Fasted Endurance Ride – Rincon to Julian


In my continuing effort to find the limits of my new nutrition strategy, I rode 8.5 hours in the mountains of Southern California in a fasted state.  Here is the headline, I rode in a fasted state (previous meal 13 hours prior) I rode the entire 8.5 hours on water (Crystal light flavoring) no exogenous calories, 13,200 feet of climbing in the first 90 miles with negligible loss of performance to wit, a Personal Record (PR) on the last 12 mile climb of the day.  Cold temperatures in the 30’s, rain, sleet, winds and black ice … wait are we still in talking about riding in Southern California? You can follow me on Strava

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Tommasini X-Fire Stainless Steel Custom

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It is January and that can mean a wide range of weather.  Some days it can be in the mid 70’s and short sleeves and some days it can mean winter clothing.  We have had a cold spell for almost a week now.  Before you think “oh you Californians are spoiled you don’t know what cold really is like” Let me tell you that this kid is a New Jersey transplant and he knows cold.  He was also stationed, as a US Marine, in many parts of this country to include the great state of Washington where the winters were not pleasant when working outdoors on airplanes.

Often times after an epic ride I think to myself “Man what a difference a day makes”.  Today, Sunday, it is mild and sunny and 58F.  But yesterday, Saturday, oh yesterday was a different day entirely. As mentioned in the introduction, it was cold and raining and there was black ice lurking around many corners.

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Why am I emphasizing the weather so much?  Because cold temperatures put higher demands on your metabolism to keep your body warm and functioning properly.  So what keeps the body warm?  CALORIES! 8.5 hours of exposure to an average temperature of 44F is taxing on the body.  So where did the increased amount of calories come from if there were no exogenous calories consumed during this ride?  My fat stores!   Being on a Ketogenic diet has afforded me the ability to tap into my fat stores while riding these long endurance training rides.  The Ketogenic diet is high in healthy fats, moderate protein and very low carbohydrates.

My dear friends in the Midwest and other places like to give me grief because I complain about the cold when it’s only 65F lol!  I know it’s all in good fun, but yes I am a delicate flower that doesn’t like to ride in cold temperatures.  But here’s the thing -even when those friends of mine brag about riding in 40F or 30F they never have to deal with 30 minutes of descending at 40+ mph in 30F.  The wind-chill factor makes the temperatures feel like you are riding in the low teens.  It’s horrible to be wet, descending a mountain in the cold with black ice hiding around any corner.  You have to be alert and react quickly but not abruptly.  Your hands are frozen and you have lost dexterity and that touch.   You know that special touch on the brakes … the gentle squeeze, the skill you have honed over the years and that you are very proud of as a free fall descender.   Meanwhile you are wet and shivering and fighting to keep your machine under control the entire way down.  It takes enormous skill level and a high degree of confidence to get it done.  You HAVE to get it done … you’re not going to call for a ride. YOU have to get yourself down the mountain.

Look at the graph below you will notice the lowest temperatures of the day were on my final descent.  After being on the bike 8 hours temps in the low 30’s and now begin a 15 mile descent.  I should have been completely depleted of glucose and had poor muscle function and brain fog.  So how was I sharp as a tack with such elevated mental acuity this late in the day after such a long effort?  My body was creating Ketones and the brain loves to run on Ketones! Where did the Ketones come from? My fat stores!

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Here is what I find most interesting about my entire ride yesterday.  I PR’d the final climb of the day.  Wouldn’t you think that I would be completely depleted not having taken in any calories on such a long ride?  6 hours and 20 minutes into the ride I hit the final 12 mile climb of 3,000 feet of gain with no calories consumed since when … 7pm Friday night!  At this point we are talking 19.5 hours since the last time I consumed any calories!!   Oh did I tell you that I had done a 72 hour fast just 2 days before this effort?  Did I tell you that I am eating only One Meal A Day (OMAD)? Where did the calories come from to make this PR effort possible?  My fat stores!

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The training objective for the day was to ride at 3 w/kg.  Yesterday morning my weight was 64.2 kg or 141.5 lbs.  3 w/kg for me is the top of Zone 2 Endurance zone from 140-189 watts.  3 x 64.2 kg = 192 watts I was very close to achieving my goal with zero averaging  at 2.71 w/kg with a NP of 174 watts.  Now let’s look at the final climb after 6 plus hours in the saddle I held 183 w NP for 2.85 w/kg right on target for up to 8 hours or riding.  If you track Heart Rate data — I climbed it at 150 bpm max is 188 bpm.  I am really excited about this result!  The burning question is where did this energy come from?  My fat stores!

FYI – this climb has a few drops so keeping a high power output for the entire climb is difficult to begin with and heck I’m an endurance guy so 200 watts over a long day on the bike is a good day 🙂

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So what I am looking to achieve with the Ketogenic diet?  What is the purpose of these no calorie endurance rides?  I am searching for metobolic flexibility.  This is the ability to use not only carbohydrates but my fat stores as well.  If you are a “sugar burner” you will not successfully tap into your fat stores because you have not reset your metabolism to prefer fat burning.  When you are a “fat burner”  you can tap into your fat stores and use Ketones to fuel yourself.  I am working on being able to use my Ketones for long steady state endurance events and when I need that burst of high intensity power use the glucose stored in my muscles.  Being a Ketogenic athlete allows for glucose sparing for when you really need it.

How can this help me as endurance athlete?  Think back to any race, event or training session when you have bonked.  That was a horrible feeling wasn’t it?  What if you can make yourself “Bonk Proof”? Many athletes fail to realize their full potential because of metabolic failures. That’s right they fail not because they weren’t trained properly with regards to their cardiovascular fitness or muscle strength, stamina or endurance.  They fail because metabolically they are not using the most abundant and almost never-ending fuel source they have onboard … their fat stores!  Bonk Proof consider the possibilities…

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  How about a thousands thoughts?  A thousand possibilities?  Have you ever seen a tanker truck driving down the freeway or at your local gas station?  Did you know that massive rig is using a diesel engine up front and towing gasoline in its trailer?  The tractor is carrying 150-300 gallons of diesel to power itself but it is towing approximately 90,000 gallons of gasoline.  What if the diesel is the stored glucose in your muscles and your liver and then gasoline is your fat stores?  Consider the possibilities of tapping into the huge amount of stored energy you are lugging around with you everyday.  If you are a “sugar burning” athlete when your 150 or 300 gallons of diesel fuel runs out you are either going to bonk or you need to keep replenishing during your event, race or training workout.  But that means stopping to refuel and what if you can’t find something or you are running neck and neck with a competitor during a race? Do you take the risk and stopping to refuel or go until you bonk or hope that you don’t.  Those fat stores are just sitting there… USE THEM!

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By the way, I have also dispensed with the customary almost obligatory ingesting of protein/carbohydrate recovery drink within the 30 minute magic window.  I mean who created this magic window?  The nutrition companies?  What did I have instead? I had coffee, mostly black lol I threw in a little Stevia.

 

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One final note.  I am very impressed with the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt.  It indicated a max elevation of 5,654 ft while the posted elevation sign was 5,665!  Amazing under normal weather conditions but as mentioned throughout this post the weather was less than ideal! Well done Wahoo!

 

Some terms used in this post …. #sugarburner #fatburner #ketolifestyle #ketogenicdiet #fasting #intermittentfasting #omad

Oceanside Double Century Survival Guide


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Here are few pointers and REV Tips for success for those wishing to tackle the Oceanside Double Century on October 27, 2018.  The event is put on by my friend and awesome human being, Anny Beck of Mountain High Cycling.  The route covers many of the roads I use to train on a regular basis.  I have intimate knowledge of these roads and know just about every roller and pothole on this course.

A few other things I would like you to keep in mind as you ride the 194 miles and 15,700 ft of climbing.

