Beep, beep, beep, beep...
He reached out into the darkness and hit the snooze button on his alarm clock. Opening his eyes slowly, he focused on the clock and reads 6:30 AM. Darkness seeped deeply through the window as if there was a cover over the night’s light. Daylight savings had started at 12:01 AM today and his body has not adjusted yet to the time changed. He lay quietly and reflected upon this past week...
This past week was full of e-mails. The beginning of the week was e-mails from Quang in MN about a couple of new riders that just joined VeloViet. One of these riders, Sinthang, Quang described as similar to the hard-core MN rider Thai, and who can do 80 minutes on the Spin bike while standing up the entire time. Also a 1000-strong group in MN had joined in a record breaking 9-hour spin class in which members of MN VeloViets participated. E-mails from the later part of the week were about the GranFondo San Diego century, where the riders there had to ride in the miserable rain, with hail no less, for the entire ride. One of our own OC VeloViet, Greg, had completed the ride and everyone in OC was pumped up from this amazing accomplishment.
It is getting harder to keep up, he thought, with the fast riders of VeloViets on both coasts. He thought of the countless miles and miles, and hours upon hours, of saddle time he had to endure each week just to be able to maintain contact with the OC fast guys. He was not sure if he had the youth, strength, determination, and dedication left in his old body to keep up with these commitments. Quietly he got out of bed and made his way to the darken window. He looked out into the cold night, seeing the grays of dawn for the first time in the Eastern horizon. He noted to himself that Quang is probably already up and spinning away already in his morning spin session in MN. He closed his eyes and dig deep into his thoughts, to search to see if he still had the sparks and the inner drives, to be able to sacrifice both physically, emotionally, and mentally to the VeloViet commitment. There within his thoughts, he found fond memories of Cap’t driving the peloton, of the two Billies pulling him when he cramped on his first ride with the VeloViets, and of the VeloViet “bullet” train pulling a large pack in the 2010 Palm Springs ride. He slowly smiled and knew that his inner reserves were still strong, and that he remain steadfastly committed, as the Sunday rides where still a blast to do. He breathed deeply and prepared for what lay ahead.
26 dedicated VeloViets showed up to MSP that morning. Little did we know then that we would meet 4 more riders on the road and 6 more riders at the first rest stop, totaling 36 riders in all. The single row of MSP parking that we used to park at were now two rows full of cars filled with bikes in or on them. Most of the folks were already there when he drove up, having spent over ½ an hour driving from the desert cities of the Inland Empire to the coastal region of Orange County to ride with the VeloViets. There he saw Loc, the two Minhs: Anh Minh and Big Minh, and Viet whom he has not seen since the Palm Spring century. He got out and excitedly shook everyone’s hands. He noted that the energy was there and that you could feel the excitement in the air. Cap’t pulled in shortly after he arrived.
Suddenly a familiar black SUV pulled in to parking lot. Out came Billy D, with his Colnago single steed. Everyone was excited as Billy had been out for a few weeks, as well as having not ridden single for the past several months. Billy had graciously agreed to train one of our new members, Co, and had been riding tandem with Co. These tandem bikes were so heavy that Billy could not ride as we had remembered him to be, strong and fast. We gathered around and welcome The Italian back into our fast group!
Then someone shouted loudly, and we all looked up as one to gaze up into the distance. Up far away, a blurry gray shape seemed to float in the streets, but rapidly approaching. Are it neared, the shape shifted and materialized into a solitary rider on his bike. As the bike and rider finally approached to discernable distance, we recognized the rider to be Dashaan. Dashaan has been out with an ankle injury; with the only outwardly sign of this injury being a small brace on his left ankle. He coolly pulled into the parking lot and started to shake everyone’s hands. We gathered around Dashaan and welcome back another of our long lost VeloViet brothers.
