Archive for the ‘Cycling – Alpine Challenge’ Category

Ride Report: Alpine Challenge 2014

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

I love the Alpine Challenge. It’s my favorite event for so many reasons: the challenging climbs, the modest entry fee and jersey price, and last but certainly not least, the cause it supports.

While the climbing is certainly a challenge, the weather provides its own set of challenges. In my experience, heat and wind have always thrown their wrenches into the works. This year, it was the cold. Dear God, the cold.

The forecast called for a chance of thunderstorms before 11 AM. I drove my car through a few isolated showers on the way to the event, but the start was dry if a little cold. I debated whether to bring my jacket, and I thank myself I decided to wear it on the way out.

The first 25 miles was uneventful: one major squall and a couple of showers to drench my socks, but nothing I couldn’t bear. At the SAG stop at 25 miles, I was getting quite warm in my jacket and the sun was starting to peak out, so I took it off and stowed it in my jersey pocket. I didn’t think I’d need it again. I was wrong.

I really wanted to bag the 100 mile course, which summits Mt. Laguna before heading back. There’s a turnoff for the 62 mile course where I could make the decision to do either course, based on how I felt.

There are a couple of things to note about the turnoff: first, it comes after a long descent into Pine Valley, at which point my wet socks and shoes rendered my feet without any sensation; second, going straight affords a view of the beginning of the long climb up Mt. Laguna. A sane person would evaluate these conditions and say, right, we’re turning off for the 62 mile course. But I am not sane.

I might have had an idea of what I was in for when I saw the sign that said “Warning: Snow Plows in Use.” But there wasn’t any snow, so what was up with that? The second warning came in the form of an old man at a turnout, dressed in heavy jacket and gloves, who looked at me in my cycling shorts and jersey and said, “What are you, a Canadian?”

Yes, it was cold, and getting colder, and I was heading uphill so I stopped to put on my jacket.

I plodded on. I began to see dribbles of snow and thought how nice, maybe my son would like to come up here and play in the snow. I kept at it. A squall of hail pelted me, and I thought, how cute! Hail!

A good 30 minutes passed and I didn’t see any other riders. I wasn’t entirely sure where the turnaround was, and it’s always reassuring to see other riders headed in the opposite direction to confirm that you’re on the right track. Four miles passed and there was a porta-potty but no official SAG stop, so I kept going. I still didn’t see any other riders, and my doubt increased, but I was headed up, so I figured that up was where I should be headed.

Then a sturdy rider passed me. I asked if we were on course, and he said yes, should be about 5 miles. I looked at my cycle computer and it showed somewhere around 48 miles. I watched him ride confidently onward and I felt a little reassured. I would have felt better if I could have kept up with him.

Not soon after, the road began to descend, and I had serious reservations. It was cold. Really cold. I couldn’t feel my fingertips or my feet. The descents were pounded by wind and hail, and without the exertion of climbing, I could feel my core temp dipping. The road was littered with debris from last night’s storm and patches of slush. Not even counting car traffic, the descent was nothing less than treacherous.

I started to feel like I was making a major mistake: wet feet, fingerless gloves, and only a windbreaker to protect me from the weather. This was a classic wilderness survival mistake.

I passed a fire station and I seriously considered stopping there to ask for help. But I figured this would probably result in a ride in an ambulance, and I have pride, so screw that noise. I kept on.

The road continued its descent, and now I began to feel that the mountain didn’t want me there. Like, it seriously wanted me off. I began to think of those folks who died on Mt. Everest in 2012 and how their deaths were the result of disrespect of the mountain. I thought of my Boy Scout survival training and Les Stroud and I realized that I was in a very bad situation.

Finally, I stopped. This was enough. I was heading back. I crossed the road. I plunged my hands inside my jacket to get them warm. I couldn’t feel whether it worked. I fished around my jersey pocket and got out my candy orange slices and popped one into my mouth. Despite its being between my jersey and my jacket, against my body, it was cold and nearly impossible to chew. I finally swallowed it down and grabbed a Powerbar from my other pocket. It too was cold and almost inedible. I broke a big chunk off with my teeth and managed to swallow it down.

