27 September 2004

Knoxville double century

Here's a quick summary:
We didn't leave LA till 7pm, therefore we arrived in Davis around 2am.
Slept for a few hours at Tim's place (same as for Mt Tam!).
Got to the start late and were the last two to leave.
Spent all day being playing catch-up; barely made the lunch cut-off.
My cassette fell off at one point (don't ask).
We miss a turn b/c it was marked poorly, and rode 14 miles out of the way, round trip.
The sweep SAG missed us cause we were off-route.
The checkpoint with our lights and warm clothes was closed and gone.
Riding downhill in the dark and cold sucks: You want to go faster to warm up, but you can't see shit.
Eventually we get in touch with the organizers and they say they have to come get us.
We wouldn't finish till 3am if we rode on.
Super cold waiting for them.
My first DNF on a ride, ever.
Happy Birthday!

24 September 2004

Tour of Two Forest double century

A day on a bicycle, exploring, at slow, antagonizing low speeds and exhilarating high speeds, is a day well spent. My recent interest in double centuries has awarded me the possibility of spending Saturdays exploring some of the most beautiful parts of the world, by bicycle of course. This past Saturday I rode 200 miles on the Tour of Two Forests Double Century organized by Planet Ultra.

At 430am, after a couple hours of so-called sleep, my friend Matt Pro and I are mummy-like as we organize our stuff in his Hollywood apartment and prepare for our drive to Santa Clarita for the 615am start. Our excitement is only slightly concealed by our sleepiness. But, what may have been concealed was our better judgment. We decided to not fix the slow-leak in his tube and not to bring warmer clothes.

Honestly, the morning was unremarkable. Some cold weather, a little mist, good conversation pertaining to California history, and the usual rural landmarks kept our brains functioning through mid-morning. Then Matt’s tube started to act up. Slow leaks are tricky because part of you says, ‘Don’t waste time fixing it, just keep pumping it up every hour!’ When your tube is low on pressure it takes significantly more energy to keep the same pace. Not fun! It ends up that a patched rip in his tire was putting tiny holes in his tube. In the end he had changed or patched the tube 4 times before scoring a new tire.

The two forests we traveled through were the Los Padres and The Angeles National Parks. Stunning. I have traveled a decent amount in my life, but I have to say that California has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. In one day you can travel along beaches, through mountains and across deserts, and numerous types of each! With National Parks comes mountains, and with mountains comes climbs. Mid-day, temperature in the 90’s and we are struggling up some big ones. Not steep, but long. ‘Hey, look way up there! Is that the pass? Didn’t that car pass us 20 minutes ago?’

Part of the ride went through sections of forest that were nearly destroyed by the fires in 2003. Here we are, cruising along as the sun is going down, about 140 miles behind us, through the remains of a fire. Trees still standing though they more resemble silhouettes. Shrubs still holding strong, despite being blackened to a crisp, blowing in the wind. Only the occasional dog that chases us breaks the unnatural silence.

The last fifty miles were ridden under the stars, guided by our headlights. The organizers were gracious enough to give us a fifteen-mile downhill. My front brakes were not working (I will not get into the details!), as we descended at twenty-five miles per hour through repetitive twists and turns. Each series of turns seemed to mimic the previous one until finally the mountain opened up and we descended into the town of Santa Clarita.

Nearly seventeen hours had passed when we returned to the start point across from Magic Mountain. In these seventeen hours I experience not only vast temperature changes and sceneries, but also an array of emotions. Pedaling becomes so routine that it is meditative. My mind jumps from joy to sadness in a matter of miles. Old memories suddenly leap to the front of my mind. I consider old and new ideas. Suddenly I realize I have ridden ten miles and cannot remember a single thing I thought about. Was my mind blank for nearly forty-five minutes?

Tonight (Friday) Matt and I are traveling up to Davis to do the Knoxville Double on Saturday. If I finish, despite this lingering cold that has cost me three days of work, I will be eligible for the California Triple Crown. (caltriplecrown.com). Hopefully my cold and cough dissipate in the next twelve hours. This route has less climbing than others at 11,000 feet (compared to 15,000 and 13,000) and claims wonderful scenery. It will be a fantastic way to spend my twenty-sixth birthday.