As is customary at the start of an epic ride, we gathered round for a group picture. Then we noted that our resident photographer was not around. Oh no, we thought, what could have happen. Cuong had always been to every one of the VeloViet ride since he joined, and it was very unusual for him to miss a ride, let alone a potential epic one at that. No one had his phone number so we went ahead and took a photo with Chi’s camera. Then we started down the road.
Photo #1 - The MSP group at the start of this epic self-discovery ride.
He pedaled within the group, feeding in the energy that a large bike group exudes as it moves along the road. Cars honked excitedly, runners stared, and walkers stopped as all take in the majestic sight of a moving peloton, a smooth machine that churns on while singing its mechanical song, a sea of VeloViet red moving in synchronized motion as if they were soldier ants bringing food back to the nest. He was at peace within this violent disturbance of mechanized pedal revolutions. He knew that the real battle will begin as they neared the river trail. This is where the first flurry of attacks will occurred, and it seemed always to be salvo from one of two VeloViets.
The first attack came, and it came from no other than The Gear. Tuan is a man with no fear, always taking the first round for the team and always seemed to be the first to really pull hard. The second rider that always seemed to be on the first offensive is Sang, who moved out quickly to go after Tuan. These two riders caused a ripple effect of forward eruptions as riders like TZ, The Animal, The Warrior, and Duc all moved forward, creating a gap between the front runners and the group. He smiled familiarly as he knew this was just the beginning, and that there is more than 70 miles to go of this. As the pack hit the last bridge, it picked up 4 more riders. These include the two young Vietnamese boys: Mathew and Phillip, who now seemed to be constant faces within the VeloViet pack, and their fathers. The boys were riding so well that even one of the fathers could not keep up. These new riders latched on. We reached the first rest stop.
Here, we were officially introduced to a new member of our bike team, a 2010 Pinarello Dogma 60.1 bike with Campy Record 11-speed and Reynolds DVK aero wheelset. This baby is light and belongs to Rock Racer Tan, who had just upgraded it from a Trek. We all gazed upon this Italian beauty, and wished it was her within the hold of our own two legs. A bike like this is not meant to be a casual cruise around the park, but it is an Italian steed to be ridden and tamed on the wide open road. Those of us riding an American, French, or a Spanish bike drool at the thought of capturing a similar Italian starlet. Sophia Loren, in her best years, could not even match the look of the morning sun light as it reflects brightly on this Dogma’s smooth carbon skin. Cap’t woke us up from our daydream, and moved us on to the “attack” phase of the ride. Around this time Cuong and Greg caught up as they started late from MSP. The group now totaled 36 riders, of which 13 riders of Group A would immediately continue on with limited rest.
The attack phase is simply the moment of the ride that Group A and B separates and ride on their own ways. This part is where in a werewolf movie the fangs come out, the fingers and toes grow into paws, where the men shift shape, gets on the ground on all four, and becomes vicious animals howling their blood-thirsty cries of the hunt. As he looked around Group A, he could vividly see fangs popping out from the 13 riders, tongues hanging from open mouths, and strong smell of the blood hunt seeping out from these animals. By no means this pack is the hunted, never was, but instead is the hunters. He briefly prayed for himself, and for those poor souls that they meet on the road, as this pack is one who will suck you in, chew your flesh up to fine pieces, and then spit your bones out from the back. With the last collective howl in the morning sunlight, the Group A riders starts out for the hunt!
Wolves run on their toes so that they can run faster and more quietly as they hunt. With 23mm tires, the contact area of the bike’s tires to the road is so minimal that it has probably similar surface area as a wolf’s paws on the ground. Unlike the quietness of the wolves though, the bike pack raged its mechanical sound loudly betraying its presence. Wolves also can run up to 45 mph. While not as fast, the pack can easily move in forward motion somewhere between 20-30 mph. The VeloViet’s Group A 13-rider pack rode on PCH like a howling wolf’s pack, thirsting for blood and caving into its desire to hunt. We were moving on PCH at 26 mph pulled by no other than the Animal himself.
