Archive | April, 2011

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.