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“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:


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:


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).


Rainbow 200

18 Jan

Sending mixed messages with my reflective gear and sunglasses...

The “Rainbow 200” is San Diego Randonneur’s first ACP brevet of the year. The course is a popular one, and the list of registered riders swelled from 40-something riders to (I think) nearly 80 by the time we rolled out of Doyle Park last Saturday morning.

I had warmed up by rolling over from my motel about 5 miles away, the morning was cool but I opted for just a SS light-weight wool jersey knowing temps would climb into the 80s later on. After signing in, I met Guy Laronche and we talked about bicycles as he was scrutinizing mine. Very nice of him to volunteer to be the SAG-wagon today, though hopefully no one required his services.

I chatted with Jack Twitchell (who was riding alone rather than on his tandem), Eric Anderson (who I’m happy to hear was engrossed in The Magic Mountain), and Jim Swarzman, and was introduced to a number of other riders as well:

Captain Jack makes ready to take sail...

Eric gettin' bent...

...brevets aren't races (or are they? 😉

I was off with the front of the group, using my usual lazy strategy of following people who know the route better than me to avoid having to do much navigation until I was out away from the city. It was a motley crew congregating at each stop-light with many Furnace Creek 508, RAAM, Hoodoo 500, and other ultra-racing veterans present. Jerald Cook was off right away, as if his time-trial bike had been shot out of a torpedo bay – nobody was trying to hold his pace at this point, and we had a large and (almost) leisurely group until somewhere around Rancho Santa Fe. Many of us were enjoying the draft provided by Adam Bickett and Anabelle Lau on their tandem (they put forward an excellent effort despite suffering a double-flat), so I think there was some initial reluctance to push the pace. Someone was calling out road hazards in Spanish: “Hoyo!” “Agua!” “Hoyo Negro (pero no agua negro…)”

Just as I was starting to settle in for a sanguine/convivial ride, George Vargas and Balvindar Singh (riding his first brevet!?) broke away. I tried to match their pace and realized there was no way I could sustain it for more than a few miles, so I dropped back to band together with a group of 3 riders (Marty Sedluk and another guy from Ohio I think, and Collin) who were trying to bridge the growing gap. This pace was an improvement, but when we hit some head-winds along the way up Del Dios Highway, my pitiful pulls weren’t helping any of these bigger guys…and after a few pauses to try to get some snapshots of the dam and Lake Hodges, I stopped trying to stay with them:

Bye guys...

Jim Swarzman, Chris Kostman, and a few other riders caught up and we spent several miles together before I went off again around Harmony Grove catching up to a guy named Keith who I rode with into the first control – a table with water, fig bars, and bagels – at the base of the long steady climb up San Elijo. He needed a pit stop, so I was on my own from here on out.

This part of the county is full of pastoral farmlands, miniature woods and ponds, and if the street names are any indication, while obviously affluent, the area seems inspired more by a story-book than a pocket-book: Elfin Forest, Windy Willow, Frog Hollow, etc.

Collin was a few minutes ahead of me at this point, as he too had dropped back from the blistering pace being set by the lead group. I watched him leave the Deer Springs control as I pulled in. Jaime was manning this one (no receipt needed at the AM/PM) – he had quite an eventful worker’s ride, breaking a chain and fighting off a dog among other things…we chatted briefly while I topped off my water and popped a Clif bar into my jersey pocket:

Control #2

Most of the climbing is concentrated into the next 25 miles, and the terrain and traffic patterns shift quite a bit as you roll by absurd tourist attractions (e.g. The Lawrence Welk resort), through “traffc calmed” Old Castle, by idealic organic pastures, citrus fields, and foliage shielded descents (Lilac Rd), and up steep avacado and razor-wire lined Couser Rd (the twisting double-digit grade rewards you with one of the best down-hills in the San Diego area…my fenders came in handy here as well, as parts of the valley floor were still flooded).

You can almost hear the treacle tinkling of "champagne music" in the distance...

...smell the automobile pheremones?

