I needed one last crazy stunt before I begin my 2-week taper for my trip to the Tour de France. I needed to jam as much training in my body as possible. I needed to take on something just a little bit risky to prove to myself that I can handle it.
At the start of my training, I looked around San Diego and tried to find something that would approximate my big mountain day in the French Alps. According to Bikely.com, I’ll be climbing 12,642 feet over 86 miles! I set my sights on Mt. Palomar which has two 4,000 ft climbs on it. Obviously, I’d need to be able to do laps.
Among the Descenders, the “Palomar Trifecta” is a ride of real glory. You start in Santa Ysabel, ride up Palomar via the East Grade Rd, then down and back up the South Grade Rd. You gain another 1,300 feet climbing to the Palomar Observatory and back to make it a “Trifecta”. This is a great ride, but it’s been done before. It’s a known quantity and I was too confident I could do it. I needed something a little more “out there” – with a bit of uncertainty as to whether I had the right stuff to do it. I decided to add climbing 1,300 ft to Julian after the Trifecta. Should be close to a century with 11k+ feet of climbing. Holy crap! Ok, now we’re talking.
I was pedaling away from Santa Ysabel at 11am. Perfect – I would be climbing during the absolute hottest part of the day. This would be GREAT training for the Alps. I added a small detour through Mesa Grande because Voris suggested it and I’m glad I did. Riding through cattle ranch country was gorgeous and I barely felt the chain. I kept my pace low and heart-rate under 88% (which I believe is my threshold). I felt great. I took it real easy on the descent back to Hwy 76, in fact on all descents. It just didn’t seem smart to be taking risks when I was out there by myself.
Pretty soon I was at the base of Palomar Mountain climbing the East Grade Rd. While I’ve done the South Grade road 3 times, this was my first ascent up the east side. The sign predicted 14 miles to the top – ouch. I settled into a rhythm and climbed. The East Grade road is longer than the South Grade so it’s also less sustained climbing. I think I actually prefer the East Grade though, there was hardly any traffic and the countryside was awesome.
Someone had the great idea to put mile markers on the road so I was able to track my progress easily. The problem is that the mile markers are in 0.2 mile increments! 2.2 miles… pedal-pedal-pedal… 2.4 miles… You get around a curve, see a sign and realize you’ve only gone about 1000 feet down the road. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why they thought they needed a mile marker every 0.2 miles. How many signs was this? Seventy signs for just the East Grade Rd… Tax dollars hard at work…
Well that was a nice little rant which has gotten me precisely 0.6 miles down the road…
It started to get pretty hot so I switched over to my altimeter and watched it climb. I imagined it was getting cooler for every foot I climbed. I sweated and pedaled. It got hotter. I turned off my iPod cause it was annoying me and enjoyed the sounds of my bike making it’s way through the countryside. I kept reminding myself to drink – I had 85 grams of maltodextrin in each bottle delivering 80 carbs (compare a single GU packet at just 25!) and for the first time ever, my stomach started to get queasy from the sugar. I think because it was hot so and I was drinking more which was loading my stomach with all the carbs. Finally, I came around the corner at the top. I took a right up Crestline and back to include “the last little bit” of climbing possible and then I was at Mother’s. I took a nice break, switched one bottle to pure water and the other to Gatorade and then began my descent down the South Grade road. My plan was to get both of the really big climbs out of the way early.
I descended 6 miles and 2,750 feet back to the “Y”, turned around and searched for a rhythm. “Oh great, mile markers in 0.2 mile increments again.” It was really, really hot at the bottom. Fine, I need to acclimatize to hotter weather anyways. I focused on climbing and getting cooler. Kept drinking but my sour stomach persisted and actually got worse. I started to feel a bit dizzy, but kept climbing. It only got worse. Finally the yuck in my belly won and I pulled over to rest a minute. That started a pattern – cycle for one mile (5 mile markers) and then rest. But maybe this time only 3 mile markers…
Doubt crept in.
Doubt: You’re a long way from the car. Even if you make it to the top and descend the East Grade, you still have 12 miles back to Santa Ysabel and that small climb.
Me: I can make it, no problem.
