You’d think a grueling ride in the mountains would make you want to sleep like a baby.
But for at least 3 days after this little jaunt in the hills to the north of Los Angeles, every time I shut my eyes I saw rocks, cracked concrete, and sand pits coming at me as I threaded my way down a narrow path on an exposed ridgeline. If my eyes were closed, chances are my arms were twitching. Not the stuff of restful sleep. More like a mild PTSD.
This was 9W’s third RGR. I won’t compare it to the others. Each has had it’s own character. But this one had a very distinctive survivalist air that we had not encountered before. There were 30 miles, in particular, between two Forest Service gates, on which we were warned it would be steep, and rough, and there would be no support. No water. No food. They couldn’t even get their film crew in there, so you knew it was serious.
As in previous RGR’s, teams of six set off at the start, at 3 minute intervals. And they are meant to finish as six riders- otherwise they don’t finish. It seemed that teams were arriving intact, as six, at the top of the first, paved, climb. But beyond the first gate, on Forest Road 3N17, the pavement soon disintegrated, and the way was littered with riders alone or in pairs, their teams having either fallen behind or left them struggling off the back.
We lost sight of one of our riders once or twice, but mostly we stayed together, as was our rule. It’s not just that. We like each other. It would be fair to say that on this day we needed each other.
We didn’t have any crazy mechanicals this time out. Not that we knew about, anyway, though Andrew “Vino” Shapiro did mention casually, after the race, that he’d broken a pedal around mile 35, and hadn’t been able to clip in all day. No wonder he, even on the sole CX bike among us, didn’t seem to be enjoying the “gravel”.
We did have five flats between us. But if that seemed bad, Insane Cross Posse’s Rich Bravo had five flats all by himself.
Race Director Gerben Gerritsen was standing on the far side of the second gate when we got there. The survivalist part of this game was over. He asked me if it had been fun. I think it was a little too soon to ask.
We had been passed by a number of teams by that point, and we knew we wouldn’t have the fastest time, or be first to finish. And so there was a certain joy in finding, at a small encampment of canopy tents and cars, a tub full of beer on ice. And there was a certain glee in cracking open a very cold Modelo.
Here it should be explained that, in this race format, each of the 24 or so teams of Gentleman (or whatever) leaves a case of beer at the start. The first team to finish wins all of that beer. We have had this honor in a previous RGR, and our cars were very full on the drive home that day. This time out, having flown in airplanes to California, our motto was “Don’t Win the Beer.” But drinking some mid-course, at our leisure, could not have been finer.
There was a descent, after the beer stop, and then another series of climbs. Groaning up those might have been forgettable had Rapha’s camera cars not found us there. We took turns playing hero-on-the-front, even as Team Kona, the last to start, was catching us for a second time. Brad and “Iceman” McGee eventually took off chasing the film crew’s bumper, two complete glamorpusses, giving their all for a hoped-for 15 seconds of fame. McGee put his hand behind Brad’s seat to push, figuring this would ensure his appearance in Rapha’s film. This infuriated Brad, so Iceman relented and held his hand just a few inches off Brad’s seat so that it would look like he was pushing. (Brad will have his revenge, I’m sure.)
The last bit of the ride had us screaming down the mountains back into Glendale, never touching the brakes. And that made everything alright. We’d had nearly 8 hours of demanding riding. Of focus. Of flow.
Yes, we did have fun.
Thanks to Rapha, and to Gerben and Hillary in particular, for putting together another great ride.
Mark Purdy at iFixByx saved us from at least one impending disaster, and ensured that even the decrepit, expiring bikes among us made it through the day without incident.
And thanks especially to David and Jed at Sommerville Sports for the beautiful new kits. We knew they were one thing we would never have to worry about.
Mile 7, Glendale.
I might have put a good bit of orange in the kit had I know there would be so much of this happening up there:
We had passed Team Bike Effect earlier in the day. They caught up to us somewhere in here, all riding CX bikes. We were riding together for a while, until the road– sand and rocks– went down, and they flew past us on their appropriate tires.
Brad looked at what we could see of the road snaking over ridges and up the mountains ahead. He thought to himself: “We’re going there?!?”
