When you rearrange the letters in Levi’s GranFondo you get 1) Flavored Nosing, which sounds intriguing; 2) Fondles Roving, which could be a new way to advertise the event; and 3) Danglers of Vino, which seems appropriate for this region. But here’s something you also get: Grandson of Evil. Pay particular attention to the Evil, which is made entirely of the letters of Levi’s name and that’s where, ladies and gentlefolk of the jury, I rest my case. *Cue pompous look*
Levi’s GranFondo is evil. You heard it here first. Add it to your cult registry and put an asterisk next to it to indicate a level of high alert.
Of course, like many cults you don’t realize how evil it is until you’re up to your shrinking nethers in the rank putrid swamp of its satanic wonder. Oh, a ride in California? That sounds swell. Next thing you know, you’re married to a 70 year-old incarnation of the second coming of ‘let’s catch the next rocket ship outta here’ and ‘have you seen my purple sneakers?’
But I’m getting my head all turned around in an exorcist fashion and concluding before the opening arguments.
Because things like this don’t feel evil when you’re just starting out and they’re handing out the free coloring books with the pictures of Levi Leipheimer stroking kittens in them. Who has time to notice the only color crayon they’ve given you is black?
So let’s play this record backwards and see what it says.
At the starting line, it’s not only all fun and games this year, it’s very loud PA systems. Yes, this PA system makes some people’s sphincters tense up so hard their ears instantly plug with the swollen brain matter all that sphincter clenching produces.
Not me, of course. No, I am unaffected by such things, having gone half-deaf just as my mother predicted by ‘having those headphones too loud!’ while listening to Billy Joel. My sphincter is fine (inquiring minds want to know, I’m sure). Anyhoo, I’m there, just casting my eyes about in that ‘we didn’t start the fire. It was always burning’ way, and hoping nobody notices that I have no friends.
But lo, what light through yond window breaks? Proximity alarms bleep-bloop and here’s the Fat Cyclist hisself with the runner right there too. I wave them over (not sure if they were trying to sneak by, but if so, they shouldna been wearing the same awesome kit as me) and we are awkward in that cute, dumb way where people don’t quite know each other but feel like they do, are. Of course I immediately set about accusing Fatty of snubbing me by not inviting me to the hike the day previously, despite me having sent a very cryptic email to him saying I was raring to go. The subject line CLEARLY said “tootsie frootsie icecream” and I mean, who can’t work that out? Anyway, my suspicions that he’s put my address in the SPAM filter have not been allayed. He was clearly horrified to be called on it. And if I’m not mistaken, guilt is the cornerstone for a cult, so there’s another check mark in the evil column.
Now, the thing with being a world-famous blogger, (as the fat thin man is), is that he gets to start way up the front with the McDreamy types. Whereas me, a bathroom-famous blogger, starts back with the plebs, getting plebby with it. So I wave them goodbye after a photo opp and mingle with the plebs around me. My people. The crowd swells and people start trying to squeeze in from the side to exactly where I am. Just to get closer to Precious, I guess. Funny how people think that if they keep talking to the friend next to them, not make eye contact with you, and inch over bit by bit, you’ll just naturally move into a smaller area and not say anything. I mean, of course they’re right in my case, but still. Not even an “excuse me?”
This is how evil starts. In incremental inches. (And by someone gently nudging your shin with their rear derailleur so you get irritated enough to move. And PS, guy, your kit was shit and don’t think I didn’t stand there judging you the whole time. Silently. Just like any cult! Another check mark.)
Things get loud, then quiet, then loud again, and finally we start in that slow-cleat shuffle. After the start, when I’d finally got clipped in and moving, things flow fairly freely. I get out of the throng and start picking my way up the line. I have to say, for an evil thing, it moves very gracefully. Not like Dick Cheney at all. *boom tish*
S’all good. S’all good.