One more series of rollers and climbs along Rice Canyon (where you dodge a number of loose dogs) and you reach the heart of ride, the minute town of Rainbow – also the 3rd (and final, until the finish) control of the day. The Reynolds were volunteering and had brought a magnificent spread of hot soup, home-made bread, fresh fruit, tons of water, cytomax, and so on. Collin was here for a while, but I let him roll out without me, as I wanted to take a longer break and enjoy the food and conversation on offer (John Hilliard was here in his ’07 PBP jersey, having ridden some crazy distance without actually participating in the official event today). After 10 minutes Kelly pulled in behind me, with a larger group not long behind – I downed a chocolate milk from the store, washed my hands (which were covered in grease from dropping my chain on Couser), and carried on.

Help yourself to anything...

One more mild climb and I was back to the highway, with no shoulder and busy traffic, my urban commuting experience came in handy here – and I made my way to River Rd fairly quickly. From here, I knew my way, familiar with the ever-present headwinds of the bike path into Oceanside and the crush of traffic lights and pedestrians along the coast. I paused when I reached the place in Encinitas where I crashed on last year’s 400K, getting a better idea of what had gone wrong so as not to repeat it – the bike lane comes and goes throughout this area, so if you don’t keep your head up you can fly right into a parked car, a planted median, or a gaping pot-hole – I opted to take the lane instead of weaving back and forth, which got me buzzed a couple times, but that just made me pick up the pace further.

So many surfers and beach bunnies were out in Del Mar, Carlsbad, etc there was no hint of it being Winter – this must have been a surreal feeling for the riders visiting from Seattle or back East. to enlarge

The final climb of the day is Torrey Pines which I grinded up at a slower cadence than I thought I should have – near the top I looked down and realized I was in my big ring (oops)! A series of stops and turns through UCSD and I was back at Doyle Park, finishing in ~7hrs 47min – more than an hour behind the first finisher(s), but I didn’t mind getting a bit more of my money’s worth. Very glad I came down for this ride!

Many more reports of this year’s ride are online. A sampling: Mark’s, George’s, Kevin‘s, and Steve’s.

Views of Anacapa 200K

11 Jan

Being somewhat new to cycling I wasn’t aware that traditionally New Year’s Day is not a day of rest, but rather a day of toil (and camaraderie). My buddies (some quite hung-over) tried to goad me into joining them on the 40th annual Mt. Wilson climb or the 10th+ annual PCH Ride or the Rose Parade Ride – all venerable traditions that draw between dozens and several hundred participants. I opted to start the decade off with the PCH Randonneurs, and begin whittling away at my Super-Randonneur series (200K+300K+400K+600K) at once.

I rode over to meet my buddy Marcus to hitch a ride with him to Moorpark – he was feeling a bit green, less from a late night and more from an excess of jalapeño poppers (not my first choice for carb-loading). We stopped by our RBA’s place, parking the car and unloading our bikes. We exchanged some friendly words (and some antacid) with the Twitchells who were mounting their tandem (which they put over 5,000 miles on last year) across the street from us. We headed down to the strip-mall parking lot meeting spot, forking over cash and waivers for brevet cards and coffee. I stopped into Vons and ate a doughnut and downed a bunch of carrot juice.

The turn-out was decent (25 – 30 riders I think), several of whom I didn’t recognize from last year’s Summer/Fall series. One of cycling’s most boisterous (and quietly accomplished) personalities was in attendance, David Nakai – whose banter (and heavily decorated bicycle) had everyone giggling. A few instructions regarding an info control and a “secret” control and we were off.

Jim Swarzman went flying off the front of the pack on his old Fuji time-trial bike, and a handful of riders chased after him. Out of breath and spinning rapidly to warm up, we caught up with him at a light. Marcus said, “Jim…just because you’re on a time trial bike doesn’t mean you’re in a time trial.” He zoomed off again complaining of the cold. I stayed on Jim’s wheel, thankful for the protective draught (I’d not brought my gloves, and it was 32F) as I clenched my numb hands. Shai was with us for a while, but disappeared on the first steady grade (he was on a fixed gear). Passing through the citrus groves, the roads were virtually empty, the sound of propellers (warming the air around the crops) was the only thing disturbing the calm.

