This is a tale I wrote for my bike club, but also for you, about riding out to the "saddle" (i.e., halfway-point) of Mount Diablo to watch the Tour of California professional peloton race up it. I have worked long and hard to set the right literary example regarding rides and races: that is, to focus almost solely on the food.
Diablo Saddle – Tour of California Spectator Edition
For a two-sentence summary, go to the end.
Breakfast was a bowl of cereal. Not surprised? You should be. I don’t eat breakfast. It’s stupid and pointless. You can tell me all you want how important it is and I won’t listen. Same with yoga, “visualization,” and sleeping with a rolled-up towel under your neck (which some lecturing chiropractor said to do back in ’83). “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” That’s the breakfast cereal industry talking. The same guys who should be put in jail for marketing cereals to kids that are like 60% sugar.
The breakfast was Weetabix shrapnel. I love the spelling. They’re not going to tell you it has wheat in it (i.e., call it “Wheatabix”) because they figure you don’t care. This is a British cereal and you should be bloody happy just to have something to eat. I’ll tell you something though: as a coddled American I was totally displeased with it. Weetabix shrapnel is what’s left over after your greedy kids have eaten all the biscuits. Though the British wouldn’t call them biscuits because that’s what they call cookies. (Note that many American breakfast cereals, and probably some British ones, have 95% of the DNA of crummy store-bought cookies. But I digress.) Anyway, the shrapnel just gets soggy and makes your milk taste like cardboard. I added some Cheerios and the shrapnel ruined them. Nothing about this meal made me want to become a regular breakfast eater. In fact, I followed it up with a mini-French-bread pizza, and my taste buds were so pissed off from the cereal I didn’t even enjoy it. It tasted like aluminum.
I guess I’d have been happier if my stomach were in better shape. I don’t know if it’s due to the sheer nervousness of knowing I had a Diablo saddle ride with the boys ahead of me, or due to the iffy green chiles I’d eaten the day before, but my lower digestive tract was in an uproar. (Erin warned me not to eat the chiles, which were rotting and had become slimy, but I didn’t listen. The way I figure it, wasting food is a crime, and it’s easy to eat something that’s spoiled if you douse it with hot salsa. Which I did.) I’m not going to go into too much detail, but suffice to say I was serially detained and thus found myself running late heading to Royal to meet the guys.
So, I called Sean at 9:25 from the intersection of Ashby and College. He didn’t pick up, but I discovered a voice-mail from him, saying “It’s 9:17 and we’re rolling out. You should head directly up Tunnel and we’ll catch you.” Well, needless to say I was pretty far behind that schedule and my days of actually chasing and catching the group on Tunnel are long over. But I figured if I totally hammered, and they stopped to pee etc. at the top, I could still catch up. So I slayed myself all the way up, and when I got to the top I was shocked—shocked!—to find like a hundred Ewoks flattened on the ground, like what would happen on South Park if they didn’t close the road during newt mating season. It was just carnage, vultures feasting and the whole bit. Ritual mass suicide? I hope so. Okay, I didn’t see any such thing but I see a few of you napping in the back there and want you to pay attention.
I waited five minutes and nobody showed so I was certain they were well ahead of me. Oh well. This didn’t bother me too much because I happen to believe that sociability is a sliding scale and though I never get very close to the Dale Carnegie end of the scale, I do sometimes slide down toward the Captain Ahab end. It’s almost a shame I already named my bike (“Platino”) because “Pequod” would be a fitting name. If you accept Hemingway’s metaphor of “hills like white elephants,” perhaps thinking of Mt. Diablo as a white whale isn’t that far-fetched. I was determined to get to the saddle in time to watch the racers. I couldn’t remember what time the road was supposed to close—my plan had been to leave the logistics to my EBVC teammates who possess the lobes of the brain required for such a function—and now found myself lunging blindly at the challenge.
Being late and solo meant not stopping anywhere to pick up lunch food. This bothered me very little. A sub sandwich (the proposed food) is about the most useless cycling food I can imagine. The white-flour bun probably burns up faster than pure glucose, and has fewer calories than like half a gel. The “meat” (who knows what they actually press into that gross ribbony stuff they call turkey or ham, the fruit leather of the protein world) isn’t a source of energy and the protein won’t help until it’s too late and you’ve already bonked. And mustard, to me, is like spackle: it has exactly one real use (putting on a hot dog) and pretty much no other. Mayo? Please. My dad and I were talking about cycling food once and he said, “You know, in terms of calories per unit volume you probably couldn’t do better than mayonnaise.” He loves mayonnaise. I don’t. He’s never been the kind of cyclist to hammer along mile after mile (he’s more the bike-picnicking sort) so I don’t think he has any idea how nauseating it would be to eat packets of mayo like they were gels. Plus, they’re not carbs. I’m starting to get angry ... not at my dad, but at the memory of how little I had on this ride in the way of carbs. I still haven’t recovered and my blood sugar is low, making me dangerously grumpy. More on this later.
