Got to San Clemente around 6AM. I was the first person in the parking lot of San Clemente Cyclery which was also the meeting place. A few minutes after, riders started coming in. Most of them my usual riding buddies who also made the hour long drive to do the ride. The morning was quite chilly and I was debating on putting on warmers and more layers. I do hate shedding off layers and stuffing unnecessary garments on my jersey pockets so I forgone the idea. I didn’t regret the decision as a few minutes in the ride, it started getting warm. It was a beautiful day for a ride!
5 minutes before 7AM, riders started coming in and was in ready formation. Everybody was psyched and ready to do a great 100 miles. There was an approximately 80+ riders or so. It was quite a big group.
First 15 miles or so was a good warm up. Relaxed pace. Everybody was chatty. The cool beach air on our faces. The sound of tires whizzing, freewheels clicking, it was perfect. A couples of miles or so, somebody had a flat and so we had to make a quick stop to wait for them to change tubes.
When we reached Camp Pendleton, the pace started to go up slightly. People are starting to want get to front of the pack. I followed suit, shifted up and stood on the pedals. At this point, the pace was hovering around 20-25mph. By the time we reached Oceanside, I was in a group that broke away from the pack. There were probably 5 of us. 2 of these guys were riding fixed gears: my buddy Jorge and another guy I just met, Justin. Kudos to these guys for being strong riders.
Prior to reaching the first stop. It was an all-out hammerfest. The 5 man group started getting smaller. Soon, there was just 3 of us. The climbs we’re really fun. Not too steep, not too long — short enough to crest it dancing on the pedals. Decents are nice and long. I believe I hit about 40mph at some point on the descents.
We got to pit stop #1 first greeted by the nice ladies that offered us food and refreshments. I quickly filled my bottles, and stuffed my face with orange slices, banana, pbj, half a cliff bar, beef jerky and peanuts while chatting with fellow riders. “Good job” and “nice riding” were thrown around freely. Everybody was feeling great!
Then things got a little interesting after the first stop. It was followed by shallow climbs and screaming descents. I was riding with the front group quite smoothly when my front tire hit a pothole. There was a loud bang! I looked at my tire, it seemed to be OK. So I continued descending and pedaling through. And then i hear a loud hissing sound and saw my front rim rolling with the tire flat down. I make a signal of stopping and pulled over to the side, while riders whizzed by. I thought “this should be an easy and quick fix, no problems”. I replied “I’m good” to passing rider’s question of “you got everything?” while pulling the tube out of my tire with my bare hands. It was quick and painless and I got myself in rolling condition in no time — I’ve done this a million times.
I started riding and try to catch up with the group that left me. I did saw one lone rider with a familiar green jersey that looked like it was waiting for somebody. I waved hi and he waved back, it looked like he was waiting for somebody else. I assumed that all I have to do is ride straight and I would eventually catch up with the tail end of the group.
I was wrong. I kept on going straight. Scanned the road up in front of me. Didn’t see any group nor riders. I was alone. By myself. Now, this is my first time going down this route. This is not familiar territory. I don’t know the streets. I am miles away from home. I don’t have a map. And all I have is my bike.
I started frantically, looking at my phone’s GPS (thank God for full charge!) and looked up routes in Google Maps. It says that if I go straight down the road im taking right now, that I would eventually hit the Pacific Coast Highway and I could ride that up to my starting point in San Clemente. This was also confirmed by a couple of riders that I stopped for directions. So off I went. I pedaled on but was also careful to not go too hard. I was saving energy for the unknown miles ahead.
I was pedaling along, feeling confident that I could do this myself. I started going fast on some descents hoping to get to PCH as quick as I could. On one particular stretch of road which I don’t remember the name of, I saw a truck come up from a minor street on a stop sign, waiting to make a left turn towards the opposite lane. Now, I saw the truck and anticipated a stop, so I slowed down. Seeing that the truck was not moving. I start to accelerate again. At this point, I am not sure what happened but the truck started moving, blocking my direction. Since I was already going fast, slowing down would surely send me straight to the truck driver’s door. So I pedaled faster, veered left to take the full lane, and try to get past the truck as quickly as I could. The truck hit my rear tire. It’s bumper touching my rear tire ever so slightly. I lost my balance for a second, but I regained it back instantly. I did not fall. I did not get hurt. My bike felt OK. I stopped. Looked back and saw the truck driving away. I was shocked. Confused. And didn’t know what to do. I also thought, I got so many miles ahead that I’ll think of it while pedaling.
A few pedals strokes after. I was stopped by an Emergency SUV that said “Fire Department” on its doors. The gentleman got off his car and asked if I was OK. “I saw what happened, I got the truck’s plate number and reported to CHP the whole thing”, he said. I gave him my contact information which he would relay to CHP if needed. At that point, I realized I was lucky that I escaped getting hurt and felt really grateful for that.
I continue pedaling and started getting hungry, good thing I took extra food from the first stop. I started eating through the energy bars that I have in my pockets and drank most of the water from my bottles. Seeing that I’m by myself in this trek back home, I made a stop at a 7-11 and got myself a big bottle of water and a coke. Stopped and rest for a bit, checked the map on my phone and started pedaling again.
Finally I got to PCH and was riding it a couple of miles. Until I came to what looks like a freeway entry without any shoulder. I was confused, Google maps on my phone tells me to go straight but it looks like I can’t. So I thought to myself “this is it, I have to call somebody”. I called my girlfriend (who was an hour away from where I was) to pick me up. She agreed and told me she would be there in an hour. While waiting, I saw a couple of bikes parked at a Denny’s and I thought maybe I can ask fellow cyclists if they know of another way to get to PCH without going through what looks like an entry to a freeway. I went inside Denny’s, didn’t find the cyclists but an attendant helped me with directions, I later found out that he rides bikes too. He told me to go into the road that looked like a freeway entry and that would lead me into Camp Pendleton. So off I went, called my girlfriend and told her I’m OK and I’m pushing on. I can sense the worry in her voice but she trusted me that I can do it.
Riding through Camp Pendleton and PCH was beautiful. I didn’t realize how beautiful the scenery was. We rode the same route earlier in the morning but I was too focused on going fast and upping the pace. I guess riding long solo rides has its perks.
Riding through the last 40 miles was peaceful. I knew I wouldn’t be making any good stats on my strava and I’m ok with that. I just took in the scenery, breathe the fresh air and enjoyed every moment of the ride. I pedaled slowly, took deep breaths and almost got into a trance-like state. At this point, my thoughts were flying — subjects mostly include God and Life. Cycling can indeed be a spiritual experience ;)
Time went by fast and I finally was back where I started. What usually is a 101 mile bike ride became 108 miles. And I’m happy. I’m glad that I survived it. I’m glad that I forged on. I’m glad that I escape being hurt. I’m glad that I figured things myself. Most specially, I’m glad that there was warm food, good beer and a loving girlfriend waiting for me. Would I do it again? Sure. But this time, I’ll probably print out a map, just in case.