I began to warm up and the food gave me a little bit of energy. I stood there for a while. A man in a white van stopped and asked me if I was OK. I gave him a thumbs up and said “I’m all right.” Every once in a while, a good person shows up. It gave me some spirit.

Feeling a little warmer, I started off. Just then, as if the mountain were confirming its wish to get me the hell off, the sun broke through the clouds. I can’t describe how amazing it felt. It was as if angels had descended on me.

Then the clouds came back, but two cyclists came toward me. Buoyed by the sun and the bit of food I had eaten, I made a very bad decision. I turned around again, thinking I could follow the cyclists to the turnaround.

I couldn’t catch them, and the weather renewed its assault, worse than anything I had yet experienced. I could barely keep the bike upright in the wind, and my hands immediately turned to ice. I stopped and turned around once again. I was beaten.

Normally, my pride would dictate my mood and I would feel dejected. But under these circumstances, the right decision was to turn around and leave Mt. Laguna to its rage. I wasn’t meant to reach the turnaround and to do so risked death. I was at peace with everything, and even a little bit happy that I understood my limits well enough to tell Pride to go suck it.

But there were still 8 miles between me and the relative safety of Pine Valley, and most of those were downhill. As I negotiated the twisty mountain roads, a continuous shower of hail pelted me. You know how when it hails it’s usually the size of baby peas and it lasts like 2 minutes and it’s gone? Well this was just bigger than the size of sand and it was indefinite. At downhill speed, my face felt like it was being sandblasted.

My hands were so cold, I couldn’t feel the handlebars, and my feet couldn’t feel the pedals. There are 3 points of contact on a bike: hands, feet, and butt, and for the most part if one of those gets messed up you’re a bit screwed but it’s recoverable but when two are out of the picture, you’re headed for the deck. I had to stop every quarter mile to warm up my hands. My feet were a lost cause.

Cars marked with Alpine Challenge passed me a couple of times with bikes on their roof, and I knew those were cyclists who hadn’t made it. The SAG support is a testament to the organization of the event, and thank-yous are truly inadequate for the volunteers who give up their Saturday to help us out.

But all I could think was those riders were sitting in a nice warm car, and I obsessed about being warm. I’ve never felt such a primal need for anything. I wanted to be in my car with the heater on. I wanted to be home in bed or in a hot shower. I just wanted to be warm.

Finally, as I descended off the mountain, it became not-cold-enough that I could continue descending without stopping, though I had very little bike control. And just like that, I was in Pine Valley.

There’s a SAG stop at Pine Valley. It’s just a guy who’s opened his house to cyclists and there is minimal food and drink there, and I’ve never stopped there before. This time, I stopped. He had a space heater! I put my hands in front of it for the longest time. Other riders came and I reluctantly relinquished my spot. We traded stories about the cold. One guy was shivering uncontrollably. The homeowner related a story about a cyclist who had just come by and almost crashed before reaching the stop. The cyclist denied he needed help but accepted the homeowner’s invitation inside the house to warm up. He ended up on the SAG wagon back to the start.

I got on my bike, and as I rode into the wind, I began to shiver: big, convulsive shivers and teeth-chattering that was so violent I couldn’t keep my mouth closed. Thankfully I started up the ascent out of Pine Valley and began to warm up.

Once out of Pine Valley, I got warm enough to shed the shivers and keep my hands on the handlebars. When I got back to the start/finish line, my cycle computer read 97.49 miles. Just 2.5 short of a century, but I feel I can award myself an “honorary century” on this one. And I don’t say that lightly. Also: just shy of 7 hours. That’s a hell of a long time in the saddle.

