Here is a report I originally wrote after doing the Mulholland Challenge in 2006. I did take out the last names for the most part.
Unlike some of my other reports, no matter how long this one takes to write, it won’t exceed the length of time the subject matter took to complete. By way of introduction, this past weekend I did the Mulholland Challenge with the El Cajon Criterium as a chaser. For those of you sane enough not to know what the Challenge is, it was advertised a 110.6 mile ride through various climbs in the Santa Monica Mountains with 10,000 feet of climbing. The actual distance was a little more and the actual elevation gain was between 12,000 and 13,000 feet depending on whose altimeter was the most accurate. For those of you who use CyclingPeaks, my TSS score for the ride was 407 and my workload was 4318kj, even though a large part of the ride was ridden at survival pace.
The weather was fairly cooperative at the start. It was cool, but not cold and overcast, which is actually a good thing when you’re going to out all day. We (myself, Albert, Tyler and Roger headed out from Calabasas somewhere in the neighborhood of 7:15 to 7:35 in the morning. I think at that point I expected the whole affair to be six hours, which turned out to be quite the underestimate.
The ride started with some roller down into Malibu. We ended up Pacific Coast Highway, which was made for quite a nice view. Not really knowing what was ahead, we started moving along fairly well until Albert, who used to ride the climbs a lot, told it to back off. So, we cruised down along the coast until making a left turn to begin our foray into the climbs.
The first climb of the day was up through Topanga Canyon. Of the longer climbs of the day, it was by far the most gentle. It was so gentle that at times I was even in my 24 tooth cog going up the climb, although I was spinning the 27 most of the way. Since we were all fairly fresh, there isn’t too much to write about. After going up through the main climb, we preceded through more gentle climbing until hitting the first sticker stop and food station along the route at about 27.5 miles. Since this was an organized and timed, we had to get stickers put on our ride numbers at the various checkpoints. The folks from Planet Ultra who organized the slog, did a great job with the rest stops. They had porta potties, water, drink mix, gels, food and even baby wipes. I think I may have had an entire bottle of hammer gel by the end of the ride since I tried not to have too much in the way of solid food.
From the first sticker stop, the ride really started going. We continued along Mulholland Highway for about 20 miles. It’s hard to remember exactly what climb was what along the route since all I had to know about the route was turn where Albert said to turn, which was a whole lot easier than trying the learn the directions. There were a lot of twisty climbs involved. There was so much climbing that anything short, even if it required a 27, wasn’t that big a deal. On one of the, what at the time seemed like a major climb, Albert seemed to start giving it some gas. I started putting the screws down to try and get back up to him. I got fairly close before realizing that the only way to get back up to him was to give it 100%, which didn’t seem like the best idea since the ride wasn’t even at the halfway point.
At one of the lookout points we regrouped and continued the rest of the rolling hills. At some point not terribly long thereafter, we started the Decker climb. Honestly, there was nothing specific about it that sticks in my mind. It was fairly steep, but wasn’t killing me. I’m sure I was in my 27, but with my fuzzy memories and recollection of the climbs at the end, in comparison, it didn’t seem too bad. That being said, it seemed to be easier than Sleeping Indian but a whole lot longer. The second sticker stop/aid station was probably about 2/3 the way up the climb. Once again, the stop was well stocked. From the stop, the climb continued grinding upwards. It was followed by some downward rollers and then a tight descent on some pretty lousy roads with a little bit of dirt, gravel, holes etc. thrown in. I was not a happy camper, as I really cannot stand those kinds of descents. Actually, that’s somewhat of an understatement, as I decided for the first time of the day that I definitely was not doing the ride again. What was even worse was that for a while I was stuck behind guys who were not only slower than I am on these kinds of descents, but really didn’t know how to handle their bikes. For someone who loves crits, I’m extraordinarily cautious on the descents. I guess it’s because I know that if I crash in crit, I’ll be taken care of quickly and further, I’m doing the same corners over and over again so I know what’s there. On blind corners on new to me roads, I have no clue what’s there.
What turned out to be the second-worst descent of the day was followed by a right turn that lead immediately into another climb requiring the 27. This was the climb that Albert termed the unnamed climb. It was a grinder and Albert disappeared up the road. At one point, I saw Tyler on the side of the road playing with his bike. I asked him if he was ok and I was sure he said that he was fine. At least that’s what I thought he said. When I came upon Roger, I said I was going to slowly roll along, figuring that Tyler would catch back up to me fairly quickly anyway. Roger decided to wait/ride back while I slogged along upwards.
Not terribly long thereafter, I started the craziest descent of the day. I don’t think it really hit me what I was doing until I saw the ocean, realized how far up I was and that I was going all the way down. This was the Deer Springs descent. It seemed like I quickly dropped well over 1000 feet. While the road was fairly good, it was very steep and tight. Albert estimated the grade at 18% and that sounds about right. For some very brief moments, I caught glimpses of the view, but most of the time I was focused on getting a decent line, keeping my tires on the road and not overheating my brakes. That required a combination of alternating brakes, letting go completely for some brief moments in the straight-aways and just trying to keep my nerves calm. If you let off the brakes too long, you’d quickly build up way too much speed to carry into the corners. There were a couple of 10mph hairpins which really required going that slow. For somewhere close to 100% of the descent, I didn’t feel like I had complete control of the bike, which is a feeling that it quite odious.
