1996 > Land Rush > Lisa and KenS's Report

The Great California Landrush


Keywords: pain and suffering; physical and mental exhaustion

Quotable quotes:

"I am going to kill the person who sucked me into doing this ride!" (this identical phrase was voiced by all Team Bikeaholics members at least once);

"I'm no longer fresh as a daisy!" (spoken in confidence by Team Captain Lisa, at 6:15 AM on Day 2 during an emergency coffee/drug stop in a Burger King somewhere along the central coast);

"My Camelback is conspiring to kill me!" (Ken's remark as the strap of his Camelback broke and got wound up in the spokes of his front wheel, nearly causing him to crash on a highly trafficked stretch of the PCH near Malibu)

Scariest part of the ride:

Take your pick:

(a) Day 1, at mile 210, descending Hwy 101 into San Luis Obispo in the dark with failing lights, no shoulder, and lots of tandem trailer trucks...

(b) Day 2, at mile 410, exiting from Hwy 1 in Santa Monica onto Ocean Avenue at night with failing lights, no shoulder, and lots of weekend beach traffic...

Team Bikeaholics once again scored a "F" ( as opposed to a "DNF"), this time on a pleasant weekend ride known as the Great California Landrush, heretofore abbreviated as the "Landrush". This is a two day ride from Redwood City to the terminal "B" parking lot at Los Angeles International airport, sponsored by the Wandervogel folks.

While it's not entirely clear which individual first suggested that Team Bikeaholics sign up for this event (editor's note: the identity of this person is eagerly sought by various Team members, who have agreed to pay a reward of up to $5000 for any information that leads to the arrest, prosecution, and eventual execution of this individual), by early September firm commitments had been made by Captain Lisa Antonino, Morale Officer Ken Straub, Security Officer Marc Nix, Foreign Affairs Advisor Thomas Maslen, Long Distance Training Consultant Mike Harding, Team Stoker and Tandem AdvisorLiz Borra, and Navigation Advisor John Serafin.

After a full season of centuries, double centuries, MWF lunch rides, TTh night rides, PLUS commuting to work by bike most days, team members felt confident that such a ride was fully within their abilities. This confidence was severely shaken at a pre-ride meeting held at Una Mas two days before the event, at which veteran Thomas handed out route maps and start/finish times from a previous year. The route sheets and checkpoint times seemed to indicate that an average speed of 22-25 mph over the course of 430 miles (not 400, as we had assumed) was desirable, and that all riders had to be at the finish by 7:30 PM on Sunday evening in order to catch the flight back.

At the usual ungodly hour of 4:30 AM, Team Bikeaholics members assembled at the start of the ride (this time at the Good Nite Inn on Veteran's in Redwood City) and prepared ourselves with last minute strategies for the inevitable events to come. Although we had carefully planned a 5:00 start, the best laid plans of mice and Bikeaholics were slightly hindered, and we instead rolled out at 5:20 with the first group of approximately 15 riders.

The initial part of the ride follows a flat route via El Camino and Central Expressway out to San Jose, then various surface streets to Almaden Expressway and Old Monterey Road. The pace was brisk, even in the dark hours of the morning, averaging over 20 mph, which brought us to the first rest stop in Gilroy at mile 52 in high spirits. After snacking on the usual bike food and dumping our lights & batteries, we were off again via Bolsa Rd & Hwy 25 to Hollister. Security Officer Marc had pulled ahead in a faster group of riders, but was brought to his senses by a flat at mile 65. After a quick technical evaluation, it was determined that the cause of the flat was most likely the brand-X green sidewall tires that he was using (although it must be admitted that these were carefully balanced by his bright red frame, giving the appearance of a mobile Christmas tree), rather than the usual thorn or glass puncture.

After assisting Marc with helpful advice while he changed the suspect tire, Team Bikeaholics was off and running again. The next scheduled stop was at Pacines (mile 86), carefully noted on the route sheet as the "last indoor plumbing for a while". After munching on more bike food, we started up and began to leave civilization (and traffic!) as we continued on Hwy 25 towards the Pinnacles. The route at this point climbs steadily to a plateau at about 1500 ft, and we began to slow down a little. The weather was cooperative, although the temperature did begin to rise towards uncomfortable levels. We were pleasantly surprised to come upon an emergency rest stop hosted by Nina, who served up an array of "kuchen" to the accompaniment of German beer garden polka music over her VW GTI's stereo system. After a too-long rest and recovery, we headed off toward the lunch stop at mile 124.

