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Malibu Grand Tour 1995

A story by Richard G. A. Bone
This story was taken from the Eurobike list with the authors permission.

Greetings Eurobikers, here's a tail of manic Californian madness.

Out here, "Century Rides" are popular. You basically ride 100 miles under 'touring' conditions. It's not a race. Food and mechanical support are offered at set points and a route is chosen for you. They're good ways to get to know a new area.

Double Centuries (200 miles) are rarer, but gaining popularity. Here's a description of my 4th D.C., 3rd this year, and most manic ride in CA, to date. [Those bored with bland tales of hills and roads, skip to the bottom.]

Enjoy ... [I didn't, obviously]

Richard


The Grand Tour ('Double'), June 24th-25th, 1995 - My Story

- Or -

Why You Should Carry a Chain-Tool

I just came back from riding the 37th L.A. Wheelmen "Grand Tour". The T-shirt points out, in Californian parlance, that "It's a Double, Dude" and it's a garment I'll be proud to wear. Here's how it went, for me:

I checked in at the Start/Finish and was posed the question "'Traditional' or 'Lowland' route?" The choice involved an extra 4,000ft of climbing, but as the total was still pretty meager, I plumped for the hillier 'Traditional' course.

I and headed out on to the road at 5:57 am. The Pacific Coast Highway ("PCH" to the cogniscenti) was smothered in fog and even though it was half an hour after sunrise, lights were necessary for a while. I reassured myself that the fog would dissipate later on and the return route would afford lovely coastal views. For now, another cyclist, Mike, joined me, asking if I knew his friend who hadn't shown up. Negative. Anyway he was a "local", one of the L.A. Wheelmen. He described what the roads were like on a better day. I took off my glasses to improve my view. After about 15 miles, the Wheelman commended me on my pace and said he would let me go on ahead, immediately before contradicting himself by taking off to join some other riders who'd just passed us. I saw him at intermittent intervals during the day.

The route left PCH after 25 miles to follow the perimeter of the Mugu Naval Air Base, along the imaginatively named Navalair Road. At mile 34, in Pt. Hueneme, there came the first feeding station and a place to drop off lights, etc. also. It remained cold and dank.

We headed into the Interior. Relieved of battery-pack and upper- body garments, progress was swift at first, though a little chilly as the fog extended inland. Soon, up the Portrero Valley, structure to the fog layer could be seen and knollish hills came into view. Two short climbs ensued; billed as the "hardest of the ride", they cannot compare with, say "The Wall" of TUC (Ferndale, CA) fame, but they tested my knees and caused me to arrive at the second summit gasping. This was the rubicon; out of the blanket of featureless sea fog, we were now under the relentless rays of the sun. I removed my thermal top (which I normally wear all year around) and put on shades. Another rider had stopped; she had flown from Boulder, CO, to do this, her first "double". It made me feel slightly better for having driven 412 miles to do it. We rode together for a short while before I made some distance on a subsequent climb. We were in ranch country. I thought of Ronnie and Nancy, eking out their days in not dissimilar pastures nearer to Santa Barbara.

We then wound through countless suburbs, from Thousand Oaks, up towards Simi Valley. Sure enough, we passed right in front of the driveway to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. I joined another rider; she, Stephanie, had only come from Long Beach, Orange County, was also an intended "Triple Crown Dude", and had done the Grand Tour before. Apparently it could be even hotter than it was now. We coalesced with another group of cyclists and played an unintentional game of leapfrog; I would be impatient with the pace up each of a series of rises, and break away to the crest watching the gap widen through my mirror, only to see them storm past me a third of the way down the other side. My lack of critical (bio)mass not serving me well in this respect. And so on, over all the undulations until the 2nd feeding station at mile 79. It was just after 11 am.

I somehow thought that the feeding stations were spaced farther apart than on other rides, e.g., Davis, D.C. But anyway, I couldn't summon up much appetite, due to the heat. At this point, it was getting to be on the hotter side of pleasant. I lay down in the sun and dreamt -- of what I can't recall, but I woke with a start after about 10 minutes, "only" remembering that I was in the middle of cycling a "double". I gave my number to one of the "Staff Dudes" (as his T-shirt casually stated) who was checking riders' progress.

It was 36 miles to "lunch". Better eat something; I reluctantly took a banana; it was long past that time in the season where I'd lost patience with them. I figured on 2 hours to make this next section but I did not figure on the sun. Heading out of Simi Valley, we took the quiet rural Grimes Canyon. A week ago I had cursed the mid- 40's around Lake Tahoe and looked forward to a nice warm ride. Now, the heat was withering. I dallied a couple of times for water. There was a neat little descent with views of bizarre undulating terrain through the haze. On to South Mountain Road, through some orchards. And there was the sudden, irresistible urge to hang out in a shady spot for a while. A concerned SAG wagon pulled over and I gratefully topped up my water supply.

