Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Old Town 1000k - By The Numbers

Loop 1
4:06 AM to 5:28 PM Friday

12:17 rolling time, 1:05 stopped time
16.5 mph rolling, 15.3 mph overall
Norm Power: 232  
~ 8584 Calories Expended
Distance: 203.3
Climbing: 13,875 ft.
Avg HR: 140 bpm
Avg Cadence: 68

The challenging first loop was 204 miles and had 14,000 feet of climbing.
I managed to keep my heart rate below threshold for the entire duration, and as a result was able to continue processing fluids and calories without a hitch. It helped also that the latter half of the loop is predominantly downhill. Notice the lower power for the second half. This left me feeling great at the end of the first double.  My cadence was low, and would remain so throughout the ride.

Loop 2
5:28 PM Friday to 1:48 PM Saturday
12:05 rolling time, 8:15 (!!) stopped time
16.2 mph rolling, 9.7 mph overall
Norm Power: 211
~ 7758 Calories Expended
Distance: 195.7
Climbing: 9,650 ft.
Avg HR: 126 bpm
Avg Cadence: 62

I started the second loop with almost 6 hours off the bike. I don't know how necessary this home nap/rest time was, but since I was going to be traveling unsupported I felt that it was the smart thing to do. I maintained consistent power, and kept the calories coming in. I had no problems staying awake over night, as I had slept over 4 hours in my downtime. My main problems in the night were the <40 degree temps, with strong winds, throughout the night.I spent another hour off the bike in Hemet, and had an additional hour for other brief stops and stop lights. My heart rate had settled at this point into the 120s, very low for me, but typical of my sustainable ultra pace.

Loop 3
1:48 PM Saturday to 3:35 AM Sunday
12:47 rolling time, 1:00 stopped time
17.1 mph rolling, 16.1 mph overall
Norm Power: 189
~ 7628 Calories Expended
Distance: 219.8
Climbing: 4634 ft.
Avg HR: 121 bpm
Avg Cadence: 61

This out and back along the coast has very little total climbing, but it is distributed mostly in pesky ups and downs through Orange County that, along with copious stop lights, rob speed and take extra energy. Despite my deteriorating mental and physical state through the latter half of the loop, I maintained very constant power, and very low heart rate. Though my power was significantly lower than the other loops, I find that as I tire it becomes much harder to pump out watts on flatter terrain, and I am happy with this as an "infinite" steady state.  This explains my lack of stomach issues: I was relying very heavily on fat stores for energy, which is exactly what I wanted. I estimate I consumed less than 1500 calories on this whole section, while expending over 5 times that. Notice how much lower my speed (blue line) was for a relatively constant power: the return trip may not have been all uphill as it seemed, but there definitely was a headwind on the way back.


37:14 rolling time, 10:20  stopped time
16.6 mph rolling, 13 mph overall
Norm Power: 213
~ 23973 Calories Expended
Distance: 618.6
Climbing: 27,914 ft
Avg HR: 129 bpm
Avg Cadence: 65

What a ride. I proved to myself that for such events, a crew is not necessary, but makes a huge difference. I found that with proper nutrition and pacing, I am capable of settling into a steady state for very long periods of time. I would have liked to do this with much less than 10 hours of stopped time, but now I know that I was within my limits, I will be more comfortable to push this in the future. Although it is still years away,  I feel more justified now in my dreams for solo RAAM.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Old Town 1000k Brevet - Ride Report

 Ride Results: here
Event web page: here

I blinked my stinging eyes hard. Opened wide. It was all still there.

The familiar downtown shops of Del Mar were now rendered sinister in the yellow moonlight, an empty ghost town. My pedal stroke was more square than circle, and I winced as each downstroke shot a fresh stab of pain through my left knee. My bike creaked in time. My chain faltered occasionally, clicking and complaining rhythmically, as if it too just wanted it all to be over. I busted over the crest of the hill, and graciously let gravity pull me toward Torrey Pines beach.


 Espresso. At 2:38.

