The Double Trouble was a personal one-day ride to raise funds for the NorCal AIDS Cycle (NCAC). The course, set entirely in San Diego County, is 175+ miles with over 17,000 feet of climbing. This is the story of my adventure pedaling for over 12 hours from San Diego city, over Mount Laguna (6000+ feet) in East County, over Palomar Mountain (5300+ feet) in North County, and back to the city.
Crewing for the NorCal AIDS Cycle (NCAC) is inspirational. This small but mighty group of riders and crew members raise an astonishing $235,000+ each year, mainly from personal donations from friends and colleagues. Even though the ride ended on May 14, 2017, donations could still be received up until June 30. As part of my fundraising, I dared potential donors to help me raise $4,000 by May 15 with the outcome being if we reached that goal, I would ride The Double Trouble cycling route.
Double Trouble ascends Mount Laguna (6000+ feet) and Palomar Mountain (5300+ feet) via a route that loops around San Diego County starting and finishing in San Diego city proper. The route is 175+ miles with over 17,000 feet of climbing. Part of my pledge was to attempt to cycle this route in 12 hours moving time and 13 hours total ride time. On May 15, we reached $4,149 raised, so I had to honor my pledge.
I rode the route on Thursday, June 8, 2017 with the added intention of updating the ride progress via Facebook to gather at least $1,000 more in fundraising throughout the day.
If you want skip the following Ride Prep & Ride Plan (bike nerd stuff) sections, you can go directly to The Ride write-up section.
Ride Prep (Bike Nerd Stuff)
I chose to ride the trusty Orbea (picked up from Janel Holcomb after she finished training on it for a season in 2013). The Orbea is light and stiff, climbs well with great descending control. Love this bike because it fits me well for long rides and rolls easy.
I toyed with putting on Onyx wheels with aluminum American Classic rims custom built by Keven Lee of Mobile Bicycle Mechanics for the ride, because those wheels are durable, yet light enough for climbing, plus they roll well. The added benefit being they have aluminum breaking surfaces, which give nice braking control on the twisty descents of Mesa Grande and South Grade of Palomar.
I ended up choosing the custom-built carbon Enve Smart 3.4 wheels built by Charles Wells of Holland Cycles already on the Orbea. These wheels are aero, roll fast, and are stiff enough for nice climbing power transfer. In addition, the PowerTap G3 hub on the back wheel would provide power, cadence, and speed data. I lubed the chain with WD-40 BIKE Dry Lube and wiped it clean, and regreased the rear hub pawls with Phil Wood’s Waterproof Grease for smooth gliding and sailing. I put on new tires and tubes (Michelen Pro4 Endurance plus some light Micheln A1 butyl tubes). I was wishing for some latex tubes in the inventory for even smoother, faster, and lighter rolling, but no luck. I wish I had time to clean the whole bike, but not for this ride.
For the early morning ride with low light conditions, I used the Nite Rider Swift 450 on blink mode for the front of the bike and the Lezyne Strip Drive plus the Knog Blinder for the back of the bike. I also used the the Nite Rider for the return home during the evening hours, when rush hour traffic was high. The rear lights I used intermittently throughout the day, depending on the roads that I was riding. For example, climbing on narrow two lane roads with no shoulder, I always had one or two of the rear lights on in blinky mode. All three lights, at the settings I used have about 5 to 6 hours of run time.
I believe in carbs to prep for big rides. I’ve tried ride nutrition many different ways, but what works for me is to increase my whole grains substantially in the three days prior to an event. Most of my evening meals contained whole grain pasta with some protein (usually fish). During the day, lunch was a rice dish, with or without added protein. Breakfasts were oatmel plus fruit. I actually reduced my fiber intact in terms of quantity of fruit consumed and vegetables consumed, focusing more on whole grains. I added in nuts as well for snacks, and avoided protein heavy meals, such as heavy diary or large servings of meat outside of fish. My legs will usually feel a bit heavy when I start a ride after eating in this fashion, but a few hours into the ride and through out the ride I feel remarkably better.
Although I’ve been road cycling since I was a teenager, my training this year was well below usual levels and in the last two months, not nearly where I wanted it to be for Double Trouble. I’ve logged just over 2,000 miles in 2017 and many of those miles where at very low intensity; mainly endurance rides with heart rates below 75% of max and average power below 2.5 watts per kilogram. I did a few rides over 60 miles, but most rides were in the 40 mile range. Not ideal.
