Yes, I know Dante says the 50+ crowd thinks double century riders are crazy, and you know, I'm okay with that. Here's my account of the latest crazy adventure:
Camino Real Double Century and Poker Run
Feb. 21, 2009
Presented by Planet Ultra
Training: Not So Good
The first double century of the year is always fun, as long as the weather cooperates, which it did this year. Not such a long gap since the last one for me, due to the Hemet Staff ride on December 13th so a bit over two months' interval between the two doubles. Had I been riding enough since then? No. Had I been climbing enough? No. What’s worse, the week before the double I’d been in the U.K. on business with exactly zero miles ridden. Not good preparation, but looking on the bright side, at least I’d be well very rested!
The Double Formerly Known As
This Camino Real double was formerly known as The Butterfield Double, plus (according to Tom Parkes), numerous other names in the not so distant past. Regardless, it was to be the same course as 2008, so a very “local” double for me, over many roads I use for training rides, hence very little chance of getting lost and adding “bonus” miles. A few Rebels were riding, including the inevitable and aforementioned Tom Parkes, plus Andrew May, and Frank (don’t know his last name). We also saw David Slaton at the start, and it was good to see him walking without a cane, and making a fine recovery.
Dark and Early, but Not Too Cold
There were two official starting times, 5:30 and 6:45 AM, with the early start time for riders who would need more than 14 hours to finish. Plus, the way the rules read, any rider who started at 5:30 and finished before 7:30 PM would be DQ’d. I didn’t think that was likely for me, with 8,200 feet to climb, so no worries. I spent the night in Irvine, at the host (La Quinta) motel, so I was ready to go a few minutes before the 5:30 start. It was a bit cool at the start (54° F), but once I took off and began generating some body heat it was quite comfortable.
Do Not Hammer Early!
The usual little sub-packs formed and broke apart at different speeds as the ride started, and I fell in with a group of seven or eight riders, but no one I recognized in the glare of the bright bike headlights and hundreds of blinking (or not) tail-lights. It was Sand Canyon to Irvine Center to Harvard to University, i.e. pretty much slightly downhill for the first several miles until the left turn on Jamboree for the first climb of the day. I had given myself my usual admonition to just hide in the pack and not hammer up any of the early climbs . But did I listen? I guess not. Somehow I was off the front on the climb up Jamboree to San Joaquin Hills! I realized my folly and backed off the power on the climb to Newport Coast plus the rollies down Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
Our Micro Peloton
By the time we’d made the left turn to climb Laguna Canyon, it was overcast but light out, and our little group was down to four. Taking the longest pulls was Keith from Sacramento (50+), then Tina (young and lovely), Jose, about the same age as Tina (Spanish descent, not the least bit Mexican!) and myself. So much for stereotypes! I thought everyone named “Jose” would be Mexican…guess not. Fortunately, the four of us seemed to have about the same comfortable pace, and I kept throttled back on the climb up Aliso Creek and subsequent ups on Crown Valley before the course dumped us back on PCH again.
In First Place (But Not For Long)
There was a guy on a short-wheelbase recumbent who was with us on and off through here, but he didn’t seem particularly willing to join our group, nor particularly friendly. At one point he made a wrong turn ahead of us, and even though we yelled at him, he kept going the wrong way. I guess it’s easy to mistake Alicia for Aliso if you’re not familiar with the road names in Orange County. Regardless, and back on PCH again, I was determined not to miss the turn onto Green Lantern (as Loyal Readers will remember I did last year), and while I warned everyone how steep Cove is, it’s still a surprise if you’ve never descended it before. At the bottom we were met by the ever-cheerful Jon Shellenbarger at our first “Mini” checkpoint, at mile 39. “You’re in first place!” Jon shouted out as Keith and I pulled up. “Not for long!” was my response, since I knew the fast riders (i.e. 6:45 AM starters) would be passing us soon. Still, it was a bit of a surprise (and a wake-up call) to find that we were the first of the 5:30 AM group. “ Going too fast, too soon!” was my note to self. As Jon snapped photos, we filled up our Camelbacks and bottles, ate a few of the Clif Bloks (Cranberry!), and were shortly on our way towards Dana Point.
