by David DeRose
YET ANOTHER IN A SERIES OF LONG-WINDED AND BAD-SPIRITED RIDE REPORTS, RUINING A PERFECTLY LOVELY DAY ON THE BIKE
I. A LONG AND WHINY PROLOGUE
Friday, June 5th, around 11AM. I am standing in the Ranger Station at the entrance to Yosemite National Park, staring at a map of California, and trying to get some good news from one of the rangers. I had been on my way to the Eastern Sierra Double and, now, about three and a half hours into the drive, I’ve been told that Tioga Pass is closed due to snow. So is Sonora Pass. I’d checked the weather and road conditions before leaving home, and all roads were open. I’d repeatedly tuned into the “road conditions radio frequency” while driving toward Yosemite, and there was no recorded message of any adverse road issues. But, when I got to the gate at Yosemite, a sign said “Tioga Pass closed due to snow.” So was Sonora. The ranger said Carson was probably open, but I shouldn’t bother if I didn’t have snow tires or chains. “It’s June!!!” I replied. So, I headed back down the mountain into Sonora to grab some lunch, sure that the conditions would change, and that some opportunity to get to the Eastern side of the Sierras would materialize. At the Tourist Information office in Sonora, I asked the counter person to call for updates. No changes. “My choices,” I asked. Drive up to Highway 50 and go through South Lake Tahoe or drive down to Bakersfield and pick-up 395 headed north. 50 was the closer option. “How long will that take from here?” “About 5 hours or so.” By this time, I’ve been in the car for well over 4 hours, and my back was complaining – LOUDLY! I’m not one who accepts defeat gracefully, but I got back in my car and drove home to Walnut Creek. 8 hours on the road, and back where I started.
II. MOPING AND OBSESSING AROUND THE HOUSE
Eastern Sierra was to be the third leg of my recumbent “Triple Crown” of doubles. I’d completed Solvang and Davis, and was looking forward to the scenic Eastern Sierra as a challenging way to finish the triple. For those who DID make it to the start of the ES, it was a harrowing day. (See Jay’s report) Sleet. Hail. Frigid temperatures. Unmarked route changes. After hearing their reports, part of me was glad I had been forced to turn around. But, I still wanted to finish the Triple Crown (I confess to coveting the finishers’ jersey), and within minutes of getting back to Walnut Creek, I was checking the internet for alternative rides that would be “do-able” on the recumbent. Terrible Two? In spite of Brian’s encouragement, just not happening on a bent. Mt. Tam Double? Better, but not until August. Could I hold my condition until August? I guess, if I had to. The most obvious choice was Knoxville, a relatively tough ride compared to something like Solvang, but on roads I know well and like. But, could I wait until the fall to finish? It’s usually a very bad time of year for me, with all the craziness that accompanies classes starting up again in September. The only possible double I could see on the immediate horizon was “The Grand Tour” out of Malibu in SoCal. But, that was a nearly six-hour drive, and my back would again not be very happy at the prospect. Besides, I had never heard of the Grand Tour, didn’t know any of the towns on the route, and was suspicious of anything in any way associated with Los Angeles. (My NoCal prejudice showing.) I did a bit of investigating, and it turns out that the Grand Tour is the oldest double in America, running for 51 years in a row, and people were fairly positive about the organization and support (if not the less-than-inspiring “Lowlands” route). When my wife volunteered to accompany me and share the driving, I decided to quietly register. I didn’t mention it to many of the club members, because I just didn’t know what to expect. I was struggling to hold fitness the last several weeks, had minor injuries to my knee, lower back, and Achilles tendon, and just didn’t have full confidence about a long day on the bike.
As it turns out, compared to my depression after missing Eastern Sierra and my anxiety about getting the triple finished, the ride itself was relatively uneventful.
III. WOULD YOU JUST RIDE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD?
I never sleep the night before a big ride, and with a hotel full of college kids roaming the halls until about 2 am, I was up at 4:15, feeling less than chipper. My wife, not wanting to be trapped in the hotel all day, got up with me and drove me to the start (about 30 minutes from our hotel in Agoura Hills) so she could have the car. A chauffeur on a double! I’ve never had it so good!
The ride starts just down the road from Pepperdine University campus overlooking the ocean (those rich, right-wing kids have it made!), and heads up the Pacific Coast Highway for about 25 miles before heading inland. The first 10 or so miles are major shoreline rollers – not nearly as steep, but much, much longer than those above Point Reyes — and I reminded myself that this would also be the LAST 10 miles at the end of the day, and the rollers would look even worse then. What a blast, riding along the PCH in the early morning, pre-dawn, with fog keeping the temperature steady, and the sound of the breakers as you ride. Actually, because the breakers are well below road level on your left, and there are tall, steep cliffs on your right, it seems like the breakers are crashing on your right as the sound bounces off the cliffs. Very cool.
Once the rollers evened out into a relatively flat shoreline run, I started picking off riders pretty quickly. No wind at all at this point in the ride, and I was able to develop a nice, strong tempo. A young guy with aero-bars in Rock Racing kit was the only person to pass me, and I caught his wheel and let him pull me all the way up the coast.
IV. THE GRAND TOUR OF ???
- This ride could be called the “Grand Tour” of a lot of things:
- The Grand Tour of Ventura County
- The Grand Tour of the Pacific Coast Highway (cue America singing “Ventura Highway”)
- The Grand Tour of Southern California Naval Bases (there appears to be a Naval or Air Force base approximately every 10 miles along this route)
- The Grand Tour of towns with unpronounceable names: Port Hueneme? Ojai? (Is that “Yu-mi-ni?” Or “You name” as in “What’s you name, buddy?” And, is it “Wee-jee,” like the board? Or, “O-hey!” as in “Oh. Hey. Sorry I didn’t see you standing there.” Or, “OJ? They named a town after him?”)