20 August 2004

Uh! Ah! Chavez no se va!

Hugo Chavez, the leftist president of Venezuela, won the referendum here on Sunday with 58% of the vote. We spent the day hanging out in Caracas watching the long, long lines (most people spent 5 to 8 hours waiting to vote) in an awesome neighborhood called Sabana Grande. People had to vote either Si or No for the referendum pushed by the right wing opposition groups. A vote for ´No´ is a vote for Chavez and the continuation of his presidency. After the polls closed at midnight we left the 'No' camp we had been hanging out with, who had just sung Happy Birthday to Colleen, and took a cab to the presidential palace.

The situation there was AMAZING. Thousands and thousands of people in the streets, hanging off of trucks and from balconies, chanting and screaming and dancing. We milled around for about 3 hours till our group split up with 3 going back to our hotel and Colleen and I staying behind. We watched some of the bands perform and followed the news on the big screen TV while munching on popcorn. Keep in mind that at this point it is about 4am and the streets have not emptied. Old people and children alike passed the time singing, dancing, and eating. When the report came out that Chavez won the place erupted. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. People hugged us and I could see tears in people's eyes. It was strange to be at a political event where the side we are pulling for actually wins. And even odder that it is the state we are cheering for! Chavez has been a thorn to the US since he was first elected in 1998 by de-privatizing the oil industry and pouring money into social programs for the country's poorest people. When the rightwing attempted a coup a couple of years ago the US recognized it immediately, though they continue to not fully recognize Chavez who has been democratically elected 3 times.

After the announcement of the win the soldiers opened the gate to the presidential palace and the crowd swormed in. I look up and we ended up directly under the president's balcony. After about 5 minutes of anticipation Chavez opened the doors and appeared on the balcony. Everyone went absolutely nuts. The chant of the pro-Chavez groups, 'Uh! Ah! Chavez no se va!' (which translates as Chavez wont go) was deafeningly loud. We stood and listened to his speech with the supporters even as rain started coming down around 5am. He mentioned the significance of the election of other left leaning presidents in Latin America and then said, 'Fuera Bush de la casa blanca' (Out Bush from the white house). Everyone around us looked at us and when we repeated it everyone cheered. Eventually we pushed through the crowd and avoided the kids on motorcycles and hailed a cab back to the hotel. This night was one of the most exciting moments of my life! Venezuela will forever be in my mind and I feel that much closer to what happens here. I am sure I will be back soon.

11 August 2004

Caracas, Venezuela sin bici

We arrived in Caracas safely on Monday afternoon and found a cheap hotel in the University area. We ate at a rad veggie restaurant and then chilled in the center area and drank and ate this fruit ice cream stuff. Apparently the area we stayed in there is not the safest. 3 of th 5 peeps I am with went out that night and met up with some random kids. One of them got a gunned pulled on them and then they said they absolutely had to take a cab back to the hotel cause it was unsafe to walk after dark.

On Tuesday we took a RAD bus ride over the mountains to an amazing beach town. Today we chilled out on the beach most the day eating fried plantains and drinking coconut water. It is picture perfect, clear water, palm trees, and mountains in the background. Tomorrow we are taking a boat to some exclusive beach and Friday doing a trip in the mountains.

Sunday we are returning for the elections because we met some cool peeps from the Chavez camp who are going to take us around. It may be crazy there, I will try to update before then. Super rushed right now!

08 August 2004

Mt Tam double century

200 miles in one day. It's a goal I set for myself way back when I first started doing long rides in Fall of 2000. It was at my first organized ride ever, the Santa Monica mountains century earlier this summer, where I learned about the existence of organized 200 miles rides called double centuries. It's called the California Triple Crown, a series of double centuries all over the state. I checked the website the night after that ride and was hooked.

Saturday morning I woke up at 245am, drank some coffee, ate what food I could, and hopped in my rental car. The extra $5/day for the CD player was so worth it. Public Enemy and Gangstarr kept my energy level up on the one-hour drive to the start of the ride in Merin County. I downed a quart of silk latte. The start of the ride was at an elementary school and the place was buzzing. At least 125 people on bikes plus organizers and supporters. I stand in line surrounded by geared up roadies; slightly intimidated by all of the people for whom this is normal. I get my number and am on my way back to the car to unload my bike. Is this it?