And right up until the split, I feel like I belong with these cool-aid people. Like I’m capable of hanging with ‘em, even if I’m on what I call my ‘slow’ bike. And by slow, I don’t mean developmentally challenged, I mean heavy and low geared for ease of climbing. Even the first couple of smell-the-dogma stabs aren’t too bad. The first rest stop was packed with people, so I’m obviously still reading from the same ‘Songs of Divine Evilness’ hymn book. I wait in the portaloo line. I lollygag about afterwards in quite a jovial mood. Eat some Oreos. Fold a package of PB&J into the eager maw of my face.
Things are going swimmingly. But now we’re coming to the scene in the movie where there’s an ambush and all the rubes are herded into the corral, and at an assigned moment, someone cries ‘it’s a trap!’ by which time it’s all too late and all the herdees get slaughtered very unceremoniously, and many years later someone puts up a plaque on the spot. And when this film is made this scene is all in slow motion and there’s a score that makes cactus weep, and Jeff Bridges is in it and there’s forgiveness and understanding and ‘oh, weren’t we mean but that was years ago’ talk.
In this particular movie, all the rubes are cyclists who have NO FRICKIN’ IDEA what’s about to go down but as long as there’s gels, they don’t care. (I exclude any locals or repeat Fondo offenders from this ambush scenario. Y’all obviously are just nuts left in the salt vat a bit too long.)
But right now, the massacre is still far off. I cycle on in calm excellence. I think I’m doing OK, but there’s a steady stream of trains passing me. Going at a rate of knots. And me, in my solitary world just trundling on. Knowing it takes me about three hours to warm up, I figure my revenge will come. As each one passes, I think ‘ha, well I rode across America you snots. I climbed shit like this pulling 47lbs of bloody gear, so come back when you’ve done that and we’ll talk’.
Well, not quite shit like this. The steep grades in the Appalachians are ghastly, but they don’t last long. Whenever I encountered something like this - and it was all during those first weeks of back from a broken wrist recovery - I would find myself stretched out and pushing the rig. But that was then and this is now. I am a different cyclist at this point in time.
I am a world classless cyclist.
Because of my classlessness, I’m not going to call out each and every stab of King Ridge. Because really, in the end it was just one big stab in the the guts that Grandson of Evil spent several hours twisting in up upward gutting fashion. What’s that there? Oh, just a bit of mah guts. Don’t slip around on the floor in it!
No. I’m not going to call out each and every stab, because I have been, to some extent, evil-proofed to difficult climbs. At this point I’d like to thank the Appalachians, the Ozarks and the Rocky Mountains for making me the Rock with Wheels (racing name) I am today.
As the Rock with Wheels. I have certain powers over stabs in the guts.
Rock with Wheels has the mental strength of Dense TO THE POWER OF Dense.
Meaning a conversation in Rock with Wheels’ head might go thusly:
“Wow,” my legs will say. “This is remarkably steep, isn’t it? We don’t think we should be doing this. Let’s quit.” At which point the Rock brain will reply ‘ugh’ in that ‘I don’t have time to listen to this’ way, get distracted by a pretty butterfly, and just keep turning those poor legs. Turning them until they are so flush with the lactic acid they feel like they could, at any moment, start lactating from their nipple-less kneecaps.
Rock with Wheels has a rock brain. Stopping never occurs to Rock with Wheels. Rock with Wheels is a sedimentary rock with alternating layers of stubborn and ‘oh, look! A butterfly!’.
Now you might read this and think “Wow, Rock brains sound awesome. I wanna be a Rock with Wheels, too!”
No, you don’t. And here’s why. The huge drawback of of being a Rock with Wheels is that you’re heavy as a bloody rock. Rocks actually roll pretty well without wheels. Downhill. Unfortunately, most of the King Ridge portion of Grandsons of Evil route is uphill, so the rolling downhill skill is kinda useless.
In this story, that makes for two forces working against each other. Chicken and egg.
The dense (don’t give up) vs the heavy (can’t lift up).
Who will win?
Well, you can bet your ass when it comes to Rock with Wheels, it won’t be bloody Evil Leipheimer and his menagerie of gut stabbering climbs.
