The irony of being anxious – no, terrified – about riding more than double my longest distance is that what I needed most was sleep, and the worry kept me awake much of the night. This happens in the days leading up to races as well, it’s just that I had less time to obsesses over this ride having only agreed to do it a few days prior. I managed to get about 6 hours of fitful rest, but I was still haunted by a whopper of a migraine from Wednesday night. I don’t know if the drugs I take for the migraine exit my system in 24 hours, or more importantly, if the migraine had left my system. Migraines are both neurological and vascular in nature and here I was twiddling both of those functions. Signing up for races, agreeing to insane new distances, these are ways to push myself and my limits on my terms.
Iron Tim arrived at 6am needing to change a tube. We were rolling by 6:45 just as the sun was lighting up the street at the break of dawn. Iron Tim worked for NPR’s Weekend America which was doing its final show at 9am and we planned on sending photos from our trip back to Tim’s coworkers freezing their butts off back in Minnesota. Our first shot was the sun breaking over the Ballona River as we exit the bike path and entered the roadway taking us south from Playa Vista down through the South Bay.
The weather was perfect, just over 50 degrees with a small breeze and low moisture. I opted for a base layer, cycling bibs, arm warmers, head kerchief, and cycling jersey and it was perfect for the whole ride, even as it climbed towards 70 during the day.
This is one of my least flattering photos, but a nice one of Iron Tim.
Somehow even with light traffic we managed to hit every single stop light and stop sign in the south Bay. Playa leads to Manhattan Beach, to Hermosa, then Redondo. We were on beach streets with light traffic, but stopping every two blocks made building speed futile. There’s a short bike path in Redondo but we were off that in about a mile and on to Pacific Coast Highway.
From PCH (US 1) we dropped down Western to Anaheim in order to get through San Pedro, the Port of Los Angeles, and Long Beach. This was the roughest part of the ride with really rough road shared with gigantic freight trucks. The asphalt is sloppily applied squidging at the edges into pools of hardened blubber right where a bike would ride. We were early enough in the day on a weekend so the roads weren’t jammed with trucks, but the road conditions and other vehicles make this for experienced riders only. The view of the trainyards, loading cranes, and industrial works at the ocean is pretty spectacular. I do not have photos of this because it was more important to live through it than document it.
Anaheim returned us to PCH in Long Beach, reminding us that much of PCH in the south Bay is basically working Barrio. You can smell the Barrio because it smells like frying bacon and clean laundry. The North San Fernando valley, east and downtown L.A., and other chunks of this city smell like a cooked pig rolled in Tide. It’s weird.
Once we crossed into Seal Beach near the Naval Weapons Station (where they do not, I found out, build missiles that shoot from your navel), we stopped at a McDonalds to use their bathroom and refill out water bottles. We were just over two hours into the ride at this point and I was not drinking enough water. So I drained the rest of my bottle and refilled.
My supplies for the trip were kept to what I could fit in my jersey and the bike. I have 4 water bottle cages on the bike so I used my down tube and seat mast for easy reach fluids, and the rear cages held one bottle of Endurox R4 recovery drink which I held in reserve in case of dire need. It’s 300 calories of liquid recovery and I figured if at some point in the ride I couldn’t eat solids I would want it handy. The front two bottles would be refilled on the go and I kept a bottle of Nuun electrolyte tabs to add to each bottle. It would turn out they did not have enough sodium or potassium for the ride. The fourth water bottle did not hold fluid, rather it had two bike tubes and two CO2 cartridges stuffed inside. In my jersey I stuffed 16 bags of the yam mix, and in my center pocket a plastic bag holding my ID, insurance card, AmEx, debit card, $40 in cash, extra CO2 cartridge, written directions, cellphone, and mini HD video camera. Finally my bike bag under my seat held a multi-tool, tire levers, tube, and CO2 cartridge with inflator.
