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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.

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.

...click 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.

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)

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…