was a lot of fun, and I was happily surprised by how well I did on
it. I haven’t been training at all; I’ve only been riding
about once a month, and my last ride was a measly 6-miler. Going
from that to a 50-mile (~80km) ride (with a
was a little intimidating.
Since the ride was from Rosarito to Ensenada, and Rosarito is closer
to San Diego, and there were shuttles back from Ensenada to Rosarito
after the ride, the best plan would have been to stay at least one
night in Rosarito. Unfortunately, by the time we got our act
together, all the hotels were sold out and/or charging extortionate
rates. So we ended up getting a room in Ensenada — it turns
out that the shuttles run before the event, as well.
I had heard about this ride from a few different people, but my
buddy Dave in Pasadena managed to get me motivated and start
arranging things. He figured out hotel reservations and such, while
I volunteered to drive and deal with auto insurance, bike racks,
etc. One of his co-workers, Scott, came with us. Amusingly enough,
the two of them were one third of the entire complement of
They got some very strange looks, both from the locals and from most
other cyclists. (Dave also got called “bike geek!”
... but in a friendly way.)
Our original plan was to leave San Diego about 16:00 on Friday,
hoping to make it through the border by 18:00, then to Ensenada by
20:00 so we could get a good night’s sleep. Of course it
didn’t work out that way. They didn’t even get to my
place until about 20:00; by the time we all ate, got bikes and gear
transferred, and everything else set up, we ended up leaving Ocean
Beach about 21:30.
The drive down went really smoothly after that; we breezed through
the border, and found our way to Ensenada with no trouble at all. I
had fun — and kept myself awake — by analyzing the
differences in signage between Mexican toll roads and USA interstate
highways. And doing the english-to-metric conversions in my head,
even though my speedometer was marked with a teeny kmph scale.
Our hotel was a bit of a challenge to find, as the main road going
to it was blocked off for the end-of-ride party the next day. After
a bit of circling, we finally located it, parked, got the bikes
transferred up to the rooms, and started to settle in. This is when
my own worries cropped up again... the rooms had two beds, and they
were probably only full-size, if that. I ended up piling some of
the extra blankets up in the space between the two beds and sleeping
on that. Rather, trying to sleep: it wasn’t the most
comfortable bed in the world (I knew I should have brought my
It was also uncomfortably warm and a bit humid for me. Add in
nervousness over the next day’s ride, and it took a long time
for me to fall asleep.
Scott is very intense about his riding and wanted to catch one of
the early shuttles so he could start near the front of the pack. So
of course he was the first up and about. I finally woke up about
the time that he was leaving to catch the shuttle. It was probably
pre-ride jitters, maybe amplified by being nervous about my first
trip any distance into Mexico, but I felt so ill that I could barely
eat breakfast. I think I made it about halfway through a plate of
pancakes (that were really quite delicious, so I felt even worse).
Dave and I caught one of the last of the morning shuttles. This was
an adventure unto itself, as it didn’t leave until well after
09:00 for the hour-long drive to the start (which was, of course, at
10:00). There really wasn’t much room on the last few
shuttles, either; I had a less-than-fun hour sitting on the floor,
sucking in fumes, and wishing my back wouldn’t hurt as much.
(I’ll get back to my back.) There were also a pair of loud,
obnoxious (in a reasonably amusing way) women sitting at the front.
All a part of the fun, I guess. :)
They never even got us all the way to the start line; they dropped
us off at the toll booth just south of Rosarito. We grabbed our
bikes, walked across traffic, and joined the tail end of the pack on
the “free road”. At this point, it became much more
like the rides I’d done here in the states, although there were a
few differences. The organizers worked with the authorities and
kept most of the vehicle traffic off the route, although there was
still a few cars and trucks. And such yummy fumes!
A neighbor of mine had done the ride before, and she told me that
throwing candy to the children was a tradition. I bought a
handlebar bag and a few bags of
It worked pretty well, although I fear that the candies were a bit
hard to survive being tossed onto pavement. Next ride I’ll probably
use paper-wrapped sweet tarts or similar.
One other change from the rides I’d been on stateside: going up the
big hill, quite a few people caught an assist from motor vehicles.
I don’t really have a problem with it, it’s just weird to me. (And
I think it’s scary dangerous, but hey, I’m a wuss.)
There’s a small hill from the coast to the
that the Big Hill is the climb out of. I had noticed low air in my
back wheel on the first coastal flat, and pumped it up once; when it
got low again, I decided to replace the tube. The little hill was a
nice place to stop, as there were nice views and it was still cool
and damp. And I really didn’t want to have my tires failing on a
visions of doom
kept dancing through my head. A little annoying, as I had just put
the previous tube in the night before, but oh well, they’re cheap.
(Yes, that tire is going. No, I haven’t replaced it yet.)