So I hammered and hammered and discovered along the way that the giant handful of gels I’d hastily grabbed somehow numbered only two. I had two bottles of energy drink but no mix. By the time I reached the ranger’s station on Diablo I’d gone through 1 2/3 bottles of the drink and both gels. I had money but no plan. The guys found me immediately and we had a very strange sort of conversation about how we’d managed to miss each other. The conversation veered wildly between apology and accusation from both sides. They’d actually waited for me at Royal though I’d been given the impression they were rolling. I blame these smartphones. I’ve had mine for three years and have missed like 90% of the calls made to it (including a work-related one today so I guess it’s not all bad). Suffice to say, mistakes were made.
We hung around for like two hours waiting for the racers. It was a mob scene up there. A happy, friendly mob of angry bikers. My brother Geoff coined the term “angry biker” and it simply refers to somebody who dresses all in Lycra and uses words like “efforts”—e.g., “we did some efforts today”— and spends a lot of money on bike stuff and is real fit and all that. So I’m not saying this was a dangerous scene, like the fans at a British soccer match or something. American cycling fans don’t get unruly because they all do yoga and Pilates and eat sprouted wheat and brewer’s yeast. If we ate bangers and mash, and crisps, and if our ancestors had loved to pack a picnic to go watch an execution on Tower Hill, we’d be more macho and hot-blooded and riot-prone.
There was a guy up there, a couple of them actually, hauling around rolling coolers with popsicles in them. They were from a gelato place in Berkeley and I’d love to give you the name, but it’s actually against the law for bloggers to promote products for which they’ve received free samples. Advertisers get away with fricking murder, but bloggers are basically told, “Down dog, and kennel!” (to return to my Ahab metaphor from earlier). Anyway, the product was called “gelato on a stick” and although it was fairly tasty (I’m allowed to say that because I’m not telling you the brand) it had nothing to do with gelato. It was a pretty mainstream popsicle product, though a bit more authentic in its flavor than a normal popsicle; I knew the pink one was something other than strawberry or cherry, and when I heard somebody say it was pomegranate that didn’t seem obviously wrong. The white one had some fancy name designed to convey the highfalutinness of green tea, like it was a “concept” flavor, but I just can’t remember what it was called. It tasted like lotion, that expensive lotion you get at spas. Frankly I didn’t care for it whatsoever except it was free, it had 140 calories, and as I said before I had no plan for feeding myself.
Another bit of luck: some friend of Lucas’s gave me some beef jerky. Jerky must have the absolute dregs of the cow in it. Prions are pretty much guaranteed in that stuff, but I didn’t want to be rude, plus couldn’t afford to be selective about my calories. It tasted like a scrap of gristle that had been sprinkled with that weird red stuff they put on Buffalo wings, run over by a car a few times, and then left out in the sun. But good.
The Tour of California breakaway came by and I took ten photos a second in burst mode. Exactly one photo came out (the others were of motorcycles and some spectator’s back).
Here's a rider in the four-man breakaway.
I decided to shoot video when the peloton came by. That was like nine minutes later. We had all visibly aged by that point. I got the video rolling, zoomed in like 16x, and then kind of forgot to un-zoom as the racers got closer. Fortunately this made them look like they were a lot closer to running me over than they really were, which made up for my poor response time. I managed to shuffle backward into the dirt without getting run over or messing up my filming, other than getting footage of the rider’s pores instead of their bikes and bodies. At some point I must have un-zoomed because I did get some okay footage I’ve lifted some photos from.
Here's the front of the pack:
The Rabobank rider below is Laurens ten Dam, from Holland:
Here's Tom Boonen, the Belgian champ (ranked #1 in the world right now if I'm not mistaken):
Now I’ve had dinner, between that last paragraph and this one. This means I’ll probably start to get all woozy (you’ll understand when you find out what I ate) so now I’m in an even bigger rush to finish this report before I pass out. (If you couldn’t tell, I have been in a rush this whole time.) So after the racers went by in a ten-second blur, we had to get home. By four. Or else. I was pretty worried about making it 36 miles with only a third of a water bottle and no other calories, especially since I’d burned all my matches and the book getting to the Diablo saddle.
