For those of you who only have time for the short version, here it is. Our adventurous 135 mile ride included riding in the dark, two hours of rain, one hour of torrential down pouring rain, 40 MPH winds, temperatures in the low 30's, 53-foot semi-trucks zooming passed us at 80MPH, almost 9 hours of pedaling time and almost 12 hours of total ride time to finish this classic door to door journey. It was an awesome adventure with a happy ending. For those of you who have the time to read the long version, keep reading. This ride was a classic.
It was November 11th, 2010 and I had just made the decision to ride my road bike out to my father's house in Palm Desert on the day before Thanksgiving, a mere two weeks away. Knowing that my wife and kids would arrive the next day with the minivan, I was thankful to know that I would not have to make the more difficult ride home. I had been wanting to do this 135 mile ride that spanned three different climate zones (foothills, mountains, & desert) for a number of years, and with all the recent endurance training I had put in with the girls, I figured this was the year. Of course, as soon as Moriah caught me mapping the route via Google Maps, she was all over me. "Dad, are you riding to Grandpa's house in Palm Desert? When are you doing this ride? I want to do it too! That looks like an awesome ride!" I gave her a blank stare and did not respond. She disappeared. Minutes later, she returned with Hannah by her side and the two of them began to tag-team me. Mo started, "Dad, we can do this ride, easily." On cue, Hannah followed up with, "Dad, we just did 108 miles in six and a half hours." Mo had her back, "and we also just climbed 15,000 feet." Hannah moved in for the close, "Dad, you know we can do this ride, please let us go. It would be so fun!" I let out a deep sigh, and defaulted to the only way out at the time, "Let me check with your Mother, and we'll see. That is not a yes! It's a, we'll see." After three days of conferring with Dawn and spending hours modifying the route for safety, we decided to let them do it.
In the days leading up to the ride, we had been tracking a storm that was supposed to hit the day before the ride. It was a short storm that was supposed to blow through quickly. The ending time of the storm continued to change and when we went to bed the night before the ride, our final whether check said that the 34 degree rain would end around 1:00am and the skies would clear. The bad news was that those clear skies by 4:00am would yield 21 degree temperatures, and our fear was that the wet roads would then freeze and have pockets of black ice. As we would be starting our adventure in the dark, we went to bed a little anxious.
We woke the next morning at 3:45am to find that the storm had arrived much later than expected. Stepping out the front door into the darkness we found that it was still raining, which would end up being both a blessing and a curse. We checked the weather again to find that the rain was now supposed to stop at 8:00am. It was not raining too hard, nor was it too windy. So, we decided to throw on our rain gear and start our 10+ hour adventure. I was hoping that the rain would keep the temperatures above freezing as we went through the mountains, but we still had to climb up to 5,000 feet in elevation, and if the forecast was off by a mere two degrees, the rain would turn to snow. It turned out that the clouds and the rain did keep the temperature just above freezing as we crested Cuyamaca and began descending toward Julian. That was the blessing. However, the curse was that it was literally "just above freezing" and what started as a light drizzle at our house, grew into a violent winter storm as we climbed higher up into the mountains. Right after recording our 6:15am video clip, we began to get pounded by strong rain and wind, which grew more and more violent each minute for the next hour, until torrential, ice cold showers of rain and 40MPH wind gusts made every drop feel like a paintball, tearing holes in our frozen faces.
Despite having rain proof gear on and a total of five layers of clothing, that one hour of vicious, 34-degree rain found its way inside all of us and soaked every layer of clothing we had on. The wind chill factor on the final descent into Julian was excruciatingly painful. We had to get indoors and fast. The final 15 minutes of Leg One was a serious test of perseverance and bike handling skills as the blinding rain and brutal winds made it extremely difficult to keep the rubber down. Finally, with frozen toes, fingers and faces, the three of us staggered into the Julian Coffee Shop at 7:30am to gazes of disbelief and judgment from the 10 back country folk who were enjoying their morning cup of hot coffee in the midst of this nasty storm.
"You guys are complete idiots!" the first big burly man said as we limped into the cute little coffee shop dripping wet with our purple faces. "Yaaa, but they sure are tough!" countered his buddy sitting across the table who could see we were suffering. Once the 10 coffee shop patrons found out that we were on mile 28 of 135, we had everyone's respect and help. Three people started using their smart phones, checking various weather web sites for us. Two others made phone calls to friends who lived down the hill in the direction we were headed to see what the weather was really like. The owner of the coffee shop graciously let us hang 20 pieces wet clothing all across his tiny shop to drip dry and allowed us to stand barefoot on his floor heaters as we sipped our hot chocolate, trying to get feeling back into our toes. We stayed there for well over an hour futilely attempting to get warm and foolishly hoping our clothes would dry. Unfortunately, neither happened, as it was only 55 degrees inside the old wooden coffee shop that didn't have great heaters or insulation.
I looked at my watch. Decision time had come. With our late start, slow trek through the fog and storm, and our 1.5 hour long revitalizing efforts in the rustic coffee shop, we had burned all of our extra time that I had padded into the ride. I did not want to be riding in the dark in Palm Desert traffic the day before Thanksgiving. We either had to leave right then, or we had to punt and call my wife Dawn to come pick us up.
