“Big Tujungas to Wrightwood” Permanent

1 Jun

On a whim I rode the “Big Tujungas to Wrightwood” permanent yesterday. At 217k with around 15k feet of climbing, it’s not the easiest route.

My day started out with some unexpected cyclocross action as I encountered a road crew paving the width of Sunland blvd – and with no real detours to get to the starting point, I switched back and forth between the gutter and the sandy horse trails (there is no sidewalk), passing through hot clouds of steam as an enormous machine laid down new asphalt.

With only three controls (the start/finish and Wrightwood), and on familiar roads, I eschewed a route sheet. After stocking up on snacks at 7-11, I turned up Oro Vista around 8:15AM, and began ascending Big Tujunga. Traffic was sparse and there were still pockets of green amidst the boulders, with small waterfalls draining into the creek. Flowers lined the roadside, and descents were a blur of yellow from all the Spanish broom.

Passing through the tunnel on Angeles Forest Hwy, you encounter Hidden Springs, but since the Station Fire, there has been no water here. This was also the first time on the ride I saw one of the dreaded “Poodle-dog Bush” plants:

Poodle_dogBush

Further up the road you get a good look at Mill Creek – worth a brief stop on the bridge to enjoy the sound of water and birdsong. At Monte Cristo station I topped off my bottles (the rangers/firefighters staffing the station let me fill up from their kitchen sink since the outdoor spigot is dry), then continued on up Upper Big Tujunga, chasing down a small friendly group of roadies before leaving them behind on the smooth 9 mile climb. Occasionally a motorcycle would blow by me at tremendous speed, but otherwise, this was a peaceful stretch with pristine pavement. A few mountain bikers, hikers, and jeeps were plodding around the off-road loops near Alder Creek, drawn out by the low water and early Summer warmth.

Reaching the Crest, there were still road signs from 5/17, warning of closures due to a bike race (Stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California, no doubt), but I would see less than a dozen other cyclists on the road today. As I climbed up to Chilao, the Poodle-dog bush plants increased in number – as did the number of speeding motorcycles and sports cars. I filled my bottles again at Newcombs, and gave a nervous glance at all the weekend warriors on their 3rd bloody mary. Thankfully traffic let up significantly after this, with only one group of 20 tuned BMWs pushing me onto the shoulder on the way to Wrightwood.

I was finding it difficult to eat while on the bike, especially while climbing, so I had to take a lot of short breaks in the shaded turn-outs (which were a welcome respite from the endless chipseal) to catch my breath and nibble on a bar or some peanuts. I feared I’d have to re-name this “Crampburst Summit” on my return trip, but I managed to go the entire day without a sign of my legs seizing up:

CrampburstSummit

I exchanged pleasantries with a lot of backpackers both at the entrances to the Pacific Crest Trail and along the highway itself. While the trail seems to be getting busier each year, I still envy these thru-hikers…but that’s an adventure for another day.

After Cloudburst summit, the climbing continues, with some rollers and descending before a long ascent to Dawson Saddle. I was spinning a very low gear, feeling a little sick and completely out of water by the time I reached the peak. I sat down in the shade for a bit, forcing myself to eat a few peanuts while distracting myself with the astonishing view down to the desert floor below. One of the rocky protrusions visible amidst the haze seemed to be Saddleback Butte – a surreal site to see it looking so diminutive when I found it a difficult and vertigo-inducing hike when climbing to its summit. Growing loopy, I imagined myself looking down from a Himalayan peak to wear I’m standing now at around 8000ft with a similar sense of unreality…I got back on the bike before my brain could zoom out to a perspective from the International Space Station.

Dawson Saddle Two Times

I was hoping to find some water after this point, but the final point where the PCT bisects the ACH only featured pit toilets. I climbed a bit further and finally found relief at the Grassy Hollow visitor center, a very modern looking and seemingly well appointed hideaway, where I luxuriated in the cool (albeit cloudy) water from the bathroom sink (the drinking fountain was not working of course). Here I ran into another small group of older cyclists, beaming with the look of recent retirement, though I’m not sure where they disappeared to.

The mile markers finally started climbing more rapidly as I dropped into Big Pines, entered San Bernardino county, and then Wrightwood itself. I stopped at Jensen’s market for a repast – though I couldn’t make myself eat as much as I had planned. I managed a small bag of potato chips (salt/potassium/carbs – the perfect bike food really), a blood orange soda, and a couple cups of fresh pineapple. I filled up on water, had a brief chat with an older gentleman who was admiring my Yeti, called home to let my wife know I’d be late (it was already 2:30PM by this point), then began the gradual grind back to Hwy 2.

My legs felt fine, but I was dogged by nausea all the way home, even on the downhills – so I had to pull over a few times as I re-traced my route, to convince my stomach to keep everything in place and to allow my fingers to regain their feeling from the chip-seal battering they were receiving (although the Spenco gloves I was wearing offered significant nerve protection). I’d been feeling sluggish on the bike for the last few days, but was happy to see that all the extended descents were allowing me to make up a lot of lost time on the return trip.

