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Metric Meltdown

4 Aug

On Sunday I headed over to the North Hollywood station to meet up with the Bicykillers who were doing a tough metric century in the middle of the day. Ten riders showed up at the start (let’s see how well I can remember names): Lee, Illy, Jeff, Ron, Leo, Lindsay, Alfredo, Vic, Craig, and myself. Rolling out a little before noon, we kept a pretty civilized pace to wake up the legs along Chandler before cutting down to Ventura Blvd.

Along Ventura into Encino we began to ride a little closer together, though not as a tight pace-line because of the pot-holes and traffic. Four or five of us made it up and over the first hill of the day and then pulled off on Topanga to wait for the rest of the group to catch up. And we waited…and waited…and waited…

After a few minutes, there was no sign of the rest of the group. After a few brief exchanges via iPhone, we learned that there had been a crash, so we turned around the way we had came, and discovered a scene of minor carnage outside of Fatburger. Jeff and Lindsay had tangled up in traffic – thankfully neither was badly hurt – and I didn’t know what was more cringe-inducing: Jeff’s gleaming new SRAM Red rear derailleur bent out at a bizarre angle from the twisted hanger, or Lindsey’s fileted shin. We all stood around grimly, discussing the details of the crash. By the time we finally started out again, Jeff was catching a bus, and Alfredo was too shook up to continue (he was right behind the pair when they went down, and blamed himself because he shouted when a car seemed to be merging into the group).

Lindsay is a strong tough rider, and soldiered on undeterred by her road rash. I know she felt pretty bad about running into Jeff, but in true roadie fashion, most everyone consoled her by making inappropriate jokes about her breaking things and taking the “bicykiller” name literally. Some members of this group have elevated trash-talk to an art-form really…

Anyway – up Topanga we went (passing some enthusiastic obese hoola-hoopers in a park on the way, sorry no photos):

The Rapha Sharp team leads-out up Topanga...

…and down, then pausing to re-stock at Topanga General Store (carrot juice, V8, and a granola bar for me), we carried on up Old Topanga. Craig went ahead and was never seen again – we suspect he went back to the valley.

The tree cover offered a nice respite – which I enjoyed without bothering to photograph. Next up we went up a very steep section of Muholland Hwy (I think?) that found me walking a few yards before taking a deep breath and carrying on. We stopped at a gated-community guard tower to re-fill our water bottles. Leo soon called to let us know he was dropping out as he broke his chain on the ascent and couldn’t repair it (I had a chain tool but no master-links).

After a few minutes, Mannuel caught up with us (climbing like a maniac, but then he climbs the 39 regularly) on his Torelli, and joined us for the rest of the ride. We crossed the road and raced down 7-minute hill before re-crossing Mulholland to begin our assault up one of the more famous climbs in the Santa Monica Mountains: Stunt Road. Surrounded by hundreds of acres of chaparral, looming sandstone cliffs, and thick hidden riparian woodlands fed by the Cold Creek watershed streaming down from the heights of Saddle Peak, Stunt Road is an extended (4 miles?) 5 – 6% grade with a few 8%+ sections. A popular challenge among motorcyclists, car clubs, hikers, and of course cyclists – this twisting scar above the transverse range offers an unrelenting climb rewarded by a superior view of the Channel Islands in one direction (except for the marine layer) and this in the other:

We re-grouped at the top before heading down Fernwood back to Topanga (a very fast and twisting descent – technically difficult for me, and while fun, it was also a little scary). The people-watching was surreal in Fernwood – in particular there was a surfer/model couple who seemed like a pair of endangered birds and was dressed in an even more precious/weird manner than our group of lycra-clad road warriors.

After making impressive time pace-lining to PCH, we ran into incredibly dense traffic. I lane-split while commuting routinely, but have never done so on a group ride before – a bit hair-raising! When we were able to, we pulled off to ride through a long beach parking-lot which offered some temporary relief from the crush of cars back on the road:

Relinquishing the ocean breeze, we turned inland in Santa Monica, hammering our way back towards the valley, cutting through the Beverly Hilton property to cross Wilshire and following wide pristine mansion-flanked side roads up to Franklin Canyon, where I picked up the pace knowing the road well as it forms part of my daily commute home.