I was happily surprised that I only had to stop once on the big
hill; the rest of the time, I ground it out in my lowest gear.
There was one other climb later on that I got off and walked a bit,
but that’s all. I had been expecting it to be much worse; I think
I’ll end up buying a GPS unit and see whether Torrey Pines is better
or worse than The Hill. (Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be
surprised; when I lived in Las Cruces, I did San Augustine Pass at
least twice, and that’s a 1300 ft / 400 m climb. Over rather longer
than 2-3 miles, though...)
Bike geeking: I had a mountain bike for a while (1993-1998 or so),
but these days my only bike is a trusty 1988
“Campione d’Italia”. I have a bit of a sentimental
attachment to it, since it was partially a present from my
grandparents. The biggest problem for me, living in fairly hilly
areas, is that it only has 12 speeds, and the lowest ratio I have is
a 42 to 24. On 27" (700c) wheels, that makes for a fairly steep
gear for climbing. While a part of it is my sheer lack of
condition, my knees are also starting to complain. I’ve looked
at putting a triple chainring on, but I suspect that it putting a
new drivetrain on the poor thing would be more expensive than simply
buying a current bike. Hard to part with it, though. Maybe
I’ll turn it into a full-on commuter bike...
And for rockit_grl: I saw at least one inline skater
along the course, and my friends said they saw another earlier.
While he did cheat a little — he was one of the people
catching rides off the truck going up the big hill — I’m
still stunned at the thought of inline skating for 50 miles. I was
very nervous about it, and I did it sitting down!
After the hill, the worst part was a few more smaller hills
(“Gah! Wasn’t that the last climb!”). I only had
to get extra supplies twice; I grabbed some water at an aid station,
and then i bought some water and Gatorade from one of the vendors
(mostly as an excuse to sit under their tarp for a few minutes).
There was an adorable little girl helping there; she got the last
piece of candy. :) The rest of the time, I did ok with the gallon
of water and handful of Clif and Power bars that I brought with me.
Which is reassuring, as 50-mile unsupported rides are something I
like to think I can do.
Somewhere on the top of the mesa, I got to be a “Good
Samaritan” twice. Well, maybe twice and a half. I had
brought along two spare tubes; I had used one, but when I overheard
someone asking an aid station worker for a replacement, I figured
that I could always patch mine if needed.
The second (and a half) case involved the same couple twice. I
first noticed them looking quite despondent, with the wheel off one
of their bikes. This was their first big trip after buying a pair
of (nice!) new road bikes, and they hadn’t ever fixed a flat before.
They had most of the tools they needed, but the salesperson had
gotten them to buy a CO2 cartridge refill
system, instead of a frame pump. I don’t know whether it was
defective, or whether they just didn’t know how to use it (I
certainly don’t know how to use them...) but I had a frame pump, so
problem solved. They were a bit shocked at how high I tend to pump
up my road tires, though (130 psi).
A few miles later — probably at about the third aid station
— I ran into them again. This time, her rear derailleur was
not quite aligned correctly. A quick flick of the barrel adjuster,
and she was in much better shape. After a few other suggestions
(ranging from “downshift more when going up hills” to
“you might try easier rides to build up experience in the
saddle”), we were both on our ways.
The downhill off the mesa was exhilerating. Even the flats
weren’t as bad; now that I knew I’d gotten over the hump,
I was a lot more comfortable exerting myself. I was passing people
at a very good clip, staying in middle gears most of the rest of the
way. The road conditions got a bit worse, but it wasn’t too
Scott, on the other hand, had some very bad luck on that downhill.
As near as we can figure, his chain jumped from his smallest cog and
jammed against the frame — which locked up his back wheel. At
40 mph. It tore a good-sized hole into his tire and sent him
skidding quite a ways. On top of a fair pile of bruises and road
rash (note his elbows and knees in our
“packed up and ready to leave”
photo), he also ended up having to walk his bike most of the way
back. As he put it: “I didn’t do a 50-mile ride; I did a
36-mile ride and then a half-marathon.”
All in all, a good time. We were all pretty beat-up, and Scott
wanted to get home to LA that night (so that, when he woke up, he
could be sore and immobile in his own bed!). The traffic going back
up wasn’t bad ... but getting over the border sucked. It took
about 90 minutes from the time we first hit the line to get onto
I had a great time on this ride. The scenery was beautiful, and it
was reasonably well supported. Just being in Mexico was a little
depressing; the poverty can be crushing, and the degree to which
they abuse their land to attract tourists is pretty disturbing as
well. On the one hand, just being in the ride (hopefully) brought
money into their economy; on the other hand, the thought that the
200 USD I spent on this weekend trip (not counting the multiple
hundreds of USD on miscellaneous gear over the years) would feed
some of these families for months... it’s pretty humbling.
Still, I’ll try to do it again this spring. :)