Saturday, May 11, 2013

2013 Stagecoach 400: Part II The darkest hour

Day 3: Sunday morning. 280 km out of 600 km left, so I've done a little more than half of the distance. I planned on doing the second half in one throughride, expecting to need somewhere between 25 and 30 hours. Most of the climbing is still to come, probably about 6000 m, and they are concentrated in the last third of the ride, but in contrast to the first half, almost all of those 280 km are rideable.

I was up at about 5, nice cool temperatures and fog. I feel much better in that climate and knew that I would have a good morning.

Sweetwater Reservoir
Bugs do like that climate better than the desert as well, so I had to shake a bunch earwigs out of my sleeping bag. My left-over pizza, although in a plastic bag, in my backpack, and on the table (not left on the ground) was taken over by them as well. Quite the party on the table, big caterpillars, a few big hairy ones, lots of earwigs, and a bunch of others.

So my breakfast had to wait, but I was just 2 hours away from downtown San Diego. While I think of the route of rolling into San Diego from the east, the route actually is further south (Chula Vista and National City) and even by the time it hits San Diego Bay, it still is just 10 miles to Tijuana.

I enjoyed riding the last little sections of single track around Sweetwater Reservoir, but the route quickly becomes urban, although still on trails away from roads. Then from the San Diego Bay on, it is on streets. A little bit after 7, I was in a cafe in Little Italy.

Foggy morning at Sunset Cliffs
Riding through San Diego early on a Sunday morning isn't bad at all, although it probably would annoy me at other times. It has its own charms as an interlude between the remote parts of the ride.

The SC 400 takes you through through the convention center area, downtown, past Little Italy, through the Sunset Cliffs neighborhood, around Sea World and Mission Bay, and even on a campus tour of UC San Diego. And at the end, a quick side trip through the Torrey Pines Preserve instead rolling down a 4-lane highway. Pretty cool for an urban ride.

Overall, the ride through San Diego is more bike friendly than this sign and section would indicate (near Sea World):

20 meter of bike path to lead you smack into a signpost (no bikepath afterwards)
I stoppped at UC San Diego for an early lunch, there is a nice eatery near the economics dept. So if you see economics dept on the right, stop right afterwards at the cafeteria. Best burrito on the trip. Real meals are served starting at 10.30 (I waited around for a few minutes) including Sundays (it was Sunday), coffee is available earlier. Given that I was in the urban area by 5.30 or so and this is the end, the total urban San Diego time came to about 5 hours.

UC San Diego

Now comes the biggest surprise: Great riding through suburbia.  San Diego is surrounded by suburban hell for many miles. Countless big developments, all cul-de-sacced with huge artery roads as the only entries/exits and connectors. Until last year, I had very low expectations for gettting out of San Diego, but surprise: We are largely off-pavement and on great trails to boot. 

Between all those developments is lots of open space. The tricky part is finding it because the developers and/or residents are not trying to make it accessible. Some individual loops are well known, e.g. the Tunnels (officially: Del Mar Mesa Preserve), which is a nice flowing single track in an overgrown canyon, but mapping out a long-distance trail is brilliant. Eventually, there may be an official long-distance trail which is the goal of the San Dieguito River Park, but the existing sections don't connect (although the SC 400 route creates those connections). 
The Tunnels
After the Tunnels comes a good example of why you'd never find a good route on your own. The Tunnels section ends at a gas station, which also marks the beginning of a big suburban road, many huge intersections with long waits at traffic lights, shopping center. But just for a short distance, you make a sudden left turn, into a cul-de-sac and take it to the end. No signs, looks all like private driveways and a dead-end, yet there is a gate that takes you out into the next open space area. Around there is where I saw the biggest rattlesnake in a long time: 
It started getting uncomfortably hot again, definitely leaving the cool ocean breeze behind, but it was nice riding. I could feel getting brain fry setting in again. My rear brake didn't work very well, squealing loudly, but hardly any breaking power. The pads weren't worn down, but washing it out or trying to roughen the surface with a bit of sand grinding didn't help. Maybe I overheated on the long descents yesterday and damaged the pads, but the brake needed work. But even in the shade, it took me several minutes to to take the rear wheel out and change the brake pads, being as clumsy as if I had never done that before. I was overheated myself. But I managed without losing parts and eventually had a reliable rear brake again. And sitting in the shade for a while was good, too.   

