- The Atlas Ride (Texas4000, Lampasas, TX)
- MS-150 Ride from Hollidaysburg to State College (Pa.)
- Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Loop Gran Fondo
- The Seagull Century
- Palomar Mountain
- Mount Baldy
- World Hillclimb Championships
- Phil Gaimon’s Cookie Gran Fondo
- The Horrible Hundred
It was a beautiful morning. I parked and then rolled up to the flagpole at the start. I waited to meet my friend and former colleague, John Dockins. We met and were joined by another former colleague, Joe Berezo.
I saw a rider wearing a cancer ride jersey and went over and talked to him. Actually, there were two Florida riders who had ridden with Team Portland this summer. It was nice to say hello and they apprecieated someone knowing what their jerseys were from.
When we rolled out we started up a hill and John took off. I went with him and it would be the last we would see Joe. We found some riders and I told John we should avoid “putting our noses into the wind” for a while. I did. John didn’t. John was about 300-400 yards ahead of me but I never wanted to chase. I also knew I would be going into the red to catch him. I waited until Rest Stop 1.
We refueled and waited for Joe. After 15 minutes and not finding Joe, we decided it was time to roll out. And just like that, John was gone again. At one point I passed a rider I met yesterday who looked to be struggling. I turned around to see if I could shepherd her but couldn’t find her.
At Rest Stop #2 we met Robin from yesterday. “You look familiar,” she said before stating “It’s Barry from Virginia.” “I didn’t recognize you without your helmet.”
And it is true. You can ride all day with someone and you recognize them only on the bike, their bike, wearing their kit of the day. Robin had a different kit and was off her bike. And I was wearing the cookies as I had promised.
I enjoyed wearing the Cookie kit. One rider passed me and yelled out “Hi Phil!” Just as a friendly reminder there is a 50 pound weight differential between us and he was passing me. I am not Phil Gaimon although it was great one rider recognized the cookie kit. Or maybe three.
The big decision today was distance. Mostly the 70 mile and 100 mile routes were the same except at “decision time” one would need to add a 30-mile loop. Joe was going to ride 70 (or less). John doesn’t have many miles this year and was going to ride 70. John’s son, Matt, and his fiance’, Pauline, were riding 70. It seemed all the cool kids were riding 70. With a drive to Savannah today, I did not mind not riding 100.
We would make the turn towards home but not without Sugarloaf Mountain looming large. There were some walkers and some stopped. The climb is hard but nothing like Gibraltar Road, Mount Baldy, or Palomar Mountain, the latter two which are measured in hours and I rode three weeks ago. I was 30 seconds faster today than two years ago and I have no idea how.
The ride into the finish features one last pain-inducing climb followed by a nice descent. I missed the memo of a sprint finish and some riders went flying by. It’s a ride, not a race.
At lunch we met a rider from yesterday’s bakery ride with more insight on the crash. He said he was riding at the front and a rider braked to take a natural break. He was from Clermont and told us that the locals never ride those hills we rode today. We also saw Matt and Pauline and waited for Joe – only to learn he had cut his ride short to get back to Tampa.
Soon my friends dispersed and I was left alone. Sort of wished I would head back on course to get 100 miles but also knew I had a long drive ahead to Savannah.
Undecided which of the “familiarization” routes for the Horrible Hundred I would do today, I thought I was too late for the 8:30 a.m. 50-mile “Bakery Ride.” Although I arrived at 8:20 a.m. and somehow grabbed a primo parking spot just yards from the start, I also did not want to rush.
There would be a 35-mile ride at 8:45 and a 42-mile ride at 9:00 a.m. I called Joe Berezo who I knew was riding the 35-mile route. I thought I would jump in with him. The time was 8:33 a.m. so I assumed the group waiting was his. But then they pulled out. It did not take much encouragement from Joe to have me jump in the 50-mile ride. We would meet after our rides.
And off we went. I didn’t try to get an accurate count but would estimate there were 60 riders or more. I’m not of a fan of such a large group and write about that later.
We rode two and three abreast. Sometimes we were on country roads but for short stretches, we were also on main roads. On main roads, the shoulder was large enough for only one rider and the group seemed to stay one on the shoulder with one in the far right travel lane. I’m a bit fearful and stayed on the right shoulder.
Advertised with a 17-18 mph pace, it seemed we were often rolling along at 21-22 mph. But that data show we rolled through the first 20 miles at 17.4 mph so I guess the estimate was right.
Well, not really disaster. We were on Highway 19 which is a somewhat busy two-lane road with traffic. The group was rolling along, slightly downhill when someone touched their brakes. That sent a ripple through the peloton and two guys behind me touched wheels. The sound of a crash in unmistakable.
