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Breathless Agony . . . but no rain!

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Breathless Agony . . . but no rain!

Old 05-03-09, 01:41 PM
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Breathless Agony . . . but no rain!

Breathless Agony, May 2nd 2009

As I was getting ready for this year's Breathless Agony (fun timed ride, 114 miles, 12,000 feet of climbing) the weather reports were all about cold temps and rain. I checked Redlands (ride start), Beaumont (checkpoint 1) and Angelus Oaks (checkpoint 3) and it was temps in the 50's, 30 - 40% chance of rain.

So as I was getting all kitted up early (5:30 AM) in the parking lot (car park for you Stapfam), I put on my wool socks (Woolie Boolie), my wool turtleneck base layer under my bib-shorts (yes, with knee warmers added), plus arm warmers, jersey, etc. Since it gets colder at altitude, and we were going up to over 8,000 feet, I stuffed my balaclava, jacket and rain jacket in my pockets.

Take the camera? No, it's not waterproof and it would be difficult to get at under all those jackets. So that's why there's no photos. If they publish photos from the ride later, I'll add them, but none for now.

I took off from the timekeeper's station (per Chuck Bramwell) at 5:47, under heavy overcast and was (if I counted correctly) the fourth or fifth rider on the road. The sky looked so dark, it was just a matter of when (not if) we'd get the rain. Rode with some locals (from Redlands) through the neighborhoods then inadvertently dropped them on the first micro-climb. Mark (from Phoenix, AZ) caught up to me about mile 10 and since this was his first Breathless Agony, he had lots of questions about the route to come.

Those questions answered we made the left turn onto Jack Rabbit trail at mile 17.8, the first "Pass" and the test of our cyclo-cross and off-road skills since it is a Trail, . . . though it had been paved long ago. Thankfully not a very steep climb on Jack Rabbit, as we picked our way around the rocks, over the dirt and bits of what used to be pavement. Four and a half miles later, Jack Rabbit dumped us onto the shoulder of the 10 Freeway and from there to the Beaumont exit, up the road to Checkpoint 1 at mile 26.6.

We checked in (just before 8:00 AM), and I sucked down a couple of Chocolate GU's and a banana before heading out to face our 2nd climb of the day, i.e. Oak Glen. This is the steepest climb of B.A. with some 11% sections, but mostly just a 7 - 8% long grind, with the photographers near the summit, ready to record our moments of Greatest Suffering! Mark had ridden away from me on this climb, but thankfully I was able to catch him with my prev. knowledge of the twisty descent off Oak Glen.

From there it was a short ride to the Ranger Station, which today was also Checkpoint #2 at about 10:05AM with 43.6 miles ridden to that point. After check-in with the friendly lady with the clipboard, I began by pouring two cans of Mt. Dew into one bottle, some Gatorade copy ("All Pro?") into the other bottle, then grabbed a few Fig Newtons to eat as I rode along on the next (quite boring) stage, known in local cycling lore as "Damnation Alley."

As I began my ride up Hwy 38 I noticed the clouds were breaking up, and the skies really didn't look much like rain at all. The sun came out, in fact, I wished I'd brought my sunglasses! And, I could have brought my camera! Regardless, Damnation Alley earned it's nick-name because even though it varies between 5 and 6%, it doesn't seem to vary, nor does the scenery (lots of trees, huge wide bike lane, stream with micro-waterfall gurgling off to the right) vary, such that you seem to be caught in a painful purgatory, with no apparent end.

A few riders passed me along here, but fewer than last year, or so it seemed. Honestly, B.A. has you on Damnation Alley for just a bit over an hour of consistent climbing, . . . but it seems like two! Once around the left U-Turn at the Forest Falls exit, it's all good, scenery wise. Even more trees, curves in the road, with the sides of the mountain right up the edge of the roadway. Sure, the climbing is still tough, but it's such a treat visually, not to mention (but I will) how good it feels to have Damnation Alley behind you!

More riders passed me along here, including my friend Chuck Chen, who said I was riding great because "I passed you a lot earlier last year!" Yeah, thanks Chuck! He would go on to finish 1 hr. 45 min. before me. But he's young (37 or 38) compared to me, plus he weighs almost nothing . . . and is so strong. Still, I continued to plod along, and eventually found myself at Checkpoint #3, Angelus Oaks. Not much of a town (pop. 193) but close enough for me, with a friendly B.A. volunteer checking me in, about 11:30 AM at mile 54.6.