Besides Jim, another accomplished cyclist, Jeff Dewey was soon up with our miniature break-away as well. In between mashing sessions he regaled us with tales of Paris-Brest-Paris in 1995, crazy DIY repairs he’d made to his (really cool custom) bicycle, etc. The three of us mostly stuck together, occasionally being passed by Greg Jones (our RBA) in his pick-up truck  as he drove ahead to take our photo, set up signs, and prepare controls.

We passed through Ventura, checking out the impressive city hall building briefly (too briefly to photograph, you’ll notice) before reaching the [Casitas?] Bike Path. This part of the ride was one of my favorites as it had a post-apocalyptic feel to it – we passed by enormous active oil derricks, but also huge rusting hulks of gas/oil storage buildings (some covered with evil looking graffiti), the ground nearby covered with vile muck or submerged in viscous panes of contaminated water. Abandoned vehicles and structures flanked us on both sides, rotted out to an impressive degree. We traded half-serious jokes about Superfund sites and holding our breath.  I kept expecting a zombie to leap from around every corner, and certainly some of the joggers we encountered did seem to be stumbling forward in a trance.

Once through this miasmic tunnel we began our gradual climb up to the [O…? Store] control where we paused for bathroom breaks, chocolate milk, water, granola bars, bananas, etc. The beer selection was surprisingly varied for a small outpost far from the city but I decided against cracking open a cold one in preparation for the ascent of Casitas Pass.

More and more cyclists appeared, from at least two large clubs, though nearly all of them had started from the other side of the hill. My haphazard attempts at photographing the lake resulted in frustration so I picked up the pace instead. Both Jim and Jeff are very nimble guys (Super Featherweight I think) – I was afraid of getting dropped for the day on the climb, so I pulled ahead here, hoping to catch them on the downhill. I thought they were right on my wheel, but when I finally peeked behind me there was no one there. It turns out they were chuckling at me for rushing ahead seeing how Casitas Pass has a dip in the middle, followed by a second climb before you are truly over the hill…something they let me learn on my own.

As I neared Carpinteria, things began to look familiar as I’d been on the same road at various times in the past. As I was leaving the control, Jim and Jeff were just getting in, separated by a minute or so. We wouldn’t see one another again until the end.

The route from this point was familiar as it was basically the same thing I did on the Malibu Coastal Cruise. Consequently I didn’t really scrutinize my route sheet until I was at the next control in Port Hueneme where I realized the route sheet I had printed had cut off well before the end (oops!). After re-fueling, I soft-pedaled a bit, expecting Jim to catch up any moment; actually, he had passed me while I was dawdling at the control (Jeff meanwhile was taking an extended lunch break).

I waited for a bit at the Naval Air station at Las Posas and PCH (the latter was closed which should have clued me in) and then called Greg and Lisa (RBA and wife) for summarized directions to their place (the finish).

I’d been dodging construction/road repair and facing a mild but persistent headwind (going the opposite direction than what is normal for the coast) up until this point, so it was nice to turn in-land and feel a boost from the tail-winds enable me to shift to my 50×12 and churn after my sub-8 hour goal. As I made my way up the final extended climb back towards Moorpark, a very polite woman with a British accent and a clipboard rolled down her window and asked my name and if I wanted something to drink. I wasn’t aware that anyone had volunteered to offer support on the brevet (and I couldn’t see Pete, the driver, who I would have recognized) – so I quickly (if not suspiciously) said no thanks and prepared for the final push.

I pulled into Greg and Lisa’s place after 7 hrs and 43 min – amused to see Jim lounging around like he’d been there for hours (well, he had been there for at least 30 minutes). I enjoyed a couple root beers, a wonderful bowl of soup, dark chocolate bars, and home-made pizza (honestly, their wood burning oven was the primary inducement for me doing this ride!) while congratulating the other riders as they trickled in over the next couple of hours. We chatted about how to improve the club, our plans for the coming year, ogling a couple custom bikes (one making its brevet debut I believe – again, I should have taken photos!), and enjoying the cozy outdoor fire

For the visual among you I can only apologize and direct you towards Dana’s post (which features some video footage), and a link to the map/elevation profile/etc.