A number of us yelled “crash” but the group kept rolling. I stopped. We stopped. A rider was down. A car was stopped in the lane and it was unclear if the riders had been hit. We would learn that the riders went down in front of the driver. She almost hit them but did not but she was shaken up.
Everyone seemed to be a doctor, and maybe they were. I offered two things: First, two bikes were partially on the road. I removed them from the road and put them clearly in the grass. Thoughts of Jamie Roberts losing her life in Kentucky while standing at the edge of the road were enough to make me ensure that we were all safely off the road.
Second, I had them check his helmet. Sure enough, it was cracked. I suggested we call 911. No one did. Instead, they called for a friend to come pick him up. I think with a cracked helmet he needed to be evaluated by medical professionals. Thoughts of my own experience in Ohio on May 16 are still fresh with me.
Now down to half a group, minus one (or three as two riders stayed with him), we rode off towards the bakery. I thought with half a group it was a more sensible pace. The data show that the next eight miles we averaged 18.1 mph. Shows you what I know or how off my perception is.
The bakery is a nice stop. I did not buy anything so I cannot be a food critic. And then we rolled home.
I had met two riders, Evelyn and Robyn (Robin?). Evelyn had noticed my socks, “Hillclimb Worlds” and thought that was the coolest thing. Or a joke. I told her they were real and I finished DFL. Not so sure she thinks it was so cool now.
We came to three rollers. The first was preceded by a nice downhill and we were all touching our brakes – before a climb. On the first climb, I rolled up with the peloton. But then I gave them 50 meters. I did not want to roll down the next hill touching my brakes. And that worked. At the end of the three we waited 4-5 minutes for some who had been dropped.
Once we rolled out I stayed with Evelyn and Robyn. I didn’t have to worry about braking in the group and Evelyn took us a different way back onto one of the trails which was thoroughly enjoyable.
They said goodbye and “see you tomorrow” although I doubt in the thousands (or hundreds) that show up I will see them again. I met Joe and we had an enjoyable lunch at Zaxby’s – important because we’re riding different routes tomorrow.
And now my thoughts on the ride:
Our group was too large. I don’t know if they had ride leaders enough to split it but two groups of 30 or three groups of 20 would have been much better. The second group could have left five minutes after the first group. And the second group 10 minutes later.
While most who jumped in the “A” ride are decent bike handlers, we are not professionals. With 60+ riders in the peloton there was too much yo-yo-ing in the group. Even on a flat road at 21-22 mph, there were riders touching their brakes. One woman yelled out “would you all quit braking!” (She would later crash, not from braking but from her chain coming off while she was going uphill.)
IMHO, it was the size of the group which led to someone touching their brakes while we were rolling along and the ripple effect caused the two riders to crash – one was badly hurt. When we rode as a small group to the bakery this wasn’t happening.
Second, the size of the group exposed us all to frustrated, impatient, and even pissed-off drivers. On more than one occasion a truck (it was always a pickup truck – the reader can draw their own conclusions) passed a very long line of cyclists crossing the double yellow lines. On one occasion the truck was going extremely fast while an oncoming car seemed willing to play “chicken” with the truck. With riders two abreast, and there was no shoulder here, he sped up even faster to get past the front of the group and cut back with less than a second before a collision.
A long, stretched-out peloton, like we had today, is hard for a motorist to pass. But they will try. And if you are thinking riders should ride single file, if there is no shoulder they will be in a travel lane and single file is twice as long as two-abreast. Most motorists underestimate how fast cyclists are traveling. A group traveling at 21-22 mph takes much longer to pass than drivers estimate. Of course, they don’t realize this until they are in the opposite lane facing a car coming at them.
I LOVE this ride. The familiarization rides on Saturday are great. But there were times today I felt my safety was in danger just because of the size of our group. And I think it was a contributing cause to the accident today.
EDIT/EPILOGUE – NOVEMBER 18 – At lunch, I met a rider who was up front in the peloton. He said the chain-reaction crash was caused by a rider who decided he had to take a nature break so he hit his brakes and pulled over. Wow. This differs from what Robin heard – that someone had a mechanical although I will say I did not see anyone repairing their bike while we waited with the injured rider.
AMELIA ISLAND, FLORIDA
This was an accidental stay. I intended to stay around St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. When snow hit yesterday morning, I jumped in the car and drove. On my way, I was looking for hotels near St. Simon’s and found this – which must have been close only in air miles. So I drove to Florida.
Excited to ride, I woke up and it was cold. It was the same temperature that I left behind in Washington, D.C. – 41°F (5°C)
I dressed for a ride like, well, like I was at home. One difference was it would to get up to 60° in Florida while it was only to get up to 50° at home. Plus there was no snow on the road here.
