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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.

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.

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)

Big Sur 600K

14 Oct

Last weekend I rode the Big Sur 600K: ~375 miles in 28hrs and 15min. It all started with tacos.

After taking Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner to Santa Barbara and squeezing my bike into the belly of an Amtrak bus, I reached Salinas just in time to check in to my hotel and wander down Kern St to the fabled taco truck, “El Grullense.” I hadn’t eaten all day, so in my broken Spanish, I ordered 6 tacos and a burrito. The lengua was great, but the carnitas…oh man, probably the best I’ve had. The pescado burrito was a bit dry so I drenched it in salsa verde; for veggies, I scooped up a big helping of grilled jalapeño and onions, and pickled carrots.

 

...in line just in time...

 

Soon after I wandered down to West Salinas (i.e. the “good side of the tracks”) where everybody else on the ride was staying. I said hello to the other riders, letting them admire my scar and hearing the admonition to “keep the rubber side down” from all quarters…then I joined a few fellow randos for yet more dinner, ordering grapefruit juice, a 20oz Negra Modelo, hash browns, and pumpkin pie. I guess I was being a bit too liberal in my interpretation of “carbo loading” because when I rolled out of bed at a quarter of 4AM the next day, I was feeling a bit sour and green. The front desk clerk and security guard were incredulous to see me leaving so early, my voice shaded with trepidation when I explained where I was going. The nausea didn’t abate when I got to the starting line. Lucky for me, Shaun (riding his fixed gear of course!) gave me a Rolaids which seemed to do the trick.

There were 33 other riders at the start, having come from Florida, Kansas, Oregon, and even Japan for the chance to partake in the journey. As we gathered at the start, here on John St., Steinbeck’s fitting words came to mind:

“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” – Travels with Charley

As soon as we started riding I was feeling much better, so with my annoying bell announcing every pot-hole, I went up to the front group, hoping to stick with JV and whoever else was up there to avoid having to do much navigating until I got to HWY 1. After a while the lights behind us disappeared, and there were three ‘bent riders and me, getting as low as I could in the drops to hang on to their wheels. We were able to chat a bit on the climbs – introducing myself to John and William – but they would fly by me again on the downhills. We leap-frogged this way for quite some time until somewhere outside of Big Sur (the first control of the day). On one of the longer descents I lost sight of JV and John, and on one of the subsequent climbs, Willie dropped back; he pulled in just as I was readying to leave the Big Sur General Store; I figured he would catch up with me eventually, but I never saw him again.

In fact, for the rest of the ride, except at a few controls I never saw anyone again – unable to catch JV and John, I was in “no-man’s land” for the entire time I was on my bike. While this presents additional physical challenges (since there is no one to draft or trade pulls with), the mental challenges of not having anyone to converse with or help keep the demons at bay were themselves formidable. At night, I saw the ghostly silhouette of a figure along the entrance to Point Lobos – looking back, the shadow had gone. Further up the road, a strange (seemingly covered in spines) animal clambered off the asphalt, just outside of my peripheral vision. The bushes rattled as I passed, teeming with nocturnal life:

At night, toward dawn, all the lights of the shore have died,
And a wind moves. Moves in the dark
The sleeping power of the ocean, no more beastlike than manlike,
Not to be compared; itself and itself.
Its breath blown shoreward huddles the world with a fog; no stars
Dance in heaven; no ship’s light glances.
I see the heavy granite bodies of the rocks of the headland,
That were ancient here before Egypt had pyramids,
Bulk on the gray of the sky, and beyond them the jets of young trees
I planted the year of the Versailles peace.
But here is the final unridiculous peace. Before the first man
Here were the stones, the ocean, the cypresses,
And the pallid region in the stone-rough dome of fog where the moon
Falls on the west. Here is reality.
The other is a spectral episode; after the inquisitive animal’s
Amusements are quiet: the dark glory.
– Robinson Jeffers; “Hooded Night”

With the sun creeping up over the horizon, the majestic and rugged beauty of the coastline became the only companion I needed for this first stretch. Cycling through this area gave a much better perspective on the scale of the landscape – revealing waterfalls, rivers, and hidden coves not visible or audible to those rushing past in an automobile. The succulents, the lupine, the fox-tails, even the livestock seemed unique to this corner of Los Padres. I kept Jeffers in mind, heeding his words:
“We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.”

