Around 4:20 a.m. on Sunday, a few hours before the start of the L.A. Marathon, I and hundreds of other cyclists from as far as Texas and New York eagerly rolled away from the corner of Sunset and Fountain. Our LAPD escort calmly led the ride at a not-so-fast 15 mph, a music bike blasted "Hotel California" and everything was chill. At about 4:35 a.m. we soared down a barren Hollywood Boulevard as the LAPD led the way. By 4:50 a.m., the LAPD told us to slow down - which we totally did for about two minutes.
But we'd signed up for a race. So we raced.
Five days prior, the city of Los Angeles all but forced event organizer and L.A. bike legend Don "Roadblock" Ward to cancel the Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash Race, scheduled for the wee hours before the L.A. Marathon, on the mostly closed-off streets on the course stretching from the city's heart to Santa Monica. The city threatened Ward with criminal charges and exorbitant fines if the race took place as scheduled.
And that was that. It was canceled.
Personally, I couldn't believe it. The West Coast's urban cycling event of the year had been nixed. An event that went off without a hitch in past years - which had recently acquired a $3 million insurance plan, sanctioning from two cycling organizations and, allegedly, the continued support of LAPD - had been canceled.
Where the city of Los Angeles went wrong was assuming that, by forcing the event's cancellation, participants wouldn't go apeshit. Well, no, city of L. A. We went apeshit. And we were going to go apeshit no matter what. In fact, it was likely the apeshittedness of the charged online comments, letters to the city and Ward's persistence that led the city to allow anything to take place at all - only this time under the guise of a "ride" rather than a "race," a last-ditch effort by the city to save face and prevent a riot.
Of course, this "ride" was a bit different than Marathon crashes of past years. Instead of the well-organized and well-staffed races of before, we were faced with a convoluted clusterfuck. The barricades on the first fast turn were in the middle of the course and taken out by the lead riders. Caution tape, cones, bikes and their riders - all were knocked to the ground to a mix of cheers and oh-fuck-looks-like-they-won't-let-us-do-this-agains. Frustrated riders (well, racers) disobeyed the police. And why? Because the city fucked up.
I mean, of course we still raced. Everyone I spoke with had been determined to show up whether the race was canceled, sanctioned, escorted - didn't matter. This year was still a race; there was just no official winner. And in a furious, frustrated and rage-fueled feat, I and about 30 other riders blew off the police escorts.
Initiated by Jerry Ramos, an O.G. marathon crasher, and one of his Whittier Cyclery teammates, we totally smoked the cops for a while. "[Me and my teammate] were screaming '[LAPD] won't hit you! Just go!" And so we did. And you know what? LAPD didn't hit us.
"I've never done anything like this," rider Oscar Vanitas said.
"Getting psyched up, I just wanna go!" screamed first-timer Cody Lindman.
I yelled at a group of snockered (and mostly male) drinkers enjoying last call at a bar in Hollywood to flash me their tits. I may or may not have flipped off the chase helicopter shining down its spotlight - I don't know, it was fun. But then the street lights disappeared and our new police escort ditched us with an unannounced U-turn back downhill. (I guess that's karma.)
"Anyone know where the fuck we are?" screamed one rider.
"Nah man, let's go to the beach!" another replied.
"Yeah man, let's go to the beach!"
And so we started cycling in the direction of where we thought the beach was. Even though we were going uphill - we just kept riding.
To be fair, we were totally headed to the beach ... in Pacific Palisades ... at 5 a.m. And nothing against Pacific Palisades, but it's not that close to the marathon (and race/ride's) end point in Santa Monica. Eventually everyone made it to the finish, but not as we would've liked. Our fun "ride" turned into a failed "race," and the lead pack spent much of its time lost somewhere in the hills.
The consequences of all this semi-sanctioned chaos weren't terrible, but they could have been. According to one participant, a downed rider didn't receive immediate medical care following a crash. We're lucky no one was seriously injured.
Would the whole "ride" concept have worked out just fine if L.A.'s fastest and baddest urban cyclists held back and stayed with LAPD? Yeah. But L.A.'s fastest and baddest urban cyclists aren't interested in staying with LAPD. What LAPD and the city of L.A. forgot was that anyone showing up to ride hard can only bear a 15-20 mph police escort for so long. I know I showed up looking to beat my time from last year, and I know a lot of the riders in attendance were first-timers - not knowing what to expect, or how it worked. What took place was a mixture of inexperienced and veteran marathon crashers who pushed each other beyond where we were meant to go. That is, beyond our police escort.
Kelly Morgan of the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition expressed his concern prior to the ride, claiming, "Everybody is just trying to keep everybody under control and not piss off the cops." Based on what I saw (and, admittedly, contributed to), we failed Morgan, and that's not something to celebrate.
By the time most everyone finished and the heat died down, Ward had a few words to project through his megaphone. "I think we had a good ending," he said.
"Those cops couldn't keep up!" interrupted a rider to laughter and cheers.
Ward continued, "We want to thank the LAPD, Santa Monica Police, the mayor's office, Beverly Hills ... who made this happen for us. Thank the city of Los Angeles especially and we'll see you guys out here next year."
Yes, thank you, LAPD, Santa Monica Police, the mayor's office and Beverly Hills. And thank you, city of Los Angeles, for backtracking and not ordering anyone to be arrested.
But shame on you for thinking you could call this off in the first place.
There have always been crashers and there will always be crashers. And I'm still wearing my Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash Race 2014 shirt proudly, because as far as I'm concerned, that's what we did.
We crashed the Marathon crash race crash ride.
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For those who just want a fun and safe ride on empty L.A. streets, the original race was still exactly that. But for those who want to race, and are going to race no matter what, we need the Wolfpack back. We need volunteers helping with medical care, route guidance and organization.
Ward says he's working with the city and sponsors to make this race legitimate next year. And sincerely hope this happens.
We just want to keep it fun, keep it fast, and - with the city's cooperation - we can keep it safe.