Prior to cycling, I never had a sport. Possessing the coordination of a dizzy toddler, basketball and football were never strong suits. I gravitated towards music because it didn't involve objects in flight headed towards my face, save for the odd music stand here and there.
To ride a bike, only a few things are necessary to do well;
- Be tenacious (of which I am capable)
- Stay on the bike (of which I am mostly capable)
So a big initial goal of mine was to ride long distances. I built up the miles little by little until I felt like I could go pretty far. In 2014 I was excited to learn about the LA River Ride, it was right up my alley.
The Los Angeles River Ride is an annual event sponsored by the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition (LABC). It's one of the biggest cycling events of the year in LA. The ride starts in Griffith Park at the Autry museum and can go as far as Long Beach at El Dorado Park. Last year was the first year I completed the full century (100 miles) very soon after my recovery from my mountain bike accident earlier that year. I completed the 100 miles in 6 hours and fifteen minutes. This year, I was primed and ready to get a faster time. 5 hours was a real long shot, it would require a 20 mph average speed. I was going to try my best.
Sunday June 12, 2016
5AM- Wake up and get ready. Breakfast is two fried eggs and a double serving of Bulletproof Coffee. I use grass fed butter and coconut oil blended with whole bean organic coffee made in a French press. Serious caffeination. I carbed up the night before with loads of homemade Filipino food thanks to JP's daycare and drank tons of water. I'm ready to rock.
7AM- Show up at the starting line. This is not a race, just a ride. All the same, there are serious badasses that line up to the front of the line. My plan is to start back a little bit to let them battle it out and find my place in the peloton. The first and only real climb is at the beginning. The infamous Trash Truck Hill.
This really split the group from the climbers to the non-climbers. The hill makes you believe that you're doing well until you realize that the steepest section is still 100 yards away from the top. Then, it's suffering time. We get over the top and it's time to attack the descent. Thirty six miles per hour top speed heading down to Crystal Springs. Time to head out of Griffith Park into LA.
7:30 AM- The riders around me are all very competent and ranged from recreational enthusiasts to lean, mean riding machines. Everyone in my pack is led by a ride Marshall who leads us through Los Feliz and south LA. The goal was to get to the bike path in Vernon that runs along the LA river. We're in the streets of LA and moving along at a good pace. Everyone is courteous, cautious and respectful. Drivers leave us plenty of room. I decide to draft whenever possible behind a couple riding fixed gear bikes from Las Vegas, great people. One of the riders is blasting rock and funk music from their jersey, "Party at Ground Zero" from Fishbone comes on and I'm lit. We rock the streets of LA.
8:30 AM- We hit the river path and my bladder is calling. Maywood park is the first rest stop on the route. I use the port-o-potty and down one of my five half-cup bag of mixed nuts that I brought. The plan was to do as little sugar, bars or gels as possible, depending on how I felt.
The problem is that I split from the group and I'm going solo. Once I hit the path again I am faced with a fierce headwind coming from the ocean. 20 mph is doable but I'm going into the red with my heart rate. Things would be much easier to draft or have a tailwind, but I would either have to catch up with a pack or drag the pace a bit and hope for a pack to catch up that I could squeeze into. I keep the pace up but I'm starting to fade.
9:30 AM- While still on the path I pass a dude who see's me struggling. He offers to pull and inside I say, "Thank GOD." Which came out as "Sure, thanks man!" The guy is a strong rider on a sweet Specialized Tarmac. He pulls for a mile or two while I recover. The idea of drafting is to have your front tire close to the rear tire of the guy in front of you. This reduces wind resistance and makes every pedal turn easier. After a few miles we switch out. We start talking, the guy he was riding with had to take a rest stop, so he was flying solo too. The guy's name was Justin. Very cool cat. We are on our way to Long Beach.
10 AM- Justin and I are chatting it up and having a good time by the time we hit Shoreline village. We stop quickly to refill our water bottles and roll out to Long Beach. The 70 mile riders can turn around and head home but the 100-milers have some more work to do. We roll along the beach on a cloudy, sunless day. While on the beach front I got a signal into my right leg near my knee. Cramp. The early onset of one any way. I slow down the pace and let Justin roll ahead while I spin my legs out and down water. If you shift to an easier gear, your cadence will have to increase to go the same speed but your resistance decreases, relieving the working muscles. Pace is 15-16 mph on the beach front. Time to kiss 20 mph average goodbye. The cramp relieves itself for now and I catch up with Justin.
We hit the San Gabriel River trail north and I eventually find what I'm looking for. A group of beasts. I keep pace with a dude in yellow kit who looks experienced. As a courtesy I ask, "Can I sit on your wheel?" He turns his head and says nothing. I take it to mean, "Sure, I don't care." so I lean in. There are three riders ahead of me, all strong. We push 20-23 mph no problem. It's a breeze. I wanted to take a video but that would be disrespectful and stupid. All your focus is on the wheel in front of you. By the time the train arrives in El Dorado Park there are three more bikes behind me.
10:30 AM- At El Dorado Park, the halfway point. Pretty good hustle down to Long Beach. The cramp in my leg is still lingering as I refill my bottles and chow on some food. Time to head back. The train I was on leaves before me so Justin and I head back and split the work. We stop by Shoreline again and refill our bottles. By this time I'm ravenously hungry. I break my rule and take down about three cookies as well as another bag of nuts. Two bags left, time to roll.
11:30 AM- The two of us are gunning for a higher speed on the way home. The tailwind helps for a while but then my leg cramps return. This time, both legs. I tell Justin to roll ahead while I recover. Granny gear, 90-95 cadence averaging about 17 mph. The 20 mph goal is lost so now we're just trying to get home at a decent time. The way home is painful bouts of cramping followed by spinning my legs and recovering over and over again. The time seems to fast forward. I am on a mission. Pain is my companion and it's just me against the clock. This is the place I like to be. The brain sending me signals to stop and rest and my body putting the weakness aside. This is the challenge. This is where I grow. This is the rare territory I enjoy.
12:30 PM- The pipe dream of being home by now is far away. I'm 75 miles in and there's no going back. We're headed home. I caught up to Justin and we're past the Imperial split. A big group of riders didn't take the split and are heading up the Rio Hondo bike path. Hope that they get back on track. The bike path is under construction at Firestone so Justin and I take a detour. The detour signs are sketchy so we get lost in Cudahy, not fun. Pretty soon we're back on track and headed north again. Justin takes the Maywood stop and I forge ahead. No stops from this point on.
1 PM- Off the bike path and in Vernon. Get into a group of strong riders and we take light after light. It's hard to go fast through the south LA cities so we just chill. I'm toast. I'm praying that the cramps don't come back too strong as we head north up Mission Street.
1:30 PM- Nearly there. I'm on the bike path near the Glendale narrows portion. I break my own rule and stop at the Frogstop in Frogtown by the river. I drain my water and refill, chowing down on my last bag of nuts. All set, time to get home. Sweet relief will be seeing the wife and kid. Up the path I go, the same path I've taken many times that made me fall in love with cycling in the first place. The challenge, the endurance, the strength. I take it all in. I remember what Greg Lemond once said:
I was 1 mph faster this year on average. Next year, maybe 1 more. I'll take it.
2 PM- At the Autry. Completed the ride in 5 hours and 50 minutes of active time as compared to 6 hours and 15 minutes last year. I'm barely able to think straight in the video below:
Monica and JP are there for me. My son gives me a hug. I'm back. I'm safe. I'm tired. I'm happy.
Join me next year, won't you? Here's some pics:
Thanks to the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition for another great event!