It was at 2 am, over 2 days earlier, that I had woken up for this ride. I grabbed an espresso and headed toward the unlikely start location of the Mission Valley Resort, along highway 8 in San Diego. A group of five of us had decided to show up for the Old Town 1000km brevet, a completely unheralded, but insanely difficult challenge. Three of us had been in the previous year's 508. Then there was John, who had ridden to the 4 am start from over 100 miles away, and Kelly who was a brevet regular. A few quiet words from Dennis Stryker, the organizer, and we were off into the cool early morning air.

The five of us chatted as we ambled through Old Town, then downtown, as if out for a casual morning spin. I talked with Andi Ramer about the 508, and of our plans for the future. I asked the brevet regular Kelly what his sleep plans were, indicating I had no real idea what I was going to do. He had brought a blanket, he said, and was going to sleep under the stars. Luckily, the route passed by my home twice more during the ride. My sleeping was going to be in my bed.

The route was just over 1000 km long, spread over 3 loops. The first is a grand loop of the southwestern corner of the county, heading east through the hills and desert along the border to Jacumba, then up and over Laguna and back around to Ramona, through Julian, via the awesome Sunrise and Old Julian highways.

The second loop heads to Hemet and back, using Old Highway 395 as the centerpiece, and adding a loop on each end, the northern side including a significant rolling climb in the mountains surrounding Hemet.

The third loop is an out and back up the coast, all the way to Bellflower in the LA Basin. On paper, the loops decrease significantly in difficulty, but an extra 200 or 400 miles in the legs tends to skew your perceptions.

I found myself setting the pace at the front after a few miles of our leisurely start, and after crossing an overpass, looked back and saw I was alone. I hadn't meant to go solo so soon, but was now able to settle into a comfortable endurance pace. I cleared my mind, looking forward to the adventure ahead with a relaxed anticipation. Another 600 miles or so, no big deal. The route headed eastward on a bike path, then wound up and down through Chula Vista and Bonita, through nicer areas than I had imagined, but with more stop lights than I would have liked. The city riding was over before long, and the sun rose as I passed by the Otay Lakes, eastward bound through gorgeous rolling hills, toward the looming mountains above.

The road trended up, but gently, and I relished in the moment. It was a beautiful Friday morning and I was out on the bike, with nothing to do but ride. And ride. And ride. The traffic was light on highway 94, and the climbs were gentle but persistent, as I passed by ranch homes, rocky desert hillsides green from the recent rains, and charming "downtown" areas of the small ranch communities. Jamul, Dulzura, Potrero, Campo, all passed by quickly, each marked by a few homes, a gas station, a schoolhouse, a church, and a cafe or two. The surrouning arid landscape was striking: endless lines of rounded, boulder-speckled mountains in all directions, desert scrub, trees scattered about, giant blue sky.

I passed by the turn to La Posta Road, infamous as the beginning of the long climb of the Boulevard Road Race which I had helped put on, and raced, multiple times as member of the UCSD cycling club. My path now traced the Boulevard race route backward, climbing up toward the crest, and the town of Boulevard. The road curved around granitic hillsides and under towering railroad bridges, the border fence often in sight a few miles south. The ever present stream of border patrol vehicles was a constant reminder.  I was still feeling good as I steadily climbed toward the Tecate Divide at an elevation of near 4,000 feet. I was getting my calories and fluids in, my stomach was processing, my power was pegged right where I wanted, and my heart rate was reasonable for the effort.

70 miles, 6000 feet of climbing, and a little over 4 and a half hours after starting, I crested the Tecate Divide, and began the descent into the deeper desert, to the small border outpost of Jacumba. It was a small town a stone's throw (even with my cyclist arms) from Mexico, squeezed between the border fence and I-8. There I met John, the only support I saw the whole ride, who kindly filled my bottles with ice and water, and signed my brevet card to indicate I made it to the first control. I filled all my bottles with Perpetuem, stuffed a few more gels in my pockets, and was on my way. These kinds of stops always take longer than you would expect when you need to do everything yourself. I also felt that my bike was awfully slow. I had a pack on the back, non-aero wheels, and 25mm tires...a far cry from my full on TT setup for the Davis 24 hour. Together with the large amount of climbing, this amounted to an overall average of around 15 mph, and a moving average of just under 16. I would have to be accustomed to a slower pace, and get used to the fact that I would not be able to blaze the remaining 540 miles. This was all just a part of the peculiar sport of randonneuring.

