2014 Mulholland Challenge Double Century (The Staff Ride)


The Mulholland Double Century is one of the most difficult events on the California Triple Crown event schedule.
For my 122nd Triple Crown Double, I decided I would do it on my tandem bike. This has been on my bucket list ever since the event was created. I have talked many times to my long time tandem partner and brother in law, Vince, about doing it tandem style. This would be an epic ride on a tandem with over 16,000 feet of elevation gain but all in my own back yard, The Santa Monica Mountains.
This year I have a new tandem partner on the double centuries. Teresa (Tiger) Beck and I did the Knoxville Double Century and The Fall Death Valley Double Century at the end of 2013 and we did the Camino Real Double together this winter. We also have done some very tough training rides tandem and a century ride, (The Tour De Francis), which had 10,000 feet of elevation gain in just under 100 miles.
Teresa is a very experienced and strong rider and has ridden tandem with a number of my friends in the past few years.
This year we had a much larger group than in years past. We opted to schedule the event for a Friday and like last year, as a pre-ride of the course. All doing the ride are members of the staff who will be working the actual Mulholland Challenge Double Century on the second weekend of April.
Along for the ride was a very experienced group of friends and ultra-endurance athletes. 
Our group was comprised of: Julie Stokes, Steven Burns, Kevin Walsh, John Clare, Terri Boykins, Jeff Dewey, Nicole Honda and my stoker Teresa Beck. An unbelievable amount of miles have been ridden by this select group!!!
Our support drivers where Chris Farmer (day shift), Julies husband Colin Stokes (night shift) along with Nicole’s friend Hal Roseman who brought up the rear to sweep follow the last riders in. We had a great crew set up. They volunteered to do this and we all really appreciated it greatly.
4:30am Start. Lots of neon yellow in the group

We all met at Nicole’s house at 4am for a 4:30 am start. We were using her house as the start finish location for logistical reasons since it is right next to the actual event start hotel. This allowed us all a good place to park our vehicles, leave our supplies for later. This would also be our lunch stop since the event goes right by before starting the second loop.
We wanted to start as early as possible since it was on a weekday. The first part of the ride goes up Topanga Canyon from the coast so we wanted to hit that before rush hour. From there on we would be home free with virtually no traffic on the Santa Monica Mountain canyon roads.
We rolled from Agoura Hills east-bound on Agoura road before heading to the coast on Malibu Canyon Road. It was dark with no traffic and our lights were blazing. Right out of the start within about 2 miles Terri got a flat tire. We all waited for her near the Calabasas sheriffs station.

Rolling through Agoura Hills for Malibu Canyon

We were lit up amazingly with reflectors and lights, (as the flash photography will show), as we rolled quickly down to the coast. A fast stretch on the tandem. I was thinking that I better enjoy it while it lasted because things would be getting tough soon enough.
The temperatures going down the first part of Malibu Canyon were in the mid 30's as usual. After we went through the Malibu tunnel the temp went up 15 degrees on the coast.
We made a left turn on Pacific Coast Hwy toward Santa Monica. From there it was a quick spin on flat road to our turn and the first of our climbs, the Two Topanga’s. New Topanga would come first for a climb into the town of Topanga and then Old Topanga which would take us to the town of Calabasas.
These were great “warm-up” climbs for us on the tandem for the beasts that were to come.
Teresa and I headed up Topanga Canyon. I had a new drive train on the tandem with only a couple of rides to break it in. We had to stop many, many times heading up to adjust the cable stretch on the new shifter cable for the rear derailleur. Luckily we had no problem on the steep section going up the canyon. With a double century on each of the previous weekends we had both stayed off our bikes this week leading up to the event. We both felt great on this first substantial climb.
We rolled up and over to Calabasas and made the turn west on Mulholland Hwy.
Water stop at Old Topanga and Mulholland Hwy

Our daytime support driver Chris met us here to start cruising with us with leap-frog support.
The event now took us the entire length of Mulholland to the coast before heading north on PCH including the infamous Rock Store Climb. Almost 30 miles to the coast with one long ten mile descent
After filling up with water at the stop, onward we rolled up Mulholland Hwy. Teresa and I were climbing really strong on the new drive train.....amazingly well. We almost caught everyone while climbing the wall out of Calabasas. Over the top we went for a great descent before starting to climb again after Las Virgines.

The above video is taken by Teresa with my GoPro camera. We are heading down toward Stunt Road and past Cold Creek before dropping to the bottom at Las Virgines.