3 River Trails 200K

31 Dec

My favorite mural along the SART (click to enlarge)...

On December 3rd, I woke up at 5:30AM, a couple minutes before my alarm went off – assembled the things I had forgotten to the previous night and headed out the door. It felt a bit like any other day commuting in to work, so I had to keep reminding myself that I was choosing to head out into the chill pre-dawn air for “recreation.” I took the subway downtown and then the light rail to Pasadena where my ride was to begin. I waited for 20 minutes munching on snacks from Starbucks, hoping my buddy Mannuel would show up, but eventually his cancellation text arrived instead, so I was off on my own.

My drive-train has been out of adjustment recently (just replaced my cassette and chain which seems to have fixed things up), so I was happy to ride a route which didn’t require much climbing (which exacerbates the chain slipping). This permanent affords a reprieve from the heavy traffic that comes standard with riding in urban Los Angeles as well – as a large percentage of it follows the extensive river trail system we have here.

The start is a fun descent through Sierra Madre past a variety of schools – the invigoration you get from this initial speed is tempered by the realization that you’ll have to climb this long hill on stale legs, 120+ miles later. The foliage had just started to change color and it almost felt like Fall (though Winter was nowhere in sight):

(click to enlarge)

After no time at all I had reached the initial information control, and was turning on to the river trail in North El Monte. The pavement was smooth, and the bike traffic was sparse – so I was able to watch the river more than the road, as it dropped off its storm-drain like bed into an unpaved area. The Santa Fe Dam controls the river’s passage a few miles down the road, though it is not the photogenic engineering spectacle that the Whittier Narrows are further down the path.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

I saw a kitchen sink near here – so I guess this permanent really has everything.

The Rio Hondo trail was a nice change of pace from the other river trails, flanked by nature preserves rather than the giant storm drains that our tributaries have largely been transformed into.

Nature reclaims what were once considered "high power" transmission lines...

Tracing the San Gabriel river from the Whittier Narrows – you pass former farms and ranches, now largely taken over by industry. Several large nurseries line the banks, using the run-off from the river to irrigate their stands of boxed palms and other decorative trees. The river itself is a concrete expanse punctuated by abandoned couches, feral dogs, city workers, kids on BMX bikes doing tricks on the steep banks, and occasional homeless men bent over their collections of detritus.

Whittier Narrows (click to enlarge)

Whittier Narrows (click to enlarge)

Someday I’ll figure out how to lace together panoramas…

It was a time trial down to the ocean, where I picked up the PCH around Seal Beach. I stopped briefly at the Starbucks Huntington Beach before heading to Newport. In Newport, I exited PCH to enter the bike trail which rings the Newport Bay Ecological Reserve. The trail is shared with equestrians and pedestrians, and as such it has a speed limit of only 10mph! Birdwatchers and school field trips further slowed me down so I relaxed and tried to see if I could identify any rare birds or plants in the estuary. Hoping to see some burrowing owls, black rails, least terns, or at least a pelican or three…instead there were only coots and ducks raising a ruckus at my passing.

The next control was at a McDonalds – a place I haven’t frequented in at least 16 years. I ordered a “milkshake” which I paid for and received in 24 seconds (so said my receipt)…”is there something else sir?” I was asked politely before I realized I had already been served. Impressive in a way.

Some Orange County cycling club was out in force, but not being allowed to draft them, I decided to push by all of them, hammering back up PCH until I reached the Santa Ana River Trail. Here there was some confusion as construction was blocking the entrance indicated by my route sheet. The detour lead me back to the highway, so I realized I would have to figure out how to get by on my own, switching sides of the river whenever necessary.

I remembered my first 200K earlier this year which ended by coming down the SART into a stern head-wind – happy that my fitness/nutrition/etc had improved substantially since then. I was free to enjoy the parks and freshly paved sections that I passed through heading North.

SART - freshly paved the margins sprayed with chemical seed...