In May, I mixed in some easy climbing repeat rides at Mount Soledad (about 700 feet gain with each ascent) with my pal Richard Stein to get some steady effort climbing under my belt. Richard is fun to ride with, talk to, and he respects an easy pace. Plus, I tried my best to mix in a few mornings down at Point Loma Tide Pools of climbing with a bit more intensity. The Tide Pools climb is anywhere from 4 to 6 minutes in length. I was fortunate enough to get time in the first week of June to ride a 3-day training block with a couple of fit Master’s riders from Vermont (Brian Nolan and Barney Brannen) who were visiting San Diego. Check out Brian and Barney's one-day gravel grinder in Vermont, The Dirty Project. We did three pretty stout days of 40 to 70 miles, with two of the them in the East County San Diego Mountains. Bob Maslach from EnduroBites joined us for our toughest day at Mount Laguna. These guys ride pretty hard, pushing tempo on climbs. Even though I couldn't keep up, it stretched my legs and my fitness, plus pushed me to focus on executing good ride nutrition. It was a nice “tune up.” After completing the final ride with them to Kitchen Creek (Mount Laguna) on Friday with 70+ miles, 7,000+ feet climbing, and heavy heat, I felt decent about my chances of actually completing The Double Trouble. It felt more attainable, since that ride did not destroy me. Yet the self-imposed time cut (12 hours) for Double Trouble did concern me still.
I chose Thursday, June 8 because it was a day that fit into my work calendar, plus it is a day with long daylight hours. Also weekdays are better in East County with less car traffic and also less “toy hauler” traffic; i.e., big trucks pulling big trailers with ATVs, horses, or big RVs.
The weather called for fog in the morning (June Gloom) and 55 degrees then clearing throughout the day. Winds would be 10 to 15 miles and hour in the mountains coming mainly from the west and northwest. The temperature would rise throughout the day to the low 90s in the valleys around Palomar with the low 80s at the summit. Plus, fog was predicted for the evening. Foggy in the morning all the way to Dehesa.
The Double Trouble route was conceived by Mike Wilson, as he titled it The Two Queens, for the ascents of both Palomar Mountain and Mount Laguna in one day from San Diego city proper. There is a brevet run by the San Diego Randonneurs (Palomar 300k), which takes on a similar course. I modified Mike’s route a bit, and unlike both Mike and the brevet, chose to ride the route counterclockwise, instead of clockwise. My thought being that it would be nice to get through East County earlier in the day, then hopefully have a tail wind or a cross-tail wind on the way back south from Palomar.
Executed Ride Plan
I carried all my food, except for the Coke that Jo provided me at the bottom of Palomar Mountain South Grade. Here’s what I carried and ate:
- KIND Bars x 2 (180 calories each for 360 calories)
- 6 Fig Newmans (Paul Newman style at 40 calories for one x 6 = 240 calories)
- 6 dairy-free chocolate chip cookies (at 30 calories each x 6 = 180 calories)
- 4 packs Gu Chomps (200 calories each bag x 4 = 800 calories). These also had 40 mg of caffeine in each bag so 4 x 40 mg = 160 mg of caffeine
- Ham, Avocado, Mayo, and Daiya “Cheddar Cheese” on Spelt Bread (approximately 600 calories)
Total Solid Calories = 2,180
- GQ6 Drink Mix. I started with one scoop in each bottle, plus carried 3 ziploc bags to make two bottles each. 1 scoop equals 130 calories and I consumed 8 scoops (1,040 calories). More importantly, each scoop has 550 mg of sodium, so I consumed 4400 mg (plus more with food). I salt out big time, so I need salt in solution to prevent cramping and also what I call the “salt bonk,” basically becoming hyponatremic and my muscles stop functioning well.
- Coke (from Jo): 12 oz at 140 calories plus 34 mg caffeine
- Water: 8 bottles at 20 oz each with GQ6; 1 bottle with ice from Jo; 2 bottles from convenience store 32 oz;
- 1 Vitamin Water (Energy blend) 20 oz: 120 calories and 50 mg caffeine
If I still had a bit of water in my bottles as I approached a rest stop, I would drain it before I stopped to make sure I drank both bottles completely. If there was a water fountain at rest stops, I would take a couple long drinks from those as well. Plus when topping off bottles, I would fill to the top, take a gulp, and refill right to the top again. This probably added another 20 ounces on the day.
