1997 > Heartbreak Double > Lisa and KenS's Report
The Heartbreak Double
May 31, 1997
Team Bikeaholics continued its 1997 season by attempting and completing its third double century, the "Heartbreak Double" (known for the previous 15 years as the "Tour of Two Forests"). The event, another Hugh Murphy Production, is part of the the Triple Crown series, and is a rather hilly ride that starts in the Mojave Desert town of Palmdale. It then wends its way through the Tehachapi Mountains and various surrounding valleys, traverses over the mountains and down to the Central Valley for lunch, climbs back to Frazier Park, and descends to Lancaster and Palmdale for a spectacular desert finish. Bikeaholics and Friends of Bikeaholics who had done the ride in previous years validated its reputation of having strong, gusting winds, high temperatures, and lots of "moderate" (i.e., nothing much over 10%) climbing. The Bikeaholics roster for this ride included Tom Lawrence (Team Optimist/Pessimist), Craig Robertson (Double Century Specialist), Ken Straub (Morale Officer and Tandem Captain), and Lisa Antonino (Team Captain, Stoker and Weapons Officer).
Hugh Murphy & Co. had mandated a rather early start for the "slower" riders --- 3:30 AM--- requiring a very early (2:45 AM) wake up call. A brief moment of panic/aggravation was experienced by Morale Officer, Ken, when the automatic latching mechanism of the car's hatchback refused to open, making extraction of the tandem all but impossible. After ranting, raving, pacing around the car and briefly considering the use of a cutting torch, cooler heads prevailed, and he was eventually able to free the jammed lock using brute force. We assembled in the parking lot of the EZ-8 Motel at 3:20, and determined that the balmy temperature at that hour of the morning meant we didn't need to carry tights, long-fingered gloves, or other cold weather gear. It also gave us a premonition that the mid-day temperatures were going to be warm, to say the least. Standard rations for this ride included Twin Labs Ultra Fuel (fruit punch flavor), Spitz (chocolate flavor), and Gu.
We rolled up to the starting line and were given an official start time of 3:36 AM (11:36 GMT). The timing official informed us that about 50 riders, including at least one tandem, were already on the road. A left turn out of the EZ-8 parking lot put us on Palmdale Blvd. After riding past a couple of shopping malls and housing developments, the name changed to Elizabeth Lake Rd, which we followed in almost total darkness out of town. After a set of gentle hills, Ken managed to utterly and completely derail the chain with an over-enthusiastic shift. In an attempt not to repeat the "1997 Davis Double Incident", Stoker Lisa called for a complete cessation of pedaling, and we rolled to a stop and examined the chain. Lisa, taking on the responsibility of chief drive-train mechanic, put the chain back on, and we continued our nocturnal adventure. After yet a second derailment, a careful analysis led us to conclude that the installation of a new chain and chain ring had affected the positioning of the front derailleur. Lisa vowed to readjust the derailleur at first light. Otherwise this first section of the ride passed uneventfully. The road seemed to be headed up a narrow, slightly uphill canyon, and may have had a nice view, but the darkness precluded us from verifying this (editor's note: subsequent perusal of this route via automobile during daylight hours the next day verified that there is indeed a nice view). We slipped through the town of Lake Hughes in the dark, and then entered Elizabeth Lake in a faint pre-dawn light, exchanging brief greetings as we approached other riders with blinking taillights and passed with the Starcruiser (i.e., our purple Davidson tandem) at 0.5 impulse speed. By 5:00 AM there was enough ambient light to switch off the NiteRider.
The first rest stop, at mile 30 or so, was at an intersection with the name of "Three Points", although it wasn't obvious which points they were referring to. We stopped briefly to tank up on blueberry cake, raisin rolls and bananas, and then headed up the first set of moderate hills in Pine Canyon. This turned out to be a very scenic road that overlooked the expansive Antelope Valley, directly opposite the main crest of the Tehachapis. A blazing sun made its rather abrupt appearance from over the mountains, a prelude to some really warm temperatures later on. A series of ups & downs eventually brought us to county road N-2 and a steep descent down to the main highway, SR 138. The tandem sliced through a moderate head wind going west on SR 138. Once near I-5, we turned right and headed up Gorman Post Road towards the town & truck stop of Gorman and Tejon Pass.
At this point we were suddenly hit by really gusty sidewinds, blowing in excess of 30 mph. Riders on single bikes were literally being blown across the road, and dodging errant singles became a challenge not unlike that of a video game. Riders with hi-tech wheels such as the Spinergy seemed to be having a particularly bad time! The large cross section of the tandem caused it to act like a sailboat, and we leaned and tacked into the wind for a 2- 3 mile section until the steepening walls of the pass afforded some protection. A short but steep climb then brought us into Gorman, where we maneuvered underneath the I-5 freeway, and then over the pass and into the Flying-J parking lot in Lebec. At this point (mile 50) our altimeter registered just under 4000 ft of climbing.