 The border, from Jacumba

I headed back up the hill I had just descended, toward the Tecate Divide, leaving behind the border, and traveling north to Mount Laguna. I had about 5,000 feet of climbing ahead of me in the next 40 miles, but I felt good, and my spirits were high. The progress was slow, but I was falling into the zen state of ultra distance riding, just taking the progress as it comes, not obsessing about how much was left. My brevet companions passed heading the other way, on their way to Jacumba. I figured I was around an hour and a half ahead of them. It was nice to see them, it looked like we were all having a great day, and I thought how it must be easier to be traveling with a group on such a ride. But I was enjoying the solitude. The community of Boulevard passed, then Live Oak Springs, and I was again traveling on the Boulevard Road Race course, annually the site of the intense anaerobic suffering of a hilly road race, now an arena for an altogether different sort of venture. The rough patchwork road of the descent in this section was  traffic-free, and I was able to pick my line through the holes and bumps. The road flattened out again, and I passed by Kitchen Creek Rd, a favorite climb of mine, featured in the Laguna Classic I had done a few weeks before. The road then crossed the PCT and began a steady climb of almost 3,000 feet to the Mount Laguna summit. I approached the climb calmly and steadily, maintaining even power and low heart rate, doing my best to keep my cadence up. Riding the fixed gear has encouraged my tendency to climb with a very slow cadence, getting out of the saddle frequently, and this is something that I wanted to counteract, to avoid causing too much stress to my legs on such a long event. It was well over an hour later, after traveling over 13 miles of 4-5% grades, that I finally reached the Laguna Summit, surrounded by forested slopes.

Some PCT thru-hikers were hanging out at the Laguna general store, at the beginning of their 2600 mile journey, and I jealously recommitted myself to the 4+ month trek from Mexico to Canada. Soon. It was ok for now, I was on my own adventure.  I had traveled 200 km out of the 1000, already with over 11,000 feet of climbing. The terrain should be much more accommodating from here. It was already after noon: I had just under 8 hours of riding time, with a little under a half hour of stopped time. I filled up my bottles at a campground on the crest, and began the long, cruising, ridgeline descent of Sunrise Highway to Julian.

Enjoying the descent was made much more difficult by how cold it was. It was about 40 - but to a San Diegan dressed only in a base layer, jersey, wind vest, arm and knee warmers, and thin long fingered gloves, that might as well be 0. My fingers and toes progressed from a dull aching to a half numbed, throbbing pain. Next time, I'm bringing hand warmer packets. My fingers were useless. It was tough to shift. I needed to get to lower elevations. The Sunrise Highway was happy to oblige though, diving down along the ridgeline quickly, and I made it to Julian, and Control 2, within the hour, my appendages grateful for the warmer temperatures.

I bought some chips and skittles at the Julian Market, my first "real" food of the ride.  I bought the (tasty!) junk in order to collect a receipt as proof of reaching the control, but absentmindedly forgot to request a receipt. I did text the organizer (texting would be my only contact with any race official for the remainder of the ride), and took a poorly framed picture of my bike next to the store. It was nice hanging out in Julian, but the time was passing all too quickly, and I hopped back on the bike for a section I have ridden many times before, the descent down busy highway 78 to Santa Yzabel, then down the wonderful ranchland backroad Old Julian Highway to Ramona.

