Monday, October 23, 2017

Palomar/Santiago Peak Redemption Ride

I didn't plan my redemption attempt of the Palomar/Santiago peaks ride. With lots of stuff happening every weekend I had thought this past Saturday would be a Brendan day, when we would do Brendan things. But on Friday evening, when the boy offered to ride to Santiago peak the following evening to meet me (and descend Maple Springs with me in the dark) so I could conquer the biggest ride of my life I couldn't handle the temptation to just go get it done.

The route which Carl and I attempted two weekends ago, had been haunting me ever since the frustrating decision to pull the plug and take the shortcut home.
A very zoomed out version of the map of my route..

I was anxious about my lack of preparation though. For one, I took the long way home on Friday, and my legs stung a little from returning to my bike after a week off in NorCal. The Friday evening decision to do such a long ride meant going solo, as talking anyone into a 200 mile ride the night before is pretty much impossible. And most importantly I wasn't mentally prepared for the endeavor. I didn't get the right amount of sleep Thursday night, and all I ate for dinner was popcorn that night as well. It was a scramble to get the route dialed, upload it on my Garmin and pack the food and supplies I would need.
But the temptation was too great, and the excitement of potentially conquering this beast kept me awake late into Friday night (when I knew I should be sleeping), heart pounding and mind questioning if I could pull it off.

When the sun rose on Saturday I was just past the San Onofre nuclear power plant cruising down hwy 1 along the coast. My route was a little different from the last attempt, as I started form my house in Silverado this time, which meant getting 25 miles under my tires before I even hit the coast. The ride was uneventful through Penalton to the Oceanside bike path, where I calculated I was 40 minutes behind the last attempt (a result of stating from home, rather than Dana Point at Carl's house). I spent much of the time stressing about whether I should take the hilly back road Route that Carl and I took on the first attempt, or the slightly flatter hwy 76 option which Carl claimed had no shoulder. Eventually I decided to stop thinking because I needed to conserve every bit of energy to make it through the day, and stress is a potential source of lost energy. Not sure if this is a real thing, but my zen like relaxed mind held up pretty dang well over the 14 hours I was on my bike and I was surprised to be in really good spirits at the end of the day.

My first stop to refill bottles came at mile 60, 8 miles east of the ocean on the way out to Palomar. I felt good, and made the decision to ride hwy 76 all the way to the mountain. The hwy was surprisingly pleasant, with a massive shoulder for much of the way and no K-rails the entire distance to Pauma Valley. I rolled past Gilberto's Taco shop (the start of the ascent to Palomar) feeling tired, but hoped that was from 85 miles of flat pedaling, using the same muscles for so long.

Fortunately my climbing legs were stoked for the change of pace, and although I felt slow I somehow got a PR on the first half of the climb!

At the top of Palomar I filled bottles in the 'artisan spring' that comes out of the mountain side and bought a coke to wash down the pb&j in my pocket. There were a few other cyclists at the store/bakery that sits atop South Grade road, and as we talked we realized we had met before! I had to turn down their offer to join them for breakfast, since I had to keep moving to be done before midnight. I was at mile 100.8, just a smidge over half the distance I had to go, and interestingly it was 11:14, the exact same time we at lunch at the Palomar store two weeks ago, so I had made up 40 min on our last attempt.  Before rolling out I bought two cookies, inhaled 1 and stuffed the other in my pocket for the bottom of the dirt descent to the desert.

The descent off the back of Palomar was much faster than our previous attempt, as it was 10 degrees cooler and I didn't have to stop and look at the map at every intersection. Soon I was on hwy 79 pedaling towards Temecula.

Crooked helmet nerd. 
Just past Temecula I stopped at a gas station for cheap iced coffee (the small cup I had in the am wasn't enough) and a bottle refill. And then I rolled across the st to a bakery Jess Cerra introduced me to in order to purchase a rice crispy treat as big as my face. While I gnawed on the cinder block of a treat I got a text from Carl saying he was at the bottom of ITT, and that he would climb to the peak with me! Overjoyed I jumped back on my bike and absolutely crushed myself across Grand ave through the towns of  Murrieta, Wildomar, and Lake Elsinore, in the most epic headwind I did not expect ( I checked the forecast the night before and had been expecting a sweet tail wind on this heinously long, straight stretch of the ride).

