Well, if you were going to give me just one word..."fun" probably isn't it, but that doesn't mean I'm not glad I did it or that I didn't enjoy it...parts of it at least...
Last minute preparations and my own nervous energy for my first brevet kept me up later than I wanted, but I still managed to drag myself out of bed at 5am. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn't raining, but still expecting the worst. I walked my bike out of the apartment and noticed two bikes in the walkway that normally aren't there but didn't think anything of it. As I started to load my bike into the van I hear a man shout out of the darkness, "What are you doing with that bike!?" "Um, putting it in my van..." Then I hear his female companion chastise him, "That's not our bike!" A grunt is all he manages as he walks off. Interesting start.
I made it to the amtrak station with just a few minutes to spare before the start. I was a little disorganized (left my beautifully laminated and cropped cue card on the kitchen counter) and ended up leaving about 5 minutes behind the pack. The ride out of Solana Beach and up the coast was beautiful. The rain managed to stay in the clouds where it belongs and I stashed my raincoat in my pocket. I was happy to pass a couple riders on the side of the road fixing a flat...not because I'm a jerk but because I knew they would probably catch up with me and I could have some company. Indeed they did catch up, just when I was standing alone in the intersection wondering if I was really supposed to be entering the onramp to I-5. Mike and Matt from LA assured me that this was the way and we even worked up some speed to catch a couple more riders. I rode along with the guys from LA up to the control in San Clemente where the Bagel Shack was a perfect stop as Esteban mentioned. A bagel with peanut butter and a double espresso and I was ready to roll. I stashed the rain pants in my pannier and headed off ahead of Mike and Matt - though they caught up shortly. After about 4 blocks I had to put the rain gear back on as the clouds finally let me have it. It rained off and on through Orange County, but by the time we reached Newport Beach I felt I was warm enough to just go with the shorts and jersey to try and dry them out a bit. Of course then it rained harder, but it was still the right decision.
The Santa Ana river trail was great! It wasn't especially scenic, but to have 20 miles or so of traffic free riding (with a tailwind!) was exactly what I needed after dodging garbage trucks and drive thru coffee lines that block the bike lanes in Laguna Beach. As I chatted with Mike and Matt along the way I found myself telling a silly lie. We were talking about different rides and Mike asked me if I had done a century or any other brevets. I was a little embarrassed about my lack of long distance riding and added an extra 15 miles to my longest ride and said I'd done an 80 miler...why? I don't know, I guess I just didn't want to see a look that said you are in over your head, not that I think MIke would have even given me that look. Well now I don't ever have to do that again!
At some point on the river trail they had another mechanical issue and I continued on, thinking I would see them again shortly, but that was actually the last time I saw them. Or anyone from the ride for that matter until I saw ride volunteer Dennis Stryker in the amtrak parking lot many wet, dreary hours later. I think they must have passed me when I stopped for dinner or during one of my little routing mistakes. I stopped at the little RV park near the end of the trail to use the bathroom and buy a snickers and a coke. When I asked where I could fill up my water bottle the nice little lady told me just to take one out of the cooler. The sun was shining bright and I was feeling warm and good, having just passed the 80 mile mark - the same distance as my "longest" ride ever...I made it through Corona, which was enjoyable because of the sunshine but the traffic wasn't fun and I hit every red light.
