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This was a somewhat uninspired challenge, as far as creativity goes. It wasnt even meant to be my real challenge. It was just a long day on the bike Id planned. I wanted to do all of the real climbs in the Santa Monicas, which turned out to be 11, so I through a birthday number into the fray, to climb at least 4,200 meters (app 13,800). I knew that all of the planned climbing would far exceed this. I also knew that I might not be able to do every climb, which would be more than 20,000 of elevation gain and a couple hundred miles. So I concocted a schedule where I started from the hub atop Saddle Peak, so I could use my van, parked strategically, for support. This seemed prudent since most of my friends would want nothing to do with supporting this type of thing and those that might would most likely have to work, because my birthday fell on a weekday. So it was going to be 12 hours in the saddle alone. What the hell. I like being alone.
With no weird food, no drinking or smoking, and only one sport on the itinerary, it almost felt like a cop out. But this is how it all started, just picking an athletic event that I wasnt sure if I could finish. So, like Ron Kauk says every time he climbs a crack and wants it published, I was getting back to my roots of birthday challenges. I contemplated a few Native American names for the challenge before coming to my senses, re-stocking my traveling bar, and loading it in the van.
In the weeks leading up to this, I previewed as much of the route as my schedule allowed. Logistically, I only had two variables. The first was La Tuna canyon, which I hadnt climbed, but had descended, so I wasnt too worried. The other, Deer Creek, hung over me like the Sword of Damocles. All I knew about it was that it registered in at over 12% average gradient, making it the steeper than any real climb Id ever done. Also, due to its geography, it was going to come around mile 100 after Id already climbed about 10,000, which until this day will have been my records for riding and ascending on a bike. Perfect, I guess. Like David Brainard says, it isnt birthday pretty hard, its birthday challenge.
11/22/2002, 5:30 AM My original schedule had me riding by now but, as things go with my challenges, I found a way that I could sleep a little more and move the start back as late as possible. Id been riding at night and the weather was unseasonably warm. Therefore I felt no urgency to finish in the daylight. So I got up at 5:30 and enjoyed coffee and a somewhat-leisurely breakfast with Erica before heading out. I had plenty of food, water, changes of clothes, two bikes, extra wheels, three headlamps, a full tool kit, cell phone, some beer and a fully-stocked bar. For me, this was pretty well organized.
Im using mileage and times from Peter Pop's Ultrachallenge site and havent checked them for accuracy. I rode with an altimeter and heart rate monitor, but no speedometer.
(1) Fernwood Pacific (1,580 5.8 miles) I was a little worried about Fernwood because of morning traffic and the fact that I started descending it at around 7:30 it made me a bit hard to see. I chose my climbing bike, the Cannondale, with Ksyriums and a 23. This seemed perfect on this climb. While supposedly steep it didnt feel too bad. My heart rate stayed fairly low (150s and 60s) and my pace was good although I was trying to stay conservative. Traffic was not bad at all and all the loose dogs were friendly. My first worry of the day was soon over. Looking at my time it seemed to be better than Pop's record for this climb. Doubting this was possible I figured that I was just mistaken. How could I have been going that fast? (Checking it later I was mistaken but not by much as it was just over.)
(2) La Tuna (2,410 7.5 miles) Still on the CDale I descended La Tuna thinking maybe I should have switched to my 27. This was my second apprehensive climb. For one, I hadnt done it before and it was steep. Two, it was illegal as its one-way downhill. There wasnt much traffic on a Friday morning but, still, it would really suck to get a ticket. Or worse, be forced to turn around near the top. Climbing scared; I kept a pretty brisk pace. This was bolstered by my lack of gearing, as it pitched severely in parts, forcing me to stand and somewhat hammer. My HR hit 175 for sections but, hey, I didnt really have a choice. Near the top, however, I did. Noticing that once again a record seemed possible, I decided to air it out a bit and if I paid later, so be it. I flew up the Saddle Peak (3) section in under 14 minutes and beat the La Tuna record by more than a minute Im 100% certain this isnt really a record, but it sure was fun. All in all, La Tuna was one of my favorite climbs. Its a very narrow canyon with no development until the topa gem. Its a damn shame we cant climb it regularly. I think someone should organize an annual time trial up the thing.
(4) Malibu Creek Grade (600) Here I switched from my itinerary. I figured that Id rather do Las Flores and Stunt at night (since I had) rather than risk being benighted on Mulholland. So I switched to my Airborne and headed down Piuma towards Malibu Creek State Park. Because it has an aero set-up, its less comfortable climb on. But it's titanium and wear and tear on the body is minimal compared to the CDale aluminum. Given that I was out for around a hundred miles, the switch seemed wise. In route, I did my first of many non-climbs on the day, up Piuma from Schueren. While only a few hundred vertical feet, these things would add up during the day. The Malibu Creek Grade wasnt much compared to the other climbs but would definitely get categorized by the UCI, so I was counting it. Plus, its a nice little climb.
(5) Rock Store Switchbacks (890) Sandbagged as the Rock Store was closed, I was going to be forced to find water in Malibu. No biggie, but it added to my unexplained dread of this climb. Perhaps because Id only done it in the rain, for some reason it seemed really hard. Also, it may have been Pops 12-some odd minutes up the sucker, which seemed impossibly difficult. It took me nearly 15, and I was suffering. Great! Not even halfway done and in one climb have gone from breaking records to losing minutes.
(6) Latigo (2,200 9.15 miles) Long endurance days always have one thing in common; the point when the beginning was so long ago that you cant remember it and the end so far off that you cant imagine ever getting there. Today was no different. At least I knew how to plan for it. Latigo is a climb that I love, especially the higher you get on it. The crowds disappear and it feels like youre really out in nature. It seemed perfect for the no mans land period. After getting water from a hose at Geoffreys and another short non-climb, I spun up the sucker in a 25, occasionally even using my 27, in an insanely pedestrian 55 minutes. There were not going to be any more records and my legs were going to pay for my exuberance earlier on. This day was now about survival.