2014 ALPINE CHALLENGE
Miles: 97.49
Riding Time: 6 hours, 58 minutes, 20 seconds
Average Speed: 13.9 mph
Max Speed: 45 mph

ride report: alpine challenge 2011

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Owing to construction at the Viejas outlet center, the Alpine Challenge organizers moved the start/finish area to Summers Past Farms and shortened the total available mileage from 72 to 62 miles. The 62 mile route included the trip out to Pine Valley, which previously accounted for the extra 10 miles.

The increasing popularity of the Alpine Challenge necessitated the move to Viejas. Previously to Viejas, the Challenge staged in a nice little park in the heart of Alpine. I liked the park setting, and while the larger Viejas location serves its purpose well, it doesn’t have any of the small town charm of the park setting. I was pleasantly surprised by Summers Past Farm: the grounds are beautifully maintained and there is a small nursery pocketed within a showcase of flora that even includes a small topiary maze. Of course, I can’t allow independent nurseries to go unsupported and came home with a couple of new plants for the yard.

I felt confident coming into this year’s Challenge and started out with guns blazing. The beginning of the ride features mostly downhill stretches that allowed me to accelerate to 50 mph, the fastest I’ve ever gone and a goal I’ve wanted to reach for many years. These downhills are soon replaced with a 20 or so mile stretch of almost constant uphill grade. I passed a lot of folks going up this stretch which added to my confidence, but soon I had passed all of the low-hanging fruit and those in front were in as good, or better, shape than I. Some of those that I had passed would overtake me as the youthful zeal in my legs succumbed to the inevitable buildup of lactic acid and the increasing wind from the East.

Coming back from Pine Valley, I was passed by a couple of guys and I got on their wheel for a little while, but ended up abandoning because I couldn’t see ahead and hit some pretty nasty potholes on the downhills, one of which robbed me of a water bottle. Had I known at the time, I would have gone back to pick it up but it wasn’t until a few miles later that I realized it was gone.

This was the first year that I didn’t stop at any of the SAG support stops. The last 10 miles were pretty rough, as my legs and posterior were ready to be off the machine. However, the East wind was now at my back and even the few uphill ticks weren’t too tough.

All in all, I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t keep the guns blazing throughout the entire ride, but at the same time there were very few times when I drafted other riders, so I’m proud to say that most of the ride was done under my own power.

We were blessed with perfect weather: mild and not too windy. The scenery is gorgeous, especially after our wet winter. Every year I am reminded why I believe this is San Diego’s best organized ride. The challenge lives up to its name, the support is excellent, the entry fee is cheap and goes to a great cause, and includes a shirt, medal, goodie bag, a beer, and a hamburger.

Stats:

ALPINE CHALLENGE 2011
Miles: 63
Time: 3 hours, 47 minutes, 23 seconds
Average Speed: 16.6 mph
Max Speed: 50 mph

alpine challenge 2010, or where i completely overestimate my physical condition

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

I was pretty confident that I would do well in this year’s Alpine Challenge. After all, I rode 7000 miles last year and while I haven’t been on my bike so much this year, I’ve been running a lot; I figured my cycling form hasn’t deteriorated all that much. And I’m pretty sure the 15 extra pounds on my bathroom scale is muscle weight, right?

I should have known something was awry when I put on my Fat Cyclist jersey. It’s the most snug of all my jerseys, and I was horrified at how it looked on me. It’s mostly white with black trim, and being very form-fitting, all of my luscious bulges were hanging out for the world to sneer at. I have never considered myself one who would have a muffin top but when paired with lycra cycling shorts, the jersey left nothing to the imagination. I felt like I was in a wet t-shirt contest, except I wasn’t wet, and the jiggly parts weren’t where they were supposed to be. To put it bluntly, I was too fat for my Fat Cyclist jersey, and it had to go. I sheepishly looked for the most non-form-fitting jersey in my possession, which happened to be the jersey from last year’s Alpine Challenge.

Despite this initial setback, I was still unphased in my plan to stay with the lead group as long as possible and blow the field apart on the 5-mile ascent of the Dehesa Grade. Insert derision here.