Once out of Corona the gentle climb up Temescal Canyon Rd was another nice break from heavy traffic and continued partial sunshine. I felt extremely lucky at this point as there were clouds on either side of me but a streak of blue sky had seemed to be following the route since somewhere on the Santa Ana river trail. As I turned onto Lake Rd towards Lake Elsinore I knew that streak of blue sky wasn't coming with me. The rain started coming down pretty hard--the rain jacket and rain pants kept the water out for a little while but eventually I was soaked..and getting tired..and the sun was starting to go down. For some reason I had my heart set on a bean and cheese burrito and decided I wouldn't stop until I found a Mexican food place...not a goal that should take too long to accomplish in Southern California but I didn't find one until Murrietta. I ordered a bean and cheese burrito and a bowl of pozole...both delicious and desperately needed. I put on a dry base layer that I had stashed in my bag, which helped a little bit, but when I walked outside to start again I could not stop shivering. With the rain continuing unabated I decided I needed more time to warm up if I was going to make it. I asked the cashier to fill up my water bottle with hot water and put that in the back pocket of my jersey and walked over to starbucks for coffee. This was the first of three places where I seriously considered calling it quits. I was still shaking and the rain was coming down even harder. I knew I could call my girlfriend and she would drive all the way up there and pick my soggy arse up. Slowly I regained control of my tremors and the rain let up a bit. I probably spent an hour and a half in that Murrietta strip mall contemplating my choices and my desire to finish. I hit the road with only 10 miles or so to Temecula, where I promised myself I could pull one more dry article of clothing out of the pannier.
The rain didn't let up for long between Murrietta and Temecula and I needed about 20 minutes at the Shell station control to warm up again. This time I donned a fleece vest and decided for the push over the mountains I would bring out my secret weapon....ski gloves. Man, am I glad I brought those...My legs felt ok going up the first climb, but when I started going down I began to realize that this stretch to Escondido was going to be slow. Because of the rain and the unlit, windy two lane roads I was descending at about the same speed I went up the hill. I've never been on the old 395 highway before and maybe during the day it is beautiful, but for me, those hours on that road on that night are the closest thing imaginable to hell. I kept feeling like each little bend was going to be the last and I could begin the descent into Escondido but it just kept on keepin on, along with the rain. I couldn't see where the road was going except for the few feet in front of my weak lighting setup, until a car would pass and I would watch in agony as the red lights continued up and up. The second time I considered calling it quits I had just watched a set of those red taillights continue on for what seemed like an eternity up a hill. I stepped off my bike with my legs shaking and thought about making the call. I decided to eat a Clif bar and take a piss first. It occurred to me that even if I called, I would have to ride into Escondido, no way anyone could find me out here. So I got back on the bike.
I could feel that I was getting near the top of the mountain, but still my legs were in rough shape. I thought maybe if I walked a few hundred yards up the hill instead of riding I would freshen up a bit. It did feel good to be walking, even if the rain was still coming down in sheets. It was at the very top of this hill that I had my third urge to quit. Walking along the top of this mountain with no tree cover holding my steel bicycle, I heard and felt the loudest crack of lightning I had ever experienced. Not because of the size, but because of the proximity. It felt like that lighting was right above me. If there had been a pickup truck, car, garbage truck, whatever, I would have jumped in it and gotten out of there. My hair would have been standing on end if it wasn't weighed down by the rain. No cars were in sight, so I jumped on the bike and tried to get down from there.
By the time I reached Escondido, I was beat but there was no giving up now, not with 15 miles to go. I called my girlfriend to tell her I was ok and asked her to meet me in Solana Beach because I didn't want to drive my car home. Dennis Stryker also called me to make sure I was still out there as I was the last one on the course. The rain had stopped shortly before Escondido, but as soon as I got on the Del Dios highway it started right back up. The cleat on my shoe broke about halfway to Solana Beach, but I didn't want to stop to fix it. I just wanted to finish. The rain let up a couple miles from the Amtrak station, the clouds even lifted to reveal the moon, but I told that moon to fuck off because he wasn't there when I needed him.
I was in pretty rough shape on Sunday and even Monday. I waited until Tuesday to go back to Solana Beach for the van. The sad ending to this story is that when I went back to the Amtrak station to get my van it wasn't there. I saw a sign that it was for transit parking only and that they tow cars. I couldn't believe that they could distinguish my car parked in long term parking from one whose owner actually rode the train, but I called anyways obviously. They didn't tow my car, someone stole it. I know this probably isn't the forum to lament a stolen automobile, but this was more than an automobile. This was a 1987 Volkswagen Westfalia Vanagon. It had a name and it's name was Captain Ron. I hope to see you again someday my dear friend.
Here's my video tribute: