You can see photos from our trip here: Flickr
Up until this point I had not ridden more than 65 miles, but when Tim Bomba invited me to ride 140 miles from LA to San Diego recreating his first epic ride to pick up the Endurance Athlete of the Year award I didn't hesitate to agree. If you've never ridden over a century, or are looking for a beautiful scenic ride with a lot of refuel options along the way, this is a great ride to do with a friend or small group. You won't set any land speed records since you must come to a complete, legal stop at stop signs and red lights or else face a moving violation ticket from the aggressive beach police. (Redondo Police have stepped up enforcement towards cyclists in the last few years.) But because you are in urban beach areas there are plenty of places to stop for bathroom rests and water bottle reloading.
Bomba and I hit the road at the crack of January dawn, 6:45am, from my apartment on Culver Blvd near Sepulveda. We dropped the 1/2 mile south to the Ballona creek bike path behind Culver City High School and headed west. The weather was perfect, just over 50 degrees with a small breeze and low moisture. I opted for a base layer, cycling bibs (with a generous application of chamois cream), arm warmers, head kerchief, and cycling jersey and it was perfect for the whole ride, even as it climbed towards 70 during the day.
Exiting the bike path we descended south on Pacific Ave through Playa del Rey. This becomes Vista Del Mar and follows Dockweiler Beach along the coast. There isn't a bike lane here and riders should beware of car doors and families with beach chairs. In fact, just to get it out of the way, this ride isn't for newbies though it isn't super complicated or technical. You need good riding skills, should be comfortable with hand signals, and know how to control your bike when cars do dumb things like park in the bike lane, eject pedestrians with long surfboards, and kids run across your path. There is also the occasional suicidal squirrel and you must be okay with rolling over it and maintaining control of your bike instead of dumping and dying. It won't necessarily happen to you, but be prepared.
Bomba and I tried to pack as lightly as possible, but in a ride of this length even with local bike shops along the way (and there are about a dozen, including Nytro tri shop), you should carry everything you might need. My supplies for the trip were kept to what I could fit in my jersey and the bike. I have 4 water bottle cages on the bike so I used my down tube and seat mast cage for easy reach fluids, and the rear cages held one bottle of Endurox R4 recovery drink which I held in reserve in case of dire need. It's 300 calories of liquid recovery and I figured if at some point in the ride I couldn't eat solids I would want it handy. The front two bottles could be refilled along the ride and I kept a bottle of Nuun electrolyte tabs to add to each bottle. (It would turn out the Nuun did not have enough sodium or potassium for the ride.) The fourth water bottle did not hold fluid, rather it held two bike tubes and two CO2 cartridges stuffed inside. In my jersey I stuffed 16 bags of my yam/almond butter/honey/salt fuel, and in my center pocket a plastic bag holding my ID, insurance card, credit card, debit card, $40 in cash, extra CO2 cartridge, written directions, cell phone, and mini HD video camera. Finally my bike bag under my seat held a multi-function bike tool (allen wrench & screwdrivers), tire levers, tube, and CO2 cartridge with inflator. Obviously this is not a race setup, but it did ensure that if we hit trouble in remote areas we would be able to get back rolling.
Somehow even with light traffic we managed to hit every single stop light and stop sign in the south Bay. We were on beach streets with light traffic, but stopping every two blocks made building speed futile. It took almost two hours to get through the south Bay beach areas, even with light traffic and few pedestrians. The lights are simply ridiculous. I know many riders blow through stop signs and lights, but I’ve known too many people that have gotten tickets and I’ve been hit by a car as a pedestrian, so I’m not willing to lay down my life or insurance rates for a few minutes of time savings when it’s not a race.
Vista Del Mar becomes Harbor Drive. It deadends at Longfellow, where we turned right, and then dropped downhill two blocks to a left on the bike path on Hermosa Ave.
Hermosa Ave goes into Redondo. Turn left at Beryl, right on Catalina (Triathlon Lab is at this intersection), this road runs parallel to the Pacific Coast Highway. We took W Torrance Blvd left two blocks, then right onto PCH. We opted to take PCH (Hwy 1) as opposed to climbing around Palos Verdes Drive. PV is beautiful, but knowing there were still more than a hundred miles ahead of us dissuaded our urge to climb the hill.
This stretch of PCH through Redondo gets more strip-mall and commercial as we rode south. Road conditions were fine, but the bike line could use better demarcation. Any would be good.
PCH turns and bears solidly east as Rancho Palos Verdes makes up the southern bulge of the South Bay. PCH stays commercial and densly residential through Walteria and Lomita.