By this point we had definitely left civilization behind, as we cruised through rolling chaparral past the occasional ranch. Lunch was a fairly pleasant affair, laid out on folding tables in front of a friendly rancher's house. We feasted on turkey, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches, more home-baked goodies, and salt-laden but no-fat pretzels, and then wandered off in search of rest rooms facilities.
It was at this point that we were introduced to the tandem pair, Ron and Ulricke, who we would leap-frog with most of the next two days. After a suitable recovery period, we once again headed off, this time in search of Peach Tree Road and Indian Valley. There was another "Nina's Rest Stop" at the top of a rather steep incline on Indian Valley Road where riders were rewarded with frozen popsicles to cool them off in this hot inland valley. It was at this point that Lisa issued her first official Last Will & Testament, with detailed instructions on the disposal of her bike-related possessions.

The route finally began to descend from the plateau we had been on, although we still encountered the occasional annoyingly steep hill. The terrain also changed, as the dry, golden-colored chaparral gave way to a deep green, heavily forested valley. A series of local connecting roads eventually brought us into the town of San Miguel at mile 172, where we encountered yet another rest stop.

At this point we were all feeling a little tired, to put it mildly. It was also becoming apparent that we weren't setting any speed records, and that we were going to have to press on at a brisk pace if we hoped to get into San Luis Obispo before 9:00. The 9:00 time was of particular significance because it signified the end of the dinner that was being catered for us. The thought of no dinner followed by another 200+ mile day served to focus our energies on the required effort. After an all-too-brief stop, we headed off towards Paso Robles. Our spirits were somewhat raised by the occasional cheering that we received from local residents, who had somehow managed to figure out that there was a group of crazed bike riders passing through their town on a 2-day ride from San Francisco to LA.

Somewhere about mile 180, Morale Officer Ken felt something seriously amiss with his body and/or bike, involving a major loss of fluid. At first he thought he was leaking oil, but then, after reasoning out that he was on a bicycle and not in a car, began to consider what other possibilities might be contributing to his sudden feeling of being cold & damp. Digestive problems were briefly considered and then ruled out. Additional checking revealed that Ken's camelback bladder had sprung a leak, and dumped 70 oz. of ice-cold water down his back and shorts. There being no easy fix for this, he drained what little water remained and pressed on, ignoring a series of poorly delivered camelback jokes by the other Bikeaholics.

At mile 196 we stumbled into Atascadero, just as the sun began to disappear. We took refuge in a Jack-in-the-Box to re-acquaint ourselves with indoor plumbing, and to attempt to undo what turned out to be several really bad cases of that dreaded biking malady, "helmet hair" (although in Ken's case this can more adequately be described as "helmet horns"). We encountered a friendly local couple on mountain bikes, who filled us in on what it is like to live on the central coast. At this point the sun had definitely left for the day, and it began to get cold. We put on tights & jackets, hooked up our lights, and headed up La Cuesta grade for what had been described to us as a fast, exhilarating descent into San Luis Obispo.

As it turned out, Fast & Exhilarating was really SLOW & TERRIFYING. The problem was that La Cuesta grade is actually on Hwy 101, which, despite the Caltrans sign saying "END FREEWAY", continued to be used as a FREEWAY by a steady stream of tandem trailer rigs and tanker trucks, plus the normal Saturday night commute traffic. In addition, Caltrans had thoughtfully provided large signs directing "ALL TRUCKS IN RIGHT LANE". The road lacked a shoulder in numerous places, forcing us into the traffic lane. Lisa's headlight gave out at this point, so we headed down the grade in a fragile, closely grouped single file formation. Never has so much faith been placed in a couple of $4.00 LED blinking taillights! After what was possibly the most frightening descent ever undertaken by Team Bikeaholics, we finally reached the Monterey Rd exit, and found our way into the parking lot of the La Cuesta Motor Inn, accompanied by the cheers of the Wandervogel support crew.

Dinner was still available, and Team Bikeaholics indulged themselves with heaping plates of dried out spaghetti, tortelini, and salad, followed by ice cream and coffee. After a brisk walk to the downtown area (undertaken as a preventative against rigor mortis), we retired to bed & pleasant dreams about what lay ahead the next day.

Day 2 began at 4:30 AM, where we assembled in Liz & Lisa's room for freshly brewed Peet's coffee. A continental breakfast was served in the lobby at 4:45. Most of the participants seemed to be in an introspective mood (actually more like a non-responsive, sleep-deprived state), and appeared to be concentrating on forcing down as many calories as possible in the brief allotted time. Attempts at small talk were finally abandoned, and we retreated to our rooms to pack up and get ready for the 5:30 official start.

