The Quick Hit short rides on a long road trip

Posted by SuperClydesdale on October 6, 2010 under Commentary, Rides | Read the First Comment

Three years ago, I was on a road trip from Northern California to Arizona and New Mexico.  I have a penchant for taking the “scenic route” – and this trip was no exception.  I like scenic routes, they take a little longer, but since – as the saying goes — I drive my car like I stole it, it doesn’t take me all that much longer than it takes “other people” to get their the normal way.

One side effect of the scenic route, is that I have a lot of “oh, man!  I’d love to ride this on my bike” moments.  There are always these roads, or side roads that you pass by that you know would be a beautiful or challenging ride.

I should have known that Highway 168 was going to be a difficult ride. That's just disrespectful.

During that 2007 road trip, I was going from Big Pine up over highway 168 down over into Nevada.  Highway 168 is just spectacular.   It’s a winding 2-lane road up from the high arid Eastern Sierra (just south of Bishop, Mammoth Lakes, etc.) up into Inyo National Forrest.  This road hugs the mountains, and at times, the road squeezes down to a single lane through some gaps in the rock.   You are just praying that a truck doesn’t come flying down the hill at that moment.  You ascend through a small mountain range, at the peak of which are the Bristlecone pines, some of the oldest living things on Earth.

At the crest of the pass, there’s a turn-off called “White Mountain Road” which goes to the actual bristlecone pine forest.  It was at this moment in 2007 where I told my wife, “I’ve got to ride this road sometime!”

On our return trip in, I drove through the Tehachapi mountains.  The Tehachapis are rolling high-desert hills, where it’s windy 7×24.  Its windy enough that there are giant wind farms littered throughout the passes.

As you drive from Barstow to Bakersfield – and we’re talking the middle of nowhere – there are a number of exits for roads that you can never remember the name of.   But, again, the scenery is such that you can’t help but promise yourself that “I’ve got to ride that road sometime.”

Well, 2010 rolls around, and I’ve got my Interbike ticket.  Everyone I know is flying to Las Vegas for the show.  Not me.  I am driving, and I’m taking my bike.  It’s time to follow-up on some of those promises I made to myself in 2007.

One the way down, I stopped at High Sierra Cycle Center in Mammoth, and spoke to Tom, the owner.  Tom is the guy who made my 195mm cranks for which I have become a fanatical evangelist.  I saw Tom and kept going to Highway 168.

Highway 168 immediately makes me want to get on my bike.  I love narrow rural roads that twist and turn.  But, I keep on going because I know exactly where I wanted to start my ride.   I parked at White Mountain Road and headed off to the Bristlecones.

It’s about 10 miles to the peak – where White Mountain Road ends.  I figure it’s a great way to get in an hour or so of cardio – the “quick hit.”  I am thinking a ride to the bristlecones and back, maybe ride a bit more on highway 168, then back to the car to continue the drive.  A sign by the car said the bristlecone forest was 10 miles up the up.  Bristlecones or bust!  And off I go…

There’s a peculiar consequence of sitting on your butt for 4 hours.  It makes you surprisingly unprepared to ride a bike up a steep hill.

After about 1 mile, it’s getting steep.  Really steep.   Its also at altitude – my car was parked at 7200-foot elevation.  Going from trying to stay awake for the prior two hours  to suddenly trying to ascend a steep hill at elevation was… humiliating.

The elevation profile of the ride up to the bristlecones. Ridiculous climbing from the moment I got out of the car. Perhaps a warm-up in the plan next time?

At about the two-mile mark, I decide that perhaps my goal should be 7 miles.  I’m getting gassed, and the hill just gets steeper as I go on.  Damn!  This is beautiful!   Look at those rocks!

About 3 miles into my ride, I figure “holy crap!  This is absurd.  It’s getting steeper with every pedal stroke!”  I re-adjust again, telling myself I’ll just go 5 miles, then I’ll turn around, and ride on highway 168.  A solid hour still, and I’m getting destroyed by this hill.

At mile 4, I’m really suffering.  My body is not ready for this.  I need to warm up before Viagra jumping into a significant climb!  I struggle on, with each new turn, I can see the road is getting even steeper.   At 4.5 miles, I’m done.  I’ve climbed 864 feet in 4.5 miles, and I’ve had enough for now.  Besides, its getting dark.  Yeah… that’s it.  Safety first!

I rode back to Highway 168, and down the road a bit, trying to at least get a few more miles in before packing up and getting back on the road.

One thing’s for sure – I wasn’t going to be falling asleep any time soon.  What a great way of getting the blood pumping!

After Interbike, I return back via another route, taking Highway 58 from Barstow to Bakersfield.  My chance to hit that Tehachapi ride!   Highway 58 winds through the Tehachapi mountains, which is a well-known wind-farm area.  The hills are dotted with massive windmills.  I’ve always wanted to see those up close, and I made a mental note of Cameron Canyon Road in my previous trip through.  I pulled over and near the freeway, and headed up Cameron Canyon Road towards the windmills.  Again, night was falling, but I had a window to get at least a few miles in.

The elevation profile of my second "quick hit" ride, this time on the way back to NorCal from Las Vegas. This one was up through a beautiful canyon road to the giant wind farm in the Tehachapi Mountains.

Apparently, every place where I say “man, I’d love to ride that road someday” is at the base of a big climb.  This was no exception.  As  luck would have it, the three-hour drive I was on had not prepared me for a long, steep climb.  I was shocked.  What looked like a gentle path winding through the hills was a 3.5-mile climb – significant at times – up a narrow two-lane road that is used to maintain the wind farm.   On this road, you can get to within a couple of hundred feet of some of the monsters.  They are every bit as large as you expect, then a little bigger.  Very impressive.

The windmills in the Tehachapi Mountains -- my second short, intense ride on the Interbike road trip.

With the sun going down, I turned around at the 4.25 mile mark, and had a great descent back towards the car.  Fast, but not quite fast enough to beat a very long train.  I was in a full tuck, pedaling hard to get to the railroad tracks before the train.  The engineer must have seen me, because he started blowing his horn furiously as if to say, “don’t try it, buddy!  I’m faster than you think.”  And he was.  Just feet away from my car, I had to stop and wait for quite some time for this incredibly slow-moving train to pass before I could pack up and get back on the road.

The quick hit concept

I concluded my road trip thinking what a great idea these short little rides were.  I was invigorated.  It really broke up the drive, and allowed me to see some parts of the State that I had wanted to ride for some time.

I wrote a note on to see if perhaps they could implement the “quick hit” concept, which is to enable “fitness travelers” – people who want to combine a road trip with a series of short excursions (biking, hiking, running, etc.).  First, it allows people to enter routes and designate them as a “quick hit.”  A Quick hit includes the starting point, the route, but also where to park, etc.  They need to have a safe place to park and stage the ride from.   Then, You pick the route you will be traveling by car, and can see what “quick hits” are available along the way.

I would love to have this ability – it would change the way I travel.

10/8/2010 update: Another great “quick hit” ride.   Rode Jalama  Road near Lompoc.  Wow!  What a spectacular ride to break up a long drive.   And, keeping with apparent tradition, it’s mostly climbing.  This time, I at least had several miles to warm up before hitting the big climb.  If you are ever in Lompoc, I strongly recommend Jalama Road.  We could have kept going down to the ocean, and there are many options to loop back to town, or you can just turn around and climb up the back side of the main climb, which we would have done had the sun been higher.

The Jalama Road elevation profile from The 1.4-mile climb was a great climb situation for a Clydesdale, less than 10% grade, and nice and cool with the ocean breezes. Those 195mm cranks made this easy!

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