We headed down South Gate among the myriad riders. Before dinner I’d have probably said “shitloads,” as in “out here in the sticks, things are measured in shitloads,” to quote a great writer whose name I’m sure you don’t care to learn. Some of the riders were Fredtastic descenders, like this mountain bike guy who passed me who must have been pushing his knobby tires to the limit. At Danville Sean and Lucas, and presently a couple of their pals from Morgan Stanley and Berkeley Bike Club and some guy in an expensive blank jersey dragged me along at a good clip, rescuing me from the wind and my own frailty. I would have loved to take off my leg warmers, stop for some food and water, etc. but didn’t dare derail the train. So there I was, going harder than I thought possible, getting a sweet draft, and being way overdressed and way underfed.
At the bottom of Wildcat, Sean announced his intention to do the climb slowly. Lucas, seeing his opportunity, dropped the hammer. (He probably would have dropped it anyway, come to think of it.) I told Sean I was glad for the company but that he’d surely drop me soon because I was about to bonk. Now, I’m not above begging for food, and surely would have done so had the thought occurred to me, but I’d become oddly fatalistic by this point in the ride. It seemed that bonking was simply inevitable. Normally I try to be more existential, embracing my radical freedom (though never to the extent Lucas does, whenever he realizes “I have the physical ability to go faster than this, so I should do that starting now!”). Sean offered me a gel. What a guy. His gesture seemed not only generous but frankly genius. It was a vanilla Powerbar gel and it was very liquid-y, which was a good thing because I had nothing to wash it down with: my mouth, probably due to dehydration, had completely run out of saliva. Somehow, that gel carried me all the way home. It was a glorious ride, and at 72 miles was my longest of the year.
Post ride I had Greek Gods yogurt (which is da bomb, by the way, which I can tell you because they’ve never given me free samples) with organic strawberries. If you are defiantly avoiding organic strawberries, as a safeguard against the kind of tree-hugging local-this-local-that NPR-addicted Prius-driving Berkeley dogma that pervades us, go pick another battle. (Like, eat Oreos once in awhile even though they’re RJR-Nabisco.) Organic strawberries are small, sometimes weird, tend to rot suddenly, and can have insects milling around, but they’re so much better than the Squire of Gothos non-organic ones that are the size of your fist, tend to be mealy and oddly pale inside, and are totally flavorless (hence the Squire of Gothos reference—look it up). That little parfait was glorious. I had a banana too but it was on the firm side, like only Ian likes it. I had to compost the peel but I’ve gotten rid of the bin because it was a breeding ground for annoying tiny flying insects so that was a problem that stymied me for several minutes in my exhausted state. Then it was time to shower, take Alexa to violin, take her to soccer, and fetch Lindsay from a play-date. After that, I had time to start this report, but not enough time to cook, before picking up Alexa from soccer.
You guessed it: no post-ride meal at all. For the rest of the evening I was this close to just losing it. (Erin was off taking a CPR class; I couldn’t exactly tell her, “Could you forgo the opportunity to save human lives so I can run off to a taqueria, or ideally the taco truck behind the Hotsy Totsy club, and come back at like 2 a.m., because I rode today?”)
Finally I had time to make my family-famous Southwestern Corn Goo, a pasta dish with cream style corn, oil, and gobs of cheese. It’s probably more calorically dense even than mayonnaise. It’s so far from the South Beach diet it’s probably against the law in Taos, Boulder, and Aspen. The “Southwestern” bit refers to the green chiles I put in it (don’t worry, not the rotting ones) as a way to gradually make my kids embrace spicy food. They love Corn Goo passionately so they’ll tolerate the spiciness (which actually comes from cayenne pepper) and also the semblance of spiciness, which comes from the green chiles (which are all bark and no bite, unless slimy and rotting as I learned this morning). To keep from getting in too much trouble with Erin and with my conscience, I served the kids a giant portion of spinach with their Corn Goo. I’d like to say they love spinach, but I won’t lie: they hate it. But they can’t even think about having seconds on pasta until they’ve eaten all their spinach. This is called “parenting.”
Myself, I ate a hypocrisy-preventing portion of spinach (drizzled with a bit of olive oil and some lemon juice—actually quite good) and a breathtaking quantity of Corn Goo, perhaps a few thousand calories worth. I can feel it in my bloodstream, like a mild anesthetic gradually infiltrating my body. It feels so good. My legs have even stopped hurting. I feel a growing love of all mankind, so different from what I was feeling earlier. Riding is fun and all, but nothing compared to the sweet dopamine binge I’m on right now. In fact, I’m not going to ruin it by continuing to type.
Summary: Epic pass/fail. I failed to rendezvous with my EBVC brethren until the Diablo saddle, shot some iffy video of the racers, and made it home without bonking.