I had just finished putting on sunblock (still dark out) and sorting out my lights when the start begins. I hop on my bike and take off with the main group. After a couple of miles we are split up by a small climb. A fast group takes off in the front and I am still with the main group. At one point we are flying downhill on a road with full tree cover. At about 30 miles an hour all I can see is the spot of light in front of me from my light and dozens of blinking red lights. Amazing! If I am doing anything at 530am I would want it to be this.

At the first pit stop, at mile 22 or so, I look at my computer and my average speed is 18 MPH. This is damn fast for me, my 'fast' training rides were at about this speed, but for only 25-30 miles. I have 178 left. I decide to not pace with the main group. Here we also drop our lights and warm clothes in marked paper bags. The organizers kindly shuttle this stuff ahead to the second to last stop, where we will be needing them again for nightfall.

The first big climb of the day was up the infamous Mt. Tamalpais. 2500 feet to the top where we check-in, turn around and descend. Astounding views of San Francisco, the ocean, and the mountain ranges from our position above the fog line. During the descent, and some time after, we hit fog and cold weather. Damn the crazy bay area weather! Eventually I will be sweating in 90 plus heat, but at this time, around mile 50, I am almost shivering. Like I have said before, when you spend hours and hours on a bike, outside, you truly experience every change in the environment.

Around mile 80 I ended up chatting with two women in their forties. Turns out they have both ridden many tough centuries and other hard rides. We formed a pace line and chatted away. They were so impressed that this was my first double and only my second organized ride! Eventually we caught another group and about 8 of us paced together. Riding at about 21-22 MPH on flat we picked up some miles quickly. I held my own at the front for many of them, but our group split up at the next big climb.

These organized rides are ‘supported’, meaning that food, drinks, minor mechanics, and first aid is available at a number of pit stops along the way. My problem is that I hang out there too long eating and drinking! Vegan food is abound usually in the form of pb/jelly sandwiches, clif bars, fruit, bagels, fig newtons, Gatorade, granola bars and hammer gel (yum!). The lunch pit stop was stocked with veggie burritos and one of the last ones had figs, one of my new favorite fruits.

I spent a lot of midday on my own. This included a ridiculously steep climb at mile 130. It was one of those climbs, in the open sun, where you have trouble turning your pedals over in the easiest gear. I was standing for a lot of it. My legs are aching, as is my lower back, and I am regretting my early morning pace. ‘Why the hell am I doing this?’ I hate riding uphill. I much prefer riding downhill and/or with tailwinds! If there was ever a lazy person who did a double century it is me. At the next stop I realize we are on the same course as the metric double century (125 miles) riders and I try not to turn my nose up to those doing fewer miles.

Around mile 150 I am feeling sluggish in even keeping a fast pace on flat. I am seeing fewer and fewer riders and my motivation is low. My mind is searching for something new to think about! I force myself not to stare at my computer and calculate my pace, miles to go, etc. Around 175 I meet up with a guy I had talked to briefly earlier and we start riding together. Not pacing, simply riding side by side. It turns out that it is his first double, but he just ran the SF marathon the previous weekend! We end up riding together the rest of the day (and into the night!).

At the mile 186 stop we meet the guy responsible for the course. He is ecstatic that this is our first double and tells us that we will be hooked. Yeah too late my friend. It’s great when someone involved in an inherently exclusive hobby is not exclusive to who does it and actively encourages others to participate. After that we had one last climb before a descent and some flat to the 200 mile mark. But, as always, I was having gear problems. My light was going in and out and my friend’s battery died. We had my back-up commuter light, but in the pitch blackness it was little help on the descent. Luckily someone with two LED lights caught us and led the way to the end point. 200 miles in 16 hours and 42 minutes. I was shooting for 15, but what are you going to do? I finished within the cut-off time of 17, so I was happy.

06 August 2004

Signed up for a double century, wtf?