 

The Big Sur (I was feeling a bit blurry...as was the photo)

 

I enjoyed the challenge of the climbs, chasing down bicycle tourists to say hello and see where they were going with their heavy loads (one guy had a fiddle case where a front pannier would normally be) before zipping down the twisting descents and on to the the next series of rollers. I made mental notes of various campgrounds to seek out or avoid later on depending how full they were. Hippies changing clothes, new-agers holding hands, joggers out for a run – everyone greeted me with an impish smile. Tiny glimpses of artist workshops, the Esalen Institute, Lucia…I started realizing there are more people here than I realized when passing through in a car. Reaching the tiny town of Gorda, I stopped to eat an ice cream bar and down some wonderful apple cider. While consuming the former, I did a bit of people watching. The men seemed to be haggard old itinerants, while the women were all youthful, gorgeous tom-boys…all the locals seemed on their way to the Jade Festival…there was something surreal yet charmed about this place and I was a little sad to leave…

After the climb towards Ragged Point, HWY 1 heads back down hugging the pastures full of Hearst cattle – the beef from which you can have in the form of a number of great sandwiches at a little store in San Simeon, across from the entrance to Hearst Castle…that is, if you can get over the off-putting stench of the elephant seals basking in their preserve. They seemed so lethargic, but riding a few miles further, I saw dozens of them bobbing and diving for fish – and began to realize how agile they are.

I pass quickly through the central coast, pausing near Harmony when I see a pair of young women getting off of their bikes. I’m about to ask if they need any help, when one of them turns brandishing a hand-written sign: “Hugs 4 Sale!”

“Free for you!” one of them says. I laugh nervously as I notice they have both stripped down to their bras or bikinis – and pedal on. It is starting to warm up, and my light-weight wool jersey is encrusted with salt. Hot winds are blowing across my body, slowing my pace substantially – it’s time for suffering not for affection.

Cayucos, Morro Bay, the Montaña de Oro – all frequently foggy and chilled, today they are windy, dry, very warm, and full of traffic. With this section, and the desert winds blowing across Moorpark, I think of all of us riders and remember Kerouac’s fearful thoughts in Big Sur:

…I suddenly notice as if for the first time the awful way the leaves of the canyon that have managed to be blown to the surf are all hesitantly advancing in gusts of wind then finally plunging into the surf, to be dispersed and belted and melted and taken off to sea –I turn around and notice how the wind is just harrying them off trees and into the sea, just hurrying them as it were to death –In my condition they look human trembling to that brink –Hastening, hastening —In that awful huge roar blast of autumn Sur wind.

 

...even the gorgeous Montaña de Oro takes on an ugly bronze aspect today...

 

When I finally pull into San Luis Obispo, it’s at Vickie’s place – and I’m met by her husband who invites me in for lasagna, chocolate milk, V8,  and rest with the same kindness and efficiency as he did when I was here for the 300K earlier in the year. JV and John haven’t left yet, and seeing them tells me I’m making good time even though they will leave before I’m ready to follow.

I sit for 15 minutes or so, cooling down and re-hydrating as best I can…then I’m on my way. By the time I reach Guadalupe, I’m starting to flag a bit, but I’m only half-way through the ride. I decide to try an iced coffee to see how that sits.

The 15 miles to Lompoc are surprisingly hilly, and I have to pull over at the top of one to put my reflective gear back on. Passing by Vandenberg I have a weird bout of dread mixed with desire to see a missile launch, but I reach the overnight control without any drama. JV and John are there, freshly showered and munching on snacks. I decide to just stink ’till the end, and load up on soup. I have a nice chat with Kathy Twitchell who makes sure I have more than enough food, and Errin’s dad is there as well, looking both patient and mildly anxious. I wait a good 30 minutes before leaving to do the 40 mile loop to Buellton, and I roll out as a few other riders (including Bill from Oregon I think?) trickle into the control.