No, to fight evil, you have to look it in the eye and not blink even as the tears are streaming down your cheeks to gather in the finger bowl of your defeat. Recognize evil when it shows up. Give it a wide berth.
Because here it comes.
Evil sweeps up to the rock with all the brazenness of a rat walking down the A train platform in NYC flicking cigarette butts at the commuters.
The fog of its intent moseys in through the redwoods and clouds my vision. Views? What views? All I see is fog. The rain of its anger plips down in a non-serious but chilling fashion. It’s not enough for evil to simply be a tough climb. It has to fold challenging conditions into the cake of the day and you have to slog on while it sets. It’s raining. It’s foggy.
If evil were a paper cut, my skin is all out on show. Many MANY times I think of my Fat Cyclist wind vest sitting in my warm hotel room on my warm hotel bed. I grind on. My pestle to King Ridge’s mortar. Why do I suck so much at cycling? Why can’t I give it up?
Silence in climbing. The grunt and the churn. I spin along at such a high cadence I must look a nong. But here’s the thing. Precious is a lazy bike with lazy gears. To put things in perspective, the small ring on this triple chainring is a …. wait for it…. 22T. So basically, I’m on a mountain bike. Any rear cog combo you couple it with is a picnic in June and there ain’t no ants on this pic-a-nic blanket. My cadence is fast and furious and I’m not sure if it takes more effort or less on this climb. Obviously, the gear is easier, but the effort is, what’s the word? It’s Levi, but with the letters rearranged.
I think about the person I know who attempted this last year on a fixie. I shake my head. What an idiot.
Plod. Plod up. Through the fog and the chill. The descents are cold, the climbs hot. I’m too chatty by far, talking to strangers who won’t talk back. I make jokes to myself (out loud) and no one laughs. Evil has stripped all of a sense of humor. It never occurs to me they might be too focused on breathing to speak.
Best to fall silence. Best to just grind on.
I pass people. People pass me. I glare at their backs for their insolence. Don’t they know who I am?! And always, always they grind past at a speed higher than my crawl. I hate goats of all kind, and there is nothing worse than a mountain goat on a bike. Goats go to hell. I’m just sayin’.
Earworm. I get the WORST EARWORM I HAVE EVER HAD. “I think we’re alone now”, the Tiffany version. It lasts for hours, and if that doesn’t prove the evilness of this event, I don’t know what does.
From out of the fog and rain I emerge. I wind around a brown soaky hill and climb climb. Ahead, I see photogs on a corner and think ‘huh, that must be a steep part or something?’ They’re set up to take the glory shots for the news tissues. I then proceed to ruin the photo opp by sticking out my tongue in dog-like fashion as I pass. The next 10 minutes are spent verbally kicking myself. Why did you do that? What sort of photo is that for your mother? She won’t be able to put that on the mantle. You suck.
Rock brain. Ugh.
Onward and upward.
You should know, disorganization is my strong suit. All the awards are mine in this area. ALL THE AWARDS. I am a last minute shopper and a ‘no look at instructions’ kinda gal. So this is my confession and my confession is this. Bar glancing at it at packet pickup, I have not even looked at the route map. I have no idea what’s coming up and what’s behind us. With that in mind and knowing there is no more certain thing in cycling than a false summit, I assume every climb we’re on is a lead up to King Ridge and not the main event. It doesn’t occur to me that I’m already on it. That if it were a clear day, I would see the sea and probably appreciate the view. No, in my mind, King Ridge is a climb. Just one climb. A tough, horrible climb that’s a sheer wall of uppy-ness that I will need grappling hooks to ascend. I want to ask someone if we’ve done it yet, but I’m finally getting the message that not a lot of people are in the mood to talk. Tongue bite. I want to ask about the Willow Creek dirt. Did I miss it? Is it up ahead? I really should have looked at that map.