Last year, I started away back from the front and had to claw myself up to the front group. This year, I knew to start close to the front. I saw the Descenders and felt shame for my physical condition. I hoped no one recognized me.

Cue the CHP dude with the usual “be safe, follow the rules of the road” speech (man I felt bad for him, everyone was just talking over him. No respect.). Cue the cute high school girls singing the national anthem in 3-part harmony (seriously, good job girls!). And we’re off.

Did I mention how last year I was able to claw my way up to the front? Well this year I was already at the front and I had to claw my way just to hang off the back of the front. Which sucked, because once I caught up to the next last guy, he’d get dropped, which meant I had to work to bridge up to the next last person in the group, who would get dropped. Repeat. Soon I realized I was working way too hard at the beginning of a long ride, and while I felt really good at sprinting, I wasn’t recovering the way I used to.

But I was killing it on the descents (this is where the extra poundage comes in handy), so I was able to stay with a second pack that had dropped off the front for a bit. I hoped they would capitalize on my Mad Descending Skillz (or at least my Mad Obezity), drafting off of me while I flew down, and letting me draft off of them when the road turned back upwards. But I began to feel like a Pariah. On one of the descents, at well over 40 mph, two guys sprinted from behind and as they passed, they pushed me farther to the right of the road than I wanted to be and I had to back off to keep from crashing. Seriously guys? On the Alpine Challenge? Take your aggressive Cat-5 crap to the races. I just want to have a fun day out in the hills. There seemed to be an organized attempt to drop me from their group: any time I took someone’s wheel, they’d slow down and take me out of the group.

Finally I decided to just enjoy the ride and leave them to their testosterone party; besides, the Dehesa Grade was coming up and all of this jostling for position was wasting energy. I would let the Grade separate the men from the boys.

As soon as the Dehesa Grade started, I knew I was in for a long day. My legs just weren’t there, and while last year I had the pleasure of passing lots of guys, this year I was the one being passed. The Grade let me know where my manhood stood, and it was humbling.

I knew at this point that I wasn’t going to make it through the entire 72 miles and decided I would take the turnoff for the 60 mile route when it presented itself. Which was still 15 miles and lot of painful climbing away. I was disappointed that this would be my first year without the extra loop to Pine Valley, but as soon as I made the decision I knew it was the right one.

While I only stopped once last year to answer the call of nature, I had to stop at 2 SAG stations to recover enough to keep going. The Descenders, coming back from the full 72 mile route, overtook me a good 15 miles from the end. I feebly tried to get on their wheel but couldn’t. In a word, I was cooked.

My final time for 60 miles was around 3 hours 45 minutes at an average speed of 15.9 mph. Compare that to last year: 72 miles in 3 hours 56 minutes at an average speed of 18.1. It’s amazing how quickly cycling form turns to mush.

But the event itself is still my favorite. This year we’ve had lots of rain, and all the meadows were green and flowers were blooming. The SAG stops are at perfect intervals, though I’m not sure what’s up with the HEED drink mix. That stuff is like drinking lead.

see you in alpine

Monday, April 19th, 2010

I’m done feeling sorry for myself and I entered the Alpine Challenge. Pretty cool that you can register all the way up to the day of the event, unlike that *other* event. The forecast calls for showers all week but sunny on Saturday.

I’ll try to stay with the lead group for as long as I can but I’m certainly not in my cycling form. I did 25 miles of hills yesterday and while my legs are fine, my neck is a little stiff and my posterior is, to put it delicately, unaccustomed to long periods in the saddle.

disappointment

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

I’ve been training for a marathon. Cycling has been put on hold while I train; I just can’t do both at the same time. I begrudgingly decided not to participate in this year’s Alpine Challenge, my favorite organized event, since I haven’t been on a bike for awhile, in favor of running the San Diego Rock & Roll Marathon.

On Sunday I ran 15 miles, the longest I’ve gone so far. My running is getting stronger and stronger; I’m doing 8 minute miles over shorter (5 mile) distances and near 9 minute miles for the longer distances. My recovery time is improving; while I was a bit stiff the day after my 15 mile run, by evening I was feeling great.

