Monday, September 29, 2014

From the Archives - Levi’s GranFondo Ride Report

NOTE: This post is rated R for mild vulgarity and drug and alcohol references.


It’s that time of year again: when I start getting constant e-mails from the outfit that puts on Levi’s Granfondo, which is a big organized bike ride. You could argue that this ride is too well organized: does every participant need to get regular newsletter updates for the six weeks leading up to it?

Conversely, you could argue that this ride is not well-organized enough: why am I still getting all the newsletters—which share logistical minutiae, tips & tricks, and encouragement—even though it’s been five years since I actually participated in the event and am not signed up for this one?

Anyway, this year’s e-mails reminded me of the ride, and of the report I’d filed with my bike club, which I present here for your amusement. This post’s target audience is actually even broader than Levi’s. Never heard of Levi Leipheimer?  He was a pro American cyclist who achieved spectacular results, with a little help from his team doctor.  Here is a photo of the two of us at a fund-raising dinner some years ago.

What?  You don’t care who Levi is?  No problem.  To enjoy this post, you don’t even have to care about cycling, so long you’re interested in food, violence, teenaged hooligans, live music, and/or booze.

(Coming next week:  my 2014 Everest Challenge race report, assuming I’ve recovered sufficiently to write it.)

Ride Report: Levi’s GranFondo – October 6, 2009

I had some feedback after my [2009] Everest Challenge report that I needed to mention the riding itself, not just the food. So I’ll try to remedy that in this report.

Dinner the night before was at Mary’s, a pizza/pasta chain. I had the veggie calzone; it looked like it had been run over by a car, and then vandalized with a cleaver. The goopy ricotta filling caused the inner wall of crust to be slimily uncooked. To top it off, the whole thing was way over-garlicked, like at that crummy restaurant on Columbus Ave in SF that the tourists love, the Crappy Rose or whatever. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Gary and Lisa, whose house I probably polluted horribly with my overpowering breathstench when I dropped by there to buy a Fizik saddle off Gary. My breath was still bothering me at bedtime; even my extensive dental hygiene regimen, topped off with a bunch of mouthwash, didn’t help.

That garlic really messed with my sleep. All night I dreamed I was smoking cigarettes. By morning my breath was worse than ever; I wanted to tear my mouth out and bury it. Breakfast was a 65-degree wedge of this weird ring-shaped coffee cake I found at the GranFondo breakfast table. Maybe it was a pound cake. It was eerily heavy and kind of damp, and it cost Levi’s people a mere $2.99 (assuming they’re Safeway club members). Sugar was the first of about 150 ingredients, printed on a long label that ran all the way past the clamshell opening of the plastic package and down the lower side, in a really tiny font. Not surprisingly, the cake was exceedingly sweet, and had these weird lemon-flavored crystals in it. It kind of squished in my teeth. The amazing thing, though, was that it instantly and completely wiped the garlic breath from my system. Some kind of crazy chemical reaction, I think. I was ecstatic.

The community center, where the GranFondo started, was teeming with people. There were 3,500 riders, 650 volunteers, 8 spectators, and about 3,400 Trek bicycles. I found Tim right away, but Mark was lost in the vast hordes. I tried to look for him, but it was like finding a speck of plankton within a blizzard of krill. I gave up just in time for the official start. In the first five minutes, we progressed 0.01 miles according to my bike computer. Fortunately, the announcer, Todd Gogulski, managed to keep us entertained. It was pretty chaotic, like a slow-motion stampede. I found it pointless trying to move up, because angry bikers extended all the way to the horizon. It was like a mass treadmill.

Once we were finally rolling, there was this self-appointed den mother in the group who was policing everybody’s behavior. She even chastised me: “Ride well to the right of the double yellow please, thank you,” and “Both hands on the bars please, thank you,” and “Put down the middle finger please, thank you.” (Okay, I made up that last part.) We shed a bunch of riders at the first rest stop by not stopping; I ate a couple of thick, chewy, tasty Powerbar gels instead.

We got into a decent group after that, making pretty good time to the second rest stop. Here, tech support found me futzing with my rear wheel, which sounded like it had a cracked rim when I applied the brakes. I feared the worst, but it was just a deep scratch in the rim, probably made by an angry Santa Rosa teen with a switchblade. The tech support guy sanded it down quick-fast-in-a-hurry. Presently Mark arrived; he’d been time-trialing flat-out for the whole ride to catch us.

The energy drink they gave us was pretty awful. So were the climbs, in the best possible way. At the second rest stop I ate a bunch of real Oreos, and a bunch of PBJs that were showcased by dozens of happy bees. I also had a turkey and cheese sandwich, not because it makes sense to eat such a thing during a ride, but because hey, free sandwich. I had potato chips too, and a cold Coke. Tech support gave me a 4mm allen for my cleats, which some angry Santa Rosa teen must have loosened up to try to ruin my GranFondo. There was a woman riding a single-speed, and I heard some crusty old veteran tell his pal, “She’s crazier than a pet raccoon.” (Later, upon seeing her again, we brainstormed other ways to made the ride needlessly harder, like slamming a hand in a car door first, or squirting Tabasco into our eyes.) Another interesting thing we saw at the rest stop was this bamboo bike. Its owner said it rides really well, but unfortunately grows like an inch a day.