We made a right turn on Western followed by a quick left onto Anaheim St. Tim knew this would be a rough area, remembering his last time through, and Babak’s warnings are also correct. This was the toughest part of the ride due to really rough road shared with gigantic freight trucks. The asphalt has been heated up and rolled over so many times by such forces that it squidges at the sides into pools of hardened blubber where a bike would ride. (Imagine trying to ride a bike around the muffin top circumference of Britney Spear’s zaftig phase stretch pants.) We were early enough in the day on a weekend so the roads weren't totally jammed with trucks, but the road conditions and other vehicles make this for experienced riders. The view of the train yards, loading cranes, and industrial works of the Port of Los Angeles and San Pedro is spectacular. I do not have photos because it was more important to live through the area than document it. There are two bridges that require some climbing, if only to get past the debris and speed past the truck blind spot after cresting the hill. Anaheim St crossed over the 110 and the 710 freeways, a lot of L.A. rail and waterways, finally entering Long Beach and depositing us to PCH south. (The reason you cannot just ride PCH through this area is that it crosses several bridges built with expansion joints that would require dismounting the bike to cross.)
Much of PCH in the south Bay is basically Barrio. It smells like frying bacon and clean laundry. Big chunks of L.A. smell like a cooked pig rolled in Tide.
Once we crossed into Seal Beach near the Naval Weapons Station (where they do not, I found out, build missiles that shoot from your navel), we stopped at a McDonalds to use the bathroom and refill our water bottles. We were just over two hours into the ride at this point and I was not drinking enough water. There were plenty of places to stop in the beach communities already, but I was so busy paying attention to road conditions and traffic that I was not drinking enough water. I cannot stress this enough – DRINK WATER CONSTANTLY. Every five to ten minutes I should have been taking a long pull on the bottle. But I didn’t. You should.
We stayed on PCH for a long while, through Seal Beach and into Huntington Beach. Huntington Beach really opens up for cyclists and is a great time to settle in to a good paceline. We buried a few weekend riders but were surprisingly left behind by a couple on a tandem bike hauling ass. The stop lights are spread further out and the bike lanes are generous. We could tell that the wealth of the area kept increasing as the price of the cars trying to kill us went up.
The next several stretches were Orange County beach towns of generally courteous drivers and decent travel punctuated with lots of traffic lights. We finally started hitting long stretches of park area in the south end of Newport Beach. This was some good pedaling and we were able to maintain solid speed. Newport Beach also has a park along the ocean which allows for sustained pedaling. There are also bathrooms in the park area.
We stopped in Laguna Beach for quick lunch at Subway. We split a footlong turkey sub and spent a few minutes refilling bottles. A 6” turkey sub without cheese or mayo is 315 calories. This is not enough, but solid food was a welcome change.
Laguna leads to Dana Point, and at the south end PCH becomes El Camino Real. This is mostly commercial strip malls and light density residential. It begins to get more spartan with seedy motels and laundromats, traveling on the east side of I-5. Civilization finally comes to a trickling stop at Cristianitos. We turned right crossing over the freeway, towards the last residential area. Just past the I-5 on-ramp on the left is a narrow bike path entrance, unmarked and easy to miss. But once on it the path opens up to a wide service road alongside I-5 without car traffic. We popped onto a road that passed the SoCal Edison facility and then the San Onofre nuclear power plant that looks like giant breasts. I always think of the Naked Gun movie when I see those globes. Along this path was some sort of bike bottle depot with several dozen water bottles hanging off the chain link fence. We went by so quickly I couldn’t tell if it was art, support for another ride, or a “take one, leave one” public offering.
This access road took us through a park area, and a gate entrance maintained by a friendly man made completely of leather. It was after this gate that I started to cramp in my diaphragm. It was about 85 miles into the ride and I wasn't too happy about the pain. I tried stretching, I tried deep breathing, I tried soft pedaling, nothing worked. As we crossed through the last gate of old Highway 101 and swung right under I-5 we stopped to check our maps. We should have turned left to enter the base, but under the bridge was a good spot to pause. Tim handed me two sodium pills and I popped them with some water. Amazingly in about five minutes the pain was gone. Looks like I'm going to start carrying sodium tabs on all long rides because I've had diaphragm issues in the past and it's killed me. No more! We realized we should have stayed left (counterintuitive to go left when the ocean is right) but the entrance to base is left and then hooks around. A kid at the gate checked out IDs and reminded us to ride single file and obey all traffic laws.
From the base entrance, we stayed right onto Las Pulgas Road, then right onto Stuart Mesa Road.
Camp Pendleton was a ghost town other than a few cars every now and again. It seems like the whole base is deployed. Even the residential areas were quiet; the stucco boxes for military families were completely silent. We didn't see a single person walking around the neighborhoods. One or two cyclists passed through going the other way, but no one actually living there was visible. Also, the road signs at bridges were for “Tank Crossing”. You just don’t see tank crossing signs that often.
Stuart Mesa Road led us to Vandegrift Road, which turning right took us towards the shopping areas for the military personnel. We finally started seeing more people as we were leaving base and this told us we were not riding through on “chemical attack Saturday”. After going under I-5 we hooked left and took the quick ascent onto Coast Highway arriving in Oceanside.