As I approached the end of Grand I checked my phone, and my heart dropped when I read that Carl had changed him mind and decided to take another route home. I was pissed. The only reason I rode so hard into that damn headwind was because I felt bad Carl was waiting, and it turned out he wasn't waiting at all!? I still haven't forgiven him...

Anyway, I let myself seethe anger as I approached Indian Truck Trail, the climb that would take me to Santiago peak. I dreaded this climb all day, this was the portion of the ride that would make or break me. I had so been looking forward to having company, to the motivation of someone else doing the same strange road bikes on a rough, sandy fire road thing with me, and now all I had was solitary agony to look forward to.

The view back on ITT from the top of UHJ, wish this pic
was as pretty as real life.
Anyway, after one last stop at a gas station to update Brendan on my timeline (he was still going to meet me at the peak thank god) I embarked on the hardest, what felt like the longest, climb of my life. ITT is a sandpit in the summer and fall, so my 28mm tires just dug in and spun, and many many times I was pushing with all my strength just to stay upright. I pedaled and pedaled and pushed and grunted my way to Main Divide (the fire road which runs the ridge across the Saddleback mountains). I told myself the whole time 'you have SO much further to go' so I wouldn't get my hopes up, and actually sooner than I expected I was passing the gate at the top of ITT and turning right onto MD.

Then the cramps hit hard, at mile 177. My inner thighs tightened up really painfully really fast, and I had to concentrate on turning perfect circles and steady forward progress. When I got to the bottom of Upper Holy Jim trail (a crazy steep single track we only ever ride DOWN, ON MOUNTAIN BIKES) I got off my bike, pulled the cinderblock of a rice crispy treat out of my pocket and started slowly hiking and gnawing my way to the top of UHJ. I took a LOT of small breaks, fell, tripped and stumbled WAY more times than I care to admit. At one point I tried to shoulder my bike but could not handle the pain on my shoulder, so pushing was the only option.
UHJ from my nice little hike.

Somehow I managed to hike all of UHJ and the remaining mile of MD to the peak before it was completely dark out, a minor miracle considering I began the climb up ITT at 4:11pm. I had made it my goal to at least get up UHJ before dark because I was scared of mountain lions, and achieving this goal made me quite happy. The view as I hiked had been quite stunning, a sunset my phone could not possibly capture the beauty of, and the last drops of light still glowed on the horizon when I got to the towers. I was pretty much stoked out of my mind at the top, simultaneously yelled for Brendan and sprinted to the look out point for a picture (which didn't turn out). I'm pretty sure the dudes in trucks at the peak thought I was deranged. Sadly Brendan's e-bike ran out of battery on his way up, so he wasn't at the peak, and upon seeing a text from him that read 'it's getting cold, hurry up' I ran back to my bike and started down the hill.
Last drop of light in the sky at the peak :)

Well, I could write a novel about how awful the next hour of my life was because you should NEVER ride a road bike down Main Divide towards Maple Springs, gloveless, at night, after 180 miles, ever, for any reason. I had to stop like 3 times to rest my hands they hurt so much from the bumpiness and the general fatigue of every muscle in my body didn't help. Adjusting my eyes from riding in bright day time all day to pitch blackness other than what my dinky headlight illuminated was a challenge and I'll spare you the details about the sensations in my nether regions, needless to say, it hurt.

Finally I ran into Brendan pushing his commuter/hybrid e-bike (yeah I know, I hate e-bikes, but Brendan uses his to commute and he never touched any single track, I promise. I would divorce him if he did). and I was so so happy. Somehow I was an great spirits, not crying, or broken, or bonked like I had imagined I would be the night before. Brendan brought me a wind vest and a teeny tiny bit of candy (which turns out I was not into because I ate a lot of sugar all day and really just wanted a steak), and together we began the descent down Maple Springs to home.