Falling rocks? Big Horn Sheep? Existential Dread? That tunnel ahead?

Falling rocks? Big Horn Sheep? Existential Dread? That tunnel ahead?

Blasting down Upper Big Tujunga with not a car in site, this is the perfect segment to hit a record top speed should you so choose.

I pulled into the finish around 7:15PM, grabbing an apple juice and a receipt. I limped home over the mangled pavement through the industrial areas along Roscoe Blvd, happily settling into a bath, then dinner, then a second dinner.

Rando-nesia must have set in, as I’m already planning a re-ride (hopefully I’ll feel stronger next time and convince some friends to join me).

http://ridewithgps.com/routes/4877443

Mudfoot Dirty Hundo

3 Apr

The Mudfoot Dirty Hundo must be one of the most well documented rides I’ve participated in (indeed, at times it seemed almost like a weird back-woods commercial with so many bike shops, bike manufacturers, and other taste-makers in attendance), so you don’t really need my ride report, but really I should keep writing, so…

Preserving this here so it will live on beyond a secret Facebook post or at least beyond my fleeting memory:

A very rough re-cap, sorry no photos (well, not from me, but here are a few from others):

mudfoot1 mudfoot2 mudfoot3

After leaving the shop, we watched the sun rise over a steaming avenue of freshly layed tar Caltrans was spreading in our path. They tried to turn us back, but all 110+ cyclists took to the sidewalks and went through the construction zone, much to the confusion and dismay of the laborers.

We rolled together (more or less) to Duarte, coasting along at 25mph, our giant motley group absorbing various packs of roadies, feeders to Montrose who failed to break away. Much urine was spilled at Encanto Park, where Al handed out rice/apple cakes and Leo passed around a flask of Whistle Pig. Al had a broken link and didn’t thread his repaired chain through the rear mech properly, so he quickly performed some surgery, removing the pulleys to get the chain back on without having to take out another pin – I was impressed.

We ogled other rider’s bikes while discussing “strategy,” which from my memory consisted of “bacon tastes good,” “hemorrhoids are lame,” “when are we going to smoke that doob,” and “hold on, wait up, I need to adjust my seatpost/headset/tire pressure/etc.”

Those who thought this was a race left right away, but we stuck around for a good 30 minutes.

We rode together up the 39 for a while, but when a roadie passed us and said something condescending, like “don’t worry, you’ll catch up on the dirt maybe” or something like that – I guess I took that as a challenge so I zipped past his team, and then the next team, and so on up until the turn off for the OHV area. Illy got there pretty shortly but after topping off our bottles and chatting with everybody that came up behind us, we didn’t see the other guys for about 30 minutes. We got worried that they missed the turn or something so we went back down to find them (“sheep-dogging” – a term Al taught me for that thing Troy is forever doing, scooping up riders who haven’t finished a climb yet). We found the team contending for DFL and they said they had seen some Bicykillers…maybe…back there, somewhere, flat tire…I dunno man. Then the rest of the crew turned a corner, and we saw them racing up a switchback, pursued by a giant orange snow-plough, which in his impatience, I imagined for a moment was Illy turned into a machine.

After topping off our water and just before the “mop up crew” started, we took to the dirt. It started off steep, loose, and exposed – and we stopped a couple times to take clothes off or put clothes on and so on. Illy and I rode together for a while, watching a girl come to a stand-still on a double-digit grade, then fall straight over like a felled tree. She was OK, I guess, so we kept riding.

Illy fell back a little bit, and I kept passing people, at first the slower guys, then big clusters of teams, then people with mechanicals and flats, then the faster teams taking a break, then fast guys/girls fighting cramps, or a bonk, or the terrain itself. Water crossings, 20% grades, big vistas, long forested canopies, sticky descents, rock gardens, sand, mud, bear scat, a hiker or two, a workman’s truck. Some guy handed me some endurolytes as I creeped past him, two of which I took and two of which I put in my pocket where they melted. Lots of downhill – enough that you could barely enjoy it ’cause you knew it meant you were either lost or that you would pay dearly for it on your way back up the Rincon. At the campground, 5 miles from Redbox, the climbing started again in earnest – a long relentless stretch, the last mile of which I had to walk parts of I was so shot – the sound of traffic on the 2 was both exciting and madenning.

I got to Redbox a little before 2PM (the fast well organized riders from Vive La Tarte and Cadence were there by 12:35PM), arriving shell-shocked, but to applause and high-fives. I recovered quickly thanks to the amazing spread of fried chicken, beer, Coca-Cola, donuts, bananas, water, potato chips, pretzels, PB&J, etc. all dished up by friendly attractive hipsters, what more could you want?

