Santa Monica mountains training ride

Earlier in the week I received an email from Jason which said:

Hi all,

The weather looks good so we’re riding the Santa Monica’s this Saturday and would love to have you join.
Here is our route.  According to MMR, it’s 59 miles with 4980’ of climbing .

I figured that this would be a good training ride for my upcoming mountain century and confirmed attendance. However,

Mark a.k.a. The Cournel

Mark a.k.a. The Cournel

I did not want to drive to Calabasas to start with the group, and rather start the ride from home and meet up at Topanga Canyon and Fernwood Canyon. I also planned to throw in something extra at the end of the ride (climb up Sepulveda Pass to return home). With all of this I ended up riding 70.4 miles and 7035 feet of elevation gain.

For the data freaks the Garmin Connect data is here: Santa Monica Mountain Ride, and for all others who are interested in a bit more detail, following is the ride report.

Route: From Brentwood via PCH, take Topanga to Fernwood Cyn to Tuna Cyn to Saddle Peak Road and crest Saddle Peak. Return to coast via Schueren, Rambla Pacifico and Los Flores and continue up the coast via PCH, through Malibu and Zuma Beach to Encinal Canyon which turns back into the mountains. Follow Encinal until it merges with Mulholland and continue to Kanan Road and connect to Agoura Road, Las Virgenes Cyn road, Mureau Road and ultimately Calabasas Road to return to the Calabasas Common (the start point for the group coming from the valley site).

To avoid having to travel from Calabasas to Encino on Ventura Blvd (a 10 mile death trap), Mark graciously offered, and I gladly accepted a ride from Calabasas to Encino, the base of Sepulveda Pass, where he dropped me off and I continued the ride.

You will see this part of the journey on the Garmin map as a straight horizontal line. (Hint: the Garmin will record draw a straight line between the last ‘pause’ and next ‘resume’, but does not record the distance and/or speed traveled while paused).

Kurt drove up from Manhatten Beach and met me in Brentwood, from where we started the ride at about the time the others left from Calabasas. We had a nice 7 mile warmup up along the coast before turning inland and up Topanga Canyon to our Fernwood Canyon meeting point. This first climb turns up quickly 700 feet on only 3 miles, and really was just a tiny appetizer of what was to come.



The valley group, lead by Jason, who’s idea of fun this route was, arrived within minutes from the other side. With him were Mark, Terry and Andy, so we ended up with 6 riders (this should really have been a clue, especially looking at the likes of Terry, Andy and Jason).

Off we went: first climb of the day: Fernwood > Tuna > Saddle Peak Road. That trio equals 5 miles up  to the tune of 1700 feet with no letting up anywhere along that stretch. I was so glad to arrive at the peak and see Schueren road to the left, knowing that some downhill reprieve was in sight. But Schueren was also the beginning of losing all of the 2400 feet we just climbed.

Schueren is a fast descent with wide sweeping turnes, but once you connect to Los Flores, that descent becomes very technical. Steep (18+ % grade at times), you are forced to feather the brakes all the way down. A delicate balance between controlling speed and not overheating the rims and blowing out a tire.

Equally important on this descent is to line up the apex into the blind turns to assure to stay in your narrow lane and not drift into oncoming traffic. I was trying to feather my breaks, but by the time we reached the coast line again, my hands still felt numb and fatigued.

Flat on Los Flores downhill section

Flat on Los Flores downhill section

Jason had a flat on this downhill portion due to a spoke puncturing through the rim tape (actually a welcome stop to relax my hands).

With the help of Mark we were off and riding soon thereafter. While changing the tire and fixing the rim tape, Terry and Mark were debating how fast the pace line should go up the coast once we hit PCH again. They agreed that we should try and maintain 18 mph and the pull should be around 1 mile (except Terry who would pull 2 miles and add a mile or two to speed).

Great plan in theory, but when I look back at the data, it was more like 25 mph on the flats and now I understand what they were talking about: 18 mph uphill! I am such a dummy!! I soon realized that I could not hold 18 mph on a 5% grade for a mile, and consequently the line split with Mark, Kurt and I bringing up the rear.

Terry - lean, mean power machine

Terry - lean, mean power machine

We regrouped at Zuma Beach General Store, ate, drank and restocked our supplies. Kurt did the smart thing of the day and turned around, returning to Brentwood following the coast. This was a really clever decision, especially in light of not having ridden for the last 2 weeks. You see, he was in Europe, living up the good life with his wife, celebrating a mile stone anniversary while consuming 4000 beers.

As Kurt headed back South we proceeded North towards Encinal Canyon Road. Just as we started climbing Encinal, the cloud cover broke and the sun hit with full force. Encinal is a torturous long 5 mile climb, 1500 feet up, averaging about 7.5% grade.

The sun and the sudden oppressive heat really took its toll on me while climbing this section. Although I refilled both bottles in Zuma, I ran out of water about 3/4 up the mountain. Both Mark and I lost the other 3 riders after about a mile up, but I managed to stay with Mark’s pace (although mostly about a 100 feet back).