Today I finally decided to commit to the marathon by registering, and much to my disappointment I found that open registration is closed.

So now I feel lost. No training goal. No marathon.

While I don’t necessarily feel that my training has gone to waste, I don’t know what to do with myself.

Maybe I’ll get back on my bike. It’s not too late to register for the Alpine Challenge. I might not be in my best cycling form but at least I haven’t lost any cardio fitness.

Bummer.

my year in cycling: 2009

Monday, December 28th, 2009

This post is mostly for myself: I want to document my year in cycling. As such, you, the reader, will probably be bored stiff. Consider yourself warned. Now’s your chance to stop reading and go somewhere more interesting.

In this, the year 2009, I:

what to do, what to do…

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Over the last few months I’ve been melting into a sort of crisis of conviction. When I first got back into cycling a few summers ago, I wanted to reconnect with an activity that I had always enjoyed and in the process jump start my aging metabolism. As a teenager I used to cruise around a large network of fire trails up near my house but I had no interest in the sport.

It wasn’t until mid-life began to loom ahead of me and the sports media caught on to a young whipper-snapper named Lance Armstrong that I began to take an interest in the sport of road racing. Floyd Landis’ heroic effort in the 2006 Tour de France inspired me to take up training for real, but at this point I didn’t know what I was training for.

Then, while climbing up the Torrey Pines hill, I saw “San Diego Century Riders” scribbled in chalk in the bike lane. I had no idea what a century was, but knew I had to find out.

The idea of 100 miles in a single day was surely daunting but I knew that I had it in me. And then one day, I did it. Since then, I’ve participated in several organized rides and I’ve really enjoyed them, especially the SAG support. But while organized century rides are inherently challenging, they have almost become routine.

Last weekend’s event made me face a part of my personality that isn’t compatible with organized events: I ride alone. I didn’t much care for peloton riding during the Bulldog bike race or the Alpine Challenge, and while riding in a paceline is preferable to a peloton, I don’t have much heart for that either. I don’t want to worry about crossing wheels or etiquette; I prefer solitude.

Besides, any paceline is only as strong as its weakest link. I don’t want to weigh anyone down and conversely I don’t want to be weighed down by anyone else.

During all this training, I was driven to prove to myself that I’m competitive, and I think I’ve done that. I bet I can compete with the top 10% of cyclists out there. But I’m not getting any younger and I don’t have the conviction, discipline, or incentive to truly compete at that level. In other words, I have no heart for organized road racing.

But I do have heart for something else, and I feel it runs much deeper than the testosterone-charged thrill of dropping other cyclists on the hills. I was in a pretty messed up mental state on last weekend’s ride and I think that deep down I use the physical exertion of endurance cycling in an attempt to exorcise the negative energy of my life.

Those who know me know that I’m not what you’d typically call a happy person, nor am I particularly religious in the traditional sense. I periodically cycle through some pretty intensely negative emotion: anger, fear, hate… you know, all that stuff that leads to the dark side. I don’t know if I’m running away from or running toward something but I feel that pushing my physical limits is a sort of crucible for me: I don’t feel that spiritual growth can occur without breaking down the physical body. This is a pretty gross analogy but this is much the same as the mythology surrounding Christ’s crucifixion.

So I find myself wondering what to do. I think I’m done with organized events, but I need to set some goals or I will continue to feel lost. Maybe I need to take up randonneuring. Maybe I need to start planning my own self-supported long-distance rides. My first century was completely unsupported, and maybe it’s time to return to those roots. There are a lot of mountains to be climbed.

event report: san diego century 2009 – 1st place?

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Yesterday I rode the San Diego Century. Another well-organized event, with well-equipped SAG stops at good intervals, staffed by very friendly folks.

The packet pickup was slated to begin at 6:00 and the official start time was at the riders’ discretion between 6:00 and 8:00, and as I arrived at around 5:40 I saw that people were already heading out. Volunteers were already manning the packet pickup tables (thanks guys!) so I quickly got my packet and fumbled around with the bib #, trying to find a place on my bike where it wouldn’t get in the way of my knees. I finally decided I was happy with everything and queued up in a small group of about 10 riders at the light. My cycle computer read 6:09.

The light turned green and I was immediately annoyed by everyone around me. I was behind maybe two others and they were all bumbling around trying to get their feet clipped into their pedals; meanwhile I was clipped in and rearing to go. I bolted past them all and began a two-hour long tear through the hills of Encinitas and Rancho Santa Fe.

I have to admit to being in a completely psychotic state of mind. In the morning I had woken up an hour before my alarm went off. I had just dreamed that I had completed the century in under 4 hours and my son was asking me why I was so arrogant. I was unsettled by that dream and couldn’t get back to sleep, and when I went outside to pack my car I saw that the cold night air had caused a 1-inch crack in the windshield to expand to 6 inches. Apparently my car doesn’t like bike events, because the initial crack was caused by a rock hitting the windshield not a quarter mile away home from this year’s Alpine Challenge. This, combined with a general feeling of annoyance at other cyclists, traffic signals, and motorists, gave me a sort of tunnel vision toward a singular goal: to get the hell away from everyone.

I passed people like crazy going up all the hills. I passed two guys going downhill only to be stopped at a light where I needed to make a right turn, but a car was going left in front of me. I could either sustain my speed, blow the stop light, and hope the car wouldn’t go wide, or slow and wait for the car to go. My commuting experience told me to defer to the car, but the two guys I had just passed were now barreling behind me, yelling “RIGHT, RIGHT!” I turned and yelled back, “I KNOW” as I started my right turn, and they replied “I just don’t want a pileup.”

That just pissed me off. I know I broke whatever messed up unspoken cyclist code that says you’ve got to blow through stoplights, but frankly I’ve seen and escaped a lot of crap on the road and I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two. And one thing I’ve learned is that safety is far more valuable than convenience.

This exchange, and my embarrassment over it, put more fire into my legs. I dropped those two guys and went to work on a few others in front of me. As I reeled in two more, I looked behind me to see if any cars were coming before I overtook them only to find a barnacle stuck on my wheel. Well, as long as he didn’t try anything stupid I’d let him draft, but I was sure not going to let him pull. This was my century.

I waited for a safe opportunity to overtake the two guys but they took back their position during the next flat section. I got on their wheel, plotting my revenge, and I saw that they were both fighting each other, not so much trading pulls as trading positions. I drafted for a couple of minutes to recover, then at the next hill I took off and didn’t see them again.

I began to wonder if I wasn’t killing myself too hard, but I didn’t care. If I bonked going into Ramona, so be it. I wanted to come home knowing that I hadn’t given up any opportunity to push as hard as I could.

There’s a SAG stop just before the hill into Ramona, and I made sure to top off my water bottles since the memory of running out of water in last year’s brutal heat was in my mind. The folks at the SAG stop said I was the first one there, though I saw one cyclist that I had recently passed blow by while I was refilling. I hastily made my way out and I was soon headed up the “purple monster” to Ramona. The hill up Scripps Poway Parkway to highway 67 is fairly challenging, but today the heat wasn’t much of an issue and there were two cyclists farther ahead who spurred my legs to pass them before the 67.

Left on highway 67, and more climbing before the descent into Ramona. I didn’t see any other cyclists at this point, and most importantly I did not see any in the opposite direction. I began to think that I was first into Ramona.

I stopped at the Ramona SAG stop and the workers confirmed that I was the first cyclist through. They were antsy to get more customers. I quickly ate a little, topped off my water, and hopped onto my bike for the last leg back to Encinitas. As I pulled out, the cyclist who I had seen go through the last SAG stop pulled in.

I hightailed it out of Ramona, back over the 67, and back over Scripps Poway Parkway. I saw huge groups of cyclists in the opposite direction and thought that the Ramona SAG station would soon be overwhelmed. The heat was beginning to settle in as the marine layer had by now burned off, but as soon as I began the descent into Poway, I could feel cool air and almost smell the salt in the air. This was nothing like last year, when there was no marine layer at all and the temperature was in the high 90s all the way through Poway and hotter in Ramona.

By this time, my energy was beginning to ebb and flow. But the miles were ticking away quickly, and as I watched them click through 70, 80 miles I still felt pretty good. There are a couple of nasty little vindictive hills toward the end of the course in Rancho Penasquitos but I made short work of them and was soon at the coast.

No century would be complete without my going a little off course, and I did so by making a premature right turn off highway 101 onto Lomas Santa Fe. The intersection looked familiar from last year, but as soon as I made the right turn, I knew something was off. I made an immediate right turn, then turned back around, then got back on Lomas Santa Fe again and went all the way up the hill before realizing that Lomas Santa Fe was way too early. I headed back down and looked at my cycle computer, which now registered 100 miles in 5 hours, 15 minutes.

I got back to highway 101 and back on track. I sailed into Mira Costa college to finish in 5:30:49 (excluding stops). My cycle computer’s clock read 11:55, so about 5 hours, 46 minutes total. They have commemorative mugs at the stop for the three different courses, and as I picked mine up the guy at the table said I was the first one.

So… first place? Oh yeah, it’s a ride, not a race!

SAN DIEGO CENTURY 2009
Miles: 104.1
Riding Time: 5 hours, 30 minutes, 49 seconds
Total Time: 5 hours, 46 minutes
Average Speed: 18.9 mph
Max Speed: 44 mph

upcoming event: san diego century

Monday, May 11th, 2009

This weekend I will participate in the San Diego Century. I’m excited to see how well I’ll improve over last year with my road bike. After the Alpine Challenge, I feel really confident about this ride (not a race, despite what the URL leads you to believe). However, there were a lot of things working for me at the Alpine Challenge: cool weather, very little wind, and good health. Let’s hope I can keep my hubris in check; while I’ve survived a fair number of centuries, as Captain Solo said, “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.”

event report: alpine challenge 2009

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

I queued up at the start line, somewhere near the front and middle. I knew Arlyn would be there, and sure enough I saw his shiny red Trek at the very front with members of the Descenders. I made a mental note to try and catch them and match their pace.

Catching them turned out to be a little bit difficult, and I’m learning how quickly the starting group of riders pulls away from the rest. Once I had bridged up to them, we were well on our way up the first hill (the first little bump in the elevation profile). I kept pace, sometimes riding next to Arlyn, not sure if I should introduce myself but figured it would be way too awkward; it could wait until the event was done. I rode up to the front of the group and enjoyed being in “first place” for a little while, just like I did at the beginning of the Bulldog bike race.

The first elevation bump gives way to a fairly long descent, which was fun, but I’m still not comfortable in a group of riders. I have a hard time staying on others’ wheels; it just feels dangerous, and I hate having to constantly be on the brakes. I’m pretty sure I annoy others behind me because I let gaps form in front of me and I’m not as smooth as I should be on the brakes. There was an interesting moment when an SUV made a U-turn in front of us, spitting dirt at the front of the pack. Sure enough, a little later, the SUV stopped to make a left turn and we almost turned into pancakes as the smell of burning brake pads filled the air.

The meat of the ride is the 20-odd mile climb up Dehesa Road and Japatul Valley Road. The pack thinned out, with a group of riders immediately breaking off the front. I stayed with Arlyn’s group of Descenders, knowing that they were well experienced and that trying to keep up with the lead group would probably kill me later on. I don’t completely remember how things panned out, but I think I picked up my pace at one point and dropped Arlyn’s group. I was climbing solo for awhile, passing a couple of guys, then got passed by a guy with what appeared to be Shimano’s new electronic derailleur. I glued myself to his wheel and sneakily passed him after drafting on one of the short downhills that break up the climb. Electronic derailleur guy helped me push the pace so that I eventually caught up with a group that included a pair of Descenders. I didn’t see electronic derailleur guy again, which surprised me, since he had sustained a strong tempo up the hill.