Rolling into the first Mini Checkpoint (recumbent guy still with us!)
Filling Camelbacks and bottles at the first Mini Checkpoint
Through San Clemente
No worries along the bike path through Dana Point then up through the rolling hills on the marked/dedicated bike route through San Clemente. The route is kind of a pain to follow, scouting out the little green signs at each intersection, so I made a further self-note to take a different route on the way back in the afternoon. Our friend on the recumbent caught up to us along here, and he was a lot more conversational than he’d been earlier. He didn’t seem happy with our pace though, as he’d either follow quite a distance behind, or alternately scoot up ahead by 50 feet or so. Saw lots of early morning surfers as we rode past the Nuclear Power Plant, through the San Onofre campgrounds, eventually arriving at our first real Checkpoint, at mile 55.
Our First Real Checkpoint
There we were met by Paul and Elise Haussler; Paul serving up the “Poker Cards” for the Poker run part of the ride, while Elise helped me get some Sustained Energy and Hammer Gel into my Camelback. Plus we saw Rebel John Long and Chris Hedberg (she may be ADO Gang) working there as well. I hadn’t seen Chris since, when…probably the Heartbreak Century last year? The fast riders passed us just before we got to the Checkpoint, and in fact flew past it until they heard the checkpoint workers yelling at them! It was kind of funny, really. I saw (Super-Fast) Keith Brodsky all dressed up in ’08 Silence-Lotto kit. “Wow, I thought you were Cadel Evans!” I said. “Yeah,” he replied, “I get that a lot.”
The 5 Freeway South
Jacket, glove-liners and balaclava off, bottles filled, stomachs filled (or at least somewhat fueled), we were soon on our way further South, riding along the marked paths, through the tunnel (very dirty, yes, but thankfully not muddy!) out past Las Pulgas to the shoulder of the 5 Freeway. We had a great tail wind through here, so it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, but still…lots of assorted trash and bits of car/truck tires we had to dodge. 70+ MPH traffic was flying by just a few feet away, so not a relaxing ride. On the other side of the coin, flying along at 23 – 25 MPH was feeling good! After seven miles of freeway shoulder and a mile or so though the town of Oceanside, the route directed us up onto another seven miles of dedicated bike path, or really “MUP” (Multiple Use Path). We had runners and walkers to dodge, plus the occasional stroller w/micro-kid pushed by Mom or Dad, yet overall we kept up a solid 16 – 18 MPH without a lot of effort.
Warm Sunshine, Fast Pace Lines
We had quite the contrast from freeway to MUP, then off the bike path to country roads. Not the best surface in the world on these back-roads, kind of bumpy, really, and a bit of traffic but the temperature had warmed up nicely by now (guessing mid 60s F.), with bright sunlight and it had become a lovely day, really. Eight miles on we were passed by a fast moving pace line, including Dr. Jerry Brown, and probably ten other riders. Too fast for me, but Keith hung on, so I rode alone the final mile or two into the Lunch stop, otherwise known as Checkpoint #2 at mile 88. Lots of friendly faces here including Chuck Wentworth (from the Rebels), Grumpy Pig (Frank) from bikeforums.net, Frank Neil from the CA Triple Crown, Rebel Robert Freed and his tandem stoker Karla (whom I’d met while working the Borrego Ordeal Double), plus probably some others I’ve forgotten (sorry!).
What’s for Lunch?
I picked up the ubiquitous Subway Sandwich from Debbie Bowling (Minister of Planet Ultra Food) herself, and then settled down for a quite relaxing lunch, talking with Keith and whom ever else wandered within earshot. Yes, I know the clock is ticking and this is a timed event, but sometimes it’s really therapeutic to wind down a bit, eat some “real food” (as opposed to Sustained Energy and Hammer Gel, often known as “Funnel Food” since it’s delivered to your Camelback or water bottle through a funnel), drink a Coke, eat some Doritos and engage in some off-the-bike conversation. We even had the audacity to tease Debbie about always serving Subway Sandwiches on Planet Ultra rides. Of course, she had a very well presented defense (she is a lawyer, after all), based on price and availability, plus she was open to considering having “wraps” as an alternative to the sandwich format! I warned Keith that we would have some serious climbing to do right after lunch, so maybe that thought was keeping me at lunch a bit longer than would have been optimum, ride-time wise.
