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Date: Saturday, March 5, 2011

Distance: 251 miles (260 miles, including ‘bonus’ mileage)

Elevation: >10,000 Feet

Time Limit: 27 hours

Finish Time: 22 hours

beep beEP BEEP… beep beEP BEEP

Damn! Three o’clock already! There was no time to waste. Molly and I had packed the night before and neither of us had much sleep this week, so we planned on waking up as late as possible. It’s an hour drive to the start of the 400K in Foothill Ranch, so we figured if we got out the door by 3:30 we would arrive with just enough time to use the restroom, put our bikes together, get changed, and register. Molly dealt with the dog while I pumped our tires and loaded the bikes, checked the weather once more (looks great!), grabbed a cup of coffee (not on the WADA list!) and we were out the door.

On the drive, Molly is hacking away. She had caught a cold this week and was dealing with it. I was thinking how sore my legs were from my ride up Palomar on Friday. I’ve only been riding twice a week for the past couple months, and since I was planning on a long but low intensity ride on Saturday, I wanted to get some quality riding in. I managed a new personal best 90 minute power (Average: 302 Watts, CP: 302 Watts, NP: 306 Watts). I did South Grade and then East Grade, 50 miles total. The South Grade climb from the taco shop to the yield sign took me 1:21:22, slower than my best of 1:20:26, but with an average power of 307 Watts (NP 309 Watts, Avg HR 153). The second climb wasn’t as strong, especially when I bonked 2 hrs and 50 minutes into it. I had only 1 water bottle, and ate a Cliff Bar before the ride, but no food on the ride until that point.

I knew the 400K was going to be a long day. We were going to cruise and enjoy it. I predicted we’d finish between midnight and 1, Molly’s guess was 3. I figured as long as Molly keeps smiling it doesn’t matter how long it takes.

We took off from Foothill Ranch while it was still dark. I like starting early and in the dark though because there is very little traffic, and you know that none of the daylight will be wasted. Molly was chatting and laughing, so although she wasn’t feeling great it looked like she was having a lot of fun. There were a few riders that took off quickly, and Molly tried to encourage me to ride with them, but I stuck to my plan of riding with her. We had a couple short stops to adjust items on our bikes, and soon found ourselves behind everyone. Our first control was in Oceanside, and I figured there would be a line at the bathroom so I decided to stop at the San Onofre Campground while Molly rode ahead. As I was taking my leg warmers and arm warmers off I saw Willie fly by on his recumbent. I thought I was in the back, but Willie had started late and was playing catch up. He was moving nicely too. It took me until the I-5 on ramp at Las Pulgas to catch him, and then I had to sit on his wheel to stay with him. Just before we were getting off I-5 we passed Molly and a couple other riders. We had also passed a few riders that were working on repairing a flat on the side of the freeway. Flats on the 5 seem to be a common occurrence.

There were a lot of riders at the first control still. Molly and I got through it pretty quickly, and joined Bruno on the 76 bike path going East. I don’t mind eating a Cliff bar on brevets, but candy, cookies, pastries, coffee with hot chocolate, and soda are the norm. My Oreo cookies not only provided me the calories I needed, but they were also damn good!

The day was warming quickly, and we had our first few climbs on Holly Rd and to the Old Highway 395. I really don’t mind pulling all day long, and it is part of my plan to pull Molly as often as possible. My pulling occasionally is enjoyed by others that are ready to ditch me as soon as they can, but Bruno jumped up and gave some good pulls which were appreciated. Once we hit some hills Molly couldn’t keep the pace and Bruno pulled ahead. It was nice that he was actually concerned enough to think about waiting for us but I told him to go on. Molly and I played leap frog with Bruno for another 100 miles or so. It was good to see that Bruno looked like he was having a good time out there. The second control was an information control, where you have to answer a question about the area on the control card as your proof of passage. There we met up with Peter, who decided to ride along with us for a while.

The long climbs on Old Highway 395 were also windy, and they were wearing Molly down. I was a bit concerned because we hadn’t even finished a third of the route yet. Peter was patient, and opted to ride with us for some sections. We ended up playing leap frog with him like we did with Bruno.

After the terrain mellowed a bit, Molly did better and was hanging onto my wheel. I felt that we were riding a lot slower than usual. Molly perceived the effort to be the same as usual, so her cold was definitely affecting her performance. We kept moving forward though, and Molly was smiling again, so I knew we’d be good. Our route took us through Temecula past some of wineries, bringing back memories of a tour Molly and I did with some friends last year.

After Temecula, we went into the Lake Skinner Recreation Area. It was a nice escape from urban areas. There was a $2 entrance fee per bike, which I find pretty annoying. I know the fee goes to support the park, but I feel that not enough is done to promote cycling (or to get people out of their cars) so I generally think that fees for cyclists is ridiculous. The camp store at Lake Skinner was the next control. Bruno and Peter were there already, and before we left Willie rolled up on his recumbent, transformed into a sleeveless white shirt and red shorts, enjoying the warmth of an early March day in Southern California. I guess I was hungry because I ate a Snickers bar, ½ a bag of barbeque Lays, a Starbuck’s Mocha Frappuccino, and ½ a Coke Classic. I also loaded up on water since I had run out, Chips Ahoy Cookies, and Peanut M&M’s to get me to the next control.

We left Lake Skinner, and had to go several miles on a road that with a bit more traffic than I like with no shoulder, but then the road opened up and seemed much safer. We rode through Nuevo, which really looked like (nice parts of) Mexico. We were at about the half-way point of the ride and I started to feel really tired. It had only been 30 miles from our last stop, and I had already eaten the cookies and candy I had. We were riding slow though, and I started to think that the slow riding was hurting me more than if I was riding at my regular cruising pace. I stopped at Valero and grabbed some coffee while Molly rode on ahead of me. There was good climb after this, leading into Lake Perris Recreation Area, and I got to chase Molly down. The combination of riding harder plus some caffeine and I felt great again.

Lake Perris was awesome. We rode on a bike path that was in great condition. I couldn’t believe it when I saw a bald eagle, and then I heard other people saying they saw it too! Molly missed it, quite possibly because she was stung by a bee on her head. The bee went through the vents on her helmet and she had to flick it out.

The next control was in Moreno Valley, where we met up with Peter and Bruno again. There was only about 15 miles until the next control, so I just grabbed a banana and a Coke. We had a great climb, to our highest elevation of the day, about 2100 feet, and then an awesome descent. Molly and I arrived in Loma Linda and saw Peter and Bruno at a gas station, but I couldn’t eat food from a gas station again. We saw a Quiznos so we shared a sandwich, which was awesome. We’ve never been fans of Quiznos, but after riding 145 miles it became a favorite.

A few miles of city streets in Loma Linda (where they have great bike lanes!) and we jumped on the Santa Ana River Trail. We found this trail to be awesome. In this area there is a lot of land surrounding the trail, so it was rather scenic. The sun was getting low, so I was pleased to be off the road. I get concerned that drivers are a bit blinded by the low sun less likely to see riding on the road. It was also nice that we didn’t need to use our lights when it was dusky. If we were on the road we would have mostly so that drivers would see us. We enjoyed the trail a lot, even the one dirt section. Molly almost made it through the dirt, but had unclipped when she rolled through a rut, and ended up having to walk the last part of the hill.

When we reached Norco the trail ended. It was getting dark now, so we were putting our light on and I was putting my reflective vest on when Molly decided to take off ahead of me. We do this sometimes, because I’ll then chase her down, but since it was getting dark I had wished she waited for me. There were a lot of turns through this area, and it became very dark quickly. The streets had no lights and some of the street signs didn’t exist. I was trying to chase after Molly, but couldn’t find her. Sure enough, she was lost, but a couple phone calls between us we found each other and trekked on with about a 10 minute setback. The rest of the streets into Corona were pleasant, and then we had another control. It had been about 40 miles and 3 hours since our stop at Quiznos, and neither one of us had eaten anything since then, so we grabbed a bite to eat at McDonald’s. Molly hasn’t had McDonald’s in probably 8 years, so I told her this time doesn’t count. She wanted to go to In and Out, but it was packed and would have taken too long. It was starting to get a little cool, so Molly put on her arm warmers and her hat, the last of her cold gear (she already had thin long sleeve, knee warmers, wind breaker, long-fingered gloves and toe covers). I felt fine, but thought I might as well put on the arm warmers, and was glad I did. I don’t know if the temperature dropped after we had stopped, or if I had just cooled down, but it was getting rather chilly.

In Corona we jumped back on the Santa Ana River Trail, and took that all the way to PCH in Huntington Beach. We were cruising nicely with Molly on my wheel. We saw some police on both sides of the river at one point, and even inside the river bed looking for someone, which was interesting, but otherwise the trail was rather uneventful. After 3.6 miles on the PCH we hit our next control. It was about 10:15, and we were feeling good, just a bit tired. Only 34 miles to go! Woo hoo!! Yes, we were pretty excited. There were only two ¼ sheet sections of route left. I looked at the first one and thought ‘oh, you take the trail all the way to Barranca’. Molly had already learned that we should stay together at night, especially because navigation becomes much tougher in the dark. Apparently the night’s lessons were not over.