Angel Stadium from the bike path...

Had I taken a few hours longer to get up to Placentia, I could have veered of course to The Bruery – but they weren’t open yet so I continued on to the next control where I spent a little longer scarffing down some brevet food:

The rando food pyramid well represented here...

No more bike paths from here on out, just a series of long mild climbs through Brea, Walnut, the Covinas, etc. The hills lent a remote feel to many of these miles, despite the proximity of a freeway just out of sight. Once productive oil fields are now dormant and filled with rusting derricks…riding thorugh here at night would be eerie:

(click to enlarge)

I got in an extremely low-speed race with a kid going uphill, both of us in our granny gears before I finally inched ahead and rushed past on the descent. I would have said hello but like many people I meet cycling on the roads he had walled himself off from outside stimuli with ear-buds. Oh well.

Climbing back through Arcadia and Sierra Madre after a long stretch on the Arrow Highway past more dams and nurseries, I was slowing to a crawl – eventually reaching the end of my ride after 8 hours and 9 minutes…not as fast as I was expecting considering how speedy I was reaching all the controls through Newport…but not bad.

Tomorrow is the new year, the new decade, and my first brevet of 2011.

Malibu Coastal Cruise 200K

7 Nov

Ready for take-off?

So, we are entering the “off season” for cyclists across much of the country – soon the cold weather will drive many indoors to their trainers, their rollers, or to spin class. Meanwhile (as recently as a few days ago), in Southern California temperatures still hover in the 90s as we flirt with the arrival of Autumn. Seasons here are barely discernable, the natural rhythms muted or contorted. On Saturday, it finally cooled off a bit, so it was a perfect day for a ride.

The “Malibu Coastal Cruise” is one of the more popular RUSA permanents, thanks to its gorgeous scenery and relative lack of elevation gain (only about 1500 feet over 208K). On Saturday, the PCH Randoneurs rode it as a RUSA brevet and we had a small but enthusiastic group show up for the ride.

I left home around 4:15AM, biking 34 miles to the start in Malibu, enjoying the empty bike path and the dark solitude of Topanga Canyon. On the descent, I realized that I had installed a fender stay bolt that was too long, as it locked my chain/drive-train up when I shifted into my highest gear (oops). I managed to take the rear wheel off and wrestle the chain free, switching out the bolt when I reached the start. All this work was for nothing; as someone else remarked, installing new fenders ensured that there was no rain.

Wanting to finish in less than 8 hours, I rushed off ahead of the group, reaching Point Dume on my own, passing a few groups of roadies on my way. Sea-gulls formed huge arrow-shaped formations, strung out over the horizon while hugging the water-front. Not long into the ride, Bruno (an experienced rider I hadn’t met before) passed me on his Merlin, and we traded pulls until Point Mugu, where he went off the front, and I couldn’t hang on to his wheel any longer. For most of the day, if I looked ahead of me, I would see him just out of reach:

Bruno breaking away on the 101...

I’d catch up to Bruno at the controls, and we even had a leisurely chat at the mid-way point in Carpinteria (I needed some time to re-fuel properly, as I was fighting cramps from the pace). When we turned around to come back home, we ran into Shai, Jim, and Marcus (the former two riding a fixed gear and a mountain bike respectively!) who seemed hot on our heels.

Bruno pulled ahead again on the way to Ventura, but by the time we reached Emma Wood State Beach, he was fighting off a bonk. I assumed he would latch on to my wheel, but a few miles down the road, I realized he was nowhere to be seen. I stopped in Port Hueneme to mix up some more electrolyte drink and down more chocolate milk, apple juice, and some jerkey and dried bananas – feeling better, I upped the pace when I hit PCH again.

The view of the beaches, some abbreviated coves hidden from campers and tide-pool invaders, were stunning – the ocean remarkably blue, off-set by the gray sky. Alas, my attempts to capture some snippet of these vistas range from the mediocre to the comical…

(click to enlarge)

On my way back over Point Dume, traffic started to back up – at the top, the CHP had blocked off the road entirely. Waiting a few minutes, I saw a car riding against traffic in the fat left lane, a long arm sticking out from its undercarriage across the right lane and shoulder, a camera mounted to the end. After waiting a little longer, the CHP waved me forward, and I was back on track.

