It had been dark a few hours, after I had suffered in the dry heat of Temecula (with no sun block! argh!), and I was riding along the Santa Ana River Trail heading toward the ocean from Corona. I heard my phone beeping with a txt message and knew I was nearing a spot Mike and I had stopped on back on the 300k. I only wanted to stop somewhere I could pee and get water at the same time (literally). The txt was from Sasha, asking me how I was doing and what mile I was at. The answer: Great and 205. I was surprised. I felt really, really good. Then I realized, that outside of the Furnace Creek 508, I didn’t ride a single double century last year. Or even a really long ride outside of 2 solo 24-hour mountain bike races. I only rode one double in 2009 (the Alta Alpina Challenge which is SO great).
Was that a break from really long distance? Is it new again? My only thought at the time: I just really do love to ride my bike. It’s that simple sometimes. I can’t explain it any more. It’s just like I felt when I was six and tooling around on my BMX. The joy is beyond words.
The route for the 400k had coast, desert, mountains, lakes, repeat. I rolled with a fast group for too long, got a flat, went to a bike shop off route (thanks to my friend Steve and the folks at Redlands Cyclery! I was like a rockstar rolling in at mile 150 with over a hundred to go. They totally took care of me and my squeaky bike!). Rode through Loma Linda (my alma mater!) and the new-ish north-of-Corona Santa Ana River Trail. Also got lost twice and carried my bike though a construction site and over a hill to get back on route.
Finished about midnight. 19 hours. I was a bit silly as I was on only 3 hours sleep to begin with. Willie, the organizer, and I rode together a fair bit of the last 30 miles. My friend Shaun, who was on fixed gear, and I carpooled so I napped in Willie’s living room while I waited. He didn’t get in till 6am (25 hours!) mostly because he stayed with some slower folks to help them through the night. Sleeping in the organizer’s living room, how many events offer that?
We drove back to LA around 7am, drank some coffee and Shaun headed home. When my housemates woke up an hour later we went mountain biking in Cheeseboro Canyon. Good training, right? Finished off the day with some Vinh Loi Tofu.
Maybe too epic too soon? It’s not even Spring yet and I’m counting down the days to summer.
This ride was one of those times where if I wasn’t signed up there’s no way I would have ridden. Mike Sz and I drove down to SD Fri afternoon to my friends Stu and Liz’s house in Ocean Beach. I love this neighborhood! People’s Co-op, Liticker’s Liquor vegan burritos (for real!), the beach, hippies….so fun to hang out there. Except when it’s pouring rain. And windy. And cold. We went to sleep with the wind blowing and the rain pounding on the windows not feeling excited about riding 187 miles on Saturday.
At 445am we woke up and looked at each other all, ‘I won’t go if you call it, but no way am I going to be the one to call it.’ So we stubbornly got ready. I mapped coffee on the way to the start, but the exit ramp was closed. Good thing too because we barely were ready in time for the group start. But we were. Stoked. Rolling out with about 20 cyclists ready for a full day of cycling.
Then Mike flats. Damn! We’re chillin, but hustlin, if that’s possible. Pick up another guy, ride that part of the freeway you ride out of Oceanside, then the awesome, mud-filled tunnel under said freeway and the cruise through the beach parks. Two other guys we picked up talked incessantly about finances which was driving Mike wild.
First control: bagels and coffee. We set a time limit for hanging out, but that includes serious amounts of coffee and bagels cause we’ve been without either and awake for over 4 hours. So far the weather is chilly and overcast, but no rain. We’re chatting with some kids about what we’re up to when I notice the van parked in front of the bagel shack is giving out orange juice and gels. Whaaaa? Sweet. Oh wait, they are not for us. Apparently Mr Finances has personal sag. I know this goes against the ‘self-supported’ philosophy of randonneuring, but I thought it was also disallowed. Turns out that I am wrong and Ye Olden Rules for Randonneuring allow personal support at controls. Huh.
From here, the route rolls up the coast to Newport Beach we’re we jump on the Santa Ana River Trail. It’s starting to rain hard enough to require my rain jacket and I’m putting it on while riding when I hear, ‘yo is that Matt Ruscigno?’ It’s my friend Robbie Miranda! He’s a recent roadie and Wolf Pack Hustle rider, but is better known as the legendary BMX racer:
He’s riding with his wife, who is pulling their child in a trailer. So awesome. When I explain what I’m up to he says he wants to come along. Seriously, was about to ride the rest of the 120 miles with us on a whim. I wasn’t surprised at all. He decided he couldn’t do it and we said our good-byes. Not long after that we rode near Sheep Hills, the also legendary BMX trails I dreamed about when I was a kid (though when I first got there in 1996 I was extremely disappointed because they were not nearly as good as my local trails, NAM or Posh).
