It’s 3:30am when I sneak out of the house. 3:30 on the Sunday of St. Patrick’s Day. It’s so quiet as I clip in and head east on Willoughby. My fear of a drunk driver coming home late eases as I realize I’ll hear anything coming from blocks away. The traffic lights all magically turn green for me. When I get to Vine, I see a blinking red light heading north. A couple blocks later, a couple of guys roll up to the light with me.

“Marathon crash?” one asks.
Yup.”
“We figured. Either that, or this was your regular ride.”

As a trio, we cut up Gower and they wait for me when I hesitate to run the red at Santa Monica. I let a one-eyed car pass, and we roll up to Tang’s Donuts at Sunset & Fountain, where 3000 other cyclists await us, in full racing kits, in tallisim, in Mexican wrestling masks… a full array of the diversity of Los Angeles.

Welcome to Wolfpack Hustle’s Marathon Crash Race.

I didn’t put this event on the schedule or blog about it because I wanted to give myself a chance to chicken out.

A year ago on this day, I was signed up for the Bell Gardens Lions Club Tour de Sewer. It’s my dad’s birthday, he was involved in the Renton Lions Club… It seemed a thing to do. It was raining that day, but I was signed up, so I went.

It was wet and cold and hilly, but the climbs weren’t as bad as the descents. At the end of (what I didn’t know was) the last climb, I got off my bike to warm up my fingers so I could brake on the way down. I started shaking so uncontrollably that I was taken off the course in an ambulance. Hypothermia.

Not a training fail, more an equipment fail. Ever since, I won’t pre-register for local events. I’d rather pay an extra $10 than write off $50+. I’m not a pro, I’ve ridden 100 miles in the rain, I have nothing to prove. I ride for fun.

Still, when I heard about the Marathon Crash Race, I was intrigued. In the early days of the LA Marathon, Acura used to sponsor a bike tour. Cyclists could ride the marathon course before the runners started. When the course went from a loop to a line, the bike tour was dropped. I guess they didn’t want thousands of cyclists miles from their cars further clogging the streets of LA on marathon day.

Too bad.

This is not your daddy’s Acura bike tour. This is my first bike race.

20130318-103815.jpg

Bib number pinned to allow my recognition at the finish line. Women had red numbers… Because we bleed. I spent a lot of time pondering this missive from the race organizers.

“CASUAL RIDERS ZONE
If you have no realistic chance of making top 50 or you are simply there to enjoy the
ride PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE place your self in the casual ride zone and let
the competitors have their space up front.

COMPETITORS
ATHLETE ZONE
You MUST have a bib number and it must be place correctly on your shirt / jersey to
be considered a competitor and for our finishline cameras to pick up your number.”

On the one hand, no realistic chance of making top 50 and simply there to enjoy the ride. On the other hand, the Evelyn Stevens story. She shows up for her first race and wins. Am I selling myself short sitting at the back? I reconcile these conflicting urges by remembering that in the story I read, she started after the elite cyclists and caught them before going on to win the race. I start at the back.

At around 4:20, we roll out, a sea of twinkling red lights. East on Sunset toward downtown. The roads are sorta closed.

20130318-103946.jpg

Before downtown, my bike has earned its first compliment, and I’ve been offered my first slug of whiskey. I’m flying up hills that people are walking their bikes up. I have no idea where the leaders are, but I’m working on my passing skills. Some streets are very dark, and all streets have the sort of potholes that caused my pinch flat in Solvang.

Oops, didn’t replace that spare tube.

Riders at the side of the road. They need patches, pumps, spare tubes…

Riders down in the road, especially on Hollywood Boulevard. I can still see rider 1901, face down on the pavement, and hear the sirens of the ambulances on the way.

Trepidation. But now I’m on my home turf. West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood…

They tore out the speed bumps at the VA! They opened the west gate so we don’t have to walk our bikes out the pedestrian gate and off the curb! Sharp left, sharp right, good morning, San Vicente.

A very dark San Vicente. Dark, fast, potholes, debris?

I can’t see my speedometer, but the speed limit sign lit up 28 when I zoomed past, and I had no car to help me Michael Scott it. It’s still a sea of red fireflies, and a hard left onto Ocean Avenue, across the finish line.

5:58am. Not a top 50 finisher. But a finisher amid a sea of exhilarated cyclists.

20130318-104042.jpg

Advertisements