Many tight switchbacks, but I rode them better this time than ever before
There is the memorable switchback section which connects (after a climb) with the singletrack section around Lake Hodges and, after going under I-15, the San Pasqual Valley trails. I stopped for an early dinner at Panera Bread for a salmon salad and a sandwich for the rest of the ride and filled up on Pepsi. Panera's  sandwiches are mediocre and overpriced, but it still beats gas station food. Obin and I were disappointed with their food last year when we ate there (we rode in the San Pasqual Valley). The salad was good, though. By this time, I was a few hours ahead of my time last year and on target to finish in under 3 days/72 hours. Especially since I felt better than last year when stopping here and even then I had a fun ride through the night. And it is only 100 miles back to Idyllwild from here, although almost half the climbing of the total ride may still be ahead. I'm not sure, but the first day has very little climbing, the second day has its share, but less than 10,000 feet, and the 3rd day has been reasonably flattish so far. So could be as much as 15,000 feet left.

This is a nice trail, but it eventually ends and then comes an ugly moment: 3 miles climbing on 78 (which is the main road from Escondido to Ramona/Julian). A busy road, no shoulder (the road just squeezes in between the rocks) and cars still going >50 miles. So I put on all my blinkies, took another big swig of Pepsi, and sprinted up that hill as fast as I could. It really wasn't that unsafe, there are occasional turnouts and not one car even came close. Still, I hate that section, even for 20 mins. But then, road cyclists do that all the time and even Tour Divide has hundreds of miles like that. 

Only 3 miles, then a turnoff onto a dirt road, although so washed out that it is at times single track. Another part that I really like. 

Eventually the climbing starts and it got dark, so can't say much about the views. But there is a lot of uphill and much of it steep. In Black Canyon, I saw this beauty:
Black Canyon Creature

Around 10 or 11 in the evening, I got very weak and tired. I took a 1 hour nap somewhere off Black Canyon, ate a bit, and hopped into my sleeping bag, even though it was not a comfortable spot. That break improved things a little bit and I headed on, but rather slowly. 

2 hours later, now on the road around Lake Henshaw (76), so a brief pavement stretch, I was again getting very weak and tired.  The Tour of California will zoom down on the same descent and then make a left turn where I turned right two weeks later. But they'll go 40 km/h and at that moment, I could not go faster than 15km/h (<10 miles). So off the bike again and this time I found a very attractive spot. Deep pile of leaves under some trees, extremely comfortable and as good as any bed. I slept for a bit, probably about 2 hours, and started up again at 3 am. 
Deep layer of leaves under trees make a great sleeping spot
My performance didn't improve at all, still averaging 15 km/h on a largely flat paved road. Yes, some headwind, but there was no escaping the obvious conclusion that I had totally run out of power for the moment. I sputtered through Warner Springs without stopping (there isn't anything to stop for either and I had water). As I turned back into the National Forest towards Indian Flats, I got really cold, although objectively it cannot have been that cold, put on every layer I had and still was shivering going uphill. 

Now what to do?  I already tried eating and sleeping. There was no attractive stopping place either. So this was the darkest hour moment of my ride and it fittingly came during the wee hours.  Very different from last year, when just around this time of the night and this section of the trail was one of my most enjoyable times of the ride. 

"Dark hours" do happen, typically a consequence of a mistake in not eating or drinking enough, digestive problems, or just having tried to ride above ones abilities. Or they can creep in without any obvious reason because I couldn't think of any mistake I had made the previous day (except some yucky drink I bought at the gas station after the Tunnels). My "dark hours" are most likely to occur mid-afternoon when the sun is out at full blast, dehydration sets in, but when the sun goes down I feel strong again and enjoy riding. This time it hit me right in the earliest morning hours. Not much that could be done at 4 am in a National Forest, so onward, at a slow crawl and occasionally even just a slow push. 

The sun always rises and it didn't even take that long before the sky slowly started to become brighter. And as it became brighter, though still before daylight, the ghostly period fainted away and everything was fine again, even without a meal or stopping.  But in the 12 hour period since the early dinner stop, I fell about 5 hours behind my pace last year and only about 1-2 would be extra stopping time - the rest was slower pace. Surprising at the amount of damage that period of weakness did. 

