Let’s just start out by saying that whoever put the word ‘Cruisin’ into the ride description has one sick sense of humor!
But, I am getting ahead of myself. As it turned out this day would be full of challenges. Sue got me up at 3 am, allowing ample time for a good breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee. I packed everything the night before and stowed the bike (wheels off) in the back seat of my Mustang convertible. As I get ready to depart for Newbury (CA) and got into the car, I think to myself: “odd, the keys are in the ignition?” – and as I turned the key – – – n o t h i n g! Great!!!!
No one else to blame but me – in order to get the bike into the back of the car I have to retract the roof of the Mustang, put the bike sans wheels in the back seat, add the wheels and close the roof (yeah, I know). You can only do that with the ignition engaged, and I left the key in (big dummy). AAA did arrive within 30 minutes and I still had plenty of time to make it to the start, but men, what a way to jump start your engine (pun intended).
Even with all these delays I still managed to arrive before 6 am and checked in to pick up my number and rout slip,
put the bike together and hit the road. The first 10 miles go through dense residential areas following a slow incline, a much needed warm-up. I have to say that I seldom encountered a more bicycle friendly community than Newbury Park/Thousand Oaks. Wide and well marked paths give lots of room and safety for the cyclist – kudos to the city planners. This beginning section is a slow climb of about 700 ft and from the 10 mile marker to mile 28 it is a constant roller coaster, but no significant challenges.
The “real fun” begins right around mile 28 on old Mullholand Highway. Without warning the pitch of the road turns skyward. Some veteran riders say that parts of this stretch are in excess of a 13% incline. Once you hit that first pitch, it will not let up for 3 miles and once you reach the top, you climbed 1180 feet over those few miles.
I tried to take a picture but the image does no justice to the grade. I am very thankful for my triple
gearing; that 12-27 on the back was the saving grace. Even though I was in the granny gear almost the entire climb, I still found myself out of the saddle half the time.
The joy of cresting that climb is unfortunately very short lived. A quick decent towards Decker canyon via Encinal canyon is barely enough time to recoup, before the next set of climbs (yes, no typo – climbs as in multiples).
With a handful of exceptional, but very short pitches, none of these climbs were as grueling as the initial ascent. However, the next 6 miles still offer yet another 1000 ft of climbing.
The agony ends around mile 39 with an insane descent, from 1800 ft to 900 ft in less than 2.5 miles. Despite many volunteers on the roadside with ‘slow down’ danger signs, not everyone yielded the warning. Unfortunately, I saw two bad crashes, not surprising at speeds exceeding 40 mph.
Just before reaching the halfway mark at mile 50, yet another painful climb, but after this climb, 4200 feet of a total of 6K are done and the rest of the ride is relatively flat. Note that the word ‘relative’ should be used with caution. At least for me and my tired legs even the most gradual incline was clearly noticeable as a result of the ride through the mountains.
I really hit a wall between mile 75 and 85 and I had to dig very deep to keep going. Come to think of it, I don’t think I had to dig that deep since I was on a 48 hour forced march in the army, and that is a very long time ago. Although I kept refueling at the rest stops and made sure I took in enough food and fluids I felt drained and exhausted. My legs felt almost useless and more like dead weights, my hands were numb at times, a clear sign that the whole body was tense. The only thing which didn’t hurt was my butt, or maybe, I just couldn’t feel it anymore?
I started talking to myself, telling me to relax my grip, shift position, get out of the saddle, roll my shoulders, pedal without hands and just keep turning the pedals, over and over and over. Right about that time the terrain offered some more climbing, coming out of the Oxnard plains to return to the Conejo valley, and I ran into a small group of riders. As it turned out they were hanging back to wait for two others who were just a bit behind me. I jokingly said:” Oh my, you didn’t have to wait for me, but it’s nice you did”!, and one guy goes:” well, since you are with us now, you may as well hang with us!”
Sweet words indeed, and what a joy to be able to ride in this group of 7 riders. I seldom get to ride pace line and keep forgetting just how much easier it is when you are in the back of the group. My spirits and my energy returned and I tried to do my part in the pace line, which translated into maybe a minute up front before easing back into the line and taking advantage of the draft. I lost this group eventually due to a traffic light change, but with only about 10 miles left, the whole world looked so much better.
I settled into a very comfortable pace, trying to keep the cadence as high as I could without spinning out, and for the first time in a very long time, actually looked up and enjoyed the ride. It is amazing the strength you can find when you know you are very near the end. The last left turn took me up the drive way into the parking lot and gave me a big grin.
I did it – it was not pretty at times and the ride was far away from ‘cruisin’ for me. Without doubt, this was my tuffest ride yet and ride number 642 will stay in my memory for a very long time to come.