Total Fluid Ounces = 260 fluid ounces (2+ gallons)
Total Liquid Calories = 1,300
My pacing strategy was right out of Altitude Climbing Endurance (ACE) by Arnie Baker. I set a heart rate and power limit for my efforts: 75% of heart rate Max (HR Max) was my ceiling [that’s 150 beats per minute (bpm) for me] and 180 watts (~2.9 w/kg) was my ceiling. I used both measurements, because as the day wore on and I became more tired and hot, my heart rate would drift upward for similar power outputs. While 180 watts might keep my heart rate below 75% HR Max for the first half of the ride, it was likely too many watts in the latter half. At the top of Palomar, my heart rate would slip above 75% HR Max even at 160 watts. I was able to hit 180 watts staying below 150 bpm on the return as the air temperature cooled and I had a bit of tail wind to take the stress off my muscles occasionally.
Bloom Ranch (Mile 35): water fountain and spigot on Japatul Valley Road just west of Lyons Valley Rd
Mount Laguna Visitor Center (Mile 59): bathrioom, water fountain, sink faucet, next to the Mount Laguna store
Julian Pie Company in Santa Ysabel (Mile 86): bathroom, sink faucet
Lake Henshaw Store (Mile 102): bathroom, convenience store
Jo & Sofia in the car somewhere between the Bottom of Palomar and before Cole Grade (Miles 120 to 129): water, ice, food, sundries
Rancho Bernardo Chevron (Mile 150): bathroom, convenience store; next to start of bike path to Lake Hodges pedestrian/bicycle bridge
I actually skipped the Lake Henshaw rest stop, which may have been a mistake, because I ran a little low on water in the last 3 miles of East Grade of Palomar, and in turn, my speed slowed incredibly. By skipping that 5-minute rest stop, I probably lost about 10 minutes in time at the top of East Grade. Instead I stopped at the top of Palomar at the bathroom and filled up my bottles at the sink faucet. Jo also met me at the bottom of South Grade, so I was able to drink two bottles quickly after the descent and then load up before Cole Grade. It meant I had two full bottles for all of the 12 mile descent off Palomar. Yay, downhill weight assist!
I really don’t like riding more than 3 hours to be honest. I’ve done my fair share of 12 to 14 hour rides, and more than I’d like to admit of 8 to 10 hour rides. Plus, lots of back to back to back, etc. days of cycling. Nowadays, 3 hours is fun, 4 hours is getting on a bit, and 5 hours is too much. But it is all a matter of perspective. Knowing that I had a 12 hour day ahead of me, I treated it like factory work: just keep "pulling the lever," take in food and water, take short allotted break times, and repeat until the job is done. I’m not trying to sound ungrateful or downplay the ride. I realize it is a privilege to (1) have the ability and health to complete this type of ride, and (2) have the time and support network to allow me the privilege. The primary point of the ride was to honor my commitment to my fundraisers and hopefully raise more money for the NorCal AIDS Cycle (NCAC).
Rolling out at 5:00am on the San Diego streets is kind of special. It’s a sleepy city and no time exemplifies that more than a fog-covered roll through the neighborhoods of mid-city, into College Area, on to La Mesa and beyond. It’s like an eternal slumber waiting for someone to break the spell. I obeyed traffic laws, even pushing walk signals as needed, but with the route I took and the time of day, it was mostly green lights, and very few cars. The only challenge in the first part which tested my legs and gave me a bit of pause was the climb up Lemon Ave over the west side of Mount Helix (mile 10) on the way to Fuerte Drive. It’s a real leg stretcher and it helped me re-assess my heart rate and power targets.
From there, through Willow Glen and the flat part of Dehesa (mile 20), it was about keeping the fuel going into my body. I made sure I ate 250 to 300 calories per hour via a mix of liquid and whole food nutrition. I’ve had my gut shutdown on rides before due to riding too hard or not eating enough solids, and by eating early and often, and keeping within my pace boundaries, I find it keeps the gut working well throughout the ride.