Illy showed up about 25 minutes later – we waited for Al for I think an hour longer? I think he was riding on pure anger by the end of the climb, making it to the top just so he could beat us up for leaving him to his own devices for so long. We ate, talked shit and stumbled around, waiting for the rest of the kooks to arrive – which they all did eventually, and around 4:45(!), having added Maceda, we started down Mt. Lowe. We hurtled down the mountain, trying to beat the sunset while staying upright (super rocky descent). Leo flatted. Matt flatted. I took a wrong turn briefly before catching back up.

City streets back to the shop where beer awaited. Good times. Dirty times.

Views of Anacapa #3

15 Jan

TL/DR: 126 miles; 6k ft. climbing; 7hrs 27 min.

This past Saturday I rode my first 200k of the year with the PCH Randos. This was my third time riding this course so by now I should know the way without putting in any “bonus miles” or having to scrutinize the route sheet too much.

After not posting for all of last year, in part because I didn’t have a camera to illustrate some of what I blather on about here, I picked up a Nikon V1 for my wife (yep, got married around 6 months ago) and I to use. Despite my excitement and anticipation (and all this preamble), I did not bring this wonderful new tool to the ride…so instead I focused on “crushing it” as my friends might say.

It was a particularly chilly start (don’t laugh, 26F is COLD for SoCal) so even though I donned leg warmers, a long sleeve jersey, and gloves…for the first couple of miles I envied those around me with their toe covers, their balaclavas, their base-layers, and their wool liners. Winding our way up Grimes Cyn, the wire fences enclosing the citrus groves were weighed down by a crystalline burden – each link baring a frightening array of icy fangs, gleaming in the sunrise. I chattered along, pursuing then passing Willie in his velomobile once the road began to pitch upward.

Alpacas looked up from their breakfasts, their breath rising gently in the shadows of the valley. The frenzied whir of windmills (to keep the frost off the oranges) droned on behind the steady hum of my drive-train as I concentrated on my cadence. Two old coyotes ambled across my path – one hesitating then trotting back to the other side of the road – flanking me as I passed, their gaze like two wizened sentries guarding some ancient citadel.

About 20 miles in, a small group including my friend Mark, riding his first brevet caught up with me at the info control in West Saticoy on the outskirts of Ventura. We stopped briefly as a volunteer (Foster?) initialed our brevet cards before continuing west over a few more rises towards the city. In a few minutes I was out in front of the pack again, pausing only to duck into the bushes briefly on the bike path up towards Casitas.

Indeed my pace-making was working well and the last I saw of any riders for the day was Jeff Dewey pulling into the first control as I was mounting up to leave.

Fueled primarily by chocolate milk I climbed Casitas pass without fanfare and enjoyed the sun on my face as I continued on into Carpinteria. In and out of that control in 5 minutes, I made my way to the 101, enjoying the gleaming Pacific to my right and the occasional draft of air sucking me into the wake of passing 18-wheelers and RVs.

I was riding my Salsa Podio, an aluminum machine with high pressure 23mm tires and a standard double crank – better suited for a crit than a brevet – though I was making good time, I felt every imperfection on the rough stretch of road on the way to Emma Wood state beach. My hands and knees were crying out for me to slow down, but the clock continued to dominate my actions.

A couple blocks of back-tracking at my usual wrong turn in Ventura, then lots of broken glass and an increasing headwind through Oxnard brought me unscathed to the control in Port Hueneme. More chocolate milk and apple juice and I was racing forward again on my sluggish time trial. The wind had really picked up, but this made me happy because I knew that it meant a strong tail-wind back towards Moorpark, and it was indeed a relief to be flying down Las Posas, nearing 30mph on the flats with ease despite my growing fatigue and smarting knees.

The final long grade up Santa Rosa Rd is a psychological barrier for many riders on this route, and it’s easy to find yourself cursing every stop light that isn’t the street you were hoping to turn on. Each time I caught myself getting impatient with the road I took a deep breath and looked at the ridge-line above me watching the miles unfurl slowly beneath my tires as I edged nearer to the crest.

Once on to Tierra Rejada, free of flats, I rode hard again in to the finish, surprising Greg and Lisa who hadn’t expected any riders to come through so early. Shai (pictured with me above) came in about 15 minutes later, the first fixed rider, followed by Jeff Dewey and my friend Mark to round out the R-60 speed group.

After that we enjoyed a couple hours of good food (fresh wood-fired pizzas to order) and good conversation, which all solo adventures aside, is one of the more lasting appeals of cycling.

Rapha Festive 500…in one day:

28 Dec

"Pathei Mathos" - Aeschylus

Being car-free, I generally see my parents only once a year, despite them living less than 3 hours away when traveling by said vehicle. Given our remarkably pleasant “Winter” weather here in Southern California, I decided to make the trip up via bicycle. At first I mapped out a 400K route up Hwy 33, but when all my friends started posting about the Rapha Festive 500 challenge (completing 500K between December 23rd and December 31st), I thought, why not take the coastal route up? Being a randonneur, of course there was no question of stopping along the way…

After making a big Christmas dinner for 20, I washed my Yeti Arc-X, put on a new pair of brake pads, charged the batteries for my lights, and got ready to leave the next morning.