I’ve ridden the Santa Ana river trail before, but, only once, on the first day of my two month bike tour from California to Belize, have I ridden it in its entirety. The rain came and went and as we winded through the mountain pass along the river our alertness was more similar to mountain climbing than cycling. We ate a quick, late lunch in Corona where we continued south, with the mountains to our right. We were racing the mountain storms! Would they reach us before it got dark?
Rain is tricky. If it’s not too cold, it’s not that big of a deal. But it hit us right as the sun went down, the temperature dropped to about 40 and we were heading into the mountains. What was it that I said about mountaineering? I was wearing my fancy new Mountain Hardware Goretex jacket that felt like it was overkill- until it was cold and pouring. And hailing. Wearing it was a wise decision. Leaving behind my waterproof pants and gloves? Not one. Though my core was dry so I stayed warm. Mike on the other hand did not have a jacket that held up as well and he was suffering. In Escondido, the control was at a fast food joint and here the riders who had been out in front of us were holed up. Nearly the rest of the ride came in behind us.
It looked rough. One guy was sitting, slowly eating chili and was not only wearing his helmet, but his headlamp was still on. Mike could barely function. I mean here we are: 170 miles in, with the last 20 or so being done in cold, hard rain. We were on about 4 hours sleep. We took off our wet socks and squeezed the water out. Mike stared into space. I got us coffee and we joked with the others about how it was surprisingly bad (sarcasm still works with exhaustion). We definitely all felt the camaraderie that randonneuring is about. Well, with everyone except Mr Personal Sag who changed into dry clothing in the restroom.
The last 15 miles included a serious canyon descent. The danger is increased by not only the rain, but the debris that the rain pushes into the road. Our fatigue slows reaction time. Then Mike flatted again. Is shiveringly a word? We shiveringly repaired it in record time. In the last few miles the rain actually let up a bit and we laughed about the 15 hours we had spent riding.
Back at the amtrak station we signed in with the volunteer, ate some apples and suddenly, when it came to putting on dry clothes, we had plenty of energy. We drove back to Ocean Beach and I’ll give you one guess what we had for dinner.
Out riding around the next day I spotted this gem:
Anyone riding the Orange County 400k this weekend?
Today was my first day at home where, after some early morning work commitments, I had free time, alone, in about a month. Splendid. So I did like all dreamers do: I looked at stuff I want to do on the internet! First was some scheduling of rides that I did need to do in the Spring to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris, a 760-mile ride in France that is older than the Tour De France. I was there in 2007 and I wrote about my wonderful experience. It’s an out-and-back with 5000 other riders from all over the world! You only have 90 hours to finish, but the terrain is not terribly difficult. I had no problem getting two full nights of sleep and finishing a half day before the cut-off.
2007 Paris-Brest-Paris Self-Portraits
This is what I’m thinking about fewer than six hours before my alarm goes off and we drive (gasp!) to Orange County for the first qualifying ride, a 200k. But that’s not all I looked at today. I also perused thee site for ultra-light, rack-less bike touring bags, Revelate Designs. Yes, rack-less! Amazing. While obsessing over the beauty and specs of these fine, handcrafted bags I had the realization that I was doing the same thing ten years ago when I preparing for my first bike tour. Ten years! I had bought a $50 Panasonic road bike from a friend’s dad and, knowing nothing of camping or bike touring, was scowering the internet for information to prepare for a 3300-mile solo bike tour from California to Pennsylvania. What better way to celebrate graduating college?
Buying travel gear makes me giddy. What they say about anticipation is true. I lie awake at night and think about the possibilities that exist in the world and getting the right tools for the adventure is like figuring out a puzzle. It’s becoming more clear! Sure, I’ve bike toured, but there are always new adventures to be had that are similar enough. More on that soon.
Looking forward to 125 chill, ‘base’ miles with Mike tomorrow. What are you up to?
This is part one of an interview I did with peak.com. If you like it and think others may be stoked please share it with the tool on the upper right.
Age? Recently 30.
Occupation? I’m trained as a Registered Dietitian, in other words a professional nutritionist. Currently I work under a Food-stamp grant doing nutrition education in low-income areas of Los Angeles. Am also an adjunct instructor with the LA district community colleges.
How long have you been doing ultras? Since Fall of 2004. More or less.
What was your first one? My first ultra was the Mt. Tam double century in 2004. I had no idea what I was getting into. I did it on 3 hours sleep, finished in 16 hours, then had to drive an hour back to a friend’s house. It was beautiful.
What got you into ultras? Bike touring. I spent the majority of teenage years on a BMX bike riding the most difficult trails in the country. Many of my friends went on to be pro. I went to college. Not sure if I made the right decision. Filled the gap with mountain biking and then bought a $50 panasonic road bike my senior year. Rode it 150 miles through Pennsylvania to my mom’s house within a month. First lesson: cut-off shorts and no underwear is not the most comfortable choice for your crotch. The following Spring I rode cross-country from California to Pennsylvania alone (mostly). I was too cheap to pay for camping (hotels weren’t an option) so I found my own places behind trees or rocks or in public parks. Spent $5/day over two months. Would of been faster but I got hit by a car head-on outside of Flagstaff, Arizona in a surprise snow storm. Ten days off the bike mending a broken wrist and a broken bike. Insurance of the driver bought me my first ‘real’ bike: a Bianchi Axis. The next summer a friend and I rode from Los Angeles to Belize City, Belize. We went through Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guatemala, it was a phenomenal experience. With some shorter trips, including Alaska and the Great Divide, I’ve got about 10,000 bike touring miles logged.
Your hardest? Solo Furnace Creek 508! No doubt. The desert does something to you mentally. If you don’t love it and show it respect, it will chew you up. I struggled the second day quite a bit and would not of finished if it was not for my great crew. After 37 hours I was glad to be done and did enjoy it, even with the misery. That’s partly why I am out there. I love the highs and lows.
Longest? Paris-Brest-Paris in 2007 was definitely the longest. Does that count as an ultra? I wasn’t competing, I just thought it would be a fun way to experience France. It’s part Critical Mass, part bike tour, part cultural submersion. I went with the night start and rode with various groups over the next 26 hours. In Carhaix I found a cot in a gym to sleep on. ‘When do you want us to wake you up?’ In 8 hours, I replied to their confusion. I figured it would be more fun and easier if I slept a full night. Did the same the next night. Finished in 77 hours, if I remember correctly. Two weeks previous I had done my first iron-distance triathlon on a course in Norway they call the world’s hardest, the Norseman. I was nervous because it was especially cold. They had to move the swim away from the glacier run-off in the fjord. You actually had to get out of the water half-way through so they could check you for hypothermia. The bike was 126 miles and the marathon ends up a mountain. I finished near the back and the organizers were always tremendously supportive. They let us sleep in the gym (is there a theme here?) in the days leading up to the race and cook in the kitchen of a school to save money.
Recommendations for new athletes? It is difficult for me to answer this because I struggle to call myself an athlete. I’d say keep it fun! Don’t take yourself too seriously. I like to do athletic events because they are an adventure and the process adds to my life experience. When I lose sight of this it becomes like a job and significantly less fun. To me swimming in a fjord in Norway, riding my bike through traffic in LA, mountain biking fantastic technical single track or running up a mountain near my house are all worthy experiences in their own right regardless of the end goal. Each give me that jolt of excitement that I don’t think enough of us get in our daily lives.
Food and hydration during events? Even though my expertise is in nutrition, I still have to work very hard to get my food and hydration sorted out. The more I’ve trained and at times when I am most fit I am able to eat less while riding without compromising my performance. It has taken me years of paying close attention to my body to know how far I can push and when I need to eat and drink. I try to average about 200 calories an hour and focus, when possible, on eating fruits and whole foods. On doubles and really tough centuries I do use gels and the liquid foods with definite success.
What’s your training like? Oh how my training varies. I am definitely on the low-end of hours and miles compared to others. Especially running. It is a struggle for me to run more than twice a week, which is something I need to change if I want to get my marathon time under four hours. I do a lot of core work, including pilates. I also live in Los Angeles without a car, so riding to the grocery store and carrying 20 pounds of groceries home on my fixed gear definitely helps.
Favorite event? So hard to say! My first mountain bike race ever was this year, the Shenandoah 100. It was freakin awesome. A party the whole time, with a 100 miles of amazing terrain and great single-track in the middle. I raced rigid single-speed and came in just under 11 hours. A great way to spend the day. I also did Vineman, the ‘people’s iron-man’, this year in Sonoma Country. Very well supported, lots of veg food and an emphasis on minimal impact: they washed and reused water bottles and even composted fruit scraps.
Why ultras? I like the commitment. I don’t want to spend more time traveling to an event than I do participating in it! That space in time after the initial adrenalin wears out is where you learn the most about yourself and the world. I’ve experienced clarity like no other on really long bike events. This is cliche, but it takes you away from mundane, normal life with the hassles of bills to be paid, reports to be filed, calls to answer, etc. In a way it is very primal and aligns us with what our ancestors were forced to do to make it through life. I think we all need to remember this. I do my best to promote ultra events so others can get out of the work-buy stuff-watch tv-sleep-repeat routine and experience what we are capable of experiencing, for good and for bad.
Long term goals in the sport? Tough one. I take it year by year. I like this mountain biking thing so I want to do a 24-hour race next year. The courses seem so boring though. Maybe race the Great Divide? I am not sure. I hope no one who reads this holds me to that!
After an hour swim workout last night I rushed home to avoid the rain and had some free time. Finally got some photos from the summer organized. I am not sure what the netiquette is for this, but I back-dated the posts so the photos appear near the original stories.
Click on this photo for Norseman and Eidfjord photos
I got a couple of rides in during the holiday week, so on the weekend I had some extra time to waste on the interweb. I was looking for some cycling blogs, particularly ultra-cycling and touring stuff. I also was perusing for some new Southern California routes and groups to ride with. Assuming some people who read this blog have similar interests I’ll share them.
In the world of randonneuring only certain people are qualified to put on rides. This is why we had to travel to San Diego or SLO to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris. For 2008 there is finally a local group. The Pacific Coast Randos. Their rides seems to cost a little more than the others, but they do have a SAG vehicle running sweep, which some other rides do not have. They have some routes listed, but I think you have to pay for them. The San Diego Randonneurs have some Permanent routes on their site with direct links to the routes. Awesome.
Down in Orange County, where I ride occasionally there is a group called the OC Rebel Riders who have multiple route slips online. There are actually some nice, quiet sections of Sprawl County. The Ultra Rob blog has a recent post about web pages to map your own rides to share with others. I am also considering submitting my blog to Great Cycling blogs, but I am unsure if mine qualifies as great.
This weekend I went on two social rides, Friday night the Midnight Ridazz Dia de Los Muertos ride (500+ people) and Saturday night the Spoke(n) Art ride for Gallery Night in North-East LA. It has been awhile since I’ve been around for these and it got me stoked again on what we would call local bike culture. Saw a lot of fixed gears and it reminded me that I should post some of these photos from France.
Are fixed gears the coolest thing ever or an annoying trend? Good for the city only or for long-distance rides as well? In skateboarding or BMX usually you get really excited about something new and then slightly annoyed by the people who find it after you. Is it the same for fixed gears? Like many cities these days Los Angeles has its ‘scene’ (does that word make you cringe?) that no doubt includes the core groups (I’ve been riding fixed for 5 years!), the hipsters (Is this NJS certified?), the converts (I have 10 bikes and I just converted an old Colnago to fixed), and those who just enjoy riding a simple bike. Many blogs and articles have dissected this further than I care to (Bike Snob NYC). I ride a track bike for commuting and in the city for two main reasons: It is different than my other bikes and requires different riding skills and it is low maintenance. No brakes rubbing, shifters needing adjusting, cables fraying. Just the most basic bicycle possible. But what about for long distance? When we rode the Furnace Creek 508 on a fixed gear team someone said to us, ‘Sorry this race isn’t hard enough for you to do on road bikes.’ And maybe some of those who ride fixed are self-handicapping: Yeah, well I did it on fixed gear!! We rode it fixed cause we thought it would be fun to have a team and to use our everyday bikes. I have no interest in riding fixed over really long distances, but many people do. I give them the benefit of the doubt that they just love riding fixed for what the bike offers them, the same way others choose to ride certain bikes, components, races, etc. At Paris-Brest-Paris I tried to speak with as many fixed gear riders as possible and also shoot photos when I could. Photos and story at my original post for this ride.
For now I am preparing with other Swarm! members for our 4-person team at the inaugural HooDoo 500 . I can’t believe I leave tomorrow night for a 4-day trip after only being back 3 days. Also need to find shoes and pedals because my cardboard box got wet in Iceland, opened and one of each fell out. Those Sidi’s are the most expensive clothing item I ever bought!
The 930pm start (I was way in the back and didn’t leave till 11pm)
I was in one of those deep sleeps, when you are oblivious to the outside world. I don`t know how long it took him to wake me, but the first thing I remember is some guy speaking to me in French. The room is bright and empty, except for this guy talking to me and another guy with a tv camera behind him. I realize I am riding Paris Brest Paris and am at one of the controls. I went to sleep around 230am and had asked them to wake me late- 9am. That`s why the room is empty. I try to gain some composure. I touch the spandex and jersey I slept in- dry. I wonder over to the window- no rain, but cloudy. I see my other set of spandex and jersey hanging and I touch them- still wet from the rain I rode in for the last 5 hours of yeterday´s 18 hour ride. Do I wear my last dry set and risk them getting wet or put on the wet set and be cold for the first hour or so? All of this seems quite rational when the camera guy asks me something in French. I recognize him as the same one who asked me some questions in a small village we has stopped in yesterday. He is with www.parisbrestparis.tv. I explain my ignorance of the French language. He says, in broken English, `Is your head okay?´ Apparently my touching and looking came off far less rational than I thought. Can`t wait to see the video of that.