When we got to the road I realized I wasn't going to get 200 miles, so Brendan offered to let me coast down the hill and get all the miles while he stopped at home, grabbed clothes for both of us, and then we would meet at the Silverado Cafe. Well I got to the cafe and was starving to death so I aborted the mission at 195 miles (still conquered the route and complete loop) because the open sign in the window indicated to me that salty fries were in my near future. Maybe as disappointing as Carl bailing on ITT was the feeling of pulling on a locked door handle when I tried to walk into the cafe. I tried a few more times, before accepting my misfortune that they decided to close the cafe early (it was 8:30pm) for no good reason at all. I sad down outside, pulled the rice crispy treat out of my pocked and continued gnawing.

When your rice crispy treat is this big it takes 195 miles to eat it. 
A few minutes later Brendan pulled up, I threw my bike in the car and we were off to find steak burritos, fries and root beer. 

Mission Accomplished.

A few stray thoughts from the day:
Has anyone else ever attempted this ride, same route or not? I wonder if I am the first to do a thing... that would be cool.
I really really 100% now feel like an endurance athlete. I woke up a** early, set out alone to do a big thing, and all day just kept my eyes on the goal, engaged in positive self talk, and did the thing that I set out to do. I feel like my mental game is pretty dialed, and I'm kinda stoked to not only have finished, but finished happy.
I only took pictures at the end because I was worried my phone battery would die during the ride... there were many other pretty things to see, sadly they have to live in my mind :)
I still can't believe I didn't get any pinch flats, with tubes in my tires all day, WHAT!?!?
I only drank 8 bottles over 195 miles in 14 hours... probably still need to work on that.
Felt good enough to do the local Sunday hammer group ride the next day but spent all day Monday hobbling around like a granny as a result.

And a last side note: thanks Brendo for letting me do this silly thing, sorry Scott T that I didn't tell you I was attempting it again (I didn't even know until the night before), and I'll forgive you eventually Carl.


  1. I'm sorry, my mind just couldn't wrap itself around going back over Santiago instead over the 74 - Your revenge is that this ride will haunt me until I personally relive what I have just read. 💯‼️❤️🎉

  2. Very inspiring! You are a badass for sure!!!

  3. Rockstar kicks all day! Amazing! I hope you have your eyes set on Dirty Kanza 200 cuz you would crush it!!

    1. Oh heck yes... I want to more than anything! Just have to figure out how to get out there :)

  4. Replies
    1. Hahaha, yeah, being alone with myself for 13/15 hours I was out there was... interesting!

  5. "cramps hit me at mile 177" Holy crikey what a machine

  6. I commented on Strava, I might as well comment on here. I like to think of myself as a long distance person, but I have to say I'm sure this has never been attempted, especially solo, and I don't think it will ever be attempted again. This allows the rest of us to question what we thought were our limits to maybe try a little harder next time. You will own this one forever! Congrats! I commend your husband for allowing you to do this solo, he's a brave man! (Joey Ruffino).

    1. Thanks Joey! this is pretty much the biggest ride I've ever done... but the problem with going bigger and bigger is that now I want to go BIGGER! Endurance riding/racing is addicting! Also you should come out Dec 9th when the 3T guys do the Palomar/Santiago ride but take the train home. Possibly a good way to kinda experience the epicness of this ride... without TOO much epic :)

  7. Cliff the ISR guy from Strava here. Nice write up. If my mate bailed on me at ITT I would of wept. Nice work getting it done. Regarding lions, Mark Reynolds was a close friend and I've been forever changed. Lions eat before dark too. On a brighter note I agree with you in that there is something about the all day epic where you know at the end there is a good meal and your bed....not to mention you need not run a bike packing set up....though I'm not applied to those. AZT 300 might appeal to you.

  8. Good work, glad the inspiration lead to completion. Joining us on the 9th?

  9. Now this crazy girl wants to do LA to SF in 48 hours. What say you, internets?

  10. Congrats. Super story and accomplishment. There are still some of these Swiss passes that we should tackle together either on mountain bike or road bike. Not sure I could keep up though