My friend Rodney was there, offering me a sandwich, but I wanted to get in and out of there ASAP, so I politely declined. He had made sandwiches for all of the O.C. Rebels, but I'm not sure how many took him up on the offer! Nice gesture, though. I made a quick stop at the porta-pot, then filled my bottles (Dr. Pepper the only caffeine here), and headed off up the road on the final stage, now at mile 65. This next bit is rolling hills but mostly climbing for ten miles, then a mile long descent to Barton Flats before the real torture begins on the 8 mile climb to Onyx Summit, some 2,500 feet above you as you start this last climb from the campground at Barton Flats.

Now of course I understand on an intellectual level that 8 miles is a finite distance. At this point in the ride, however, if feels anything but. Maybe because I had over 10,000 feet and 66 miles on my legs at this time of the morning (is it afternoon yet?), or maybe because the road seems to disappear off the upper limits of my visual range. Regardless, I was holding onto 8 mph for the first several miles, then I hopelessly disintegrated to a 7 mph pace, which became a rather futile 6-mph before I reached the summit. While it’s true that I was in pain, and I was suffering, I told myself that I could not quit now (out of the question, really), after riding this far, and if it took “Grim Determination” than so be it. I can get very rude with myself when my body is protesting but my brain wants still more performance. On the plus side there was a tail-wind, at what must have been about 7 mph, since I couldn’t feel it on my back until I’d slowed to 6!

Still, in the end, finite is indeed finite, and I did reach Onyx summit at about 12:47 PM, so my time should be right at 7:00 (or darn close to it) when the times are published. Chuck Chen was right there to greet me when I passed the finish line, a kind lady handed me my 4-Pass finisher medal, while a volunteer “Bike Parker” took my bike over to their prepared bike parking area at the Summit. Chuck had been on the summit for quite awhile, so was ready to head back down, so I started looking for friends gathered on the summit. David Olson (also a Rebel) was feeling good about his time (just over 6 hours if I remember right), plus Bob Davidson (62) who I’d seen at the Alpine Challenge last weekend, Shai and Vance from bikeforums and the Very Famous Chuck Bramwell once again.

After sampling almost all of the food offerings, I filled my bottles, retrieved my bike, and headed back down the mountain. It feels so good to be “off the clock” (the event is only timed to the top of Onyx), not to mention that it’s basically 40 miles to descend into Redlands. I passed a few riders on the descent before the one-mile climb up from Barton Flats, then a few flew past me as we dropped below Angelus Oaks, yet overall I was enjoying the tough part being over, swooping around the hairpins, and occasionally glancing over the side at the awesome mountain scenery. Going back down Damnation Alley, I was impressed with how steep it was, and understood better why it hurt so much!

Back at the park I changed clothes before joining Chuck Chen for the burrito, chips and salsa lunch. Very relaxing back at the park, all kinds of drinks, plus food, plus the “war stories” everyone has from this ride and others. I had a nice talk with Colleen Montoya, the woman’s record holder for this event. She was having back troubles, so couldn’t ride it this year, but was kind enough to come out to help at the checkpoints. She told me she’s 44, though to look at her I would have guessed late 20’s at the oldest. You just never know.

My original plan had been to wait at the Park until other Rebels had finished, but as it got later I was feeling more tired, and just thinking about the hour-long drive back to Whittier, I took off before Maria, Linda, Arthur, Joey and Chuck W. got back to the park. Overall, a great event, extremely well organized, plus I’m reasonably happy with my time given the effort I put out. Thanks to Robert Kahler, Chuck Bramwell, and all the volunteers that make Breathless Agony such an excellent and fun event.

More Breathless Info here: http://www.cyclingpros.com/onyx.htm

OC Rebel Results:

1. CHUCK CHEN 5:17
2. COLIN STOKES 5:32
3. DAVID OLSON 5:32
4. RICK BURNESON 7:01
5. JIM LESLIE 7:23
6. MARIA SZWEMINSKA 7:27
7. FRANK SISON 7:29
8. DAVID WU 7:38
9. JULIE STOKES 7:49
10. JOEY GUZZINO 7:50
11. ANDREW MAY 7:52
12. CHUCK WENTWORTH 8:01
13. ERIK MESSLEY 8:23
14. ELISE HAUSSLER 8:30
15. LINDA ADAMS 9:14
16. ARTHUR SHAPIRO 9:34



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Old 05-03-09, 02:16 PM
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Excellent report!
Makes me think my June plans for the race up Whiteface Mountain http://www.whitefacerace.com/ will be just a minor achievement.
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Old 05-03-09, 02:30 PM
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Just marked that ride on my list as one never to even consider doing. Your description of the Agony and pain you went through has convinced me that my short sharp hills of Sussex are quite enough thankyou.