The climb up Dehesa was gorgeous. No wind. Quiet. Few cars. And the June Gloom was finally receding behind. No dramatic point of breaking through with the clouds below, but lovely nonetheless. On to Japatul where I started to feel my legs, which was not an encouraging sign, but I knew on an all day adventure like this, sometimes you feel good and sometimes bad.
A quick stop at Bloom Ranch (mile 35) for a refuel on water and adding more drink mix. It's a spigot, hose, and bike rack at the end of the Jeff Bloom's driveway. Thank you Jeff Bloom for having this free oasis on a climb with little services, and thank you for always hosting a rest stop for The Alpine Challenge (Kiwanis).
Onward and upward on this course, which basically climbs non-stop. Quick push over the 2-mile Guatay climb keeping my heart rate and power in check and the roads became a bit more busy as folks from Pine Valley and Descanso headed to work, but a big shoulder makes the riding smooth. Then down into Pine Valley.
I didn’t include a stop in Pine Valley (mile 48), unless I needed a bathroom break. No bathroom break needed, so I kept on rolling.
Sunrise Highway on Mount Laguna (about 2270 feet climb and 9 miles from Pine Valley to the top) was truly a one of kind ride; that is, early enough to be very quiet (maybe 3 cars), but just late enough in the morning for it to be sunny and nicely warm. The sunrise climb is consistent with decent pavement, and the higher you climb the more you can appreciate the raw natural beatuy that is San Diego County: scrub brush, chapparal, desert views, punctuated with some green (especially after this year's rain). The grade never steepends enough to force a hard stand or large push, so you can just roll a light gear and keep the heart rate and power in check. Hard to believe this paradise is less than an hour's drive from the city of San Diego.
I ducked in quickly to the bathrooms next to the Laguna Store Visitor Center (mile 59) for my first official off-the-bike break, being that the Bloom Ranch stop was done straddling the Orbea. It was nice to stand, stretch, and take in a bit more nutrition while not pedaling, plus take a decent natual break. It was pretty clear to me though, even at this juncture that I was a bit behind on my timing to complete the whole route. I was about 25 minutes off my target time. I was not too concerned, because the good news was that I felt decent, but I also knew that pushing it through the next 40 miles to make up time would be a big mistake. I would just have to stick with my HR Max and power limit plan to be able to survive until the end. I've made the mistake before of "feeling good" on a very long endurance ride and pushing myself to the point of failure and incompletion.
The descent off of Laguna was ideal: light wind, clear skies, limited cars. I just kept the gear turning over as I peered to the right and into the desert surrounding Borrego Springs. I nipped up Cuyamaca Highway and through Julian (mile 80; no pie stop this time, unfortunately, which is almost sacrilegious), and then down on to Santa Ysabel. An uneventful stretch of road, but I was still feeling fine. In Santa Ysabel, another quick bathroom stop and water refill at the Julian Pie Company (no pie again though, double sacrilege!) and onward to Mesa Grande.
Mesa Grande is a top road to ride in San Diego County. It's always a bit greener than the rest of the desert-like landscape which surrounds it, plus it is quiet, with rolling ranch land. As I climbed Mesa Grande toward Lake Henshaw, the smell of sage (I think) was filling the air. I was really starting to tire then and also eating was not as fun as it normally should be, as I was pouring in the calories per the ride plan. The smell of the sage and the time I spent trying to get a decent picture of it for this blog, helped pass the time. Up and over on Mesa Grande past the Black Canyon turn off (dirt road which is part of the CCSD Dirty Devil) and I was on the descent to Lake Henshaw.
When you ride the bike all day, at some point it all starts to feel like it clicks. No matter how much you ride or how comfortable you feel, on very long rides there is a point when you become one with the bike. That Mesa Grande technical descent felt great. So fun!