The ride out of San Luis climbed a gentle grade through Price Canyon, all in the dark in heavy fog, followed by a descent to the ocean and Pismo Beach. We then turned onto the first of many 10-15 mile legs along Hwy 101. The fog at this point was quite heavy, which served to muffle all sound as well as light, giving one a surreal sense of isolation. Occasionally one could catch site of sunlight playing on the higher coastal mountains. Condensation from the fog began dripping from our helmets and glasses.

After an hour or so, Lisa announced the need for an emergency pit stop, preferably with indoor plumbing. We found a just-opened Burger King, where we indulged ourselves for 20 min or so with hot coffee and/or aspirin/tylenol/advil/alleve. This had the hoped for rejuvenating effect, and we once again headed out. Soon we caught up to teammates Mike and Thomas, and continued on in a typical Bikeaholics pace line (i.e., 4 abreast in a ragged formation). After what seemed like hours, we finally pulled into the first official rest stop at Los Alamos. A brief refueling effort on Nina's coffee cakes ensued, at which point we climbed back on the bikes and headed out, once again via Hwy 101.

At this point the effects of sleep deprivation began to be noticeable, particularly with Morale Officer Ken. At one point he actually nodded off while in a perfect aero-bar tuck, and almost rolled off of the road before waking up with a start. We stopped in the town of Buellton (famous for split-pea soup restaurants), where we broke out the medical kits and discussed what to do about the lack of sleep. Thomas provided some caffeine in pill form, and that, together with chocolate Gu, was administered to Ken in the hopes of reviving him (Lisa also benefited greatly from this treatment). This combination had the desired effect, and we began rolling again in a more-or-less regulation pace line.

The route took us through the greater Santa Barbara area, which, rather than pleasant and scenic, was at best grueling. The problem is that there is no easy way to get through SB on a bike, other than taking very crowded city streets back & forth and up & down, winding your way underneath the intruding 101 freeway countless times. An art fair was being held along the beach on Cabrillo St., but we were all too tired to take much interest. After what seemed like an interminable, slow, and heavily trafficked journey, we finally turned into the lunch stop at mile 120 just north of Carpenteria, at about 1:30. We collapsed into a set of lawn chairs and stared out at the ocean for a few minutes, and then slowly began the process of forcing some calories down (eating is too pleasant a word for what we were trying to do...). Attempts at conversation were largely unsuccessful, although Team Captain Lisa delivered a moving Last Will and Testament, in which she once again bequeathed her bicycles and all bicycle-related articles to her Teammates, or to anyone else who wanted them (editor's note: Lisa subsequently issued a partial retraction).

The conversation at this point centered on three things: (1) trying to identify the person or persons who originally suggested doing this ride; (2) trying to determine if there was any hope of getting to the end by the cut-off time of 7:30- 8:00; and (3) trying to figure out if we would have to do this ride again next year if we DNF'd it this year. This last possibility had an alarming effect on all of us, and eventually motivated us sufficiently to climb back on the bikes.

After a few miles out of the lunch stop, Lisa noticed that Ken was wobbling rather badly, and notified him of this. Ken stopped and did a systems check, but everything checked out OK. He then turned his attention to his bike, and found that he had somehow managed to break a spoke on the rear wheel. While slightly out of true, it was decided that it unfortunately wasn't serious enough to force a DNF, and we started up again, taking it easy on bumps and other obstacles. The route at this point took us back onto Hwy 101, and then exited onto the Pacific Coast Highway ("PCH" in Southern-California speak). The weather was perfect, with a slight tail wind, and our spirits began to rise a little. However, looking at our average speed and doing the math, finishing the ride in time to make the flight home seemed an impossibility. We decided to press on, assuming we would probably have to quit the ride somewhere before Santa Monica.

The first post-lunch rest stop was just outside of Ventura, at mile 155 (and came as a pleasant surprise to Captain Lisa, who thought that the only remaining rest stop was at Zuma Beach). The Wandervogel support crew took a look at Ken's rear wheel, and after 10 minutes with a spoke wrench, managed to get it to the point where it had almost no wobble. However, they warned him that they had untensioned the drive-side spokes to an alarming degree, and recommended that he "take it easy on bumps, uphills, and downhills". This rest stop was really memorable because of the expressions on the faces of the various riders who had pulled in and collapsed into plastic lawn chairs or the open luggage compartments of the what came to be known as the "Bus of Doom", since entry into its waiting interior signified a DNF (which would of course necessitate having to do the ride again next year, a thought too terrible to contemplate...). Most had a vacant, hollow-eyed look, otherwise known as the "thousand yard stare". Morale Officer Ken, cheered up by his now mostly-true rear wheel, engaged in light banter with his teammates, but didn't get much in the way of a positive response. Team Captain Lisa, seeking outside advice, asked one of the Wandervogel support crew if there was any hope of us making it to the finish in time. Expecting a "Sorry, no way!", we were stunned to hear him say "Sure, it's still early---you should be able to do it if you maintain a good pace!. This piece of news energized us, and, after forcing down a few cookies and some Gu, we were on the bikes and rolling.