Get on Your Bikes and Ride!
That said, we did eventually get our “Poker Card” for this checkpoint, get back on the bikes and on our way. As promised, it was a short 30 feet down Hwy 395, then a quick left and into an eternity of climbing. Okay, I exaggerate, but it was basically 12 miles of mostly climbing (with the occasional descent for a moment's respite), plus on a full stomach, plus the hottest part of the day with the temps in the low 70s at this point, i.e. about 12:00 PM. Overall though, I felt good. No nagging fatigue, still climbing at reasonable speeds and properly focused, picking out the fast lines on the descents. Keith and I picked up another rider through here, but I never did get his name. Much like the recumbent rider earlier in the day, he would follow behind us without really drafting, then sprint ahead for no apparent reason, then drop back again. Some riders are hard to figure!
And Back Again
After a couple of hours, these roads through and around Fallbrook dropped us (via an excellent, fast and long descent) back onto Hwy 76, which led back to North River Road, and eventually back to the afore-noted bike path/MUP. As much as I like climbing and descending, the flat path felt good and at least it seemed like I was getting some recovery to my legs as Keith and I traded off pulls into a bit of a headwind. Our mystery rider was still with us at this point, not really drafting, but not taking any pulls either. Eventually we made our way to the Benton Road exit from the MUP, to discover the second “Mini Stop” and Our Friend Jon Shellenbarger, once again. No “Poker Card” here, but I filled my Camelback, ate more Clif Bloks and talked a bit with Santiago Cycling rider Doug Patterson. Doug is lots faster than I am, so catching him made me feel lots faster…until he told me he was suffering from stomach flu. It had to be a reality check for me (no Rick, you’re not fast, Doug is sick)!
Rolling into the 2nd Mini Checkpoint . . . other rider is still with us!
Me, being a goof, trying to run into the photographer. Sorry Jon .
North on the 5 Freeway
From the “Mini” Jon directed us back to Hwy 76, and from there, into the town of Oceanside (Main Street?) and eventually the entrance to the Northbound 5 Freeway. Here I had a bit of déjà vu as a very quick pace line went by, Keith jumped on, and I didn’t have the power to follow. Of course, they came by just after I’d taken a long pull (yes, timing is everything), but even failing that, I’m not sure I could have hung on to the draft. That done, I was on my own through Las Pulgas and up to Checkpoint #3 (same as Checkpoint #1 this morning) at San Onofre, and mile 136. This was also the “Light Drop” so I dug down into the plastic bin, eventually finding the paper shopping bag with my name on the outside, and my lights on the inside. Paul gave me my “Poker Card” which gave me two Kings, even though, since I am so not a card-game guy, I had no idea what that meant. Keith had waited for me, and he added that the pace line got to be too fast for him, and it broke up anyway, so I hadn’t lost much by not joining in.
Hardest Climbs Still to Come
Okay, still plenty of light so I didn’t turn my lights on yet, and the temps still felt warm enough to keep the jacket, etc. in my jersey pockets. More Sustained Energy, more Hammer Gel (Espresso this time, I could use the caffeine!), and we were on our way with only 58 miles to go! Hey, we’re almost home! Long about here I asked Keith if he’d looked at the course profile for this double. He hadn’t. “Oh,” I remarked as casually as possible, “ Then you should know that some of the hardest climbing is still to come.” Keith just grinned and gave me a kind of “Bring it On!” look, so yeah, we were good to go! Back weaving through lots of surfers up to San Clemente, then over to the “back way” off of PCH, but not on the bike route we’d followed this morning. It was the same distance, just lots fewer stop signs and traffic lights. Once we hooked up to PCH in “downtown” San Clemente it was a nice descent onto the Dana Point flats, then up the hill to Camino Capistrano, San Juan Creek to La Novia, right on Ortega Highway (scary fast traffic, no bike lane), and finally onto the ten mile climb up Antonio Parkway.