I turned to the girls, putting on my best Devil's Advocate voice. "Ladies, it's been well over an hour. The weather has not changed. We have to make our decision right now. You guys want to punt?" Moriah did not hesitate for a second. "No way Dad, we are not punting!" Hannah followed, "According to weather, Borrego Springs is already clear. We just have to get off this mountain." I tried one last time, "Girls, our clothes are still soaking wet. It's still raining outside. It's 35 degrees and the winds are screaming. We will freeze for at least 2 more hours trying to get to Borrego. If we head down that hill, there is no turning back. We can still call Mom right now and she will come pick us up." The three burly country men sitting next to us had to chime in, "Call Mommy girls, . . . . tell her to come getcha." Hannah looked each man in the eye intently and confidently said, "No way! Were going for it!" Moriah, who was already putting back on her 5 wet layers, followed up with, "Let's go Dad, get dressed!" I stared at my determined girls and scratched my head as the burly men turned their jeering on me, "Looks like Daddy's the only one who wants to punt." Then all three men chuckled. Despite giving us a hard time while we were there, the coffee shop crew sent us off with a series of positive encouragements. "Go get em girls! You can do it! Stay tough!"
We needed those positive affirmations, for as soon as we stepped out of the coffee shop door, the icy wind sliced right through our wet clothes and cut us to the core, making us think twice about our decision. So we hopped on our bikes and got pedaling as fast as we could for Banner Grade before we had time to second guess ourselves. Half way down the hill the rain stopped. After 45 minutes of descending the temperature finally began to climb and the roads started to dry. As we made the final drop down toward the desert, the skies cleared and the sun hit our bodies for the first time. As we hit the Yaki pass turn off at 10:00am, our clothes were finally dry and the temperature had climbed to the upper 40's, which felt like the 80's after what we had been through. We shed our outer layer for the climb and enjoyed a beautiful tail-wind that pushed us up the 10% Yaki Pass. The combination of the sun and the climbing finally warmed us up after five hours of freezing. We had made the right decision. The roads were now totally dry, the sun was shining, and a beautiful new day was beckoning. Now, we just had to knock out another 90 miles.
We topped out on Yaki Pass and began our descent down toward Borrego Springs, staring at an impressive panorama of magnificent desert mountains and clear blue skies that framed up this unique valley (See the Mile 55 photo). Unfortunately, that wonderful tail wind became a brutal head wind as we made the left turn to head toward downtown Borrego Springs. It was a tough five miles to get to Christmas Circle, but we finally got there, got our water, sucked down a Hammer Bar, hit the bathroom, and headed off to tackle our 30 mile 3rd leg at 11:00am.
Leg three was the best part of our adventure. We had a great tail/cross wind pushing us over the 30 miles from Borrego to the Salton Sea. The scenery was spectacular and the temperature was now in the mid 50's. Thick, green, happy ocotillos shot up everywhere out of the barren landscape and we had virtually no traffic. That 3rd leg was going perfect until we hit the final descent, right before the Salton Sea. If you have never ridden this stretch of road before, beware of this last hill. Without warning, as you are flying down a 6% grade at 30 MPH, the road instantly goes from smooth asphalt to "The Cobble Stones From Hell." This abrupt change in road quality caught us totally off guard and it took every bit of strength we had left in our tired arms at mile 85 to keep our bikes up-right as they bounced all over the road. I was convinced we were going to pop a tire or one of us was going to go down hard, but thank God, neither happened. The nasty roads only lasted for about 5 minutes, but they were terrible and incredibly jarring on our tired bodies.
After watering up at the AM/PM, we crossed HWY 86 and made the sharp left hand turn back into the head wind. We still had 50 miles to go and the winds were now stronger than they had been all day. With the brutal head wind, our 35 mile 4th Leg was by far the most mentally challenging, as we had to stay extremely focused, continually dodging huge chunks of tire iron, and in many cases whole tires in the wind, while trying to ignore the 53 foot semis that were flying by us at 80MPH. Thank God the bike lane was 12 feet wide. Once we got used to them, the big trucks ended up being a blessing, as each one provided four seconds of relief from the head winds. With all the junk on the roads, we were fortunate to only get one flat amongst the three of us across the 35 mile stretch. Unfortunately, we did not have those 10 minutes to spare if we were going to beat the darkness. So, once we were done changing the flat, we had to put the hammer down again into the head wind at mile 110 to make up the time, which was a little tough on the legs.
Our final stop was at mile 120 in Coachella, which quite frankly, felt like we were in Mexico. Most of the signs were in Spanish and we did not see a single white person as we cycled through this 5 mile long town, trying to find a mini-mart that did not have gang members hanging out in the parking lot. After passing three of them, I realized it was not going to happen, so I said a prayer for safety and told the girls to be brave as we pulled into the "Amigos Mini Mart." Before we had even un-clipped three gang members started cat-calling and whistling at Hannah from across the parking lot. We kept our distance and quickly convinced the store owner to un-lock the bathroom door. Needless to say, we got out of there as fast as we could, deciding that we could make the last 15 miles with the water we had left on our bikes. It was getting late and we still needed to do some hammering to make it to Palm Desert before dark.
At 4:50pm, just before dark we pulled into my father's gated country club and coasted our final mile with happy hearts to his door, arriving at 4:53pm, 11 hours and 40 minutes after we started our epic adventure. Our pedaling time was 8 hours and 45 minutes, giving us an average speed of 15.4 MPH. Given the 1 hour of pedaling in the dark fog, 2 hours of violent storm, 5,200 feet of climbing, and 5 hours of brutal headwinds, the time was not too bad. At age 11, Moriah felt great after this massive effort and although we will not be doing one in the near future, I am now convinced that she could easily finish a double century before turning 12 if I would let her. My Dad had a warm fire and lots of great food waiting for us. After hot showers and stuffing our growling tummies, we all passed out and slept like bricks for 11 hours. We woke up feeling refreshed, totally stoked, and humbly proud of our accomplishment. It truly was a classic ride. See the photos here. Watch the video here.