Sunday, April 12, 2015

Letter of Intent - Tour Divide 2015

There are two months until June 12, when I will line up at Antelope Wells NM, with a few others in the pre-dawn twilight and point my bicycle northward, with the expectation of arriving at the Spray River Trailhead in Banff AB in 3 weeks and a few days. Here is my Tour Divide "Letter of Intent"

I have unfinished business. There are miles and miles of back roads to be ridden, magnificent vistas to be seen, gas station food to be eaten and exhaustion to be experienced.  Count me "IN" for TD 2015.

And there you have it. June 12 will be here pretty soon.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Stagecoach 400 - Finish & Analysis

Up and rolling at a little after 6:30.  Got myself a couple of sodas, turned in the key and headed into fog. There was dense fog around the lake, but it went away as soon as I got away from the water.  The ride up to Warner Springs was pretty nice on the road, I could even see Mt Palomar observatory, and then I made the turn onto Puerta La Cruz which to my surprise was paved !

Lake Henshaw Resort
It seemed to have a lot of false summits, but was quite nice.  I managed to miss the turn to a dirt forest road, but figured it out without having to go too far down a steep descent, and got back on track.  There was more climbing to be had and then I got a descent and crossed Chihuahua Valley Road.  Was beginning to feel that I am pretty close to the end of this thing now !

California Riding and Hiking Trail near Chihuahua Valley Road
I was surprised by the California Riding and Hiking Trail.  The piece near Alpine was really sketchy, but this part was nicely rideable.  Had to walk a couple of places and that was more for something to change up the muscles. An OHV driver came by and talked for a while, me explaining what we were doing with this ride and he being a bit amazed by it.  The miles seemed to go by pretty well, the drinks that I had gave me enough calories to run on and other than beginning to destroy my rear brakes, the bike was working well.

By 1:30 I was at the Sunshine Market again getting an ice cream and AZ Iced Tea into myself and feeling pretty good.  The lady at the counter said she was worried about me ... Shelly had asked if I had come by and the lady was worried that something had happened to me. Kinda nice that a complete stranger would be interested in my welfare, she was really sweet !

Just came from "way back there"
Bailey Road  ( long long descent back to Terwilliger Road )

Sunshine Market
Happy at the top of Jim Truck Trail

The rest is pretty straightforward.  The hike-a-bike up Jim Truck Trail was indeed that, getting warm but just something to grind out.  I had a good road ride on 74, did the Keen Camp singletrack, crossed the meadow and then like many others, wondered when May Valley Road would ever end ?  I literally flew downhill back to the elementary school and about a block later wondered why the track to follow didn't show any longer ( reason -- I am done ! ).  Then my GPS said it's battery was low, but it was all ok, I could ride up hill to the HUB on my own.

Well, I clocked in at 5:28 pm, on day 5, rider number 36, about 11 hours past Brendan's 5 day cutoff.  So although I did finish the route, I'm not a real finisher, my being outside the limit.  But it's all ok, I did ride every mile and got it done.

Soooooo  .... what lessons to take away and do better in the future ?

Have to improve my riding in deep sand.  I wasted a lot of strength getting on and off the bike, getting mired.  Maybe experiment with letting more air out of my tires, so I have the confidence the whole thing won't roll off the rim.

I counted too much on the store in AC being ready, should have had more stuff with me in case they weren't there.

Need better lights ( have ordered something that should help a lot )  I had a hard time seeing depth in the trail at night, part of that is old eyes, but better lights would help.

Shouldn't have made that detour to Pine Valley, as I wasted a lot of time and energy getting back on course.  A camp near Lake Cuyamaca would have let me hit that restaurant again, but I wasn't thinking very clearly after Oriflamme.

I need to figure out how to see the Etrex 30 display better.  At night the backlight goes away after 30 seconds and reaching up to press the button to zoom in or out ( making it light up ) was a bit of a hassle.  Maybe carry a headlight also.

The bike and gear seemed to be just right. I had the right clothes, my sleep stuff seemed to be ok, and I only took one Ibuprofen, so no real aches or pains.

