I'm not sure but I think I'm starting to like this riding in California thing. Not that I don't like Las Vegas or anything, but the cycling atmosphere in the People's Republic of California is just somewhat more elevated, and somehow inspires me to ride just a little bit farther and faster. For those who don't know, the Grand Tour is put on by the LA Wheelmen bicycle club and has quite a history. You can read more at their website www.lawheelmen.org Every year 500 to 600 folks challenge themselves on the 125 mile Century Challenge course, or the 200, 300, and yes Virginia, the 400 mile RAAM qualifier. The route takes you North on the PCH, up and/or around the Santa Monica mountains, through Ojai, onto Carpenteria, and back along the PCH South to Malibu. More on the route highlights a little later.
The trip started out with the ever familiar combat driving experience on I-15 to LA. Our goal was to get to Santa Monica by lunch, make it to Supergo to fill up a Santa size bag full of bike goodies and get then get to our hotel before dinner. I must say, that if you have not driven I-10 through downtown LA, give it a try. If you are not a road rage kinda guy/gal, this is a great training ground. Even Ghandi or Mother Teresa would develop snarling fangs on this highway full of knuckle heads.
The six mile drive from Santa Monica to Malibu had the familiar feel to it. Windows rolled down, 70 degrees with blue sky, and the sound of waves crashing on the beach. Kinda like those Hollywood movies. We stayed at a great place, The Casa Malibu. It is a historic little hide away right in the middle of town. A bit pricey, but still very nice and located very close to the starting point.
The plan was to start the ride at the brisk early-morning hour of 0430. There is no mass start for the rides, just start windows. As Bobbie drove me up to the start point at 0415, some of the diehards had already rolled. I figured them to be the 300 or 400 mile crowd. As always along the California coast, the sea fog settled in to provide a little moisture into the equation. Now, when you mix an early start with fog, you get dark...I mean dark! And when you mix moisture with dark, you get foggy lenses which means more moisture and dark! More on that later. Anyway, I met Karl and Mike in the parking lot at the appointed start time and helped them get ready. It is amazing how hard it is to get ready when there are no street lights next to your car and there is a mixture of moisture and dark, which by the way, equals fumbling around for the simplest of things.
Steeds mounted and lights on we pressed on to conquer the Grand Tour. Right from the start there is a nasty little climb up towards Pepperdine University. The climb is just enough to jump start the heart into action and wake up the old lactic engine. Having that out of the way, you are greeted by some pretty spectacular rollers, that is if you can see them. There is just nothing like being on a bike at 40 miles an hour in the dark. It seems like your brain can't keep up with what is in front of you and the whole experience is rather surreal. Nonetheless, the experience is exhilarating and in a sick way kinda fun. Actually, my front mounted 3 LED light worked out just fine and I found that it provided plenty of illumination. About an hour into the ride the sunlight sort of peeked its way into our presence. The funny thing about the California coast covered in sea fog is the unexpected sunrise. The light comes on very slowly. Kind of like a real slow rheostat being turned up by grandma.
Some where along the way the three of us tagged up with a real nice group from Ventura: two guys, Mark and Randy; and one gal, Christine. They road at or about our speed and seemed amiable to forming an organized paceline. This turned out great. We rotated anywhere from 1 to 2 minutes off the front making the miles peel away. As a side note, our route was the Lowland Double route which has very little climbing. It is a great first Double for all those pondering the challenge for the future. The first rest stop comes about 38 miles into the ride and is located in Port Hueneme (sp) at a community center just south of Oxnard. Let me say that the rest stops were completely stocked with great food and Hammer products (not available last year). The volunteers did a great job and were very friendly throughout the entire ride. Keep in mind here that the club had to man 4 different events in one day! That's a lot of rest stops.