About 6 weeks ago I committed to doing a double century (200 miles in one day, under 17 hours) on August 7th in Marin County (across the golden gate bridge from SF). I trained as much as someone like me could train. I had a hill day, an interval day, and a long day each week. My new riding buddy, Matt Pro, and I did Los Angeles to San Diego in one day- about 165 miles- two weeks ago. I feel good, but I don’t have a lot to compare it to.

Anyway, I flew up to Northern California on Tuesday for a conference for work on Wed/Thur. Which, in itself, was a fun time. Oh wait! My 10-year streak of not paying for taking my bike on a plane was broken! I was lazy and didn’t measure my boxes and got called out. She actually measured my boxes! One 7 inches over and the other 4 (length plus height plus width). I was able to talk my way into just paying for one oversized box; $45. Much better than the $80 for bike or $90 for two over-sized boxes. I really cannot complain since I didn’t have to pay for my flight.

All week I have been back and forth between Sacramento and Davis. Davis is amazing! I have eaten at least a dozen and a half figs STRAIGHT OFF THE TREE. My friends Tim Radak and Temra Costra are urban scavengers (and wonderful hosts!). Amazing. And last night I went to a bar because Tim's housemate's boyfriend was performing with someone else named Ben as 'The Benjamins'. In dramatic fashion I am waiting in line for some food and this kid with a beard and dreads asks me if my name is Matt. I say yes and he responds. 'Yo its Ben Lewis! From high school!'. Yeah. A friend from high school I haven’t talked to in 7 years. He lives in Davis and was the other Ben in 'The Benjamins'. And, randomly enough, his older sister was in town visiting from Monterrey. She made reference to me at her prom. Crazy!

Now it is 1015pm. I have to be up in 4.5 hours to drive to the start of the ride one hour away. Check-in is at 430am. I am super nervous. Can I climb 15,000 feet in one day? Will I be able to finish in 17 hours? Will my bike hold up? My knees? I am unsure what to expect. I just made a mixed CD for the rental car ride and am staring at my bike all ready to go. We'll see what happens. I will post as soon as I get back to Davis. The car ride back here might be rough, but that's what coffee is for. Good night.

31 May 2004

The hike of bike to hike San Gorgonio

The night at approx 8000ft was chilly, but I slept well in my zero degree bag. I slept well, that is, until the pack of boy scouts came tramping in super loud around 12am. These little brats decided to set-up camp practically on top of my tent. I was still up early; I wanted to summit and get back down and be on my bike back to the train before dark.

I got packed up and was on the trail before the OC guys. The weight of my pack was wearing on me and I was starting to feel the altitude. It was not affecting my head yet, but the thin air was making it hard to breath. Being a Saturday morning each viewpoint was (nearly) filled with day hikers and the rest of us who had camped at one of the three campsites. The sites were beautiful and the effort needed to keep climbing was extraordinary; both of which I was looking forward to. But, I really don't like hiking that much. It is so slow! On a bike you can coast or speed up with minimal effort. Not so with hiking! About 6 years ago I was talking about hiking the Appalacian Trail. Boy am I glad I am over that nonsense.

Near the top my pace is slowing considerably. I am being passed constantly. At a fork about 300 vertical feet from the summit I decide to leave my pack. My head is aching a bit and I know it is going to get worse the longer I stay up. Picking up my pace, I soon arrive at the busy summit. Maybe hiking is more about the destination than the journey? I was happy to be there and look down in every direction.

Going downhill is not much easier than going up AND it is harder on your knees. I am going slow, being passed, etc and then I took a long break at one of the viewpoints. The OC guys ask me if I am feeling okay and I respond honestly. They say I should hike with them just to be safe. It ends up they are training for a climb up Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in California. We are chatting away about gear, etc and they tease me about my antiquated water purification method (iodine tablets). I should also mention that my feet are destroyed! Hiking in cycling socks is not a good idea. By the time I am back in LA I'll have 6 blisters, some of which are quarter size.

Meanwhile I am being challenged to stay on pace. When I am cycling it is hard to push myself to where I am uncomfortable. But I was at this point hiking down this mountain. Crazy thoughts start to go through your head about motivation. 'Why would anyone do this?' 'What the hell was I thinking?' Looking back I understand better the importance of mental preparation. When this type of situation arises I bet most people talk themselves out of things they are capable of. Amazing!

Eventually we get down to the parking lot. I am stoked that my bike is still there. I hadn’t mentioned that I had ridden my bike there. Suddenly these guys thought I was the macho one doing ridiculous feats. I laughed and told them how riding was the easy part. Then they laughed at me when I unloaded my pack and panniers, bike shoes, and a pump came out.

I cruised the 25 mile downhill at dusk and then into dark. I went back to Jen's since I missed the last train to LA, but it was probably for the better. We cooked some food and I crashed out. Next day back to LA and then back to work.....

30 May 2004

Ride from LA to hike San Gorgonio

After two months of having a real job and working regular hours I was itching to get away. I finally was able to do the 120-mile, 11,500ft bike to hike trip I been sleepin on for about 2 years.

After the usual pack till 3am the night before routine, I left Los Angeles at about 1130am, heading east. I had put on a front rack with panniers and I strapped my hiking pack to my rear rack. Unfortunately the 70 miles from LA to Loma Linda are not very interesting. Basically flat and easy and not much to look at. When people say LA is ugly with strip malls and industry they are really talking about the suburbs east of the city that span the whole 70 miles I rode. My neighborhood in downtown is much greener and nicer! I ended up in Loma Linda at my friend Jen Heine's house in about 6.5 hours (5 hours pedaling).

When bike touring a 3-day trip requires almost the same amount of stuff as a 30 day trip! All of the bike and camp basics plus I needed my hiking pack and boots. At night we sessioned the Redlands market which was a regular event for me when I lived out there before I crashed out on her floor.

Friday I woke up early, got some coffee and started on my 20 mile, 5200 foot climb to the mountain town of Forest Falls. If you live in the so cal area please go visit the San Bernardino Mountains. Fantastic scenery! This unrelenting climb is one of the hardest I have ever done. It parallels the hardest climbs we did in Mexico two years ago. At the edge of town is the trailhead for the Vivian Creek trail to the summit of San Gorgonio mountain. A 7.2 mile hike that gains 5300 feet (up to 11,500 ft).

Why this hike? Two years ago my friends, Jen Heine (same one) and Tim Radak, and I decided to climb this in one day. I was set on riding to it then, despite my ill preparation. I read that to summit you need to leave the trailhead by 7am to make it back before dark. Realizing I would have to leave at 330am to ride there in time I decided against it. That trip was a nightmare anyway! We ended up not leaving the parking lot till 10am or so and racing up to the summit. Jen and I soon started falling behind Tim. Then we both began showing symptoms of altitude sickness: dizziness, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, suppressed analytical skills, and blurred vision. We were in bad shape! I had thrown up everything I had eaten and Jen's vision was blurry. Then she hurt her knee!

This story is so ridiculous it is almost embarrassing. It was starting to get dark, Tim was no where to be found and then I lost the map. The batteries in Jen's flashlight dies. We lose the trail. I go and look for help and cannot find the people I swore I just saw. Jen is mumbling about setting a fire so the helicopters can see us. My head is pounding from the elevation. Eventually we find the trail and I help her walk on her hurt knee. After hours of stumbling in near darkness (I had a headlamp) we make our way back to the trailhead. Where is Tim? There is a note from him that he left to go let his dog out (1 hour away) and that he would be back at midnight to see if we were still there. What time was it? 1230am. We could not believe it. By this time it is freezing out and we were not prepared for the night. We ended up making a bed of leaves in the women's bathroom and spooning all night to stay warm. Got a ride back in the morning to end our disastrous trip. So I wanted to do this climb right.

Chillin in the parking lot I unpack my panniers and load EVERYTHING into my hiking pack. I reluctantly lock up my bike to a gate and start hiking. The first mile of the trail is out of a valley and is STEEP. I am stumbling with my heavy ass pack. When was the last time I hiked with so much stuff? I could not remember. It took me 3 hours to go the 2. 5 miles to halfway camp. I set-up camp and was hanging out with a couple of guys from OC who hike often. They volunteered to hang my food with theirs, giving me the opportunity to go to sleep around 930pm. Exhausted!