted, full rolling enclosure. Old habits die hard.
On the other hand, you can’t force people to do what they don’t feel comfortable doing, and the main point is that riders who understand that they’re safer in the lane now have a pretty strong reason to take it without too much fear of harassment. Even as I’m writing this the California Highway Patrol from West Valley tweeted to say that they agreed cyclists can ride in the lane as long as they’re not impeding traffic.
A final point was recognizing that despite all of the advocacy and fundraising by the numerous bicycling organizations in Southern California, the most effective thing you can do is to get a group together and take the lane. All the emails and fundraising campaigns in the world don’t speak as loudly as 25 riders legally riding in the lane.
Related to that there’s this issue: Getting riders to commit to a Saturday or Sunday of cycling advocacy is tough because the weather’s nice, the early morning roads are relatively empty, and would you rather get in your workout with your pals … or try to change the world with a little two-wheeled advocacy? Most people will choose the former, but for those who took the time to make themselves seen and heard on PCH, thank YOU!
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Then and NOW
April 5, 2015 § 12 Comments
I am lying in bed. It is noon. My eyes are wide open. I am extremely tired and would go to sleep, except I cannot. My legs are pulsing with pain. I am missing a toenail. My shorts have a shart in them and my dick has dried out. I get up out of bed and try to pee again. There is a terrible burning pain. It is not gonorrhea. I hope. A few drops of dark yellow come out. My dick is dry. Very, very dry.
I lie back down in the bed. Blood breaks through the fresh scab on my big toe and flows onto the white sheets. My wife isn’t angry. She doesn’t know about it yet. I close my eyes but only see my conversation from last night. Everyone sits around the table. They are happy. They are talking about school, about work, about the delicious dinner.
I nod and smile but I only think about my bike. Are the right cogs on? Of course they are. I only have one cog set. Is my helmet aero enough? Hollywood says that the right helmet saves 25 watts.
Someone asks me about the fried rice I am eating. I am not listening so I guess that they are not asking me if it is good because half of it is gone. They must be asking if they can have some. I say yes. This answer will fit both questions. They take away my plate and eat it but I do not care. Half of that plate is about 400 calories, I estimate, and I do not need them. I am a SoCal masters diet pro bicycle rider weekend hacker racer wanker so I count calories, one by one.
I worry about my handlebars. Sausage says the NOW ride planned for tomorrow is very fast. I think about Hollywood, Svein the Unhandsome, Erik the Red, Manzilla and perhaps others who are very fast. I am afraid my handlebars are not aero enough. Hollywood says that for a mere $465 I can buy 65 watts of flat handlebar. I try to remember how much money is in my PayPal account that my wife does not know about. I think it is $389.76. That is almost enough. Where can I get the extra $75.24. Where do my boys keep their wallets? They are sneaky and excellent at hiding their money but perhaps I can empty their wallets after they go to bed.
Someone is talking to me again. It must be about the bill. I know this because all of the plates look like they have been run through an industrial dishwasher. My family clearly belongs to the Acrididae and they are in their swarming phase. They are looking at me because they think I am going to pay for dinner and they have that look of the Acrididae in their swarming phase that says they will also want to swarm somewhere for dessert. I pay the bill.
On the way home people continue talking to me but it is dark inside the car and all I have to do is nod. I will wear the speed suit with the long sleeves. That saves me 15 watts, maybe 20. But the long sleeves may also kill me because the weather report says 90 degrees. Death or 15 watts? That is easy. I decide on the long sleeves.
I have an excellent plan. Cower, then hide. I only have a few matches in my matchbox. They are short matches and appear to be damp.
I wake up and pedal quickly to the corner of Catalina and Torrance. Hollywood is there. Erik the Red is there. Toronto is there. Kansas City Steak is there. Beeswax is there. Representative Murtha is there. Prez comes flying by. “Hey, Prez!” I shout. There are no cars on the street. It is a big, wide, empty street with four lanes. Prez does a 180. Prez does not check behind him. The street is empty except for a lone cyclist behind Prez. Prez and the lone cyclist now approach each other head-on.
Prez swerves again. He goes over a curb. His water bottle goes flying. The cyclist swerves and clips a car mirror. No one dies. Everyone laughs. “That Prez,” we say laughing in silent terror.
We meet the NOW Ride on PCH. I see Sausage. Sausage has 200% more aero than I do. I check his chain links, which are aero. His manicure, aero. I ask him how the ride goes because it is my first time. Sausage says we go easy until Cross Creek and the ride goes hard at Pepperdine Hill.