Mercifully, I made it to the bottom intact. At least one person had a bad crash coming down that required emergency medical attention. The next sticker stop was near the bottom of the descent, but far enough up from PCH that there was still a good view. Albert was already there and had been sunning himself for a few minutes when I arrived. After a few minutes, Roger and Tyler still hadn’t arrived. Although I hadn’t put too much thought into it, Albert was concerned that Tyler had blown out a tire by overheating it by not alternating his brakes on the descent. I’m not quite sure why he thought that it hadn’t been Roger, but maybe Tyler’s just fredlier. It probably wasn’t very encouraging that we heard a number of pops while waiting.
Eventually, Roger made it down, only to tell us that Tyler had indeed blown a tire. We waited and waited and waited. Tyler was insistent on finishing. The SAG vehicle present didn’t have any tubes or tires, so someone from the organization ended up going back to the host hotel to pick up a tire and tubes for Tyler. I have no idea exactly how long we were there, but it seemed to be somewhere on this side of forever.
After realizing that we’d have to soldier on without Tyler, we went down and got to do a nice relatively flat section along the coast. Not long after turning onto the coast and passing people there for the Conquer the Canyons race, Albert had the notion of calling Mark Huffman to see if he was still around to lend Tyler the wherewithal to finish without having to be stopped for even longer to get a tire. Unfortunately, Huffy was on the other side of the hills already, so that idea went out the window.
After 5.6 wonderful miles on PCH we made a left turn. This was the Decker Canyon climb. If you can imagine going from a flat road to immediately using a 27, that’s what it was. It did ease off at some points, but that meant spinning a little more and sometimes using a 24. At one point, my speed dropped to 4.9 mph for a brief second, although most of the time it was around 6. According to the route sheet, we climbed for 4.7 miles until hitting the next sticker stop and aid station positioned well before the end of the climb.
The ride started going downhill figuratively from here. Albert was apparently cooling off too much and decided he needed to roll before Roger and I finished up. Once Roger and I started rolling again, I felt like I’d recovered for about 30 seconds before the grind of the climb again hit me. While it was definitely slow going, it still seemed manageable, but again that’s all relative.
Once cresting, we continued for quite a while along the ridges. It seemed like an endless series of sharp rollers, so we could never get any sort of rhythm going. At some point I could tell that we were starting to go backwards on roads we’d been up earlier. This was somewhere on Mulholland. Again, I was not happy about tight descents and blind corners, but this wasn’t so bad like the potholed descent. Plus, at this point, I could take it easy a little bit and could still go down fairly quickly even while being fairly cautious.
That “long” descent was followed by another endless series of rollers until we hit the next sticker stop at 86.8 miles. Since our tour guide was gone, Roger and I had absolutely no idea what was next. Both of us were fairly tired at this point, since neither of us are climbers and almost the whole ride had been climbing, much of it steep.
A few miles up the road, we started going up again. It wasn’t up in the sense that rollers go up, but this was a grinder. It seemed to go on forever. It was the most anxious I’ve ever been to get off a bike. Words really cannot describe it. Roger and I were quite unhappy. We were very tired, the climb was steep and it seriously felt like it would never end. Plus, seeing you have around 20 miles to go when you’re at 6 mph is really not the feeling you want. It doesn’t really matter how I try to describe what it was like because nothing I can possibly write will adequately convey just how much we hated that climb. I decided that I would rather die than do the ride again. The only thing that kept me going was that I was afraid of being ridiculed as a quitter if I didn’t finish. I was too tired to even think about going back down the hill and waiting at the previous sticker stop to get a ride back. Roger seemed to think he was grumpier than I was on the way up, but he couldn’t have been. At the early stages of the climb, there was a great view of how much altitude we’d gained. As the climb went on, the only thing we could see was more and more climbing, none of which we wanted. I kept hoping that the Magical Mystery Tour was coming to take me away, but it was a no-show.
Mercifully and seemingly a fortnight later, we reached the last sticker stop. I think I got some stuff there, but I really can’t remember. I do remember that they had real cookies there. By real I mean ones cooked than an oven rather than chemically. They looked great, but I was well past the point of even being able to comprehend actually consuming one.
From there, we did quite a descent. It was relatively moderate as these things went. At the “bottom,” we made a right only to see we weren’t going down all the way, but rather going up again. Roger was still in his descending gear when we started and I think he dropped his chain or something like that. We felt quite deceived by having to do even more climbing on the same f’ing mountain. At least it seemed less steep than the main climb, but I can’t be sure.
