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Friday, February 27, 2009

On the road to Death Valley

Thank you for stopping by...

Brandy and I are on the road to Death Valley. We will be participating in AdventureCorps' very well organized and supported Double Century.

Ride report and pictures to follow.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

San Diego 400km Brevet


Brandy and I pre-rode the San Diego 400km Brevet. The event was 240 miles with 13,500 feet of climbing. A lot of the climbing was doable but the steeper grades really hurt us on the tandem. Our total time was 23 hours 52 mins. By contrast, I did a variant of this course solo last year at 20 hours. This is really an EPIC route. The San Diego mountains and high desert remoteness really test your physical strength and mental resolve.

Historically speaking, the 400km is my toughest event. I think it is because I want to do the event straight through without any significant stops. I have always tried to do this event without a full meal stop and without resting at any control. That strategy has worked, albeit painfully, with one exception. In 2004, my second year of Ultras, I DNF'd a 400km and that has stayed with me. It is the only brevet I have ever DNF'd in my seven years of doing Ultras.

Our day began early, REALLY early. We were up at 1:30am. We left at 2:40am from Huntington Beach to the start in Carlsbad.

Mile 0- Start Control--We rolled at 4:30am. My goal was to do the most remote portion of the route in daylight hence the very early start time. The first loop was 14 miles in Rancho Santa Fe connecting back to the coast on Lomas Santa Fe and then north on the Pacific Coast Hwy. We stopped for a double espresso at Starbucks on Grand Ave and PCH in Carlsbad about 24 miles into the ride and then continued on to the San Luis Rey bike path.

At mile 46- we began the climb up Olive Hill Rd. The word "hill" in its name should have given me the first clue. I couldn't remember ever being on this road. It was a good little warm up for what came next.

At mile 54- De Luz Rd is one of my favorite roads in San Diego. It begins with a good 1.5 miles of 8-10% grades. You continue climbing on De Luz Murrieta Rd and Rancho California Rd before descending into Temecula. Lots of good climbing. I had been concerned about the water crossings (very slippery) on De Luz Murrieta Rd but they were fine. We walked the bike across just in case.



At mile 77.5-- Temecula Control --We got our "proof of passage" and continued on in search of food. We eat at Wendy's about one mile up the road on Jefferson Ave. I had a double stacker. Brandy had a grilled chicken wrap and we shared a baked potato. As we were leaving I gave the wheels a spin and checked the brakes. It's a silly little habit I have. That's when I noticed Pia had a broken spoke on the rear wheel. It's funny how lately I've been packing things that I normally don't take with me on a ride and then end up needing it. Maybe I shouldn't bring them in the first place LOL!. This time I brought a Leatherman tool and sure enough I used the pliers to unscrew the nipple on the broken spoke and remove the spoke. The wheel has 32 spokes. The wheel was only slightly out-of-true with one missing spoke. Pia has disc brakes so even though the wheel was out-of-true we didn't have any issues with braking like you would with rim brakes.

Mile 108--Hemet Control-- The terrain was slightly uphill with no major climbs from Temecula to Hemet. On our way into Hemet someone attempted to hit us with a snowball or something similar. They were on the other side of the road traveling in the opposite direction and somehow we were bothering them. I guess as cyclists in these rural areas we are considered "game" and people love to throw things at us. I was so glad that we were on a tandem. I would be worried sick if Brandy was doing this event on her own. Even though it was only 30 miles after eating in Temecula we were hungry again. We stopped at Sonic's. We had a couple of burgers some fries and a couple of Diet Cokes. We left Sonics and rode to the designated control, Denny's, and then headed out of town on Stetson and State Street. The girls there were on roller skates as they serve you at your table or car. I got a kick out of that.


Mile 115- Sage Rd. The next 50 miles were the toughest part of the ride for Brandy and I (52 miles with almost 5000 feet) . Sage Rd is a climb that undulates as it climbs in elevation. Every now and then there were steep grades that caused us to grind up in our "granny-granny" (smallest chain ring and 28T cog). On one of those steep grades we dropped our chain and it got jammed in between the frame and the smallest chain ring.

