Mt. Baldy can kiss my a$$

The tragic news from today's Giro reminds us all how dangerous this sport can be, and how quickly a good day on the bike can go terribly wrong. I have few words to express my feelings about what happened today except to say that the news made me very, very sad. I am not very good at sad, so at the risk that this might offend some of you, I decided to do something that would cheer me up, and maybe, hopefully, have the same effect on you. Who knows...

Anyway, I have decided to tell you a story about a 44 year old out-of-shape cycling fool who, due to lack of brains, or  some combination of character flaws, or perhaps just poor math skills, decided to try to double his Spring road mileage, and quadruple his Spring climbing total, all in a single day! The day was last Saturday. Anyone care to guess who the fool was?... Please put your hand down, Jens....

Did you guess me? If so, you win! Congratulations.

This past Saturday, I took part in the first L'Etape du California which covered Stage 7 of the 2011 Tour of California, Claremont to Mt. Baldy. For those of you who have not yet familiarized yourselves with the details of this stage, which I will assume is the majority of you, I can only describe the stage as a double scoop of pure evil smothered in sadism sauce served with a large glass of frosty cold pain. I will admit up front that I went into the day with little hope of riding the entire thing, and I am happy to report that I lived up to my own expectations. "Know thyself" some Greek guy once said. Shut up, Greek guy. Nobody likes know-it-all Greeks.

Now for those of you paying any attention to the Giro this year, I'm not going to make a fool out of myself and try to compare it with any of those stages. Mainly because I'm too lazy to look up the stats on any of the Giro stages, but one of you certainly is not. So here goes...The rough stats are 75 miles (120 km) distance with 10,000 feet (3000 meters) of climbing. So what do you think? Hard but not epic? Hardish? Epicish? Well, for me (oldish, out of shape, no training, bad attitude, prone to bouts of quitting, tenderness in the tender regions, etc.) that profile is more evil than David Hasselhoff, but less evil than Carrot Top, which is pretty high up on the evil scale. On to the details...

The day was foggy and cool, just like home. 1200 riders. National Anthem sung. Off we go.

The first climb was from Claremont up to Mt. Baldy Village (11.5 miles, 3200 ft) and beyond. Great roads, nice views, plenty of slower riders for me to pass... (smugness gives you wings)... in no time I reached the Village and made the left onto Glendora Ridge road, climbed another mile or so to the first water stop, where I loaded up on free cliff bars and water, and, feeling smugish, began the fun part of Glendora Ridge Road. The descent! For those who have never ridden it, this is a gorgeous piece of pavement that runs along a ridge with the hazy covered vistas of LA to your left and the depths of Azusa Canyon to your right. A few small climbs, but nothing to cry about. A net descent when you are heading east to west. It was awesome! Gorgeous terrain, assuming you like chaparral, which (botany fun fact) is what they call the low, scrub brush and bushes that covers the desert hills of So Cal. I grew up in LA and I happen to like chaparral. It's tough, scrappy, beautifully adapted to it's environment, a survivor. Also, it's not too green. When you grow up in the desert, too much natural greenery seems oppressive and wasteful. Anyone with me here? No? Fine. Back to the ride...

Next water stop was at about mile 25 followed quickly by the East Fork Road section, a screaming fast descent with almost no traffic, butter smooth pavement, almost total freedom to go whatever speed one can handle. I can handle speed, man. I am chock full of true grit when it comes to descending speed. Also, I am not very smart.  Regardless, it was a complete and total fucking blast in every way. But like that smug fucking Greek guy probably said, all good things must come to an end, blah, blah, blah... which meant that the gorgeous descent bottomed out at the top of a big, long, windy canyon and I got to spend the next 10 miles riding rollers directly into a stiff canyon headwind. Descending = awesome. Headwind = suck. Sorry for the math. Also, nobody's wheel to suck < perfect. More math. Sorry, my bad. Won't happen again...

Many lonely, windy miles later, I got to the rest stop at a nice park, fueled up on more cliff bars and energy drinks, attended to the tenderness with some tenderness lotion (smartish), and then I noticed that my front tire was a little squishy. "Hmm" I think. "Slow leak?" Only one way to find out. I grab the loaner pump, clamp it on, and the gauge reads 40 psi or so. This is where I make a bad decision. "Definitely a slow leak", decides over-confident Jimbo. "I'll just pump it back up to 120 psi and be on my way! Time's a'wasitin! I've got me some climbing to do!"

So off I go on a dodgy tire, fading legs, full of false confidence. I ride to the bottom of the final climb. Only 27 miles to go... 27 miles of climbing... Miles... 27 of them.... Me.... you laughing yet? Just wait...

With 27 miles to go, I hit the bottom of Glendora Mountain Road where the pavement turns sharply up, and it hurts. My legs are not cooperating, it's getting hot, my heart rate jumps up to ear-throb level, I'm going about 5 miles per hour, and I have 26.5 miles to go. It is at this point that I realize that I am fucked. Proper fucked. I have burned a ton of my scarce and precious energy riding into a headwind on a soft tire. Five more hours on the bike, which is math that I did not do at the time, because I am bad at math. So it is at this point that I also stubbornly decide to keep going, because, and let's be clear, because I am not very smart.

