By Chris Kostman
As the new RBA in Southern California, it is my intention to showcase the best that our region has to offer the long-distance cyclist. Since the Los Angeles area is a basin surrounded by a ring of mountains, and because long-distance cycling requires "getting out of town," our routes will escape metropolis by ascending into higher, quieter ground.
Our 200km route includes one of the very best 50-mile mountain loops anywhere in the country: the Glendora - Mt. Baldy - Upland - Glendora loop that I first did at age 14, the day after buying my first "real" bike. The rest of the ride would include the foothill communities of the San Gabriel Valley: Pasadena, Altadena, San Marino, Arcadia, Monrovia, Azusa, and Glendora, through really nice areas, quiet roads, easy to rolling terrain, and not too many lights or stop signs. In the weeks leading up to our February 17 brevet, all eyes were on the weather. It was raining pretty consistently, as well as snowing at the higher elevations through which we'd be traveling on our way up to Mt. Baldy. But our ride day dawned free of falling water and with semi-clear skies. It would be our lucky day (and an unusual adventure)!
Forty-two riders departed between 6 and 7 am. My partner, Scott Scheff handled the paperwork, while I rolled out with the stragglers. Our start/finish line, was the newly rededicated Hansen Dam Recreation Area in Pacoima, in the San Fernando Valley. Eight miles later we spilled into that other Valley and wound our way through beautiful neighborhoods and past the world-famous Rose Bowl. Then it was a beeline through the foothill communities, always keeping the majestic and white-dusted San Gabriel Mountains immediately to our left. Eventually Mt. Baldy drew us like a magnet, two-thirds of her 10,000-foot body clothed in a thick skirt of bright white snow.
The climbing began in earnest not long after the first contrôle in Azusa. From Glendora's 1000 foot elevation, we climbed up and down several times to over 4,500 feet before dropping into Mt. Baldy Village at 4,000 feet. Our route was simple: climb infamous Glendora Mountain Road then on to the Village.
There were about ten riders ahead of me when I reached the fork in the road where we were to stay right, halfway mark up the climb to Mt. Baldy. I arrived there alone and was shocked to find it gated closed, and no riders waiting there in a confused panic. I thought "if the road is closed, why aren't they sitting here waiting and wondering?" There was no significant snow on the road, but clearly the road must have been snowed over ahead. But where were the frontrunners? As I waited, more riders arrived behind me and stopped. Scott rolled in with the contrôle van. And soon enough, riders started arriving from the opposite direction, having gone around the gate and continued until they found the road impassable. Although the road report I'd been given had indicated a clear road, it was most assuredly snowed over. What to do?
As the rest of our group continued arriving from behind, I instructed everyone to just turn around and head for home. Our "lollipop route" would now become a pure out-and-back. This intersection in the road would be contrôle number 2, instead of up in the Village. Scott signed off time cards while I told everyone "head for home, but when you hit the Rose Bowl, do laps until your bike computers read 117 miles, then finish the course and you'll have 200km behind you." I explained that all the Pasadena area cyclists use the Rose Bowl perimeter as their personal criterium course, so they'd have plenty of company. Everybody headed back, like cars for the barn. Well, every- one, except for four of us.
In nineteen years of riding this route, I'd never been turned back, so I wanted to see this "impassable road" for myself. I grabbed my digital camera from the van and continued with Debbie Caplan, Carmela Bader, and Barclay Brown riding his HPV. Sure enough, about six miles from the village we found the road covered with snow about a foot deep. As a seven time Iditasport veteran and feeling right at home on my favorite road in the world, it was a simple decision for me to continue. My three comrades put their trust in me and went for it, too.
We started walking. And pushing. And walking more. It was slow going. First our bike shoe-clad feet stayed atop the snow, then they broke through to our ankles, then to our shins, then eventually to our knees. What should have taken 40 minutes on the bike was taking hours, and hours. But it was an adventure! And gloriously beautiful!
Trudging forward, we followed the fresh tracks of rabbit, deer, coyote, mountain lion, and bear (and I'm not kidding about the bear tracks; they were huge!) This was obviously the best thoroughfare around, at least for the native wildlife. Meanwhile, not a human being or a human footprint was to be seen, except for our town.
Between us we rationed two Hammer Gels, two Clif bars, a Balance bar and half a bottle of Sustained Energy. Then we ate snow. It was the only water we could have and we were surrounded by, standing in, and staring at tons of it. One big mouthful was only good for one sip, though. We ate lots of snow. Ultimately, we pushed our bikes through the snow for more than four hours to cover a mere six miles to get to the Village. But it was worth it, so very worth it. With soaked socks, frozen feet and stinging toes, we still had 62 miles to go! Wolfing down the only food available (Doritos, Peanut M&Ms, and Powerade), it occurred to me that most of the other riders were already finished and headed for their homes! Soon we were racing down the down front side of "our mountain" at over 50 mph, chasing the sunset.
We were quickly running out of daylight and, of course, none of us brought lights. Who needs lights for 200km in sunny SoCal? Fortunately we found a Radio Shack along the way where I spent $80 on strobe lights and flash- lights to illuminate ourselves on the now pitch-black road. When lights failed, we found yet another Radio Shack to replace the lights and get more batteries. Market stops stole more time. It turned into "the longest day," but we didn't care anymore. We just wanted to say "we did it."
Needless to say, we were jubilant, and exhausted, when Scott greeted us at the finish. It had taken every minute of the allotted 200k time, but we knew that it was an epic way to start the new year and that this is what ultracycling is all about. Thank goodness I took that digital camera; otherwise nobody would have believed us! Now the longer brevets will seem like a piece of cake!
All of the AdventureCORPS SoCal Brevet Series info, including an online slide show of this event, is viewable at: http://www.adventurecorps.com. Chris is also the producer of the Furnace Creek 508 and Badwater Ultramarathon.