I had a great time and was continually impressed with the route that Brendan has setup for this ride.  Just wished I hadn't gotten so bogged down in the sand and tried to do Oriflamme in the heat, but otherwise I think I did a reasonable job of it ( for an old man :-).

Next up, Chino Grinder in Chino Valley in May, then a northbound Tour Divide in June.

Stagecoach 400 - On to Lake Henshaw

I woke up at 7:30 in the middle of a dense fog.  Could hear the traffic on Carmel Valley Road as I packed up, and left in the fog and climbed up to an area with nice dirt roads close to power lines that would sizzle a bit in the fog. Then onto the switchbacks before Lake Hodges and onto the trails around the lake.

Lake Hodges Dam
Getting around the lake took longer that I thought, not due to any difficulty, but it's a pretty big canyon and lake system, but by around 11:00 I am getting to Escondito and getting to a Panera Bread to get some lunch.  Scored myself a ham and cheese panini and a big pastry along with about 2 gallons of iced tea and was ready for the San Pasqual Valley Trail system.  

Got to chase a coyote who ran out onto the trail in front of me and then going up hill a red racer snake was stretched out across the trail.  He didn't want to move, even when I bounced my bike tire up and down, so I got a stick and poked him -- that did it -- he twisted around and moved pretty darn quick, hence the name racer :-)  

Got to Highway 78 and went uphill for about 3 miles on it, until the Orosco Truck Trail came up.  It was a pretty nice sweet ride ( we were supposed to walk it, I rode ) and got to the "bike proof gate".  Didn't have any trouble with that .. put part of the bike through, climbed over, and then pulled the rest through.
Before the gate

Bike Proof Gate
Nice to get around you !
I did see a rattlesnake on the road, sunning himself.  Again, he didn't want to move, but I had plenty of distance, so went around him.  Pamo road was a nice paved stretch, and then got to head up the mountain on the San Ysabel truck trail.

That was a nice road, it climbed like crazy but was very rideable, and I felt good. I rode all of the early parts of it and might have walked a couple hundred yards at the most.   Someplace along there I ran into Paul who had started last Friday and then stopped.  He was out on San Ysabel for a "day ride", was good to see someone else out on this road, otherwise it was pretty empty.

Then Black Canyon road came up and it was a beautiful, flat, well graded road that went higher and higher into the mountains and finally met the Mesa Grande road.

San Ysabel Truck Trail climbing above Pamo Road
Nice shady trees on San Ysabel Truck Trail
As darkness fell, I knew there was no way I was going to try to make Idyllwild before the 6:30 am end of 5 days, so called Lake Henshaw resort and got myself a room.  I got down the mountain probably hitting the low 30's and then rode hard and got there a few minutes before 7.  Was able to hit the grocery store and score some stuff, and to get an order in with the cook in the restaurant next door.  Score, score and score !  

Black Mountain Road above the Reservation

Stagecoach 400 - San Diego

A quick Cheerios breakfast at the hotel in Alpine and then headed up Tavern Road. There were a couple of nice paved road climbs, and a short descent on the California Riding and Hiking Trail, which had something that looked like an earthquake fissure in the middle of it ( seriously, I couldn't see the bottom of a couple of those cracks .. sure as hell didn't want to put a tire into one ! )

Sloan Canyon was next and it was spectacular ! Here we are within spitting distance of San Diego and there is this wild remote looking canyon with oaks, cottonwoods, willows and it was quiet and just beautiful.
Coming into Sloan Canyon

After the canyon I was on some city streets with nice bike lanes for a very few miles, then onto the Sweetwater Trail system.  Some really nice pieces of urban trail.

Sweetwater Bridge

Nice Hike-a-Bike to get up here
I had a lot of fun riding into the San Diego area.  I was on park trails and urban trails, passed a zillion riders, hikers, walkers and equestrians and just had a great time. There was a headwind coming from the ocean and you could almost smell it.  Passed a salt facility extracting salt from the south end of San Diego Bay and then got to Silver Strand State Beach, got off the bikeway and put some bike tires into the ocean.

