Let’s play smashface

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I don’t get suckered often, but when I do it’s always a big chapeau to the perpetrator. At the very least it solves my problem, for a day, of “What’m I gonna blog about?”

A few months ago I met Jason Hole in the Internet/Facebag way. He lives in Orange County and has a group of riders who coalesce around the slogan “Let’s Play Bikes.” The purpose, so I was told, is for people to get together and “have fun.” The weekly Tuesday ride, which leaves Bill Barber Park in Irvine at 5:45 PM, accommodates a wide variety of interests and abilities.

It’s “only about an hour” and it’s “flat” and it “regroups.”

Of course the above description should have sent screaming, blood-dripped shrieks of alarm raging through my head. “Have fun.” “Flat.” “Regroups.” These are all code words for their antonyms, “miserable AF,” “gnarly climb,” and “good fuggin’ luck, seeyalater or probably never.”

The moist and tasty little worm on the end of the hook was “Why don’t you come down and talk to us about bike safety, and then do the ride with us?”

Bike safety? Hell, yes. And followed with a fun, friendly, flat pedal for an hour or so? Perfection!

So we loaded up Kristie’s battle wagon and hurled ourselves into the teeth of the 405 at 3:15 on a Tuesday, and it was a full-on SoCal traffic porn show, bumper to bumper to bumper to bumper as we limped through the concrete freeway hellhole, saving the environment with our zero emissions bikes by putting them in the back of an 8-cylinder truck that got 8 or 9 feet per gallon. [Cue hypocritical smugness.]

We nervously gazed at the thermometer as we inched along. 107 degrees. And since we’d ridden that morning and had done a decent amount of climbing, we already knew that outside it was drier than C-SPAN.

Once we got to the park and met up with Jason, I noted a few key things. First, it was not only 107 very hot degrees, and it was not only sandpaper dry, but there was a howling, screeching wind. Naturally, I figured we’d be riding into it. But most disturbing? Jason never cracked a smile. Not a grin. Not even a tiny upturned corner of one side of his mouth. Long bike experience told me what I didn’t want to hear: This was going to be all business.

The parking lot filled, I gave my safety talk, and we rolled out, two by two. It’s true there was a wide variety of abilities, but it was also obvious that some of those abilities were decidedly on the upper end of the scale. And as I’d feared, we headed out into the wind. Huge dry, hot winds on an empty stomach and tired legs on unfamiliar roads with utter strangers will begin cracking your will to live immediately, and they did. Sitting second wheel my legs ached, and no matter how I hunkered they hurt. “Please let this end soon,” I prayed to dog. I was afraid to ask how long the ride lasted; it was clearly going to be a lot more than an hour. I didn’t hear anyone chatting. So much for the fun. The wind howled.

Once it got dark and my bottle was empty, and my tongue was sticking to my teeth, and my legs felt like they would fall off, Jason turned to me as we sat on the front together. “There’s a little hill here. You can go hard if you want to get in a workout. We’ll regroup.”

Translation: “I’m going to kick your ass starting here.”

I glanced back and noted that our group was in tatters, a long string of shrapnel-ized blinky lights strung out for as far back as I could see. About that time Jason, who had clearly been waiting for this moment, turned the screws and I went magically from tired to completely on the rivet. The hot, dry air fried and dried my throat so that my breathing sounded more like whooping cough than athletic exertion. The gradual 1-mile climb was into a biting sidewind, so it guttered instantly. At the moment when it felt like things couldn’t get worse, some dude who’d been hiding the entire ride and was fresh as new tea leaves sprinted up the side, leaving everyone in his wake.

I grabbed his wheel, reasoning that with a huge surge like that we must be near the top, but near obviously meant different things to different people. For me, “near” meant “any second now,” but to him it meant “another 500 yards.” He rode me off his wheel and I glanced back to see that even in that short distance the remnants were nothing but little firefly dots behind. Two other riders closed the gap and whizzed by just as we hit the end of the climb, proving the old adage that cycling is a sport of conservation, and the other adage that course knowledge is everything.

The regroup consisted of high speed attacking descents that shelled everyone. Kristie and I wound up alone, thankfully with a tailwind, and one by one passed little patches of people who looked like they’d seen a ghost, or an army of ghosts. We didn’t know the route and guessed our way back to the park. I guess the regroup was going to happen the following week …

We got back around nine, utterly spent, dehydrated, and covered in salt. The bikes were almost too heavy to lift out of the battle wagon. “Wanna play bikes?” Kristie asked.

We laughed and laughed and laughed.

END

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