For my 107th and Vince's 35th Triple Crown Event we were really anticipating and excited about doing this ride on the tandem. I have always wanted to try it tandem even knowing how tough it is.
We did many events in the 90’s that were this tough and even tougher on the tandem which included the infamous 93 Tour of Two Forests (new Heartbreak Course due to the giant land slide on the highway from Ojai over Pine mountain), where 26 of us finished out of around 300.
This one would turn out pretty tough.
The day before the event we found out that there was a fire in Julian so we were worried about whether the ride would be canceled or not. We also heard about some high wind warnings issued for Borrego Springs.
We found out at the very last moment that the ride would continue but the much anticipated climb from Santa Isabel to Julian and the awesome decent down Banner Grade to the finish would be cut out of the ride. We instead were going to return on Hwy 79 North and make our way back up the way we came out of Borrego Springs in the morning.
I was kind of disappointed but I thought that it would be cool going down Montezuma in the other direction for a change. (I changed my mind drastically on that later as you will read).
I really love that return on Banner grade and thought it would be real nice on the tandem because it is not too steep but long. Perfect for a tandem.
We arrived in Borrego Springs late in the afternoon on Friday and got a camping spot in the State Park. Real nice, clean camping place. We loved it.
We went out to dinner, checked in for the ride the following morning and retired for the night in the van.
It was a beautiful, star filled and windy night and we didn’t get much sleep. It got kind of cold too so I was a little worried about the morning because the forecast earlier in the week was for it to be cool but not that cold.
|We had a little toast of wine after dinner for good luck.|
We got up and had coffee at 3am, ate our hard boiled eggs and cookies that the ride organizer Anny gave everyone for breakfast and then we got ready.
We started the ride at around 4:20am in cool breezy conditions.
Right out of the start we come across our first climb. Montezuma Grade. The grade is about 11 miles long and I would say somewhere about 6-8% grade.
|Lower section of Montezuma from Google Earth|
The climb up Montezuma Grade was spectacular as always and extra challenging this year. Not only because we were doing it on a tandem but mother nature had something in store for us that none of us expected but we were worried about because of the forecast. WINTER WEATHER in May!!
Now, as many of my friends know, I actually like riding in cold weather to a certain extent. I loved last November’s cold Borrego event although I was kind of cold at times and did very well. I have trouble in hot weather. Must be my Swiss heritage.
Wind is what I hate.
As we got about 1/3 of the way up the grade we started getting blasted by nasty 20-30 mph head/cross winds and they continued all the way to the summit. I was glad I was on a tandem because our extra weight really helped us and it did not slow us down too much. It was just hard to keep the bike in a straight line. We heard later that some of the single riders actually got blown off the road!
As it started getting light we noticed that it was real clear to our east but we had some clouds blowing over the top of the mountain ridge which we were climbing up to. The clouds were just motivating over the ridge at high speed in the wind and then dissipating as the moisture was just sucked out of them by the desert air. It made for a spectacular sunrise.
|Just about to see the sunrise and a tiny break from the wind as we head more east on the climb.|
|There it is! Feeling some moisture in the wind. Where is it coming from?|
Plowing into the wind, we went, as we got closer to the summit. We saw our friend Kermit who was driving one of the sag support vehicles drive up to us and he told us it was about 3 miles to the summit.
We then noticed that, even though it was clear, we were feeling raindrops. Strange....Hmmm!
Then as we got closer we notice that there were real dark clouds beyond the summit and not long after that a beautiful rainbow appeared that went all the way across the sky from ground to ground on both sides. We took a picture but could only get some of it in.
|The summit in the distance to the left and we are getting rain!|
The closer we got to the top the wetter we started getting. Then we crested the top and arrived at the first check point in Ranchita. We got food, put on our rain jackets, full fingered gloves and leg warmers on and started the awesome decent down to Hwy 79. It was 40 degrees at the top and we got sleeted on for awhile on the way down, then it just turned to rain. It was not too bad though. It was the cold on our hands that was somewhat unpleasant.