A nice cruise on Old Julian Highway, down through countryside verdant from the recent rains, and I was passing through bustling downtown Ramona, at 15,000 the most populous city, and the first traffic lights, I'd seen for 140 miles. I shook out the legs, still feeling good. It was just another 40 miles to the finish of the loop, with just a few smaller climbs. Up and over Highway 67, through my normal training grounds in the lower San Diego foothills, covered with chaparral and round granite boulders. Through suburban Lakeside, with increasing commute traffic, and far too many stop signs and lights. Then it was on to the bike path alongside 52, which was a nasty little climb, right on the side of the freeway during commute time, the path completely covered with broken glass and debris. I wiped my tires as much as I could, and was amazed and relieved to make it up the 2 mile climb with no punctures. Then it was a quick shot around Qualcomm Stadium and through Fashion Valley, back to the Mission Valley Resort. It had been 13 and a half hours, 205 miles with over 14,000 feet of climbing. That would make one of the tougher double centuries on the California circuit, but I was far from done. Luckily I was in good shape: no major aches, pains, or cramps, my legs were only reasonably sore, and my stomach was still working.  My hydration, judging from the amount of times I had to relieve myself, was also going very well.  I slathered on some sunscreen at my car, and headed back to my place in La Jolla.

I had decided over the course of the first loop that I would take a sleep break at my house. I felt good enough, but who knows what another 12 hours would bring. So I rode the half mile off course to my place, took a shower, fixed myself a bagel and soup, had some fruit, drank a few large glasses of water, and went to bed at about 6:30. I woke up at around 11, and thought for a minute as to my plans. I needed to get out there. I kitted up with fresh clothes (what a luxury!), fixed myself some espresso and a bagel (another luxury!), and went down to prep my bike. I lubed the chain, pumped up the tires, adjusted my lights, switched to night lenses, refilled my Hammer supplements and fuel, debated with myself whether I really wanted to take a third bottle in my jersey again.. (I ended up taking it) and headed off into the night. As is always the case with time off the bike, it had taken too long, and it was almost midnight by the time I left the house.

The Velvet Underground kept me company as I ventured through the familiar roads of North County on a cool, quiet night below a full moon, hiding in thin cloud cover. Up through Rancho Santa Fe, over some rollers, then the long shallow climb up Del Dios to the reservoir. Climbing at night is still something novel to me; with less visual clues it becomes easier to withdraw into yourself, concentrating on nothing but keeping the pedals turning, the rhythm of your breaths, the tactile joy of the cool breeze on your face. I took pleasure in how good I was feeling. I had just finished a double, and I was out for at least another 24 hours. How could it be so easy? I thought of all the preparation and support surrounding an effort like RAAM, or like the previous crewed events I had done. I had none of that now, and the self-reliant edge that this brought to my ride was invigorating.

The route then skirted the edges of Escondido, to San Marcos and the loop's first control. I passed by an industrial area with trucks loading and departing, truckers starting journeys, making deliveries. I thought of our similarities, traveling solo through the night, nothing but the road ahead and a goal of miles to make. The clerk at the Circle-K (the control) eyed me up and down as he rang up my pretzels and fig newtons. You have a race today?  Well, I'm in one now, actually... 250 miles down, 370 miles to go. He wished me luck, and I left as a drunk couple sloppily dropped a 24 pack onto the counter. Yup, 1:50 AM.

And then it was back into the night. I was still on roads I frequent: the spin up Twin Oaks Valley Rd to the rolling climb up Deer Creek Rd, over I-15, left on Champagne Blvd/Old Hwy 395. This would be the hilly frontage road that would take me all the way to Temecula. It's a beautiful ride in the daytime, up and down through the iconic granite spotted peaks of the area, but my world was now just the patch of lit pavement in front of me, and the sporadic middle of the night traffic on 15. I put away my music (it was the Pixies at the time, too aggressive for my mood) and relaxed into a sort of trance: I was still awake and alert, but calm and detached from everything but the rhythm of my cycling. The miles and the hills came and went, and I was descending into Rainbow and beyond to Temecula, still feeling fresh and unburdened, my mind not dwelling on all that still awaited me ahead. But I could not ignore how cold how I was: my sweat from the climbs worked all to well to freeze me on the descent into Temecula. My hands were numbing and my core was chilled. I blew into my long fingered gloves as if it made a difference, rubbed my arms, and thought of fireplaces and fleece blankets.

