September 27, 2015 § 16 Comments
Every Saturday morning the best riders in the South Bay assemble to contest the legendary Donut Ride. They are young, they are shaven, they are tiny, they climb very fast. And they are wearing their finest clown underwear, except for Wily, who showed up this morning in culottes and a tank top.
Ostensibly the goal of the Donut Ride is to be the first rider to reach the radar domes. But roiling beneath the stated objective is a deeper, more fundamental objective, one driven by horror and terror and the fear of humiliation: Don’t get beaten by the creaky old wanker with hairy legs.
No one has ever said it to me directly, but they don’t have to. Being ridden off my wheel is the most demoralizing thing that can ever happen to a cyclist because it means you really aren’t very good, and it can destroy the future dreams of an aspiring young athlete. Therefore, it is with especial relish that I target the young, the bright, and the upcoming.
For them it is lose-lose. No possible excuse can make up for getting stomped by a wrinkled prune who is old enough to be the father of most, the grandfather of many, and almost the great-grandfather of one or two. “It’s the off season,” “I’m going easy today,” “My coach told me to keep it in Zone 3,” … at the end of the day getting whipped by a senior citizen on a challenging climb is simply a deal-ender.
For me of course it is win-win. As soon as I’m shelled I can chalk it up to biology. “I’m almost 52, he’s 25. I was lucky to stick around for as long as I did.”
And of course by simply hanging around and hanging around, once in an incredibly rare while I actually pick off one of the targets on my list. I still remember and savor the day a couple of years ago when I caught and dropped Wily. The afterglow from that is as strong and fresh and warm as peeing in the shower.
And who can forget the time (singular) that I shelled Ponytail, a 25-year-old climbing phenom with the draft of a knitting needle? And how the wonderfulness of the victory was punctuated by his comment that he thought I was in my 20’s, and how crestfallen he was to learn I had an AARP card.
Then of course there was the time I scampered away and beat Derek the Destroyer, an accomplishment so drenched in fantasticity that I didn’t ride for a month afterwards. In my checklist there is even a mark next to Tony Manzella’s name. One mark, one time, to be savored each night with incense before I go to bed. That’s kind of my scorecard, after about 450 Donut Rides, with an asterisk for the time in 2008 that Rudy dragged me up to the Domes on my steel Eddy Merckx and intentionally didn’t drop me.
One of the unstated rules every week is “Drop Wanky.” I’ve seen guys take years off their lives rather than have me beat them. I’ve seen riders spent, dead, and ready for the retort when, looking back and seeing me, they come back to life like the undead and sprint away from the embarrassment of getting wankied.
But for the last three years there has been a very rare bird I’ve been trying to tick off my list, a kind of California Clapper Rail that has been elusive, cagey, and hell bent on thwarting me. He has beaten me in every possible configuration, and has beaten me when I’m riding my best and he’s riding his worst. And he’s always done it by generous margins. No bike throws, no last-second surges, just a smooth swing of the executioner’s axe and bam, he’s gone and I’m tied up in knots going backwards.
I’d go so far as to say he’s sworn a blood oath and it looks like this: That repulsive old faker will never finish anywhere near me.
And I never have, until today, of course.
Julien had sandblasted the pack of about twenty that still remained at the bottom of the Switchbacks into a small group of seven. My quarry had attacked hard just before we hit the wall on Crest, headed to the radar domes. Julien pulled him back and only Wily, Ponytail, Strava Junior, my quarry, and I remained.
Julien turned the screws and I popped. Strava Junior must have come off before then, because I was alone as my quarry and the three others pedaled away. Just before the turn to flat spot there was another flurry of attacks, and my quarry blew. He was within range. I pulled him back then came around him hard, listening for the telltale signs of having someone on my wheel. It was dead silent.
When I finished, the only three riders ahead were all younger than my children.
I hurried home and made a tick mark on my checklist. Then I logged onto eBay and put everything up for sale, because that’s as good as it’s ever going to get.
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October 10, 2012 § 8 Comments
I finished work in Santa Barbara today around 3:30 and figured that this would put me back in LA at just the wrong time, so rather than rush back to sit in traffic I tossed my briefcase in the car and took a walk.
Before I could toss the briefcase, though, I had to walk more than half a mile to where my car was parked. There was plenty of parking near Carrillo and Garden, but of late I’ve taken distance parking to a whole new level.
For example, rather than park near the courthouse in downtown LA, I’ll park a mile or so away and walk. It adds time, and it makes me all sweaty and greasy, but parking goes from $9 to free and you always get to see some interesting stuff and you get to run the gauntlet of street people. Plus, you get to learn a new set of city blocks every time you go downtown.