Soon we came to Santa Paula. It was definitely too hot to enjoy any bodily motion. I noticed the "heavier" cyclists pull over at a gas station. I joined them. We were at the 100 mile mark and I had 7 hrs on the clock. Slower than I had hoped, but my pace had really slowed in the last section. I was feeling a little queasy and the thought of anything sweet, sugary or what I really needed was not uplifting. I solved the problem with a bottle of grapefruit juice; for once, "the business". So, "Do you get used to the heat?", I asked one of the others, whose jersey sported a SoCal club logo (I forget which one now). "You never really get used to it" came the fatalistic reply. That was comforting.

Another long climb up Ojai road was ahead. I stopped once more before a water-stop at a park demanded another pull-over. Stephanie and a friend showed up. There were 4 more miles of climbing, with some shade afforded by the trees. At the summit was a Fire Station. Stephanie pointed out the hose-pipe, which proved some more useful relief.

Having descended the remaining 7 miles to the Ojai lunchstop it was nearly 3 pm, so the previous section had taken over 3 and a half hours' riding time. The pasta/savoury lunch was a welcome offering though it was still difficult to force down more than a sandwich and some pasta salad. I took a 15 minute siesta. Numerous people were quitting the ride at this point and being sagged back to Malibu. I convinced myself that it would not come to that with the simple observation that it was a mere 25 miles back over the hills to the coast then 60 miles straight down PCH to the finish. A breeze!

By the time I left lunch, at about 3:30, the heat seemed more bearable and the most irritating thing initially was the number of STOP signs to obey on the quiet suburban route out of Ojai. The main climb back to the coast was on Hwy-150, supposedly closed to traffic. Desires to use the whole road were soon quashed when the first of many high-speed sports cars hurtled past. The climb was pretty evenly-graded and, although unsheltered from the cruel sun, was a battle fought and won with confidence. I passed only a handful of riders on this desolate stretch of road.

The first glimpse of the coast was instantly disappointing. The fog had remained there all day. Out came the thermal top again. At the Milie 139 rest stop I saw Mike again, for the first time since the morning. He had found his friend and was now waiting for him to cope with some mechanical difficulties. More sweet things to eat which I did my best to avoid and I checked the time: it was after 5pm; my hopes of finishing the ride in daylight were diminishing.

I set off swiftly down Hwy-101 for 5 miles. That was a fast way to do 5 miles but all the better for being over and on a quieter stretch of parallel bike-path and road. It was 25 miles on the flat to the last feeding station where my lights were. No problems. My pace slowed up somewhat, probably due to lack of food during the day so far (I had eaten less than I normally do on a century) and I grabbed a PowerBar from my saddle-bag. The battle to get the wrapper off and successfully consume small bite-sized chunks of it distracted me for a few miles. The terrain was dull as we approached Oxnard Beach. Is there really any life between the Freeway and the Sea?

Mile 158, I was counting them now. Harbour Blvd., a relatively busy road with a narrow shoulder. Some softness at the front. Flat tire. My first since the 4-in-a-day personal record, last October. That's not bad, really. The fix was pretty straightforward, though all the people I'd left behind at the last rest-stop now overtook me, one by one. Offending piece of glass removed, new tire in place (no time to fix the hole now, better to get going and make the most of daylight) I was back on the road. It was now after 7pm.

Mile 161 and not far now to the feeding station; it was getting cold and I wanted my other top. Harbour Blvd. became Channel Islands Blvd. More softness at the front? Another flat! I pulled over on the Channel Bridge. Was it the same one again? I couldn't find the new hole -- suddenly I saw a sag wagon and gesticulated wildly with both hands. The driver waved back and drove on. I jumped up and down and he pulled over in a place which would probably get him a ticket. I wanted to know if he had any tubes, but we didn't speak the same language. This took some effort getting across, but one was found. We moved off the bridge so it would be more convenient to set things up. I found the new hole, of unknown cause, benefitted from use of a track-pump and headed off again. It was nearly 8pm and darkness was noticeable. 3 miles to the feeding station.

There was a premature end-of-ride atmosphere here. Everybody looked tired, dirty and weather-beaten. People were quitting and finding other ways of postponing the start of the last 35 miles. I related my tale of 2 flats in 3 miles. Stephanie generously gave me another spare inner tube. Another rider optimistically pointed out that "these things usually happen in 3's". I installed the lights on my bike whilst some noodle-soup was cooling, then it was time to go.

I set out alone, and soon regretted it, facing the night unaccompanied. It was already dark and I cursed my luck. The route out through Hueneme back past the Mugu Naval Air Station and on to PCH was tedious and uneventful. It was very dark and that's about all I remember. The 6W halogen bulb I'd fortunately brought did a good job. I regretted not being able to see my odometer.

The psychological trick here was to think of things in small sections. The first target was to make it to PCH (10 miles). For a brief time I thought I saw two cyclists' red-flashers up ahead, but I never caught them.

On PCH, it was a question of bracing oneself for the long haul. It was pitch black. On the left hand side was an impenetrable void of steep rising backdrop; on the left there was the audible thunder of pounding waves but with no visibility of breakers. It was surreal. The cars sped by relentlessly in both directions. One of the "Quad" riders pulled past, with personal sag wagon "in tow". The blinking lights receded up the coast gradually. I was alone again.