Here we are on a blind corner, steep grade and no shoulder whatsoever trying to dislodge the chain. I felt exposed to the traffic. Many of the vehicles on this road are diesel pick-up trucks towing trailers along with the compulsory wide-ass side mirrors. When I mean there was no shoulder I MEAN NO SHOULDER. Like many roads in these rural areas there was the lane for vehicles, a curb, about 1' foot wide dirt and then as a bonus this section had a 20 foot drop. The drop was convenient for the repair since it put the crankset at eye-level without me bending down LOL! While we were working on the jammed chain two MTB'ers traveling in the opposite direction pulled over. I thought it was very nice of them to stop. I believe one of them said their name was Dave Barrett. He offered me help but I had the chain jam under control. When I was done we walked back to his car and cleaned off my hands with some paper towels and water. Thank you Dave!


Mile 126-- Wilson Valley Rd. Was very difficult for us. We were getting tired of the up and down terrain and the steep grades. At one point we came around a corner and I saw the "corkscrew" up ahead and actually exclaimed aloud "OH MY GOD!" I don't usually do that. Heck I'm the guy that loves climbing. But I was hurting. I was really looking forward to the fast descent on Hwy 371 into Aguanga and get some reprieve from the climbing.

Mile 136- Aguanga Control We got some fluids and "proof of passage". The next 35 miles were on Hwy 79. Nightfall was rapidly approaching and it was starting to get cold. We were only 140+ miles into this brevet, we were way "out there"-- oh yeah it's going to be a long night.


Mile 145- Dodge Valley Oasis- a restaurant owned and operated by Sadie, a sweet and energetic gal. She hustled to get us served quickly and back on the road. We were in serious need of food and a respite from the elements. We had a real meal; Tortellini, Ravioli, salads and coffee. We were stopped for about an hour. We felt very well taken care of by Sadie THANK YOU!

Leaving the warmth and security of the DVO was difficult. It was now 7:30 at night and very cold. Some of the patrons were talking about snow. You are mid way up a climb when you exit DVO so you got get back on task right away. We continued the climb up to Sunshine Summit. We did some descending and climbing through Warner Springs and Santa Ysabel. On the last pitch outside of Santa Ysabel my back was hurting so much I asked Brandy if we could pull over so we could "take 5".


Mile 171.1- Getting to Santa Ysabel was a major milestone for me. Santa Ysabel meant the end of the climbing, end of the higher elevation, the end of the cold (or so I thought) and the feeling that every mile from that point forward was bringing us closer to home. Looking at the elevation graph you can see there was a lot of descending from Santa Ysabel to Ramona and more descending into Rancho Bernardo. We descended Hwy 78 and Old Julian Hwy to Ramona.

Mile 186- Ramona Control- I got a danish and a hostess fruit pie. Brandy got brownie and a coffee. She was falling asleep. I had not experienced any sleep deprivation.

Mile 189- Highland Valley Rd was a fun descent at night. It was the first time I had ever been on that road in the dark. It's a great stair-step climb going from Rancho Bernardo to Ramona and a very fast descent going back to Rancho Bernardo.

Mile 202- Pomerado Rd. We stopped to "regroup". I changed to a fresh NiteRider Moab battery.

Mile 207.5- Camino Del Norte- We missed this turn because none of the lighted signs said "Camino Del Norte" like our route sheet. No... they said Twin Peaks. We were on a slight downhill and blew past the turn and continued downhill. Eventually, we pulled over consulted our google maps on our cell phone and realized we had passed Camino Del Norte and "climbed" back to the turn.

Mile 218- We were really tired. We were supposed get on the 56 Bike Path "at the SW corner of intersection". We stood there trying to figure out what would be SW. It was late and cold and we just wanted clear cut directions. DON'T ENTER THE BIKE PATH ON THE GAS STATION SIDE ENTER THE BIKE PATH ACROSS THE STREET. THE ENTRANCE TO THE BIKE PATH WILL BE ON YOUR RIGHT AS YOU GO UNDER THE 56 FREEWAY.

Mile 223- We were tired, cold and irritable. The bike path was flooded so we had to take the detour. Once again the directions on the route sheet frustrated us. WHEN YOU CROSS THE STREET GO LEFT ON THE BIKE PATH.

It was really cold. I couldn't believe how cold it was on the 56 bike path. Is this San Diego? I know it's February but come on. We finally figured it out but wasted at least 20 mins and we were furious. Now that I'm nice and warm and sitting here with a full belly I think about how brain dead we were. It was 245 am!

Mile 225- Carmel Valley Control- Obtained our "proof of passage" while I ate yet another cheese danish. Brandy didn't get anything she just picked from my danish

Mile 240- Finish Control- We arrived at 4:24 am. Almost 24 hours from the start.