I made the mistake of skipping my planned stop in Lake Henshaw (mile 102). I felt good coming off of Mesa Grande, and thought I could make up a bit of time by cruising directly to the East Grade of Palomar (about 2650 feet climb and 11 miles). Even though I was smart on Laguna about sticking with the ride plan, I flubbed it at Lake Henshaw and paid the price. Climbing East Grade was lovely until the last 3 miles. I felt decent, although very tired, but knew it was my true penultimate climb of the day. The varied colored flowers along the side of the road were lovely, and I saw one car and two water trucks. The heat though was building and building and building as I climbed. The last three mlles the heat was registering in the low 90s with some 10-15 mph head winds, which is not that big a deal, but I started to run low on water and had to ration, plus my continued pedaling all the way from Santa Ysabel piled on top of the big mileage day took its toll. It's funny that at one moment you feel pretty good or even great and then within a 10 minute period, I started to feel pretty terrible. Not the worst I've felt, but enough to make me slow to a crawl. The slowing also allowed the many flies to start gathering around my head, making for an annoying 30 minutes or so. The top of East Grade is the steepest part (along with the bottom). I gutted it out, but knew I would have to stop at the top to reload, refuel, and gather myself.
At the top of Palomar Mountain (mile 113), I ducked into the bathroom, and refilled my bottles, drank a bit more, and refueled. I was a bit down, because I knew at that point that making it in the quest for the 12 hour ride time was out the window. It was 3:00pm and I needed to be up there by 2:00pm to make it home by 6:00pm. The thought of only 65 more miles was an added mental boost, as I felt on was on the backside of the ride, but still a bit bummed. I tried to make my stop quick, because Jo was at the junction of South Grade and Route 76 (mile 120). I made fast, safe work of the descent and met Jo and Sofia. It is really nice when you are feeling a bit down to see family. It was super nice of Jo to come to Palomar, especially with our 7-month old Sofia. They went on a hike, then intercepted me on course. A quick cold Coke, plus bottle top off, and a bit more fuel in my belly and I was off. Jo had a sandwich for me, but I was full enough to keep riding without eating it.
Super hot ride across Pauma Valley to Cole Grade, of which I was slightly dreading the ascent. Strangely, outside of the double digit grade at the bottom of Cole Grade, I felt fairly decent. The tailwind from the northwest, and the cold Coke, plus seeing family gave me a boost. The top of Cole Grade (mile 132) was really my true last challenge, and I could taste the easier pedaling ahead toward home. I knew actually completing the ride was in my grasp, and this was a valid concern when I left San Diego at 5:00am.
The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. With the cross-tail wind, and the added draft/push from the cars hustling down through Rancho Bernardo , the pedals kept turning over and I was on my way home. I had a quick stop in Rancho Bernardo (mile 150) for a cool drink and just kept plugging away. Over Lake Hodges and through the southern end of Rancho Bernardo via Poway, and up and over Pomerado, all systems where firing. No problems and the speed was even high going down Kerny Villa at Mile 166 (cruising at 22mph+ on the flats).
The final challenge was Texas Street (mile 176): not very long but a grade in the low teens. As Mike Wilson always said in his preparation for Race Across the West (RAW) and Race Across America (RAAM), "all training rides end on Texas Street." I honored that tradition with the final push at 170+ miles up and over it into the home neighborhood. It was a crawl, but again doable. At that point, my body only knew one thing: to pedal.
I finished the ride actually not feeling all that bad. No cramping, no bonking (except the 3 miles on top of Palomar Mountain), no crashes, etc. Just a nice day out in the country. I've always wanted to do the loop and this was nice opportunity to take on the challenge and also add in a charitable component. In the end, thanks to continued fundraising throughout the day, and my nagging Facebook posts, we raised another ~$1,000 dollars to a final total of $5,136! I cannot thank all those who followed the adeventure engouh and all those who contrbuted to get us above $5,000!
Maybe in 2018, you'll join me at NorCal AIDS Cycle as a rider or crew, or maybe if you didn't chip in this year, you'll chip in some fundraising dollars next year? I've already registered for NCAC 2018. I'm taking requests for another crazy fundraising ride to do post-NCAC next year, so if you have any ideas, shoot them my way: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Final Ride Stats
- Ride Start Time: 5:03 am
- Ride Finish Time: 6:52 pm
- Total Moving Ride Time: 12 hours 55 minutes
- Total Ride Time: 13 hours 49 minutes
- Total Distance 177.6 Miles
- Total Ascent: 17,080 Feet
- Average Speed: 13.7 mph
- Average Heart Rate: 140 bpm
- Average Power: 109 watts
- Total Rest Stops: 6
- Total Calories Consumed: ~3,480 calories
- Total Fluid Consumed: ~260 ounces (2+ gallons)
Some more images from the day in the gallery below.