The ride started well. I felt amazingly good after a week of tapering and smart eating in the days before the race. My friend Steve and I had planned to ride together, stay near the front of the group and then ride the last 20 or so miles hard. The first 15 miles were neutral and I kept an eye on Steve as he rode ahead of me. When we got to the first dirt section there was a crash. I looked back and saw that my buddy Rick had gone down in what appeared to be a slow speed fall. Kelly, Steve’s friend, who was riding closer to Rick when he went down assured us that he was fine.
I wasn’t planning to go hard through the dirt sections. Steve, Kelly and I rode that first dirt section at a comfortable pace and ended up just behind the lead group.I saw Steve take a pull and I knew there were people behind us who would feel uncomfortable being outside the lead group. So I said to him, “don’t worry there are enough frisky people back there to bridge for us.” So we patiently waited for them to come to the front and drill it to bring us back to the lead group which they did.
I noticed Seth near the front. I decided to stay close to him because he has done this ride 4 years in a row and knows how to ride at a sustainable pace, for him, all day. We chatted briefly and I complimented him on his recent thoughtful blog on the Mediterranean crisis. I mentioned that those guys dying in boats look just like me and Seth correctly said that it’s all about the luck of the draw – some people are born in Kansas and some people are born in …. There was an acceleration that interrupted and ended our conversation.
As we got to the second dirt section I somehow got ahead of both Seth and Steve and was in the lead group with my friend Juan. We got stuck behind a cautious lady rider and passed a guy who had crashed and somehow ended up in a bush. It was funny because he had a soft landing and it seemed completely innocuous. As we completed the second dirt section I felt my back tire go soft and I pulled over to change the puncture. So the lead group pulled away from me as did Steve who didn’t see me as he passed me. When I got back on the road, I looked behind me and there was my man Rick with his red and black striped socks. After his crash he’d been unsuccessfully, thus far, trying to catch up to the main group on his cyclo-cross bike, which had put him in a bad mood. I traded pulls with him and another cyclist but when we got to a hill I rode away from him like my name was Chris Froome. It isn’t – Rick was on a bike that weighs 10 lbs more than mine!
After a few more miles I came across my buddies Lavery and Gys. Lavery was riding easy (his words) and I know Gys is in recovery from a crash a few months ago. lavery and I dropped Gys and when we got to the next and third dirt section I dropped Lavery as I was riding at a steady hard pace up the climb.
In this dirt section I came across my man ATF MIKE! He was surprised to see me and I told him about my flat and kept going past him. Back on the road I passed some ladies and then rode solo until I met a group that joined me from my left – either they or I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. They included my fellow (South) African Mark who was in the red wave that had started 10 minutes after mine. I wasn’t surprised to see people from the red wave because I had lost between 5 and 10 minutes with my flat tire. Mark told me that his (red) wave had ridden really hard and caught up to our wave after about 15 miles! He also said that he was going to pay for the hard effort in the second part of the ride.
We got to the halfway point at The Lost Abbey and I was about an hour ahead of schedule which meant I needed to let Susan know that I would probably get to Double Peak earlier than anticipated. I forgot to text her and kept going after a brief rest-stop. As we rolled out of the halfway point, someone rolled by me that I recognized – it was METAL! METAL is an ultra rider (does 200 mile rides) and we are social media friends. For the first time ever we chatted and he was made me laugh with his commentary. He told me he was at the front of the red wave and pushed the pace for the first 15 miles to help a teammate. So he was the guy who got Mark and everyone else tired! As we rode on Del Dios, I heard someone shout “LABEJA!” It was my buddy Steve with a group ahead of me going in the opposite direction after the turn around on del dios. Steve was obviously shocked as he thought I was ahead of him after the third dirt section!
As we approached the fourth dirt section, I was still riding in the same group of around 20 folks with African Mark and METAL. Mark and I stopped in the parking lot just before the dirt section as Mark wanted to drop something in his car which he had parked there. I stopped as well for a bathroom break. We then chased and got back to the 20 man group. When we got to a hill I passed most of them and got to the front of this group. At this point Mark paid for his earlier hard efforts because despite being a better rider in the dirt he couldn’t keep up with me.