Doubt: You’re bailing on the Observatory at least – do you need to get further away from the car?
Me: I will feel better after a rest at Mother’s.
Doubt: Well Julian is FOR SURE out, right?
Me: Shut up and accept that I going the distance today.
Somehow I managed to climb back to the 5,000 foot mark. I remembered how Voris once said he likes to sprint from here to the top – can’t be far. “Let’s see, it was 6 miles down, I was at 27.4. Was that at the top? Crap, I hate doing math in my head…” And then I was back at Mother’s.
Two more bottles of water and a gatorade. Threw down a Starbucks Doubleshot cause it sounded good. Took a long rest and drank as much water as I could stand. Took a little pee and confirmed my dehydrated state. Doubt was still slinking around the corners of mind, but I focused on how well I rode on day 2 of the Monster climbs trip, after having felt not so perfect at the top of Horseshoe Meadow.
Filled both bottles (one water, one gatorade again) and stuck a third bottle in my jersey and took off for the Observatory. Two miles down, then three miles up. It’s the reverse on the way back. I decided it was easy and I would barely notice the climbing, so that’s what happened.
I like to pedal around the Observatory itself, it’s a pretty building. Some offical-type person in an offical-type car tried to stop me and ask where I was going. I must be doing something wrong cause I’ve been hassled twice at the Observatory. I had my iPod in and frankly, I just ignored the guy. I mean, seriously – I am one guy, riding a VERY expensive bike. I can barely walk in my shoes and am wearing a brightly colored lycra suit. Am I really a security threat? What am I going to do?
So, I pedal back to Mother’s (just 2 miles of climbing on the way back – super easy) and then head down the East Grade Rd. There, I’ve done the Palomar trifecta. I even added the “extra bit” and I didn’t die. I could tell I was starting to feel good again. Of course I’m going for Julian, there is glory down this road.
The 12 miles back to Santa Ysabel aren’t that bad, although I wish the road had a better shoulder. I’m getting really good at riding that skinny white line though. It’s about 5:30p when I get back in town (if you can call it that) and I quickly refill my bottles and take off for Julian.
Now I’m actually feeling pretty good. Legs are ok, stomach is great, heart is singing. What can it be, just 4 miles to the Wynola road turnoff? That’s too easy, I wish it was 6. I’m going faster now and even shift up. Wynola Rd. comes and I take the left. I think Wynola is one of the best rides in the area, up or down. Hey Voris, let’s compile a list of the top 25 rides in the San Diego area… I know Wynola is in there…
It’s 3 miles up Wynola and 2 miles down Farmer’s Road to Julian, at right angles to each other. I try to work out the hypotenuse that Hwy 79 takes and then remember that I’m trying to do math in my head again so I just keep climbing instead. I’m really starting to feel good, out of the saddle a bit and rather enjoying myself. This is a pretty good way to end such a big day. Next thing I know, I’m bagging the Julian town sign cause there’s no one else there to out-sprint me for it.
I stop and try to call Romy and to apologize for missing dinner but I can’t reach her. It’s 6:30pm. Wow, I’ve been on my bike for 7.5 hours. Time to head down the hill. I try to calculate how close to riding a century I’ll do. Let’s see, it was 2 miles on Farmers and 3 miles on Wynola, there’s 4 back down the hill plus… I need a little calculator. Anyways, there is no way I am doing laps to make this into a century, so I’ll just be surprised when I get back to the car.
I hammer it going back on Farmers, especially on what I call “the Mur du Julian”, a really steep section that reminds me of the Mur du Huy for some reason. I hammer it down Wynola and cut all the corners nicely, leaning a little farther than usual and using the brakes a bit less. My legs are what you’d expect after a 90+ mile day with 11,241 feet of climbing in them, but my heart is fully in the game.
I feel great for doing the mileage and the elevation, but it was overcoming adversity that makes the ride so valuable. No doubt about it, I had an authentic super-mega-ultra bonk coming up the South Grade. I could have stopped, cut the ride short or even called a taxi I guess. But I kept on. And by the time I arrived in Julian, I was hammering it and sprinting (by myself) for the town sign. So, beyond the mileage, the elevation, even the bragging rights – persistence was the priceless part.