L.A. seemed as sleepy as I was with very few stores opened post-holiday. I enjoyed the unusual lack of traffic as I warmed up through the various communities that make up the San Fernando valley.

I dropped my teeth off to prepare for a wedding...?

Following The Old Road up past Magic Mountain I turned sea-wards towards Ventura. The highway through Heritage Valley (Piru, Fillmore, Ventura) was a little rough, but scenic and fast (as long as I stayed off the rumble strip, the slipstream of the myriad semis and RVs helped me along. While there were still many rows of citrus and avacados, I noticed all the bell peppers that flanked the highway on my previous visit had been replaced by sod farms – turning much of the valley into a massive lawn. In Piru I stopped and bought three chocolate milks, dumping two into one of my water bottles – a strategy that worked so well I continued it for the rest of the trip:

Ride fuel...

Making good time without excessive effort, the weather largely clear and warm, I paused to take in the landmarks (such as the palacial grandeur of the Faulkner House) and even steal an overhanging orange or two along the way. I rode in and out of a light marine layer along the edge of the Pacific as I exchanged greetings with a few beach-combers picking their way along the railroad tracks next to the Emma Wood trail. Between Faria and Carpinteria, crowds of rotund RVers crouched around their hibachis on one side while super-fit surfers stripped off their wet-suits on the other – I raced through as if running a gauntlet of alternate universes. With little fanfare I passed through the nurseries of Summerland and the wildlife preserves of Santa Barbara before stopping once again to refuel and check in with my family. At this point it seemed the only suffering I would have to contend with was mild discomfort at being a touch overdressed for the weather (a balmy 65 degrees). I considered taking a more strenous detour up and over the Los Padres range…but then realized I was less than a third of the way into the ride.

Click to enlarge...

The glare of the setting sun matched the din of freeway noise as I rode out of Goleta along the rollers of the 101. After a sustained climb into a headwind, I reached Solvang (and thanks to a wrong turn, Buellton) by nightfall and paused to fill my bottles once again. A young guy came up to ask me how I liked my SRAM Apex group and to wish me a safe journey, while the cashier (a warm cantankerous lady with a few missing teeth) told me she envied my youth as she used to be as active as I. These small interactions are more worth dwelling on than the few negative one’s - like the unhelpful honks or screams by passing motorists one grows as accustomed to as a duck does water.

As night fell, the temperature began to drop, but I remained cozy in my wool bib knickers and (product placement ;-) long sleeve jersey. I slowed down through Los Alamos, tempted by the aroma of pizza wafting out of a glowing store-front along the main drag (which resembles a Hollywood western set). Nearby you find some good climbs along the pitted tarmac of Drum Canyon or the smoother ascent of Foxen Canyon…but I headed straight for Hwy 135, aware that I was barely halfway to my destination.

Away from the city, the moon loomed overhead like a macabre set piece, the curve of it’s shadow like a malevolent smile. A rocket launch from Vandenberg would have been awe inspiring, but I made due with a couple shooting stars instead. Near Orcutt I got on Hwy 1 – this section is designated a coastal bike route, but the stretch from here to Pismo seemed especially treachorous thanks to the lack of shoulder, and frequent motorists and pot-holes. I hurried on to Guadalupe for another convenience store pit stop, perusing the hand-drawn Spanish flyers advertising rooms for rent or lost and found dogs while a nearby noisy drunken crowd made me happy that I would be well clear of any taverns closing at 2AM.

From Pismo Beach, I missed my turn, and spent half an hour in a mix of back-tracking and illegal freeway riding until I got back on route into San Luis Obispo. Here a car of teenagers followed me around heckling me unintelligably until I rode into some bushes to ditch them and make water. Back on the 101, my cue sheet led me onto some unpaved pitch black forest roads which branched off without any clear signage other than warnings about buried wires. Unsure of myself, I went back to the 101, and began the ascent of the Cuesta grade. As I spun up the hill, I noticed a small headlight on the shoulder not far behind, so I soft-pedaled for a few moments until another cyclist pulled up along side me. Late at night, feeling dispirited and facing a frigid climb (it had dropped into the low 30s now), this hardy commuter appeared like a ghostly apparition at just the right moment…for a second I wondered if I was hallucinating.

“Hey there, where you headed?” I inquired a little too eagerly.

“Well…just going home.”

Turns out this was his daily (or as is often the case, nightly) commute from SLO to Atascadero. We chatted briefly about directions, equipment (lights) and when I mentioned I had started my day about 15 or 16 hours earlier in L.A. he perked up right away and said he was also into long-distance riding. In fact, he had ridden The 508 solo.