The cold and discomfort I was now feeling ripped me from my meditative state, leaving me too much in the moment. It was windy and freezing and I had about 30 miles and 2500 feet of climbing until Hemet. I was starting to feel sorry for myself. Pathetic. I tried to snap myself out of it, and force myself back into my detached ultra mindset. It doesn't work that way. Near the end of Temecula, there was a bank with a digital sign: 4:03 AM - 41 degrees. I laughed to myself, and dwelled on it as I kept going. It was almost two miles later until I realized something didn't seem right. I looked at my GPS. Off course. Great. I had been climbing for over a mile. I flipped around and rested in my aerobars, crusing back to the missed turn, which happened to be right at the sign. 4:22 AM - 40 degrees. Wonderful. Colder and later now.

And this was how I started the endless climb to the summit of the foothills high above Hemet. Headwinds and rolling climb for mile after mile. The terrain was packed with ranch houses, which seemed strange in such a desolate place. Vicious dogs barked as I passed. None came out to greet me, thankfully enough. I was still able to take in fluids, and except for the bitter cold, no doubt made worse by fatigue, and a stiffening right Achilles tendon, I was feeling good enough physically. My battle on this climb was a mental one. But I was winning - daydreams and emptiness were slowly replacing the obsessive mile-counting, the worry, the self-pity, the conscious suffering. And as the sky gradually brightened, and light began spilling onto the horizon, I tackled the final portion of the ascent to the ridgeline, and with a left turn onto Sage Road and a palpable sense of relief, I began the descent to the desert floor below. My fingers and toes were entirely numb and my teeth were chattering as I hurtled northward over the bumpy road. Perhaps no one had ever looked forward to arriving in Hemet as much as I did then. There must be a Starbucks there. Toasty inside, a comfortable chair, warm coffee, a breakfast sandwich, a break from the cruel elements. It was these thoughts that propelled my weary body through the next painful and windy miles, until the first main street of the city, which just happened to have a Starbucks on the corner. It was 6 AM. Hallelujah, they would be open, my vision was realized. I rolled up, ordered a coffee and breakfast sandwich, collapsed into a chair, and closed my eyes as my fingers, my toes, and my will to ride slowly pulsed back to life.

It was nearly an hour later before I was back on the bike - but the stop had done wonders. I was energized, refreshed, and relaxed, ready to pound out some more miles. The sun had already permeated the desert landscape, and it was significantly warmer out. I stopped by the official Denny's control. I was impressed that homeowners here actually realized they lived in a desert - and had rock landscapes or (tacky) artificial turf instead of actual lawns. The path south was flat and easy, heading through Inland Empire communities with too many stop lights. After some miles I rejoined the path out and retraced the route on Old Highway 395, this time toward Escondido. The series of climbs on this section of the route were enjoyable. It was warming up, and turning into a beautiful day. Lots of other cyclists were on the road, all heading the opposite direction, on an organized ride of some sort. I watched a group of beginner riders toiling up a minor climb, slowly moving up the hill with forced cadences, as I descended on the other side. That struggling to overcome unites all cyclists.

The remainder of the loop was fairly unremarkable. I kept in a solid endurance state, my body's only complaint was some Achilles tendon pain that I periodically deal with, but this was relatively minor. I kept the calories coming in, at around 150-200 an hour, and was hydrating fine. Before long I was traveling through downtown Escondido, again frustrated with lights, and then on to the very familiar Pomerado road and a windy, ugly tour of Miramar, Kearney Mesa, and Mission Valley. It was around 1 in the afternoon, and the loop had taken me about 13 hours. Even though I was feeling good, my miles were coming slower than my optimistic estimates. I kept having to remind myself I could not compare these 200 mile loops to supported double centuries. My bike was already slower, due to the extra gear, bag, and training wheels/tires,  than what I would ride on a fast double. Adding to this all the time required to check in at the controls, stop for water, take care of nutrition, and rest (which unfortunately did prove necessary ), and I had to adjust my expectation of what a respectable speed is.