I left the hotel completely upside-down. North was South and South was North from someone who usually has an impeccable sense of direction. The hotel was located on the Amelia River which was west and sure looked like the Atlantic Ocean if you squinted real hard. Real hard.
Fernandina Beach has a very pretty old town component to it on Amelia Island. That is where the hotel was located. I started by exploring some of the streets before really riding.
I thought I was headed north while going south. Eventually, I straightened myself out and knew I was headed south to the end of the island. I started up on the causeway but decided that was also a good turning around point.
Traffic in this section was a bit faster than I wanted and I wasn’t sure how much time I had to spend here.
I found the ocean and the nice folks at the bike shop gave me directions. But I just sort of wandered around exploring.
I hit some major streets that I would avoid if I rode here again. But disappointment that I didn’t do better navigating. If there is a next time, I will do it better, if not right. A quick shower and I was off to meet my cousin, Brad Lawmaster, in Lake Mary, Florida.
If I wanted breakfast at the hotel, and that is my favorite part of staying at a Hilton Garden Inn, I would be unable to make the earlier routes. And I already skipped breakfast once on this trip; that was before the World Hillclimb Championships. I wanted breakfast today.
After a great breakfast I headed back almost to Oxnard where I stayed Thursday. The Phil’s Cookie Fondo was departing from an air strip in Camarillo. The temperature dropped, it was 55o. Fog had moved in although 10 miles into the ride we would see the sun.
The Sugar Cookie is our shortest route, but don’t think it’ll be easy. It starts up Potrero Road: where you’ll pray around every turn that the climb will be over. Cruise along the top of Sycamore Canyon and the quiet horse farms of Hidden Valley, and then you’ll face the short climb up Decker Canyon from Westlake. Survive that, and you’ve earned a fun descent down Mulholland Highway to to the Pacific, and a flat run to a Michelin-star lunch at the finish.
Foggy and a little wet, we rolled together for seven and one half miles and then saw it – the Potero Road climb. Immediately I could see people walking their bikes. My legs were tired from the previous four days of climbing. I wasn’t sure about this – except I was. There would be no walking or stopping.
The only reason I would stop would be for a photo op but it’s hard to capture the grade of a climb in a photo. I would want to take one of the number of people walking or had stopped but I did not.
I never thought about quitting. Sometimes it was head down and looking only at the front wheel. Looking up for the end was too disheartening.
This is where I missed my heart rate monitor. I would have liked to see what it was pegging out as. And not so much at the time, I could feel that, but after the ride. I climbed the 2.5 miles in 20 minutes which felt like forever on some of the grades. Still I probably passed 100 riders stopped or walking, maybe 10 who were riding, and was passed by about 10.
After Rest Stop One, there was another climb. While it wasn’t so bad; the visual was awful. Ahead and off to the right I could see this awful fencing of a horse farm. It looked like gnarly switchbacks but thankfully the road did not go there.
After Rest Stop Two we had to face Westlake Blvd. It was a little shorter, two miles, also had a number of people walking but I saw far fewer than the first climb probably because those people hadn’t reached this climb yet.
The reward was reaching Mulholland Highway which was a mountainous, curvy, beautiful eight mile descent to the Pacific Ocean. Much of the time I was in the mountains and really didn’t have great views, or any, of the ocean until reaching the Pacific Coast Highway.
Turning on the PCH, there was a shoulder most of the way. And a wicked cross wind which at times was a head wind. I passed riders, especially those who were doing a family ride, out and back. I slowly caught, Brittany, from San Diego, a 20-something. I told her I was passing her, slowly, and she jumped on my wheel. For the next 18 miles.
I was head down in the wind and she held on until about five miles to go and I saw I dropped her. I then waited and backed off the pace. Brittany told me she signed up for the ride because of chocolate chip cookies. She never heard of Phil Gaimon so I filled her in.
Finishing the ride I told her I would introduce her to Phil. We parked our bikes in the coral and a few minutes later she got hers and told me she was taking her stuff to her car and she’d be back. I never saw her again.
Phil’s assistant laughed at me. Or laughed with me. I told her I have been stood up by better people. And she didn’t get to meet Phil.
With tired legs, yesterday convinced me to go short today. But the 50 mile route was hard, at least 17 miles of it. But that meant, surprisingly, I was back before Phil and some other pros who had ridden the 85 miles route.
Toms Skujins had come over to me and introduced himself last evening and when he came in I went for the photo op. I got one of the other guys to take it. Tom told me selfies were for 12 year-olds. Then another fan came up and took a selfie with him.
Tom told me he heard that I had been through a lot. Wow. Now I wonder what Phil told him. We talked head injuries. I had crashed out at 25 kph and was unconscious, he had crashed in the Amgen Tour of California going 70 kph and tried to remount. That, and we both ride a Trek (he rides for Trek-Segafredo) are the only things we have in common.
