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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.

Sunset 300

10 Aug

Until now, every brevet or permanent I’ve ridden has been a loop. Last Saturday I rode an out-and-back 300K from Old Town San Diego up to Sunset Beach and back. If you think seeing the same scenery twice is a bit dull, well you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong – on the other hand there are some advantages to a route like this: in particular a reduced risk of getting lost on the way back (of course I managed to throw in a couple bonus miles anyway).

The weather was fantastic – cool but not cold with a light marine layer hanging around for most of the day – this in the first week of August no less! Perfect for hammering without overheating. Carlton from Arizona had signed up, but didn’t show up at the start – I ended up following the wheel of another strong Arizona randonneur, Mike Sturgill (wearing his Boston-Montreal-Boston jersey – a very cool design) along with Jim Verheul on his ‘bent. After the descent down Torrey Pines, we chatted a bit pushing hard past the stench of the lagoons (sewage?) on through the still sleepy beach-towns. Our early start (4AM) and our high pace meant that we made it to Oceanside before day-break.

Next we entered the I-5, riding along the wide shoulder skirting the guard gates at the Camp Pendleton entrance. When we reached the bike path it was fairly rough, but the main concern was evading the dozens of cotton-tails darting in and out of the bushes, often running right alongside our feet or wheels. The cement looked like an abandoned air-strip, and after a long false flat we reached San Onofre – the campground is essentially a parking lot stretched out for miles, the ocean obscured by a short berm running the length of the campground, with lots of RVs and tents dotting the base of the small hill. Not much to look at through this stretch, except for some very fit surfers and joggers I suppose…

Heading into Orange County traffic picked up a bit, but there seemed to be more cyclists on the road than cars. We alternately blasted by swarms of team-kit wearing weekend-warriors, and once or twice were nearly sucked into the wake of a group of very fast riders (though I didn’t latch on, since doing so would violate the rules of randonneuring – you can only draft riders that are officially riding the brevet with you – though I doubt I could have kept up anyway!).

Before I knew it we were through Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, and rolled into the mid-way-point control in Sunset Beach. The highlight of this leg was the estuary at Bolsa Chica – with thousands of cranes drowning out the traffic! I paused at a 7-11 to eat another one of my onigiri, washed down with a smoothie, chocolate milk, and apple juice. After grabbing another chocolate milk for the road I raced back up to Mike who had went on ahead (Jim picked up the pace even more so). I mostly clung to his rear wheel on the flats, but would pass him on the climbs – we often split up to avoid the worst of the traffic and eventually he dropped back, caught out by a series of rollers and/or red lights. He passed me at a control in San Clemente, and I didn’t see him again until the end, as I got myself a little lost on the way back to Camp Pendleton. The ride back to the start was basically a busier slightly more painful version of the first 93 miles (it was especially painful to pass up stopping in to Pizza Port San Clemente – considering how good their beer selection is). It wasn’t exactly lonely though, as I once in a while I would exchange waves with some of the more leisurely riders still on their way up the coast as I rushed back down towards San Diego.

Nearing the end, my knee started to burn from cranking up the hills, but I pushed on even harder, figuring I was close to the 12 hour mark (I didn’t want to look at the time yet though). I pulled into the start/finish and was surprised to discover I had finished in just 11 hrs and 12 minutes! Pretty good considering I didn’t sleep the night before, arriving in San Diego on the train at 1AM. The pre-ride carbo-loading at Santana’s (a burrito with fries in it? – surprisingly good actually) and the conversation with John Mestemacher (who rode to the start from the O.C.!) put me in the right mood for a fast ride I guess…

Sad to say I only took one photo, and it didn’t come out – so you’ll have to make due with a map for now (or go watch Jim Verheul’s VIDEO he made from the ride):

(click to enlarge)

(Fast?) SLO 300K

16 Jun

Last weekend, I completed my first 300K brevet with the PCH Randonneurs, a big loop heading South from San Luis Obispo. Here’s the map. Apologies for the lack of pictorial evidence – despite the many scenic landscapes and small-town scenes spread out before me, my camera never left my pocket.

I completed the ride feeling pretty good, finishing in 13:19 including a few “bonus miles” through Santa Maria when I missed a turn, for a total of 192.8.

There were a dozen controls on this ride, which at first annoyed me – but as the route wore on, I began to appreciate having a reasonable goal to focus on just up the road, rather than getting bogged down on how many miles were left for the day (a line of thinking not especially conducive to enjoyment – Errin talked about this a bit on the drive up, and likened it to having a kid in the back-seat of your brain repeating “are we there yet?” ad nauseam).