And that is one story of hundreds I could tell about my 1227 kilometer ride from Paris to Brest back to Paris. Part bike tour, part double century, part critical mass…I dont even know where to begin. The French love bikes! We rolled through all these little villages and people had food and coffee for you, little kids yelling. Great. Some towns even set up tents outside where dozens of people were hanging out (and drinking) and when you rolled by they all yelled ‘bravo! bravo!’
When you are riding with 5000 people and the route is sign-posted, it is not all that miserable. Even if it did rain 20 of the first 26 hours I rode straight through. 760 miles go by quickly. I finished in 77 hours, which I was happy with. I slept about 15 hours, which apparently is a lot. I kept hearing, ‘ You slept how much???’ Ride Hard, Sleep Fast. Or Ride Fast, Sleep Hard.
I cannot say enough about the people along the route and the other riders. In the USA Randoneuring`s reputation, unfortunately, is that it is boring and for old people. Just look at Randoneuring USA´s website (I won´t even go into how they did not want to accept Swarm! as an official club). But internationally it seems to have such a different vibe. There were far more young people from other countries and it is a well-respected type of cycling. I guess that is true for a lot of Europe- respecting things that are not respected in the US, for example a cyclist`s right to the road.
Through the first night I rode with a women from Colorado who is a 24-hour mountain bike racer. She dropped me about 100 miles in and I never saw her again. I then hooked up with a bike messenger from Dusseldorf who recognized my Team Bonobo cycling cap. Apparently a call went out from the guy who runs www.messengers.org that bike messengers should attempt PBP (and early on I ran into a kid riding a track bike from Hungary who knew Jack-crazy!). We rode together awhile, but I quit the ´fuck it, lets just keep riding´ camp at 1230am, after 330 miles and 25 hours of cycling, and went to sleep while they pressed on to Brest. Even the kid with no gloves and no bar tape.
To keep this readable, I am switching to list format:
I rode with a German and French guy up and over the biggest pass, working together the whole time. Outside of the teams that were there, not many worked in pacelines. We did and it was super fast and a fun time.
There seemed to be two ways to take this on: ride fast and sleep little or ride moderate and sleep little. The only people I saw who did what I did (ride fast, sleep a lot) were young and by themselves (that is not very many riders!). Each control had cots set up where you could sleep comfortably with a pillow and blanket!
Helmets were optional. Pretty cool. Lots of women did not wear helmets and a lot of the recumbant riders as well. The less their bikes looked like a a normal bike, the less likely they were to have one on.
Saw multiple fixed gear riders, including Emily from Boston who rode the Furnace Creek 508 fixed two years in a row. She said this was the first time she didn´t ride to a Brevet.
Rode with some Spaniards with beards. They were stoked. We talked Spanish and rode fast.
I had what I thought were bad saddle sores. Not horrific- I was able to shuffle around on my seat and avoid hitting the worst ones- but present nonetheless. There was some blood and I didn´t put anything on them, so I was scared to look at them. When I finally did, at the end, I saw that the worst one was not a saddle sore, but a 3-inch long gash. Wtf? Fat Dan, ever the funny one, said I was probably shanked by a RUSA member in my sleep for not being patriotic enough. It sure looks like I was sliced!
The controls had plenty of vegan food. I heard the French word for vegetarian many times. I had carried or put in my one drop bag, almost enough food for the whole ride. I ended up eating some peas and rice and some soup at a couple of controls. I also carried some tofu pate in a tube (Mexican flavor!), that was delicious with fresh baguettes from bakeries.
In towns, people moved aside so you could get what you needed. They opened new registers for you so you wouldn´t have to wait in line.
I did have some emotional lows and some hallucinations, but those stories are far better in person
Any and all rain gear is worthless after several hours in the rain. Though, my strap on fenders were pretty helpful for the periodic rain and/or wet roads.
One of the toughest parts, mentally, was the last 30 miles and then after I finished at 4am. I had no where to go, nothing to eat and no clothes to change into, so I slept on the floor of the gymnasium in my cycling clothes, using my bag as a pillow and my space blanket to stay warm. Never one to shy away from a good night´s sleep, I slept till 11am!
I will hopefully get my own pictures up when I am back in California. All of the pics on this post are from www.parisbrestparis.tv