I stopped off briefly at my car. 400 miles in the bag. I had some goldfish crackers in the car that I happily scarfed down. For shorter, more intense events I try to keep almost exclusively to liquid nutrition, and I find that Hammer products work great for this. But on ultra events of this length, by the second half of the ride I am typically at a pace where I can handle solid food, and it provides a much needed break from all the high calorie fluids. I was off soon, heading around Mission Bay, I treated myself to a vanilla cone and an ice soda on the McDonald's on the way back. Refreshing.

As I scarfed down the cone, I got a kick from what I must look like: grimy from hundreds of miles of windy, dusty roads, bloodshot eyes, lycra-clad, soda in one hand, ice cream in the other. It was great. I got back on the bike.

The route for the 3rd loop crashed my Garmin, so I had no choice but to stop off at home to pick up the route sheet. In and out of the house, pumped up my tires, back on the road. Guess I'd have to navigate the old fashioned way - actually reading a route sheet. But it was just an "easy" out and back up the coast. I was headed to LA, starting a double century (218 miles, actually) at almost 3 PM. No problem.

I had made some plans to ride with friends as I headed north out of La Jolla, but I blew through, just wanting to be alone with my goal - a goal whose realization was now tangible, likely, even! And here I was, heading down Torrey Pines road as I have done hundreds of times before, all the  coast-bound cycling riff-raff enjoying the beautiful Saturday afternoon. I'm often peaved with riders along the coast, especially the less experienced folks who are prowling trying to race anyone who might threaten their "domination." The typical pattern, if you must pass such riders, consists of either them latching on, without saying a word, or sprinting past, only to drastically slow, and start spinning and gasping for breath a few hundred yards up the road. This played out a few times, but I just ignored it, almost completely removed from my surroundings. Being in such a state on a race through nowhere, such as the 508, seems completely fitting: arid, endless desert environs match this ultra mindset well. Being in this dissociative state when in the middle of a cycling thoroughfare, like this section of the coast, is surreal.

As I cruised through all the familiar beach neighborhoods, the lights, traffic, and other riders reinforced why I prefer inland riding. But I had a tailwind, and the riding was easy. Near Encinitas I struck up conversation with a guy who seemed to be going about my pace. Turns out he was new to San Diego, and newly hired by Qualcomm. Although I was feeling somewhat antisocial, singlemindedly focused on finishing my ride, it was nice to meet another QC'er, and we chatted a bit as I showed him the route through to Pendleton, where he turned around.

I'm in a minority among cyclists for my preference to ride I-5 over the meandering route through Pendleton; I've always preferred the free tailwinds from passing cars, the direct, flat shot through to San Onofre, the avoidance of the hassle of showing ID and going through the gates. Today was no different. The shoulder was relatively debris-free, and I rocketed north, enjoying the afternoon. I reflected on how unexpected it was to still be enjoying myself, a day and a half after starting the ride.

The afternoon wore on as I made my way through the beach communities of Orange County. It was a gorgeous Saturday, and all of Orange County apparently had the idea of heading out to the beach. As I attacked the hilly, traffic riddled PCH from Dana Point northward, I had to dodge errant pedestrians, avoid pulling out parked cars and opening doors, and had to stop at numerous lights. As is all too typical when the riding starts getting tough, I noticed that I was watching my miles. Still over 50 to go, and counting down far too slowly for my tastes. I contrasted this section of PCH, traffic choked and dangerous, with Highway 1 of Central and Northern California, long glorious stretches of unspoiled coastline road. But I was getting through it: now Dana Point, now Laguna Beach...Newport Beach... It was still an enjoyable ride, but as my body was tiring my mental state was also declining, and I found myself drifting into negative thoughts...I longed for the open countryside, where it is much easier to just clear your mind and ride.

