LA Grand Tour Highland Double
This would be my second time at this event in as many years. Deciding to come back and do this ride was both spontaneous and wreckless. It came on the heels of the torturous Terrible Two, which I had just completed exactly one week earlier. If I wasn't too sure about the wisdom of attempting back-to-back weekends of double centuries in general, then I must have surely been delirious when I registered for this ride right after the TT.

But then I remember having a super positive experience at the LA Grand Tour last year, perhaps because it was the occasion upon which I first qualified for the California Triple Crown. That aside, I did recall enjoying so much of the course and also felt quite resilient that day, having cycled comfortably on my own for nearly 2/3 of the whole ride. Most persuasive of all, however, was the fact that Lisa (my significant other, to save you the contextual interpretation) would be out there attempting to cinch her first Triple Crown... why not earn mine this year alongside her? Awwww, you say.

So there. Before I knew it, we'd be checking into the Topanga Ranch Motel off PCH between Malibu and Santa Monica. Folks, learn by our mistake and just don't bother staying here if tiny, rickety shacks with barely enough room for a double bed, and a slanted, cramped up bathroom to boot just don't turn you on. Last year, I camped at the ride start. This wasn't much of an option this year as they changed the start/finish location. Should'a found a spot to camp on the beach instead, or maybe even stayed in Santa Monica.

The LA Grand Tour is what I equate to the Davis Double of SoCal. Tons of registrants. Lots of people use it as their first attempt at a double because they have route options (highland or lowland, which refers to total amount of climbing). But it also attracts the very experienced ultradistance junkies because of the supported triple and quadruple options. Apparently, legacy also has some effect on its popularity: the LA Wheelmen claim it to be the first organized double century in California.

Lisa and I set off at 5:00AM, not needing headlights for long as sunrise greeted us along PCH north of Malibu. Whizz whizz whizz, we're passed by one energetic paceline after another. I have no temptation to latch on whatsoever. Most of these folks I don't recognize from other distance events, and they don't look like the sort who can really maintain that excitement for 12 hours or more. Most of the sort that could don't normally hit the road until past 7AM, or have been out there on their 300/400 mile journey well before we started.

Apart from the long morning spin along the Pacific Coast in the morning, much of the first quarter of the ride is pretty uneventful. But once you reach Potrero Rd. on the way to Thousand Oaks, things get more interesting. Once there, the sense of remoteness sets in quickly, thanks to the numerous canyon passes and inland lakes you encounter. The climb up Potrero is notable, thanks to a steep one mile stretch that always twaps legs spoiled by three hours or so of moderate rollers.

My favorite stretch of the whole ride has to be Grimes Canyon between Moorpark and Bardsdale. What a nice ridgeline pass, punctuated by a twisty and smooth plunge of a descent. I'd barely had time to soak it all in after the descent when I noticed something up with my rear wheel. Broken spoke. Damn. I didn't happen to be carrying an extra.

Off the side of the road I go, no shade anywhere, the sun's starting to swelter, and I take nearly 10 minutes in an attempt to perfect compensatory tension on the remaining spokes so I could keep riding until maybe I'd find a shop or a SAG staffer who could offer me a spare. As I'd discover by the time I reached Ojai, there wouldn't be a shop anywhere near the course, nor any SAG volunteer equipped with parts nor tools to remedy the problem. Screw it. I felt pretty confident the wheel would last the next 100 miles the way I had it. (It did. Another testament to traditionally laced wheels and spoke counts.)

By the time I reached Ojai (mile 117) I wasn't feeling too great. Could have been the heat (it hit 108F while I was laboring up Ojai Rd). What's more, the nasty saddle sore I thought I'd be able to endure that morning really started to... um... hurt. My pedal stroke was off and square to compensate, and the leg muscles were already beginning to whine. I took an uncharacteristically long break for lunch and waited for Lisa.

The long break was probably not such a good thing for the endurance condition thing, but I'm glad I did anyway. I felt better bitching about how poorly I was feeling to her by the time we reached the Lake Casitas loop. Better (or pity) her than some random strangers, not the least of whom was some cocky dude on an excessively pimped Colnago C50 with one of those razor-thin all carbon weight-weenie saddles. My aching ass hurt all the more just looking at the damn thing.

Cup-o-Noodles at Carpinteria couldn't have come at a better time. Or the cool coastal breeze. I'd had it with 100F+ heat and was long ready for some major salt intake. It rejuvenated me for maybe 10 miles on the way down to Ventura and Channel Islands. But once upon the final stretch between Port Hueneme and Malibu, back on the holy rollers of PCH, I hit the wall. Engines 1, 2 and 3 kaput. Uncharacteristic (and stiff) headwinds along the way just added insult to injury.

As Lisa dieseled ahead, I slowed to such a crawl for nearly 30 minutes that two roving SAG drivers inquired if I would be OK to finish. Arrgh... just leave me be was all I could think. "Yeah, thank you." Said with a forced chipper smile. Then along came the pompous prick with the poser saddle taunting, "Ha ha, can't get me now!". That was it. I wasn't about to have some bastard ruin my spirits the rest of the day, if my own body wasn't aleady letting me down enough. I sucked down the rest of my Hammer Gel, got in the drops and slowly ramped up the tempo. It took a while to bridge back to him as he latched on at the back of a 10-rider group.

I rode alongside him for about half a minute. He seemed surprise to see me. When the road went upwards for the Nth time in Malibu. I hit the gas. I mean really opened it up. A foolish thing to do with an hour left to ride, after 185 exhausting miles. But the prick and his responsive paceline were blown to bits. Wow, I'm cruising on home. Lisa's blown away at how well I've recovered in such short time, especially since 10 minutes ago some fella muttered to her "Your friend ain't lookin' too good back there."

What a little testosterone can do for a long ride. Who knew?

At the finish, I quickly got off the bike and stretched like a good boy. It had been months since I was as good about a post-ride stretch, but the certainty of cramps plaguing me otherwise was a swell motivator. Lisa comes along not long after, beaming from earning her first Triple Crown. Not bad for someone 8 months fresh from major spinal surgery, man. Not bad at all.

Finishing our third double of the year together was definitely the greatest part of this ride. Or maybe it was the killer omelets at the Santa Monica farmer's market the morning after. All in all, we agreed that our experience on the ride was pretty blah overall. Still a ride worth experiencing at least once in an ultradistance lifetime, but not one in our books to come back to.

... Until we decide we want the full support on a triple century. ;-)

Distance: 201 miles | Elevation gain: 8,380' | Ride time: 13h47m
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