The Flying-J rest stop was a beehive of activity, since it was also the start point for century-option riders. We saw two other tandems, and chatted briefly with fellow Bikeaholic Craig, who told us that team member Tom was up ahead. We dropped off our lights and jackets, sampled some of the famous Hugh Murphy Dinky Yellow Cookies and other suitable sources of carbohydrates, then headed up towards the first major climb on Frazier Park Rd and into Los Padres National Forest. A rider from Irvine, Jim, introduced himself and we set up a somewhat effective paceline. There followed a series of uphill rollers, where each set took us higher and higher up the mountain. The temperature dropped as we climbed, and actually became almost enjoyable. We were passed by other hard-core double century riders, some of whom were acquainted with Jim, and were entertained by stories of the latest crash victims, other doubles, and gossip about various RAAM riders. We also met Mark from Orange County, who, after hearing our story of the rear tire blow-out at Death Valley, actually recognized us as Team Bikeaholics! We were pleased to hear our website was being discovered and our stories read by anyone other than us. (Hey, Mark, send us some email!) The road finally peaked at Apache Saddle, at just under 5500 ft. We topped off our Camelbaks, refilled our Ultra Fuel, inhaled our asthma medicine (Lisa), chatted briefly with Team TnT's Larry Bolander, and then headed down what was billed as a "20 mile descent".
The descent from Apache Saddle was everything that was promised, with a series of ever-descending rollers, and magnificent views from the ridge top into the Central Valley and beyond. The view at times was like a scaled-down version of the Grand Canyon. The tandem had sufficient momentum to blast over the rollers, and we touched 50 mph more than a few times (these excessive speeds were reported to Stoker Lisa AFTER we got to the lunch stop). It became routine to spot a rider or group of riders in the distance, close rapidly, and then blast by with at least a 10 mph speed advantage. Even after the route flattened out and turned onto Hwy 33, we continued to cruise along--- it's roads like this that make pushing a tandem uphill worth it!
The temperature escalated rapidly as we lost altitude, and by the time we turned down the valley it was in the mid 90's. The lunch stop in Ventucopa at mile 104 was a fairly pleasant affair, well-stocked with the usual bike foods, including jelly beans, red licorice, potato chips and the ingredients for a turkey sandwich. Fellow bikeaholics Tom and Craig were still there, and TnT'er Larry appeared within a few minutes. Some very hard-core ultra riders began to show up, most of whom had started the ride much later than us--- one person had actually ridden to the start of the ride from his house, thus adding an extra 100 mi or so to the event. After refueling and rehydrating, we headed out towards the second set of the ride's "significant hills".
At about mile 115, Ken began to experience mild stomach cramps, which gradually increased in their severity. This had the effect of causing him to suddenly stop pedaling for a few seconds until the cramping passed. Normally this would be a minor inconvenience and pass unnoticed by fellow riders. However, since Ken was on the front half of a tandem, a sudden, unannounced cessation of pedaling had a major effect on the knees, legs and disposition of the other half of Team Bikeaholics. After a brief but necessary conference to recite and discuss key sections in the Stoker Agreement Contract, Ken promised to either pre-announce the onset of a cramp, or to otherwise inform StokerLisa of what was going on.
The route at this point headed up the long, hot Lockwood Valley towards the ride's namesake, "Heartbreak Hill". Despite the heat, the scenery and gentle grade made for a fairly pleasant stretch, and Team Bikeaholics' spirits began to rise. Then, at mile 120, Ken, while attempting to sip some water from his Camelbak, was hit by yet another cramping event. He immediately stopped pedaling and bit down hard on the Camelbak tube, which caused the tube nipple to separate and go flying off into the dense manzanita bushes lining the road. This was accompanied by a gush of water from the Camelbak hose, most of which went in the general direction of Lisa, who then demanded to know what was going on. Ken stuck the tube in his mouth to avoid any more loss of precious water, and consequently was unable to speak in a comprehensible manner--- the response came out something like ("hllppppagghhhhuuhhhhh---- IlstheCamlbkhoscnctn!!!!!"). The bike was brought to an emergency stop, and, through the use of universal sign language, Ken was able to explain his predicament to Lisa. Team Bikeaholics was then forced to walk slowly up and down a 1/4 mi stretch of Lockwood Valley in 100 degree heat while carefully scanning the bushes along the roadside for anything resembling a Camelbak nipple. Passing riders saw us engaged in this somewhat unusual activity and gave us curious looks in addition to the usual "goteverything?" query. Ken considered his options, which included (a) drinking all of his water now; (b) fabricating a new nipple from the ingredients of a tire patch kit and a Ritchey CPR-9 mini-tool; or (c) abandoning the ride and flagging down the next sag vehicle. Just when things were starting to look truly grim, the missing component was spotted lying underneath some tumbleweeds, about 20 meters back from where we had first stopped. Invigorated with new energy, Team Bikeaholics climbed back on the tandem and continued pedaling up the valley.
The grade continued to steepen, and then finally turned into a true hillclimb, featuring a series of steep switchbacks. There never seemed to be an actual "summit", but rather an endless series of local maxima & minima. A nicely stocked rest stop was located at one of these, at around mile 130. The temperature had abated somewhat as we gained altitude, and above 5000 ft it was still warm but bearable. We feasted on the usual Hugh Murphy Dinky Yellow Cookies, refilled our Camelbaks and Ultra Fuel, and headed out towards what was promised as "some rollers before the downhill".