The Beach
 After putting the tires in, I stopped at one of the beach shower setups and gave the bike a quick shower to get the beach sand off, then on up the Silver Strand to the end of Coronado Island.  I stopped at an Irish pub restaurant, got myself a big corned beef sandwich and tried to time when the ferry would leave, then rolled over to the ferry dock, where I got my ticket for the ferry ride.
Ferry Landing on Coronado Island
 Landed over near Seaport Village and had fun getting some looks from tourists with my fully loaded bikepacking rig.  The guys with the bikecabs seemed to like it a lot.  I saw this cool statue next to the Midway, don't think it was there the last time I was in SD, but could have missed it.
Off the Port Bow of the Midway

USS Midway
 The Midway is pretty impressive.  Could see a couple of A-4's that I used to work on in the Marines parked on the deck. That was a long time ago.
Seaside Cliffs
 And our route took us over to Ocean Beach and along the cliffs.  Then up past Sea World and up towards UCSD.  I got passed by some roadies and did a pretty good job of keeping up with them going up the hill into UCSD.  Got turned around a bit on Campus, but figured it out and then headed to Torrey Pines State Beach on the highway.  I passed about a million cars that were all stuck waiting for some traffic thing to clear - damm, it was fun doing that !!
At Torrey Pines State Beach near sundown - time to head inland

Spend a few minutes looking at the ocean again and then turned my back on it and headed east on Sorrento Valley Road.  Stopped at Performance Bicycles, bought a few GU's and pumped up my tires and then on to the Penasquitos trail system.  This is where I started to really realize that my bike lights ( Fenix LD22 flashlight ) is just not up to riding single track in the dark.  I rode along with frogs croaking near a stream in the dark, and it got chillier and finally I crossed under the Ted Williams freeway and went to a 7-11 to get a burrito, a couple of Cokes and some stuff for breakfast.

I got close to the Black Mountain Rec center, saw an area that was a little higher ( so as to not be in the bottom of a freezing cold wash ), and got over in the grass and spread out my bivy and went to sleep. In the middle of the night it was pretty chilly and I dug out my Sol Emergency bivy and was nice and warm afterwards.

Stagecoach 400 - Indian Creek, Decanso and on to Alpine

The single track alongside Sunrise Highway was fun, and had a few riders on it. Then I got to do a few miles on the highway itself and that went well. Finally I got to the Noble Canyon trailhead and turned in there, stopped and filled my water bottles.

I really liked the Noble Canyon track, thought it was pretty, and had a nice flow to it.  Met some hikers at the Indian Creek turnoff and chatted with them for a bit.  Then downhill to the creek, crossed it and started around Indian Creek.  I stopped for a couple of minutes and heard another rider come from behind me and pulled my bike out of his way .. he went on, and then I went on .. and then I found him a few minutes later, with a derailleur knocked off his bike by a big rock that he had ran over and it "popped up" and got his bike.

So I stopped, and dug out my chain breaker and another rider came up and the three of us figured out the best way to get him going again as a single speed.  Nice to have some tools with me, even had a chunk of duct tape to tape up the dangling cable.  He went back towards his car, and I kept going on the Indian Creek path, which is a bit narrow in places with drops that could cause some damage to you if you went over the edge !

Finally got to a fire road, passed Granite Springs and saw some of the biggest oak trees I have ever seen.  Got to ride through some beautiful meadows and then through Cuyamaca State Park and back to Highway 79 ( a place I had just passed earlier in the morning as I went uphill on 79 to Cuyamaca Lake ).

Beautiful Meadow in Cuyamaca State Park

On to Descanso, where I stopped at Veronica's and had a really great Carne Asada burrito, a root beer float and iced tea, and felt really good after that.  Then I headed for Alpine and got to ride downhill on Viejas Grade.
Could be an Ent 

I was surprised to see the cue sheet instructions telling us to go straight on Willows Road instead of the Interstate on-ramp and we had another little piece of dirt that got us onto neighborhood streets avoiding a lot of car traffic ( Sweet ! )
Refueling at Veronicas

I headed to the Ayres Hotel in Alpine, got a room and got some supper at the Montana Grill where I devoured most of a giant place of pot roast.  All in all, it was a pretty good day, could have ridden further but was good to get done with those big hilly single track sections from Mt Laguna on to Cuyamaca State Park.