This lack of planning and observation pays off though, because at a foggy rest stop and with a fresh-made turkey sandwich in my mitts, I hear that we’re about to go down Meyer’s Grade. This means nothing to me, having not looked at the route, but I hear someone else say that it’s warmer down on the coast. Which means we’re almost at the coast and I tingle with anticipation. But that might just be the hypothermia talking. Or the devil in my limbs trying to pull me way down in the hole.
Chewing thoughtfully on my sandwich and shivering in the foggy soup, I notice the crowd is thinning out significantly. Not a big crowd at this rest stop. Now I’m worried I’m falling behind. That someone else is taking my seat next to Levi, our divine leader, on the rocket ship outta here and I’m gonna be left on the platform all sweaty and with not even a plate of paella as compensation.
Bike ceiling cat, why am I so slow? Is it because I’m heavy as a rock?
And then it hits me. You know why you’re so slow? Because you spend precious minutes dicking around at rest stops eating and waiting in line for mechanics you can flirt with, only to blow up in righteous indignation when they accuse you of cross chaining. (He really did! I mean, what does he think this is, amateur hour?! But in all spiritual journeys there are a series of tests. This may have just been one of them.)
Must hustle. Must away!
Hurling empty gel packets and a banana skin from my jersey pocket into the trash, I grab a handful or Oreos and book it outta there.
18% descent. It’s fun, but I’m once again struck by how badly some people go downhill. It’s upsetting to some degree, not being able to trust the ability of people to hold lines because they’d rather push you off a cliff into the shrubbery, but it makes me ride within myself and channel the rock to just roll, baby. Just roll. Nothing reckless and before long it’s warmed up and I’m coasting down to the sea.
The coastal bit is always nice with curves and sea breezes and no evil lies here, in the bosom of these hills. Not in this land. I check my average and realize just how badly those climbs have killed me. I mash the pedals and open the fuel lines. Careful overtaking and flying flying. I pull a bunch of people for a while and feel like a workhorse, and I know in the back of my mind that this is wasting energy. That it’s a bit dumb to be doing this right before Coleman Valley Road. But I’m angry and trying to crank it out of my heart.
I am questioning the wisdom of our divine leader in taking us up that hill. Disappointed I haven’t seen him once today. Now I am opening up his Radioshack kimono and seeing his ice vest has a leak. (That is not a euphemism. Seriously, he should get that seen to.)
Up ahead, another rest stop. I’m fading and I need a coke. I see a fat seagull and conclude, just with a glance, that this seagull is an asshole. I take it as a sign. Trust your instinct. Brainwashing’s about! The fat seagull flies at dusk. Beware of false grades. Etc.
On down the road and it’s not long before I turn and recognize the grey, dead trees at the start of the Coleman Valley climb. Having done the Medio before, this is the bit I half remember from the first year. But knowing what I’ve already conqured today, how much worse can it be?
The answer is, of course, it’s not that it’s worse it’s just that it is. I hustle up. Stop for a breather at the first hairpin. Then keep the hustle up, all the way to the top. Rock brain ignores the quad screaming. Ignores the lung burn. Ignores the heart throbs and clack of cleats as others walk. Just keep going. Just keep going. You can complain when we get to the top.
My complaint comes in the form of a long sigh and I roll on. And here, after a while, comes the final rest stop. I pull in, refill water bottles and leave in record pit stop time.
A bit further on and Rock brain zones out and I do a very poor gear change, jamming my chain between the front derailleur cage and the chainring. Since I’m on a slight incline, I’m in the middle of a downstroke, so when I say jam, I mean JAM. It locks in, the rear pulley and cog stabs the frame and I half fall over, unclipping at lightning speed because the whole drive train doesn’t move. I get off and examine the damage.
The derailleur cage is first-date awkward. Bent so far in it might as well be on the other side of the bike. My instincts kick in. McGuyver senses tingle. Nothing a little brute force and chain grease on my hands won’t fix. Back on and rolling, if realize that if I ease it to the middle ring and am careful about it, it co-operates. I shift again and it goes back to the big ring, neh problem. But little 22T, we’re through. Which is fine, because the toughest is behind us and I could use a little more pain. *scoff*
Here, anticipation kicks in. We are reaching the end of days. At the end times, we all will be together and done and stuffing paella in our gobs washed down with the finest New Belgian and our divine leader will show us the secret passage to the land of chocolate milk and honeycomb. If I can make it on time. I get ansty.
