It’s All About the Bike–at least today it is!

by Lou on February 16, 2009

The Tour de Palm Springs charity ride went off without a hitch, and on the evening news the ride’s organizer said the annual charity ride had more than 10,000 cyclists—the majority of whom were from out of town.
The Tour de Palm Springs is the largest charity bicycle event on the west coast. Thousands of bicyclists ride for over 80 local charities in the Coachella Valley while being serenaded by over 65 bands of all types. In addition, over 1,000 volunteers feed, nourish, serve and entertain the riders from start to finish. The event featured more than 60 vendors lots of family activities.

I met up with a couple of my riding buddies at 7:30 that morning and we jumped into the front of the group that was starting at 8:00. Another group left an hour earlier, at 7 a.m., but they were going 100 miles. I was envious because I had hoped to do a century ride, but after being sick for the better part of three weeks leading up to the tour, my level of fitness was way below the point where I could ride 100 miles. I’d have to make do with 58.

Other riders left after we did—groups riding 25, 10, and five miles, that didn’t leave until 9 a.m.

Our route took us north on Indian Avenue where we turned left on Garnet and paralleled I-10 for a few miles. At that point we were riding gradually uphill on a ratty road surface into a stiff wind. We were right out there among the windmills that you see coming into Palm Springs from Los Angeles. It’s always windy out there, but today was windier than usual. The wind, combined with a temperature hovering somewhere around 40 degrees made it a cold and nasty stretch of road.

The only saving grace was that we would eventually cross north over the freeway for a few miles, then head east with the wind finally at our backs. But for that stretch of road, I was pedaling hard and all I had to show for my efforts was an average speed of about eight miles per hour, and none of the riders I came across looked very happy at that point.

Once we turned north and crossed the freeway, the course took us up the aptly named Wall Road—a short, rather steep hill, that continued up until we reached Dillon Road. That was where the 100-milers kept going north on a big loop, while we turned east on Dillon Road. We’d link up again further east on Dillon before splitting off from them at Thousand Palms Canyon.

Once we hit Dillon road, the first section was downhill. With the wind at my back I was flying downhill at 38 miles per hour and making up for a lot of time lost on that slow, into-the-wind section we just left.

At the first rest stop, we met up with some of the other cyclists from the World Gym who were on the 100 mile course. They left an hour before we did, but covered more ground, and we all converged on that first rest stop at about the same time.

That stop was midway up the seven mile long hill on Dillon Road. I was eager to get that section behind me, so I didn’t really stop. I just grabbed some Gator Aid and took off again. The seven mile long hill crests at a fire station. From there it’s a series of long rollers—downhill and uphill segments—where you can use the speed built up on the downhill segments to carry you most of the way to the crest of the next rise. Once again, we were hitting speeds in the mid thirties on the downhill segments and were able to keep a good pace.

My friend Tony and I would take turns drafting each other on the flat segments so we could save energy by riding in the slipstream of the lead rider. At about the twenty-eight mile mark, we reached Thousand Palms Canyon Road. Here we turned right while the 100-milers kept heading east. It’s a fast, five mile run down the canyon, with the next rest stop at the base of the hill. It’s a hill all the local cyclists use as a regular training ride. We approach it from the bottom, climb to the top of Dillon Road, then turn around and ride back down just as fast as we can.

But this time we didn’t have to climb the canyon. After the seven-mile hill on Dillon Road, we were rewarded with a swift, enjoyable descent to the next rest stop. By this time the day warmed up to the point where we weren’t even cold on the descent, so most of us used the rest stop as a chance to shed our wind jackets, leg warmers, and arm warmers too. We stuffed them into the back pockets of our riding jerseys as the sun warmed us up. The air was calm too; we were far removed from those uber-windy sections of the course we traversed earlier.

Once we left this rest station we were out of the mountains, heading back to the more heavily populated sections of the valley. We rode right past my house, and when we did I knew we had only about 15 more miles to go. At the ten-miles-to-go mark we hit a final rest stop, where we stopped, had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a couple of fig newtons, sat in the warming sun for a few minutes and talked with some other cyclists we knew, then got back on the road for the run through Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City, and into Palm Springs.

We were among the early arrivals of those who had done the 55 mile loop, though those who began later than we did but traveled only 25, 10, or 5 miles finished quite some time ahead of us.

On the way in, we passed a few more riders from our World Gym group, and we also ran into a few of the guys who had intended to go 100 miles but changed their minds, and wound up doing about 65 miles instead.

Bands were playing at the finish line in Palm Springs, where we rode through a roped off segments, grabbed some water and Gator Aid, picked up our commemorative T-shirts, then walked down Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs main street which was lined with vendor tents selling everything from bicycles to jerseys to sunglasses to pills guaranteed to zap the lactic acid that hard riding build up.

It was a good day on the bike. What began as a hellishly cold, windy day on an uphill part of the course where you felt like the cross winds would literally blow you off your bike, turned into a nice day with temps in the mid to upper 60s, plenty of sunshine, and no real wind at all.

I’m still mildly upset over the fact that I was sick and unable to attempt the 100-mile ride. By the time I finished, I realized I was not fit enough to go 100 and was better off settling for just under 60 than trying for 100 and failing.

The good news is this is really just the beginning g of the cycling season, and there are plenty of other century rides available here in southern California all through the spring, summer, and early fall too. I’ll do one of them too. At least one.

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