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.


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. 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.

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.

3 River Trails 200K

31 Dec

My favorite mural along the SART (click to enlarge)...

On December 3rd, I woke up at 5:30AM, a couple minutes before my alarm went off – assembled the things I had forgotten to the previous night and headed out the door. It felt a bit like any other day commuting in to work, so I had to keep reminding myself that I was choosing to head out into the chill pre-dawn air for “recreation.” I took the subway downtown and then the light rail to Pasadena where my ride was to begin. I waited for 20 minutes munching on snacks from Starbucks, hoping my buddy Mannuel would show up, but eventually his cancellation text arrived instead, so I was off on my own.

My drive-train has been out of adjustment recently (just replaced my cassette and chain which seems to have fixed things up), so I was happy to ride a route which didn’t require much climbing (which exacerbates the chain slipping). This permanent affords a reprieve from the heavy traffic that comes standard with riding in urban Los Angeles as well – as a large percentage of it follows the extensive river trail system we have here.

The start is a fun descent through Sierra Madre past a variety of schools – the invigoration you get from this initial speed is tempered by the realization that you’ll have to climb this long hill on stale legs, 120+ miles later. The foliage had just started to change color and it almost felt like Fall (though Winter was nowhere in sight):

(click to enlarge)

After no time at all I had reached the initial information control, and was turning on to the river trail in North El Monte. The pavement was smooth, and the bike traffic was sparse – so I was able to watch the river more than the road, as it dropped off its storm-drain like bed into an unpaved area. The Santa Fe Dam controls the river’s passage a few miles down the road, though it is not the photogenic engineering spectacle that the Whittier Narrows are further down the path.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

I saw a kitchen sink near here – so I guess this permanent really has everything.

The Rio Hondo trail was a nice change of pace from the other river trails, flanked by nature preserves rather than the giant storm drains that our tributaries have largely been transformed into.

Nature reclaims what were once considered "high power" transmission lines...

Tracing the San Gabriel river from the Whittier Narrows – you pass former farms and ranches, now largely taken over by industry. Several large nurseries line the banks, using the run-off from the river to irrigate their stands of boxed palms and other decorative trees. The river itself is a concrete expanse punctuated by abandoned couches, feral dogs, city workers, kids on BMX bikes doing tricks on the steep banks, and occasional homeless men bent over their collections of detritus.

Whittier Narrows (click to enlarge)

Whittier Narrows (click to enlarge)

Someday I’ll figure out how to lace together panoramas…

It was a time trial down to the ocean, where I picked up the PCH around Seal Beach. I stopped briefly at the Starbucks Huntington Beach before heading to Newport. In Newport, I exited PCH to enter the bike trail which rings the Newport Bay Ecological Reserve. The trail is shared with equestrians and pedestrians, and as such it has a speed limit of only 10mph! Birdwatchers and school field trips further slowed me down so I relaxed and tried to see if I could identify any rare birds or plants in the estuary. Hoping to see some burrowing owls, black rails, least terns, or at least a pelican or three…instead there were only coots and ducks raising a ruckus at my passing.

The next control was at a McDonalds – a place I haven’t frequented in at least 16 years. I ordered a “milkshake” which I paid for and received in 24 seconds (so said my receipt)…”is there something else sir?” I was asked politely before I realized I had already been served. Impressive in a way.

Some Orange County cycling club was out in force, but not being allowed to draft them, I decided to push by all of them, hammering back up PCH until I reached the Santa Ana River Trail. Here there was some confusion as construction was blocking the entrance indicated by my route sheet. The detour lead me back to the highway, so I realized I would have to figure out how to get by on my own, switching sides of the river whenever necessary.

I remembered my first 200K earlier this year which ended by coming down the SART into a stern head-wind – happy that my fitness/nutrition/etc had improved substantially since then. I was free to enjoy the parks and freshly paved sections that I passed through heading North.

SART - freshly paved the margins sprayed with chemical seed...

Angel Stadium from the bike path...

Had I taken a few hours longer to get up to Placentia, I could have veered of course to The Bruery – but they weren’t open yet so I continued on to the next control where I spent a little longer scarffing down some brevet food:

The rando food pyramid well represented here...

No more bike paths from here on out, just a series of long mild climbs through Brea, Walnut, the Covinas, etc. The hills lent a remote feel to many of these miles, despite the proximity of a freeway just out of sight. Once productive oil fields are now dormant and filled with rusting derricks…riding thorugh here at night would be eerie:

(click to enlarge)

I got in an extremely low-speed race with a kid going uphill, both of us in our granny gears before I finally inched ahead and rushed past on the descent. I would have said hello but like many people I meet cycling on the roads he had walled himself off from outside stimuli with ear-buds. Oh well.

Climbing back through Arcadia and Sierra Madre after a long stretch on the Arrow Highway past more dams and nurseries, I was slowing to a crawl – eventually reaching the end of my ride after 8 hours and 9 minutes…not as fast as I was expecting considering how speedy I was reaching all the controls through Newport…but not bad.

Tomorrow is the new year, the new decade, and my first brevet of 2011.

When my baby’s beside me…

11 Dec

Weekends are often when I get up early and go out on a training ride or (less often) a permanent or brevet; lately though, I’ve been happy to sleep in a bit and then head out on my single-speed to capture the dwindling day-light with my partner in crime who has grown more enthusiastic about cycling together. I’ve been s l o w l y taking her further out, and helping her grow more comfortable with night riding, traffic, and other obstacles. I remember the first time I rode 30 miles, and how this seemed like an amazing distance at the time! So I’m very impressed with Rachel for joining me on a leisurely 27+ mile jaunt out to Canoga Park and back…returning home in good spirits without undue fatigue.