Uphill All the Way
True, there are a couple of half-decent descents on the climb up Antonio, but once past Oso, it’s pretty much uphill all the way to Santa Margarita. I must have been feeling the effects of the caffeine at this point, since I led everyone (including Doug) up the first half of the climb. Doug eventually caught me, and then when we got stopped by the long light at Oso, the rest of our micro-bunch caught up. I was able to hold a really good pace all the way up the rest of the Antonio climb, then it was a quick turn onto Santa Margarita before the left onto Trabuco Canyon, down the switchbacks, and a stop at Checkpoint #4 at the General Store in Trabuco at mile 168.
The Final Checkpoint
When I pulled into the Checkpoint, I looked around for Keith, and didn’t see him anywhere. He told me later than he’d had to pull off on the final mile of Antonio to massage his legs awhile. I didn’t know any of the Checkpoint workers at #4, but one of them gave me my “Poker Card” as I dug into a Cup-O-Noodles and drank some hot chocolate. Before long, Keith pulled in, and introduced me to his wife, Ann, who was one of the Checkpoint workers. Tina and Jose rolled in; I gave them a little preview of the course from here in, noting that the climb up Live Oak (pretty much right out of the Checkpoint) could be fairly brutal with so many miles on our legs. Not sure how long we stayed at Checkpoint #4 exactly, but I’m guessing at least half an hour. Keith and I were both aware that we needed to finish after 14 hours, and since it was about 5:30 PM when we left, we thought we might have to hang out somewhere for a while before we rolled into the finish. So a little extra time spent here didn’t bother us at all.
Lights On, All Clothes On
Before getting back on the bike I put on all the clothes I’d stuffed into my jersey pockets previously, then turned on my lights and got mentally prepared for the Final Assault. Keith and I rode up Trabuco to the Live Oak climb, taking it fairly easy, saving a bit for the Really Steep bit at the top. Maybe it’s because it’s in the dark, but it always seems to take a long time to reach the Live Oak summit on this double. That done (ref: much pain and suffering), we had the long, fast descent into Cook’s Corner, then a right turn and that long, but not too steep, climb up the first part of Santiago Canyon. I warned Keith about the false summit, but after that, it was a pretty easy descent with only three small climbs all the way (well, 12 miles) to the left on Jamboree. As we rolled down the Jamboree descent, I checked my watch. Exactly 7:30 PM, so no worries about finishing too soon.
The last part was rather anti-climactic with a left turn on to Portola followed by a right on to Sand Canyon, down the slight incline, under the 5 Freeway, and a left turn onto Burt Road followed by a right in to the La Quinta lot. Keith and I checked in, and Debbie gave us the same time: 14 Hours, 27 Minutes. You might think the fun was over, but we each had one more “Poker Card” to draw. Keith ended up with a pair of something (don’t remember what), winning a bottle of Hammer Gel. I pulled yet another King for a three-of-a-kind, which won me a free entry to any single-day Planet Ultra event (translation: will save $85 of my money when I enter the Eastern Sierra Double.) So that was a nice surprise, and a pleasant way to end the day.
So Overall . . .
So, overall, it was lovely day weather wise. You really couldn’t have asked for much better. I didn’t know Keith before the ride, but we had about the same pace, so it was great having someone friendly and intelligent to ride with all day. The Checkpoint workers were all great, the food was quite adequate (gotta love Subway!), the course was excellent, and the route sheet was spot on. Plus, as worried as I was about my inadequate training for the event, I really felt pretty good all day. Guess all that rest really helped! I should add, however (and my wife Jackie will verify, should you doubt), that I was virtually worthless all day Sunday! Thanks to Debbie and Brian of Planet Ultra, thanks to all the volunteers and thanks to Jon Shellenbarger for his work at the Mini-Stops and the photos you see here.
Rick / OCRR