Your number one priority should be to climb out of Borrego Springs on Montezuma Grade before 1pm. The winds can kick up something horrific and can make the 11 mile climb as much as 2 hours of grinding into the wind which is generally a downdraft from Ranchita (town at the top) but can also have no apparent wind direction except for keeping you from climbing up.  From time to time you might get a tailwind but it is short-lived.  Early starters should get down Banner Grade (descent from Julian) to Yaqui Pass and through Borrego Springs before the winds kick up too bad. The LEFT turn MILE 99 on to Borrego Springs Rd can be a freaking wind tunnel with winds as much as 20, 30, 40 mph. It will be a very stiff block headwind for only a handful of miles but it can be very humbling to be pushing your hardest into that wind and only going 8-10 mph on flat terrain.

Ok so what about before Borrego Springs which is nearly 100 miles into the ride? I suggest quick stops on the outbound portion of your event.  Remember it is key to climb out of Borrego Springs before 1pm (preferably earlier of course).   The first 19.8 miles are flat until the LEFT onto La Bajada then you will have steep rollers through Rancho Santa Fe. Rancho Santa Fe roads are some of the worst roads on this route even though it is the most expensive place to live in San Diego County and even nationally.  The roads are very narrow as well.  Be careful on Del Dios Hwy make sure you are very visible someone was hit during this event a year or two ago.

MILE 40 Hwy 78 you start a long gradual climb for the next 10 miles.  Some sections are really narrow – stay single file. Stay alert with your head on a swivel.  Personally, I never ride this road on my training rides.

Old Julian Hwy is one of my favorite roads in San Diego County MILE 51 ish to MILE 59 ish. Wynola at MILE 68.5 is another one of my favorite roads. Some of the best country riding on the route.

Don’t miss the RIGHT turn at MILE 71.8 onto Farmers Rd. (slight downhill) There has been sand and gravel on that hard right turn for months so be careful. Farmers Rd has about four kickers of double digit grades so be ready for them.

LONG descent from Julian to Yaqui Pass MILE 74 ish TO MILE 94 ish and the winds do all kinds of swirling on your descent. Yaqui Pass often has a tailwind climbing it. You also may also have a tailwind once you summit Yaqui Pass until the LEFT onto Borrego Springs Road (MILE 94 ish – 99 ish)

Montezuma Grade is tough at any time in a ride but especially so with 100 plus miles ad about 8,000 feet of climbing on your legs.  The forecast for Borrego Springs is a high of 95F.  But the heat coming off the pavement can raise the ambient temperature where you are riding by an additional 10F degrees.  Of course as our luck would have it we are riding on the hottest day of the week through Borrego Springs and Puama Valley with a cooling trend starting on Sunday.

Fear not though after slogging up Montezuma grade you are rewarded with A LOT of downhill from Ranchita MILE 117 – MILE 154.9 to Cole Grade. Cole Grade is a tough steep climb with sustained sections of double digits.  It is my preferred road to exit Puama Valley because the traffic is significantly less than Valley Center Road.  Cole Grade has a few rollers but it is generally downhill until Miller Rd.  Miller is generally downhill until Valley Center Rd.  Miller is a RIGHT turn after the big downhill and uphill through the traffic light (you’ll know it when you see it and you will laugh at my description) don’t miss the turn RIGHT MILE 161 Miller Road is safer than staying on Cole Grade to Valley Center.

MILE 167.3 RIGHT to stay on Lilac is easy to miss. Lots of rolling terrain with a lot of generally downhill sections following poppers.  The hard part of the double is all behind you now.  You are literally going downhill for the next 20 ish miles and onto the bike path.  If it is mid to late afternoon you will have a block headwind again.  But if you are on the bike path after sunset it is easy cruising into the finish.  It is advisable that you have paired up with at least one other rider for the last 8 miles on the bike path to Oceanside so you can share the workload.

I wish everyone good luck and tailwinds!

If you haven’t already download the Epic Weather Ride App here.  It based on your start time and averages speed it will give you a forecast for the entire route.  As you know you can’t rely on the weather forecast for the start/finish town since you are doing a Big Ass Loop of 200 miles 🙂 Download it and use it — it is REV RECOMMENDED!

