Friday, December 01, 2006

Grand Tour Challenge, June 2003

Malibu, California—June 2003

First of all, let me say this right up front. This was one of the best Century events I have ridden, and my hat is off to the LA Wheelemen Bicycle Club for putting on such a well organized and supported event. As most of you know, the ride started and ended in Malibu California, a quaint small and unassuming little town along the California coast...not really. The Grand Tour is comprised of 400 mile, 300 mile, 200 mile, and 123 mile ride options with the 123 mile "Century" known as the "Century Challenge." I'll explain that title as we go along in this ride report, but I think it will be rather obvious why they added the word "Challenge" to the title.

Five Vegas Velo Club members, Bobbie Costin, Kent Costin, Barry Vinik and Shannon Goldsmith (Randy Paar started at 6:15am) pressed out past Pepperdine University cheered on by the line of celebrities and stars lining the streets at 6:30am. The weather was typical California coastal weather at this time of morning: 60 °F with low-overcast skies and no wind. Perfect riding weather! The first four miles North on the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway or Highway 1) brought us to the foot of Latigo Canyon; one of many canyons that meander and crisscross through the Malibu local area and surrounding mountains. This little gem of a climb is part of why they call the ride the Century Challenge. The climb starts at roughly sea-level and ends 10.2 miles later at the summit. The challenge is the winding road and ever changing grades along the way. What is really cool about this climb is the view back over your shoulder. The ribbon of road can be seen as foreground to the blue and endless Pacific ocean. A really picturesque site I must say. Equally impressive are the number of REALLY big homes, or mansions, that dot the mountainside. I couldn't help but think: "How did these people build these massive estates up here." Anyway, back to the climb. We tagged up with the Riverside Bike Club crowd and had some great conversation when the grade availed itself to some aerobic climbing. Bobbie and I were on the tandem and we were both grateful for the "granny gear" on this ride. Amazingly, I only saw one other tandem team attempt this portion of the Grand Tour. As for the descents, they were numerous and very tight. Many were 180° switchbacks with blind corners all along the way down. Barry found that out the hard way when he came around a corner and found himself facing a stop sign thirty feet in front of him while barreling downhill at 30+ miles an hour. Fortunately for him, good brakes and skillful bike handling brought him to a safe stop.

At this point the ride empties out onto the Mulholland highway for some more climbing and descending through some really cool looking rock formations near Thousand Oaks. Entering Lake Sherwood Drive you mingle with the best of the affluent that California has to offer. Lake Sherwood is home to some of the most exclusive residences in the country, and by their size it is rather obvious. In fact, it is so exclusive that Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn't been able to acquire a membership to the community for several years. Guess that will change when he becomes governor, eh? Views of Rupert Murdoch’s estate and his surrounding circle of friends' residences seemed to dwarf our presence as we passed by on our humble two-wheeled vehicles. I kept thinking to myself that 'ole Rupert doesn't know what he's missing: a whole day on your bike enjoying all the things that are free! Passing by the lake and onto Potrero Road we were presented with some of the most beautiful horse country around. The road is newly paved and perfect for putting the hammer down, and that we did! After a short climb we arrived at the first and much needed rest stop. The LA wheelmen out did themselves by stocking this respite with plenty of food, water, and supplements. They also offered up a lot of encouragement and camaraderie as well. As I chatted with the one of the gentlemen manning the stop, I found out that this ride started in the 1950's by a woman who wanted to complete 200 miles in one day. It started as a bet between a couple of clubs in the local LA area as to who would finish and who would not. As it turned out she finished the ride along with a few other hearty soles and hence the Grand Tour was born. As we left the rest stop the same gentlemen warned me about Lynn Canyon Road and to be careful especially on a tandem. Well, I soon found out why. This little downhill is steeper than you can imagine and twists back an forth for what seemed like miles. In fact, something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention as I dared to take my eyes off the road in front of me. It was a car, abandoned and upside down, half-way down a ravine just off our right side. Evidently, someone ran off the road and never bothered to retrieve their car. I couldn't imagine how someone could have lived through that. Towards the end of our descent, we learned all about rim heating. The front tire flatted from apparent rim heat generated by my braking on the way down. Luckily we weren't going all that fast so a controlled stop wasn't a problem. This is the spot where I also learned about taking the proper equipment along. If you think you need two tubes, take three! The first spare blew a valve stem so we had to use the last remaining spare as our primary. Anyway, back on the bike we went enjoying the rest of the downhill grade towards Pleasant Valley road and on our way to lunch.

I must say that rides with this type of climbing will leave you quite hungry and ready for every rest stop. At 56 miles into the ride brought us to our lunch stop in the town of Moorpark, a town just outside of Thousand Oaks. Once again, we were pleasantly greeted by the LA wheelmen with a superb spread for lunch. Lesson learned at this stop is that if you are lactose intolerant don't eat the vegetarian sandwich with extra cheese and cucumbers. Somehow I managed to get the wrong sandwich, and believe me your stoker won't appreciate the digestive result soon after dining. What got my attention at this stop was the porta-johns. Only in California does an outside plastic sink, complete with running water, appear along with the facilities!

Leaving Moorpark we started another bout of climbing into the countryside. This is where we learned about reading the ride sheet. Some dude trying to find the Highland Double route came blazing by us asking which way to go. We informed him that we were on the Century option and we could not help him. It appeared that he managed to get lost several times and his mileage was useless when trying to match it up with the ride sheet. Undaunted, he dropped us on the climb and proceed on his way. As we kept close tabs on the mileage, we failed to read the all important instructions that followed, so we too along with several others, ended up on the Highland Double route. It was a nice little detour, but it was all uphill towards Grimes Canyon. We finally realized we had made a wrong turn because at the summit of Grimes Canyon, several other Century riders were gathered scratching their noggins trying to figure out what went wrong. So, we did what every lost person does: we backtracked! Eventually, we found our way back to Broadway Road and once again we were on course and only 3 miles out of our way. The nice thing about being lost with other people is that you generate a kind of kindred spirit with others along the way. About 12 of us formed a real nice pace line all the way into Port Hueneme for what would be our final refueling stop of the day.

Not to be out done by the other LA Wheelmen volunteers, these folks spared no effort to make us feel welcome and appreciated. In fact, one of the volunteer's daughter made homemade chicken soup for all those interested. I'm sure those folks on the Double, Triple, and Quad were happy to take part in that meal. Fortunately for the four of us, we found ourselves paired up the Riverside Bicycle Club folks who stayed with us most of the way back to Malibu. As we proceeded back to Highway 1 on our final 25 miles back to Malibu were greeted by a much appreciated tailwind from the Northwest. If you haven't had the opportunity to ride down the PCH from this point, I highly recommend it. The air is clear, the sky is blue, and the sight and sound of the waves crashing against the shoreline as you ride by is just plain awesome. At this point, Bobbie was just about on empty. She had been a real trooper all day but her butt and knees were just about shot so it was definitely time for the ride to end. After a few painful "rollers" along the PCH we made our final turn into Pepperdine University and onto the finish line. Pulling up, I expected to see Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman or Jennifer Aniston waiting there with the Maillot Jaune, but I was greeted instead by a guy with a pile of flank steak and bake beans on a paper plate. A great post ride meal if I do say so myself.

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