We stayed on PCH for a long while, through Seal Beach and into Huntington Beach. We picked up a lot of cyclists through Huntington and also the expo for the Surf City Half Marathon was going on and I wondered if I would see my cousin Chris or his friend Anson who were both running that event. I will never run the Surf City/Huntington half again because it is the most boring race on earth. It’s 13 miles of ocean punctuated by glare, glinting sun spots off Gu packets on the ground, a brief “respite” of boring Orange county stucco neighborhood walled communities, then back onto the oceanfront for more mind-numbing miles. The women are astoundingly hot, I’ll give the race that, but there are better ways of getting visual jollies than pounding the pavement in mind-numbing boredom for two hours.
We buried a few weekend riders but were surprisingly left behind by a couple on a tandem bike who were hauling ass. Once we hit Huntington we were finally able to pick up our pace, the stop lights being further spread out and the bike lanes generously laid out. We could tell that the wealth of the area kept increasing as the price of the cars trying to kill us went up. As we crossed from Huntington into Newport both a brand new Ferrari and Porsche Gt3 revved their engines by us.
As a final parting from Huntington, a carload of college-aged blondes honked and waved at us thus making Tim’s day. He stressed that it happens to him a lot, and when the girls get up close and see that the ultra-fit, blonde dude is in his fifties they walk away. I’m happy to be hooted at, and given my experience talking to Orange County bimbos they are better experienced from a distance.
We did manage to snap a photo to send back to freezing Minnesota – one final nail in their coffin. Their show has been canceled due to budget cuts, they’re freezing their ass off in winter, and the prospects for travel, employment, and joy are grim. What better way to underscore that than women’s bikini volleyball in JANUARY?
The next several towns were Orange County beach towns of pampered trophy wives and real estate tycoons in flip flops and beach shorts. Generally good drivers and decent travel punctuated with lots of traffic lights. We finally started hitting long stretches of park area in the south end of Newport Beach. This was some good pedaling and we were able to maintain solid speed.
I think we stopped somewhere in Laguna Beach for lunch at a Subway. We split a footlong turkey sub and spent a few minutes refilling bottles.
Laguna led to Dana Point, down through San Clemente. Here we had good directions to zig zag around I-5 and drop down to an access road leading past the giant breasts of the San Onofre nuclear reactor maintained by SoCal Edison. This took us through some park area, then the entrance to Camp Pendleton. Just before the base I was starting to cramp in my diaphragm. It was about 85 miles into the ride and I wasn’t too happy about the pain in my side. It wasn’t going away with deep breathing and low pedaling, so Tim handed me two sodium pills. Amazingly in about five minutes the pain was gone. Looks like I’m going to start carrying sodium tabs on all long rides because I’ve had diaphragm issues in the past and it’s killed rides. No more!
Camp Pendleton was almost a ghost town other than a few cars every now and again. It seems like the whole base is deployed. Even the residential areas were quiet, the stucco boxes of the military families were completely silent. We didn’t see a single person walking around the neighborhoods. One or two cyclists passing through going the other way, but no one actually living there. Strange. We started seeing more people as we were leaving base at the shopping areas and PX.
We emerged base pretty much at Oceanside and ducked into another Subway for another footlong sub.
Refueled, this time with Coke for the sugar and caffeine, we zipped into Carlsbad. In Carlsbad we got the human scenery we should have gotten the whole way down. I admit it, one of the reasons I like cycling near the beach is that it’s California, man. It’s a good neck workout.
Carlsbad through Encinitas, through Solana Beach and we could feel the end nearby. And then we hit Torrey Pines.
Torrey Pines is one mean mother of a climb, and it just keeps going up. It’s long, slow, steep, and the long turns just reveal more hill. This comes after already putting in over 100 miles, so just turning the pedals on this uphill is a challenge. It’s also after leaving one of the most beautiful stretches of ocean along the coast, so it’s hard putting that behind you as you climb into woods and traffic. But we finally did make it, cresting at the top near the Scripps medical complex and knowing we were finally in La Jolla.