I was sort of annoyed to see this little loop on the route sheet, thinking it would feel like I wasn’t making any real progress since I wasn’t jetting down the coast; instead, this was one of my favorite parts of the ride, as it was pitch black and nearly car-free on Santa Rosa Rd. Moderate steady climbs were punctuated by deer dancing off into the bushes as I passed, and the whirr of my chain was like the steady respiration of a machine. I remembered Wade Baker dropping me on this road on the 300K – Bruce saying we need to keep our voices down because one of the residents (an older woman) doesn’t like cyclists. Before long I was in Buellton, drinking another iced coffee across the street from the looming Pea Soup Anderson’s sign. Heading back to Lompoc on HWY 246, there were yet more hills, not to mention quite a lot of traffic, even late at night. A rumble strip bit into the shoulder and you had to concentrate carefully so as not to veer on to its bone jarring footprint. When I reached Lompoc for the second time, many more riders had arrived, most staying over for the night. I enjoyed a bit more soup, grapes, and an oatmeal/chocolate bar, talking to Errin and Shaun a bit before I was ready to confront the rest of the ride.

The bulk of the climbing was through Big Sur, but there was one sizable obstacle before I could get back down to the coast. HWY 1 ascends the San Julian grade at this point – a (I’m guessing) 7 mile climb that while not terribly difficult is relentless none the less. I settled into a pattern of climbing out of the saddle, then downshifting a bit and sitting to spin – taking a long pull from my electrolyte drink each time; I managed to stay in my middle ring this way and never cramped. The cool night air felt wonderful, and if the cars had cleared for a long enough time I had an unusual companion. Just overhead, I would occasionally see (and almost feel!) wings flapping slowly and purposefully as a great owl would soar past slowly, tracing the path of my front headlight to hunt for field mice.

At the very end of the climb, the road pitches up slightly, and I shifted into my “granny gear” to spin up this last rise, cresting the mountainous ranch region that serves as a sort of gateway into the Santa Barbara area. The descent was 2 miles at 7%, smooth and straight. While I don’t think I hit 50mph, I’m certain I was in the mid to upper 40s for some time. The road spits you out onto the 101, where I was greeted with a tail-wind which hurled me southward at a remarkable pace. I passed by all the hike-and-bike campgrounds that were my Plan B if I got tired along this section, not feeling that I needed them at all. The rumble strip and traffic returned, and negotiating each exit on the freeway was enough to keep me on my toes. When I reached Hollister Ave, on the outskirts of Santa Barbara my confidence began to grow, despite the fatigue setting in. I had one more iced coffee and began to ride through the city. This section was a bit difficult to navigate, as I had to stop often and check the route sheet with my flashlight to make sure I was still on the right track. Cabrillo, Castillo, and Carillo are all roads that run close together in the heart of Santa Barbara, and I managed to mistake one of them for one of the others. Luckily a group of cab-drivers was refueling at a Chevron, and were able to confirm my hunch that I could just shoot down State Street to the water and then get back on track from there. This worked well, but soon I was lost again, as one of the turns lacked a street sign. I was tired of skirting the 101, and after climbing half a mile up a hill I didn’t need to, I decided to just get on the freeway since I would have to in about 3 or 4 miles anyway. My speed picked up considerably, as I was anxious to get back on route before a CHP pulled me over or somebody driving home from a bar drove up onto the shoulder.

I rejoiced when I got past Carpinteria and reached the bike lane in Ventura, but I paid for my elation almost instantly with a flat tire. I managed to change it out fairly rapidly, but I knew my chances of finishing under 28 hours were diminishing at this point. I was spinning a lower gear for a while along Old PCH, enjoying the sound of the waves lapping the shore just beyond a long line of silent RVs. I took the bike path into Ventura, and then pushed on towards Oxnard with renewed desire as the sun was back in the sky. I stopped at the Oxnard control briefly, chugging chocolate milk and juice, laughing at the conversation I had with the clerk:

“Where you coming from?”

“Salinas…been riding since yesterday morning”

“Whaaaat the Fuuuu…?”