I had come to this Fondo as a bucket list item. A one-and-done. After today, I would like to come back.
AGOURA HILLS, CALIFORNIA
This is Phil’s Cookie Fondo. As I write this I have a fresh huge chocolate chip cookie on my hotel’s nightstand that I will never eat. But this was a bike ride with the Chocolate Chip and Sugar Cookie routes today. Tomorrow is the main event and will have the Double Fudge route, a whooping 117 miles and the Mini Chip rides as well as more Chocolate Chip and Sugar Cookie rides.
As soon as I went through check-in, I saw Phil Gaimon, complete with his Cookie Monster head. He called out my name and we got a quick photo. I first met Phil 10 years ago at the Mount Washington Auto Road Hillclimb and he has never forgotten. (Think on that)
We had a police escort for the first 3-4 miles. Not really sure when they peeled off. The group of about 100 riders stayed mostly together for a while and I was comfortable sitting in. Around five miles I decided I wasn’t going to keep up the pace we had been traveling.
I climbed Palomar Mountain on Wednesday, Mount Baldy on Thursday, Gibraltar Road yesterday. My legs were dead. And there would be climbing on this ride. I didn’t try to keep up. Besides, I can’t take pictures while I’m in the group.
It was a beautiful route but it wasn’t flat. Topanga Canyon was nice but oh, that climb. We would climb 6,000′ in 48 miles.
The longer route for Phil’s Fondo Bonus Day goes over the peaceful Old Topanga Canyon into Fernwood. Take a break on the climb because it’s steep, but tell your friends you just had to get that the photo of the beautiful view of LA. Enjoy a cookie and another amazing photo op at Saddle Peak before you descent Piuma back to the expo.
At Mile 21 in we turned up. The road was a residential area but it was a climb. It would be a five-mile climb. Countless times it looked like the hill would crest. You could see the top of the hill and dreamed of the descent that waited over the hill. But arriving at “the top” the road would turn and keep climbing. And you could see more hill. Repeat. I didn’t research this climb and don’t know that it would have made any difference.
The views from Saddle Peak were gorgeous. The road we took looked like it would take us to the ocean and I think it would have taken us down to the Pacific Coast Highway. But after a mile and one half descent we turned back and began the climb back up (damn him). I thought we would go back to where we had been but the map shows we did not repeat our route in this area.
It was hot. Garmin showed 90° although it may have only been 88°. Rest stop one I ate a cookie. Rest stop two I ate a cookie. I did not take on more water because I had 1/2 bottle and it was ice cold. Topping it off would take off the chill. Although the next stop was eight miles away, five of it was uphill. I ran out of water.
I drank and refilled (with ice) at rest stop three. And it didn’t last me long. I was glad to get to stop four which was a repeat of stop one. And that bottle certainly didn’t last long.
My legs are tired. During the second half of this ride, I made the decision not to do the full Chocolate Chip ride (88 miles) tomorrow. When I got back I asked a woman how her ride was. She said “horrible.” She told me she was going to ride to the beach tomorrow.
She had come from Dallas and I thought it was a little silly to make the trip then ride the baby route (30 miles). But today’s ride would make you do that. I did understand.
This evening I went to a reception. Phil gave me a hug (is he ever skinny). I showed him our first picture and he told me that he remembers what I told him at Mount Washington ten years ago. Toms Skujins, a rider from Trek – Segafredo (Latvia), came over and introduced himself. How refreshing.
I am planning do ride the Sugar Cookie route for tomorrow. It’s 50 miles but with not as much climbing as today. My legs are shot and I know it. And the cookie sits uneaten.
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA
Sometime this week I had a dumb idea. Or three. Ride Palomar. Ride Baldy. Ride the Hillclimb World Championships. On three consecutive days.
If I was serious about putting up a good time I would not have ridden Palomar Mountain and Mount Baldy the day before the championships. Those climbs take everything out of you. But here I was.
My day started at 5:30 a.m. and I went to breakfast at the Homewood Suites in Oxnard at 6:00 a.m. Except breakfast was at 6:30 a.m. So I went to Santa Barbara without breakfast, worried more about checking in on time and not missing my start time.
While serious cyclists warmed up on trainers, many of us seemed to ride on East Cabrillo Avenue. When your group was called we had a police escort for about five miles to the beginning of the climb. I would think that’s enough of a warm up.
I lined up with 11 other cyclists; 10 men and one woman. I didn’t say a word to anyone. Someone asked me if I had ridden this before and I told him I hadn’t. Okay, one word (no). He told me had once before. I didn’t ask him about his experience. Or ask for advice. I wasn’t too conversational.
