I love Northern California! I take back anything bad I said about hippies in high school. Or last week.
Category Archives: road
Ever want to just get away? Fortunately my bicycle has been taking me away for 25 years, since I used to sneak off on my BMX to explore bordering neighborhoods. Some people do this with long walks, movies, spas, alcohol, etc, but for me nothing is as effective as a change in environmental space via pedal strokes and rubber on pavement.
This past weekend I tried to organize a big hike that never panned out. Santa Barbara help had already been sorted with an ex-Angeleno , so I figured, why not ride? I rolled out of Los Angeles about 630pm through the misery of Westwood to the glory of the beach. Bumper to bumper traffic on PCH so I was splitting lanes as the sun was going down and the cool breeze was rolling in. What better ‘away’ could there be? It’s not a physical endeavor as much as a spiritual retreat, sometimes. Near McGrath State Beach I stopped to listen to the frogs and along a closed-to-cars road that parallels the 101 I turned off my lights to ride under the stars.
Rode some of the Grand Tour route and the Lonely Planet west coast cycling route, both in reverse. The quiet, rolling hills between Ventura and Santa Barbara at 1230/1am was just the physical space to open up and clear some mental space. Felt fortunate to be healthy and have the time for such an adventure. Rolled up to Stacy’s place (in the hills!) after about 105 miles at 130am. After waking her up we defrosted some brown rice and chickpea patties before I showered and slept for a few hours.
Pedaled away from a coffee shop with 2 bottles of water in my pack, 1 water and 1 Sustained Energy on the bike, some bananas, a clif bar and dried cranberries (and well-caffeinated), with some tail wind, and made it back to LA in 5.5 hours. Riding hard on little sleep is a different type of spiritual experience altogether. Somehow physical exertion combined with mild discomfort and lack of sleep helps me focus? Anyone else experience this?
This past Saturday I did not ride the Mulholland Challenge as I had planned. Well, as I had hoped, but did not plan, therefore no ride. I can’t believe it is mid-April already!
I love that ride and the beautiful course. I rode it in 2007 and it remains firmly planted in my memory as the ride that showed me the potential I have on a road bike. In other words, I thought past riding events with only the goal of finishing them. Pushing myself for several hours (7 to be exact) was novel and surprisingly fun. This year I just didn’t have the miles in to make it worthwhile. Same with last year. Then I ran the checkpoint at the top of Decker Canyon where a SAG’ed rider took this sticker, literally.
Instead some friends and I rode the Midnight Express benefit ride for the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition. Meeting at midnight at Union Station, the ride travels along the Arroyo-Seco to the Angeles Crest highway. I love this route and have always wanted to ride it at night (someone even described this ride as ‘pretty much designed for you’, which I do not disagree with…). From Clear Creek we descended Angeles Forest highway for a shortwhile before beginning the climb up to Mill Creek summit (4910ft). This section has two distinct memories for me. One is when Morgan rode back from the Tour of Two Forests double (12 hrs) in Santa Clarita with Megan, Max and I behind as a practice run for the 508. The other is when I rode 60 miles along this route to a 32-mile road race where I then had my ass handed to me.
Sunday morning (~2am) as I descended toward the ‘bridge of awesomeness’ in the dark and cold (~35 degrees) with Michael, I was thinking about how smart Alex was for having tyvex envelopes for us to slip under our jerseys and how I was towing the line, albeit it knowlingly, of comfort and warmth in only a jersey, vest and arm warmers, when I flatted. Ever think, ‘Damn I’m so cold but as long as I keep moving I’ll stay warm?’ or ‘My hands are so cold I can barely shift gears’? So there we were trying to fix my flat with shaking arms and stubby fingers. Miserable? A little. But I’m glad I had the experience so I can draw on it when I am in worse situations. Because really, it wasn’t THAT bad.
A little while later we pedaled over the summit and had one final freezing descent to the Acton train station to wrap up the 50 miles. A few riders who had left early were huddled under some heat lamp-like lights (!?) and we all waited for breakfast. It was worth it. Thanks to the influence of Swarm! volunteers there were vegan pancakes, sausages and cinamon buns. Topped off with hot coffee. Yum. The plan was for the riders to get on the 7am metrolink train to Union Station. But on a beautiful morning, in the mountains, already dressed for cycling, why not ride back?
Michael and I took our time and cruised back up and over the two passes before each heading our respective ways. I got in a quick nap before we had people over at our new place for a chill Sunday potluck. Budge has some photos up here.
‘Our 508-mile course serves as a dramatic forum for bicycle racing, personal achievement and self-discovery.’
-from the Furnace Creek 508 press release.
This year I am racing solo.
It has been a long time coming! I wanted to race solo in 2005, but after riding a triple century I decided I was not ready. In 2007 I was burned out after the world’s hardest triathlon and the 760-mile Paris-Brest-Paris.
