Archive | 400K RSS feed for this section

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.


Sunday Bloody Sunday

12 Sep

Blood Soaked Helmet (clck to enlarge)

There are few things randonneurs fear more than the dreaded “DNF” (i.e. Did Not Finish). We pride ourselves on our endurance and ability to overcome physical, mental, emotional, and mechanical obstacles to reach the finish line. On Saturday morning I started out from Simi Valley on my first 400K ride (~250 miles for the imperially inclined) – it would be my longest ride to date, but I was determined to finish in 16 hours (to continue to qualify for the R60)…little did I know I wouldn’t end up finishing at all.

Initially I was having a great ride, enjoying the foggy sunrise as I huffed-and-puffed up Balcom canyon, making my way to the first control at Fillmore with Jim Verheul. The fragrance of oranges and sage perfumed the valley out to Oxnard. I was ahead of pace at this point, and feeling good. In Hueneme I flatted, but was able to get rolling again without excessive delay.

Point Mugu was gorgeous as usual, and I glanced at the azure water lapping the cliffs all through Malibu. I played leap-frog with Jerry Cook and his riding partner (wife?), Molly off and on through Palos Verdes (where I added 13.6 bonus miles by having to back-track to a missed control), seeing JV once again in San Pedro as well before I realized I had to turn back around.

I stopped at a Whole Foods to re-fuel (coconut water, smoothies, chocolate milk – my standard rando staples) and was wondering why all of the people in line were so rude to the cashier, when it dawned on me that I had just crossed the “Orange Curtain” (into Orange County) [edit: Eric is right, this was in Long Beach]. I was hoping to reach San Clemente before dark, but I only made it to Laguna Beach. I passed Jerry for the last time as Molly was starting to bonk and needed a food break. I was flagging a bit myself, but managed to pull it together in San Clemente.

Once darkness fell, I picked up the pace again, zooming over the same roads I used on the SD Randos 300K – I made up quite a bit of time cranking out the miles over the I-5 (enduring a few honks from motorists not used to seeing a bicycle on the freeway), pausing only to pick up a Planet Flash tail light someone had lost on the side of the road.

Crossing through Carlsbad, Leucadia, and Encinitas, the road surface was the only thing slowing my progress, with some serious potholes and cars passing a bit too close for comfort (requiring me to take the full lane). With only 3 miles left, I was going to finish somewhere between 16 and 16.5 hours…I was in my highest gear, motoring along with a mixture of fatigue and confidence when I somehow ran into a median. I saw it just in time to try to hop over it (I think a car was passing closely at the time, preventing my escape), saving myself from an endo (and probably broken bones) – the hop wasn’t entirely successful either though, as I skidded on my side, hitting my head hard enough to knock myself out.

Apparently a police officer found me in a pool of blood (head wounds are pretty gory), out cold. The next thing I remember was being in the back of an ambulance, the EMTs asking me questions and complimenting my bicycle (which has some saddle and bar-tape abrasions and possibly bent/broken brifters but no frame damage) which they brought to the hospital for me. I had a CT scan to rule out cranial hemorrhaging, a chest x-ray (to make sure my lungs weren’t damaged), and a tetanus shot. The doctor eventually sewed up my gaping forehead (8 stitches), made sure my concussion was under control, and sent me on my way. Everyone in the ER was very friendly and competent, so hats off to the Scripps Lajolla staff.

The only thing I was upset about was that they wouldn’t let me go back to the crash scene and ride the final 3 miles to the finish – even after 5 hours in the hospital, I still would have finished in time…oh well. Time for some R&R and a new helmet to ready myself for the upcoming 1000K (which I hope I and my bike can recover in time for) at the end of the month.

Me "all cleaned up"

I'm still a blood-smattered mess this morning...