As soon as Sausage says that we go easy at the beginning, Miller attacks. I follow. We have a breakaway but it is only to Topanga. We stop at the light. We are gassed and our 100-yard advantage is erased. 100 riders are behind us. They foam and stamp.
Hollywood takes off. None can follow. The pack of 100 immediately becomes a pack of 50. We catch Hollywood . He is not pedaling. A strange beast on a TT bike takes off at Las Flores. Foolishly I follow him. He rides very fast and I hang on very fast. He tires like the giant lummox he is. His giant elbow swings like a barn door. I refuse to come around. He eyes me angrily. I come around, slowly and with great weakness.
The field catches us because he is large and I am slow. Hollywood splits off 15 more riders from the back with a searing acceleration. My toe begins to hurt. We have a clump of about 30 approaching Cross Creek. Everyone is tired beyond words and my shart is peeking out of the exit pipe. We are fifteen minutes into the ride.
Manzilla launches away from the pack. Foolishly I follow him. He eyes me with contempt and jumps again, but he has the draft of a fully-laden oxcart. I tuck in. He is fresh, I am spent. We zoom past the bridge for the first champion-ish sprunt which I am too weak and slow and tired and fearful to contest. In front of us looms Mt. Pepperdine. Manzilla dashes for the light. If we make the light everyone behind us will stop. If they stop we do not have to go full gas up Mt. Pepperdine. That is good because I have no more gas, full or otherwise.
We do not make the light. The locusts catch us. The light is long. More locusts catch us. Our ranks swell to 40 or 50. Some look like cadavers, only more dead. Others such as Keven look fresh and rested. They have done nothing. Perky has done nothing. They lick their chops as I lick the long string of drool and snot that dangles from my mustache. “The ride starts now,” Perky says with an evil grin.
Indeed it does. The light turns green. We launch up Mt. Pepperdine. The fresh people go very hard. The cadavers die a second death and are gone. I am the last rider over. My shart matures and the toenail comes off. I feel the squirt of blood. From my toe. I think.
Hollywood punches repeatedly along the road. Riders who are too clever to pull through cleverly get dropped. Riders who manfully pull through get manfully dropped. A tiny contingent of perhaps fifteen riders survives to Trancas. My shorts are now squishy. My toe hurts. I do not drink any water because I forget to.
We stop at the filling station and I forget to drink more water. We jump back on our bicycles. Beeswax is in the bathroom and returns to an empty parking lot. This is a cruel fate. The brief wait has allowed the group to re-merge. We are now perhaps 40 riders strong.
“This part of the ride is slower,” says Manzilla.
“Good,” says Hollywood . “That way we can roll into it gently.”
I attack as hard as I can and ride away. I come to Cher’s Alley. I have to decide whether to drop down and take the fast way or stay on PCH and tackle the two climbs. If I take the easy way and they take the hard way they will say I am weak. Then I recall that they are all weak. If I take the easy way and they take the hard way they will say I am a cheater. Then I recall that they are all cheaters.
I take the hard way.
At Cross Creek we intersect. They have cheated and taken the easy way. Of course. I am spent like the allowance of a small child.
Now Hollywood and Eric and Sam take successive pulls that break the group into a smaller group. Then Sam melts and is gone. Hollywood pulls some more and more people go away. Eric pulls some more and more people decide not to ride their bicycles fast anymore today. Sausage pulls through, and then pulls through again with prodding. Fireman pulls through. Kansas City Steak pulls through. Remaining wankers do not pull through, mostly.
There is a very fast sprunt that I observe from far away. As Billy Stone says, one person was faster than the others, who were slower. We ride down the bike path. We stop at the Center of the Known Universe for coffee and CPR. Nancy of Red Kite Bore pulls up, but she doesn’t say anything to me. She is still angry but she will calm down in a few years.
We ride our bicycles home. Hollywood needs extra miles to add to the day’s total of 90, so he pedals around the hill and climbs a lot more. I climb onto the couch.
Mrs. WM peels a banana for me which I dip in peanut butter. Then I hop around the room with very painful cramps and howling. Mrs. WM fries some eggs for me which I top with avocado and salsa. Then I hop around some more. Then I drink a lot of milk and coffee and ice cream and cookies and olives and hopping.
“What is that smell?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I say and go lie down.
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