We rolled out with a police escort and at first I was in the middle of the group. But the road turned up and I decided I wasn’t going to keep their pace before the actual climb began. And I’m sure Baldy and Palomar had something to do with it. A gap developed and I was in the second group of two. And then they passed me and I was by myself. I was dropped before the race began.
There was a guy on a hybrid bike and I was sure I’d see him on the climb. I didn’t. Groups were staged every 15 minutes. The first group was 70+ and Clydesdales (190 lbs). When I registered I could have registered as a Clydesdale but was hoping I weighed less than 190 by today. It wasn’t arrogance that I refused to register as a Clydesdale but wishful thinking. I was in the second group (ages 60-69).
Behind us was the 50-59 group and behind them was the 40-49 group. By the time I reached the official start I had already climbed 1,000 feet. Talk about a warm up.
The route is beautiful. I had thought about stopping for a photo op but decided to keep the phone/camera in the pocket. I thought I was about two minutes behind my group but I would never see them today. Any of them. Even the guy on the hybrid. And the two tandems.
Then it was ride at my own pace and wait to be caught. It was a 10 km climb and about 6 km to go the first of the fast 50s went by. Pretty much 27 of their 28 riders passed me. Without about 3km to go the fast 40s came by. Looks like 15 of their 24 that started 30 minutes behind me caught me (although all had better times).
I was suffering. Too much climbing the past two days. No breakfast. I was pretending I was in the early break and was called back to wait for my team leader. One can dream.
It was hard. I never thought of quitting but I didn’t have the power and have too much weight. My power to weight ratio is skewed towards weight.
I was passed by men. By women. By a guy on an ElliptiGO. By a woman on an upright cargo bike (although I think she had an electric motor and she wasn’t racing). By a guy wearing only a Speedo.
After I finished, there wasn’t much to do at the top. No activities were at the finish line. Just turn around and descend. I took my time descending. I was recording some riders and wanting to see the pro men. I thought there would be a moto escort so I was surprised to put my phone down after taking some photos and look up and see Phil Gaimon and Peter Stetina flying around the corner uphill.
Now I am left to reflect. If your goal is winning then only Phil was a winner today. Or Phil and Aimee Vasse if you want winner by genders. We are all losers. Some second losers. Some, like me, 175th loser. DFL. In the world.
I am also reminded that I didn’t try and failed. You only fail if you don’t try. (Things losers say)
I rode because I could. Because seven months ago I could not pedal. Because five months ago I woke up in Ohio with no clue how I got there. Because nine years ago I was battling cancer and every day is a blessing so do something epic. And ego more than anything kept me from registering as a Clydesdale. Who wants to admit you are carrying too much weight? But if I had, I would have finished on the podium. Damn me.
ABOUT GILBRATAR ROAD (from The Complete Guide to Climbing, John Summerson, 2007)
Total Elevation: 3,560′ (1,085 m)
Length: 10.2 miles (16.42 km)
Average Grade: 6.6% (11%)
Rating: 2.40 (Cat 1)
100 Toughest US Climbs: #57
Gibraltar Road is a difficult and scenic climb with great views of the Channel Islands out in the Pacific Ocean. In Santa Barbara, take Mountain Dr. up the hill and stay on Mountain Dr. by turning left at the reservoir. After another 2/10th of a mile turn right on Gibraltar R. which takes you all the way to the top along a very twisty route. The top is along poor pavement and the climb ends (unmarked) by the building with antennas on your left.
The actual race was contested on:
Total Distance: 6.14 miles (9.88 km)
Total Elevation Gain: +2,593′ (790.35 m)
Avg Grade: 8%
EDIT/EPILOGUE – These were “open” championships, i.e., no qualifying necessary. One needed only to sign up and ride. I had met Phil Gaimon, the organizer, 10 years earlier at Mount Washington, New Hampshire. I had been diagnosed with cancer and his dad was dying of cancer. It’s not that we kept in touch over his pro cycling career but he contacted me in the summer and asked if I would “race” in the World Championships. My only condition is that I was permitted to finish – a DFL was okay, a DNF was not. And the way the race was structured, this would be no problem.
I had been diagnosed with an adrenal gland tumor and my endocrinologist told me that would affect my metabolism. I was gaining weight in part because of this tumor and in part because cancer took my prostate and my body was not producing testosterone anymore. But mostly because I liked to eat.
I had knee replacement surgery in February, a traumatic brain injury in May, and was overweight. I did not belong but dammit, Phil asked me to register. So I did. The adrenal tumor and prostate cancer are not excuses – just challenges. And I will (have) overcome those to be in my normal weight range for my height. Bring back the Worlds and I will ride again but next time I can’t register as a Clydesdale.
I was warned. In reading John Summerson’s book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by bike), he wrote that this was the toughest climb in southern California (not sure what is tougher up north). At 13 miles it was the equivalent of the Col du Tourmalet (France).