We turned left on Hwy 79 with Chuck Bramwell, (The Triple Crown Guy) and rode with him until we reached Mesa Grande, our next climb.
Mesa Grande rises above Lake Henshaw to the South of the lake and is a short but fairly steep climb with spectacular views of the lake to the North. Then once the summit of the mesa is reached it is just rolling hills until the decent back to Hwy 79 again. The Mesa Grande section is about 11.8 miles then 1.9 miles to the second check point, Santa Isabel and the best apple pie on earth!!
We had a great time climbing the mesa. We rode for about half of it with Chuck although he crept up ahead of us since we were slow climbing on the tandem.
Just before we reached the section of the downhill after going over some cattle guards, (and there were a lot of cattle up there), we noticed the front tire was getting squishy. I was just thinking at that time that the last couple of climbs seemed harder than normal. We had a flat tire.
We took a while fixing it and just relaxed a little then headed back down the road. We saw some friends go by while we were fixing it and said hi.
We were about the 17th bike to reach CP2. We were still cold but feeling pretty good. The weather was clearing up nicely. We had some apple pie, filled up our bottles with fuel, sat down for some time and then took off for the next section.
The next section on Old Julian Hwy was really nice and fast. We were just smoking fast on this section. I think we passed about 6 people on this section before dropping down to the Escondido area and Elfin Forest. (I never realized there was a place like this and a town in the area with that name. They even have their own fire department.) Beautiful ride down the Elfin Forest decent.
We then came into the town of San Marcos for check point 3. This was a great stop. The volunteers manning the rest stop were all dressed up like they were out of the 1960’s.
A great stop. We hung out for way too long again but these guys were great to talk to and we had a great time there.
|Check Point 3, San Marcos. These are some real studs in this picture!!! Photo courtesy of Robert Choi with the lead group of racers!|
Onward we went into the Palomar area. For most of the section from check point 3 to the lunch stop in Oceanside, we rode along with two of the owners of “Volagi Bicycles”. Really nice people. That bike is now on my wish list! (That is one with Robert Choi in the above picture. Notice it has dual disk breaks!)
We stayed together on the flats and descents but we really had to work to catch them after we hit some lights and some hills. (the hills really slowed us down)
Past Lego Land we went and down to the coast in Carlsbad. We had a real nice, hammer-fast spin on PCH then hit lunch in Oceanside.
Lunch was fantastic!! Made to order sandwiches on all natural breads from a local bakery. It was great and again we sat around too long but were glad we did. That was the best sandwich I have had in years on a ride!
Vince and I left lunch feeling full, maybe too full, and satisfied.
In less than a half mile we were on the San Luis Rey River Bike path. We were on the path for about 7 miles and we averaged around 20 mph for that section. The food started kicking in!
We now were on the course I had done so many times on this ride as well as the Camino Real Double. The only difference on this one is that we ride directly east on West Lilac and Lilac roads into the Valley Center area instead of coming back to the coast through Fallbrook. When its really hot, this is where the ride really begins! Mostly climbing and real warm in this area. Beautiful area though.
|Way above and crossing over Interstate 15 on Lilac Road. Looking South toward San Diego|
We rode mainly by ourselves all through the rolling hills of the Valley Center area before dropping down Cole Grade to Check Point 5 in Pauma Valley. That was an insane decent on the tandem!! 9% and I was on the brakes most of the time. There are pot holes in some hidden places and I didn't want another flat, especially while going 40+mph on a bike.
I had a soda, some chips, some fruit, finished off and replenished my protein enriched Perpetuem Energy Drink, sat around a little then we hit the road for what I think is the toughest climb of the ride.
|Mount Palomar in the distance. 10% grade.|
The 5 mile climb up to the foot of Mount Palomar. This one killed us. It is always hot on this one but this year it wasn't too bad. It is just an unrelenting 8-10% for the first 3 miles or so. Doing it tandem just made it tougher 3/4 of the way into a double century event. We stopped 5 times on the way up!! I guess the fueling was not enough at the last stop.