We got back onto Del Dios and rode out to the next dirt section at Lake Hodges. At this fifth dirt section there were 2 valleys we had to ride through that I’ve ridden multiple times on my mountain bike. I know that you need momentum and need to go down them fast in order to be able to climb the other side. I told the guys around me about the momentum incase they weren’t familiar with the climb. On the second valley I hit a ridge and my saddle hit my perineum HARD. I had to pull over and just stand on the side of the trail as I recovered. I got back on the bike and pedaled gingerly. Then I heard another “LABEJA!” and it was my Wolf Pack teammate Eric. Eric is a very good dirt rider and has a number of dirt KOMs. He blew by me and I didn’t even have a chance to try and stay with him. I limped along and by the time I finished the dirt section I felt ok once more. By this point I was alone and went into marathon mode – I picked a pace of around 20 to 22 mph effort on the flats and held it. I passed a number of cyclists as I cruised on. And then we came to Lusardi – the sixth dirt section.
Lusardi is the one trail I had never ridden. It is mostly a fire road with steep pitches. We were supposed to have ridden it as part of the first lap but we did not because the steep pitches were unrideable after the prior night’s rainfall. Now we were going mostly downhill with a few climbs. I rode carefully and went through a water crossing where my front wheel hit something that nearly took me over my bars. Then I came to a bridge and at about 10 mph my front wheel hit the plank to get onto the bridge and stopped. I went over the bars and hit my helmet on the wooden plank, got a few nicks on my leg, knuckle, and right shoulder. Fortunately the only real injury was to my pride. My right shifter was bent so I pushed it back in. Two cyclists came by and like true roadies didn’t stop to help. One of them actually said, “Can I get by?” although he did tell me to pick up my phone, which fortunately landed on the bridge and not in the water.
I got back on the bike and being a roadie myself chased the two cyclists down with a vengeance and passed them. They both said “NICE JOB” when they saw me and I felt a little guilty at my anger toward them. Lusardi had a high pitched climb at the end and I angrily climbed it without getting out of the saddle.
Then I was back on the road. I stopped for a natural break once more and sent a garbled text to Susan telling her that I would be at Double Peak in about 30 minutes, even though I was around 15 miles of climbing away (around an hour away!). I definitely wasnt thinking at that time. This was around the point where my plan had been to go hard to the finish and pass a lot of people. Unfortunately, there was no one in sight to pass so I just kept riding at a good pace. When I got to the beginning of the Rancho Santa Fe climb – before the half dirt, half paved section – you can’t imagine my surprise when I caught up to someone with a familiar pedal stroke…it was STEVE riding with his friend Kelly. We chatted and I found out that they’d apparently made a wrong turn adding unnecessary miles to their rides. It was great to catch up to them and ride together. We went up the seventh dirt section with Kelly riding very strong – he could have ridden away from us if he wanted to.
As we approached Double Peak I was hoping to see Susan and the kids so I went to the front and pulled Steve and Kelly. I went a bit harder than they were going and got about a 20 second gap as we went up Double Peak (DP). I saw Susan and both kids on DP and that was the best part of the ride!
Fortunately Susan was on my left side so she didn’t see the dirt on my right shoulder from my Lusardi crash which would have made her worry. Halfway down DP we turned into the eighth dirt section that took us back to Twin Oaks. This was a fast section – I rode it carefully, both Steve and Kelly caught up to me, and then Steve went by me. I saw skid marks where earlier riders had gone off the trail into the bushes! I followed the rules I had been taught by my MTB professor Bob 1) look where you want to go and the bike will follow you and 2) momentum is your friend; and MTB professor Steve 3) smooth pedal strokes. So of course when Kelly, who mountain bikes, told me that I looked really comfortable, I felt that my weekly dirt training on Sunday’s had paid off.
As we rode the last few miles we did our best to try and break 8 hours – we came close and finished in 8 hours 9 minutes.
After the ride I found MMX, whose company, Spy, organizes the ride, and gave him a big hug.
Then I found Susan and the kids and we ate enough food to last me the next 3 days, at least.