I read a little about the profile but can’t say I remembered much as I rode. I found a parking lot; a PAY parking lot which sold a four-hour pass for $5. And that, four hours, would become my target. It would have to be.
On the road, and the climb began immediately, I started doing the math. Mostly it was about how long it would take me to get back down and that would leave me with the remaining amount to climb. I wasn’t sure of the length (great planning, huh?) but figured it was 13 or 14 miles. I figured it would take 30 minutes coming back.
And I decided I would take three hours to climb. Knowing that would help immensely the last three miles.
At two miles in I came to an empty dam. I bet this is beautiful when the lake is full. (Actually, it is a dry dam, used only for flood control. Sure would make a pretty lake though.) I only had one water bottle but it was full of ice topped off by one of the small water bottles from the hotel. I carried two small bottles in my back pocket.
I took a dam photo (San Antonio Dam) then poured some water from the small bottle into my water bottle. When I had it filled I went to put the empty bottle in my back pocket and promptly dumped all that ice water on my back/rear. It felt good but it didn’t feel good knowing most of my water supply was already gone. I emptied the second bottle into my water bottle and that would have to suffice on this warm day (70s).
I had decided to ride easy, ride smart. Normally I would not stop but it would be OK for a photo opp. I stopped at the first tunnel. It seemed that every landmark I remembered the road would turn up after that.
The road turns up after the tunnels. The road turns up after Mount Baldy village. It just kept turning up. Early on I saw a sign for “Mount Baldy village – 8 miles.” I wasn’t sure how much farther I would ride after the village but that would be my first target.
I just kept plugging away. It was hard. When I reached the village I saw the Mount Baldy Lodge Restaurant and a sign for the Amgen Tour of California. I decided it needed a photo. An added bonus was I found a water bottle dispenser so I could fill my empty bottle. I would need it.
Like yesterday, the sweat in my right eye was burning. I was fighting vision issues and rode squinting with the eye closed at times. I thought maybe yesterday it was sun screen and was careful not to apply any above my cheeks. It was my own sweat.
After passing through Mount Baldy village I stopped at a rest area (two outhouses), grabbed some toilet paper, and rinsed off my glasses which were a sweaty mess and made it very hard to see. I was a mess.
I continued up the road and saw a sign for Mount Baldy Ski Area – three miles ahead (5 km). And the road turned up. The road from Claremont to Mount Baldy village is 50 mph with a surprising amount of traffic. Most seemed to stop at the village. Above the village only bears and the occasional car seemed to travel.
The road really did turn up and I followed switchbacks the entire way. I was watching the clock and wanted to finish in three hours (going up). My cutoff time would be 1:15 p.m. I had one hour to make three miles. Yes, three miles per hour. Or 20 minutes per mile.
I started watching the clock. I would say to myself, in 17 minutes I will check my distance. Fifteen minutes. Eight minutes. After 20 minutes I would check to see if I had gone one mile. And I had. I knew even at this snail’s pace I would make it.
After two and a half miles I came to a campground or picnic area. Exiting it I saw a sign that read “Dead End.” I figured I was close. Right after that, I saw a 15% “ramp” which lasted about a quarter-mile. I had the road to myself and I started to “paperboy” the climb. (Instead of going straight up I went to the left and back to the ride, increasing the distance but decreasing the grade.
I reached the top and there was nothing here. Nothing. I saw a parking lot with more switchbacks and followed those. And then I saw one more ramp, it was closed, but I rode up it anyhow. As far as I could ride and I had done it.
I had fought myself the entire way. This climb was hard. Damn hard.
I started down and saw a rider coming up. Walking. I turned around and climbed up to meet him. He was from Alaska and had biked Alp d’Huez before (I told him this was tougher). He was out of water but declined my offer to have me pour my water into his bottle. He was not that desperate. I told him he had about 200 yards to go.
Then I went down. The top part was pretty technical until back down to the village. I hit speeds in the mid 40s (mph) but was also going into a head wind. Total time down was 30 minutes after a 3 hour ride uphill.
And with that, a true bucket list climb was finished. I’ll take it.
ABOUT MOUNT BALDY (from The Complete Guide to Climbing, John Summerson, 2007)
Total Elevation: 4,775′ (1,455 m)
Length: 12.9 miles (20.76 km)
Average Grade: 7.0% (15%)
Rating: 3.57 (hors categorie)
100 Toughest US Climbs: #11
This is perhaps the toughest climb in Southern California along a scenic two lane road with a variable grade. The first few miles are fairly shallow with a steeper ramp. The grade increases just after the two short tunnels which appear around the five mile mark. You soon reach the village of Mount Baldy where the grade eases back a bit. Just beyond the village however the true nature of the hill reveals itself as the last four miles average almost 9%. The final section contains ramps of 12-14% through steep switchbacks. The climb ends at the top section of the parking area. Mount Baldy is significantly longer and almost as steep as the famous Tourmalet in France.
