July 1, 2004: These guys are good

Words cannot describe. JB asked me how the ride was when I got home tonight. How was it? I said, "it was fun," because how can I even begin to convey the essence of this ride. Fast? Euphoric? Painful? Exhilarating? Overwhelming? All of the above? Yes, all of the above.

Departed Bonzai's around 8:30 PM heading for the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB), and points north in the headlands. We established a crisp pace through the City, one that allowed some conversation, but no dawdling. Hit the Presidio near dusk and it was like a smokey convention in there. I haven't seen that many rollers in one place since Aunt Louise from Hackensack came to visit (work with me here). I made a snide comment about the terror alert color-code system and Bonzai reminded me that it was Fourth of July weekend. Oh yeah. In recognition of the heightened law enforcement activity in our immediate proximity, we went to our predetermined bivouac and held a properly righteous safety meeting.

Once we felt satisfied that we were all on the same wavelength as our police brethren, we flicked on the lights and headed out across the GGB. That never gets old. The view, the cars whizzing past, the wind, and the cool feeling that you're riding your bicycle across one of the icons of the world. But we weren't just riding, we were flying; we were racing. For three quarters of the bridge, we sparred, parried, jostled, feeling each other out, gauging the legs, getting a feel for the evening. I foolishly took the bait and kicked in a heavy sprint just after passing the last stanchion. It was a nice sprint that generated some separation, but it also sapped all the legs right out from underneath me and left me struggling to maintain my comfort level for the rest of the ride. A tactical error, and one that you really can't afford to make when you ride with Bonzai and Romulus.

Heading up Conzelman Road just north of the GGB, I was pushing concrete stumps instead of legs, and was immediately dropped back about 100 feet behind B and R. I tried to rally, but I didn't really make a dent in the gap until about halfway up Romulus graciously slowed and caught me up. We busted down the Coastal Trail, with Romulus blazing the way, into Rodeo Valley where we picked up the Bobcat Trail. This one stretch of trail up the darkened Gerbode Valley was completely epic in itself. Bonzai and I immediately separated from Romulus (who was working on his own training exercise -- third ring the entire way!) and for a while I rode Bonzai's wheel. Shrewdly, Bonzai drifted aside and before I knew what had happened, I was pulling the lead, with Bonzai securely affixed on my wheel. Well, Bonzai may only be 165 pounds, but let me tell you, I felt every ounce of him as I wheezed, huffed, and attempted to hammer my way up the hill. Classic Bonzai, he was unshakable, and even if I had had the strength to test him, I am sure it would not have been enough. At a shoulder near the top, we waited for Romulus. When he caught up, Bonzai immediately shot off the front. His lead stabilized at about 25 yards, but again, try as I might, I could not close the gap. He crushed both Romulus and I on that little hill sprint. This hill was also interesting in that Romulus used only his large ring, Bonzai used his middle ring almost exclusively, and I was rooted in the granny. Three completely different approaches to the hill. I love that.

Heading down the deliciously winding Marincello Trail we passed five fellow MTB'ers, each equipped with good bikes and 24-hour lights. We had seen a solo rider with 24-hour lights a little earlier in the evening. For each of us, it was the first time we had ever seen another serious MTB'er with serious lights out on the trail (other than a 24-hour race). The lead guy in the group was far ahead of the rest and was cruising pretty well up the hill. The other guys were dragging. I feel confident that we would have won that team showdown.

In Tennessee Valley, we took the Miwok Trail back up to the ridge we had just come down on the Marincello. At the ridgeline, Romulus once again took the lead on the downhill. I was right behind him and that dude is so smooth on the descents, I swear I did not see him brake once. That's how you fucking do it! As Bonzai put it, that's one of those hills where you've got a shit-eating grin plastered on your face, spittle is flying out of your mouth all over you, your tongue is coated with dust, and you're so dialed in, it's like riding in a vacuum of sound. At the bottom, Romulus busted out a killer improv rap about our downhill sensation.

Crossing Bunker Road to start back up the Coastal Trail, Bonzai was alerted to some noise in the bushes overlooking the road, and when we shined our lights there we saw a huge buck with a very large rack looking regally down upon us. More noise in a field to our left -- two does and three yearlings.

This last pull up the Coastal Trail was my Waterloo. I was able to pace Bonzai (who again has tucked right up underneath me in position A) up to the top, but there was not one ounce of energy left and I could tell that Bonzai had at least one more gear left, at least one. Down Conzelman we bombed, and I wish it was about a mile longer because we were about to hit Mach 5 just as we got to the turnoff for the bridge. On a steep downhill, there is a point where momentum and gravity overcome rolling resistance and POW!, your acceleration spikes noticeably. We were literally about to hit warp speed.

It was all I could do to maintain contact across the bridge. I was flipping through my gears like Mary Lou Retton trying to find some formula for resting and keeping up at the same time. I held on until the last stanchion when Romulus made his kick. No way -- I cracked like a hard-boiled egg and even Bonzai slipped back a bit. Romulus was just too strong. This was a pure power sprint and there was nothing either Bonzai or I could do to counter his strength.

After the bridge it was all a blur to me. I remember the Marina and the Marina Safeway, Polk Street, downtown, and Market Street, but I was riding with tears in my eyes, legs, screaming, drool flying, just trying to hang on. While I was dead, Bonzai and Romulus kept surging and sprinting. At 15th and Valencia, we didn't even stop to part ways, we just waved to Romulus as he busted up Valencia towards home.

Tonight reminded me of the Flagstaff days riding with Krusty. With Krusty, there's only one speed: full bore. Same with these guys, only with two of them, it's like the entire ride is a race. One of the three of us was attacking at any given time. This ultimately leaves no time for rest and recovery, because as soon as you fall back from your sprint, somebody else is coming up fast to take it to you. If you try to rest, you're going to get dropped immediately. Also, these guys are doing steep hills in the middle and big rings. I'm doing my best to keep the pedals turning in the granny! My style has always been fast cadence over big gears, but it may no longer be enough against Bonzai and Romulus. This ride definitely showed me that I have more work to do.

We all rode great tonight, and I'm proud to have been part of the triad. That said, each of us had a foible or near-foible tonight. Bonzai went ass over highside on a hill-climb stallout; Romulus nearly got clipped by a vintage white Caddy convertible as it made a wayward right turn in front of him; and I committed a major faux pas by riding so tight on Rom's back wheel during one climb that I rubbed it with my front wheel while I was flailing around looking for a line.

Next up for Sweep: Skeggs at 7:30 AM on the 4th.


Mileage: 31.35 Time: 2:42:04 Avg: 11.6 Max: 39.0 Weight: 171.5

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