Well done for doing it and may the Rain gods stay on your side for the rest of the year. If you can defeat the weather forecast that well- it does bode well for you.
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Old 05-03-09, 02:56 PM
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That sure looks like the place to keep in shape. My son just got back from Cal. and had some great shots of some people riding out there. Although he said the roads need a lot of repair. Anyway sounds like you had a great time.
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Old 05-03-09, 04:34 PM
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I can't imagine doing that ride.

Congrats!

Oh, the humanity.....
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Old 05-03-09, 05:07 PM
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Congratulations on a great ride, Rick. 114 miles and 12,000 feet is quite an accomplishment made all the more impressive (to me) by the range of temperatures/weather encountered and all of the clothes needed for that variation in conditions. What drive train (chain rings/cassette) do you use for a ride like that?
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Old 05-03-09, 07:41 PM
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Good job, Rick. Sounds like you had a great time. What's next? I'm doing the Cruisin' the Conejo next week.
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Old 05-03-09, 09:52 PM
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Thanks for the report. Good job, Rick!

I dream of doing this ride...maybe next year...
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Old 05-03-09, 09:53 PM
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Originally Posted by doctor j View Post
What drive train (chain rings/cassette) do you use for a ride like that?
Thanks Doctor j,

The cassette is a Shimano 10 spd. 11-27, the chainrings (also Shimano) are 30-39-53. On a couple of occasions I pondered using the 30t Granny, but actually stayed out of it for the whole ride. I think the cassette is 105, but it might be Ultegra. The crankset is for sure Ultegra. And yes, I rode many miles in my 39 x 27!

bigjohn, I'm in K.C. next weekend for my son's graduation from college (pre-dental, so dental school is next), then the Davis Double on the following weekend. That preceeds the Heartbreak Century, which preceeds the Eastern Sierra Double. Ride Around the Bear is two weekends on (a fortnight for Stapfam), then Grand Tour double. All kinds of fun!

George, Where did your son ride? Lots of roads are less than perfect in CA, but Jack Rabbit Trail (and Drum Canyon) are the worst! Hopefully he rode Glendora Mountain Road and Angeles Crest!

Yes Stapfam, I was happy to avoid the rain this time, and it made for an easier ride albeit a less exciting ride report . . .

cyclinfool and Weak Lnk, You too could do Breathless Agony. All it takes is months of training and the mindless determination to finish, pretty much no matter what!

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Old 05-03-09, 10:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Red Rider View Post
Thanks for the report. Good job, Rick!
I dream of doing this ride...maybe next year...
Thanks Red,

And you could do it next year. The most difficult part is getting in. Seriously, the website was open for 8 hours, 48 minutes and all 650 places were filled. So, right now, go to their website and mark down the day registration opens.

Once you get in, if you get in . . . just ride a lot of climbing miles (and I know you have some excellent climbing opportunities locally), remember to eat and drink on the ride, and you'll be fine. Really.

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Old 05-03-09, 10:19 PM
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Love your reports. I will look forward to some pictures at a later date.
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Old 05-03-09, 10:49 PM
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If other organized rides were less greedy, they'd cut off the enrollment at more manageable numbers and then seriously police the roads (Solvang Century comes to mind; no surprise given my outcome this year).

I'd much rather be disappointed by not getting into a ride than to be disappointed by becoming a statistic in a huge ride.
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Old 05-04-09, 07:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Red Rider View Post
I'd much rather be disappointed by not getting into a ride than to be disappointed by becoming a statistic in a huge ride.
Very true Red,

I was a little concerned when they raised the rider limit from 550 (in prev. years) to 650, but it wasn't a problem at all. On the other side of the coin, however, and due to the weather predictions being so cold and wet, the percentage of "No Shows" was much larger than in prev. years as well.

No worries, though, Breathless Agony will never become another Solvang . . . partly because that much climbing scares a lot of riders off .

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Old 05-04-09, 10:04 AM
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Here is a picture taken by Shai at Onyx.
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Old 05-04-09, 10:32 AM
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Thanks big john!

Yes, I admit it, that's me. With a can of Coke in my hand! Do I look happy to be at Onyx Summit or what? I should have been resting on the mats with the other riders . . . but no, I was walking around talking to people.

And thanks Shai, for taking the photo! It was good to see you at Onyx after your horrible crash on this ride last year!

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