Mulholland Double: Well, I finished the thing
Summary I didn’t have great legs for this ride, had to repair a bent chain, and had a nice bonk at the end. I give details below. Maybe not epic by some standards, but given my previous attempt at this ride, it seems about par for the course.
Once again I set my target this year to finish the Triple Crown Stage race. This would be my third attempt, having failed to complete the required rides in the previous two years. In 2008, I lost my route sheet and got lost during the Mulholland Double, and in 2009, after completing the Devil Mountain Double, I DNFd Central Coast due to some intercostal condronitis (a painful inflammation of the cartilage in and around the ribs).
This year, as in 2008, Mulholland was going to be the first stage, and I took steps to address the problems that kept me from finishing the stage race in the previous two years. To prevent getting lost, I had a Garmin 705 with the route loaded up and ready to go. I also carried two route sheets in reserve. Also, I had studied the map quite thoroughly, as a result of having to prepare the Garmin. So getting lost was highly unlikely. As for the condronitis, a little Advil would go a long way to keeping this under control. Finally, the weather was looking a lot better than in 2008, when it was hot and windy. The forecast called for an overcast morning, with cooler temperatures for the rest of the day. There would be a seabreeze in the afternoon, but that would be minor compared to the Santa Ana winds I faced in 2008.
My training for Mulholland seemed to going well. I did the Death Valley Double in March, followed by hard training rides on the weekends leading up to Mulholland. I felt pretty good, but to keep my expectations reasonable, the only thing I said out loud before the ride was that I only wanted to finish the thing. I didn’t want to think about expected finishing time, or what placing I would get. That way, I felt I’d be able to handle whatever unexpected obstacles would likely get thrown my way.
Tina and I drove down on Friday and got checked into the Renaissance Hotel, which was the starting point this year, unlike in 2008, which started at the Good-Nite Inn. The upside was that the Renaissance is a very nice hotel, The downside was that it would add about 7 miles to the ride. They weren’t hard miles, but it was still a longer ride. We had plenty of time to get last minute breakfast items for me, and to go out and get a tasty meal.
I got a reasonably good night’s rest, and with my bike and gear all ready, I rolled down to the start. My Garmin gave me a little scare by not coming up with the route directions quickly enough. However, just as the race rolled out, it started working, so I could concentrate on riding. The group stayed together for about 20 miles until we hit the first climb of the day on Topanga Canyon. It was there that I could tell it was going to be a long day, as my legs felt heavy and tight. This was unlike in 2008, when my legs felt pretty loose and springy on this same climb. Perhaps the long car drive was a factor, or maybe it was just one of those things. Unlike in 2008, when only about eight rides got ahead of me on Topanga, I watched about twenty or thirty riders go up the road while I tried to find a rhythm that worked for me. After a while I settled into a groove, and I eventually caught up to a small group that seemed to be composed mostly of racers, as they were very strong.
After reaching Mulholland Highway, I settled into a good pace with this group. I didn’t feel strong enough to go off alone in front of the group, but I was also able to keep up with them without too much trouble. This was the status quo until we reached Yerba Buena Road, which is the roughest section of road on the ride. As I descended one section, three guys in front of me went off the road in one of the many turns. As I passed, they were picking themselves up and assured me that they were okay. I slowed down a little, just to give them a chance to catch up. Two guys were still in front but I wasn’t going to take any chance to catch up with them.
As I was descended, I tried to shift up to my big chain ring in the front. Because of the rough road my bike was bouncing around, and that caused the chain to fall off on the outside. This hasn’t been a problem for me in the past, as I’m usually able to downshift the front derailleur and get the chain back on the rings. However, the rough road was bouncing the chain around so much that it ended up tangling on the rear derailleur and getting totally jammed. I had to stop and untangle the mess, and the riders who had been caught up in the crash passed me. I got back on my bike and tried to catch up. However, I could tell right away that my chain was not working right, as it was skipping quite severely. In fact, it was so bad there was no way I would be able to finish the ride unless I could fix it. I was also outside any cell coverage so I wasn’t going to able to call SAG for help. So after about a minute of being rather frustrated at this setback, and perhaps not being able to finish, I started working to fix the problem.