During the first big descent, I thought, “Wow, this is pretty technical—these angry bikers better know what they’re doing.” Seconds later, I was about ten or fifteen feet behind this dude as we carved through a curve, and I don’t know what happened—his line was fine, his outside foot weighted to maintain rear wheel traction, etc.—but his front wheel suddenly washed out and he went down. The crash made that horrible indefinable grinding noise that crashes always make. I had front-row seats. I yelled out and braked to a stop and yelled for other riders to stop. (I always wish there was a guy like in “Mad Max” who, unfettered by a bike, could run up the road waving his arms and pleading, plaintively, “STOP! ... STOP!” but there never is.) But the guy scrambled off the road pretty quickly. He looked okay. I asked if he was okay, and he said, “I think so.” Others had stopped and I frankly wanted to start rolling again, so I took him at his word and continued on.

Moments later I remembered the little chart of translations: “I’m not okay” means “I’m really messed up,” and “I think I’m okay” means “I’m probably pretty messed up,” and “I’m okay” means “I might be really messed up but I won’t know until this supersize load of adrenaline wears off.” A minute or two later a fire truck roared by us toward the scene, sirens blaring. I felt bad, but hey—am I my brother’s keeper? Later, Mark proposed that I had crashed the guy. He probably still thinks this, or wishes it were the case. I found it hard to defend myself without offering an alternate explanation. The best I can do is that the guy hit a patch of black ice. I know it was too warm for that, but that’s sure what it looked like.

There was a bunch more climbing. Then we hit the coast, where the wind picked up mightily. The wind was mostly behind us, which a volunteer had predicted, yelling out to us, “There’s an 18% downhill, and then the wind is going to push you down the coast like a bat out of hell!” This led to an enthusiastic EBVC forum on the topic, “Will Hell eventually run out of bats?” We ultimately concluded that there must be bats continually slinking back into Hell. I invite you to coin and propagate a new expression based on this phenomenon. Anyhow, that was some wind. When it was behind us it was glorious, but when it came in from the side it was chilling, and made it hard to keep the rubber side down. Once, it actually blew me hard enough that my front wheel came off the ground and I almost went down. That’s never happened before.

At the penultimate rest stop (we skipped the last one) I had more chips and PBJs. I consumed nothing else during the ride except more energy drink, which was the worst I’ve ever had at any time or any place. It tasted like a cross between a variety of flavors: dog-hair-soiled lollipop; vinegar; urea; and bong water. Every drag from my bottle had me cussing like a really angry and profane sailor. (Yes, I have drunk bong water. An old roommate left some out and, having never seen it before, I thought it was tea and took a drink. And no, I have not drunk urea; that part was a joke.)

At the finish we couldn’t find the Fat Tire stall that would honor our coupons, so we settled on the cash stall where Matt bought us beers. If I ever race a crit with him, I’ll lead him out for every prime and at the end, even if I’m off the back. We sat on some hay bales, which were set up like bleachers, and drank. We were just in time for the live band, which I was dreading.

Most live bands suck; it’s like a law of physics. This one started up a cappella with this black guy belting out “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” and the thing was, his voice was great. So I willed the band not to spoil the music with their instruments. But to my amazement, they played really well, too. Then this white guy came up to the mike. (Note: I’m not trying to suggest anything about black vs. white. These are simple descriptors to help you keep the two singers straight.) I thought, “No, white dude, this song sounds great, don’t wreck it with your crappy voice!” But you know what? He sounded great, too! It was good times. Even the hay bales felt really comfortable after 6+ hours of the bike saddle. (Okay, I wasn’t technically seated for the whole ride, but wasn’t standing on the pedals enough to really air things out.)

Then we went to the Mexican food station, where darling little kids took our orders and presented our plates: rice, beans, and chicken soft tacos. I’ve had a lot of post-century-ride food, and this ranks way up there at the top. Problem was, I needed more. I went back and begged for seconds; perhaps the kids would have been amenable but an adult intervened, and he looked skeptical. I pleaded, “Even if it’s just more rice and beans.” He weighed the negligible cost of the rice and beans against the moral hazard (Mark’s phrase) of setting a precedent about seconds, and ultimately did give me more of the coveted sides. This simple fare, doused with salsa and graced with fresh cilantro, made a worthy second plate. Before I could quite finish the rice a big gust of wind flipped up my plate and I lost everything. But it was enough calories to get me home, where my mom, who was visiting, had made chicken enchiladas with homemade tomatillo sauce. My heart soared like a hawk.

In summary, Levi’s crew put on a good GranFondo ... just remember to BYOED.

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