Up we climbed up and over to Peter Strauss Ranch near the Cornell Winery. We waited there with Kevin, Jeff and John for the rest to catch up. I ate one of my breakfast burritos from the "Feed Zone Portables" cook book....Yum!
The rest of the group did not stop, we waited a few minutes and then headed up the Rock Store Climb. Teresa and I did the entire climb in the middle chain ring with no problem following John and Kevin. I think we had only one car pass us on this climb. (This was one of the main reasons I wanted to do this on a Friday)

Kevin and John chatting as they climb to the summit

The road kicking up

We all stopped at the crows nest for a while before continueing to the coast.
The ride down Mulholland to the coast was beautiful and a breeze. The 10 mile descent on the tandem was great. I was very carful on this descent due to rocks on the turns and such. We pushed it real hard on the straights though.
Heading down Mulholland below the Westlake Blvd. turn. Photo by John Clare
A gorgeous day on the Pacific Coast Hwy. Ventura County Line, one of my old favorite surfing spots
 We turned up PCH into Ventura County to our next turn, Yerba Buena Road, right next to County Line Beach and the famous Neptune’s Net restaurant.
We stopped for a support break, got out of our warm outer layer then headed up another tough climb, Yerba Buena. Teresa and I did this climb faster than I did it on my single bike last year I believe.
About a 3 mile climb to our next turn on Cotharin. Yerba was a steady but not too steep climb but Cotharin is the first real beast of a climb as far as grade percentage is concerned. Much of it toward the bottom is around 12-16%. I was glad I had the low gears on the tandem. We did not quite have all the cable stretch out of the drive train so we hoped we didn't get any skipping on this beast.
We stopped at the turn on Cotharin and there was our SAG driver Chris serending us with his guitar!

Talk about cool support......serenading the participants.....Nice!!
Cotharin became Pacific View then Deer Creek at the summit.This was when I dropped it in the lowest gears for the first time. This was a beautiful climb, maybe the most scenic on the ride with the beautiful rocky mountains right ahead of us and the winding road down below. We both looked straight up and saw John and Kevin way up there.
The view from Cotharin Road

The view from Cotharin Road

Taken from halfway up looking down at the valley below where we started the climb. You can just see a speck of one of the riders coming up down below. It was a grunt on the tandem!!

Oh so beautiful. It is hard to believe that this is just a stones throw away from the 16 million people in the Los Angeles vicinity!!

There goes Chris over the first summit
I have done this climb before and I never really realized how it stair stepped up so high. Maybe because on the other occasions that I did the event it was so hot here I was brain dead and just couldn't wait to get over with it. On this day I was really enjoying this climb despite the steepness. We both couldnt believe that was the road way up there.
We descended and climbed on Pacific View through some beautiful ranch properties. Many had signs in there driveways which seemed to be some type of protest against the keeping of tigers for the movies up there.
They don't want Teresa, ( tiger), around their property

Now came the only descent on this ride that scared me. The descent down to PCH on Deer Creek is hard due to speed and steepness on a single bike. I was paranoid about it on a tandem. I just took it easy and kept the speed down ahead of time by trying to pump the brakes. I did not want to ride the front brake which has better stopping power and overheat the rim. A front blowout due to a overheated rim would not end nicely. I have strong brakes but they are mountain bike V-Brakes, not discs. I did not want my wheels to catch fire riding the brakes too much.
The evil Deer Creek Descent

The evil Deer Creek Descent

Just before it reared its evil head
 Unfortunately my plan did not work. It was just too steep and I could not keep the bike slow enough without really staying on the rear brake.
 I decided to stop and check the rim for heat as a precaution and had it slowed down to about 20mph when......KABOOM!!! The rear tire just exploded, the tire and the tube wrapped in the spokes and cassette cogs.....I was riding on the rim with the tire and tube flapping all over the place. I was miraculously able to get the bike stopped without plastering Tiger and I onto the pavement. (this is the first time I will say......We had Angels watching over us on this day)
Chris in the SAG car was right behind us and saw the whole thing happen, in fact, he had just taken a video of us going over the top to start the descent. He almost had this whole thing on camera.
We looked at the wheel and the edge was just destroyed and had sharp spikes of aluminum on the inside and outside of the rim where the tire hooks into the rim. We thought our day was done. The rim was also bent outward making it wider on one section of the braking surface.
We were about half way down. Chris took us down to the bottom of the hill with the bike in the car.

Jeff who had been riding right behind us took a look at the rim and said we could try to file down all the metal burrs enough and then try to see if the spare tire will mount ok. Maybe we could at least ride to a bike store or make it to the lunch stop for repairs. 
A mangled rim

Filing the rough edges with Jeff

Terri heading out while we work on the bike

Steve Burns just being his self

Julie Stokes looking spiffy in her Hoodoo 500 jersey

Jeff steadying the wheel while Chris and I file away at it

After around 30 minutes of work......Lets give this a try

We worked for about 30 minutes or more filing the rim, we got the tire back on. It looked like it was going to work.