(Stay behind) the CHP...

From here, it was up and down some rollers, watching the addresses slowly wind down as I got closer to the finish. I pulled in to the Starbucks less than 7hrs and 45minutes from the time I left. I had time to organize my receipts and eat a big chocolate brownie before Bruno arrived after 10 or 15 minutes. After that, I did some people watching for another hour before the other riders started arriving (the group just behind us in Carpinteria had stopped for a proper lunch). Everyone seemed to have a great day out there and it was fun talking to Errin and Marcus at the end, and amusing to see that my Casseroll outweighed even Jim’s mountain bike!

The path of the Surfliner along Los Padres (click to enlarge)

Lions and Tigers and Bear Divide

25 Sep

My ride yesterday was typified by triple digits – both in temperature and in mileage. On Friday morning, I should have been starting out on a 1000K ride from Seattle to Klamath Falls, but canceled that adventure in deference to the concerns of my family and doctors. As it turns out the challenges of the local 200K permanent I did instead were plentiful.

Leaving Pasadena at 8AM, the sun was already beating down, though the heat would exceed the forecast by 10 or 15º by mid-day. I kept cadence to the march of a group of Marines trotting along in the opposite direction in double-time. The climbing, mild as it was, started right away – dodging traffic through Altadena, passing by Descanso Gardens – then climbing over the Verdugo hills before descending into Glendale/La-Crescenta/Montrose and bombing down Foothill Blvd back into the San Fernando valley.

Then I started the first “real” climb of the day, up over Little Tujunga (discussed previously). I tried to hold something back knowing I’d have to come back over these twin summits later in the afternoon – but I was feeling strong, and my exuberance took hold when I noticed a couple cyclists weaving their way up the switch-backs overhead. Climbing out of the saddle, I pushed on eventually overtaking the two roadies as we exchanged brief pleasantries remarking on the (thus far) beautiful weather and low traffic. Rounding one of the final bends I encountered a greusome yet fascinating sight – it appears that Angeles National Forest is home to wild boar!

head and hooves are just about all that's left after the coyotes got to it

I should have stopped at Mushroom summit to eat, but I motored down-hill instead, making my way up to Bear Divide, and then down Sand Canyon past ranches where horses raced along-side me just beyond their wooden fences. I stopped at In-N-Out as a control, re-filling my water bottles and downing most of a chocolate shake (I ended up tossing the last third of the shake when a bee drowned himself in the cup). On my training rides I would turn East at this point, but this permanent had me continue West through Santa Clarita. Quail and squirrels (one weighted down by a hamburger sized payload) scurried across my path, but thankfully had the sense to stay out of my spokes.

Passing by the backside of Magic Mountain, I passed through a number of round-abouts as the roller-coasters grew in prominence. “Bayview,” “Island,” “Stanford,” “Rockefeller,”  – all examples of the street names flanking Bridgeport Park seem to reflect the aspirations of affluence common to the residents of this pocket of Valencia. Not much further down the road though and the idealic artificial rivers are replaced by bleak office parks and parched hills. Catching the draft of the numerous semis going down Highway 126 I was in Piru before I knew it. I re-filled my water bottles again and downed a large lemonade, a large chocolate milk, and a large horchata before heading back up the long false flats.

Piru Creek (click to enlarge)

The return trip just kept growing hotter and hotter; the tarmac was like a frying pan, roasting rattle-snake and jalapeño alike (I saw many of both). My energy was waning, and the rice balls I had brought to fortify myself had deteriorated to an inedible mush. The 12 mile stretch that only took 20 minutes the first time, took more than twice as long to re-trace. The mist from some sprinklers watering the orange groves and red pepper plants was all that kept me moving forward at times. Back in Valencia, I stopped three times in as many miles to buy more drinks, downing smoothies, carrot juice, coconut water, and re-filling both water bottles again at a park drinking fountain. I couldn’t seem to get enough liquid, electrolytes, or calories.

