In 2003, due to focusing on other events such as the Davis Brevet Series, Ironman Coeur d’Alene, and Paris-Brest-Paris, I had not done a single California Triple Crown event. In fact, the last one I had done was the Death Valley Double in November 2002, almost 1.5 years ago.
Also, after PBP last year, I took something of break from cycling, wanting to focus on other things in my life such as house projects, relationships, and personal growth. In fact, the only time I rodeover >100 miles since September 2003 was a training ride with the Tri-City Tri Club a few weeks prior, as it seems there have still been too many other things I wanted to focus on besides training.
The Hemet Double, therefore, was something of a “re-introduction” ride back into ultra-cycling. Oh, and also “re-introduction” to the recumbent. The last time I rode it more than 15 miles was also the 2002 Death Valley Double. I think I only rode it about 100 miles total in 2003 while my Cannondale got all the attention.
Preparation & the Drive
A quick note about the days leading up to the ride, which, by tradition, has always been a last-minute exercise of bike repairs, klooges, or trying something new. Or all three.
So a few days before the ride, my friend Dan from the MG Owners’ Club came over to pick up an old MGB radiator I had, and took a look at the ‘bent. “Hey, you have a couple of broken spokes on your front wheel,” he noticed. Broken spokes? (Indeed, I think I had broken those spokes during the 2002 Death Valley Double, but in the 1.5 years that passed, I totally forgotten and failed to notice them since). Gotta get those fixed…
To make a long story short (involving first unsuccessfully trying to hodge-podge a fix utilizing too-short 174mm spokes, and then too-long 186mm spokes, only to finally fetch the correct size 179mm spokes)… I fixed the wheel by 2:00 p.m. on Friday, the day before the event. Then there was the issue of getting the bike rack a dear friend gave me years ago (thanks, Melissa) to work on the Alfa. I had last used the rack on the Z3 (which I sold in February 2003), which had a much-shorter trunk, and ended up having to raid my stash of rock climbing gear for some webbing to elongate the rack straps. And then, there was the issue of taking the recumbent all apart for the trip, right after having putting it all back together after the wheel-fix to take it for a 100-meter spin just to confirm that, yes, everything was working.
Oh, did I mention I also had to replace the broken cyclometer?
Good thing, then, I took Friday off so that I could do all this stuff. especially since there was still an 8-hour drive down to Hemet ahead of me. Earlier in the day I stopped by the local library and picked up an audio book (Work Less, Make More by Jennifer White—an excellent book, highly recommended), which I listened all the way down.
I arrived in Hemet at 12:30 a.m., pulled into an office parking lot a couple of blocks away from the start of the race, set my alarm for 4:50 a.m., and promptly went to sleep to the music of light rain tapping gently on the Alfa’s convertible top.
The First Loop: Miles 0-105
I promptly woke to the noise of cars rushing down Hemet’s side streets at 4:00 a.m. (why so many cars were out and about in these areas at this time of day was well beyond my comprehension, as they were not seemingly related to the ride as evidenced by the absence of bicycle racks), and noticed, in the distance… quite a few cyclists had already started. I had about made up my mind that I’d start at around 6:00 a.m., what I thought was the “official” start time of the ride.
I hence was slow-getting up, and then drove closer to the start, spent a little while putting the ‘bent together, applying sunscreen, filling my pockets with food, etc. By the time it was all said and done, I was officially on the road by 5:52 a.m. I noticed upon signing out that about three-quarters of all the entrants had already started, including my friends John, Laura, and Phil from the Tri-City Tri Club (they started before 4:30 a.m., in fact). Maybe I misread the Hemet Double website about the official start time, but I was surprised that so many people had taken off already.
So I took off in near solitude. The scenery after turning off of Florida Ave. 1 mile from the start was notably desert-like, much like the outskirts of Palmdale from the Heartbreak Double. As this was the day before California would spring into Daylight Savings Time, there was already plenty of sunlight, rendering lights unnecessary, although many of the riders (including myself) had their rear blinkers on just as a precautionary measure.
The first 5-10 miles remained like this: peaceful solitude, interrupted by only an occasional motorist roaring past, along stark pancake-flat (though occasionally pothole-infested) roads, sometimes passing by a lonesome ranch or farm, with the promise of civilization far in the distance.
Or maybe not too far. As the frequency of speeding motorists began to increase, so it became apparent that civilization was very near. The change from desert-like to suburban was abrupt, and the next thing I knew, I was pulling into Rest Stop #1 at a Shell Gas Station, at Mile 23.