The rest of our group headed up the coast for the next major climb and the lunch stop. They were quite a ways ahead of us by now already.

We turned right (north) up the coast highway again and didnt get more than a mile before Teresa notice the wheel was making a lot of noise and Jeff told me to stop. The wheel was totally out of dish and there were multiple loose spokes now. I could also really feel that bad spot on the rim with the brakes. We did some truing along PCH about 5 times before we got it where the wheel would not rub on the rim. Jeff really did a great job. It would have taken me much longer to do the work.

We passed Point Mugu and exited on Las Posas Road. All our friends were way ahead of us and the support vehicle had to stay with them now so we were on our own.
Next climb……Portrero Road…..Uggghhh!!

 (Before we started this climb while rolling up Las Posas Road, Teresa called our friend Kermit from the Los Angeles Wheelmen bike club. He lives in Malibu. She asked him if he had a spare rear wheel we could borrow to finish the ride. He had one that was a nine speed like ours with the same size hub. He said he would meet us at the lunch stop in Agoura to check things out. What an awesome friend!!
Nicole also had called her friend Hal who has a tandem and his wheel was available too. We were not sure of the sizing though so we asked Kermit who was familiar with my bike. (We did have Hals wheel available if we needed it but we found out later that it would not have fit on my bike.)

This is a beast of a climb on any bike especially a tandem.
We started up the lower section near the college and everything was working great as far a the wheel was concerned. We got to the summit of that section, checked the wheel and guess what? The wheel was still true enough....not rubbing the breaks....and only one slightly loose spoke.

One very challenging climb.....on any bike.
We rolled through the little valley on Portrero Road before we had to climb out and up...up...up.

This climb is not too long. It is just very steep and does not really give you a break until you are at the summit. We did not want to torque the rear wheel too much on this section so we geared down in the lowest gear and spun the climb instead of getting out of the saddle and swaying the bike too much.......if you want to call riding at 3-4 mph on the steep section spinning!!
We hooted and hollered as we summit-ed. We hooted again when we saw that the wheel was still doing OK and no loose spokes.

Over the top we went and then up the last kicker on Portrero for a nice stroll through Hidden Valley. The breaks were pretty sketchy on the little descent into the valley.
Jeff looking good through Hidden Valley

We flew through the valley at break neck speed and rolled around Lake Sherwood before entering town again for our lunch stop at about 102 miles in.

We had a great lunch at Nicole’s house before setting back out. Teresa made me a sandwich while Kermit and I check out the bike. Kermit said he could professionally true my wheel up at his place and was going to take it back to Malibu then drop it off to us when we were heading up the coast to our next major climb, Decker Canyon. Decker is in the Malibu area and is only 15 minutes from his house. The braking surface was still an issue though.

Off we went up through Agoura Hills and Oak Park before heading into Moorpark to the summit of Famous Norwegian Grade.
Kermit's wheel was working great but the gearing was a little different from mine.
It was right at this time and across from Oak Park High School that it happened!

I had to down shift for a little hill coming up. The gearing was working great and was shifting fine but something happened. When I shifted, the chain flew past the biggest cog in the rear and right between the spokes and the gear.  Crunch!!!! The pedals stopped, about 9 spokes were just sheered off and the chain was jammed between the gears and the spokes. We could not even move the wheel.

Jeff had a chain tool with him and we had to take the chain apart in two places to get it loose. Then we got the wheel out. 

There is something very wrong going on there.

Putting the chain back together
Teresa made another call to Kermit and told him the situation. He said as soon as he finished the wheel he would bring it to us. It would take him a while though. We relaxed for quite some time, then Kermit came and saved us once again.
Kermit and Jeff. We are ready to roll!!

The wheel was trued perfectly with not even the slightest wobble. The brake was a different issue which I knew was going to cause a major issue on a couple of our final descents later in the day.
We rolled over Kanan Road to Moorpark road and the summit at Norwegian Grade.

 Down..down..down we went on Santa Rosa Road to Camarillo.  A fast one on the tandem but with headwinds at this time of day.The winds were not too bad and we made it all the way to Point Mugu in no time at all.
 (Kermit followed us for some time to make sure we were OK. Chris was finishing up his daytime support duties and handing over the support to Colin, Julies husband. The logistics were kind of crazy. All our gear, food and warm clothes were with Chris. Nicole's friend Hal was going to sweep rear with us. After Chris unloaded the rest of the groups gear with Colin, he back-tracked to meet Hal and gave him our supplies. This all happened in Santa Rosa Valley. )
We said goodbye to Kermit and Chris and thanked them before heading out with Hal in tow.