It was time for another Subway sandwich and liquid refuel. This time we switched to Coca-Cola, looking for a change in beverage as well as a sugar high. Hopped up on caffeine and sugar we took off, zipping through Oceanside and its commerce areas down towards Carlsbad.
Carlsbad through Encinitas, through Solana Beach. Solana Beach has become forever linked with the shark attack that killed the veterinarian triathlete several years ago. The photos from the articles do not do justice to the beauty of the location. If you had to pick a place to expire doing what you love, Solana Beach is one of those majestic places. Positively gorgeous.
Then we hit Torrey Pines.
Torrey Pines is one mean mother of a hill and it just keeps going up. It's long, slow, steep, and the long turns just reveal more hill. This comes after already putting in over 100 miles, so just turning the pedals on this uphill is a challenge. It's also after leaving one of the most beautiful stretches of ocean along the coast, so it's hard putting that behind you as you climb into woods and traffic. But we finally did make it, cresting at the top near the Scripps medical complex and knowing we were finally in La Jolla.
Sadly, just after the climb is where we made our wrong turn. We read and re-read our directions at the zenith, but as we shot the downhill we went straight on Genessee instead of staying on Torrey Pines, so we wound up going a long circle around La Jolla to get back to La Jolla Blvd. This also included a sharp ascent while dodging I-5 on-ramp and off-ramp traffic while pedaling into the sun looking for our left turn road. A few recreational cyclists pointed us in the right direction and when they found out how far we had biked, all they could say was "today?". That was worth it.
We attempted not to die as we rolled downhill through La Jolla and into San Diego proper, avoiding one particular bus that seemed intent of killing us both. At this point we were chasing down the sun as it began to dip behind buildings and dusk settled over the city. I had to remove my sunglasses to see, which meant the wind pushed my contact lenses away from center. Not my favorite way to ride. Not having road lights on our bikes was dangerous, and all we had to identify us was a blinking red rear tail light that I remembered was still attached to my bike. I took caboose and trailed Tim through town as we got more punchy against traffic and just kept pedaling to reach Sea World. There is an abundance of convertibles on the roads allowing easy access to drivers for directions, or for yelling at when they do dumb things.
After a left turn at the roller coaster we glided into Mission Bay, then crossed over to the hotel area for less vehicle traffic. This led us to the Sea World entrance. We rolled through the parking lot to find the entrance because Tim wasn't going to be happy until he saw Shamu. We rolled up to the main gate and found...a red carpet.
We arrived just as the check-in desks were being set up for the awards show. We were surrounded by several lovely ladies who clearly were impressed and a little confused at what we had just done.
My wife was waiting for us with a trunk full of bagels, soda, water, Payday bars, and our personal bags. We used the washrooms at Sea World to get cleaned up and changed, putting on sweats and loose clothes. It’s weird to eat a Payday bar and not taste the salt.
Total time (from GPS): 11:01:09
GPS mileage: 134.5
Total wheel spinning time (from bike computer): 8:25:41
1) Bring salt tabs for anything over a 2 hour ride. I'm not getting enough salt from my Nuun tabs and yams. Apparently you should take 500mg per hour and even Thermolyte tabs are 50mb each. Not enough.
2) On super long rides pack solid food, even just stuffing a giant sandwich in a jersey pocket. The two Subway stops were critical, and those were only 315 calories each. The ride burned 7500 calories, and that's rough given whatever formula Garmin uses to calculate.
3) Be careful when switching to Coke. The sugar rush is intense and for some of us once we start the sugar rush parabola it is hard to stop. I don't like soda, but in small doses it did perk up my spirits and I could see how flat Coke on the Ironman courses is highly effective.
4) MAP MAP MAP MAP MAP. Having the iPhone was a lifesaver, but it's laborious to stop, get a signal, and map directions. My short term memory is shot after 120 miles and I needed simple directions. I had planned on taping the directions to my leg, fighter-pilot style, but I couldn't figure out how to laminate it sweat-proof before we left. It was also two pages of directions. Next time, it's going on the leg.
5) Start as early as possible because you really don't want to ride in the dusk when drivers aren't paying attention, the sun is blinding, and you're trying to navigate to your finish on a weary brain.
6) Invest in chamois cream companies because they really, really save your ass.
And here, for the leg, is the one-sheet directions for the next trip:
1) BEACHES SOUTH TO REDONDO, TO PCH
2) R WESTERN, L ANAHEIM CAUTION
3) R PCH THRU BEACHES, EL CAMINO REAL TO END
4) R CRISTIANITOS, L BIKE PATH
5) OLD HWY 101, L LAS PULGAS, R EL CAMINO, R STUART MESA
6) R VANDEGRIFT, L COAST HIGHWAY
7) CARLSBAD BLVD, PCH, CAMINO DEL MAR
8) CLIMB TORREY PINES RD, R TORREY PINES ROAD @ GENESSEE
9) R TORREY PINES, LA JOLLA BLVD
10) MISSION BLVD, L MISSION BAY BLVD