Viejas Grade

Stagecoach 400 - Out of the Frying Pan and into Oriflamme

A couple of hours later, other riders are getting up and packing to roll out. The store was supposed to open at 7 am, and I checked the time and got up. At 7:30 Shelly and I rang the big loud bell in front of the store, but the guy didn't come out. She and a couple of fellows had some water with them, and they rolled for the Butterfield RV park, which has a store. I was really low on water, and needed something like a Coke or other soft drink just to get my system running after last night, and was hoping this guy would open the store. Finally at about 9:00 he opens, I go in and get a couple of soft drinks and an ice cream. I go through all of this, and go back to the store and the front door is locked !

Finally in another 10 minutes or so, he opens and I buy some water. There are three guys outside who are scratching, and one who says he is going to wait there in the heat until 5 pm to ride. It's getting progressively hotter and I know if I hang there, I'll bake or quit, so I water up, pour what is left on my hat and back and roll.

The ride to Butterfield was pretty nice, and I got a hot pocket and some more drinks there and felt I was ready.  ( silly boy ! )

Made the turn onto Oriflamme at 11:00 am, and the first part wasn't too bad. Then it got steep and then it got hot, and I found myself walking a lot. Then walking it all. I tried to keep hydrated and used some GU's but with 3 hrs of sleep and heat and grade, I was going into a hole. At one place higher up, I remember sitting down on the road and then reaching down and pulling the bike up to me, to get it up the steepness. Finally got to an area that I normally would have no problem riding, and even that was defeating me. It did get cooler as we got to the top, but that didn't help me that much.

Finally, I got to the single track through a meadow and that part was beautiful !  I could ride, even in my destroyed state, and got to the Sunshine Highway.

Tried to assess my situation and knew I could not go further up hill on the zero food and low water that I had, so I turned off my Spot ( so as not to alarm everyone ) and headed for the restaurant that I knew was 4 miles of pavement away at Lake Cuyamaca. I think this was an excellent decision, getting to a real store and a real sit down restaurant.

Got myself an iced tea, a Pepsi, and a open faced hot turkey sandwich with gravy and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce !  It was wonderful food.  Noticed that the roof of my mouth felt like I had blisters on it and I was shaking.  Watched AZ fall behind Wisconsin on my phone for a couple of minutes and tried to figure out what to do. It was getting cooler and I wanted more food in me before I tried Indian Creek, so looked for a hotel, thought I would figure out if I was quitting or resetting.

This is where I go wrong .... my phone shows Pine Valley as the closest place, and I remember that it's mostly downhill, so off I go to Pine Valley, about 15 road miles.  I get there before sundown and checkin. Go to the Frosty Burger, get a shake, burger and fries, take it back to the hotel and after I eat that, I feel pretty good. Now the only problem is that I am almost 20 miles away from where I am supposed to be !  

Decide I am not quitting, and I just have to go to sleep, get up in the morning and ride my butt back up to where I left the trail, so that's my plan.  

A quick bacon & eggs breakfast at Major's Diner in Pine Vally in the morning, a ride up Highway 79 to Cuyamaca Lake and another breakfast, and then by about 11, I am back on course with the Spot turned on.  So that whole episode cost me almost 20 hours, but at least I feel good, am rested and ready to get it done.
The Beginning

This doesn't look bad at all !  - when it got bad, I didn't take pictures !

Stagecoach 400 - The Sands of Anza Borrego

It was pretty cool to meet a bunch of the guys that were going to do the Stagecoach. We had a riders meeting at Hub, and Brendan reiterated a couple of little changes to the route. Pretty much everything had already been covered in a set of cues that he had emailed a couple of weeks ago, so after 20 or 30 minutes we were ready to head off for pizza.