The last 300-400 yards just past a campground/picnic area is a straight-up 15% climb. It hurts.
EDIT/EPILOGUE – Mt. Baldy was a bucket list climb for me. The timing was perfect. It wasn’t even good. It was combined with an event the next day – Hillclimb Worlds in Santa Barbara. No serious cyclist planning to race in the Hillclimb Worlds would ride up Mt. Baldy the day before. I did.
PAUMA VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
So much of this ride did not go to plan. I began yesterday afternoon at Jax Bicycles in Murrieta. They were very helpful while letting me pump up my deflated tires from the flight. I got a suggestion to bike from there to Palomar but didn’t really like the way it looked on the maps.
My plan was to go to Pala and ride nine miles to Rincon which would be the start of the 14 mile climb. I parked in Pala and only rode out two miles and did not like Hwy 76. Too narrow, too fast, no shoulders. I went back to the car and drove to Pauma Valley and parked at Pauma Valley Trading Center. I got permission to park and off I went.
I have a display on my Garmin which shows which gear ratio I’m in. Somehow while I slept, it reset to factory defaults and I was having a heck of a time figuring out how to change it. While I rode.
It really wouldn’t make much difference. Instead of displaying 39/53, I would know it was 34/50. And much of the ride I would know I was in my smallest gear. Still, I was only two miles up the climb when I pulled over and checked out a Garmin Forum for the answer (it’s under Di2 on Bike Profiles). As I was ready to roll, I looked behind me and saw a rider about 100 yards back.
In about half a mile, a young lady passed me. No shame there. My goal today was just to get to the summit. No Strava segments. Even stop for photos if I saw something. About five minutes later two other riders, man and woman, both passed and she looked to be wearing the same kit as the first rider. I thought I might see a team or club but they would be the only three riders I would see all day.
Hwy 76 is sketchy. Period. There is a shoulder most of the way on the climb though. About half way up the climb to Palomar turns off to S6. I stopped for a nature break. I am not ashamed.
Once remounted, I just kept climbing. After the turn off almost all the traffic was gone. My big battle today was my eye. Maybe it was sunscreen but my right eye was burning. With one water bottle I had to decide not to drink some but to rinse my eye out. I rinsed.
The climb is relentless. I’m guessing most of my 5400′ of gain was over the first 14 miles which works out to be 7.3% (it is rated as 6.8%). It was a pretty steady 7% climb.
Out of water and near the top a car almost cut me off to pull into a turn off. The young woman got out and filled up her water bottle. I would have missed it. I stopped. It was a natural spring.
At the top, I climbed a little more to find the State Park. I was looking for a loop ride back to my car on Nate Harrison Grade. When I found it the road was narrow and got smaller. Pavement got bad then turned to dirt. I eventually abandoned that idea as I was not sure the “road” actually would connect back to the main road. And even if it did I wasn’t crazy about descending on a steep narrow secluded road with bad or no pavement. I turned around, climbed out of the state park then began my 14-mile descent back the way I came.
This was a bucket list ride. I should not have ridden just two days before the Hillclimb Worlds Championships in two days. But I only plan to be here once. And I made it.
ABOUT PALOMAR MOUNTAIN (from The Complete Guide to Climbing, John Summerson, 2007)
Total Elevation: 4,735′ (1,443 m)
Length: 13.2 miles (21.24 km)
Average Grade: 6.8% (14%)
Rating: 3.43 (hors categorie)
100 Toughest US Climbs: #13
Palomar Mountain is a very difficult climb, along with Mount Baldy the toughest in Southern California. From tiny Pauma Valley head up the hill on route 76. After six miles turn left on S6 (toward Palomar) and you soon begin to switchback up the hill on an increased grade. At the stop sign turn right on S7 then in 1/10 lies go left on Crestline Rd. In a half mile turn left up to Palomar Mountain County Park for a short, steep finish. This climb is longer and as steep as the standard route up the Galibier, a regular beyond category Tour de France climb.
Note: At the top I did not turn right on S7 to Palomar Mountain County Parl but instead turned left and continued up and eventually to Palomar State Park.
Another edition of the Sea Gull Century. It was rainy on the drive in from Ocean City. I found parking at Asbury United Methodist Church although I thought I was still on campus at the time. It was only a problem after the ride when I saw a church and thought that looked like where I parked except I didn’t park at a church. Except I did.
I rolled out to get to the start line which was 3/4 of a mile away. The first group to start was supposed to be pace lines and “other fast riders” although there seemed to be a lot of people at the start waiting for a signal. Probably waiting for friends.