Now in tandem country it is flat with a minor descent back to the coast so we were flying at an amazing pace. The wheel was rolling real good and we were making up all kinds of time. I think at that point we must have been more than 20 miles behind our friends.

Our awesome support... Hal!!

On to PCH again, south bound, past Mugu rock. We stopped to fill up with water for the climb and put our warm cloths and lights on as well as our reflective leg bands. It was getting chilly and the sun was going down.
Our friends had started the climb up Decker Canyon around 5:30 I think.
The wheel was still looking great!
If we were on schedule we would have missed this sight!


Now……Decker Canyon!! Almost 4 miles of straight up! Decker climbs from slightly above sea level to over 1,500 feet in that 4 miles……woohooo!! Time to gear down and Pace…pace…pace on the tandem. Then it still wasn’t over.
It was getting dark when we got there but still a little light. We dropped into the lower gears and immediately started the 12-17% section of the grade from sea level. There was no traffic on the road which was great. We gutted it out. Jeff went up ahead and said he would meet us at the Decker Fire Station. It was actually really nice climbing in the cool darkness. If we were on schedule, we would be climbing this with the blazing sun baking us from the left all the way up.
To our surprise, when we got to the fire station, Jeff said that he had only been waiting about 5 minutes. I guess we did OK on that climb!
We put our heavy jackets on and turned on to Upper Encinal Canyon. This one is always tough for me even on my single bike on this event. It is not all that steep but it takes a lot out of you.
We made it over with little effort and flew down to our next descent......we were feeling great but getting tired. Teresa was yawning like crazy......the temps were now in the 40's and it was ccccold!!

Only one major climb to go with some shorter ones that still add up in between. The 5.7 mile climb up Piuma Road was the tough one.
We cruised up Mulholland Hwy actually feeling really good. The cold was really making us sleepy as I mentioned before though. We were soaking wet also since it was so damp out.
Piuma was a long slog but just surreal and beautiful. I love this climb in the dark and it is one of my favorite early morning sunrise climbs when I train early in the morning. I kind of wished we could have just sat up there and looked at the awesome view of the city from up on Stunt road but we had to get this thing done.

Once we got down to Mulholland again on the other side, we just flew back. The cold descent woke us both way up.
We found out that the rest of the group had finished around 10pm.

We just hauled up the last few rollers into Agoura like we had just started the ride. I think the long rests while repairing the bike did us good because, other than being sleepy, we felt really strong in the legs.

Hal led us into Nicole's at 12:21pm. Not too bad all things considered. I have had rides back in the old days before getting in ultra shape that took me longer and I did not have mechanical problems or this difficult of course.

When we rolled in Nicole had pizza waiting for us......how awesome it that.....Thanks Nicole!!!

Our...."On bike" time was 14:05. To me that was amazing. Over 16,000 feet of elevation gain on the tandem. This far exceeded what my expectations for the time was.We had over 5.5 hours off the bike I think.

Full Garmin data here: 

 Congratulations to my friends Nicole, Julie, Steven, Terri, John and Kevin for completing such a challenging event.
We could not have done it without the rolling support of Jeff Dewey. Jeff it was great having you along for the ride again. Thanks for all your help.

I just cannot thank our support people enough. 
Chris Farmer, you did an amazing job supporting us under very difficult circumstances during the day.
 Colin Stokes, I only got to see you in the morning and while you were rolling down on the Rock Store descent on your bike ride. Thanks for taking such good care of everyone Friday night. I wish we could have been there too.
Thank you Hal Roseman for all your help from Moorpark to the finish. We had a great time rolling along with you until the wee hours of the morning. We did make a fun ride out of this thing after all.
Thank you to Kermit Ganier for all his help with the rear wheel. You went way overboard as far as helping us so we could limp to the finish. Really sorry about your rear wheel buddy!!! I will make it up to you!

I have to give special kudos to my good friend and rear engine Teresa. You just did an amazing job girl!! You stayed positive the entire time and never even let the thought of not finishing this ride enter your mind. I think we can get through anything now.
Now I really know how you got the nickname......TIGER! 
Thanks to Deb and Brian at Planet Ultra for the great course. Cant wait to actually work the event now and re-live it over again through others. I hope no one else has to go through what we did! 

Finally.....here is a great video by Steve Burns of the event. We can be seen in the first part of the video before that evil Deer Creek did its thing. (You ca n get a good view of our mangled wheel at 4:34 in the video.)


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