Up the top of the second hill on Jamboree, The Warrior and I made a small attack, and managed to separate ourselves of the rest of the clan, as they were stuck at the light when we made the initial jump on the hill. By the third hill, The Warrior was in front and I was about 30 feet in back of him, and could feel the pack presence as they chased us down. Warrior and I made it through Jamboree first.
By the time we made it to Campus, the adrenaline level was at its highest peak. As we had made a small loop to the extra miles in, we saw Tan coming down from University and Cap’t had to tame the front riders to slow for Tan to catch on. We immediately sprinted as he caught up and was again in full attack mode, yapping at each other’s verbally to keep the pack together, and to encourage each other speed up or slow down depending on terrain. This continued up to Edinger. On this road, we met the black wolf himself heading down the opposite way, the rider Fed-Ex of Palomar’s fame, decked out in his black and white Felt kit on his Felt bike. He quickly turned around and linked up to the VeloViet pack.
The first casualty occurred on Red Hill on a slight incline. The pack had attack and lost Tan and Sang. Cap’t and Fed-Ex went back for them as the rest of the group continues on. He decided to stop and waited. About 5 minutes later, Fed-Ex led the charge with Cap’t behind, as Sang had stayed back with Tan and they would take a short cut to hook on with group B. He quickly got in back of this duo. Fed-Ex was simply amazing during this chase back to Group A, and was pulling the entire way at about 27-28 mph. He could no longer hold on to this speeding train and drop off. Luckily the pack was not far ahead and Fed-Ex and Cap’t caught on. A short time later, he also caught on. Then the hills started.
Margaruite and Trabuco were full of hills, significant enough in their incline to challenge the VeloViets. Again, Fed-Ex led the charge up these hills and he tore apart the pack viciously. It was as if the wolf pack had discovered a small and adorable bunny rabbit, decided that the rabbit was dinner, and was voraciously attacking each other for the rights to eat this bunny as there was not enough meat to feed all. Fed-Ex must have been the one who was fullest at the end of the meal, as it was he who won these short hill bursts by wide margins. The Warrior was usually second up, with Duc or TZ somewhere close behind. Up these hills, he usually rode in the middle of the pack, always breathing hard and fixated at the piece of road 3 feet in front of his front wheel. Like the onset of the Alzheimer’s Disease, he could no longer remember anything at the moment, except for the constant memory of how to pedal a bike. This grinding and mechanized motion is all of the memory he had left. Around this time, the pack suffered a second casualty. Somewhere on the roads up to the sky, we lost Billy D.
At the CircleK rest stop, Cap’t did a count and discovered the missing rider Billy. The first phone call went unanswered, with a phone call sometime later revealing Billy was okay but too far back. The pack decided to continue on its hunt, but with Fed-Ex making his way back to his lair. The ride back was led by The Animal, The Warrior, The Gear, and Cap’t. We made it back to SART in record speed.
His reserve was depleted by the time the pack arrive at the start of the river trail. In an athlete’s terminology, he bonked BIG TIME dude! Also during the ride, he did not eat enough food and both of his quadriceps decided to go on strike, and started to lock up half way down the SART. Repeated attempts by The Animal to drag him back to the pack proved utterly useless, so he waived this lead wolf away to join the remnants of the pack. Like an injured animal, he limped slowly back to MSP, licking his wounds the entire way.
Photo #2 - Summary photo of The Long and Hard Ride. Note The Warrior secret drink mix.
This ride was hard, it was long, and it was all man for himself. If you did not have what it took, you were chewed up and spit out the back. It is a ride that teaches a rider to how to suffer, and how to endure while your physical self and mental self screamed at you silently from all sides. But… it is one of those rides that build a champion, and a solid championship team. At the beginning of this ride, Long had showed him a copy of the latest Competitor magazine, a local magazine that appears in every major bike store. Listed under “bicycle racing team”, and not under bicycle recreational team, was the name VeloViet. It was as if a sign had been sent their way, to tell them of what’s to come. Perhaps this ride is the start of that transformation. Only time will tell...