I'm almost embarrassed to tell people who are not Randos that it took us that long to ride 240 miles. But it is what it is. Randos know the difficulty of these epic rides. The climbs hurt us and steeper climbs hurt us even more. Even though we can descend faster than solo bikes we just don't make up the time we lost climbing at 4-5 miles an hour. Subsequently, the longer you are on the course, the more stops you will take, the longer the stops get, and the more tired you get and the slower you get.

I still need to put together a slide show. The 600km Brevet is on April 4. That gives us a little more time to get in shape. We will have a little more daylight and it should be a little warmer. We are visiting some of the same climbs. We should be a little stronger by then.


It's done. It was tough more info to follow.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

San Diego 300km Brevet...

Photo taken by Mike Berry


First allow me to thank you my sponsors Woolistic for their excellent wool, Detours Bag for the Hightail bag AWESOME!, Nathan Sports for all their reflective gear, hydration and fueling accesories, NiteRider for their Moab lighting system and Showers Pass for their AWESOME lightweight Protech jacket.

Alarm goes off at 3:30am. Wait a minute this isn't normal. Do I really want to get up at 3:30am? Do I really want to go on a 180 mile 13,000 feet of climbing on a tandem? Urrg!

That's how my day, OUR day began. Brandy and I were all snuggled-up in our warm bed when that alarm went off. Even though I haven't asked her I'm sure the same thoughts went through her pretty little head---it's too early, it's too cold it's too far of a ride etc...We have an hour to get dressed, load up the truck, make bottles, check weather again (something we neglected to do on the 200km or we would have put fenders on the tandem) and get on the road. Ok just one more "snooze".

4:30am -- First order of business FUEL! The truck needed fuel and the Captain and Stoker needed fuel as well. What's open at 4:30am? Jack in the Box. I had a sausage and egg biscuit -- not bad. Brandy had a breakfast burrito and then we shared a croissant with egg or something in it and two large coffees. At that time of the morning I just didn't care how it tasted.

Now the average American shouldn't have that much calorie and fat laden food. But then again Brandy and I are not average and we are about to endeavor on a 300km event with a lot of climbing. The average American won't burn half the calories we will today.

Two hours later we arrived at the ride start in Chula Vista. I felt rushed and I hoped I wasn't forgetting anything. We took care of the administrative matters and lined up with at least 25 other riders. I was surprised to see so many riders on a 300km in January. The weather couldn't be more perfect-- clear skies and high 40's F at the start. Before we rolled Brandy began medicating for a sore knee and her cold symptoms-- something she would have to do regularly throughout the day.

We roll out of the Von's parking lot as Tail End Charlie, was it an omen? The first two blocks was up a slight grade (1-2%) and we begin to pass riders. I felt a duty, a responsibility, as the only tandem, that we should lead out the ride through Otay Lakes Rd until the first climb--Honey Springs Rd a 6.5% 7 mile climb. But on the first little dip I tried working the Rear Der down the cassette and got NOTHING. We pulled over and I began the usual troubleshooting. I thought I fixed it so we rolled off. The pack is long gone by now. Once on the road I realized it's still not fixed and we pulled over again.

This time I take a little more time to troubleshoot. I find the culprit. The cable housing under the bike (under the Captain's Bottom Bracket) is seized around the rear der cable. I break it free and try to reposition the cable and housing in the cable stops but the plastic inner sleeve has separated from the cable housing. I then remembered that I was carrying a Swiss Army knife.. My friend from Switzerland (no-- really!) gave to me as a present--thank you Lukas. I typically don't bring a knife on my rides, but this morning as I was taking the trash out I passed by my car and remembered I had a knife in my trunk I've never used it but said "Hmmm...maybe I should take a knife". I cut the sleeve and reinstalled the cable.

Notice the Nathan reflective gear on our ankles and helmets.

Why was the cable seized up? It had rained on us on the 200km. I had washed the bike and lubed the chains (talkin' about a tandem here--folks there are TWO of them) but apparently I need to lube the cables as well after rainy and muddy rides.

We are now more than 45 minutes behind the last rider. It is only 1.5 miles into the brevet. Mentally, I'm going through the scenarios of how late tonight we will finsh. Also my goal was to get to the base of Hwy 67 (about 60 miles with about 4,500 ft) before it got too hot. It is a long slog of a climb from Lakeside to Ramona and then to Santa Ysabel. It is 30 miles of up and up with rollers ( see graph above) but basically it climbs up to 3,000 feet from below 500ft. I even considered calling it a day since the day was not off to a good start.