And it’s exercise, the old-fashioned way. On foot. The way nature meant for people to move.
Walk a mile in your own shoes
It’s funny how perfectly adapted our brains are to walking speed. You can see everything: The tiny edges of the grate holes in the street drains, the new plaster covering the old stone walls of the presidio, the steel interior of the crazy dude’s car that has anti-prison slogans painted on it, the details of the pine bark on the massive trees near the Santa Barbara Bowl, and of course the gruppo on the rusting MTB resting against an old barbecue grill on someone’s dilapidated porch.
Thoughts move more smoothly on foot, swirling over the knots and rocks and bumps that make up the problems in our lives, covering them up or dissolving them or wearing them down with the effortless force of the mind going at its most efficient speed, which is to say the contemplative one.
The eye and the mind coordinate naturally with your gait, which is the gait you were born with and will have all your life, the gait you acquired without a computerized fit or a coach or a hex wrench stuck in your back pocket for endless micro-adjustments on the fly. The motion? It’s yours. It’s perfect, and can’t be fixed.
Everything becomes a tunnel compared to walking. Whether you’re blasting on a motor, cruising at 65 in your car, pedaling at 20, or even running, your brain shifts from observation and reflection to data intake, predict the next point, react, and repeat. Ideas come briefly and are immediately swallowed up in the moment. If the speed is high enough, or the exertion intense enough, your brain switches to glide, a continual conveyor belt of motion and action almost wholly devoid of reflective thought.
It’s one reason that, after finishing a bike ride, we feel so clean and refreshed. Our brains have been put on pause.
While strolling, it occurred to me that…
- It’s astonishing how many people use cycling to effectively cope with the strains, struggles, addictions, pain, loneliness, sickness, disappointment, and unhappiness in their lives. The act of riding a bike isn’t so much a gateway to happiness, it’s a gateway of happiness.
- Who is Peter Gabriel? Should I Google him? He’s playing at the Santa Barbara Bowl tonight, so he’s either not very famous or past his prime. Or both.
- Nothing is more fulfilling and happiness-inducing as the camaraderie on all of our rides, with people calling you by your name, and encouraging you, and even giving you a push when you need it.
- Clodhopper may blab about every car he’s ever owned, may remind you in copious detail of every race he’s ever won, but if there’s a more generous friend in my life, I’m not sure who it is, because he gave me a half-gallon of his homemade spaghetti sauce last week. I’d give it its own blog, but how much more can you say about something than “foodgasm”? Oh, and that one other detail…he always, always, always goes to the front.
- Newly-minted Cat 2 and Everest race winner Stathis the Wily Greek cadged 50,000 feet of total vertical last week. Radar Domes sit 1,500′ above sea level. Mt. Ventoux is 6,000′ above sea level. The Cornice at Mammoth is 11,000′ above sea level. Maybe you can comprehend Stathis’s feat. I can’t even wrap my head around it, much less my legs.
- I’m now too injured to ride my bike thanks to the pulled muscle from last weekend’s ‘cross race. That’s only the fourth time in thirty years of cycling that a bike-related injury has kept me from riding. Obviously, I should do more ‘cross races to see if I can increase the number and severity of injuries.
- Everyone says Santa Barbara is a really cool place. All I saw were restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and hippies in Range Rovers. It reminded me of downtown Austin with twice the class and three times the pretentiousness.
Boy, for a contemplative walk those are some pretty slim pickings. Can’t wait to go out and get on my bike again, and switch into glide.
Top 10 climbs in Palos Verdes
May 13, 2012 § 14 Comments
The South Bay produces lots of riders who can absolutely smoke it on the uphills. This is due in part to the excellent climbing available on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Below is my ranking of the ten best climbs. Route descriptions are referenced according to Strava.
1. Forrestal-Ganado-Domes: 3.4 miles, average grade 6.3%. The toughest climb on the peninsula. It begins on Forrestal when you turn off of PV Drive South, connects with Ganado, then takes Crest all the way to the radar domes. If you do “Segment Search” in Strava for “The Big One, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA,” you’ll find it. It’s a solid 20-minute climb. The first part of Forrestal is deceptively steep, and the rest of the climb to Crest is not deceptive at all. It goes up, and up, and up. The wall before Ganado is horrific, and Ganado itself is beyond horrific. This is as close to a pro climb as we have in the South Bay. Long, leg breaking, steep, lung busting, relentless, and ridden rarely because it hurts so much.