The bike path into LA

But the miles slowly ticked away, and I eventually came across the Los Angeles County line, and the "River" bike path I had been waiting for the sight of for hours. And I was finally off the PCH, alone on the path on top of an aquaduct culvert...en route to the last Control in Bellflower, my turnaround point. I watched my shadow, cast by the orange sun, low on the horizon,  on the fences of the houses lining the path. I almost felt like I was finishing. Relief again flooded through me, as I made my way inland. There were a few confusing forks in the bike path, where the culverts split and then joined again. I was fairly sure I was on the right path. Miles later I pulled out my route sheet and realized something was wrong - having to backtrack a few miles. I hated this path. I hated this city. I ground out in anger the remaining miles, finally arriving at the AMPM in Bellflower as the sun set. OK. Time for junk food. Cracker Jacks and chips. Tasted great. I called my family, thought they must be worried, I hadn't talked to them since the day before.  They were. Just 110 miles more. Isn't that dangerous, PCH at night? Yeah. I'll be careful. Good luck, stop at a motel if you have any doubt! Yeah.

I put on my wind vest and arm warmers, clipped in and headed out into the darkening dusk. Back on the bike path, I got confused within a few minutes. The dips, exits, and forked paths are much harder to identify at night, even with my bright light. I found myself taking the wrong direction on instinct several times, only realizing my mistake a little later. This was going to be a long night. I passed under dark overpasses, by sketchy people ambling along the path, mile after mile of bike path, watching the furthest lights, what must mark the coastline, grow slowly closer, dancing on the stagnating water at the bottom of the culvert.

Finally, I reached the last lines of lights I had been watching for the last 10 miles. I was near a dock area...this didn't seem right... this must be past the PCH. Seal Beach. OK.  Again delayed, I backtracked to the PCH and headed south, anxious about the traffic, in the dark, on a weekend night. At least I was somehow wide awake, and didn't figure I had to worry about drifting to sleep on my bike, but heading back through all the beach communities, this time at night, had me worried. My left knee was starting to ache on each downstroke, my drivetrain was creaking loudly, I was starting to unravel mentally. I had thought earlier that the ride was almost too easy, and practically dared it to challenge me. Now I was getting all the challenge I could handle.

On a ride of this magnitude, it is easy to over-trivialize the distances you are traveling. What remained was only a small percentage of my total ride, I had ridden 850 km already...what was 150 km then? But the remainder was still a significant ride by any account, tougher still in the dark with a persistent headwind. The body is in a fragile state during such bouts of extreme endurance , regardless of how well things have been going, and the hours of riding that still remained before me were more than enough for everything to come crashing down. My physical and mental state was indeed eroding.

Crashing waves, dark highway, loud passing cars, a pained pedal stroke: this was my world for the next 7 hours. I tried to embrace everything, knowing I could do nothing to change it. My mind was wandering with a growing delirium, invoking grand storylines on my sad trek down the coast. This was Dante's Inferno, and I was on a voyage passing through the levels of hell manifest by each beach community. How many were there? I never read it. Newport Beach. Laguna Beach. Dana Point. San Clemente.... There were a lot. It was getting late, the traffic was dying down, slowly being replaced by taxi cabs and cop cars. I felt safer than I thought I would. My cadence was tortured, ugly, way too slow. I stood up frequently, struggling to find a better movement for my knee. The hills were relentless, robbing all momentum. I knew the miles were ticking by slowly, but I didn't look down to check, I needed to forget about that.

I did forget. I had made it through, into San Diego County, to a bike path and the entrance to San Onofre. I was once again alone, off the streets and away from the cars, into a blacker world. My mind started playing more tricks. The endless parking lots through the state beach are flat, but some demon had skewed it in the night, tilting it up. I swear I was climbing. I shook my head, looked again .. looked to each side, yes, it must be uphill. The yellow moon above, peeking through ominous clouds, reinforced the sinister nature of the night. The world had an evil tinge. I was battling my body and the terrain, and now also my brain chemistry. I watched lights in the distance, convinced they were other riders until they formed into buildings, signs, nothing. Delusions. No one else was out here.