“Hey, wait a minute…what’s your name?”

“Terry…”

Even in my groggy state, I immediately realized this was Terry Lentz, overall winner of the Furnace Creek 508 race in 2010, when he finished in just over 29 hours while riding a “classic” (i.e. no post-1983 technology) bike no less. Talk about inspiration just when you need it! While 20+ years my senior, I knew I’d have to work to keep up with him once we crested the grade though on the way up he was content to chat amiably about everything from the specifics of the climb (2.3 miles, 6.6% grade) to memories of our departed mutual friend (Jim Swarzman). He bid me farewell as we exited the freeway in Santa Margarita where I found my way to Hwy 58. I paused to put on a jacket and consider one last time just what I was getting myself into, surrounded by nothing but the blanket of darkness pierced by stars and the glowing eyes of raccoons, skunks, possums, and other nocturnal companions.

A Sherriff drove by as I began to climb…the last vehicle to pass me for at least 50 miles.

I had filled one of my bottles with Frappacino, hoping the caffeine would power me through the wee hours in concert with the extended climbs which punctuate the rural roads out here in the boonies. This might have worked better had both of my bottles not frozen solid before I even crested Hwy 229. Here the road was a smooth ribbon of old asphalt, a single lane with no paint or reflectors anywhere to be seen. Civilization fell away and the temperature continued to drop down into the low 20s, then the teens. My machine protested, the cantilevers covered in ice and engaging with a horrible crackling sound, my spokes pinging in distress. The muscles in my eyes began to shiver and cramp strangely as ice seemed to form briefly in my tear ducts and my glasses fogged over. I cursed my cheap work gloves, my lack of liners, my lack of toe covers…could I make it to Shandon or even Creston (whose hidden dwellings make it more of an afterthought on a map than a real village) without frostbite? The visibility got worse and worse and I could only laugh at my predicament while my cadence dropped as my knee began to complain. From the 41 to the 46 it was as if I was in a fugue state, and when signs of life finally appeared once again, they seemed alien and hostile. A barn rose up as impenetrable as a shadow cast by stone ruins…near Cholame, where the long-haul truckers drive all night, the warm body of a freshly killed coyote steamed furiously as it came into view.

I had slowed to a crawl over the long final climbs where Hwy 41 goes in search of Hwy 33 outside of Reef Station, the landscape blank and dead except for bobbing oil derricks, the horizon smeared by the brilliant monotone exuded by various prisons, agricultural warehouses and light industry. The site was bleak but welcoming as it meant the worst of the danger was behind me. I slowly reeled in Avenal where I pulled off among the sprinklers to eat a Cliff bar, though the icy gnarled claws that were once my fingers couldn’t pry open the  package. With less than 20 miles to go to Coalinga, I shifted into a higher gear and powered relentlessly along Lost Hills Rd until I crossed into the city limits and on into my parent’s neighborhood, pulling up at their front door around 6:15AM.

So 311 miles, solo, non-stop from the greatest of ease to the most dire of discomfort – nerve damage and saddle sores aside – going out with my parents to the store or for an enormous restaurant meal, I can hear the mixture of embarrassment and pride as they describe my journey to their bewildered acquaintances, and that’s reward enough.

Below are a few more photos from my journey; if you like, you can also peruse a map of my route.

Feels like Summerland

Faulkner House

Tracks...

Marine layer breaking up...

Sleepless in Solana

6 Aug

Catching up on documenting some older rides, this one was from March 19, 2011:

Anza Borrego Wildflower Field

Just a glimpse of the fields filled with wildflowers on the periphery of Anza Borrego. Crows would rise above the swaths of yellow, like one of Van Gogh's late paintings brought to life.

The first 400K I attempted last year was thus far my only DNF (thanks to a chance meeting with a median a scant 3 miles from the finish) – a fast 400K down the coast which was to end in Solana Beach. What brings me back here, this time via a much more difficult route?

While focusing on a fast finishing time is one challenge (and I’m still thinking about how to complete my R-60), there are many other proving grounds for the endurance cyclist. Bad weather, navigation errors, road closures, mechanical failures – the sane cyclist dreads such phenomena – but the seasoned randonneur is undeterred; and while often consummate planners, I’ve seen many randos cheerfully embrace these problems as a chance to exercise the intellect in addition to the body – to improvise, and to carry on.

I try to keep this spirit in mind as I doze off on the bus leaving late at night from downtown L.A., envisioning myself maintaining a contented smile as I suffer up yet another climb along the relentless course ahead. While many cyclists might see a difficult ascent, or a mountain itself, as something to be conquered – over longer courses you find something deeper at play. From a monolithic freeway to a tenuous strip of “unimproved” road, the surfaces we traverse carry us along, and ultimately we are shaped and molded by the terrain…

Sun cutting through the mist...

