The Kitchen Creek ride promised to be rigorous: 11K feet of climbing in San Diego’s mountainous backcountry. It also promised some very beautiful views and interesting riding: from rolling hills to a peek at the U.S.-Mexico border, then a long and car-free climb up Kitchen Creek road to the top of Mt. Laguna. That’s where we stopped, but the ride continued to Julian and back up and along Mt. Cuyamaca. I was lucky to ride with Aaron, Dustin, and Joe. We arrived late, so I only saw my friend Andrew in passing glances along the course. This was his first brevet, and he finished! My photos from the day can be found here. Dustin’s write-up can be found here.
We began in Pine Valley, CA through beautiful country and skirted along the border before turning around in Jacumba. Aaron and I arrived at the start just before 7am, and missed the riders’ meeting. We rushed to get our stuff together, but Dustin and Joe waited for us and soon we were off. We were careful not to bomb through this first 35 miles or so, because the big climbing would be later in the course. This section of the ride seemed to have a lot of climbing, but by the time we reached Kitchen Creek, Dustin’s Garmin told us that we had lost more elevation than we had gained. Regardless, everything felt great for me and we were having a fun time.
By the time we made it to Kitchen Creek, I think we were all in a good rhythm. There was a water refill and apples/soda in the shade underneath Highway 8. Then we started up the climb. For about 5 miles, the road is open for auto traffic (I saw 3 cars) and follows the namesake creek. It is really lovely. Joe and Dustin charged up ahead of Aaron and I. About this time, my right hamstring began to come close to cramping every time my right pedal was up. A numb right foot bothered me since the beginning of the ride (I blame the five-toed Injinji socks – damn them!), but this hamstring business was no fun. At several points, I had to get off the bike to ward of a big cramp and stretch. Aaron was very kind to wait while I stretched. But it was a complete bother and distraction from the work that needed to be done to get to the top of Mt. Laguna. At one point, it felt I was getting off the bike to stretch every 400m or so. Then my quad started cramping. I couldn’t stretch my quad without coaxing my hamstring into a full-blown cramp. So we proceeded this way.
All this on-again-off-again riding may have helped contribute to my exhaustion. The other factor was the weather. Forecast called for highs in the low 80s. From what I remember, Dustin’s Garmin measured 105 on the exposed asphalt of the Kitchen Creek climb. Regardless, my exhaustion really set in. I was at my limit. Once we reached the tree level, I asked Aaron if it was OK if I rested for a bit. We took about 15 minutes in the shade so I could gather my wits. I thought that I might be able to regain my mojo. Well, I didn’t. We continued on slowly (thanks for waiting for me, Aaron!), and made it to the top. I had run out of water and at this point decided to DNF and turn around at the Laguna Mountain Lodge control.
I was coaching Aaron on how he could try to finish the ride – he still had a lot left. But we were surprised to see Dustin and Joe waiting for us at the Lodge – they had been there about 45 minutes. They were well-rested, but done for the day, and we all talked about riding down Mt. Laguna and enjoying a nice lunch. With 5K more feet of climbing and another half of the course ahead of us, that sounded quite nice to everyone. The ride down Mt. Laguna was spectacular: twisty roads and speeds up to 35 mph along beautiful pine forests and green meadows. As we passed hot patches as we descended below the tree line, the thick memory of Kitchen Creek’s heat filled my mind. It was a thrilling descent. I finally found my mojo! Downhill provides. We had a bit over 80 miles on the day.
Just a couple of thoughts for next time: 1). I think I’m going to finally clip in. I ride platform pedals so that I can move my foot around. Numbness in my right foot hadn’t gone away, and while my Camper shoes have a pretty stable thick rubber sole, I think the more rigid bottom of cleats will help; 2). I need to get serious about supplements on longer, more difficult rides. My cramping might have been eased if I was taking electrolyte pills the whole time. I also really enjoyed my first bottle of Perpetuem. While suffering up Kitchen Creek, I pulled a warm Lara bar from my saddlebag and nearly vomited from its nutty, mushy consistency. 3). I need to do more cross training and think about fitness in more diverse ways.
And one more note in equipment, as I often get questions about what matters over distance. While we were enjoying lunch, complete with air conditioning, I saw the first finishers come in on spartan, modern race bikes. They must be incredible riders. Most folks had versions of carbon, aluminum, and steel that seemed practical for the ride. The weather was warm, so one didn’t need too much baggage. I would still have liked a front rando bag to carry some more variety of food. Regardless, it was nice to see this Boulder Randonneuse, equipped with full fendes, a Berthoud bag, and ridden by – you guessed it – a Frenchman.