Slowly spinning my way up Placerita Canyon, I was supposed to answer a question on my brevet card (this serves as an “information control” proving you didn’t take any short-cuts on the route) at a particular cross street, but it never seemed to appear. Meanwhile, the road pitched upwards, growing much steeper than the maps I’d skimmed seemed to suggest. The canyon faces pushed in on the narrow road, and civilization fell away, replaced by scalding open spaces. I emptied one water bottle, and had to start rationing my second – both were the temperature of tea and did little to stave off the looming heat stroke.

When I finally reached Sand Canyon, I realized I either had to go back to Santa Clarita to re-fill my water bottles (and then re-climb the hill) or just push forward to Bear Summit where there was water at a campground/picnic area. I chose the latter, thinking I’d rather get the suffering over with (and doubting my resolve to finish the ride if I let myself get off route). The sun and the grade were unrelenting, and even in my “granny-gear” I was beginning to get terrible cramps in my hamstrings, quads, and calves. Each time I reached a shady spot or my leg cramped to the point that I couldn’t pedal, I got off the bike took a tiny sip of water and walked on (several times beset by bees trying to take up residence in my helmet). So began a pattern of ride, cramp, walk…ride, cramp, walk…ride, cramp, walk…until finally I reached Bear Summit:

no water!

Unfortunately the water fountain there had been capped and the water shut off, so I ended up begging for a few ounces of hot bottled water from a kind couple who were hanging out at the picnic area. I downed that in an instant and then coasted to a stop down to the base of the final hard climb of the day, back up Mushroom Summit. The cramp, ride, walk pattern soon resumed – and it was with much profanity that I eventually crested the final rise.

Coasting down the twisting descent (avoiding the wild boar once again), I pulled into the Wildlife Waystation, going around back and filling my bottle using a hose. Just as I was about to put the cap on, one of the women that works there popped out and said, “You can’t drink that water.” Turns out it wasn’t potable – she very nicely rinsed out my bottle and filled it with cool drinking water from inside the building, gently chastising me for getting water without asking and asking me to tell my cycling buddies not to do the same, else they get sick.

I’ve never tasted anything so good in my life.

I thanked her profusely and made it back to the valley in one piece, stopping at another 7-11 to re-fuel (alleviating much of the cramping). The rest of the ride was slow-ish but otherwise without incident. I ended up at the final control exactly 10 hours from when I started, downing one last pint of chocolate milk before taking my brevet card and receipts to the permanent route owner’s house and then catching the light rail and subway back home. The subway was packed with cyclists on their way to battle it out in bike-polo bouts, and most of those I talked to thought I was a bit mental for riding all day in this heat. I tended to agree.

My hearing problems seemed strangely to improve during the ride, though they seemed a bit worse while I was recovering the rest of the evening. I may need to see an audiologist to solve this, but full recovery could take months, so I’m trying to be patient (difficult for a music lover).

At the end of the night, after a much needed shower and a dinner of steak and chard (from our garden), I went to the store and rewarded myself with a gallon of grapefruit juice, a sixer of brown ale, chips and salsa, and some chocolate cake…

Rollers to Bonsall 200K

13 Jul

Koi seem to be my brevet 'spirit animal'

I rode the “Rollers to Bonsall” 200K brevet with the San Diego Randonneurs last Saturday. Rachel and I came in to town the evening before and feasted on quite a few properly grilled carne asada tacos at La Fachada. Well sated, we arrived back at the motel so I would be able to get a decent rest, but around 9:30PM I realized that despite all my careful preparation, I had forgotten both my jersey and bib shorts at home. The latter especially are something I consider a necessity for long rides as I find it impossible to ride in regular street clothes for more than 20 or 30 miles without suffering terrible chafing. For me, donning the lycra isn’t about looking cool or being more aerodynamic, it is all about comfort. So we frantically searched for and then raced over to a sporting goods store, arriving just 5 minutes before they closed. I had to buy some cycling shorts that were slightly too big for me, and a shirt (they didn’t have jerseys) that was slightly too small, but at least I would be able to ride the next day. With all this last minute stress I kept waking up throughout the night and hardly slept at all. Oh well.