(I should note that I brought an awesome, tiny HD video camera with me that I barely used. It’s the size of a pack of smokes and turns out great quality video. The problem is that the best moments of video happened at times I needed to keep my hands on the handlebars, and therefore the camera stayed in the jersey most of the time.)
Sadly, just after this video is where we made our wrong turn. We read and re-read our directions at the zenith, but as we shot the downhill we went straight on Genesee instead of staying on Torrey Pines, so we wound up going a long arc around La Jolla to get back to the proper road. This also included a sharp ascent while dodging I-5 on-ramp and off-ramp traffic while pedaling into the sun looking for our left turn road. A few recreational cyclists pointed us in the right direction and when they found out how far we had biked, all they could say was “today?”. That was worth it.
We attempted not to die as we rolled downhill through La Jolla and into San Diego proper, avoiding one particular bus that seemed intent of killing us both. At this point we were chasing down the sun as it began to dip behind buildings and dusk settled over the city. Not having road lights was dangerous, and all we had to identify us was a blinking red rear tail light that I remembered was still attached to my bike. I took caboose and trailed Tim through town as we got more punchy against traffic and just kept pedaling to reach Sea World.
And then, magically, there we were. We rolled through the parking lot to find the entrance. Tim wasn’t going to be happy until he saw the entrance, the same as crossing a mat at the finish line. We rolled up to the main gate and found…a red carpet.
We arrived just as the check-in desks were being set up for the awards show. We were surrounded by lovely ladies who clearly were impressed and a little confused at what we had just done.
My wife was waiting for us with a trunk full of bagels, soda, water, Payday bars, and our personal bags. We used the washrooms at Sea World to get cleaned up and changed, putting on sweats and loose clothes.
And you know what? I didn’t feel poorly. In fact, I was upbeat, a little giddy even. I still had gas in the tank and already was wondering if I could run a marathon after that ride. The answer was a definitive NO, but I certainly could have pulled on running shoes and figured it out. It would be by no means a fast run, but I could do it.
I think that getting through the dense beach areas is laborious. Our time was really impacted by having to unclip and put one foot down at every stop or else potentially get a traffic ticket. I can see why the LATC starts at Irvine station, since it skips all the south Bay madness. And yet I can also see the value in doing super long rides. Because having gone from 65 miles to a whopping 135 the idea of doing 112 without stopping sounds pretty good. Downright reasonable. I guess that’s what happens when you push the ends of the crazy spectrum really far out. Anything slightly less crazy is sane. Which is why when someone asked me last night, after having just gotten home and unpacked but before eating a meal and showering if I was ready for a double century – the answer was a resounding YES.
As long as it’s not in the dark.
1) Bring salt tabs for anything over a 2 hour ride. I’m not getting enough salt from my Nuun tabs and yams.
2) On super long rides pack solid food, even just stuff a giant sandwich in a jersey pocket. The two Subway stops were critical, and those were only 315 calories each. The ride burned a total of 7500 calories, and that’s rough given whatever formula Garmin uses to calculate.
3) Be careful when switching to Coke. The sugar rush is intense and I saw that once Tim started drinking it he couldn’t stop or else the blood sugar crash would have killed his ride. I don’t like soda, but in small doses it did perk up my spirits and I could see how flat Coke on the Ironman courses is highly effective.
4) MAP MAP MAP MAP MAP. Having the iPhone was a lifesaver, but it’s laborious to stop, get a signal, and map directions. My short term memory is shot after 120 miles and I need simple directions. I had planned on taping the directions to my leg, fighter-pilot style, but I couldn’t figure out how to laminate it sweat-proof before we left. It was also two pages of directions. Next time, it’s going on the leg.
5) Start as early as possible because you really don’t want to ride in the dusk when drivers aren’t paying attention, the sun is blinding, and you’re trying to navigate to your finish on a weary brain.
6) Invest in chamois cream companies because they really, really save your ass.
Would I do it again? You bet.