Some scenes from an earlier ride:

...smirking as we pass by a mural

Life in the Slow Lane...

...chasing down a commuter, or just trying to beat the rain to the river path?

Maybe not the most descriptive "lost dog" sign I've encountered...

Wolfpack Hustle All City Century #4

20 Nov hard-won Wolfpack sticker...

Once a year, Wolfpack Hustle (perhaps the oldest of the fast-paced Midnight Ridazz weekly night rides) puts on a century  through the heart of greater urban Los Angeles. Monday night celebrated their fourth year. I think my Casseroll weighs twice what the majority of bikes do on this ride, but that didn’t stop me from showing up at 9:30PM to pick up a doughnut and route sheet. I’d been up since 5:00AM, and had 40 miles of commuting (during which I broke my rear derailleur cable…) plus a few miles to get to the start in Silverlake in my legs…

Route Slip...

There were around 50 – 60 people at the start, quite an impressive group. The crowd was diverse: One guy showed up with a bike that had a massive bullhorn mounted on the rear rack, and he was blasting old time music out of it into the night…he was surprisingly fast, keeping up with the main group for the first few miles until he had a spoke-breaking crash. Another rider showed up on a pursuit bike with a disc wheel in back, a carbon rimmed tubular in front, aero bars and (supposedly) 55×12 gearing! We had a half dozen other people come in “party ride” mode, pretty much all of them dropped off before we even reached the San Fernando valley.

It was a bit claustorphobic riding so close together among a large group of cyclists of varying experience – and I was relieved when the “A” group broke away (and surprised to find myself as part of it) on the first sustained climb of the evening up La Crescenta. I was slowly getting dropped until we crested the hill. Another couple riders tangled up due to a miscommunication at a stop-light, and on the extended mild descent down Foothill Blvd I found myself back up in front.

We pulled into our first stop at Balboa/Rinaldi, waiting while two or three more waves of riders pulled in. I drank a liter of chocolate milk in the interim. Once everyone had refueled/rested a bit, we headed out again – careening down De Soto and zipping around the Warner Center. Coming down Corbin, a smaller residential street on our way down to Ventura Blvd, we all came to a shouting skidding stop at a red light right in front of a cop car – we all gawked at the car for a few moments, until the officer broke the silence by chuckling over the intercom. He sent us on through the intersection admonishing us to “move those legs!”

With a number of Cat-1, 2, and 3 racers up front, the pace surged when we hit Ventura Blvd, with a series of brief attacks sending the more human among us scrambling to latch on to a wheel. We were through Encino in no time at all, stopping again at the base of Sepulveda. Cranberry juice, a couple dried bananas, and I was feeling OK. I was underdressed but not too cold, though I was eager to get rolling again after we waited for a couple more groups to catch up. John commented on my situation with his usual understatement: “Jesus man – Aren’t you fucking freezing? I’m getting cold just looking at you! Don’t you have any leg warmers or something in all those bags hung all over your bike? Hell, just put the bags on!” Huffing and puffing up Sepulveda I was hot before long, despite the temps in the upper 40s. On the climb I couldn’t hang on to the lead group, and spent the next 20 miles trying to catch up. I would pass or be passed by a handful of other riders who were getting dropped or getting a second wind, and this was really the only part of the ride that I did solo.

At the bottom of the descent, I managed to find three other riders going my pace, all of them fast fixed gear riders and we pace-lined hard down to Westchester. The fog was so thick, my glasses became useless, and I ended up missing our turn and nearly riding into LAX. We back-tracked a bit and with my heart feeling like it would explode, we reached the “A” group at a 7-11 on Manchester, mostly looking well rested. Riders pulled in too quickly behind us, some skidding out and tumbling over on the slick concrete leading into the parking lot. Ice cream, potato chips, halva, dried fruit…my heart rate finally came back down. I chatted with a few other riders and hid from the cold inside the store until everyone was ready to roll. We had a decent sized group on Florence, but the front group split us up when we turned North again. The streets were mostly empty in the ‘hood, but occasionally we’d see a figure running down the sidewalk (one crazy individual ran out in front of one of the groups behind me).

Blow outs, broken shifter cables and other mechanicals plagued us, until the pace-line was down to just four of us – killing ourselves to bridge the increasing gap between us and the array of blinking red lights flying away into the night. We kept accelerating and trading attacks rather than pulls until we embraced our “B” group status (leaving the racing to the racers) and went back to figuring out the rest of the route.

From Monterey Park we rode West to Downtown, eventually hitting Caeser Chavez, Sunset, and back to the start at Tang’s.


Regrouping at the end, we headed off to Denny’s for a repast, but were turned away by the host when we tried to bring 10-15 bikes inside and stack them up near the waiting area. Watching John try everything from basic logic to bribery was highly amusing, but the host wouldn’t budge on his “policy” so the group went to another Denny’s a few miles away that let them all in (I opted to take the subway home instead, which had just started running at 4:30AM – I was in bed about an hour later).

My first Bicykillers was a century route, and now my first Wolfpack was a century route – wondering if I can keep up this pattern with T.R.F.K.A.S., Cyclones, or one of the other “hustles” – ?

Tons of photos here

John taking photos...

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)