Solvang Autumn Double Century


On October 20, 2018 George Vargas and Lori Hoechlin completed the Solvang Autumn Double Century, put on by Planet Ultra  , on the tandem with 11,900 feet in a total time of 11:41 and for those keeping track of ride time only it was 11:13.  It was George Vargas’s 53rd Double Century and Lori Hoechlin’s 38th Double Century.  It was our 6th Double Century of the 2018 season, all 6 on the tandem.  We were fortunate and had a mechanical and flat-free day — sort of.  The biggest obstacles of our epic adventure were the pothole-ridden roads and early morning cold and afternoon heat. We had ONE goal a sub 12 hour finish – mission accomplished!

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I would like to thank Deb Bowling and Planet Ultra for putting on an excellent event.  The looped course coming back to the hotel at 50 ish, 100 ish miles and eventually at the finish was very helpful for riders using their vehicle as an additional SAG.  On the course, the SAG stops were well placed and well stocked, the course was well marked and Roving SAG was seen multiple times during the day.  The volunteers were plentiful and awesome!  Please always thank the volunteers at your events.  For those I didn’t thank on the course, because we didn’t stop at your aid station, I appreciate you being out there as well.  Honestly, I don’t think it could have been any better run!  If you wish to do an intermediate-level double century this one should definitely be at the top of your list.  Thank you Deb!

Next, I would like to thank my stoker, Lori, who was a steady and powerful force on the back of the tandem during the entire day.  She had a few cramps on Drum Canyon coming from Hwy 246 but she toughed it out.

I would like to thank our two riding mates for nearly the entire Double, Brook Henderson and TJ Knight.  They are two very strong riders and veterans of the double century community.  Lori and I are usually in no man’s land either off the front or just off the shirt tails of the lead pack. Riders come and go wanting to draft the tandem.  Some of them shoot up the hills or mountains and then there are others that can’t sustain the pace.  Either way, Lori and I end up riding alone for 10-12 hours on these doubles.  It was very nice to ride with the lead pack for the first 70 ish miles, of which Brook and TJ were an important component of and contributed equally to ensure a good steady pace. But it was even nicer to ride the rest of the course with Brook and TJ!  Thank you gentlemen!

The two toughest parts of the day for us were Drum Canyon and Foxen Canyon.  After finishing the first 100 mile loop we came upon Drum Canyon from Hwy 246.  The steep ramps over 12% were very difficult on the tandem.  Lori started to cramp which made it very difficult to keep the tandem balanced and propel the bike forward and up the canyon with one hampered rider and massive loss of power that Lori provides.  When she would stand out of pure necessity to keep her legs from locking up it made the bike unstable and hard to control at below 4 mph.  Normally, getting up on the tandem is a coordinated and timed effort.  Fortunately, I would respond quickly enough to keep us from toppling over.  Just at our worse possible moment Ronald Iseri, Roving SAG, came by us.  He had stopped to take pictures of us but we definitely needed to pull over right then and there.  After a cold Pepsi and a Mountain Dew and some water top offs we were back on the road and finished the climb in much better spirits.

Foxen Canyon was a LONG steady and gradual climb of single digits.  It was just enough of a grade where we could not ride it in the big ring (55T) so we were in our middle ring (39T) for the majority of the 10 or 15 miles from mile 160 ish to 170 ish.  Drum Canyon was tough on us physically.  Foxen Canyon was tough on us mentally because it was never-ending and it never seemed like you were climbing.

Special thanks to Robert and Dee Mann.  They have installed themselves recently as fixtures at these double centuries. They are selfless and seemingly always volunteering. Dee thank you so much for the homemade cookies at the lunch stop and mile 180 ish.  The hug after Drum Canyon at lunch recharged me emotionally THANK YOU!