.Mile 180: After 5 miles of PCH, I began feeling bumps in the road; my back wheel went flat pretty quickly. (The fast ones are the best). It was totally dark, apart from car headlights. There was very little shoulder. I turned the bike over on the embankment of pebbles which served as the coastal edge roadside barrier. I used a 2W halogen bulb as guiding light. I tried to arrange things neatly so that I wouldn't lose anything. I was suddenly now grateful of Stephanie's spare tube and was just on the point of installing it when she showed up with 3 other cyclists. They obligingly stopped and helped pool some lights for the few minutes it took to put things together again. Patching a tube would have been a miserable experience at that point.

Just 20 miles to go, now. My intended finishing time had gone back now from 10:30 pm to "anything before midnight". I rode with the small group, which included a rider with acute back-aches, for a few miles. Then the group fragmented and I was on my own again for a while. A SAG wagon passed, "The Doors" blaring out, somehow invigorating to the tired cyclist.

I had to stop to pig down some food; just 13 miles to go. In the featureless darkness, the miles drifted interminably by. Then, at the top of a rise, there was the "last water-stop". Actually there was more than water; there was soup and hot chocolate - neither of which was remotely appealing. I spotted some lemon-juice mixture, though, and that really hit the spot. I passed up on the opportunity of a last banana. The occasional "Quad" rider could be seen passing in the opposite direction, private sag following closely behind. There were just 7 miles to go. My spirits were suddenly high. The end was in sight; though not literally.

I set off with three other cyclists and began the last count down. With a little less than 5 miles to go, I consoled myself that if anything went wrong here I could walk the rest. That did not prove to be such an idle thought.

Mile 195: we entered a construction zone of PCH; the pace not being to my liking up a climb, I shifted gear and brought about an almighty clatter from the rear of the bicycle. Of course I stopped, and it soon became clear that I wouldn't have gone very much further anyway. I shone my light on the works. The rear derailleur dangled uselessly in the dirt. One end of the chain trailed free from a frenzied coil of links wrapped around the freewheel. The on-the-spot consensus was that it was the end of the ride for me and the other riders said that they'd inform the Start/Finish people to send a SAG out to get me. So much for that. I was less than 5 miles from being a Triple Crown finisher and I'd just suffered the worst mechanical mishap I'd ever experienced. (It's never happened to me before, honest!)

The traffic poured on past through this narow neck of road. I had to do something. Off came the back wheel again; the chain unwound itself revealing a sheared link. I unbolted the mangled gear-changer from its cable and pocketed it. The gear-cable protruded awkwardly but not dangerously, from its mounting. Now, if only I had a chain- tool ... I reassembled the chainless bike and decided to trudge up the hill. There was nowhere for a sag vehicle to pull over there anyway. Just before the crest, a sag-car drew alongside; not the one I'd requested and with no chain-tool but she kept behind me while I coasted down the other side. I was surprised at how short a distance I managed to freewheel before my momentum was lost. Now I just had to wait. In a well-lit spot opposite a "76"-gas station, I pulled over and leant on my frame. It was already after midnight. Before long, the sag wagon arrived, complete with chain tools aplenty. I took out half a dozen links and made the instant conversion from 12- speed to 1-speed granny-gear and hopped on. I was definitely going to finish now.

Two more small climbs and the Start/Finish beckoned. It was 12:44 am. Hands covered in grease, I went inside to check in. "Rider 193?", the lady said. "You know??", I replied in surprise before remembering that my number was on my helmet for all to see. There was laughter. It had been a long day.

To complete the weekend, the blazing heat inthe Central Valley caused an electrical fault in my car and 3 indicator bulbs blew. That was another $70 to fix, on top of the new gear-changer I'll be hunting for ...

Consolations

  • At least I finished.
  • At least it wasn't as hot as they said it had been last year.
  • At least I got a water bottle (and an inner tube, Thanks, "Stephanie", whoever you are ...) out of it.
  • At least I know which tools are really useful to carry around.
  • And, if nobody objects to the technicality that I trudged a quarter-mile up a hill on foot, at least I'll qualify for the CA Triple Crown, having done the Hemet, Davis and Grand Tour Doubles this year.

    Tips for Future 'Grand Tour' Participants

    Try to start as early as possible - 3:30 is the earliest they allow. That way, you go along PCH in the darkness before dawn: the traffic is very light and if you have any problems, daylight is approaching and you are not so tired that it's a hassle. PCH in the mid-to-late evening is definitely to be avoided. An early start also spares some of the climbing in the heat of midday, on the interior sections.

    I found SAG support and food to be good on this ride, though the rest-stops are much further apart than at, say, Davis.

    Be prepared for weather extremes: chilly coastal fog and searing inland heat.

    Book motels early. Most of the ones in Malibu listed on the ride-form are very expensive and booked up solid.


    Richard Bone
    June 25th, 1995
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