Sunday, February 20, 2011

Camino Real Double Century and Poker Run; Kayaks Optional!

I am a bit of a weather geek, so I pay attention to the forecast and fronts as a normal course of my day. When I have an event, I pay closer attention, especially in the winter.

For the past week, the forecast for the Camino Real Double had been pretty grim. Rain, and possibly a lot of it was heading to Southern California including Orange and San Diego Counties where the event would be held.

Since our deluge in December, we have had great weather. A La Nina weather pattern means a weak southern jet stream, which makes it hard for storms out of the Gulf of Alaska and Pacific Northwest to make it this far south. This one had enough punch and a strong cold low pressure system to overcome anything in its way.

When I went to bed Friday the forecast for the 12 hour period for Saturday from 6am to 6pm was for a 90 percent chance of rain. Precipitation totals were to be from one third to one half an inch. The forecast high was 56 degrees, with gusty winds to boot.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I woke up Saturday morning at 3:30 AM to see a drastic change. A 50 percent chance of rain with totals less than one quarter of an inch. Way to go La Nina!

I get my gear on, or “kit up” as we cyclists like to say. Load the van and begin the 76 mile journey to Irvine. I arrive at 5:20, watch the 5:30 group head out and check in. Get the bike ready under partly cloudy skies. It had rained heavily overnight so the roads were wet. It had also been quite windy so there was a tremendous amount of debris, including the usual branches, twigs, and road crud. I also had to avoid two downed trees, and a street sign. All was going well. Going out with the mass start at 6:15, I was able to sit in with the front group comfortably for about 12 miles. The road went up and the speedy lean guys were gone. Still, I felt pretty good, and felt like a good day was in the works. After a brief run down the coast, we ventured back toward inland Orange County. A right turn on El Toro road, and pffft. The dreaded flat tire. As I am removing it, SAG pulls up, so I had a floor pump which is always nice. Thanks SAG dude! Off I go. Back to the coast, and close to the first stop. A right turn on Green Lantern. If you are not familiar with Dana Point, several streets are named X Lantern, X being represented by a color. Somehow I missed Green, and doubled back. A bonus of four miles. What I didn’t realize was the first stop was not a check point, just a water stop. I could have skipped it. Oh well, I fueled up, and headed out, charging down the coast. The first real stop was at mile 54, or 58 for me. I caught a few riders which made me feel better. Topped the bottles and drilled it coming out. From here through mile 112 was the best part of the day. Intermittent clouds with sunshine, and occasional sprinkle, but nothing too bad, and I was making pretty good time. I was on pace to be right at 14 hours including stops. Mile 112 was flat number two. Again, I had assistance right of way, this time even with a tube, which was nice since I had one, but with the debris, you never know. Up and running. Turning to go south on I-5 we pick up a pretty good tailwind. I wish I had hit the lap counter on my Garmin for the I-5 run, but I bet I averaged 24 MPH for the 7 mile run, including a slow down for a car pulled over. Exit I-5, onto the old 101 path, under the tank tunnel, which, after a rain storm becomes a cyclocross pit, up through the campground to a control. Refuel time.

Pulling out of the control, I look over the ocean and north. The sky has become ominous. Rain is coming. Hopefully just some sprinkles or a light shower.

The better than expected weather ended abruptly and rudely in San Clemente. It started to pour, and then it started to hurt. I realized it was hailing! I see a gas station and pull in and under the canopy.

I seriously considered calling it a day. The rain was coming down so hard, my thoughts were the roads would be rivers, and too dangerous to continue. About that time, it eased off some, a couple of riders passed by, and we headed out and continued north.

We made the turn inland where we were treated to various methods of getting wet and cold. The wet from a sprinkle, a shower, a downpour, and by now, a constant flow coming up from underneath the bike. The cold from; a short downhill, a harsh gust of wind, or an inopportune stop light.

Notice I said a short downhill. There were a few of those, but we turned inland at mile 150, which meant the next 30 miles were mostly uphill. Rarely over 5 percent, but with tired legs 3 and 4 percent gradients ware you down.

Driving along, I feel like I fishtailed a bit. Wet road, yeah, that must be it. This is called denial. Because we all know why a bike goes into a fishtail. Yes, flat number three. While I was fixing this one, a very nice, very young person pops over and provides a floor pump. He also offered nutrition; he practically had a bike shop in his car. Based on his t-shirt, I assume he worked for Rock and Road cyclery. I wish I had gotten his name to thank him.

Finally we get to Trabuco Canyon, the final aid station. Hot soup, heaters, facilities; everything a cold, hungry cyclist needs.

I left with a bottle of water and a bottle of room temperature coke. Freezing on the downhill, then back up. Two riders ahead touch wheels and fall. I stop just in time. The riders are okay. Restarting was interesting. My bike immediately went left; I stopped and found myself facing the wrong way. Along with two others. The road must tilt that way as well as up. Finally, we go, another descent. Ordinarily I love a descent. Not tonight. It makes it cold, and with the wet gritty roads, bombing down them is not an option.

Onto Santiago Canyon road for the next 12 miles of torture. Going through an intersection I see a median, I go left, and has the median ends I go to merge back right, except the median hadn’t ended, I hit it and crashed. Hard. I bounced right back up, stood there for a while, then walked the bike. A nice couple on a tandem stopped to see if I was okay. Their friend came up also, and after talking to them for a couple of minutes, and looking at my bike, I decided to proceed. I took it easy for a bit, shifted through the gears, and seemed okay. Actually, suddenly I felt better than I had in a few hours. I’m guessing adrenaline kicked in. The last 15 miles was uneventful. More rain, more wind, more wet. Finally the finish line. 13 hours and 47 minutes of pedal time, 16 hours total time.

I crawled into my van, cranked the heat, got out of wet cycling clothes, into dry clothes and headed to Denny’s! It was time for a well earned meal.

So what kept me going on this ride? I mentioned one point where I thought about giving up. Honestly there were probably five such occasions. I felt like I was being tested. But then, was it a test of persaverence? Or a test of common sense? Every situation that really challenged me, something or someone was provided with what I needed to keep going. I had assistance of some kind on every flat. There was a canopy available when the hail started. Foster and Linda from the tandem where their to help me realize I was okay after my crash. This told me it was a test of perseverance. How can you give up with all that help? It would have been for nothing. For some reason the late Jim Valvano’s saying kept popping into my head as well. “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”


  1. Wow Steve. What a day. Flats are one thing, but I'm glad that you weren't hurt from your crash. I rode with Foster and Linda (Bott?) on the 300k brevet up here and you couldn't have found nicer people to offer their assistance.

    Way to go on your mileage for 2011! I had a flu 2 weeks ago and it's brought my pedaling to a halt. I'm hoping to get back to it this week finally.

  2. Enjoyed the post! Been awhile since my 'double' days but it's fun to always read about others experiences with mega mile adventures ...
    Rob Templin

  3. Great post, Steve! It seems that we learn a lot more about life during these challenges than during periods of calm and rest. I'm happy to hear you finished, and thrilled that you survived!


  4. We passed you when you were by the side of the road with Linda and Foster. I'm sorry we didn't stop but felt you were ok with those two. At that point my husband was having problems with his hands and we needed to keep pedaling lest he give up. I'm glad you were ok and finished.

  5. That was a true experience from a true warrior.
    I congratulate you for being a tough cyclist. You'll never know how tough you are until the time comes. I called it "Agony of Defeat" (survival)... It coud be like Death March.