I emerged much later from the bike path, and made the turn toward I-5, and what I was hoping would be a very quick freeway trip. Four or five police patrol cars greeted me, scrutinizing me with their spotlights. Hi. Yes, I'll just be going on the freeway now. The 8 mile stretch that followed is almost enjoyable during the day, but everything was different now. The debris littering the freeway was harder to see and avoid. The cars passed, fast and close, it was windy, the same trickster must have tilted this road up too, and the headwind was still in full force. The section lasted forever. I passed the rest area midway through, making my way through the dark lot with parked semis and minivans, the occupants napping peacefully. No rest for me until I was done with this damn thing. And back to the freeway, the lights of Oceanside taunting me in the distance. But I pulled them ever closer, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, mile after mile, until finally the "Bicycles Must Exit" sign, and escape.

Back in home territory now, I rolled past the marina area, the by the pier and beachfront, which has marked the start of RAAM for the past few years, and on towards Carlsbad. The street traffic was almost all patrol cars, and they shadowed me, shining their lights on me, I'm sure wondering what the hell I was doing out there. I was irritated. Get off me. Leave me alone with my suffering.

A section of the southbound coast highway around Carlsbad is closed, and I was planning on riding on the other side of the road for the brief stretch, as no one was on it. But the cops had set up a blockade, forcing me to go the detour route. The curvy route, with some ups and downs, convinced me I was going miles out of the way. From the map, it looks like it barely added any distance, but I was angry. At this point, I didn't want to travel an extra foot.

Back to the coast, and more grinding, struggling to get comfortable. My butt was sore (I notice this now, after almost 600 miles?), my knee was getting worse, my head was swimming. I hadn't had much of anything to eat or drink in the last many hours, but I didn't feel like this was an issue. It probably was. It's hard to make yourself do much of anything in a state like this, but put your head down, grit your teeth, turn the pedals.

Drunken crowds were spilling out of the bars in Encinitas, the first people I had seen in hours. Huh, makes sense. It was nearing 2, last call. The groups clustered around Roberto's 24 hour greasy Mexican food.  Mmm I could go for one of those burritos. I watched all this as if a detached observer from a parallel world, on an oddyssey through a twisted version of a recognizable landscape.

And I finished off the coastal communities, Solana Beach, Del Mar: my knee, my ankle, my chain, crank and cassette, all joining in a chorus of complaints. On to the biggest climb of the night: the formidable (for the coast) 400 foot Torrey Pines climb. Hah, bring it on Torrey. I stood up and "attacked." Feel the wrath of my beaten body. Torrey answered and my light went out, leaving me to finish with my weak AA powered backup. But the excitement of the top in reach, of being able to practically coast to the finish from there, allowed me to dig out some extra power, cresting the hill in 9 minutes. But given my state, I was happy with such a time, not much more than half the speed of my best.

Up and over, I settled into the aerobars and mostly coasted, pedaling primarily with my right leg as the left was now almost too painful to use. My hands were raw from the vibration. I hadn't worn gloves since the previous morning. Dumb. I was starting to notice how tired I was. Nothing mattered anymore. I was done. Down Torrey Pines, down Gilman, down the Rose Canyon bike path, around Mission Bay, up the last overpass to Taylor St, a few more pedal strokes, and the deserted parking lot of the Mission Valley Resort. Done. 1000 KM. I unclipped, set the bike against the car, fumbled for my key, and collapsed into the front seat of my car. I closed my eyes and my head was spinning. I smiled to myself. No fanfare, no people, nothing. I was left sitting in my car, alone in the middle of the night, pondering my personal achievement, my prize the ability to relax, stop riding, go to sleep. 3:35 AM. It had been a long 47 and a half hours.

Huh? You mean it's over?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Old Town 1000k Brevet - Finished!

No doubt the hardest thing I've ever done. I finished this morning at 3:35 AM: 622 miles in 47 hours and 35 minutes. Full report to come. Route info here.