- But, my vote has to go for the “Grand Tour of All Possible Bizarre Road Conditions”
(cue The Doors singing the following to the tune of “Strange Days:”)
Strange pave-ment’s found me.
Strange pavement’s tracked me down.
It’s going to destroy
My bike-riding joy
When have you ever been on a ride that included ALL of the following?
- Riding for several miles on the shoulder of a freeway?*
- Riding through town after town with stop lights every other block?
- Riding for miles on a freeway frontage road with concrete and dust for scenery and the cars flying by in the opposite direction on the other side of a steel fence?
- Riding on 6-foot-wide bike paths? You can HEAR the ocean just yards away, but its blocked by a wall of tall bushes. So, you are in a tunnel with bushes on one side, tourists on rented beach cruisers head-on, and a concrete wall separating you from the freeway on the other.
- Riding the fastest, most technical descent of the day through a suburban country club? Ever yelled “on your left” to a golf cart before?
- Riding through hot, dusty agricultural areas with acres of tomato plants on your right and acres of lemon trees on your left? Then, acres of cabbage on your left and grape vines on your right? Then, while you are looking at the acres of ripe strawberries… Oh my God! Hit the brakes! … a big agricultural vehicle pulls out onto the road in front of you, kicking up dust and leaving dirt all over the pavement.
- Riding through road construction zones where they have ground down the road surface (leaving those little ridges for the new pavement to adhere to), but no new pavement yet? This stretch was a real crowd pleaser, and many of us spent our lunch break checking each other’s molars for loose fillings.
- Riding past dozens of cars parked on the shoulder of the coast road with surfers wrestling their surf board back onto their roofs?
(Speaking of wrestling on the shoulder of the road: #1 thing I LEAST needed to see: 300 lbs sunburned guy wrestling to get out of his wet swimsuit by the side of the road. LUCKILY, followed only about 60 seconds later by the thing I MOST needed to see (to remove image of previous guy from my mind): 120 lbs surfer chick wrestling to get out of her wet suit.)
- Expan (thunk) sion (thunk) cracks on (thunk) a fast (thunk) down (thunk) hill?
- And, just when you are fed up with all this, a wonderful, screaming, tail-wind assisted 30 MPH rush down a well-paved, 20 foot wide shoulder on the Pacific Coast Highway with the late afternoon sun shining off the crescent beach of crashing waves on your left? (Which is just the inspiration you need to get yourself up and over that last 10 miles of big rollers.)
* Then, joking aside, I find out about a death on the course today: http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2009/jun/29/oxnard-driver-arrested-in-cyclists-death/
V. NO WHINING ABOUT SUPPORT. TAKE NOTE, PLANET ULTRA!
OK, the facts:
The course leaves a lot to be desired (with the exception of the first and last stretches along the ocean). Not very scenic. Too many stop lights, too many cars, and too many miles through towns. The above-mentioned weird and constantly changing course conditions. Boring terrain. But, it’s done and:
Weather was perfect. Never got above maybe low 80s, even in the inland areas. Fog on and off along the coast. I was tucked behind a tandem for the longest stretch up-coast into the head wind, so didn’t really feel it, and took full advantage of the tailwind coming home.
Support was excellent. TAKE NOTE PLANET ULTRA! Nice rest stops in parks, community centers, etc. Never a line for the toilets. Plenty of staff at all rest stops. Well-stocked with Hammer products, good variety of foods, and super-helpful people. Good lunch choices Cup-o-noodle soup at mile 140. Home-made soup and home-made cakes and cookies at mile 165. Maybe a few too many sugary sweets. Could have used boiled potatoes, but small complaint.
Organization was incredible. You can tell these people have been doing this for 50 years. Lots of SAG support. Course was well-marked and route sheets were full of helpful details/landmarks. (And, believe me, you needed them. This is a bizarre course.) Computerized check-in at start and finish. And, where else can you register and order a ride jersey a week before the event, and get your jersey at check-in?
By Davis or Solvang standards, this is an “intimate” ride. Only about 150 or so people on my course (there are 5 course options from 125 to 400 miles). Very friendly riders. I saw several of the same people at rest stop after rest stop, and probably took too long at lunch because I was chatting away with folks I had been riding with.
VI. RECUMBENT FRIENDLY AND FAST
Speaking of the riding, this is a FAST double on a recumbent. With the exception of the Rock Racing guy first thing in the morning, I cannot remember being passed by another rider all day except for “Eric,” a guy I’ve met before on a super light, super aero, all-carbon recumbent, who I leap-frogged with all day. He was just too aero for me on the flats (and he likes to run yellows!), but I was stronger on the climbs (thank you, Wednesday evening Diablo rides!), and I finally caught him and passed him for good on the big rollers at the end. By far, my fastest sustained pace on a double! And, I was eating dinner at the end with the “big dogs” not the middle of the packers. So, without much climbing, the aero qualities of the recumbent must have been a definite advantage over road bikes on the flats and in the winds. [Found out later that I finished with 7th fastest time out of 165 riders on my course. That’s recumbent-friendly!]
As was the case in Davis, I finished very strong, with my best (tail-wind assisted) speeds of the day being the last 30 miles, where I passed easily a dozen riders. The worst part of the day, as was also the case in Davis and Solvang, was definitely miles 80-140. This makes sense, because in all three rides these were the hottest and hilliest stretches.
Overall time: 13:05
Time on bike: 11:10
Average MPH: 18.1
And now I can stop whining and obsessing over the Triple Crown and get back to just having fun on the bike.