It’s that time of year…in a mere four days the epic French Toast Ride will launch from sunny Camarillo, and the lucky invitees will get to enjoy the best breakfast in Southern California prepared by two of the world’s greatest parents, one of the world’s greatest wives, and two of the world’s greatest daughters. After filling up on french toast, butter, syrup, bacon, sausage, coffee, french toast, coffee, syrup, butter, sausage, bacon, and some butter, syrup, coffee, sausage, bacon, and french toast, twenty-five plump and lard-swollen pedalers will leave Camarillo for the morale-sapping, leg-breaking, spirit-crushing, 117-mile sojourn through sunny SoCal in January.
For those embarking on their first FTR, and for the hapless millions who won’t get to sample the wonders of the FTR breakfast, here are the nuts and bolts of the ride, and a stage-by-stage recounting of why it achieves the status of “epic.”
Stage One: The French Toast
In the days of the Aztecs, prior to sacrificing a victim to the god, the priests would fete the victim, feed him every delicacy, and lead him with great pomp and circumstance to the high ground atop the temple, there to remove his beating heart before the eyes of the throng below. The parents, wife, and daughters of FTR DS prepare a feast that is truly memorable. It is tasty. It is delectable. Most importantly, it is comprised almost wholly of food items that are not recommended for a 6-hour deathfest on the bike. The combination of great food, wonderful people, and being generously welcomed into their home paints a bitter and brutal contrast to the misery and pain to be meted out for the balance of the day. Each bite, each chew of the french toast reminds the participants of their mortality, of their impending doom, and of the beatdown that awaits.
Stage Two: The Happy Rollout
Remember when you used to take family car vacations as a kid? The car was loaded, everyone was excited, you had your coloring books and crayons, and the dog was on your brother’s side of the car. Everyone was happy, thrilled to be together, and looking forward to a great time spent riding brokedown nags on some rock-strewn, desolate moonscape masquerading as a working ranch while drunken “cowboys” made fun of the klutzy city kids and ogled their moms.
This is the part of the FTR when everyone is merry and bright. Like the car trip, it won’t last.
Stage Three: Make Billy Stay on His Side
At approximately 32:10 into the ride you hit the first little bump, a modest 400-foot climb that feels like your big brother’s first incursion into your side of the car. It’s a little probe, a test, a brief bump in the heart rate, and it’s the short stab that Roadchamp always takes to let you know that if you want any KOM of anything on FTR, it will go through him. You try to push Billy’s leg back onto his side of the car, but he doesn’t budge. “Dad!” you yell.
Stage Four: Billy Breaks Your Favorite Crayon
You descend for a couple of minutes and then start to climb again. This time it’s more than just Billy’s leg in your space. This time it’s about a 9-minute climb, going from 845 to 1,329 feet. The pace is steady, and this is the first time on the ride that you get a sustained bit of heavy breathing. You’re 53 minutes into the ride when you hit the top, and Billy has reached over and snapped your favorite green crayon quite in half. You’d really yell for Dad now, but you’re out of breath, and no sooner do you hit the crest than it’s a full-gas descent, replete with switchbacks and pissed off traffic. The next five miles you can’t do anything but hang on, as it’s a death battle all the way to the sprint sign in Fillmore. Billy has now taken the broken pieces, tossed one out the window and shoved the other one up your nose. He whispers in your ear: “If you tell Dad I’ll kill you you tattletale baby.” You choke back the tears as everyone regroups. If you made the mistake of getting dropped and chasing, or of hammering for the sprint win, you take note that it’s only 1:06 and 20.7 miles into the ride.
Stage Five: The Dog Starts to Fart
The next 25 minutes are rolling to downhill. You rationalize losing your favorite crayon by reminding yourself that there are still 63 other colors, including white, which isn’t really a color and which you suspect Crayola just stuck in there to fill up the box. Soon you’re at the bottom of a valley, and you begin a 35-minute climb that takes you from 300 feet up to about 1,600. The dog starts to fart. Since his nose is out Billy’s window, his butt is pointed to you. Everyone complains, except Billy, who laughs. You open your window, which draws the farts right into your face. So you tear up a little. It really stinks. You’ve been dropped on the climb by now and are flogging with Yoda, who is mumbling some shit about light sabers and Beggar’s Canyon. You tell him to shut the fuck up. From the top of the climb there’s an insane 8-mile race into Ojai. You’ll hit 45+ mph and still be nowhere near taking the sprint. You’re now 46 miles in. The car stinks like perpetual dog fart. Billy’s started kicking you. Everyone’s hungry and needs to pee. Just before the first shitstorm of the day breaks out, you pull into the convenience store in Ojai. You feel okay. Tired, a little. More tired than you thought you’d be. “How long is FTR again?” you wonder.
Stage Six: “I’m pulling the car over NOW.”
