I’ve been enjoying the “Cycling in the South Bay” blog since my return to Southern California. Seth Davidson’s latest post “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” struck a cord. Sure, I haven’t returned from the war like HIM and all it took was for me to return was a Southwest flight, a shuttle to my rental car, head south on the 405, and boom I was back in Orange County. What similarity I noticed was that after a four year absence HIM’s experience of the more things change the more they stay the same was like mine – minus the IUDs, snipers, MREs, terrorists, or shooting at someone. However, South Carolina gets really hot in the summer so I had to overcome that challenge…
I arrived in California on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and rode the Food Park ride a week later. I rolled into the parking lot at what I remembered was the departure time: 8:30am. This is a perfectly reasonable hour – not too early and not too late. Congregating like hookers on a corner were the usual suspects from the usual teams. Sure, a couple of guys had more gray hairs and deeper lines across their faces, and team kit fashion had circled back to the 80s high-vis color schemes, but basically the same. A pleasant surprise was at 8:30 everyone was still enjoying their low-fat lattes, blueberry muffins, and fouling The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s bathroom without a care in the world.
“Yeah, the ride rolls at 8:45am,” said my old buddy Mike Faello as he casually held court at one of the tables in front of the coffee shop. Faello manages/rides for Surf City Cyclery – so no change there. I noticed other familiar faces from familiar clubs. Some had a look like, “I know that guy from somewhere, but just not sure. He better not screw up the ride.”
What hasn’t changed was the plot of the ride. We rolled out of the parking lot like an amoeba like mass and the 40 plus riders slowly squeezed themselves into the city of Irvine’s bike lane with overflow taking up space in the slow lane. As the miles ticked by the speed increased and, as usual, stop signs were given a cursory glance for other vehicles. By the time we made the right hand turn onto Tesla it was on. Yeah, nothing had changed.
The climb was fast as usual, but not long enough to drop riders, and it was groupo compacto as the peloton made the left onto Santa Maria Avenue. While I wasn’t dropped, I was on the ragged edge as the group turned right onto Moulton Parkway, barely slowing a beat for vehicles. Once the road started to tip upward my breathing became even more rapid and shallower. Either I was having a stroke or my limited training had caught up to me and I was slowly and steadily getting dropped.
I heard the siren’s song from Faello, “Follow me if you want to survive.”
He had seen my plight and was taking a shortcut, detouring us around the next ascent, AKA The Church Climb. The shortcut has always been known by me as “Bowman’s Pass”, named after a local legend. This maneuver got us ahead of the group and over the top of the hill. Soon we were charging down Laguna Canyon road like a rhino in heat, clogging up the lanes like what we had done to The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s toilet just a mere hour ago. And both are not pretty.
I’m always genuinely amazed that either the Laguna Beach five-O aren’t camped out on a corner with a spike strip and already written citations to hand out. Amazingly the peloton is through Laguna without an incident and onto Pacific Coast Highway at mach speed, barely slowing down for red lights and blocking the northbound right lane. As another car swerves to avoid the group or a driver shoots us the stink-eye, it’s at this point I swear I’m never doing this god damn ride again! It’s too dangerous. Someone is going to get killed. I hate The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s espresso.
I’ve said or thought this statement on almost every Food Park ride ever since I’ve been doing it going back to my Velo Allegro club days.
At the summit of the last little kicker before the Newport Coast climb is the “finish line.” From there some roll to the bench at Cougar Island while others get extra credit by riding up the 1.6 mile climb of Newport Coast with it’s half a dozen Strava KOM sections.
Once it’s all said and done I’m at the Corona del Mar ‘Bucks with my legs slightly elevated on the retaining wall, sun on my face, gawking at the Ferraris and high-end plastic surgery recipients. It’s at this point I start to change my mind on the worth of Food Park. I survived the ride. I’m people watching. I spoke to people I haven’t seen in awhile. To hell with it – I’ll be back. The more things change the more they stay the same.