Now a quick explanation on the “sort of” comment in the introduction regarding being flat-free.  Coming out of the lunch stop (mile 118) we got a puncture on the front tire.  We were running tubeless and I felt the sealant spraying out of the left sidewall onto my left leg.  I was concerned for two reasons.  One being a sidewall puncture sometimes they don’t seal in time before all the sealant sprays out and two the front tire was inflated to 100 psi and higher pressures also prevents punctures from sealing.  Typically one of the benefits of riding tubeless is riding lower tire pressures.  On a tandem we are nearly 300 lbs (wet weight).  Tires feel squishy unless they are at least 95% of max pressure indicated on the sidewall.  On my solo bike I am between 80-85 psi on a 25mm tire on a 26mm external width rim.  Fortunately, the tire sealed.  When we got to the finish we checked the pressure of the front tire and it only had 40 psi in it.  Maybe that is why Foxen Canyon (160 ish to 170 ish) felt like such a long slog lol!! But seriously, another benefit of riding tubeless is one of safety.  The tire bead is less likely to unseat when you ride lower tire pressure … say for example you have a puncture on a descent or at a high rate of speed you should be able to slow the bike down to a safe and manageable speed before the tire completely deflates and the bead unseats from the rim.

Lastly because the event was chip-timed we had results within 24 hours!  I think Double Century riders are willing to pay a little extra for chip timing in their entry fee.  I don’t know how the math works out but I appreciate prompt posting of results.  Once again thank you Planet Ultra for chip timing and timely posting of the results!

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At the finish with L-R, Lori, Brook, George, TJ

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At the start I noticed this rider’s number “the 508” came to mind 🙂 (10x finisher)

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Daytime running lights front and rear for safety

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The early morning train – started as 11 bikes, then 9 bikes, then 7 bikes, then 6 bikes, eventually it was 3 bikes Brook, TJ and us.

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The early day shadow selfie

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The late day shadow selfie we finished just before complete darkness

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Alexis, Brook, George and Lori came across the line all together the delta in our time is based on the when we crossed the chip timing machine at the start in single file so as to ensure everyone would register on the machine.

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And now a rant – it really bugs me when people post their Strava rides, events and/races on social media using their ride time as opposed to their total time. Why is this a pet peeve of mine? Well let me give you an example. Let’s say you are doing a Double Century and you roll out at 5am and finish at 10pm. Let’s also say that you stopped at each aid station refilled your bottles took potty breaks and socialized with the volunteers. Additionally, you stopped at the lunch stop and had a great little meal. Then you download your ride and your ride time was 14 hours. Why would you post your Strava ride on social media as 14 hours when it actually took you 17 hours?! When the results are posted your time will be 17 hours. The only time that counts is TOTAL TIME from when you cross the start line until you cross the finish line. Where and when did this Mickey Mouse shit start where people post their ride time? You’re fooling yourself that it takes you 14 hours to complete a Double Century. Then you sit back and accept all the accolades from your friends on how wonderfully you did at your DC finishing it in 14 hours. No!! It took you 17 hours and that is what you should post. Rant over

What’s next for the George “Red Eyed Vireo” Vargas and Lori Hoechlin — aka Hutton’s Vireo (when on the tandem)?  I will be doing the Oceanside Double Century on October 27, 2018  on my solo bike.  Lori will be racing a hill climb up Gibraltar Rd in Santa Barbara.  You can follow me on Strava here  Please SUBSCRIBE to the blog and please post comments.  I read them all and make every effort to respond to you.  Until the next epic adventure … I’ll see you on the road!

Recovery Ride musings


Today while I was on my recovery ride I had a few thoughts that came to mind and I thought I would share them with you.

I felt remarkably well considering I just did an Everest on Saturday (2 days ago).  The ride I was on I usually do a few surges and a sprint here and there.  But today was all about taking care of my body and doing what I was supposed to do… an active recovery ride.  I did a pretty good job at it as I kept my heart rate down as well as my power.  I let the group ride ahead and I met them at each regroup.  No fragile ego today I just put on my recovery mindset.

You can see from the graphs below how I kept my power and heart rate low during the ride.  I rode 58% of the ride below 139 watts and 49% of the time in a heart zone of 120-145  bpm.  Very comfortable and able to hold a conversation without heavy breathing.

