Sunday, June 06, 2010

A Near Metric Century in – and above – the San Gabriel Valley

My friend, Jim Jacobs, hires me once a year to help conduct a camping trip for the Occidental College alumni association. He has also invited me on a couple of bike rides, the latest this past Saturday. We joined some of his friends, meeting on the grounds of the lovely Claremont Colleges, east of downtown Los Angeles about 8 a.m. Claremont is known as the town of trees and PhDs. Covering about a square mile, the five college campuses, in their park-like settings, are lined up in a row, and each can be reached from another with a short walk.

Our ride was no walk in the park. Although I'm in training for the Death Ride (aka the Tour of the California Alps) next month, I wasn't expecting to participate on a mini-Death Ride. Instead of a two to three hours and 30+ mile ride up into the nearby San Gabriel Mountains, this was a generally flatter but longer ride. It was almost a metric century, just under 66 miles, with temperatures that eventually reached into the high 90s. Perhaps I should have expected how difficult this ride would be when I saw that most of the other seven roadies sported Camelbacks along with water bottles.

Although we traveled mostly through the reasonably level San Gabriel Valley, we found plenty of hills to climb. Someone who hasn't been to Los Angeles and the surrounding megalopolis usually imagines a flat terrain. In truth, the area is ringed with mountain ranges and innumerable hills, and we managed about 4,000 feet of climbing.

One of the seven of us, Elmer, who is pushing 80, was amazingly fit. Elmer, I learned, is a legendary cyclist, a strong former racer. No lightweight, he climbed up some long, steep grade. Elmer pedaled slowly perhaps, but he climbed the hills never-the-less, and did so in good spirits. There's hope for me yet!

When the ride was over, we'd cycled over strikingly varied terrain, our highpoint coming atop the climb of Turnbull Canyon Road, which offered, on it's lower stretches, a look at how the other half lives, and on the upper reaches, a winding country road through a tunnel of oaks that held the heat of the day at bay. I did my best to hang onto Jim's wheel as we finally reached the summit.

Most groups I ride with, no matter what the size, will spend some time downtime at a coffee shop or a sidewalk cafe. Not this group. We pedaled on relentlessly, through the towns of Claremont, Pomona, Diamond Bar, Rowland and Hacienda Heights, Whittier – Richard Nixon's hometown – then back through the towns of El Monte, Baldwin Park, Covina and San Dimas (where Bill and Ted had their excellent adventure). Our only stops were to regroup, or at a couple of parks with restrooms and water fountains.

After I'd gone through at least five bottles of water (I lost count) and the two Clif Bars in my jersey pockets, and a few salt tablets, someone mentioned we could stop at one of the convenience stores we'd soon pass, for sports drinks and food. Great! Only we never stopped, we just kept pedaling, past all the 7-11 stores, and all the wonderful fast-food Mexican restaurants where I knew I would have found some of the best tacos in Southern California.

When the ride was over, when we'd pedaled back into the parking lot where we'd met, I took off my helmet before loading my bike back into my truck. My hair, which should have been a soggy mess atop my skull, was dry. I probably should have doubled the amount of water I'd drunk.

While I was dehydrated, the hunger pangs I'd felt earlier were gone, and eating didn't seem to be a priority as I began the drive home. Still, I knew I needed to refuel my body. Making a random choice of where to eat, I stopped at Dino's Chicken and Burger drive-through restaurant. Thinking I needed protein, I ordered a double cheeseburger. Then I noticed the pastrami burger on the menu. "You want pastrami? We can do that," the disembodied voice intoned over the order speaker to me.

When I grabbed the carry-out carton from the woman at the pick-up window, it felt like it was filled with lead shot. Somehow, there was a mix-up in the order; what I had was a double cheeseburger, atop which was piled what looked like a half pound of pastrami. Lions in the zoo don't dine on as much meat at one sitting. Did I need a license to eat that much meat? I'm hardly a vegetarian, but this was moral overkill. (Even so, I enjoyed all of my meal, my returned appetite rising with every bite.)

Now that I've recovered, I'm about to climb onto my bike, because I've discovered there's another Dino's to visit. And I won't have to ride a metric century to do so; it's four and a half miles from my home, the temperature is 73 degrees, and I'm hungry.

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