Out of Port Hueneme, the route turns inland and goes in and around the agricultural areas of central California. This is really road bike heaven. No cars (or very little), decent roads, and great scenery. As we meandered our way through the fields we ended up in Camarillo. This is a beautiful community just Southeast of Ventura. From here, we made our way to the next rest stop in a beautiful little park on the outskirts of Ventura. This is where Christine gave me a little Ventura history lesson. Evidently, the early settlers were not able to make their way from East to West across what is now known as Hwy 126. Ventura was completely supplied by ship. There was no inland travel. The Ventura valley at the time was ravaged by wind, drought and dust storms so everything had to be shipped in. As the settlement grew, the valley was converted into the fertile orchards that are there today. There you have it! Riding a Double century can be like going back to school. Oh, If you stop at this park make sure you don't put your bike next to the water fountain by the bathroom. Every time somebody flushes the toilet, the water fountain spits up a stream of water like old faithful! A truly bizarre experience to say the least.
The Lowland route is a bit rural and takes you through quite few stop lights, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. As we departed the rest stop in Ventura we made our way through the neighborhoods and old downtown Ventura. There are a lot of great examples of early American architecture here making the ride quite interesting. From Ventura, the Lowland route heads Northeast towards Ojai, a quaint little community nestled in the foothills of the Ojai valley. The route does a great job of getting off Hwy 33 and taking a back road that enters the town of Ojai from the North. I think I counted 2 cars in the 45 minutes we were en route. The road is literally covered in trees providing shade the whole way. The feeling was like riding through a natural covered bridge. Stopping for lunch in Ojai, we were once again greeted by super volunteers. Believe it or not, they actually made sandwiches to order, or cooked a bean burrito for you! Caution got the better of me so I had my usual turkey sandwich with no cheese! I learned that lesson from past doubles. Gurgle, gurgle, burp, fart, fart! I couldn't imagine a bean burrito working its way through me for the next 6 hours.
As we were leaving, Stan and the Bike Shop boys from Henderson, NV showed up. The original plan was to tag up with them in the beginning, but wires got cross, the sun got in our eyes and our shoes were too tight, so we pressed without them. We exchanged greetings and seeing how we were ready to leave, we pressed on with our friends from Ventura leaving the Bike shop boys to their sandwiches and bean burritos. The route from here takes you back to the North of Ojai along the North side of the Ojai valley and finally back to highway 33 into Ventura. You pick up a bike path that parallels Hwy 101 for a short distance that then dumps you onto Old Hwy 1. Here you are greeted with miles and miles of motor homes, smells of barbecue, and friendly folks waving as you pass by. I must say, the beach homes along this stretch are quite impressive, not mention all the expensive cars parked outside. As we cruised along, I notice that the ride felt particularly easy at this point. I soon found out why. I looked up at one of the hundreds of American flags waving from motor homes and noticed we had a tailwind. Uh oh, I thought. This is not looking good for the home-bound leg. Normally, the trade winds blow Northwest to Southeast in the afternoon. But, as it turnout, the wind gods decided to change the rules and blow the winds in the opposite direction.
The turnaround point is Hwy 150 and the Hwy 101 intersection. This is the spot where the Highland Double folks meet up with the Lowland folks. This was also the point were you can get a real nice hot cup of noodles, a perfect three quarter ride pick me up. Mike highly recommends it to everyone. Our plan here was to tag up with the Tandem tugboat and ride the wave for the last 50 miles. That was not to be however. It seems my rear tire just had enough and went flat as we ramped up to high gear. A quick swap of the tube with help from my trustee ride buds, we got on our way again in minimum time. Rounding the corner towards the open sea, mister wind greeted us right in the face and stayed with us all the way to Port Hueneme. All in all, we kept a pretty good paceline going and managed to keep 15 to 16 mph the entire way. The route returning to Malibu is the same except this time you can see the rollers! After 170 miles of riding these were pretty tough hills, even for the seasoned rider. This is where you learn to keep something in reserve no matter how easy the ride seems in the beginning. As Mike, Karl and I swapped leads up the hills we finally caught a glimpse of Pepperdine University in the distance, a truly welcome site. The finish was great. Several folks were cheering us in and we were greeted by a superb barbecue spread. Oh, Finally a seat with legs NOT moving!
Total Time: 13 hours 40 mins
Riding Time: 11 hours 10 mins
Distance: 201.4 miles
Average Total Speed: 15.5 mph
Average Riding Speed: 18.3 mph
Best thing about the ride: Riding with two other friends for a California Triple Crown
Worst thing about the ride: Fog, moisture and dark!