 

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And now onto my musings —

The first thought — was using the analogy of a quiet unassuming fellow in a bar getting harassed by some inebriated bullies.  The quiet fellow is just minding is own business having his Long Island Ice Tea – that should tell you right there he’s a little different.  When is the last time you had a Long Island Ice Tea?  Better yet when was the last time you had two Long Island Ice Teas?  Yep! You can’t remember because those things are heavyweight drinks and they will put you down if you are not careful.  They have several liqueurs in them and very little mixer.  Back to the quiet and unassuming fellow he tells the bullies he doesn’t want any trouble and that he’ll buy them all a drink if they will just go away.  What we don’t know about the quiet unassuming fellow is that he’s some super killer Ninja dude with all these secret ways to kill you with one punch and he can wipe the floor with these guys.  So the analogy is the bullies are the peloton, the quiet unassuming guy is you on a recovery ride.  You know you can kick ass and be riding hard with the big guns today BUT you need to do the right thing and let them ride and you need to ignore the taunts in the form of surges from the group.  The fellow buying the drinks to the bullies that’s you letting the big guns win the sprint today because you don’t challenge it.

So next time your are on an active recovery ride be the Ninja dude/chic and use the discipline to keep your efforts in check even though you know you feel good and could kick some serious arse!

 

The other thought was in reference to my latest Everest.  I have always wanted to do an Everest REV Style where you attain 29,029 feet or 8,848 meters without doing a single repeat.  Living in San Diego County there are plenty of climbs to make that work.  So when I got back to the shop I created the REV Epic Everest Ride.

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It combines the iconic climbs of San Diego into one ride.  It is 276 miles and 30,000 feet of climbing.  I went over the 29,029 in case Ride With GPS overinflated the elevation and we would end up short.  Starting from my shop in San Marcos the climbs are as follows:

San Elijo Rd

Old Castle

Palomar South Grade

Mesa Grande

Climb to Julian

Mount Laguna

Cuyamaca Peak

North Peak

Montezuma Grade

Palomar East Grade

Cole Grade

Double Peak aka Mt Vargas

This would be one monster ride and so epic I don’t even know if I can get anyone crazy enough to ride it with me.  Here is the ride link on Ride With GPS website.  PLEASE DO NOT DOWNLOAD TO YOUR GPS DEVICE it has not been scrubbed to ensure every turn is correct or that every road is bike friendly.  Two climbs in particular I have not ridden myself — yet.  They are Cuyamaca Peak and North Peak.  I plan on doing a recce of those two climbs soon.  Too many activities planned these next few weekends.

 

Thank you for reading my blog.  If you haven’t already please subscribe.  Please share this blog with your best cycling friend.  I have several posts in draft mode that I am chipping away at releasing so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

Owens Valley Epic Climbs


The daydreaming continues…

Today is Thursday and now instead of counting down the days I am counting down the hours until I am free from responsibility and on my bike.  This is will be a short post because I have a lot to do before I can get out of Dodge.  One of the routes I have done in the Eastern Sierras, on more than one occasion, is riding three very difficult climbs in one day.  They are very different from each other but they share one thing in common … they are Epic!  See the graph below 105 mile 18,000 feet of climbing now that’s EPIC! Will I do this route while I’m there?  If I don’t do this route I will definitely knock down 2 out of the 3 climbs.

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The three climbs on this ride are Onion Valley, Horseshoe Meadows and Whitney Portal, in that order.  I mentioned previously that these climbs were very different from each other and I will expound on that now.  Onion Valley has a very consistent grade, albeit steep, but consistent.  Horseshoe Meadows undulates and ramps up and down.  It also has very long stretches of road as far as the eye can see.  The “switchbacks” on this climb are miles apart and amazing to admire from a distance.  Finally, Whitney Portal is dwarfed by the giant Horseshoe Meadows but the grades are brutally steep in some sections and this is very difficult climb.

ONION VALLEY RD

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HORSESHOE MEADOWS

 

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WHITNEY PORTAL

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Below I have provide a screen shot from the PJAMM Cycling website.  Please visit it and contribute to it by doing some of the rides and providing feedback or doing a ride report.  Some of us are visual learners some of us like lists.  As a male I like images but as a Virgo I like lists.  Which one are you? The 10 toughest climbs in California.  You will notice the ride above bags the toughest climb in California along with the 2nd and 5th toughest climb in California.  FYI, the 3rd and 4th toughest climbs are also in the same geographical area. White Mountain is within riding distance of the three climbs of this ride.  Owens Vally has the goods! Sherman Pass West is “around the horn” as I call it.