At the top we put our cool weather cloths back on and started the great rolling section to Lake Henshaw, this time approaching from the West.
Although we were not doing too well on the climb to get to this point, we were really smoking this part. In the three other years I did this event, I don't ever remember even getting close to getting to Lake Henshaw this fast. We were just flying on the rolling hills. TANDEM COUNTRY!!
|Lake Henshaw...looking North toward Warner Springs|
That is when it happened. I started to BONK!!
I started to get a little dizzy, then my stomach felt weird and then my head felt weird.....I just felt weird....I am weird! I know the signs too well. The brain starts going first
We got off the bike for about 10 minutes. I finished the rest of my Perpetuem, ate a bunch of Cliff Blocks and the last half of a Peanut Butter and Honey sandwich then we rolled.
We were real slow on the next 3-4 mile climb over a small summit before we bombed down to Santa Isabel again for the final check point. (which was the same as the 2nd check point)
I was shivering now and had to put my rain jacket over the top of everything else. It was getting cold.
I had a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup and the chills stopped. Then one of the volunteers made me a hot Mocha Coffee. WOW did that taste and feel good going down. Now I felt great! I think the food from the BONK stop near Lake Henshaw was now kicking in.
We watered up and hit the road for the final 34 miles or so.
Now we retraced the course on Hwy 79 to the roads we traveled over Montezuma Grade in the morning.
This section on Hwy 79 was very stressful for me and not fun at all. There is no shoulder and there was a lot of holiday traffic, plus, it was dark now. I was having quite a bit of difficulty with torque steer on the tandem trying to keep it straight on the narrow shoulder. Scary with the traffic. I never used to have that problem with Vince on the back and I don't have it with Ginny, my wife, on the back. We used to train much more on the tandem in years past. I think his legs have just gotten so strong that he is really cranking down on the pedals and not spinning as much as he used to. It is the only thing I can think of. The "Very Stiff" Cannondale frame just wants to turn with his every stroke.
On our way up 79 we saw the only other tandem on the ride. Team "RoHo-Tiger". Roland Hoffman and Teresa Beck. Two close ultra friends. Teresa did her screaming growl as they passed going the other way. They started later than us and we heard when at the check points that they were trying to catch us. They most likely would have if they didn't have bike problems.
We finally got to the turn up the hill toward Montezuma. We had a 11 mile climb to the summit then about an 11 mile decent into town for the finish in Borrego. This section was great. We had a tail wind, it was nice and cool, the stars were awesome and there was a nice large road shoulder. We climbed this section real fast and were slowly catching some of the single riders way up ahead. We made it to the top and caught about 3 people just about at the summit.
The last section is arguably the toughest decent I have had to do on the tandem. As we reached the top, it was so cold that the steam from my breath looked like a fog bank forming in front of us as the wind carried it ahead of us. Strange!
We hadn't realized how strong the winds were since they were behind us the whole way up. On the decent, I was heavy on the brakes and half expected for my wheels to melt under the braking load. Good thing it was cold out!!
It was so dark that I had to be real careful even with my great lights. It was mainly because of the cross winds. Each corner was scary as hell. I don't know if we just hit it at a bad time, or what, but the winds seemed worse than in the morning. We came around one corner and were doing close to 30 mph. The wind almost stopped us in our tracks....ON A TANDEM! I had to downshift into a lower get and we stood into it before the next hairpin.
To make a long story short, I almost had to pry my hands off the brake levers at the bottom because they were just cramped into the lock down position.
We made the right turn at the bottom of the hill and we were done.
Wheeww...That was....an Ordeal!
Start time: 4:20 am
Finish time: 10:45 pm
My computer battery ran out about 16 miles short of the finish so the elevation gain is close but we ended up with about 15,600 feet of gain on the day for the altered course.
A very large Kudos go out to Anny Beck as well as all the volunteers for doing such a great job of taking care of us on this very challenging day.