Which brings me to two points about this ride. (1) The number of rest stops in this double, and the relatively short distances (20-30 miles) between them was a refreshing change especially from the Planet Ultra rides I were used to. (2) The motorists in the areas this double century went through. (San Bernadino County) Actually, this subject is deserving (?) of a paragraph of all its own.
One thing I remember from pulling into the rest stop was witnessing a largish pickup screeching out of the parking lot, onto the main street with tire rubber a-burning and the rear-end fish-tailing all over the place. Okay, so maybe such erratic driving is not exactly uncommon in America. What makes this more notable is that I experienced deja vu of the same “takeoff” about a half-dozen other times during the ride, but with different pickups. Was such tire-smoking really necessary?
Or… how about having a vehicle speed by at 60 mph, windows down and a passenger (or driver) yelling out something incomprehensible, usually a mono-syllabic sound like “AGHHH!” Or “EEEEEE!” This must have happened about 10-15 times during the ride… or maybe more, since looking back I am pretty sure it happened more than once an hour. Like, what were these people trying to communicate? What exactly was this supposed to accomplish? This didn’t happen to just myself but other riders in front or in back of me. We could be riding way off into the shoulder (like 10 feet away from the road) and [vroooommmm] “AHHHHHG.”
Or even more ambiguous: HONK. I heard the horn about 20X (way more than any other double I have ever ridden), regardless if the roads were crowded or there were hardly anyone on the road. Drivers need to know that their horn is really not a good tool for communication. Example: I remember about 10 years ago when I went to Stockton to visit family and brought my race bike so that I could train while I was over there. Well, on my bike I rode out about half a mile from my parents’ home (which is way out in the boonies), when all of a sudden I hear a fast approaching car coming up from the rear and the driver is just laying on the horn: HONNNK! HONNNK! HONNK! It scared the crap out of me so much that I even made an evasive maneuver to completely pull off the road as fast as I could without even looking back (as far as I know, this idiot was about to run me over… this was Stockton after all), and was about to give the driver the finger when I realized that this driver… was my own mom Apparently, laying on the horn was her way of saying “hi”. Admittedly, I didn’t have too many kind words for her when I saw her at home later that afternoon.
My own theory about the strange/obnoxious driving habits here in San Bernardino County: that out here in flat-land suburbia, there just isn’t all that much for people to do. (Much like Stockton, which recently landed itself as the 2nd-to-last spot in a ranking of America’s best/worst cities). Maybe people out here are just bored. Maybe slamming on the throttle while exiting a gas station is the most exciting thing they can do in a day. Or seeing a cyclist and then screaming is their way of stress-relieving, to break up the monotony of the day. In any case, I’m kind of glad I don’t live out there (or Stockton, which also have too many drivers who behave similarly). One almost never sees this in the San Francisco Bay Area, where (for the most part) cyclists–and other human beings–are generally treated with respect, and sometimes even a smile.
Anyhow, back to the ride. A few more memories from Loop #1:
- Miles 35-42, along Victoria Ave., were especially pretty. This went through a very upscale neighborhood called “Arlington Heights” (which is either in or near Riverside, I think), that was pretty amazing. There were flowers lining the entire length of the road, with immaculate homes and towering palm trees too. See my pics.
- Mile 44 was the start of the first semi-significant climb, as in not-short but also not particularly steep. It was here that I started to see many other cyclists. It was also here there that I actually passed and left behind a whole bunch of cyclists on a climb (this would be the only and last time, as my climbing-abilities on the ‘bent then vanished sooner than you can say “hamstring”.)
- Mile 70 or so, on either Railroad Canyon or Newport Rd., became particularly urban, having to navigate through a bunch of cars, under a highway overpass, etc. To my chagrin, to stay alive I even resorted to riding on the sidewalk.
- Miles 95-100 or so, which passed by some rather sad cow farms (imagine hundreds of cows all herded together with their heads crammed through tiny openings of the fence just to eat some weeds) had the most unbelievable amount of BUGS I’ve ever ridden through. For several miles. It was a smelly affair, one in which all I could simply do was press my cycling glasses as close to my face as possible, keep my lips sealed tight and breathe through the nose, and tilt my head down so that many of these bugs would pelt the visor of my Reevu helmet instead of my face.
- This joyous section (note sarcasm) was only interrupted by one of the Top 10 worst sections of road I have ever ridden on. (Fortunately, this section was only about a quarter-mile long. Phil would later theorize that it was not far from the Firestation, and that the weight of the fire trucks probably caused the road to become like this.)