My train arrived in Solana Beach just after Midnight, and I had three hours to kill before registration was open. I pedaled up to Encinitas and back before I realized that the 24hr Mexican joint I was looking for (Rigoberto’s) was no longer open 24hrs. I went up to Encinitas once again to stop over at a similar taco shop (Filiberto’s) instead – right at the intersection where I split my head open last year. I took my time ordering and eating as a parade of drunken patrons exited from the neighboring bars looking for a late night snack. My cycling kit attracted more attention than I expected; one girl walked in off the street and caressed my face; another group sat down at my booth and started interrogating me; the security guard pushed an unruly gentleman into my bike (luckily neither were injured).

Eventually, I headed back to Solana Beach, tempted to take a nap in Cardiff, the sea brightly lit under an immense full moon. I chatted with the hotel clerk, discussing Milan San Remo, graveyard shifts, commuting, and so on, until Dennis Stryker (the San Diego Randonneur’s RBA) arrived with the necessary paper-work. A small group trickled in, mostly just before the 4AM roll-out. I powered through the dwindling night, spinning up Torrey Pines in silence, until Adam and Bal caught and passed me on the way up. I stuck with them for a while, curious if I could hold their pace – trading off navigational info (me with a route sheet, them with local knowledge and a Garmin) through the bike paths (narrowly dodging rabbits) and malls of San Diego.

At the first control, Bal discovered his rear rim was dented pretty badly, but luckily it would hold out for the rest of the ride with nary a flat. I downed some chocolate milk (my standard brevet victual) and went off after them once again. The sun rose, as did the pitch of the roadway. As we reached the turn-off for Alpine, I let Bal and Adam go, realizing that while I might be able to hold their pace for 50 miles…there was still a double century plus in front of me.

Stopping in Alpine, I went into a doughnut shop and had a brief but pleasant chat with the girl who worked there – then moved on up the hill, sad to see Alpine Beer Company closed (then again, it was still fairly early in the morning). The town seemed surprisingly provincial, despite being a close drive to San Diego.

Leaving Alpine...

Back on the highway, I began to take notice of the landscape unfolding before me. Large expanses of chaparral covered mountains crowned by fog brought to mind the central coast at times. The I-8 took me into the Cleveland National Forest – and eventually on to the narrow, steep, and wooded Hwy 79.

I passed through Descanso, pausing very briefly to admire a miniature flea market/trading post that seemed to cater to locals rather than (the few) tourists passing by. Digging deeper and climbing higher into the Cuyamaca sites, I felt like I was traveling through time in addition to space, surrounded by oak trees and misty meadows. As traffic abated, I listened to the subtle rush of the creeks as a cool humid wind passed over me like the breath of slumbering crags. The long quiet ascent continued as I crawled alone past the base of Stonewall Peak, and finally arcing around the fog enshrouded resevoir of Lake Cuyamaca. Here there are prehistoric artifacts, tools and arrowheads from the Kumeyyay, and a contemporary 7-circuit labyrinth – sites and objects that blend together as they become part of the shared landscape. I was a little sad to leave this ghostly contemplative region, but reaching Julian I was happy for the temporary respite from the chill air and hours of steep climbing.

Lake Cayumaca

Bridge over fertile waters (Lake Cayumaca is very well stocked with trout, bass, sturgeon, and more)

Ducking into one of multiple pie shops along the quaint main drag, I ordered two slices of pie, ice cream, and hot chocolate (well balanced, I know). As I sat down to enjoy my repast, Greg Sherman walked through the door. He was not on the brevet, but happened to be in town and graciously joined me for a brief snack and chat both of which went a long way to revive my flagging spirits in preparation for the journey ahead.

Continuing up to Warner Springs via Santa Ysabel I paused to refill my bottles at a dilapidated gas station. Here the road skirts along the edge of the Anza Borrego desert, with it’s bracing wind and famous wildflowers. Greg passed me in his car slowing to share a last sign of encouragement before heading up the road in time to see Adam several miles ahead. I faced a stiff headwind up towards Sage Rd, here a series of rollers, dogs, and pockets of high heat added some spice to the ride. By the time I was descending into Hemet, I was putting out a miniscule amount of power, and was happy to stop and eat something approaching a meal that I cobbled together from a supermarket.

From here I headed to Lake Elsinore after getting lost for a good 20 or 30 minutes. A compass would have helped me more than the route sheet in this section, but eventually I made my way onward towards Temecula back to more familiar roads.

The ride down the coast back to Solana Beach was largely uneventuful, though I got in just a few minutes too late to partake of a growler of beer and a large pizza from Pizza Port. After 19 1/2 hours on the road preceded by a sleepless night, I went upstairs at the finishing hotel to zone out/nap while the other riders trickled in. I ended up waiting all night, with one rider causing no small amount of anxiety after abandoning without telling anyone (thankfully it turns out he was fine) I enjoyed a free breakfast at the hotel and then a leisurely trip back to L.A. via Amtrak accompanied by Mel Cutler, who had finished his 3rd 400K in a single month with this ride (eating up the miles in preparation for PBP no doubt). 248+ miles with well over 13,000ft of climbing – all in all, an experience of endurance and discovery rather than performance.

