Old La Honda and Tunitas Creek

As always, we’ll start with the stats: Lauren and Ruben, although I can’t really account for the difference in the elevation gain between the two.

Ruben and I are visiting some friends in the bay area while Elias attends a camp down here. The original thought was that Ruben would do the Vineman Aqua Bike. Although he decided not to do that ride, we decided to still bring down our bikes for some rides. In particular it’s been his goal since getting the new bike to bring it down and re-do the Old La Honda hill climb. Details of the grade of this climb are here.

Ruben did a bit of research and found a bunch of interesting rides on this site, and of course goes right to the “hilly” section. We both wanted to get out to the coast so we picked this ride with 54 miles and purportedly 4700 feet of elevation gain. The author said he did it in under 4 hours.

I almost bailed on the ride this morning. We woke up later than I had wanted to and I just was feeling a little off and nervous about a few things. For one – the hills and the feeling like I would be slowing Ruben down. Two: I promised to be home in time to pick up the kids from camp if our friend dropped them off. Now when I initially read it, I noticed Old La Honda was on there, but this morning Ruben said it wasn’t. Turns out it was.

We took off around 9am, and it was still cool and cloudy in the Palo Alto area. Even heading westbound through Stanford, I told Ruben I was feeling like I was biking through water. He said it was because we were going up hill slightly. Also my bike was having trouble, the chain was skipping in some of the gears when it was on the front chain ring. We biked through beautiful Portola Valley, and as I was looking at my Garmin, I noticed it was about 40 minutes into the ride. I thought that I’d eat soon, but I also realized that I tend to warm up about 45 minutes into anything (like about the time I get to Seward park from home).

For whatever reason though, I forgot to eat something. Big mistake. We got to Old La Honda and I was still dragging, but some part of me really wanted to do it again and prove that I had gotten to be a stronger cyclist. Ruben was going to stay with me, but I told him I knew he wanted to attack the hill because he can and that I’d meet him up at the top (and I’d call if there was trouble). I also didn’t want him to stay with me because then I’d feel pressure to do more than my pace and I really didn’t want to be rushed. So he went off.

The first part wasn’t too bad and I was feeling pretty good about it. I hadn’t gotten into my lowest of low gears – I was in the small front chain ring . I forgot how long the hill was – I seemed to remember 1.3 miles, so some how I figured I would be done in 15 minutes, that maybe I could do it without getting into my granny gear, and that I could do it without stopping. Boy did I get that wrong. By 10 minutes I was starting to get a little tired, but knew I could keep going. I saw a Lara bar on the ground and realized Ruben had dropped it so I stopped and picked it up, but got right back on the bike. I passed the 2 mile mark, then the 15 minute mark and there were still more switchbacks and I started to get a little frustrated. About 2/3 of the way up I started to notice my breathing was changing, I was wheezing. I tried to change my breathing and catch deeper breaths, but I was just gasping for air. I started to get fuzzy headed too. I switched into my lowest gear and kept plodding along, frustrated and crying on and off.

I wound up finally reaching the top about 32 ish minutes after I had started, practically fell off the bike and just sat on the road crying and feeling like I was going to totally hurl. Ruben had been up there for about 10 minutes (watching a deer for a large part of it). He sat with me, and asked if I had eaten, and I told him no, but that I had found the food (his hint that I should have). When things mellowed out a little bit, I ate some sports beans and drank water.

At least I had done better than the last time I did this (sometime in the 2004-2005 time frame), where I seem to remember coming in just over 40 minutes, which according to the Felix Wong site is a category ‘B’ rider. So I guess it’s good: I bumped up a category.

I was a bit concerned about going on – I had no idea the hill profile going out to the coast, much less going back. Ruben asked another cyclist who came up the same road what he knew and told us it was mostly down hill to the coast, with a few rollers at the end. He also told us that the way back was less of a steep climb, but it was more exposed. We checked the time and even though we knew we weren’t going to be coming back up the way we went down, we thought the other way up wouldn’t be as steep either.

Boy we wrong.

So most of the ride down was pretty easy, although I think something is going on with my bike. I keep feeling very unstable on down hills – it may be the new tires (with less tread on the sides, or there may be something going on with the frame. I don’t feel very comfortable going over 25 miles an hour. Ruben is much more confident than I am. I was also still not feeling quite right (still kind of fuzzy headed). At one point I got very frustrated and angry and unfortunately for Ruben, he got the brunt of it (I have since apologized). But other than my bonky outburst, the rest of the ride down 84 to the coast was uneventful.

We stopped briefly at the one store in San Gregorio and I used the bathroom. We thought there might be a store or something on the coast, so didn’t buy anything to eat there. We did ask the woman if she knew anything about the ride up Las Tunitas. She said the hill starts about 3 miles in and continues only up from there.

Lauren on PCH near San GregorioAbout 1/2 a mile later, we were on the coast and things felt better but there was no place to get something to eat and we didn’t have any official lunch on us – just regular ride food (bars, sharkies, etc). We also noted there were some markings on the road – big arrows going our way. I wondered if a supported ride had gone through there earlier this month/year.