(7) Encinal Canyon (1,450 5.2 miles) If theres one thing better than one easy climb, its two. This was the easiest climb on the circuit, which was good because it was the time when I was looking for the most reasons to give up. One knee suddenly started to hurt, as well as the other hamstring, which had been bothering me before. I was also thinking that my food wasnt going to last and I wouldnt be able to get back to the car, especially if Neptunes Net was still closed. The worst thing about this climb was getting there, as I probably climbed half the height of the climb on Mulholland and Encinal (out of the Malibu Country Club) just to get to the descent. Again spinning an absurdly small gear, I probably lost 13 minutes to Pops time on this one. I then took Decker to Mulholland to PCH, where I headed north up non-climb # into a screamin headwind, where I prayed Neptunes would be open.
(8) Deer Creek (a million feet if its an inch) Id been running almost every possible reason not to do Deer Creek around my head for the past couple of hours. If Neptunes was closed, the deal would be sealed because I was low on fuel. But really, I guess, I wanted to try it because I was really happy when I found it open. I ordered a coke and a burger. This doesnt sound like performance food but I wanted meat and I wanted sugar. The break, along with a pep talk with Erica (she would be at the finish with cold beer), renewed my enthusiasm and I headed off into a headwind and finally got to use my aero bars as designed. The start of Deer Creek doesnt look like much. Just a gentle grade that gradually gets steeper. Then you make a hairpin turn and head back toward the ocean and it starts to kick. Not quickly either. Gradually, like slow torture, you start to realize that the road is steeper than it looks. At the next turn you get one of the worst sites you can have on a climb: a long straight road that goes up, unbroken, forever. For some reason its better when you cant see beyond the turns. Too intimidating for me to deal with, I started to employ the weave, a technique were you seesaw back and forth across the street. When I finally made the top I stopped for a celebratory drink. It was downhill to roads that I knew (or so I thought). Enjoying the view on the descent there was only one problem; there wasnt an obvious way out of the valley I was in, except one, which wasnt downhill. Sandbagged again! Its always the one unknown on the schedule that gets you. All I know is that this climb is suppose to be 1,400 and after starting from the ocean my altimeter registered over 2,000 before I finally descended to Yerba Buena.
(9) Yerba Buena (2,410 7.9 miles) Another easy climb that didnt feel easy. I really suffered at the bottom and had to take a break at Circle X ranch. It was getting late and I wanted to be off of Mulholland before nightfall. Still, I had to take a 10-minute nap to let a headache dissipate. After this I picked up the pace. The little whoop-de-dos on Mulholland were really becoming tiresome. When fresh, I barely notice them. But now Id be, like, what, climbing again? A particularly nasty one was the 500 bump between Decker and Encinal. Grrr.
(10) Piuma (1,650 5 miles) Rush hour traffic on Las Virgines actually made the section safer getting to the Piuma turn off. Some hammering had got me down the Malibu Creek Grade before dark and I was paying for it. I stopped at Saddle Peak Inn, dismounted, ate every scrap of food I had left, then called Erica and told her if I wasnt at the summit to head down Piuma looking for me. I wasnt kidding. My brother then called to see how I was doing; since it was dark he figured I might need a rescue. Almost. Thankfully, Piuma isnt too steep and I was able to spin up it slowly, reaching the summit in around 42 minutes.
(11) Schueren (510) Sort of part of Piuma but because I didnt want to do anymore I was calling this its own climb since it does come after a descent. I guess it was because I knew I was going to make it but this section wasnt too painful. The last 3K of Piuma seemed impossibly slow but a dog chased me and I was able to accelerate away so I knew there was enough left in the tank, as Bob Roll would say. At the 1k mark, I picked up the pace and started (meekly) sprinting with a few hundred meters to go. Beer time!
Erica wasnt there yet which was just as well as it took me some time to gather myself. Walkingno, make that movingwas difficult but I forced myself to massage Black and Blue into my legs and lower back, then force down some food and Endurox. Getting the bikes on the van and changing were somewhat major events. I even did a little stretching. Then it was time to grab a beer, sit and enjoy the moonrise. Erica showed up with some Sierra Nevada (gotta support bike teams whenever possible) and I was (barely) able to get down 4.2 beers just to round out the day.
As far as birthday challenges go, it was very hard but not too hard. Certainly, it was the most suffering Ive done in a day since my last challenge and harder than any one day of that one except 400 boulder problems. I could have done more but I REALLY didnt want to. I skipped two climbs that I felt guilty about: Stunt and Las Flores, especially since LF is hard. But I had just done both and far eclipsed my goal of 4200 meters so I couldnt bring myself to do more. One amazing thing that I though of was that people race this sort of course, which is nuts. In fact, the first day of the Everest Challenge is nearly as much climbing in fewer miles and you have to do almost as much again the next day. And the Saturn Classic is similar miles and a little less climbing, but they do it in around 7 hours (winners anyway). But I may be hooked. Look for me at the Everest Challenge next summer
The Support Team
Id like to thank Brian (my brother) for his unflagging offer to help and Erica, of course, for making the best macaroni and cheese Ive ever tasted and driving it all the way to the finish. Not to mention the beer, and even more so, her company.
Gosh, thats it? Id also like to thank Toyota, for making the best car in history (300-some-odd thousand miles and going strong). Mark at Incycle and Jason at Airborne for their help with my main modes of transport. Peter Pop for his web site and ideas for hard rides. Neptunes Net for re-opening. Jordan Smith for tuning my bike, and Kurt Fainman, for recommending all the downhillsthey were great!