Descending Coldwater I kept shouting “car back” as a car would approach us from behind, but we were traveling so fast around the curves that the motorists couldn’t catch up to us. Back in the valley, we ended up at Ron’s apartment where we enjoyed good beer, good company, and the largest pizza I’ve ever seen:


Land of Many Uses

3 Jun

In preparation for my upcoming 300K, I decided to do a longer training ride last Saturday. Heading up Little Tujunga Canyon Road,  I faced a moderate  head-wind right from the beginning, but at least it helped keep the heat at bay (I got a late start at 8:30AM). Traffic was sparse and generally courteous, though I was unintentionally buzzed by a motorcyclist who over-cooked a corner trying to keep up with his riding buddies.

It is not uncommon to encounter snakes in the road, as it must seem the ideal place to bask. As you might expect, this doesn’t often work out well for them – I found this one not far from where a human body was discovered less than two months ago:

Coast Patch-nosed?

While the sight made me sad at first, it also made me strangely hungry. Had I not brought along a bento-box filled with onigiri I made the night before, I might have been tempted to fry him up for a quick protein boost.

Along the first climb (Little Tujunga has two before you reach Sand Canyon), there are two establishments that it seems odd to have in such close proximity: the Angeles Shooting Range, and the Wildlife Way Station. I’d love to visit both, though with regard to the former, I imagine biking up through Sylmar with a rifle slung over my shoulder might elicit some unwelcome attention. The wind was the worst at this stage, and I was glad for the guard-rails a couple times as the gusts made it impossible to hold a line.

The aromas of sage were intense, and I was pleased to see a mix of wildflowers all along this ride. Little Tujunga Canyon itself was still swathed in dark green, and plenty of trees are still around to intermingle with the chaparral. I paused mid-way down the descent to share a glimpse:

(click to enlarge)

The second climb looks worse than it is, as an intimidating rocky peak looms high overhead in the distance. It isn’t until the Northern summit of the road that you realize what you’ve been seeing leads to a ranger station 6 miles off the road and you don’t have to climb it. Looking out into Antelope Valley, you can see the desert begin to consume the forest:

(click to enlarge)

The second descent down to Santa Clarita is technical enough to be fun (you can see part of the road in the above photo to the right), but not so much that you have to slow down at all. After passing by a few ranches I went in to and out of In-N-Out to refill my water bottle(s) and grab a small milk-shake.

Sipping that cold chocolate was pleasant after a climb, and kept me distracted from the annoying head-wind and mild but extended up-hill along Soledad Canyon. It took quite some time to find a dumpster so I put the empty cup in a rear jersey pocket while I continued the gradual climb towards Acton.

Passing the turn-off for Agua Dulce, I remembered the “main street” as being a pleasant place to stop (I went that way the first time I went over Little T). As a dust devil careened into my face, I thought maybe I should check out Vasquez Rocks, get lunch and then turn around, but I pressed on instead curious what Acton might have to offer. Along the way, there were a few large camp-sites, a small store, and this hyperbolic road-sign, which is all the more amusing as (outside of an abandoned trailer home amidst a small stand of trees) whatever it is referring to does not appear to exist at all:

...or not?

Unfortunately, Acton has very little to offer a cyclist – in fact, I wasn’t even able to locate water in town. I started checking spigots along Aliso Canyon Road (most of which were abandoned). Finally, at the last house before entering the forest, a kind woman allowed me to fill up from her hose while her cat competed for my attention. The water ran hot for several minutes, streaming over my hand into a thriving succulent.

Aliso was slightly steeper than Soledad, but I was pleased to be out of the wind finally so it didn’t feel as “brutal” as the route was described in the 2008 Tour of California:

The race takes a turn south up the brutal climb of Aliso Canyon to the Angeles Forest a route once used during the 1960’s for the California Road Championships where California cycling legends Bob Tetzlaff, Dave Sharp, Wes Chowen and Stan Ferris split the field in a day long battle fest in over 100 degree temps on the valley floor in Acton. The final climb over the Angeles Forest Highway up towering Millcreek Summit (4,906 feet) will be no less a battle for the favorites to contest the leaders jersey and for the classic climbers to battle for the final mountain crown and winner of the 2008 tour.

A little jerkey got me up Angeles Forest Highway, (which after the station fire looks rather apocalyptic) and then the fun began. A couple rollers and I reached Big Tujunga – a surprisingly extended descent following the river that made most of the day’s climbing worthwhile.

The ride concluded with me drafting a dump-truck, stopping to offer assistance to a motorcyclist who ran out of gas, and finally some of the worst pot-holes I’ve encountered back into the valley… 89 miles in 7 hours, with lots and lots of climbing – a good training ride all in all.