Man down

11 Apr

I’m working on a few ride reports, but I just wanted to take a moment to remember a fellow rider, Jim Swarzman, who was struck by a Dodge RAM in Leucadia while riding a 600K (hosted by the San Diego Randonneurs) with his fiancée and a friend. After being air-lifted out, he died a few hours later (in the same hospital I was taken to when I crashed near-by last year). I didn’t know him long, and I didn’t know him well. That said, here’s what I do know:

Jim was a smart, strong rider; enthusiastic, committed, and while caustic at times, he was also incredibly generous, jocular, and always ready to help out rookies (myself included) with advice and encouragement. He was devoted to improving himself as a rider, as well as the clubs/organizations he participated in. I thought I’d ride a fast 600K with him, both of us fighting to complete our R-60s. I thought he’d be by my side shouting encouragement as he passed me climbing the mountains of Breathless Agony. I thought he’d make a superior RBA. But now he’s gone.

While he wasn’t a big man, to steal someone’s metaphor, he leaves a big gap in the pace-line.

I didn’t sleep well last night. I rode over to a friend’s house after I got the news, and on the way I saw a man teaching his little boy to ride a bike. I paused, watching the man run alongside as the boy pedaled tentatively at first, then furiously, as the man slowly released his grip on the saddle. Listening to the boy squealing with laughter, my thoughts turned black. How long before the joy and trust beaming from his countenance are violated?

When I got buzzed by an SUV on my commute in to work this morning, I had to dig deep to restrain myself. I thought about a story Jim told recently of chasing down and confronting a motorist in Ventura…

…and now, to make matters worse, checking the news, I find there is some speculation this wasn’t an accident.

What consolation can we offer his loved one’s? His friends and family?

It’s a tough reminder of how fragile we are out on the road, and lots of people, some callous, some caring, will say what we do isn’t sensible; that we shouldn’t ride for so long; that we shouldn’t ride through the night; even that we shouldn’t be out on the road at all; but out of respect for Jim, and respect for myself, I’m heading back out there, and I’m taking the lane.

Orange County Circle Santiago 300K

2 Apr

Haven’t updated in a while – but here’s a ride report from a 300K I did back on Feb. 5th with the PCH Randonneurs:

Down with the flu, I was unable to ride the “Santa Barbara Mission Run” 300K; so I rested up for a week then went deep behind enemy lines, crossing “The Orange Curtain.” A treacherous route awaited, 191 miles, 11k feet of climbing (with multiple double-digit “rollers”), 52º temperature swings, wrong turns, fast food…

The night before, I stocked up on “recovery drinks” at the Bruery, then Hollingshead’s, spending some time with my brother in Orange. He kindly dropped me off at the start of the ride in the middle of Foothill Ranch. There were a handful of reflector-clad fellow bike-dorks milling around the parking lot, and I chatted with Jerald and Molly Cook, John Hiliard, Shai, Bruno, and a few other familiar faces as we checked in with Willie to get our brevet cards. After some last-minute instructions, a couple dozen of us rolled out just after 6AM, rather tentative at first as none of us wanted to be responsible for leading the group astray (this being a new route, unfamiliar to the majority of the riders present).

A decent climb started right away, and I was pleased for the chance to warm up (having stupidly left my jacket and gloves at home) as we carved our way up Glen Ranch, Saddleback, and Ridgeline making our way slowly up into the dozing neighborhood on the edge of Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. I chatted with Greg Sherman, a strong rider who despite his intimidating countenance (imagine Bruce Willis on a Kestral) was quite friendly as we leap-frogged one another, me spinning and him mashing away up the hills. The sunrise painted Santiago Canyon a lush coral hue, which I admired without being able to photograph due to what would soon become a mild case of hypothermia. The descents featured 32mph winds and 32ºF temps, and before long I had lost all feeling in my hands, arms, and gums. Shai and Bruno, still quite jovial at this early stage of the game pulled up behind me, and with a brief stop at the top of a hill to have Willie sign our brevet cards, we sauntered down the valley as a happy albeit frigid quartet.

We passed by Irvine Lake, then dipped down through Irvine into the Back Bay in Newport Beach. Having ridden a permanent in this area, I knew the way, so took some pulls through the nature preserve in an effort to warm up. The route sheet had us snaking through a maze of trailers looking for a hidden entrance to a bike path – after many stops and starts I suggested we go back down directly to PCH, but hidden behind a bathroom, someone saw a tiny break in a wall, with the bike trail just beyond and we were off again.