Five or so very long, hot, uphill miles later, on a flat fucking tire, I see a SRAM neutral support bike pulled over at the next corner helping out a fellow fool. Hallelujah. Pride swallowing time. I slowly ride up, stop, clumsily un-clip, and slump over my bars in a sweaty, exhausted mess, gasping for air.

"You need some help?" asks  SRAM dude. 

Between gasps I answer "Why yes, my good man. I do indeed require your assistance. If it would not be too much bother, or too much of an imposition on your valuable time, might you be so kind as to lend me your floor pump so that i can check the air pressure in my front tire?"

Now I probably shouldn't technically use quotes there since it actually came out more like "front have...pant...pant...cough...pump?"

At this point this angel of a man, named Wayne, springs into action like a 1950's gas station attendant. Wayne grabs his floor pump, checks my tire, which is at 20 psi, asks me if I want a new tube, to which I wearily nod my head in the affirmative. I slowly dig out my spare tube, hand it over to Wayne who proceeds to change my tube for me like a maniacal tube-changing angel. Wayne makes short work of it. Also, it turned out my spare tube had a big fucking hole in it (awesome), so Wayne grabs a spare tube from somewhere in his magic angel tube stash on the back of his angelic red Aprilla motorbike, removes the bad spare tube, and proceeds to set me up. Two minutes later he is done, and as I thank him and remount my stupid fucking bike, I proceed to drop my chain, which he rushes over and fixes for me. "Let me do that. You don't want to get your hands dirty!". Seriously, Wayne? Will you marry me? We can adopt... With a feeling of deep confusion and mixed emotions, I wave bye to Wayne and off I ride.

I can say that if not for Wayne, I would have probably quit sooner. But no! On a non-dodgy, fully inflated tire, all things are possible, man! Onwards and upwards! I can take this hill! Fuck you Mt. Baldy! You will not beat me! You can't handle the truth, Mt. Baldy! Are you talking to me, you fucking cockroach? Raging Bull quote about my wife...etc. etc....

This exuberance was just what I needed, but it lasted about 100 meters at which point I almost rode over a three foot long rattlesnake that was crossing the road, and which I assume that many cultures would interpret (based on my own stupidity and ignorance of other cultures) as an omen of bad things to come, or maybe as a sign that they should reconsider their actions, or something besides "Hey look! A snake!"... But remember the part where I said that I am stupid? Did you not believe me? (shut up Jens). For those of you who doubt me, I will now prove to you that I am a stupid, stupid man...

I did not quit. I kept going. For another 16 miles. 16 more miles of climbing. Needless to say that this took me a considerable amount of time. I will not dwell on that time except to say that it was full of weeping and gnashing of teeth and threats and deals with the devil. Two more water stops, the one at the top of the East Fork Road descent, and then up to the first water stop at the summit of the first climb where I sat on my bike, less concerned now with my wheezing and enlarged heart, and more concerned with my right knee, which now felt like it was full of broken glass mixed with Tabasco sauce. I sat there and basked in my success. I had made it this far, as far as I had hoped I would make it. I was a winner. Then I contemplated my options.

Option 1) Descend down the first climb, 11 miles downhill, no need to pedal a single stroke, back to the festival with the live band and the all-you-can-eat pasta feed, and then on to the warm embrace of my theft-resistant minivan. Choose life. Enjoy. Celebrate what I have accomplished. Hint: This is the smart choice.

Option 2) Find some Advil, take it, and strike out for the summit. Hint: Not the smart choice.

You know what option I chose by now, right? Yep. I chose option 2. Did some Greek guy say never choose option 2? Probably. Asshole...

So why on earth, you might ask, did I choose option 2? We have established that I am stupid. But why, after the lack of training, and the tiredness, and the snake, and Wayne, and the knee with the broken glass with the sauce? Here is why.

So as I sit there on my bike, in that post-pain euphoric moment of relief, where you forget how much pain you were in just moments before, which has got to be why women choose to have more than one kid, I comment to the guy next to me, who also has a certain stupidity about his eyes and face, I mention to him that I am done for the day. I'm cooked. No fucking way I can make it to the top, but then I add that I would keep going except my knee really hurts and I don't have any Advil. Which is total bullshit, and which I am only saying so some guy I just met, who I haven't even met really, doesn't think I'm a pussy. And for my idiocy, I get the following reward...

He says "I have Advil! How many do you want?"

Fuck you, I think.

"Four" I say.

He hands them over and I down the Advil, aim my bike downhill, ride the mile down to the village, and then, feeling like I owe Advil guy something, I hang a left and aim my bike up hill again and I start the final, final climb.

Only five more miles with another 2000 feet of climbing, an 8.9% average gradient, and a nice 15% quarter mile ramp at the end. "Let's do this!', I say to myself, until I get another half a mile up, at which point I realize that I am comically unable to make my bike move any faster than about 3 miles per hour, and I finally come to realize what an idiot I am being. So I take a look around, mainly to make sure Advil guy is not right behind me, and I pull the plug. It's quitting time. Game over. Turkeys are done. Gravity, take me away...

So, my stats are that I rode about 92 miles, did around 8,200 feet of climbing, and I ate the weight of my four-year old daughter in cliff bars and pasta. Also, I hit 43 mile per hour on the descent back to Claremont. With zero pedaling.

That is my story. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Hope you enjoyed it.


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