Since I ‘knew’ where we were going, and could get us to Barranca on the bike path, we both tossed that section of the route sheet in the trash, keeping only the last ¼ page. We knew there was going to be some climbing at the end, but the bike path would be fairly quick, and we were sure we’d finish before 1. He headed across PCH to where the bike path is, and I realized it was getting cold enough to wear my leg warmers. I had only brought leg warmers and arm warmers with me. After putting those on, we tried to get on the trail, but it is closed at night. Uggghh… ‘What did that route sheet say, exactly?’ We headed back across PCH to rummage through the trash and I found my piece of the route sheet. The way to the bike path was actually detailed out nicely by Willie, but several rights and lefts, a pedestrian bridge and a couple parking lots is confusing as hell in the dark after being on the bike for over 17 hours. We found the trail finally and were moving nicely again.

Now, about that route sheet I picked out of the trash… I should have looked at it again. Fatigue was not my friend, and Molly didn’t have the route sheet (hers was still in the trash) so she was relying on me. I found Barranca, but Harvard was nowhere near. I tried using my sense of direction (which I think was also in the trash) and went the wrong way down Barranca looking for Harvard. Finally, Molly pulled out her iPhone and searched for the intersection. I couldn’t believe how long we had to go down Barranca to find Harvard, and was dumbfounded by my error when I finally looked it up online today. We went nine miles out of our way. We were more tired at this point, and a little frustrated, but at least we were finally back on track and moving good and in the right direction.

We were about 20 miles from the finish, on Jamboree when I got a flat. It was late, I was definitely tired, and on the verge of getting grumpy. We had turned onto Jamboree from Portola, and I kept thinking ‘my truck is right around the corner on Portola’. This would have been a big big mistake had I tried to bail out and go that way. I looked at the map today and we were parked 9 miles down Portola, not just around the corner, and the road is not a straight shot. Not being familiar with the road I certainly would have become lost. Anyway, it was not a fast tire change. I had a new Lezyne frame pump that I had never used, and I couldn’t get it to work. If I can’t get it to work to my satisfaction when I’m rested it is going back to REI. Fortunately I had CO2 cartridges and fixed the flat. A driver stopped to see if we needed help. While I was fixing the flat, Molly sat there and became very chilled. The climb up Portola was very slow. Molly was barely moving. I was trying to move just enough to keep the bike upright and was still pulling away from her. The next control was another information control at the top of Santiago Canyon. At the control Molly told me she wasn’t doing well. She kept insisting that I just go and finish, but I insisted back that I was staying with her. There remained only about 14 miles to the finish.

We first had to do 12 miles down Santiago Canyon, and as we took the first descent we immediately became extremely cold. I knew that if I was cold, Molly certainly would be freezing as she does not tolerate the cold as well as I do. There was a lot of descending, with a few climbs. My Garmin battery had died, so I had no idea what our speed was, but I was trying to compare it to running. I figured if we were running a 6 minute pace (10 MPH) we should get to the turn in just over an hour. With the descents being much faster, I figured it should be less than an hour. Well, it took us about 1:45 to do the last 14 miles of this route. We were both so cold that we were experiencing massive body shakes. I had never experienced ‘shivering’ like this before. The trek down Santiago Canyon was so bad, I had thought of calling sag, calling 911, using the emergency Call Box, waving down a passing car for assistance, racing down to get the truck and pick Molly up off the side of the road, lying on the side of the road until another ride came by… None of the options were good. We were both concerned about our ability to finish. I kept thinking how foolish it is to not have a space blanket. How heavy can a space blanket be? Hell, I had a McDouble for a snack. Should I be concerned about carrying a 2 ounce space blanket? I was definitely worried about our safety in the cold, not being able to think well, and really having no way to warm up except to finish.

We had no idea how far we had left on Santiago Canyon, but when we finally turned and knew we only had a couple miles left we regained our faith in finishing.

We rolled up to Willie’s house, instantly feeling warmer knowing that we didn’t have to ride anymore.

beep beEP BEEP… beep beEP BEEP

My watch alarm went off. We’d been up for 24 hours, and finished our ride in 22 hours.

Lessons Learned:

  1. If you have someone to ride with in the dark, do so. Navigation while fatigued at night becomes more difficult.
  2. Don’t throw the route sheet away.
  3. Pack the minimum, and then think ‘what might I want if I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere by myself in the middle of the night after riding all day’ and pack that.
  4. Finishing is always a good thing.
  5. Don’t throw the route sheet away.

Thanks for reading. View more pictures here.

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