We stopped at a McDonald’s in Newport Beach (I was looking longingly at a near-by taco truck, but I needed badly to warm up), where I fried my hands under the industrial-strength dryer in the bathroom in an effort to restore some feeling to my icy fingers. Bruno let me hold his half-finished coffee which did the trick – some elderly men seemed to order in slow-motion, and the previous frightening efficiency of this establishment quickly vanished. Eventually I made my way past the doddlers:

“What would you like, sir?”

“All of your cookies, please”

“A cookie…?”

“All…all of your cookies.”

My total was something like $1.39 for a fist full of sugar that would propel me onward all the way up the Santa Ana River Trail.

While a bit monotonous at times, I enjoy riding the SART – and since again I knew the way and felt like picking up the pace, I went to the front of our miniature pace-line. Greg would take a brief turn now and again, but mostly I lead the way. We passed a couple other randos on the trail (including Kevin), but they didn’t latch on and we were the front group once again.

We spread out then re-grouped a few times just before Corona, where I downed some coffee ice cream and some apple juice. We snapped a few photos and after a few miles of chatting I took off after Greg while Shai waited up for Bruno.

Bruno, Shai, Greg...

I lost sight of anybody in front or behind me after a while, as I settled in to my own pace up Temescal Canyon, narrowly avoiding a spill on a mixture of deep asphalt and sand as I gawked at the (motorcycle) bikers lined up outside of Tom’s Farm. Further up the road there I dodged the kaleidoscopic gore of a large pit-bull spread all over the shoulder. Further weird juxtapositions were ahead – with a huge billboard proclaiming the largest trout (20lb+) at Corona Lake  on one side of the road, with bleak and dusty graffiti-blasted bunkers on the other:

"Scenic" vistas...

I pulled into McVicker park to see Greg and Willie chatting, and I re-filled my bottles while Greg started off again. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he took a wrong turn back down a hill, so despite getting a little off course myself repeatedly, I wouldn’t see him again until the finish. I paused in Wildomar, downing some more chocolate milk and other munchies, knowing it was going to get steep and rural shortly.

Via Volcano, an aptly named invasive species-lined corridor up to the Santa Rosa Plateau was the first taste of pain. I could almost hear the laughter of the road engineers as I ascended at the pace (and gear ratio?) of a snail. This was really nothing though. There was time to imagine the vernal pools, the riparian hiking paths, the basalt planes, all just slightly out of view…all inviting a return to the area when time allowed.

Subsequent roads, their shoulders shat upon by avacado trees, featured grades so absurd they brought to mind the lithographs of M.C. Escher. Brakes and teeth clenched tightly, I rocketed down Los Gatos Rd as if I was descending a well. The idea of climbing this (as a group of “ToughRiders” did the same day) seemed equally preposterous. I worried the cyclists behind me would lose traction as they skidded through the deep pools of sweat and tears I left in my wake. OK, well maybe it wasn’t quite that bad. But really. These only vaguely qualify as roads. Many similarly named streets added further confusion and brief but steep bonus miles to the mix. I cursed the route sheet; meanwhile a mail-man cursed me, passing me for the fifth time in an hour, leap-frogging me like an autistic support vehicle.

Sandia Creek Rd offered some decent scenery at least, a few fowl and even fish were visible in this small tributary of the Santa Margarita River (perhaps the only truly “wild” river remaining in Southern California).

Somewhere outside of Fallbrook?

I stopped at an Albertson’s in Fallbrook, spending some extra time to make sure I had rehydrated and downed sufficient calories to make it through the rest of the ride. The oddly named “Sleeping Indian” Rd proffered yet more double-digit “rollers,” before I finally reached the San Luis Rey river trail leading into Oceanside. From there, it was on to the I-5 freeway, blasting along the shoulder at a furious pace past Camp Pendleton and into the San Onofre campground. I got a little lost here, but found my way into San Clemente in any case. The route sheet suggested a complicated detour through parking lots and bike paths which I found strangely baffling. Night had fallen and the climbing began again as I turned inland up through San Juan Capistrano. My mood declined at the same rate that the road pitched upward. Passing through rowdy crowds, dodging buzzed drivers, and trying to read street signs that didn’t exist made me more irritable. The rollers through faceless dreary subdivisions of Mission Viejo seemed to go on forever, as I spinned away in my granny gear.

When I finally reached Lake Forest again, I spent a stupid amount of time circling Willie’s house, climbing the same hill over and over. Eventually I found the right street and the right house; I was met with generous food, drink, and conversation at the finish – though I was confused to find myself the first rider in, until Greg pulled in 10 minutes later, explaining his own wrong turns.

13hrs and 27min, and I was toast…mainly glad the punishment was over. Rachel drove down and we had pleasant dinner with my brother and his g/f, who prepared us an impressive spread of dumplings:

...a sampling of the awesome dinner Jenny provided.

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