2. Anchovy-Friendship Park-Domes: 4.0 miles, 7% (est). This would be harder than Forrestal except that after you complete the climb above Friendship Park there is a substantial respite before you hit Crest and climb to the domes. Otherwise, it’s an absolute killer. It starts off as an 8.2% wall, climbs for half a mile, then finishes at 11.6% for another five hundred yards before briefly leveling out. You enter the park’s parking lot, pedal to the back, lift your bike over the barricade, and continue up the paved road for another .5 mile, averaging a solid 15% along the steepest part. Then you get another breather from Calle Aventura to PV East until you turn right on Crest and grind the final 1.6 miles at 5.3% to the radar domes.
3. The Switchbacks: The Strava segment is called “RPV Switchbacks.” This is the gold standard climb in the South Bay. 1.9 miles, 5.1%, and a mere 508 feet of climbing, it’s hardly a tough or challenging climb. You can big ring it or spin it…as you wish. However, if you want to crack the top three times, get ready to leave something on the road. This is the most popular climb in the South Bay; everyone’s done it, it’s drilled every single week on the Donut Ride, and although there are many harder climbs, there’s none that’s tougher if you’re out hunting a legit Strava KOM. Which I know you’re not. But just in case…
4. Calle de Suenos-Crest-Whitley Collins: 3.3 miles, 4.5% (est.) this is a harder, more interesting, and less common route than Hawthorne-Crest, which I’ve left off the list because it’s so ugly, boring, and such a wretched slog compared to Calle de Suenos. Hawthorne is slightly longer and slightly steeper, but this is my list. Sorry. The section on Crest after crossing Hawthorne is not steep but kind of a grind. The kicker is the back side of Whitley-Collins, which rips up at 7.8% and is gnarliest at the end…as it should be.
5. Paseo de la Playa-Via del Monte-Granvira Altamira-Whitley Collins: This is an amalgamation of several climbs, beginning at Paseo de la Playa in RAT Beach, connecting with Palos Verdes Drive Boulevard, doglegging through Malaga Cove to the Strava segment called Via del Monte Full, straight across Hawthorne to Ridgegate, right on Highridge, and then finishing with the front side of Whitley-Collins and its .2 miles at 9.9%. The entire climb is like a billion miles long, has one traffic signal and four hundred stop signs. You’ll have to decide for yourself what to do about them. This is a killer climb to do early in the morning, shortly after or just before the PV cops park their dummy patrol car with the blacked-out windows somewhere on Via del Monte. This climb has everything. Steep sections, 180-degree turn, flat spots, false flats, slight and brief downhill, long grinds…and it finishes with a leg-breaker. As it should.
6. Eastvale-Sunnyridge: This is a little-ridden extremely noxious climb that will completely crush you. It’s only about a mile long, but averages a solid 9%. The key is to bear right when Eastvale meets Sunnyridge. From there it kicks up and up and up. Take care descending Sunnyridge. It’s a residential street. This is certainly one of the nastiest climbs on the hill, and gets bypassed for that very reason. You pick it up on PV Drive North just past Crenshaw.
7. Crenshaw-Crest-Whitley Collins: In the spirit of miserable, dangerous, grinding, unpleasant rides with nothing to recommend them except length and dreadfulness, I bring you Crenshaw. If you begin it at PCH, it’s about 4 miles at 7%. The traffic is dense and fast and dangerous on the lower slope. The traffic is not as dense, but faster after you cross PV Drive North. However, the width of the lane makes it relatively safe. Relatively. After the light at Silver Spur, the road jacks up considerably and really sucks. You get a brief respite on Crest, and then pounded in the face with a brick when you hit the final .3 miles on Whitley-Collins. This climb is so miserable and awful that you’ll never, ever do it more than once.
8. Reservoir-Homes & Domes: This is the climb up Palos Verdes Drive East to Miraleste, down Miraleste, and up through the neighborhood back to PV Drive East, then up to the radar domes. It’s a terrible, dangerous climb up from the reservoir due to the traffic, narrow lanes, angry drivers on their way to church, and bad pavement. The climb is neither challenging nor particularly scenic. The Better Homes Section up Via Colinita is about .7 miles, fairly steep, pretty, but not otherwise notable. So why do this climb? Because it’s a standard.
9. Zumaya-Coronel: This is actually the name of the Strava segment; it’s 2.9 miles at 4.4%. It has a couple of steep sections and only two brief sections where you can catch your breath before it kicks up again. It includes the sweeping uphill grind on Coronel and finishes at a nice little grassy park. It’s often included at the end of the Donut Ride for those who haven’t left everything on the Glass Church sprint and The Rollers.
10. You tell me.