Riders Meeting

The next morning we rolled out at 6:30 after waiting for some of the Spot's to get synched up.  There was a nice climb from the elementary school in Idyllwild and then we hit May Valley Road.  A nice fast descent there, then onto a pretty meadow and then Keen Camp single track.  A bit of a road ride and we were off onto a dirt road taking us up to the site of the Speed of Light Reflector. I picked up a solar panel that had fallen off a rider's bike and was able to get it back to him there.  Then we did a really rocky steep descent on something called the Jim Truck Trail. This thing sketched me a bit, not being a good descender and I took my time and walked a little bit of it. Pretty soon we were at the Sunshine Market, a little store in the middle of a trailer park right off Terwilliger Road.  Several folks were there getting refreshed after 25 miles of riding.

Waiting to Start


A couple of miles later, we were going down into Coyote Canyon.  The initial descent wasn't that bad, it only got steep towards the bottom and again I took my time. As we went down, it got hotter and hotter and pretty soon we were at the bottom and experiencing some 90 plus temperatures.

I was following tracks in the sand and got a little bit off the GPS track and kept going and going and kept thinking I should be passing Bailey's Cabin. Then I saw one of the guys ( Alan I think ) coming up from the right and apparently I went around Bailey's. He and I rode together for a bit, getting stuck in the sand, riding a bit, getting stuck and off and walking and then back on, and then stuck and off and walking and then back on and getting stuck and walking and then back on.....  Maybe I should have let more air out of my tires, I think I was running 27 or 28 lbs, that was probably way too much, but always am afraid of burping a tire and having to fix something in the middle of nowhere.

We passed the First Child monument, got through the Middle Willows and then got separated. Riding on from there the route got a little better and there were even a couple of little streams with running water. I soaked my hat in each one of them and put it back on to help cool down and that helped a little bit.

Abandon Hope All Who Enter !

Looking Back towards Civilization

First Child Monument

Borrego Sculpture

Borrego Sculptures
Finally I get to pavement. Now it's really hot outside and Borrego Springs is still a few miles away, but making progress.  The area has these impressive metal sculptures, and I took pictures next to a couple of them. Finally around 2:30 I think, I was at the Mexican food restaurant ordering a couple of tacos and a giant iced tea and a giant Pepsi. There were maybe 5 other riders there and as I ate four or more came in, all equally hot.

Some folks were scratching right there, already having had enough fun.  And others were waiting for the sun to go down. I sat for a while till about 4pm and then rolled for Ocotillo Wells.  It took long enough that the Split Mountain RV store was closed when I got there and I went across the street to the Iron Door and got a Coke, a Coke to go and a water to go.  Up Split Mountain Road as the sun went down and a pickup with a couple of riders being SAG'd out, asked me if I needed a ride.  Folks were scratching already. I met someone on the roadside who had thrown up due to the heat and was waiting for this guy to come back. Then into Fish Wash.

These were in Ocotillo Wells
Fish Wash initially was fun. The riding was pretty good and I just rode and climbed and stayed in the canyon and the last of the light disappeared and the moon began to show. One of the guys from Borrego passed me, but otherwise I was alone.  As it got darker, I had trouble locating the road in all of the sand and I got a little off track.  And the sand became harder to ride in.  I got to where I thought Diablo was supposed to be and pushed up a steep bank, then pulled off to the side, drank my Coke and thought I would sleep for a few hours. I camped out and tried to get to sleep, then saw the lights of some other riders .. it was Shelly and three fellows and they passed by and then I could hear them climb something which turned out to be the real Diablo Drop !  The wind was blowing some, so I packed up and headed out.  Diablo is crazy steep, but I finally got to the top. Again, the sand was deep, the riding slow and it was a slog of ride, get stuck, walk, repeat. Arroyo Tapiado was pretty nice and then after a few more hours, I was hitting the pavement and getting to Aqua Caliente Springs at about 4 am. Totally spent, almost out of water, I spread out the bivy under a tree and went to sleep.