Eventually, we got to start to do some real descending. It wasn’t terribly steep or twisty, meaning I could comfortable carry good speed throughout without feeling that I was pushing it. The only scary part was hitting the road construction section, where it became a one-lane road for some construction. Although it was a very short stretch, it had some bad potholes, which I couldn’t avoid. I was quite worried that I was going down at that point, but managed to stay upright.
From there, the descending continued even more. Unfortunately, near the bottom was a right turn. Roger was ahead of me and I noticed a white arrow pointed on the road, so I was pretty sure we’d just missed a turn. Since we were riding together, I still had to wait until I caught up to him at the next intersection at the bottom of the hill. I asked him about it and he was to trashed that he misread the directions and thought we were on course. We then turned right onto the main road and after a little bit stopped to double check the directions because Roger thought that the organizers couldn’t possibly be crazy enough to have everyone on that road. So, we turned around and ended up climbing a bit more to get back on course. These bonus miles weren’t too welcome. The missed turn lead to another climb, albeit not horrifically long, but still steep. Having no clue about anything, we asked a guy we passed and said it was the last hill.
At this point, my main concern was running out of memory on my Powertap, as I had it set to record at one second intervals and it can only record 7.5 hours that way.
Somehow, we made it back to the start/finish hotel. I think I ate two six-inch subway sandwiches dolphin style, which is basically swallowing whole.
Tyler showed up eventually and somehow we managed to get on the road again. Even though we’d already inhaled some food, we ended up stopping in East L.A. at a Mexican place that Albert highly recommended. I think he claimed it was the best Mexican food in L.A. While I was hungry, I was too tired to truly appreciate it. The main thing on my mind was the problems I was having with my contacts, as trying to fix them in a moving vehicle isn’t the easiest thing in the world. In addition, I’d packed so much that I had trouble finding everything in my bag and couldn’t even find the cases. In my defense, however, I did bring plenty of food because we had no idea what they were going to have at the aid stations until we checked in on Friday.
Other than the food, the only excitement was Tyler’s tale of his unsuccessful attempt at washing his private parts in the sink. I don’t know if they intentionally made the sink high enough so that it couldn’t be done, but knowing that it couldn’t have made me feel better about having recently used that sink to wash my hands.
Needless to say, I was pretty trashed when I got home.
I woke up at 8 on Sunday morning and quickly returned to my slumber. At 10 I got up, ate the rest of my burrito from the night before and checked the results from LBL. I think went back to bed for a while.
I knew I needed to ride, but my legs felt terrible. Naturally, I understood that the only way to make sure that I got a ride in on Sunday was to go do El Cajon.
Trying to warm up, I was too tired to keep up with Joel when he started moving along for higher intensity. If I took it easy in warm up, I figured I could use whatever I had left once the race started.
El Cajon is an awesome course. It’s got lots of corners and is infinitely better than most of what we get in Southern California. The masters race started off hot. It may have been that I was tired or that I’m not any good anyway, but it felt really hard. I was ok with the speed and acceleration, but what killed me was having to close a lot of gaps as guys in front of me fell off the back. It seemed like we were hitting at least 30 every time through the finishing straight, so you really had to have a lot of juice to move up there. About halfway through, I finally hit my breaking point in terms of making up ground on someone in front of me going 30 and a gap was created that I just couldn’t close. What was worse was that the fred who opened it stayed on the course forever afterwards. The race definitely seemed to slow down a lot once the break got away. Still, I doubt there were any more than 5 Cat IIIs who even finished. Next up was the 3s race. It was a cakewalk in comparison. After starting out at the front, I went to the back and managed to relatively comfortable sit on. The biggest excitement was hitting my Speedplay and lifting my rear wheel in a corner with two to go and managing to save it. At that point, however, I don’t think I had much fight left in me to get back up. At that point, the focus was just finishing with all my skin, which I did.
Before I forget, Chris Lotts was at his best for the start. His speech was longer at the start of the masters race, but the one for the 3s was succinct. He asked how much are you guys racing for. When one of the guys answered $500, he said something along the lines of that’s not worth it for a CAT scan. It didn’t quite drive home the point, as there were way too many mouths running in the race, but fortunately no crashes or fisticuffs. This was in contrast to the masters race in which we had an ambulance on the course for the one crash.
I stayed around for the first part of the Pro/1/2 race. I left shortly after the lead group lapped the field. Jim got in the break, but couldn’t quite hold on and fell back into the field.
I knew I needed a recovery ride on Monday, so I did a short ride on my time trial bike, with my even lower position with the pads about 18cm below the saddle. Surprising, after a little while it didn’t feel uncomfortable. It looks like the new stem finally enabled me to get a flat back. When you don’t have power, you need to be as aero as possible.
I guess that’s it for now. I apologize for any grammatical and/or spelling errors contained herein. Please recall, however, that I actually have a job and don’t write this stuff on “company” (meaning on a client’s “dime) time. Besides, just remember what you paid to read this J
As a final thing, George Vargas did the double-century version of the ride. It didn’t have a huge amount more climbing than the version we did, but it confirms that, beyond any reasonable doubt, he is absolutely insane.