 

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Well there you have it a possible route for this weekend.  Tune in for more of my misadventures — subscribing to the blog is the easiest way to follow me.  Thank you for taking the time to follow my blog please share it with your best friend.  See you on the road.

 

FIETS – What’s FIETS?


As I sit here daydreaming of an epic climbing weekend, yes epic, an overused word but more on that later, I just can’t contain myself.  I am counting down the days until I am free to fly in nature’s most amazing playground – the mountains.  Is it only Wednesday?  I check the calendar again and yes it is only Wednesday darn!  Where am I going and why am I as excited as when I watch brown Santa pull up at my door?  I’m headed to the Eastern Sierra Mountains of California!

I’m sure you thought I must be headed off to Europe.  Or possibly you thought I must be headed to Colorado.  No, I’m driving, yes driving, a few short hours, depending on traffic ugh traffic, a mere 274 miles to Lone Pine, CA for some of the best climbing in California. I will take it one step further and state unequivocally, some of the best climbing in the United States.  The Eastern Sierras have some of the hardest climbs in the country in a  small and concentrated area.   Taking on one of these legendary climbs is a great acheivement but having them so conveniently close to each other enables you to tackle a second and possibly, if you are as nutty as I am, you might take on a third massive climb.

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We all value things differently.  Our value systems allow us to rank and prioritize things that are important to us.  What I value in a climb is how much I will be challenged by it and how great my sense of accomplishment will be when I summit.  For some it may be the scenery and surroundings.  I understand that as well.  However, for me the scenery comes second to the suffering while I’m climbing.  Once I summit well then it is ALL about the view!

Now I’m not completely delusional sure I would like to take off to Europe and climb the mountains that have been made famous by the mano a mano battles of my cycling heroes during the Grand Tours.  But when time and finances are an issue you can find the most amazing climbing adventures right here in Southern California.  No flying, no customs, no worrying about how to get your bike to Europe and back from Europe in one piece and let’s not forget the 9 hour jet lag issues and so on …

Who’s the GOAT?

Do you often find yourself debating with your friends “What are some of the hardest climbs you have done?” This is akin to the other never-ending circular debate “Who is the G.O.A.T?  Who is the greatest of all time?” insert sport here _________ And like the GOAT argument I wish to arm you with the facts and stats that we as climbers use to back up our argument.  Once you understand them you can use them the next time you fall into the “what is the hardest climb?” trap.  I have had this debate for years.  So I wish to introduce you to FIETS.  What is it?  Let’s find out together.  Oh and you can thank me later for the tables and graphs.

What is FIETS?

FIETS is a formula for ranking climbs.

The Fiets Index (developed by the Dutch cycling magazine Fiets).

The actual formula is: [H^2/D*10] + (T-1000:1000; but only if greater than 0)

  • H = ending elevation minus starting elevation in meters.
  • D = total distance traveled in meters.
  • T = Height in meters.

Note: Only add T-1000 if that number is greater than zero.

Let me simplify things for you … the higher the FIETS, the harder the climb, and the higher it will rank on a list.  If you want a little more explanation of the formula then think of these three things —  how much will you climb, in how much distance and what is its height.

The good people over at PJAMM Cycling have taken the time to construct and maintain an excellent interactive website with climbs from the US and all over the world.  It is a valuable resource if you love climb, love numbers and data like I do.  I have thoroughly enjoyed pouring over the lists which may be sorted in multiple ways.  One such sorting is listing the climbs in the US by the highest FIETS which as you may recall means the toughest.  I wish to provide for you a few observations.   Please bare with me as some may be plain as day but I hope to bring even the novice climber up to speed along with the elite climber.