I moved on to the porta-johns, thanks to last night’s pasta loading. There was a loop recording playing stating this was a SHOW AND GO START so when I was done, I went.
I decided not to join any pacelines today and just ride solo. I worked my way past some slow riders and within a couple of miles I was “sitting in” with three other guys. We weren’t tearing up the course; just riding sensibly. The route was safe but crowded. A squirrel could have jumped rider to rider for 10 miles and never touched the ground. It would have also been very tired.
We were passed by a couple of HUGE pacelines. They were flying, probably 30 mph, and must have had close to one hundred riders in each. It was too sketchy for me. I tried it last year for a mile and thought I didn’t know these riders, they’re not professional bike handlers, and one touch of wheels would be disaster. In addition, my knee has been hurting since the Jeremiah Bishop Gran Fondo on Sunday and I didn’t want to push it.
I went by Rest Stop 1 and eventually was solo. The group I was in and was riding a sensible pace started to break up into ones and twos and was a little too slow for me. I started passing some people and came upon two riders side by side with one woman following. My pace was a bit faster and as I passed the woman I saw a jersey with Colorado climbs. I slowed to talk.
The jersey was from the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. The rider, Sandra, told me she was with two guys but they weren’t going to wait for her. She seemed mentally to be struggling with the thought of today’s century. And she would become my ride partner for the day although I didn’t know it at the time. We rode 3-4 miles to Rest Stop 2 (I had blown by Rest 1). She caught up with her friends at the stop and after I filled my water bottles I looked but she was already gone.
I didn’t think too much of it. We hadn’t ridden together much and after meeting her friends I thought maybe they would pace her. Plus I had bigger problems. My Garmin showed 0.0 miles. Somehow it had reset. I didn’t know what happened to the data (44 miles) and was disappointed that my data might show 60 miles instead of 100.
I rolled out from the rest stop and was riding solo passing some riders and thought I should slow down, let a group pass me, then jump in. And I did that. A group of about 10 rolled by and I latched on. We soon caught Sandra who was up the road riding solo, and I told her that this group was her speed. She joined us. We rolled together to Assateague where she met her friends and introduced me to Greg and her other friend (who has no name).
Greg asked me if I was pacing her and I told her I was. Or he asked if I was waiting for her. So the four of us rolled out of Assateague together. Greg set a pace and when it got too fast for Sandra I would drop back with her. Eventually, a fast paceline came by and Greg jumped in with them. That left me to pace Sandra and soon, 10 others.
I kept my eye on Sandra and when I got the pace too high, I would back it off. I thought someone, anyone, from the 10 riders on my wheel would come forward but none did. This is the Sea Gull Century where everyone wants a free ride. I’m not complaining, I did that for the first half of the ride. I even purposely slowed the pace thinking it would be too slow for someone and they would come up and pick up the pace. None did. So I towed them all the way to the Rest at MP 80.
When we left there we rode together. Again, Greg was with us then he went when he found a faster group to jump in with. Sandra and I rode sometimes side by side and she expressed amazement that I was just chatting and she said she was struggling. She asked me just to pull her, which I did. (Insinuating, just pull and shut up – LOL)
We pulled into the finish line together. I showed her the “actual” finish and she said, “I’m good.” And then she left. No goodbyes. No thanking me for pacing her for most of the ride. It’s not like I wanted her phone number (she was my kids’ age) but no goodbye. It just seemed like an odd and disappointing way to end. I found the pie and ice cream and found my way back to my car.
I had a good ride. My knee, which had been hurting, wasn’t hurting too bad. Even backing off my pace to ensure Sandra would reach the finish, I was happy with my total time. And then I checked Garmin and saw the missing data was there, saved in a separate ride. I would go to a site called gotoes.org which could take two rides and put them together as one. I did. It worked. One long ride.
The rain in Ocean City at 6:00 a.m. had dried up by the start. It was overcast most of the day with just a brief bit of sunshine. Leaving Assateague we had a bit of “spitting” rain but nothing to make us wet. Occasionally the roads were wet but the overcast kept the temperature in the low 70s and made for a pleasant ride.
And while I may be playing the hero for helping Sandra, in truth, she helped me. I hadn’t done a ride longer than 80 miles this year and my rebuilt knee was hurting. Helping her was really helping me. And she helped me to a great ride.
And some things we talked about:
- Ride the Rockies no longer has a lottery but is first-come-first-served
- RAGBRAI is mostly a camping event
- Trek Travel is a great touring company – go to France
- Hot Shot stops cramps
- Watch the 2018 UCI World Championships, especially the Jr. Men and Jr. Women’s Races
- Phil Gaimon and The Worst Retirement Ever