On Dehesa Rd, we run into our friend Pete Masiel. We stopped and took pictures since we were so behind the pack what was the point on killing ourselves (another 10 minutes).

We reach the first control and take some electrolytes. As I'm getting our brevet cards signed I see Brandy taking another dose of Ibuprofen and some cold medicine. It took us 5 hours to do 55 miles and 4700 feet. It was a short stop probably less than 10 minutes.

About 1.5 miles into the climb up Hwy 67--- POP!! We get FLAT #1. It was a buttonhead screw sitting on it's buttonhead. I didn't see it until I was right on top of it. I missed it with the front wheel but the rear tire wasn't so lucky. Of course, the flat happens on a narrow shoulder.  We pick up Pia and get on the other side of the guard rail. I removed the tire and noticed it had a small cut. I install a tire boot and we get back on the road. We are on mile 66 and 4900 feet of gain.

We climb into Ramona and while cruising down Dye Rd I ask Brandy if the rear tire looks flat or feels flat to her. Sure enough the rear tire was flat again. FLAT #2. I change the flat and as I'm putting the wheel back in I inadvertently knock one of the disc brake pads out of the rear brake caliper. I didn't know what it was at the time. But as I finished with the installation of the rear wheel-- it just didn't feel right. That's when I noticed that one of the pads was missing. I found it laying on the ground. I tried to reinstall it but I later found out that I bent the spring as I was putting it back.

. You can load an awful lot of stuff for brevet riding in this bag.

I had only brought two tubes and two CO2's with us. I don't usually flat. But I have to adopt the mindset that we are now a 280lb tandem team. As such, we won't roll over the stuff I normally do when I ride solo at 155lbs.

We get back on the road but the rear disc brakes are rubbing. I was also worried because we were out of spare tubes and CO2. I decided we need to regroup play it smart and get some repair work done on the tandem and buy more flat repair stuff. We go off-course to find Kirk's Bike Shop in Ramona. To most people, Randos look like people from another planet. We have, what seems to them, far too much gear on us and on our bike. Our bikes aren't sleek racing machines nor are they loaded down touring bikes. We are "tweeners" not racers not tourers but who are are we really?  Some of us race the brevets and some just want to finish we're an odd lot.

We walk into Kirk's with our tandem, a Pinarello tandem, and no one has ever seen one before. I think that's kind of cool. I ask for the mechanic and a gentlemen tells me, "He'll be with you soon he's selling a couple of bikes." My frustration is evident but I try to play it cool. Kirk, the proprietor, is selling two beach cruisers.

We have to kill some time until our number is called so we walk across the street to a liquor store to get something cold to drink. While there we take pictures with a girl selling some alcohol something or other and head back to the bike shop.

When we return to the shop, Kirk is putting our beast of a bike in his repair stand --- with the help of three other people. Along with the "brake job", I also lament to him that the rear derailleur shifting has been off all day. It's at least 3:45pm (Total Brevet time 8 hr 45 mins) and we have only done 80 miles. We were at Kirk's at least 45 mins. I bought his last three (3) threaded CO2's. I also bought three tubes just in case . While there we get a call from Mike Berry, the RBA.  And then he actually paid us a personal visit. Isn't that something?

We leave the bike shop and about a mile later POP! FLAT # 3. Can this really be happening to us? I change the flat and get back on the road.

I love Old Julian Hwy and it was great to show Brandy the great backcountry of San Diego County. We arrive at Santa Ysabel and there's Mike B, Tom and Tina Reynolds and Tom Parkes. The only good thing about being Tail End Charlie is you get to finish off Tina's homemade soup and bread. I think it took us 10 hours to get to Control #2 at mile 96. It was starting to get cold and the sun was setting fast. We put on all our cold weather and Nathan Reflective gear that had been stuffed all day in the Detours High Tail. One of the last pictures we took was at 5:46pm. I think we left within 5 minutes of that picture.

Don't we look smashing? Thanks to Nathan Sports for the reflective gear. You might have noticed our ankle bands and of course their reflective vests. Thank you Nathan.

The route has a lot of descending ALL the way back to Lakeside. It was nice to get the big gears rolling again. It was also important to get out of elevation and the cold. It was warmer in Lakeside plus we were no longer creating our own wind chill factor speeding down Hwy 67 at 50mph.

