My legs had very bad cramps. “Yeah, whatever,” you say. “HTFU.”
So I did. But the cramps had started at the first water crossing on Big Sycamore Canyon and got worse. “Yeah, whatever,” you say. “HTFU.”
So I did. And they spread to both legs. “Yeah, whatever,” you say. “We don’t care about your menstrual cramps.”
As John Middleton passed me in a cloud of dirt and filth and sweat and grunting, he said, “Come on, Seth.”
“Come where?” I asked. “How much longer is this fucking road?” I silently thanked dog that it was mostly flat, an anomaly for anything in the Santa Monica Mountains.
“Couple miles,” he said. The last words I heard before he vanished were, “But the most horrible climb out here is just up the road.”
“What climb?” I wondered. I came to a water faucet where a dazed looking person was melting in his own sweat and filling his bottle, his hand shaking, his eyes glazed. When my turn came I lay under the nozzle and poured water all over my head, back, stomach, and legs. The cramps stopped for a moment. I contemplated living there under the spigot permanently.
Seizing the no-cramp opportunity I hopped on the bike and started up Horrible Hill. There were tiny little dots strewn out along it like insects stuck in flypaper, barely moving their little limbs across the painted blue skyscape that draped across the canvas of brown hills dotted with the odd green thing trying hopelessly to survive. Like me.
It reminded me of the time I got stuck on a mountain side outside of Shimogo-mura in Fukushima Prefecture. It was freezing cold and I almost died but the reason I remember that day is that it was the only time I had ever gotten off my bike because I could no longer pedal uphill.
I passed an insect on a mountain bike, barely turning a rear cog that was bigger than a UFO. He was panting. I was panting. The cramps resumed with a vengeance.
For the second time in my life I got off my bike because I could no longer pedal uphill. The insect passed me. “Good job,” I said, not adding the all important “you sorry motherfucker.”
My day ended about an hour later in wave after wave of cramping that lasted for hours. I had been attacked, dropped repeatedly, beaten mercilessly in the paceline from hell, and had had my lunch money stolen by a gang of bullies led by a meanie named Aaron Boyleston and his henchmen Marco and KK.
I’ve never felt worse, gone slower, or had so many people take gratuitous shots at my skull. I’ve never ridden slower on a 300-lb. cyclocross bike with 34mm knobby tires. I’ve never had so much post-ride pain. I’ve never had worse cramps, cramps so bad that the next day they still hurt. It was 72 miles, four hours-ish, and seemed like quadruple the distance.
In short, it was one of the best rides ever.
The Rivet Raid, as it was called, boasted a murderer’s row of elite riders, from world champion Keith Ketterer, who at age 102 smashed everyone to bits, to Aaron, Marco, Jonathan Woodbury, Jason Lavender, John Slover, Bart Clifford, Michael Penta, Todd Turley, Seth Huggins, and a whole bunch of people whose names I don’t remember and whose faces I barely saw as they blazed by me.
This ride also punctuated, for me, an amazing commentary about amateur road racing in America, if not the world. Bjorn Snider, a viciously strong dude who doesn’t race, i.e. pay stupid amounts of money to be treated like shit in ugly, faraway places by people who don’t like you, put on the Rivet Raid. It cost forty bucks, and here’s what you got (list sponsored by Pooh Bear-a-TX and Waldo):
Incredible all-you-can-drink coffee, nitro/cold brew and spanking hot, from Gear Grinderz Coffee.
Fresh pastries, energy bars, fruit, liquid hydration.
Total tech support with VeloFix; their mobile van posted up at various points throughout the ride.
Shortcuts that let you abandon when your legs fell off, and still got you back to the park in time to eat, hang out, swap lies.
BEER. (Or, sigh, craft water.)
Towering plates of delicious, freshly made Mexican food.
Prize money in cash to the winners of selected Strava segments and to the person with the fastest overall time.
Four to five hours of brain-splatteringly hard bike racing.
Four to five hours of easy cruising with your friends if that’s what you preferred.
Gorgeous scenery on some of the prettiest roads in SoCal.
All the camaraderie and friendship you could handle.
Did I mention that the whole thing cost forty bucks?
When you add up numbers 1-12, what you get is something called “fun.” It is a concept that USAC took out behind the shed and murdered with a tire iron decades ago. It is a concept that evaporated on the local level when race promoters realized that the costs of putting on an event would always create highly risky propositions that could result in huge financial losses, and in the best of times only result in very modest financial gains.
Fun died in bike racing when Lance brought his message of “you suck” to every cyclist, when the act of pinning on a number was submission to the whip of contempt by those who beat you, dropped you, and didn’t even provide a consolation beer and taco for having given them someone to abuse. Fun died when shit-ass dopers like Kayle LeoGrande, Rich Meeker, and the whole stupid gaggle of cheaters made your own puny but honest efforts count for nothing.
And people, unwilling to fork over $45 bucks for a 45-minute crit, decided to seek their fun somewhere else. Enter the Rivet Raid.
The ride was a distillation of the grand fondue, where you can ride with friends, ride slowly, ride hardly, or hop from grazing station to grazing station, and then pin it during the timed segments. The Nosco Ride has been doing this for years, and it’s only one of many reasons that thousands of people take off in the middle of the week to do that ride.
The Rivet Raid was a family affair as well. Bjorn’s lovely wife Barbara and his two brothers teamed up to pull off the event, and everything from the coffee to the food to the VeloFix tech support was spot-on. As if that weren’t enough, the Rivet Raid also hired the services of Steve Cohen, a top-notch photographer whose work speaks for itself. An adept of legends like Dan Munson and Phil Beckman, Steve’s photos truly captured the event.
Steve summed it up with stunning photography that should make you absolutely want to put this on your list for 2018, while Kristie Fox traveled the route in her pickup and took snapshots with her iPhone.
Nothing encapsulates the ride vibe better than the ending, when I struggled over Horrible Hill, legs cramping, bonking, and desperate to get back to the car so that I could make it to the airport by 3:00 PM. Bjorn came up to me. “Get on my wheel,” he said. I did. And despite my shot legs and snail’s pace he rode me back to the parking lot, but not before he had a blowout on his front tire.
“No worries,” he said. “I’ll change it when we get back.”
Then, as I slumped into the passenger seat and the pickup headed out of the park, Bjorn came sprinting up with a plateful of tacos, beans, and rice. “And don’t forget the Coke!” he added, thrusting an ice cold cola through the open window.
All I can do is sum up the Rivet Raid with a word that we need more of in cycling, and in life: Fun. And if the fun requires a beating out in the Santa Monica mountains at the hands of a gang of uber-legit riders, well, thank you, sir. May I have another?