Somewhere below the summit, tucked away below shady Pepper trees, we spotted a ‘correctional facility’ and Mark took the opportunity to use the ‘John’ (with success) and I hunted for water (without success) – and we both took a nice 5 minute break in the shade before hitting the the sunny grade again.

Andy a.k.a. Spin Master

Andy a.k.a. Spin Master

The whole time climbing (drudging) up that mountain, Andy’s words at the base of it float through my head: “Ah, noting to worry, it’s a great easy climb, just a nice spinner!” Andy hence forth will always be the ‘Spin Master’ to me.

Some 200 feet below the summit Terry met us (he did hill repeats!!) and came back to assure we were OK, and danced back up the mountain. Eventually, we crested Encinal (or what we thought was the summit), to be greeted by a fast downhill, dropping quickly 250 feet only to be greeted by another relentless 600 feet up in 2 miles, the real summit and the intersection with Mulholland. Terry, Andy and Jason were patiently waiting for us and Jason hauled a huge water bottle up from the market which he shared with us – much appreciated!!!

From here we headed towards Kanan Road, dropped again over 1000 feet of hard gained elevation in a hurry and then it was in Tracy’s words “rollers’ for the last 15 miles to the Calabasas Commons (a very nice shopping/entertainment center with ample parking).

In my book rollers don’t have 300 to 500 feet drops and climbs, but given Tracy’s fitness level I can see how he would be looking at those as ‘rollers’. Somewhere along Kanan

About halfway up Encinal Canyon Road looking at the Pacific Coast

About halfway up Encinal Canyon Road looking at the Pacific Coast

Canyon, Jason had another flat, but Andy was with him and since it was in the middle of one of those roller climbs, Mark and I ‘rolled’ on. Tracy was waiting for us at the bottom of Kanan and when he learned about the flat, he took it as an opportunity to climb back up (nothing like repeats, people!) to join the two. As a result of all of that, Mark and I, the two slow pokes rolled into the Commons first – something we used with glee to tease the three stronger riders and got some good laughs out of it.

Here, the ride ended for my partners, and I was faced with either riding a very bad 10 mile stretch on Ventura Blvd. or take Mark’s suggestion to throw my bike on his rack and he would drop me at the bottom of Sepulveda Pass in Encino. I gladly took that suggestion for a number of reasons (#1 reason was sitting in a car seat vs. on a bike seat), and a short 15 minutes later I was back in the saddle, tackling my last climb of the day.

P8220003_2When I entered the tunnel atop Sepulveda Pass, which connects the Valley side with the Los Angeles West side, I had huge, albeit tired grin on my face.

Today’s ride marked a mile stone for me. Over 7000 feet of elevation gain in 71 miles is the hardest ride I have ever done. The Century ride on Sept. 12 in the Eastern Sierras has less elevation gain on more miles. It stands to reason that I won’t see double digit percent grade changes and that gives me the confidence that I will conquer that ride. I know that the altitude (most of the Century rides around 8000′ feet elevation) will have an impact, but with several days to acclimate before the ride, this also can be overcome.

During todays ride there were times when I questioned my sanity, especially on Encinal, which seemed ‘never-ending as far as you can see’ winding uphill furnace, and it really got to me. In the end, I reached the top – and as a result, I am now a little bit stronger.

So, toady I can honestly say:” I am sweaty, dirty, tired, achy and happy – and had a great day in the saddle.”


About GT in LA

Road cycling enthusiast
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6 Responses to Santa Monica mountains training ride

  1. Pingback: Slowly coming back and what fun it is « GT in LA

  2. Pingback: The Cycling Dude

  3. Great story, Great pictures, Great Blog!

    Stories like this are what makes Bike Blogs so special as a Genre.

    Entertaining stories that encourage people to saddle up and ride.

    I’ll be blogging this tale as a recommended, challenging, alternative to the 66 mile ride in the Santa Monicas that I have done twice. ;-D

    That exploration, with pictures, can be found in the link to my name in this comment.

    I admire riders like you who can do this type of challenging ride, but I don’t think it’s for me.

    I’ve rode the Mountains abouve Malibu, and done the San Gabriels, but I’m still looking to do my 1st, easy, Century. ;-D

    • gtinla says:

      Kiril, thank you for the kind words. The AMTRAC century, starting from Irvin to San Diego is on September 12. I believe it to be one of the easiest centuries in our area. It probably is sold out, but you never know what happens if you show up at the start line 🙂

  4. jeff says:

    That is a good day’s work!

  5. MErider says:

    Um…okay, you boys are crazy. But…but…good for you, GT! Woot! You are a badass rider and you done good, son. Congrats. Jason, Andy and Terry are insane. In a big way! (but good guys). I’m so glad I didn’t join as one or more of you men would have felt like babysitting. As it is, you guys worked it out and I hit dirt. My workout was almost as hard, I’ll have you know. 😉

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