Riding the Wafer...The Worst Parade Ever

I wasn’t a cyclist before Sunday.

There are some unwritten rules of biking, and I’m sure I’ve broken all of them in the last few months of training leading up to the Belgian Waffle Ride. I didn’t shave my legs, I rode with spandex on the mountain bike and loose shorts on my road bike. I actually didn’t even ride a road bike, I bought a used cross bike for a couple of hundred dollars from a nice guy who rode it across Belgium in the pouring rain. He threw in the panniers and a helmet and shoes that were a little too tight. At least I was smart enough to not throw the luggage racks on during the race.

The Belgian Waffle Ride can be intimidating. Just the distance is intimidating, and then you have a look at the elevation profile, and check out pictures of people who finished covered in a mixture of blood, dirt, spit, tears, snot, and mud. The full Waffle is 134 miles with over 10,000 feet of gain. The shorter, humbler Wafer is 74 miles with 5,300 feet of gain. Rolling into the expo to pick up my number, I couldn’t help but notice the veins, rolling like ropes up these men and women’s smooth calves. They also had shorts that matched their jerseys. These are called kits.

I have one cycling jersey. It has a zipper in the front and pockets in the back. I bought it when I did Ironman Cozumel about ten years ago. It has a big Ironman logo on the front to let everyone who knows anything about cycling know that I can’t handle my bike in a pack for shit. It’s also brand new because when I did that Ironman ten years ago, I gave up biking. The training took too long, and with three small kids, I didn’t have the time to go for long rides. The tri bike went up in the garage, on a hook where it hangs today to serve as a warning for anyone that passes to turn around and run if they value money and/or time.

The morning of the race, the organizers of the Belgian Waffle Ride laid out a gluttonous breakfast buffet of bacon, waffles, and melted butter. I skipped the bacon but did down a couple of waffles dripping with melted butter. All races should have waffles at the start, especially 5Ks. It would make watching them way more interesting.

I felt all tingly waiting for the start, but that may have been the minty Assos chamois cream I’d slathered all over my taint and undercarriage area. The organizer gave a speech about how we are all friends in a giant parade and how we need to look out for each other, a kid played an awesome, guitar-version of the National Anthem while standing on top of an RV, a mariachi band played, and we were off.

I’m not going to bore you with every detail of the race, I’m just going to bore you with some of the highlights.

The start is on road for about 10 miles and most of the 6–700 people stay in a tight group. The group goes pretty fast because the people in the front of the pack break the wind for everyone else, so you just have to bike behind someone in front of you, and not slow down and not waver in your line while you’re making a turn, and bike super straight, and not veer to the right or to the left, and you will not crash, and have the 300 or so people who are riding behind you run over you and then they crash and you have ruined their day. Did I mention that I used to be a triathlete and most of my biking experience had been of the solo variety while riding in a straight line on aerobars? You aren’t even allowed to be within 10 feet to the cyclist in front of you when you’re racing a triathlon. This pack riding was new to me, and luckily, I didn’t ruin my or anyone else’s day.

I did go down once, pretty hard, but it was in the soft dirt. I was leading a group of about 5 or so, and by leading, I mean there were probably 5 people behind me waiting for a good time to pass. A mountain bike came the other way, and I tried to turn, but my front wheel caught some sand, so I went down. Hurt my knee a little bit, but I was thankful when I looked back at the guy who was following me skid to a stop inches away from my head.

Cross racing is a cross between road and dirt biking, with a bike that isn’t entirely suitable for the road because of its big tires, nor is it suitable for the trails because of its skinny tires. Despite this, cross racing is so much fun. I rode through streams, on singletrack, over gravel, up and down some twisting climbs, and the road sections weren’t any easier.

I was told there would be women with bikinis handing out bacon at an aid station called The Oasis at mile 60, at the base of the hardest climb of the day. When I arrived, there was bacon, but no bikinis. My spirits were a little low at this point, but it had more to do with the upcoming climb than the bikinis. Everything changed a few miles later when I biked past my house and my son and daughter were there waiting for me. My son handed me a beer which made up for the lack of bikinis at The Oasis. I guess I’ve changed.

Near the top of Double Peak (don’t mistake that grimace for a smile)

Adam and I shared the beer before we started the climb to Double Peak. Adam is a guy I’ve known for over 20 years. He came down from Santa Cruz to do the race with me, and he prepared by going to Colombia and cycling the longest climb on earth (over 10,000 feet). I prepared by climbing the Hills of San Elijo, but somehow I always left out Double Peak. That’s the high point of the Wafer ride, and it’s the only time that I considered dismounting and walking the bike. I should have as it would have been faster than my cycling pace.

Me and Adam in the early miles

It went mostly downhill from there, but in a good way. I hit 45 MPH going down Twin Oaks, which is fun until you start thinking about all the things that could go wrong. I got into a pack in the last mile and asked who was willing to lead me out for the sprint. I was saving that bit of cycling lingo for the end, but nobody laughed. Maybe everyone was just too tired at that point, or maybe it just wasn’t as funny as I thought it was. So, in typical dad fashion, I sped up to another guy near the finish and asked him if he would lead me out for the sprint. He chuckled. Success. Then he dropped me.

The finish area was awesome, but when the finish line is Lost Abbey, it has to be good. I sat with Joe and Adam, nursing the free beer, comparing battle scars and swapping stories. It was weird because if there had been a registration booth at the finish line, I would have signed up right there. I never have that feeling after a race. It usually takes a couple of days for the memory of the suffering to fade, and the good sections, the afterglow to come into focus before I’m ready to commit to another one, but this time I would have signed up again on the spot. I was covered in dirt, my teeth were gritty, the blood and mud mixture had dried on my knee, and I felt like I was going to throw up. But sitting there in the sun with hairy legs, a gritty smile, in my one and only cycling jersey, I felt like a cyclist.

I can’t wait to do this race again next year, but if they’re going to call it a parade, there better be some floats and beauty queens throwing candy. For now, I’m bathing in CBD cream and waiting for the appropriate occasion to pop the Lost Abbey Belgian Ale. Thanks to Joe, Adam, Ed, Chi, Craig, and others for sharing some of the road and race miles.

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