Around 20 riders showed up for the departure which was great, although I think the larger numbers made it difficult to get everyone registered in time (we rolled out a good 15 minutes late). I noticed quite a few bloggers in attendance (Errin, Esteban, Jerry, Mark…), so read their ride reports if you want to experience Rashomon-like coverage of the event.

I had planned to find someone fast and local to follow, so I could focus more on riding than on navigating (there were quite a few twists and turns on the route, and I’m not familiar with the San Diego area). I ended up tailing Eric Anderson (a recumbent rider I knew from the SLO 300K), but after some long steep slopes I left him behind and found myself alone in the suburbs. I knew Jerry was ahead of me, but he was quite a bit faster so I never did catch up to him.

With caution and a little luck I managed to make it to the next two controls (manned by friendly volunteers who had plenty of fruit and other goodies available) without missing a turn. Passing through well manicured ranch lands between San Diego into Carlsbad, I found myself drafting a manure truck for a few miles. Quite a contrast to the posh surroundings, this was sort of a mixed blessing as the reduced wind resistance enabled me to coast most of the time, but the aromatics and particles making their way back to me left something to be desired.

The stretch into Escondido was rather unattractive so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a quiet wooded area just a few miles outside of town up on Jesmond Dene Rd:

My legs started to rebel around this point, as I was maintaining a brisk pace, pushing myself to work harder up the myriad long inclines. I got some respite coasting down Old Hwy 395, a 5 or 6 mile descent before turning off towards Bonsall. This was the northern terminus of the ride, and I had made it 71 miles in about 4.5 hours – so far so good. I downed some chocolate milk, rested for a few minutes, and then got back on the saddle. Eric pulled in just as I was leaving, but I didn’t wait up for him as I figured he would catch up with me later.

There was a lot of construction on the highway, so the route lead us over an abandoned bridge and through an unmarked path before spitting back out to civilization. As I turned towards the coast, the headwinds increased making the 7 mile stretch along the bike path into Oceanside a chore. I paused for 10 minutes or so to help a roadie fix a flat tire so by the time I had popped open a big can of coconut juice at the next control, Eric pulled in. We rode together along the coast, passing by outdoor concerts, beach parties, and through resort towns before picking up speed along the 101/Coast Hwy. Eric passed me, zipping down the descents, and when I thought I could catch up to him going up a long hill, I found myself dragging terribly.

Soon I realized my rear tire had flatted, so I pulled off to fix it. After struggling for 15 minutes to get a new tube on, I nervously pulled back out on to the road – as I couldn’t find the cause of the flat (usually a goathead or piece of metal embedded in the tire tread). Another group of randonneurs passed by me and I wasn’t able to catch up to them either as by now one of my legs was in quite a bit of pain. The beach was gorgeous along this stretch, but I didn’t take any photos as I just wanted to finish. Going up the final steep climb to Torrey Pines I chatted with a local cyclist briefly to take my mind off my knee, which swollen and strained was making me wince with every pedal stroke.

Passing by Sea World and Fiesta Island seemed to take forever as traffic was jammed in every direction due to the Over-The-Line tournament. With something between a smile and a grimace I limped back to the finish, happy that I had not gotten lost and that I had still achieved a personal record [~8.5 hours] for a 200K brevet despite some (minor) physical and mechanical difficulties.

After a much needed shower (I’m not sure how, but I was covered in so much grime by the end of this ride, people were asking if I had crashed), Rachel and I went out to celebrate, walking around a couple neighborhoods we hadn’t seen before on previous visits to San Diego, making stops at Velo Cult, Hamilton’s, Toronado, and The Linkery (where we enjoyed house-made goat head-cheese among other things).

The next day we spent some time hanging out in Balboa Park (where we went to the model railroad museum among other places) before returning to L.A. A great trip – and with the Summer heat finally coming on, I’m looking forward to a 300K in August and a 400K in September that both hug the coastline for pretty much the entire ride…