Breathless Agony...the name alone implies a painful ride. 112 miles and 12,000 ft of climbing in the mountains of southern California, it promises a long, hard day in the saddle, challenging one both physically and mentally. The organized ride is taking place on May 5th, but that's not enough for some of the members of the so Cal Bike Forums. They need to preview the route. Ride a portion of it in the name of training, you're thinking? Nope. Their idea of previewing is riding the route. The whole route. Every. Single. Mile. Of. It. I didn't register for the BA ride prior to it selling out, so this was my chance to do the route. George posted the idea of the BA Preview ride on Bike Forums back in January and the response was great, with many of the members willing to come out and ride with us. One last detail...finding someone to drive SAG for us, and Mandy came through. I had heard of her superior SAGging abilities and was assured that if she did this, we would only need one support person despite the fact that we would be all over the mountain with our varying abilities.
Fast forward to late Saturday night and the tickle in my throat, stuffiness and general feeling that *CRAP! I'm getting sick!* Bad timing, but this event was on my calendar for way too long to bail on it now. I woke up on Sunday morning feeling worse, but trying to tell myself that I felt just fine. My pride (sometimes I wonder if this thing I often call pride is really just stupidity masking as pride...maybe I'll figure it out someday) wasn't going to let me back out now. No way.
I had planned to start the ride at civil twilight, which was 6:20 a.m. but didn't arrive at Sylvan Park in Redlands, until shortly after that. I didn't feel like rushing to roll out quickly, perhaps it was the feeling of hesitation, not knowing how the ride was going to go in my current state of stuffiness and snottiness. After greeting some of the other riders and meeting some of the new ones, I gave Mandy my bag with some clothing and decided to roll out with Bob at 6:49 a.m. He stayed with me for a while, but I was having a hard time warming up so I wasn't making any effort to keep up with him. I knew at this point, having rolled between the anticipated slower group and the fast guys, that I would be riding this alone.
The first pass of the ride was Jack Rabbit Trail, which is an unmaintained road. It was so quiet and peaceful and I really enjoyed this section. It was somewhat of an obstacle course, as I found myself swerving and turning to avoid potholes and patches of gravel. Mandy came by to check on me and give me a report of where the other groups of riders were. She assured me that the fast guys were a couple of miles behind me, so I took the opportunity to find a bush before they caught me. <~~~yes...it's been a long time, but I'm back to posting about my public urination. Such a lady, I am. ;) Back on the bike quickly, I enjoyed the rest of the traffic free first pass and was on my way to Beaumont.
The second pass on the route is Oak Glen. I think I had found my rhythm by this point and it didn't hurt as much as I had anticipated. I was finally warmed up and feeling good and even managed to grab the camera out of my jersey pocket to snap a few pictures of this gorgeous area. Every so often, I would look back, expecting the fast group to catch me. Finally, there was one. I couldn't tell for sure, but it didn't look like Phil or George, so I assumed that it was Pat closing in on me. When he reached me, we were almost to the top of the Oak Glen climb, where we rode together for a few minutes before he took off and said "see you at the bottom!"
The descent from the top of Oak Glen was a blast. As I was riding, I was looking at our route sheet, which was the original one from the Breathless Agony organized century. Calculating the cut-off times that they had listed, I felt like I was doing pretty well at this point coming into the second rest stop at Mill Creek Ranger Station. As I arrived all of the guys cheered for me which on one hand was great...it's nice to feel supported. On the other hand it's slightly embarrassing and you wonder if they would do that for the guys, or if you're getting special treatment for being a girl out there. Perhaps I should just stop analyzing it, shut up and be happy that I had a bunch of smiling men there to greet me. There could be worse scenarios. I ate some Fig Newtons here, used the restroom and accepted the Dayquil that Pat offered to me. George pulled in shortly after I did and asked me if I had found my special bottles in the SAG vehicle, which I hadn't. He had bought me my favorite Gatorade that morning and stashed them in Mandy's car with my name on them. :)I filled my bottles and George said he was rolling, so I took off with him. I was only able to hang on until the next group that left the rest stop caught and passed us. Once again, I knew that I couldn't hang and realized that I would be climbing alone.