He practically danced through the Forest Road section. He kept motoring past me, uphill, in a bigger gear, with seeming ease. He’d stop to take some iPhone snaps, then he’d pass us all again, saying “this is awesome“.
We should have realized: Of course Rapha wouldn’t let us die out there. Despite the big “No Water” sign, there was a guy at the ranger station at mile 42, repeatedly filling up a couple of huge plastic jugs.
We’d seen Team Bicycle Haus pulling into the 7-11– the last store on the route, way back at mile 17– just as we were leaving. We’d all been sternly told to fill up on water and food there.
While we were stopped here, at the ranger station, Bicycle Haus appeared again, looking very together in every way, and then rode off in front of us. That was the last we saw of them.
We came around a corner and a lone Ten Speed Hero was standing next to his dismembered bike. He had a flat, but no pump, no air. The rest of his team was behind us all, somewhere. McGee gave him a CO2 cartridge. The Hero’s booted tire exploded moments after he emptied that cartridge.
I asked him if his team had a spare tire. No, he said, but if he could walk to the pavement he would get a spare wheel (In an “unsupported” race?). That was 10 miles away, or so. Were those vultures, circling overhead? We rode on.
Somewhere near this point in the ride, Iceman claims that a rider in a kit matching the blue one below reached into the pack he was carrying and gave Andrew a sandwich. And a beer. Andrew believes he was visited by a Beer Angel.
We had exchanged some intel with old friends from Ritte Racing in the weeks before the race. They did not share, however, their special tire preparation. And it proved critical. They had no flats.
Not to take away from their pure speed. In the original starting order,they were right ahead of us. I thought, OK, maybe they don’t all ride like their Alan Z. But I said nothing, this being a race among Gentleman. On the day they started 6 teams behind us.
Ritte, the eventual winners, caught up to us just as we hit the very steep pitch up to the summit of Mt Gleason, the high point of the day at ~6500′.
They, too, were all together and staying together when they caught us. They slowed for a flagging teammate near the top. We passed them.
Then Ira flatted, and they passed us.
There it was again. That smell. Was it Mary Jane? I’d first noticed it right around the time we passed two Rapha Continental riders, one of whom looked to be yakking in the shade of a lone conifer. But maybe….
That was on the other side of Mount Gleason. Could it travel that far, and that strong? Various theories about odiferous local flora were entertained. One of them might even be right. Or, that was a lot of Mary Jane.
After a fast, rough descent, McGee found that having inflated both tires with CO2 left him with 40 PSI front and rear. He filed this under “Thank God I didn’t know that.”
Brad cracked a cold one.
After the beer, it was nice to be on pavement again, and even better to be going down.
Back at the Golden Road Brewery, where it had all started early that morning, we had some burgers, and some more beer, and traded stories (and special tire preparations) with other teams. We could not find Ben Lieberson, who wrote the course, for the now traditional strangulation, so we had to settle for Gerben (thanks to Chris Milliman, a one-time stangulee- for reminding me).
Then we went out for some killer Mexican dinner.
And then Graham and Vino hit an In-N-Out burger for a snack.
Team 9W: Andrew “Iceman” McGee, Brad Stratton, Harry Zernike, Ira Blumberg, Andrew “Vino” Shapiro, Graham Macbeth.
RGR West Coast 2013:
101 miles, 13,959 feet of climbing. (11,800 feet, according to my Garmin.)
1. Ritte Racing 7 hours,17 minutes
2. Bike Effect 7:19 (first to finish)
2. Bicycle Haus 7:19
4. Kona 7:27
5. Brite Sport 7:34
6. 9W 7:54
7. Golden Saddle Cyclery 8:07
8. Team Provost 8:19
9. Giant Bicycles 8:21
10 Oakley 8:43
11. Bike Crave 9:01
12. Team Meyer 9:14
13. Rapha Women 9:20
14. Rapha Continental 9:29 (Lanterne Rouge; last to cross the finish line)
15. La Chiesa della Ruota Parlata 9:30
Did not complete full route/Did not finish:
Insane Cross Posse