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