I seem to recall that the two Descenders had two other guys with them, whom we dropped. I pushed the pace a little going up the hill, which thinned the group to just me and the Descenders. I think I heard one of the Descenders say something like “I think we dropped the little guy… or should I say Shadow Tour* guy dropped him.” I made a dumb joke about catching a bus after passing a bus sign, then made a mental note about not making stupid jokes.

I kept waiting for “the wall” to come, which I remember from last year. It’s a portion of the climb that seems to go straight up for a hundred yards or so, but I think we made it over without realizing it was there. Have I told you how much I love my new bike?

I rode with the two Descenders for a bit, and we picked up two more guys, forming a somewhat disorganized group of five that finished the climb through Japatul. I found the Descenders to be tough nuts to crack. I’m not much of an attacker, but I can increase my tempo and sustain it pretty well. They always stuck to my wheel when I took the lead and I knew there was no dropping them. Soon we were on our way to Pine Valley.

I got dropped during the long downhill to Pine Valley. One of the 2 guys that we had picked up turned out to be an insanely fast downhiller, and two of our group were keen to stay on his wheel as I dropped back with the fifth guy in the group. I think the fifth guy was one of the Descenders but I don’t quite remember. As the road turned flat in Pine Valley, the fifth guy powered ahead, leaving me behind to struggle against a headwind to bridge back up to them. I finally made it, and there was a SAG stop where the Descenders wanted to get water. I would have stopped with them, but there was no Porta-Potty and I had to pee, so I decided to ride to the next SAG stop for water and facilities.

The ride through Pine Valley is a nice little break from all the hills, but it’s really just a fancy u-turn to head back up the hill that we had just descended. The two Descenders caught us right before the uphill, and I learned later that they had decided against getting water after watching us pull away. I hung at the back of our group for a little, then felt my legs coming back and decided to pick up the tempo, so I put on a bit of gas and took the lead. As always, the Descenders were keen to my move and didn’t let go of my wheel, though I did lead our pack up the hill. I’d like to think I handed out some suffering but I have a feeling these guys have persevered through far worse.

We arrived at the SAG stop and I refilled my water, ate some food, and availed myself of the facilities. By this time the group was long gone, so I set out on my own to cover the last 10 or 15 miles back to the start/finish line.

At the end I saw that Arlyn had finished before me and I saw him talking to the SDBC guy that I had met at this year’s winter Stagecoach. I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself to Arlyn but talked to SDBC guy for a little bit (I still didn’t get his name).

I finally found a chance to introduce myself to Arlyn, who had by that time changed clothes so without his bike and kit I wasn’t completely sure it was him. Luckily my facial recognition software did not let me down and we chatted for a moment with one of his Descenders buddies. I’m such a nerd, but I was able to extricate myself before I made too much of an ass of myself.

Overall, a great ride. The weather was cool (to the point that my feet were cold in Pine Valley) and the wind was nominal. The ride is really well organized, with plentiful SAG stops and the course is very well-marked. I think this is one of my favorite events because the hills are such a challenge, but it won’t kill you the way a full century does. And you get a free** beer, massage, and meal at the end. And you get a nice little medal too, handed out by a pretty high school girl***. Did I mention the national anthem sung in 2-part harmony by 2 other pretty high school girls***?

Oh, and did I mention how much I love my new bike? Because I do. Check out the stats (and compare to last year’s):

2009 ALPINE CHALLENGE
Miles: 71.08
Riding Time: 3 hours, 56 minutes, 28 seconds
Average Speed: 18.1 mph
Max Speed: 45 mph

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* I wore my Shadow Tour 2008 Stagecoach jersey today

** free with paid entry fee

*** I admit it, I’m a dirty old man