I had a multipurpose tool in my seat bag, and I got that out and tried to figure out how to get the chain breaker to work. One link in the chain was bent quite badly, so my plan was to try to break the chain and remove the bad link. My only problem was that I didn’t have spare pin or quick link to put the chain back together again. However, as riders were passing me and asking me if I needed anything, I would ask them if they had a spare link. Most didn’t, but one guy did actually one and he graciously offered it to me. As I was getting ready to implement my repairs, Brian Bowling, the main organizer of the ride, drove by and asked if I needed help. He actually had a spare chain and insisted on using that instead of making repairs to the bad chain. I was not one to turn down the offer, just in case there were other problems with the bad chain. After a few minutes, he cut the new chain down to the correct length and installed it onto my bike, and after a quick test to make sure that there were no other problems with the chain and shifting, I thanked Brian as was on my way.
Back on the Road
I was off the bike for at least half-an-hour, so my legs were a little stiff. I warming up quickly and descended down Deer Creek to the checkpoint just before turning onto the PCH. I had no hope of getting a good finishing time, or finding a fast group to paceline with along the coast. But given that my chain was actually working, I was okay with riding alone now, since I could ride my own tempo. At the checkpoint, I met Bryan, who actually was riding with our group for a while until he passed me while I was affecting repairs on my bike. He had actually taken a wrong turn and so we were able to form an impromptu group of two. Bryan turned out to an excellent riding companion, funny and easy to talk to. After getting separated before the Protrero Road climb, we regrouped at lunch and ended up doing the rest of the ride together.
The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful, at least compared to having to fix a chain. I left my food drink bottle at one rest stop, but that wasn’t too bad as I was eating mostly solid food at the rest stops by now. We got over the super-steep Balcom Canyon climb with no problems, and reach the point were I made a wrong turn in 2008. Not this time, as my Garmin was directing me nicely. Also, there were plenty of arrows on the road to show the way. However, that doesn’t always prevent one from getting lost, so it was good to have the Garmin directing me.
As we approached the coast, Bryan and I would pick up a rider here and there, and they would join our paceline for a while. By the time we reached Decker, we had only one rider left with us. He quickly dropped off the back after we started the climb and it was just the two of us. It was warm climbing Decker, but as the sun was starting to set it was getting a little chilly on the descents or when the wind picked up. We made pretty good time along Mulholland and soon we were on the last climb of the day, the Piuma/Schueren double summit. We both were pretty quiet as we climbed into the dark, and the summit couldn’t come quick enough. There were road markings, barely visible in the dark, that marked off the final kilometer to the top of both summits. The views from near the top were quite spectacular, with Malibu just below us, and the sprawling lights of Los Angeles in the distance. We soon reached the Stunt Road check point and checked in. Tina was working the rest stop and gave me some leg warmers and chemical foot warmers for the descent. As we bombed down the descent, I think I scared a couple of guys as I passed them in the dark, but I wasn’t fooling around as I wanted to get out of the cold as quickly as possible.
After the descent it was just some rollers on the way back. However I started to pay the price for not having my food bottle as I was starting to feel the hunger knock. I tried to fish my Hammer Gel bottle out of my back pocket, but I ended up getting more on me than in my mouth. I found a Clif Bar in another pocket, and scarfed some of that instead. The finish line couldn’t come quickly enough, but once it did, I was pretty relieved more than anything.
All I can say about Mulholland is that this ride is not kind to me. However, I’m satisfied that I managed to finish the ride even though I didn’t have great legs, had a bad mechanical, and bonked at the end. I might not finish high in the Triple Crown Stage race this year, but I have more confidence that I can deal with whatever fun obstacles come my way in the remaining two stages.