Ahead of us was climbing, climbing and oh...get this...some more climbing! The section after Mill Creek Ranger Station was really hard on me. It appears to go on forever and ever and having driven it in the car before, I kept thinking to myself that I didn't remember this portion of the drive before the hairpin turn being this long! Later I found out that this is referred to as "damnation alley" and rightfully so! As you are riding, it doesn't look like you're doing much climbing and I actually had to turn my head around several times in an effort to assure myself that there was a reason for my snail's pace. I actually contemplated turning back at this point, thinking that I couldn't ride this slowly and still make it to Onyx Summit. Of course, my pride and the thought that George would kick my ass if I bailed just 45 miles into a ride snapped me out of it. Once past the hairpin turn, I felt like I was actually climbing the mountain, actually getting somewhere, and mentally I was in a much better place and on my way to completing the third pass of the route. I enjoyed the views along the way, including a waterfall on the side of the road that I had noticed the last time that I drove up to Angelus Oaks. A few miles from Angelus Oaks I started cramping in my left leg. I've never experienced this before, but knew that I needed salt...just then Mandy pulls up in the SAG vehicle. Perfect timing! I asked if she had anything salty in the car and she pulled off to the side to check. The only thing we saw was trail mix and that didn't sound good, so I settled for a banana, hoping that the potassium would do me good. I was still cramping, though not as badly as I pulled into Angelus Oaks and the third rest stop. I arrived once again to cheers from the group and promptly started searching for salt! There were potato chips in the car but they didn't sound good and licking the salt off of them was taking too long so I went off in search of some V8 after Ian loaned me some cash. I chugged two cans right away and talked to Jason and Phil for a few minutes before heading out alone for the final pass.
Leaving the store at Angelus Oaks I was trying to calculate how long this last section to Onyx Summit would take me at various speeds. It was something to do to pass the time and though I knew that there was some descending and rollers to come in this section, I wasn't counting on them when I was doing my doomsday *I'm never going to get there* calculations in my head. Before I knew it I was descending and it lifted my spirits...just what I needed. Of course, with the descending came the thought of "CRAP! I'm going to have to climb this shit again on the way back!" I quieted those thoughts and told myself that the only thing that counts is my time to Onyx Summit. The clock stops there and I'll worry about those climbs later.
I'm not sure where I was when people started passing me on their way down. Some had turned around early, though seeing them descending while I still had so far to go was mentally crushing for me. They had left the store not long before me and I just kept thinking...how could they have made it to the top that quickly?!?!?!?!?! It wasn't until later that I found out that they had turned back early and I was fretting for nothing. Mandy drove by to check on me and I asked her to tell George to come back for me after he reached the summit. He had promised that he would and at that point I was lonely and craving some company. The next time I saw her she said that George was at the top, so I expected to see him coming down around a curve at any time. Time kept passing and no sight of George so I figured that one of two things had happened. He was suffering and needed to rest (the best assumption since he had done a Palomar Century the day before) or that he had decided I needed to do this climb alone because it would be more rewarding. I didn't really think that he'd go back on a promise, but I would have been okay with either scenario. Finally...there he was, slowly descending in his search for me. From across the road I see the smile of someone who has conquered the climb and had a chance to recover, which was a stark contrast from me on the other side of the road. I was happy to see him, but barely able to smile in return. I've ridden with George enough to know that he can sense my mood and react accordingly, first with the encouragement and praise, telling me that I'm kicking ass and that he's proud of me. Next comes the nurturing aspect where he tells me to hand him my bottle of water, which he exchanges for one of his that was full of Gatorade, or something...I never asked, just knew that it was more than water! He told me that we were 1.8 miles from the top and then came more praise, this time when he noticed that I was climbing with my heels down. It's one of the things that I get sloppy about at times, but was able to stay on top of throughout this ride. Riding beside me he asked me if I wanted him to pace me up and I said yes, so he got in front of me and and rode nice and easy. He counted down for me...0.7 miles, 0.3 miles, you're almost there. Look! There's the Onyx Summit sign!
Finally off of the bike at mile 74.3, I was so thrilled to have done it! 7 hours and 33 minutes to the top and I was happy with my time. I found a place to rest my bike, was ordered to start eating and immediately downed two Gu packets. After resting for a few minutes Mandy arrived, George gave the remaining riders a quick lesson on changing tubulars and then we were off for our obligatory Onyx Summit elevation sign picture. We bundled up for the descent we were off. The rollers that I had worried about weren't bad at all, and I felt fine climbing, knowing that I was getting ready for a long downhill once we hit Angelus Oaks. We stopped once to strip our jackets off and then at the store for a quick restroom break and were off again, enjoying the warm temperatures that rose as we descended. We rolled into Sylvan Park, I changed clothes and split quickly in an effort to find food.
This route was amazing, I can't wait to do it again. In five weeks. Say what? Yes...I'll do it again in five weeks with the other Breathless Agony workers and then I'll be up there the day of the official ride, cheering all of the riders on. Of course, that won't be enough, this unofficial version gets planned again as a Bike Forums ride for the fall, after temps cool off. I'm hooked on the agony.