All in all, the first half of the ride was not the most wonderful century I have ever ridden, though otherwise fairly uneventful. And at 12:48 p.m. I checked into the lunch stop, which, incidentally, was the same Motel 6 as the start of the ride, as the Hemet Double course is a figure 8, with the center of the ‘8’ being roughly the half-way mark.
Loop #2: Miles 105-200
By the time I got to lunch it was already 12:48, meaning that it had taken me almost 7 hours to do the first 105 miles… a little slower than I had hoped considering how flat the course was. Therefore, even though lunch would be my longest stop of the day up to that point, I still made a point to get out of there in less than 15 minutes. I did pause long enough to wave at my car on the way out of the Motel 6 to start the 2nd loop, however.
It didn’t take much time to leave the city of Hemet behind and for the scenery to change. In stark contrast to the mostly urban areas of the 1st loop, the first leg of the 2nd loop was a tad lusher, with less cars and more foliage. Grey storm clouds also loomed ahead in the distance. Rolling hills approached. All ominous signs.
Indeed, if the 1st loop was kind of a yawnish cruise through some rather forgettable places, then the 2nd loop registered a whole lot higher on the interest-level meter. How much higher?
Let’s say it was Empire State Building higher. Indeed, the first 13 miles of the 2nd loop was to include >1200 feet of vertical gain, or roughly the height of that famed building in New York. I knew from even before the ride that as long as I could get over this hump in good shape, it should be smooth sailing all the way to the end. And 9 miles into it, after going over a number of rollers on my ‘bent being in my big (52-tooth) chainring most of the time, I was about ready to count my chickens. “Looks like I might not even have to shift into my granny for this dobule… that would be a first for the recumbent.”
Such a thought would vaporize within minutes when confronted with the upcoming climb.
It had snuck up on me. I was so at ease that I wasn’t anticipating what was coming or else I would have downshifted into the granny (32-tooth) chainring immediately. Or perhaps it was ego that prevented me from doing so right away. Well, too late… I got to a point on this climb where I was really starting to feel taxed, and so I flicked my left bar-end shifter to shift into the granny gear… but no dice.
“Drat, when I had swapped cranksets with the Cannondale last year, I should have readjusted the front derailleur again since the right crank likely sat 1-2 mm closer inward (a natural result of putting on and taking off cranksets and the spline wear that causes),” I thought. In any case, I was not going to stop. There were two reasons for this: 1) if I were to stop, it would have been hard to start up on an incline again, which is more difficult on a recumbent, and 2) ego. Even if it hurt I was going to grunt and bear it. And it did hurt.
Heck, the best way I can describe going up this 12% grade on my ‘bent in my intermediate gears is: imagine yourself seated on a leg-press machine. Then imagine yourself pushing intermediate weights with one leg, but not just for a set of 8X, 10X, or 15X, but rather, 100X. This was a genuine grind. And to compound the situation, it was really hard to tell where it topped out as there were a few false summits in there with blind corners.
Nevertheless, as they say, what goes up must come down… and eventually this one did. When it did, I breathed a sigh of relief and just sat back in my easy-chair (er, ‘bent seat) and waited for my legs to recover. While this was happening, a cyclist came up and passed me. No surprise here, I was beat. But what was a surprise was when the guy looked at me and exclaimed, “Hey.”
It was my friend John from the Tri-City Tri Club. This was a shock since I knew he started the ride 1.5 hours before I did, and got into lunch with even a bigger time gap than that. What had happened?
“Broke two spokes and had to go to a bike shop during lunch,” he exclaimed. He wasn’t too happy that it took the shop, well, 1.5 hours to replace them. But he was back. He was pretty concerned about the time, though, and in particular, making the time cut-off for the next rest stop. This too was a surprise, since despite the late(r) start I had been comfortably making the time cut-offs all day, and in fact hadn’t even been thinking about them. Had I really lost that much time on the last climb?
The answer was no, but to make sure, we started to pick up the pace, riding together.
We made it to the next rest stop with, in fact, 45 minutes to spare, and continued making pretty good time until, at Mile 140 or so, I wasn’t concentrating (as I was talking with John) and forgot to glance at the street name at one of the intersections we passed. To compound the problem, my speedometer was running about 7% too high all day (due to not calibrating it correctly), so I wasn’t always too positive about exactly how far we had travelled. As it turned out, we missed a turn.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t realize this until going up yet another non-trivial climb (maybe only 10%, but still, non-trivial for the condition I was in), and my legs were fried again.