Shortly after Ojai, just as your legs have gotten good and cooled down and stiff as boards, you hit the bottom of the Casitas Lake climb. It’s a mere 25 minutes to the top, and it only goes from about 500 feet to 1200 or so. Why does it hurt so bad? Because Billy has gone from filliping the back of your head to punching you just below your kidney. Perhaps it’s Roadchamp. Perhaps it’s G$. Perhaps it’s FTR DS. Whoever it is, by the time you’re halfway up the hill it’s just you, the gradient, and a world of hurt. Consider your ass officially kicked. You moan and whine a little. Dad has finally had enough. He pulls over, grabs whichever kid is handiest (it’s always you), strips off his belt and tans your hide while you dance on the roadside. It’s the first nasty, bitter, brutal beating of the day. Billy looks on in glee. The dog gets his nose into your knapsack and eats your peanut butter sandwich. You reach the top thoroughly smashed…but that’s not all! Three miles later there’s a horrific sprint at the sign for Carpinteria. You hit 1200 watts. Not even good enough for third. Everyone regroups. You’re exhausted. You’re hungry. You didn’t just shoot a few bullets, you emptied the clip. And you’re only 66 miles in.
Stage Seven: Are we there yet?
Sixty-six miles and 3:15 into the ride you roll out onto Highway 101. If the sun, wind, and tide are aligned you’ll see the Queen of the Coast cranking out immaculate coke lines on the carpet of blue ocean. For a few seconds you’ll think, “Wow, I’m in paradise.” But only a few. Because the next thirteen miles will involve King Harold beating the pedals into a 30-mph tattoo. It will be your own personal hell as the highway clips away, all the thrill of the trip faded away, Billy asleep and drizzling spit onto your leg, the dog scratching his fleas over onto your exposed skin, and nothing left but monotony and numbing pain. “Are we there yet?” you mutter miserably. “No,” Dad says. With finality. You cry a little bit into your sleeve and try not to lose the wheel in front of you, as nothing on earth is as horrific as a solo flail on the 101 as the rest of the group recedes into the distance. Hockey Stick…you listening?
Stage Eight: How come you put oil in the motor, daddy?
“Because the oil lubricates the moving parts, reducing friction, which reduces heat, which allows the engine to run. That’s why.”
“What happens if you don’t put in any oil, daddy?”
“The engine gets overheated and seizes up.”
“What’s seizing up, daddy?”
“Seizing up is when something coagulates into a lump and stops moving like it’s supposed to.”
“What’s coagulates, daddy?”
“Coagulates is what happens when you reach Ventura after the 101 at about mile 83, and you stop at the Utotem for a piss and to fuel up and all the poison in your muscles gels, and your legs get ice cold, and the blood sinks down into your shoes, and your thighs get heavier than bad poetry, and even the thought of throwing a leg over the top tube is more painful and agonizing than you can bear, but a few minutes later you nonetheless have to remount and slog 350 feet up over the town, and then you fall into the paceline from hell and everyone batters along for the next forty minutes in utter exhaustion and despair until you reach Santa Paula. That’s ‘coagulates.”
Stage Nine: Well, gang, we’re here!
There is no way to sugar coat Balcom Canyon Road. It is steep. The two-mile approach is into a headwind. It breaks your spirit, assuming you still have any, daring you to even get up it. It jerks out of the landscape like a jagged fang, sneering at your paperboys that crisscross the asphalt as you try to stay upright. If you have anything left at all in the tank, which of course you don’t, it will be gone at the top. If you’re already running low at the bottom, which of course you are, you’ll die a thousand deaths. If you ride at the front for much of the ride and attack early while the others are remounting from their pee break you will be punished with the cramp of a thousand deaths and the garbled admonitions of an incoherent Yoda on a late-night drunk. Regardless of how you arrive…you have arrived.
Stage Ten: My, what crushed egos you have!
At mile 113.4 there is a 230-foot climb that goes for .8 mile. This is the last stretch of highway where your bladder is so full it’s already started to dribble but you’re afraid to say anything because the last whipping Dad meted out was predicated with, “If I have to stop this goddamned car again to beat your ass it’s the last beating you’ll ever get!” Your legs are ravaged by the flea bites. Your hair is singed by the dog farts. Billy has turned your legs and arms purple from the six hours of pummeling. You’re too hurt, broken, and numb to even cry. So when Big Bowles lumbers by you just grab his wheel and hold it until he shakes you off like the dew from a lily. You stagger up the final few meters, wondering why you’re in a sport that uses the Metric System, and why meters sound so much more brutal than yards.
Then, pop! You’re over the hill and done, screaming downhill to the welcoming front yard of the parents of the FTR DS, where cold cuts and cold beer await. Is there anywhere in the world better than grandmother’s house? Of course not! Never was, never will be.