I spent a solo weekend in Borrego Springs to take part in the 2010 Salton Sea Century.
I arrived late Friday afternoon and checked in to the Palm Canyon Resort. The room was big, clean, and a scant 1.5 miles from the starting point of Saturday’s ride. My view looked north at the tail end of the mountains that frame Borrego Springs to the west:
The View from My Room
I hopped on my bike to pick up my registration packet from Christmas Circle and get a feel for the ride down to the start/finish line. It’s about a 1.5 mile stretch, and a nice false flat downhill. Which of course meant an energy-sucking false flat uphill on the way back: I made a mental note not to kill myself on it after Saturday’s 100 mile journey.
Upon returning to my room, I found that the bar and restaurant were closed on account of it being the off season or something. Fortunately for me, the time I would have spent chowing on dinner was instead spent picking up the one grocery item I forgot for tomorrow’s breakfast before the market closed at 6:30.
On the way back to my room, I picked up a 3-rolled with guac from the local ‘Bertos (this one was a Jil-) and enjoyed my dinner watching the colors change on the mountains from a chair and table set up on the deck outside of my room. Borrego Springs is gorgeous, no doubt about that.
I spent the rest of the evening drinking lots of water, munching on snacks, and getting the room & bike ready for a quick exit the following morning:
A place for everything, and everything in its place
My night’s preparation left me bright-eyed for the 7:00 AM start:
I have can-do blazing out the wazoo!
The 100 mile tour consists of 3 laps, each starting and ending at Christmas Circle.
The first lap takes the rider to the top of Yaqui Pass, an upward span somewhere on the order of 5 miles which attempts to demoralize the rider with a long stretch of slight incline before the real climbing begins. I found that I’m much more suited to the steeper part of the climb: I had a hard time finding a good rhythm going up the slight pitch but as soon as the grade steepened my legs found their pace. Once at the top, I turned around for the descent: not very technical but still a lot of fun at 40+ mph.
The second lap is more of a tour of Borrego’s streets, meandering through the mainly flat residential area of Borrego.
Christmas Circle, being the central hub, served as the start/finish line and a SAG stop. I had emptied both of my water bottles on laps 1 & 2, so when I stopped for refills before the third lap, I started to fill both with sport drink when the organizer stepped in and said to fill the 2nd with water instead, as he was worried they would run out of sport drink. This actually turned out to be a good thing for me later on in the day.
The third lap is where the ride really begins. It starts at mile 45, with the sun beginning to show its force. This lap takes the rider 27 miles to the outskirts of Salton City and back. There is a small mountainous range that must be ascended before descending to Salton City, at the top of which is an intermediate SAG stop; this little range, coupled with the heat and unexpected bodily functions, makes for some interesting desert riding.
This SAG stop at mile 62 has a nice view of an eroded canyon:
Canyon at the edge of SAG stop, mile 62
Here I am at mile 62, complete with orange pulp and mounting discomfort:
This is me: mile 62
What I’m not about to tell you is that all the way out to the SAG stop at mile 62, something was moving in my digestive tract. Without going into too much detail, I thought I had prepared myself sufficiently by voiding everything before I left in the morning. But despite my effort, the fiber in my energy bars and morning foods was mounting an assault. Which I thought I could contain until the end.
After the SAG stop, the road descends into Salton City. At the Imperial County line, the quality of the road takes a drastic turn for the worse: the asphalt has eroded away, leaving a surface riddled with large chunks of gravel and rock. Fortunately, these road conditions only last for about 2 miles, but by the time smoother road appears, the wrists are numb and the legs & rear beg for mercy.
At mile 72, there is a SAG stop and turnaround on the outskirt of Salton City. While stopped, I thought to take advantage of the opportunity to void my lower intestine. But I decided that I didn’t feel all that bad and I didn’t want to disturb the nice young couple with their daughter volunteering at the SAG stop. So I ate more orange slices and refilled my sport drink bottle. The water bottle from Christmas Circle was still stowed on my seat tube.
Turning around meant that after a couple of miles, I’d be back on the 2 mile stretch of eroded highway. This time, however, the sun was hotter and I was moving more slowly owing to the slight ascent of the road. This is the worst type of riding for me, because I need airflow of at least 15 mph to cool me down. During miles 76-82, I was barely pushing the crank over hard enough to maintain 10 mph, and in my head I calculated that it would easily take half an hour to reach the midpoint SAG stop, and I knew there would be sharp uphills to menace my legs. Discomfort in my abdomen added to the heat for a very special feeling of disease.
That’s when I found the God-given purpose for the bottle of water that I got from Christmas Circle: every few minutes I would douse myself with it, and though the water by now was actually hot to the touch, it was gloriously cool as it exchanged heat in the air with coolness.
Finally, I made it to the mid-point SAG stop, where I dismounted and sat for awhile, getting my core temperature under control. They were out of ice, but they still had plenty of water and sport drink, and a service vehicle was purportedly on its way with more ice.
I ended up talking to the volunteer for a bit, and learned how hard the volunteers were working that day. He is a member (and if I’m not mistaken, the President) of the local Chamber of Commerce, and this ride is a fund raiser for them. Unfortunately, some of their volunteers canceled at the last minute, leaving each SAG station understaffed. This man was with his daughter, who was no doubt bored to tears in the hot Borrego sun. At the Salton City stop, the nice young couple had a child sitting in their car with the engine & A/C running, with some markers and paper to help distract from the boredom of sitting out all day.
This post may end up simply a long-winded thank-you to the volunteers that day. They worked really hard and gave up their Saturdays to look after our health and safety on the road that day. Bless them all.
And now back to me.
At this point I realized that the discomfort in my bowels needed to be addressed. At least these porta-johns were a little farther away from the action than those at Salton City. So I clambored into one, and let humility run its course. I feel such sympathy for women: Porta-Johns don’t have much arm room and their surfaces aren’t ones we want to touch.
One big factor in cycling comfort is cleanliness. If things aren’t clean down there, things can get ugly during a long ride. Thankfully, I brought baby wipes with me in a ziploc bag in my jersey pocket. I have always brought that bag with me on my long rides and never needed to use them, and I even debated whether I wanted to bring it on this ride. Now I know to never leave it behind.
So the moral of this story is, even if you’re a man, bring wet-wipes. I do believe that is the most embarrassing way I’ve ever made a point.
After many minutes, it was apparent that ice wasn’t coming soon and I was feeling much better, so I threw my leg over the saddle a final time for the last 17 miles. These miles were much friendlier than the previous, going net downhill from the small range bordering Salton City. The last 5-7 miles teased with a far-off view of Christmas Circle, seemingly just around the corner but actually several miles away.
I finished in around 6 hours, 45 minutes, including SAG stops. Total time in the saddle was 05:50, which put me inside my goal of 6 hours. I’m a little disappointed in how long I spent at the SAG stops, but I also feel like I listened to my body’s needs and made the right decisions out there in the desert, which is far more important.
Here I am, collapsed on the grass at Christmas Circle after a long day in the saddle:
The Porta-Johns really frame the shot
And after the 1.5 mile ride back to my hotel room:
Satisfied after a long day
Sunset over the Palm Canyon Resort