I’ve been taking it easy.
On the outskirts of town, I open the cupboard and find some STIM packs inside. My mana indicator reads ‘high’ and leg ammo is fully stocked.
I open the throttle and fly on fumes of glory.
Somehow, a small train forms behind me and I decide the hurt level dial will be set at a reasonable 23mph. I hurt myself, if for no other reason than I feel like I should be punished for bringing a triple to King Ridge with a 22T chainring. That my suffering has been lessened because of it. This goes on for a while. When I glance over my shoulder, I feel the train there. No one comes up, and I figure this too is a test. Elbow says ‘flick me’. Rock brain says ‘ugh’. I power on. I am a machine. A dumb Rock with Wheels. Feel the stubborn. Enjoy the der-ness.
Eventually, I start thinking I should let someone come up. That I need a break from this. I back off slightly, no one comes up. Pure stubbornness makes me think ‘well screw you’ and I power on, hurting no one but myself. Finally we come to the bike path signage and a man waving us through. I turn, still at the front of these leeches. And then they come past.
“Good pull!” says a Levi’s GF marshall and I think “oh, it was a test from one of the divine leader’s minions!” and I jump on the back of their little train. Two miles to go. I hang on, but with half a mile to go we slow for oncoming and I miss the wheel. Screw it. I can’t be bothered.
The finish is coming. Sometimes a rock’s just got to roll.
It’s late. I’m late. I’m supposed to try catch up with Fatty to say hey, but he’ll be long gone, I think. I’m very very late. It’s 5 o’clock.
At the beer tent, I am completely incapable of ordering my beer. Standing there dumb and wasted as the lady says “what would you like?” I hesitate, thinking it must be a trick question, but not having the brain waves to work out what the trick might be. I blurt out ‘beer’, but that’s not good enough. Apparently there is more than one kind. Panicking, my eyes dart about and land on a table loaded with pre-filled beer pints. I point.
“That one!” and I am finally rewarded with a cold beer.
It is the best beer I have ever had. Is it cool-aid? I don’t care. I really don’t care.
Walking aimlessly around, I hear someone call my name and in a stroke of weird ‘that was lucky’ timing, Slonie has found me. We chat. I hear about Willow Creek, the turn off for I completely missed but it sounded awesome.
I don’t ask if the doomsday rocket ship turned up.
I don’t ask if the divine leader is still here, because it’s obvious he’s not. Fatty was on stage apparently too, but that was a while ago.
My shoulders sag. I have missed it. I was not worthy of the rocket ship. But I am worthy of paella! I snag myself a plate and sit on a hay bale and contemplate the day. And think about how my day’s not over yet. About how I still have to ride back to my hotel. Another 7 miles.
Levi’s Gran Fondo is evil. It really is. But evil things can be beautiful and appealing and alluring and sexy as all hell and filled with regrets and hatred and sheer moments of joy. Evil things can teach you stuff about yourself and challenge your system of beliefs. Evil things are dark and brooding and foggy and wet and sometimes thrilling.
Long story short. Levi’s Gran Fondo was a quick kick to the lady balls. Which translates to “That was frickin’ awesome! See you next year, Grandson of Evil!”
PS: As I dropped Precious off at NorCal bike sports today, there, slouching in the doorway out of the rain, was the divine leader himself (evidently the spaceship left him behind to continue on with his reconnoissance mission). I sheepishly gave him a nod as he complimented me on my Fat Cyclist jersey and I complimented him on the Grandson of Evil event. This was the extent of the encounter, as I feared to engage him in conversation would make me feel guilty about implying that he is, well… evil. Two short ships passing on a rainy day. The circle of evil is complete.
And hey, let’s look at the route finally!
© Janeen McCrae