Found ourselves pier-side in Oceanside, about 10am. So this is where it all begins. The big show. The ticket. The alpha mater. The dance. The feather in the cap. The widowmaker. Well, scratch the last, but needless to say it’s a pretty big deal, and pretty fun to be standing on the pier knowing I’ll be back in four short months.
Dave and June were all set in the follow vehicle, supplies stocked, RAAM directions and rules on the dash, film crew standing by. Winds out of the east. Yup, you heard me / read that right, EAST winds, of about 30-40km/hr. The winds blow out of the east in California about once very two years, after a couple expletives and a few complaints that it’ll be impossible to compare times to last year now that I’m essentially facing a 60km/hr wind differential, Jiles informed that it’ll be good for me, and to shut my trap and get on the bike. Okey doke. Time to see what this thing is all about!
The first 50km is totally unsupported. Starting under the pier I then quickly spun through a couple downtown streets and then onto 10k of bike paths, followed by an abrupt slap in the face by a 1000 ft 9% grade. Once out of Oceanside there’s another 1500 feet of climbing, after which I can finally start getting leapfrog support from the crew - ie they are only allowed to drive ahead, park in a designated place and hand bottles and food off by standing alongside the road. Notes for future: grabbing a bottle at 35km/hr doesn’t work overly well, 25 and slower is good. Further notes for future: Drink boxes (boost on steroids packaged in a drink box) are to be opened only by the rider, NOT opened and then handed off at above said speeds. Additional notes: shorts caked in drink box are surprisingly not all that uncomfortable.
About 70km in came Palomar Mountain, a 3,000 foot climb, it started well until a traffic accident brought us to a halt. After attempting to bribe the state trooper into letting me sneak by on the shoulder, I decided to load up on bottles, food and a map, said my goodbyes to the crew, and took the bike over the barbwire to bushwhack around.
The crew caught me shortly before Time Station 1: Lake Henshaw. Plateaued out at about 3500 feet, with the winds even worse, I found a bike team on their own training camp that had no issue with me jumping in their line, 15-20mph they said… 11 of us started, then by the next turn we were holding 21-23 into the wind and they were 4, by the next turn just me and their cat 1 guy, but that got me to the top of the Glass Elevator. What’s the Glass Elevator you ask? Oh just a little 10mile (yeah, sorry not doing metric conversions anymore, I’ve gone imperial) 3,500 foot twisting switchback descent onto the desert floor. Pretty good times.
Then the route traces the valley floor to Brawley and is on a nice little downhill grade, before then heading consistently up pretty much forever, forever being the top of the Rockies. It’s an agonizing thing to be in a headwind and an unceasing slow uphill that can go 50 miles before even the slightest downhill reprieve. Part of this up took us through the Imperial Sand Dunes, which we climbed through during the night though we’re quite sure is rather impressive.
Pedaling on and up it became progressively colder, by dawn it was well below freezing and the lungs were beginning to become annoyed. We called it quits just short of Salome AZ after 320 miles in just over 20 hrs. A bit of a copout, but we accomplished what we needed, learned an immense amount about the course and specific support needs during the frenzy that is sure to be occurring on day 1, and were able to figure out what needs some tweaking come June. Mostly I figured out I really don’t like riding into a headwind for 320 miles. The dude on my shoulder just snickered something about Kansas - notorious for terrible winds, but we’ll deal with that later.