The fragrance of strawberries intermingled with the stench of the waste water plant nearby, and I dodged dirt clods and migrant workers on the shoulder on my way up the false flats leading towards Moorpark. There was a slow burning constellation of pain throughout my body, but I knew if I pushed as hard as I could for a while, I might meet my time goal. I dialed it back down when a few drops of vomit slipped out (the juice and the electrolytes weren’t mixing well anymore). It was growing warmer (it would reach 98ºF for some riders out here) and it took a tremendous effort to maintain even 15mph.

The final stretch is generally uphill and full of stop-lights – both of which seemed to conspire against my forward rush. I finally pulled into Greg and Lisa’s place 15 minutes later than I hoped, but pretty happy to have finished my first 600K in decent shape.

After showering and changing clothes, I stumbled around like a zombie, alternately eating fresh pizza (made in the back yard in a massive woodfire oven), chatting with JV, John, Greg, and Lisa, or falling into a strange stupor – neither asleep nor awake – my mind adrift while my torso hummed with the memory of the road.

 

Angels stand watch over graves in Oxnard...

 

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...

(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…

A Beginning…

23 May

On May 22nd, I completed my first official brevet, the “Big Bear to the Beach” 200K organized by the PCH Randonneurs.

Route map and profile are here.

We started the ride just North of the finish line for the previous day’s stage race from Pomona to Big Bear Lake in the AMGEN Tour of California (which was a rush to see in person, by the way). After tracing a circituous path snaking around the residential neighborhoods of Big Bear, we eventually got on to HWY 38 and started a long gradual ascent up to Onyx Peak. I was glad to have spent the night before up in the higher elevation, so when we reached the thinner air of 8443 feet (up from ~7000), I was still in good spirits:

Time for a cookie and a photo at the "secret" control (photo stolen from Terry Hutt).

It was on the inital climb that I caught up to two riders who I would end up spending most of the first 95 miles with – Errin and Marcus, who immediately offered me a ride from the finish to a place I could catch the subway back to my house. Errin and I spent some time comparing our two Salsa Casserolls while Marcus created a nice draft for us on the extended descents through the San Bernardino mountains.

Today there is quite a bit of snow on the road where this photo was taken – hard to imagine considering how clear it was when we were there.

Bombing down the mountain, I passed my two new friends briefly as I tried to get on the draft of a tandem ridden by a team that is competing in RAAM this year. It was quite an effort to stay on them, and I eventually gave up, realizing I should conserve my energy for the flat portions of the route.

The descent was a real treat, with beautiful Spring alpine scenery, occasionally obscured by fog.

We stopped for the first official control of the day in Highland, where we re-fueled and stripped off some layers of clothing to prepare for the higher (albeit still very pleasant) temperatures here down below.

After numerous twists and turns we eventually entered the Santa Ana River Trail – catching up to Isabelle Drake (a strong, experienced, and encouraging rider who has completed the Furnace Creek 508 something like 5 years in a row so far). After some amusing moments spinning out in a sandy un-paved section that nearly sent me off the edge of the path, we re-grouped and rode along together all the way to the next control in Corona. At the In-N-Out, I ran into a rider from Studio City who was on my train and bus up to Big Bear the previous day (and staying in the same hotel no less). He said he was planning on slowing down to a “digestive pace” for the next 20-30 miles – and while we started off together I ended up going ahead, perhaps because I didn’t eat as much. Errin and Marcus stayed at the control for a bit longer and Isabelle took off earlier than me, so I didn’t see any of them again until after the finish.

As I made my way down the SART, the monotony of concrete was punctuated with stretches of actual water patrolled gracefully by numerous cranes, ducks, and other water-fowl – and short stretches of wooden bridges, flower covered fences, brief tunnels, and a few people-watching opportunities (e.g. I noticed a quinceañera in somebody’s back-yard). Over-all though, the last 30 miles were the most difficult for me, pedaling solo into a strong head-wind while becoming increasingly queasy.

I was surprised at my own elation when I finally saw the waves breaking on the horizon of the river indicating I was only a couple miles away from the end.

I rolled in to a ~9 hour finish with a big stupid grin on my face:

(photo used w/o permission from Terry Hutt)

While I realize this was about as “easy” as a brevet can be, I’ve caught the bug enough to be considering a 300K for next month. In any case, I think I can promise more photos and more suffering for the next ride report…