Hawaii tops the list with the first and second hardest climbs in the US –  Mauna Kea and Haleakala, respectively.  Mauna Kea has a FEITS of 28.9 and it also has the unique distinction of being the hardest climb in the world.  The stats are mind boggling – 42.6 miles long, gaining 13,778 feet, with an average grade of 6.1%  Haleakala is no slouch either but its FIETS at 18.2 is nearly half that of Mauna Kea!  It’s numbers are: 35.6 miles long, gains 10,059 feet, at an average of 5.3% .  As any experienced climber knows the average grade just means that most of the climb is more than the average grade stated.

Now that we have dispensed with the huge volcano climbs of Hawaii let’s move back to the mainland.  I created a small table below to illustrate, again in numbers, my mind works best this way, where the rest of the hard climbs are in this great country of ours.  Excuse my rudimentary spreadsheet skills please.

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It becomes glaringly obvious to anyone, even at glance, that California ranks consistently with the highest number of hard climbs in each breakdown of 20 climbs for the top 100 climbs.  It also doesn’t take a math whiz to see in the final tally that 46 climbs out of 100 climbs or 46% of the nation’s hardest climbs are located right here in California.

Another observation, which was rather illuminating to me, was that Colorado ranked much lower than I expected. Aside from their two world famous, 14’ers Mt Evans and Pikes Peak in the top 20, they don’t have another strong showing until climbs 61-80 with five in that category.  Mt Evans and Pikes Peak are still on my wish list.  I tackled a 14’er here in California White Mountain Peak which shows up on the top 20 list as #9 but only up to 10,114 elevation.  You can continue on White Mountain when the paved road runs to dirt up to the summit at 14,252.  Not recommended on a Cyclo Cross bike only a crazy person would do that – who me?  Yeah me it was very challenging to say the least! Take a hard tail MTB instead.

Yes yes but Colorado has the altitude.  Fair point.  However, I submit to you that not everyone is effected by altitude.  I have ridden above 10,000 feet in race conditions and I felt the usual effects of reduced power but not the most common complaint of not being able to breathe under effort.  So not everyone will feel the effects of altitude but everyone will feel the effects of the length of a climb and the steep gradients, those are very tangible.  Length and steep gradients is what California offers in abundance.

White Mountain Peak

Even more surprising to me was how well Utah ranked with a total of 11 climbs and a good showing in each bucket of 20 climbs.  It seems like you can get plenty of good climbing there as well.

Below are screenshots from the PJAMM website.   It can’t be overstated how much work they have put into their website.

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Then I got to thinking wow that is a lot of climbs in California and some of these names sounded familiar.  So how many of the California climbs have I done? This part of my research was much more fun.  It turns out that:

Top 20 

I have done eight out of eight of the hardest climbs in California!

Top 40 

I have completed nine of the 11 climbs – not bad.  The two I haven’t done I just haven’t heard of them.  I need to locate, close with and destroy the enemy … oh wait that is the former Marine coming out.  What I mean is I need to find out where they are and get them done.

Top 60

I have completed nine of the 11 hardest – One of which I may never do. Hwy 330 is just too narrow and too dangerous and the other I just put on my hit list. There I go again –  I mean checklist.

Top 80

I have completed three out of eight climbs.  Interesting to see a few on there that I didn’t know existed or that ranked in the top 80 so I can knock them off fairly easily but I need to travel to them.

Top 100

I have completed seven of the eight.  Same story there is a climb on the list I haven’t heard of before this exercise.

I haven’t made my plan yet for this weekend’s rides but know that they will be epic.  Oh yeah I was going to talk more about the overuse of the word.  I will just give you my 2 cents on the subject.  Far too many use the word too loosely. The short of it is — to me EPIC is something that either weather, mechanicals, terrain, duration or a combination of these four attributes but limited to them, cause you to experience great elation, despair, sense of accomplishment, suffering, soul searching, or a combination of these attributes but not limited to them, and you complete the event, race or training session and you say “one and DONE! there is no way I’m doing that again”.  But alas, the entry window opens up for next year and you sign up again.  For the long of it I will have to publish a post about epic adventures to give you some sense of what I consider to be EPIC.  Your experience may vary.

Is it still Wednesday?  yes urg!