I had one small mechanical problem about 25 miles in, as we were approaching Guadalupe. I shifted my chain off the big ring and somehow managed to knot it around the crank-arm in the most diabolical manner imaginable. Shaun and Errin both stopped to help me out, but thankfully I managed to get going again quickly without deploying my chain-breaker (which I’ve never actually used before).

After a pit-stop in Guadalupe, I pushed on in order to catch Carl, a strong rider from Arizona who offered generous pulls and interesting conversation. Eventually the “Twitchell Train” (the same tandem I failed to latch on to on the long descent down from Big Bear back on the 200K) along with Jim (riding his cool Masi) caught up to us and we formed an efficient pace-line into Los Alamos. I had planned to stick with this group as long as I could manage as it would make the ride easier and decrease my chances of getting myself lost – but things turned out differently.

As we left Los Alamos, the route began climbing Drum Canyon. I saw Eric ahead on his recumbent and further up the hill, Wade Baker. I’d heard a lot of people praise Wade’s climbing, so I figured, what better time to observe and learn something then up a 2.8 mile 1000′ foot climb on a virtually car-less road? So, I upshifted, got out of the saddle and began to mimic his cadence if not his form. As I pushed my way to the summit, I was starting to nudge my heart-rate and breathing higher than I would have liked, so I figured I wouldn’t be able to catch up. Once the descent began though, I found my 33.3 Jack Brown tires were a real boon, eating up the rough and broken pavement and the bits of shattered rock spread out over the tight switch-backs. So once we were through the canyon I found myself sitting on Wade’s wheel.

It soon became clear that he treats these events as training for long-distance racing, as he was maintaining what for me was a furious pace along the 246, riding low in his aero-bars and sipping Perpetuem, liquid shots, and other liquid nutrients with great frequency. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 20 miles I rode with him were among the fastest I’ve pedaled on flats, rollers, and risers. So while, maybe I should be sharing a picture of La Purisima Mission, instead my memories of this stretch are mainly of staring at a rear wheel and cassette while leaning far into my handle-bar drops.

After a brief stop in Lompoc, we turned up a moderate grade along Santa Rosa Rd. As Wade began his climb, I realized it wasn’t wise to try to match his pace much longer. I slowed down just a bit, and took notice of the beautiful ranches, vineyards, and fields surrounding me. Passing through Solvang, an outdoor BBQ tempted me to stop for lunch, but I pushed on through the climbs and head-winds along Foxen Canyon Road before I finally reached Sisquoc where I saw Wade once again just as he was setting out. I bid him farewell, knowing I wouldn’t likely see him again. I spent the most time at this control, half-expecting to see the tandem/pace-line show up at any moment (wishful thinking as there was a bit more head-wind to contend with). I was flagging a bit at one point, and saw a vulture circling above me, which made me laugh enough to forget my fatigue.

In Nipomo I was excited to find a place that served up hand-made tacos and had a bunch of workers sitting around b.s.’ing while enjoying their Modelo tall-boys in paper bags – sadly they didn’t have any horchata, so I settled for some more chocolate milk (poor-man’s Perpetuem?).

There were some dusty and ugly sections around here, but they were punctuated by vivid aromas from wild fennel to strawberry fields.

It was a little after this that I got lost and had to back track through Santa Maria to figure out how to get back to the 166, by the time I reached the next control, Wade was nearly an hour ahead of me, but no one was close behind as far as I could tell.

Over the rollers on Orcutt, I kept comparing the distance left to the distance of my daily commute in an effort to motivate myself.

Finally I made the circuit of San Luis Obispo and arrived back at Vickie’s house (who graciously hosted this ride and many of its riders, myself included) before sunset.

For those readers hungry for stats, I am afraid I don’t yet have a cycling computer to pump out data for me. For those readers who are simply hungry, here’s a list of food I ate on the ride:

6-8 dried apricots
3 umeboshi onigiri
2 dried bananas
1 boiled salted fingerling potato (would have had more but these had spoiled in the heat).
1 small bag BBQ Kettle chips

3-4 bottles worth of First Endurance EFS
2-3 bottles water
2 bottles apple juice
2 pints chocolate milk (although I ended up wearing a substantial portion of one pint when I hit a bump with the carton open)
1 small can V8
1 small strawberry smoothie (Jamba Juice)

All in all, a great ride enlivened by a cast of friendly cyclists and volunteers, though it did take a couple days of dog-tiredness to recover. Next up I’m planning on riding my first permanent (on a rental bike no less), a 200K up in Santa Rosa in a couple days…