As if getting lost wasn’t enough, a few minutes later I looked up in the sky and noticed that the stormclouds that were once a safe distance in front of me where now directly above, and I asked John, for effect, “What’s your prediction on the weather situation?” Seems like the weather gods must have overheard because then it started to drizzle for maybe a good half-hour or so. The rain above didn’t bother me so much, but the water spraying the back of my hair and neck (from the rear tire) and dribbling down my back was noticed, that’s for sure.
But other than that nothing too eventful occurred until the next rest stop (Mile 155), where… I lost John. As in, I saw him one moment and then a few minutes later, I didn’t see him anywhere. Did he take off? If so, he had the right idea. And so I was back on the ‘bent and on the road again…
The next leg was a bit of deja vu, namely because it was retracing a lot of the same (urban) roads as the first loop. It even included that dismal section going underneath an underpass with cars crammed across the length of the road, with no bike lane, or shoulder. This time, learning from the first time we had gone through this many hours ago, I was fully intent on just riding on the sidewalk for the 100m or so to bypass all of this when, suddenly, I had heard my name. It was Sandra Summers whom I had ridden the entire second half of the 2000 Knoxville Double (which I also did on the recumbent).
We spoke for just a minute or so but it was a fruitful one minute. “I had such a great time riding with you,” I reminisced. “Me too,” she replied, “and I wouldn’t have finished that ride if it were not for you.” Before I could disagree, though, she said, “But I’m in much better shape this year… even did Paris-Brest-Paris.”
“Me too,” I replied. I was so proud of her. We reminisced just briefly a while longer, after which the light turned green (and I proceeded straight to the sidewalk, while her group got totally stuck in the bottleneck), but I was really happy to see her after these 4 years and that she even remembered my name.
Up the road was another meeting with someone… a Roger Erickson, whom I had been seeing all day (mostly getting passed by him… he was looking strong) and had recognized the ‘bent from felixwong.com. Turns out he was from San Jose, and even would frequently bike on over to south Fremont where (I think) he worked. Within the ultra-cycling community, it’s kind of a small world, I guess.
Eventually, he got way ahead, and then I got lost yet again, only to get back on course when, at a quiet intersection, I was dismounted from my bike on the sidewalk, ran on over to a guy in a Porsche waiting at a red light, and asked him where ‘Bradley Street’ was. “Just go up this road, about 1/2 a mile,” he said. I was glad I didn’t have to backtrack.
A few miles later would come the last surprise meeting of the day, at the next and last rest stop.
I pulled on in, walked up to a table to sign in and, right in front of me was Laura from the Tri Club. “Hey there,” I said as we gave each other a hug. Phil was there too. “I was wondering when we’d see you,” he said. And to join this happy reunion, 30 seconds later, in came John.
“I was at the bathroom when you took off at the last rest stop,” he explained. Whoops. We chatted for a little bit before subsequently making another bathroom stop, over which was Sandra chatting on her phone. Apparently, she (like John earlier did) had broken some spokes too, and now was trying to get some help. I couldn’t help but note the irony about how I was fixing my own broken spokes the day before, and now here were John and Sandra today getting broken spokes. I don’t know if it had something to do with some of the poor roads in this ride (actually, there were only a few bad roads, but the ones which were bad were really bad), but I wished her luck in making it back safe and sound.
So the last 22 miles finished in perhaps the best way possible, with all 4 members of the Tri-City Tri Club who were doing this ride riding together in unison, making this last leg go by much faster. As the lights of Hemet came into full view and we knew that we were now only about 2 or 3 miles away from the finish, we let out some whoops and cheers. Awaiting us at the finish were yet more people we knew–Tanya (John’s SO) and her family from San Bernardino–and of course, some good food. We had done it–the season’s opening double for all of us. Today’s journey may not have always been the most pleasant, but in the end, especially with friends, always worth it.
- 200 mi
- 5:52 a.m. start, 8:38 p.m. finish—15.1 hours
- Average Speed: 15.7 mph moving, 13.5 mph overall
- Max Speed: ~38 mph
- Total Climbing: 5,000 feet
- Scenery: 2-
- Support/Organization: 4. Rest stops were frequent (for a double century).
- Food: 4. Basic, but plentiful enough. Post-ride meal and lunch was good.
- Weather: 2+. There was rain which made the ride a muddy affair for all,but it wasn’t pouring nor too cold.
- Relative Difficulty: 1+ Except for one hill, it’s all flat. Probably the easiestdouble century in CA with the exception of the Solvang Double.
- Overall Rating: 2. Not a great course; too many cars all the time with lackluster scenery.But it’s mostly flat.
Route Sheet (PDF)