This race is different in that it is one stage. The clock starts when you roll out in Santa Clarita and does not stop until you reach 29 Palms. Can you sleep? Yes, but the clock is still running! The race offers no support, I am dependent on my crew, Morgan, Budge and Chris, that leap frogs and supplies me with food, water and anything else I may need.
Why would I do something like this? Bicycles have been a part of my life since I was very young. When I was 7 I used to sneak out of my neighborhood and ride as far as I could- and still be able to find my way home. Once my neighbor found me 4 miles away and drove me home to tell my mom what I had been up to.
When I was 14 I started traveling the country to race BMX bikes. That progressed to traveling to ride BMX trails and skateparks. This is how I began to see the world. Within a month of getting my first road bike ($50!) I rode it from college to my mom’s house, 150 miles. I wore skate shoes and cut-off camouflage shorts and the idea of wearing a helmet didn’t even cross my mind. The following summer I rode 3300 miles cross-country. The 508 seems to be a natural progression.
How far is 508 miles?
San Francisco to San Diego or NYC to Columbus, OH
35,000 feet of elevation gain is greater than going to the top of Everest from sea level (see profile here).
There is a new route reconnaissance with excellent photos (some stolen below) and descriptions. Check it out!
Am I ready? It is hard to say. I have done a number of ‘long’ races this year from iron-distance triathlon to 100-mile mountain bike races and double century road events. But they have been ‘only’ 12-15 hours. How will I feel while crossing Death Valley at 2am? After a day of 90 degree heat, will I be freezing when it is 40 degrees and windy? When the sun rises Sunday morning and I still have 150 miles to ride, will I be happy about it? An event like this is about the journey, not the destination. It is not a race that you can go into saying ‘I’ll be happy when I am done.’ It’s the experience of the race that I am looking for more than having finished. Really, I look forward to the time I’ll have to think and what I will learn about myself.
A number of Swarm! riders will be out there racing and crewing. Brian ‘Emperor Moth’ is racing solo for the second year in a row and hopes to improve his 36-hour time. Megan is on a bad-ass all-girl fixed gear team-The Blue-footed Boobies.
You can follow the race’s webcast where photos, time splits and updates will be posted with surprising regularity. We are going to try to update my blog from the road as well. Please leave comments here and be sure to follow the webcast!
I got the idea for this adventure in the Spring when we rode out and back on Gabrielino. Lots of guys ‘shuttle ride’ this route. They meet at the bottom, pile into one truck, drive to the top, ride down and then drive back to the top for the first truck. Four additional motor vehicle trips on the narrow and windy Angeles Crest highway. Could we do this human powered without being irritatingly self-righteous?
Easy. A group rides road 30 miles up Angeles Crest to Red Box (about 5000 ft elevation) towing mountain bikes. Another group trail runs 15 miles to Red Box. At the top group one passes the mountain bikes to group two who then ride the 15 miles of single track down to JPL.
To start I was up from 3am on 2 hours sleep and Max had stayed up the entire night. Brian rode out from El Segundo on his mountain bike (30 miles) and we met at JPL at 8am. I had posted the ride to Midnight Ridazz so we did not know who would show up. Our original plan was for Jack to ride road pulling the bikes with some sort of Rock Lobster rack, but that didn’t work out and Jack didn’t make it. Now Max is no slack rider, but he hasn’t been riding too much beyond commuting. Could he take 50 pounds of mountain bikes on the Big Dummy? Yes he can. With Michael on as support Max did an epic road ride with 50 pounds of cargo.
Brian and I set off on foot along the Arroyo-Seco to the Gabrielino. It’s a beautiful trail with stream crossings, boulders, canyons with full cover and exposed, dry ridges. I love it. Below Brian is picking some wild berries as the mountains we are about to run up loom in the distance. Yes, he is wearing his bike helmet. Said it was the easiest way to carry it.
Brian and I ran together the first 5 or so miles and then inevitably he dropped me. I ran almost all of the first 9 miles to Switzer Falls. There I begged some picnicing folk for water as I had run out about 45 minutes previous. The last 4 miles up were quite difficult, as expected. I hiked most of this section at a good clip and ended up at the top only 30 minutes or so after Brian; about four hours after we set off.
Gabrielino is not an easy trail to ride down. For a number of miles the trail is between 1 or 2 feet wide with the mountain to one side and a huge drop to the other. Some sections are a little washed out (I like to bunnyhop them cause it’s easier than having to unclip and get off your bike).
We were back and forth with a group of three mountain bikers who were all really cool. They told us about a sweet swimming hole only a 1/4 mile off the main trail.
After 8 hours in the wilderness (just like a 9-5, only fun) we headed over to Pasadena to take the Gold Line to Chinatown. From here I had a short ride home and Brian, after buying some durian fruit, took the train back to El Segundo.
Next time: I’d like to film this. It is so gorgeous back there and so accessible from Los Angeles. In my mind Sunday was a beautiful combination of DIY, adventure and wtf? Sure, there is an environmental component, but that is a secondary benefit to some friends getting together and thinking about new ways of exploring an amazing area and what is possible.