Turning onto PCHOur next turn had us going up a hill that is about the size of the “hill” on STP – 400+ feet of elevation gain in a mile. On the way up we saw the same guy who gave us some information at the top of Old La Honda zip out in front of us and disappear fast up the hill. On the way down I had to stop – I wasn’t about to let a beautiful vista just zip by because we were on our bikes. Enough of going fast to get someplace, I wanted to stop and enjoy the ride. So we stopped to look out over bluff and take some pictures. We met a woman with a french accent who was unloading bagels, books and some peanut butter from her bike. She was biking from San Francisco to San Diego. She did ask us if we knew about how bad the hill is near Big Sur but we couldn’t help her out.

Pacific view north to Half Moon Bay from the hill   Ruben on the coast

Our turn was at the bottom of the hill. A little while later we saw a sign for a Bike Hut with snacks and drinks. I think both of us were hoping for an espresso drink but we were ok with whatever we found.

Lauren at the Bike Hut     Bike Hut description

At first I thought it would be closed on a weekday. But it said open. It was an honor system shack with organic snacks and water, bike tools, bike books and a sign in sheet. There was an explanation of how they opened in Feb 2009 and how the Tour De California had gone by earlier this year. It was wonderful. Basically it’s on this organic farm called Potrero Nuevo – they are trying to grow organic food that’s affordable for low income folks. We signed the book and thanked them for having such a wonderful spot and even got to thank the owner in person when he came in to check that there was enough water.

The first part of the Tunitas creek climb wasn’t so bad and I had largely recovered from the earlier problems I had. My legs were tired, but I wasn’t feeling tight in the chest. But true to the woman’s estimate, about 3 miles in the road got steeper. I knew it was 6 more miles to the top, but I was hopeful they weren’t too steep.

Boy was I wrong.

First off, I swear my Garmin wasn’t changing distance. I looked down and saw it said 35 miles. A few minutes later it still said 35 miles. Then a few minutes later it did creep up to 36 miles. I saw a sign on the ground saying 5 miles to go. And this was the easy part. At 4 miles to go, all of a sudden the wheezing started again. This time Ruben was with me and heard what was happening. I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point we stopped – I just couldn’t catch a breath at all – it felt like I was drowning and I was losing my mind. After things subsided a bit, I started to walk up the hill straddling my bike. Ruben got me to get off my bike and I used it to hold me up as I continued to walk. He insisted on taking the bike from me and we walked for about 1/2 a mile. I ate and drank a little bit. The unfortunate thing is neither of us brought our inhalers – I have problems in the cold, not the heat! I suspect what happened was that the particles in the air down here are so different from those up in Seattle (most notably the Eucalyptus) that it trigged the asthma.

When I felt better we got back on the bikes and I tried again. (at this point I think we saw the 4 miles left sign). This time I stopped just as I started to wheeze so it didn’t get so bad, but I was pretty dizzy. We kept trying to calculate how fast we could make it back, even if we were walking to the top. I knew we couldn’t make the whole way home in time to get the kids so I asked if Ruben wanted to go ahead. He wouldn’t leave me – which was probably a good idea considering how desolate it was (we saw 1 car on the whole ride up).

At this point the grade was much easier – only about 4-7% as we later found out. It turns out that the 2 miles I had to walk a 1/2 mile each on were about 9-11% grades AND on one there was 1200 feet of elevation gain (even according to Ruben’s data which is better than mine). the other hill was “only” 800 feet.

The ride down (on Kings Mountain Road) was not easy either. It was about 5 miles of downhill – on a bike that was still feeling weird (or maybe it was my head). There are a LOT of switchbacks that say 15mph and they really mean it. There were two or three cyclists that passed us, but they obviously knew the road way better than us. Both of our hands were hurting by the time we hit the bottom (and I thought at least it wasn’t just me). But I was totally and utterly exhausted.

When we got down to the corner where Portola meets Sand Hill, we saw the markings on the road for the tour De California going left. Ruben indicated he was going right, but I seemed to remember that the cue sheet said to go left. But I couldn’t read it that fast and I just followed him. I said something to him about a mile down the road and he looked down and said that I was right. So we had to turn around and do another roller in reverse. But this was an indication to me that it wasn’t just me being effected by the ride – superman Ruben was also getting tired. We also missed another turn that may have taken about 1 more mile off the route, but it turned out to be ok. We just took Sand Hill back to Alma back to our friend’s house. We got home around 3, Ruben didn’t even change, just grabbed some food, left me at home to shower and change, and went to get the kids. He even got there 10 minutes early and got to see their projects.

Now I almost didn’t write this up because I was feeling so cruddy about how relatively “weak” I am in comparison to Ruben (and how I feel like I slow him down) and because of my falling apart the way I did on this ride. I felt almost “drunk” with tiredness and lightheadedness through dinner. Even now, 9 hours after I got home, I am still a little light headed and hungry. However, knowing just how hard it was, I don’t feel so bad. Would I do it again? Yes. But this time with no time limit, on a tuned up, wheel-trued bike and carrying my inhaler and a better camera. The pressure of feeling like I was going to not make it home on time and the bike issues really exacerbated things, but not having my inhaler was a real problem.

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