The route at this point took us past Point Mugu Airstation and back onto the PCH, but once again events conspired to slow us down. Thomas suffered a front flat from a thorn, but we managed to change it in under 6 minutes. We sped onto the PCH and found, to our amazement, a reasonable tailwind, a good shoulder, and not much traffic. We blasted along in a real pace line (i.e., single file rather than three abreast), averaging 21-23 mph. For the first time all day, we actually began to believe we might make it. A significant morale booster was the road sign proclaiming we had entered Los Angeles County.

The last rest stop was on the hill above Zuma Beach, at about mile 180 just before Malibu. Thomas suffered another flat, this time with the rear tire, about 50 ft from the rest stop, but rolled on in anyway. We refueled on hot soup and potato chips, retrieved our lights, got the flat fixed, and got ready for the last push. Again, the support crew told us we should be able to make it as long as we kept up a good pace. The sun was beginning to go down, and we estimated that we had 20 min or so of daylight left. We started on down the hill towards Malibu, riding at a consistent 20-22 mph.

The sun finally disappeared, and the amount of traffic began to increase dramatically. The shoulder also disappeared, swallowed up in a mess of beachfront homes, restaurant entrances, road construction, garbage cans (apparently everyone in Malibu puts out their garbage for curbside pickup on Sunday night), and parked cars. A truly bizarre near-accident occurred at mile 188, when the strap on Ken's camelback suddenly broke. He felt something happening, shouted out that he was stopping, and began jamming on the brakes. The camelback shifted off of his right shoulder, and then the loose strap flung out and got caught up in the front wheel spokes, nearly toppling him over. We made emergency repairs and continued on. At about mile 190 Ken's light failed, but there were enough streetlights at that point to light the way. The volume of traffic and the lack of a useable shoulder left no margin for mistakes. The final hurdle was the exit from Hwy 1 into Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica--- this involved moving into the center lane in the dark, avoiding a steady stream of cars that were trying to exit onto the beach.

At this point we were only 11 miles from the end, but it turned out to be a nerve-wracking 11 miles. The route involves finding the back way through city streets over to LAX, but, this being LA, there were CARS EVERYWHERE. Our problems were compounded by our weakened mental and physical state. One noticeable problem was what we termed the "Two Instruction Cache" effect. That is, we were only able to store and retrieve at most 2 route instructions in advance. We could handle "R Ocean Ave 0.3 mi; L Pico Blvd 0.1 mi", but became hopelessly confused if we tried to master "R Ocean Ave 0.3 mi; L Pico Blvd 0.1 mi; R Main St. 1.4 mi". This necessitated stopping under a street light after every 2 turns to consult & memorize the next 2 turns. Lisa at one point demanded that she be given the next 4 instructions, confident that her memory was "just fine". We acceded to her demands, but within 20 seconds she had forgotten two of the instructions and mixed up the remaining two.

Signs of irritation and short-temperedness were becoming apparent, as Ken and Thomas reverted into the usual warlike Martian dialogue involving recriminations and some minor cursing (editor's note: we were merely having a frank discussion about possible alternative routes!). Lisa, knowing when to "leave well enough alone" and having learned the art of dealing with such Martian behavior on previous rides, quietly retreated from participating in the "two command cache"" and instead concentrated on trying to read and report mileage on her cyclometer in the dark.

The final turn onto 111th St and into the B parking lot was achieved at 8:20. The Wandervogel folks grabbed our bikes, helped us find our bags, gave us our tickets, and directed us onto the shuttle for a quick ride over to the terminal. The shuttle bus drivers had figured out that we were involved in some sort of bike race and wanted to hear all about it. We got a few curious looks from other passengers, as we were still wearing bike clothes (Ken even had his helmet on!) and looked like we had been run over by heavy earth moving equipment. Team members still had sufficient energy reserves to issue a summary statement, but by the time we checked in at the gate, we were mostly dropping into screen saver mode, although a Grande Latte from the airport Starbuck's helped a little. It was with great relief that we settled into our seats for an uneventful plane ride back to San Francisco, which accomplished in 45 min what had taken two days by bike!


This ride is truly an adventure -- it is well run and organized, takes you through magnificent roads & scenery, and the Wandervogel folks are marvelous hosts. It is also a BRUTAL ride -- it makes double centuries feel like easy lunchtime events (it ranks right up there with the 1996 Death Valley Double). Do this one at your own risk!

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