‘No, Morgan, I don’t think riding 60 miles to a 32 mile race will affect how I do. I’ll be warmed up. I’ll drink some water, eat a little and in the race I’ll just stay in the pack.’
The next morning I woke up at 530am and rode over the San Gabriel Mountains. It was suppose to be over 90 degrees (unseasonably warm for even Southern California), but I was in the mountains early and feeling pretty good. Then I hit the headwinds. Damn. After about an hour of 4-5 MPH uphill into the wind my main concern was getting there in time. By now I was one a new road and didn’t know just how far off Mill Creek Summit was. What was cool was that I was riding the last half of Stage 7 of the Tour de California.
Finally I hit the 5000ft pass and hit the descent, which is always scary in the wind, and then I was within a few miles of the start of the Devil’s Punchbowl road race.
I saw (Emperor Moth) Brian as soon as I got there. He was stoked. I had 45 minutes till the race started. I drank some carrot juice, ate a little food, drank some water, took a healthy piss and headed to the start line with two full bottles and half a banana. Stay in the pack, stay in the pack. No problem. Dropped on the first climb. Fuck. Then I saw a dude with a full-facial tattoo in the feed zone. Dave Clinger? Is it that hot out? Bombed the huge descent, caught some people and convinced them that working together in headwinds is a wise move. Picked off a bunch of people. Rode past the start/finish into the second lap. Then it hit me super hard. I was starving and just about out of water. Miserable. Hot. Blah blah blah. ‘Bonked’. I went as far as to pick up bottles from the earlier race off of the road and drink what was left. Ugh. Another miserable finish of 2008! I am on a serious streak.
How’d Brian do? Well, he hit the turn after the huge descent and was waved forward (or so he thought), down the hill. The course turned right. He figured out no one was behind him, turned around and CAUGHT THE LEAD PACK. In telling the story to me he was complaining that no one was working hard. And that he pulled most of the way around the second lap. Was beaten out in the sprint. 2nd place. Sick.
Planet Ultra’s Mulholland double century and Mulholland Challenge are epic cycling events that take place in the Santa Monica Mountains behind Malibu (and beyond). Last year I rode the Century Challenge which was one of the best days on the bike I’ve ever had. I just hammered for the entire 100 miles, which I can’t say I had ever done. In 2006 I also did the Challenge and in 2005 I rode the double. This year I volunteered, which makes four years in a row I’ve been involved in this event!
My checkpoint was at the top of Decker Canyon, a brutally steep, long, hot climb into the mountains from PCH; one athlete said the cyclists strung out on it ‘resembled a battle ground of despair’. At the top I was most often greeted with elation, ‘Is this the top? I did it? Wow!’ or slight anger, ‘That was so damn miserable! This is ridiculous!’ First the fastest riders come through. They are quietly suffering and do not hang out long. Then the ‘rush’ and the middle group makes it way to the top. Some move on quickly in order to get it over with. Some hang out as shown below.
The last 10% or so of riders tend to look ghostly. Often some food and water will get them on their way, but some are just in over their head. This is one of the hardest centuries in Southern CA (anywhere?)!
This guy crashed on the infamous Deer Creek descent
(which has claimed many carbon wheels),
but pushed on to finish
I am not sure if a requirement of getting into this SAG was actually pedaling to you puke.
Soon after the century riders, the double riders started filtering through. They were at mile 162 of a long, difficult ride. The climb took a toll on a significant number of these hearty souls as well. Our cut-off time was 6:30, but many riders had yet to arrive and pick up their lights. It was getting dark. What to do? We packed up the van and I drove down Decker to find them. The first guy was done. Said it was the worst day of his life and he wanted to be SAG’ed back to the start. Later he told me he has ridden over 100 double centuries. Down the road further I came across a guy walking. He didn’t want his lights, he wanted to get in the van. No problem. Within five minutes we were pulled over so he could get out and puke. I gave him a bag cause I didn’t want to stop again; we were low on gas and I wanted to get off the mountains.
Back at the start/finish hotel around 10pm and double riders were finishing up. Century riders who earlier looked like zombies, were now fed, showered, and changed, giving the impression of normalcy. I was slightly concerned about getting back to El Segundo, I had ridden up from raw Brian’s earlier in the day. Ends up that Raoul, the puking in the van guy, lives in Hawthorne, which is right next door to El Segundo. We packed our bikes into his Sentra and on the drive he told me how he got into riding doubles. A great story of widening horizons and dedication. Back at Brian’s at 1130 in time to catch the end of Jenny’s b-day party and eat some of Kiecker’s famous vegan fudge.
On Saturday I did this loop that was way more epic than I had planned for:
There’s a fire somewhere in E. LA
You can see highway 39 along the river
Sunday I rode the OC Rebels 46-mile ride with Nicolas. With my to/from miles I ended up with 75 miles for the day. I only ate a clif bar and a banana all morning so those miles were a little tougher than they should of been.