I took a breakfast break and then tackled the seemingly endless sequence of hill after hill. You always think that Anza must be right behind the next mountains, but it never is. Very pretty, though, and I didn't see any of that last year because I was long through here before it got light. So there was an upside to the ghostly nighttime episode. I enjoyed the ride again. 

With all those endless climbs, you get to study the ground for a long time. What do we have here? Fresh Nano tracks, probably less than an hour old, certainly less than 2 hours. 
Fresh Nano tracks, Tracey Petervary must have been here less than an hour ago!

While I had no idea which other riders were still riding or who might be where - I had not seen anybody since the Stagecoach RV stop 2 days before - this looked like Tracey Petervary to me. It's kind of funny what odd skills you pick up over time. I actually didn't know what tires she was riding and only that on those distances she is about my speed, but I could tell that this is a lightweight rider with smooth pedaling style. All the other tracks were noticeably older and to the extent that they were still readable looked like very different types of rider (heavier, mashing pedals). And in one case somebody extremely exhausted and about to fall off their bike: Lots of micro-swerves, getting off to walk. Probably just how my tracks from 3 hours earlier looked. But they were all much older tracks, nothing else was recent. 

But eventually, there really was the final hill climb and on the other side was Anza valley. Now all the way down, across the valley, and up the mountains on the other side back to Idyllwild! 

Anza Valley

I thought I could see a cyclist ahead of me, but it was so far that it was more like a moving dot. It was almost 9 am as I reached Terwilliger Road where almost exactly 3 days earlier we turned left and  dropped into Coyote Canyon. Now I was coming to this road from the other side, so made a left onto Terwilliger Road. Stopped at the Sunshine Market to fill up my bottles and as it turns out, the store just opened as I got there. So instead of starting the last climb, I took a longer break in the shade, with a bottled iced coffee. 
Thomas Mountain descent - but now climb

  I know I came down that trail before, but it sure didn't look that steep before. As much fun as the descent it, the climb is a long walk, at least after just having done almost 600km. It is steep, it is long, it is fully exposed, and by now it was hot, too.  

Then a bit of pavement on the Pines-to-Palms Highway again, May Valley, almost back. After getting off the highway, my chain really started to act up and even generous amounts of lube didn't help. Having spent too much time working on the front derailleur earlier this morning, I had no interest of playing with the chain so close to the end. But the chain got very moody and wanted to jump of the chainring whenever I pushed hard (I could see at least one bad looking link), so I tried to softpedal as much as I could softpedal up a climb. My GPS showed 600km, I could see the top, I was done - but then the chain fell off. Picked it up and was unsure what to do now, but I remembered that it is essentially all downhill to the bike shop and the Idyllwild Inn (where I left the car). So I started to roll, but must have made a wrong turn because I didn't get to Cafe Aroma where we started (and which is uphill from my car and the bike shop) but instead ended up on the highway below. But I was not going to repair a chain and use a new master link for the last half mile so just walked the rest to the Idyllwild Inn. 

I got to the bike shop at 1.50 (Brendan's official time). Tracey Petervary's arrived 1 1/2 hours before me, so with the Sunshine Market break, the mechanical delays, and the final walk, the dot that I saw in the Anza valley might have very well been her. Funny how close we were at the end given that I last saw her at the start (and she got out of Fishcreek Wash 6 hours or so before me). 

I was the 9th finisher, but the field thinned a lot as 2/3rds had quit. The finishers were very spread out. Gerry Lattimer was the next to finish and he came more than a day after Tracey and me, while the 3 fastest riders (Eddie O'Dea, Guy Sutton, and Jay Petervary) had arrived 1 1/2 days earlier. 

Definitely too square-eyed to start driving home, so I hung out at the bike shop for a while. The guys had just ordered pizza, so my timing was perfect (or maybe they knew from trackleaders where I was). 

Was home before dinner time after a weekend well spend. Need to do that more often because those rides always put me in a good mood for while. 

1 comment:

  1. Great write up. Thanks for sharing. I'm thinking of doing it this year.