We were somewhat disturbed to find that the "rollers" were in fact significant hills, and our flagging energy levels prevented us from having sufficient momentum to make it over the uphill segments without almost rolling to a stop, gearing down, and then forcing our way up the next segment. Ken began to experience an incipient bonk, which, together with the occasional stomach cramp, resulted in a complete loss of his sense of humor. After an interminable series of these "easy rollers", we finally clawed our way to the high point of the climb, at around 5500 ft. We were rewarded with a pretty good downhill to the intersection with Frazier Park Rd, where we stopped for an emergency infusion of vanilla Gu and water. Another steep descent brought us back to the parking lot of the Flying J, where we collapsed in an inert heap on the median strip.
Realizing that we still had 50 mi to go and were in desperate need of CALORIES, we made our way over to the food table. Ken tried a few Hugh Murphy Dinky Yellow Cookies, and then was persuaded by the cheerful support crew to "try some chile". He accepted a 16 oz cup of gloppy red stuff, and then crawled back to the median strip to sit down and feel sorry for himself. Much to his amazement, the chile actually tasted pretty good, and went down without any major problems. Another rider had collapsed beside him in a heap, and listened sympathetically while Ken, wallowing in self-pity, proceeded to describe how bad he was feeling, how he was suffering from dehydration & stomach cramps, had saddle sores, helmet hair, etc. The other rider looked at the industrious manner in which Ken was consuming the chile, and commented "You must not be feeling all that bad if you can actually eat that stuff!". This harsh assessment brought Ken to his senses, as he realized that he actually wasn't feeling all that badly, and in fact had started to munch on a series of chocolate chip cookies, pretzels, potato chips, grapes, jelly beans, and red licorice, all washed down with full strength Gatorade, followed by a chaser of Twin Labs Ultra Fuel. He suddenly became alarmed at the thought that he might actually gain weight on this particular double century if he didn't exert some self-control. Meanwhile, teammate Lisa also seemed to be having no apparent problems with food handling, as she was giving her complete and undivided attention to a Cup-of-Noodles. After a quick calorie inventory, Team Bikeaholics agreed that it was "time to leave". We retrieved our lights, jackets, and arm warmers, mixed up what was left of our Ultra Fuel stockpile, and headed out.
The route retraced part of the morning ride, as we headed back down through Tejon Pass via Gorman Post Road. We experienced some gusty cross-winds, but once we turned onto Hwy 138 we were immensely pleased to encounter a magnificent tail wind. The road at this point was flat or very slightly downhill, but the strong tail wind and a 54 x 12 gear pushed us along at 35-40 mph. We were accompanied by Team Tandem Raamster Tim on a single bike, and the miles simply clicked by. The route at this point did a series of S-turns as it meandered towards Palmdale, which turned the tail wind into a side wind for 1/4 mile stretches. Every time we turned onto a side-wind section our speed would immediately drop down to 11-12 mph, and then shoot back up to 35 mph at the next turn. Constant high winds seem to be a feature of life in Palmdale; many of the trees lining the roadside were permanently bent over at a 20 degree angle. We averaged over 30 mph for the stretch from Gorman into the last rest stop at mile 174.
This last rest stop consisted of a rental truck parked under some Joshua trees, but was really quite pleasant. We once again satisfied a growing addiction to those Dinky Yellow Cookies, drank some more Ultra Fuel, and then headed out for the home stretch.
As is usual with double centuries, various things started to break down during the last 10% of the ride. In this case it included an overall weariness on the part of Team Bikeaholics, and a rapidly deteriorating saddle sore problem with Team Captain Lisa (i.e., what had been polite requests to shift, coast, or change cadence suddenly became peremptory commands). The route back into town didn't help matters, as the tail wind either turned into a side wind, or vanished completely, forcing us to actually work in order to achieve speeds of 12 mph. The route went up & down a series of featureless urban sprawl-type roads, past vacant lots which spawned miniature sand storms that pelted us with grit and debris. Even more alarmingly, our odometer passed the 200 mi mark, but no Ramada Inn or EZ-8 Motel came into view. Our speed diminished further as we encountered a series of traffic lights, the remains of a brushfire that had just been put out by the LA County fire control people, and a limitless series of mini-mall entrances & exits. We finally turned onto 10th Street and spotted the fluorescent pink color of the motel in the distance. We made the last turn into the parking lot at about 7:15, with a mileage indication of 208 mi, and about 13500 ft of climbing.
Summary: this was a GREAT ride, and is eminently do-able on a tandem. The support was superb--- the people staffing the rest stops & sags were cheerful, competent, and enthusiastic. Rest stops were plentifully stocked with all the right goodies, including salty foods, hearty soups, fresh fruit, and ICE. The immediate area around Palmdale is not particularly pleasant, but the other 90% of the ride takes place on rural, traffic-free, scenic roads. We recommend this one!