Once in Lakeside we climbed up to Alpine. The climb on Japatul Rd was weighing heavy on my mind. I knew it was the hardest and steepest climbing of the day. It was on the back end of the course and our largest cog was only a 28T rear cog.

On the climb to Alpine I couldn't believe my eyes-- there were blinkies up ahead. After 14 hours of riding-- off-the-back mind you -- I am finally seeing the tailights of other riders. As we pass Mark S. we say a few words to him and another rider and we press on to Carl's Jr., our next Control. On the crest of the climb I see Milly Valdez and Alonso Gomez heading out to Japatul Valley Rd. At Carl's Jr. we at least two other riders there. We grab a couple of burgers, our valuable receipt and head out.

I felt bad for rushing Brandy out of the Carls Jr. control. I had a couple of reasons. I know how comfy a warm place can be after being on the bike for that many hours. But I strongly believe taking off the chill is all you need-- don't wait until you get warm. The second reason was I know the Japatul Valley Rd climb. I lived in Santee and I would torture myself on that road a couple of times a week. The climb has a good number of steep grades and rollers the give you false hope as you drop only to pitch up again-- steeply. In addition, since it was after 9pm I knew it was only going to get colder. Luckily, on this brevet route we wouldn't be doing the entire Japatul Valley Rd climb. We turned off of Japatul only about 6 miles into it. After our Lyons Valley turn off there is still about 7 more miles of steep undulating terrain climbing all the way to the I-8 freeway.

I was surprised at how well we did on the steep rollers. We have an 11-28 SRAM Cassette and it seems to be working out for us. I was even more surprised when we came up on Alonso Gomez. I was sorry to hear that he DNF'd so close to the finish. Had I known he was that close to the edge I would have stopped, talked to him and motivated him to go on. We passed him just as we were nearing the right turn onto Lyons Valley only 27 miles from the finish.

The descent on Lyons Valley was Brandy's favorite part of the ride she told me later. I wish we could have done that in daylight. It is one of my favorite roads out there. I later found out that Milly Valdez was on the side of the road and was impressed with our descending speed in the dark of night. It is very invigorating to descend on the tandem at 50+ mph into the darkness. The NiteRider Moab is your friend on dark nights. The amount of light the Moab puts out and the beam pattern is incredible. I feel very safe descending at high speeds in the dark with the NiteRider Moab.

Once we got under 25 miles I was doing the countdown of miles. I was also trying to calculate our finishing time based on pace, miles and terrain. Once we crested the little bumb of Honey Springs Rd I knew the last 15 miles were going to be easy going and mostly Big Ring Time! Otay Lakes Rd was really cold especially as we were going around the lake and it was the first time I had to put on my Showers Pass Pro Tech jacket. I love this jacket it so thin, easy to pack and so warm when you need it. It was nearing Midnight and I was glad I had another layer to put on.

It was foggy as we came in to the finish. The fog made for a very fitting conclusion to our epic ride. Three flats, Rear Der issues, and Rear Disc brake issues and a lot of mental anguish being off the back for 14 hours of the 17 hours and 20 minutes but it was done and in the books.

Getting flats were a huge delay because the flat repair was buried in the Detours bag. You would think we would learn our lesson after the first flat but how many flats do you think you will get in a day. By the second flat I thought we were done flatting. During the 300km this is what we had stuffed in the DETOURS High Tail bag-- two Showers Pass Pro Tech jackets, two reflective vests, two sets of wool knee warmers, , 1 set of wool arm warmers, two sets of wool gloves, three tubes three CO2's, a boot, a multitool, Swiss Army knife, cold medication, wallet, keys, cell phone, zip ties, black electrical tape and cold hard cash.

This is the longest ride to date for Brandy and I on the tandem. I honestly didn't believe riding a tandem could be so much fun. Brandy is so awesome as a stoker. Our teamwork is improving every ride in particular on our climbing out of the saddle. Riding the tandem is a lot more difficult on the climbs... well actually in every aspect except the descents. We joked and laughed for hours. We even role played as two characters to pass the time. I really enjoyed the 300kms, the 17+ hours, the mechanicals, and the laughs with my girl.

Thanks to Mike Berry and all the volunteers who put on this great brevet series. We'll see you at the 400km.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

quick update

Brandy and I finish the San Diego 300km (180 miles) in over 17+ hours with a significant amount of mechanicals ride report soon.
Today I went to Crystal Cove for my first MTB ride ride (5 1/2 hours) ----report soon.