Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Belgian Wafer Ride 2018

A few months ago a few riding friends suggested that the bunch of us sign up to do a notoriously crazy on/off pavement cycling race in the coming spring. It has a degreasing amount of mileage, brutal elevation gain, bike/back-breaking miles of off-road segments, and best of all, all-you-can-eat freshly made Belgian waffle pre-ride breakfast. Having heard so many horror stories about the Belgian Waffle Ride from various survivors who still shudder as they recall the experience during Swami's rides, we opted for the Waffle's more humane shorter version, Belgian Wafer Ride, instead. We even attempted to train for the thing.

Alas, various illnesses put paid to our plans (a month long bout with the flu almost did me in in February, and various injuries did the others in) and I found myself alone in the crowd at the start line of the BWR on Sunday April 15th, wondering what I had gotten into.

It had been disturbing hot the day before while riding the trails of Penasquitos Canyon with a few friends, now I was shivering in the morning cold at the BWR breakfast line. The start time was pushed out almost an hour just to make sure that we hungry horde got all the waffle we needed. I'm talking freshly made waffle, too, not the frozen and then nuked ones. They were really worth standing in the long line for!

I set off near the back of the Wafer pack and dropped completely off about 7 miles into the ride when I stopped to start up my Garmin (of all the rides to forget to record, this one isn't it!). By the time the Garmin woke up and registered where we were, I was all alone and had the infamous 'Lemontwistenberg' AKA Del Dios Gorge trail all to myself. That worked out quite well!

The speedy front of the Wafer pack was already heading the other way on Del Dios Hwy as I climbed west!

The narrow and zesty (both horizontally and vertically) Lemontwistenberg.
Getting to pick your own line, set your own pace, and use the entire width of the narrow fine-gravel trail without having to worry about anyone else makes a lot of difference! I was hardly a fifth of the way into the ride and had already passed more than a handful of riders on the Lemon Twist; they were sidelined by either a mechanical (flat tires being the most common, dropped and stuck chain being the next) or a crash. Some were able to fix themselves and get back to riding, others were doomed to hike their bike to the nearest trailhead in search of neutral support vehicle.

Neutral supports were kept quite busy with the multitudes of  mechanicals.
A brief respite back on the pavement on eastbound Del Dios Hwy from the dam to Elm St was much welcomed before The Hodgee Monster appeared on the side of the road to beckon me back to the sand and jarring rocks of Lake Hodges North Trail.

'Come back to the trail!', called Hodgee.

Eastbound on Lake Hodges North trail, before it gets rough and bouncy.
The North Trail on Lake Hodges used to be a lot more mild-manner than it has become since the winter storms at the end of 2016. Now the section east of the climb over Bernardo Mtn's south flank is a long expanse of exposed little rocks with special hatred for skinny road tires. I was running 32mm threaded cyclocross rubbers, and still bounced around like a pingpong ball slotting thru the narrow rut between the rocks. A few more riders littered the side of the dirt abusing their tire irons, and another group hung just below 'pinch-flat alley', cheering on other riders as they waited for their friends/teammates to catch up. This is one of the cool things about riding on the non-competitive end of the race. People encouraging others and stopping to help rather than just bickering about the amount of pulling they have to do.

The BWR course was really well marked!
Rock-hopping (while carrying the bike, mind you. I'm no Chris Akrigg or Vittorio Brumotti!) over Felicita Creek and onto the paved trail to Sunset Dr on the east side of I-15, the fabulous volunteers at the Mule Hill trailhead pit-stop insisted on filling my two almost empty bidons with ice-cold electrolyte mix while I attempted to eat all of their cut bananas and other good grubs. It was good to have fresh calories to burn entering the Moderate Mule sand and the climb up Highland Valley Road!

A lot of kudos is owed to the BWR organizers, support staff, CHP officers, and kindly volunteers! The course is exceedingly well marked and cheery volunteers were posted at all the trafficky key spots. There were also a bunch of CHP's out both in patrol cars and on motorcycles to allow us riders and drivers to share the road safely. 

Highland Valley Road is a serious climb!
The first serious climb of the day was the 'Highland Arenberg', of course. It isn't a long climb at just 1.4 mile, but its 6% average grade belies 11-15% grade ramps and twisty shoulderless nature. I normally avoid this patch of the road on weekends on account of non-local drivers, but with over 1000 other bikes on the route and a lot of CHP presence, traffic wasn't the main concern for me; the rapidly thinning of the cloud cover that was keeping the temperature below cooking point was!

Descending Bandy Canyon Rd into San Pasqual Valley.

More awesome volunteers making sure we stayed on the route.
At the bottom of Bandy Canyon Rd the route veered left into San Pasqual Valley trailhead for a very sandy section of the Coast to Crest Trail dubbed 'Sandy Bandy'. More cheery volunteers were on hand to refill both of my bidons as I downed some more cut bananas and PBJ sandwiches.

Sandy Bandy was relatively kind to me, though several tire tracks that ended in the brushes (and some brushes were more cactus-y than leafy) along the way gave good motivation to stay focused on the trail. I'm afraid several riders were either blind to the route arrows or had had enough of sand riding and opted to retrace up the pavement of Bandy Canyon Rd instead. At any rate, we all exited the trail back onto the road for the really only 'woohoo' bit of the day, the curvy steep descent of HVR.

Less I got carried away Woohoo-ing, the fun came to an end at the start of the Mighty Mule back to Lake Hodges North. It's really just the reversed direction of the same trails I took east earlier. Somehow, heading the opposite way makes the Mule mighty rather than moderate. The wind was now in my face, and the squishier sand seemed bent on turning my bike into a squiggly fish.

The route west stays on Lake Hodges North trail past the Hodgee Monster and through a series of rock fields of varying ride-abilities before a gate-crossing onto the gravel service road. I found myself at the tail of a small group of easy going guys and was enjoying a bit of on-bike conversation when the road turned into a narrow fenced-in trail that pitched straight uphill over a series of mini boulders. By the time I reached the summit (and the start of the Lemontwistenberg Omgekeerde) I was all alone again and thankful for all the electrolyte drinks I've had along the way.

The Lemontwistenberg Omgekeerde starts off with an OMG-inducing set of speed-scrubbing downhill zigzag.

We made it back to the Del Dios Gorge trailhead pit-stop with all our limbs still attached!
Alas, summits came and went on this ride as the reversed Lemontwistenberg is full of false summits, zesty twists, and even a downed powerline cable. I took a long break at the trailhead pit-stop to sew all my limbs back on before taking a final ride over the Del Dios Hwy climb and heading NW to the enchanted forest of Harmony Grove.

I took it way easy on the pavement of Elfin Forest Rd. People only talked about how hard it was going to be climbing up Double Peak at the end of the ride, but I've been this way before and was more in dread of how roughed up my poor legs would get just getting over the Atterbury hump on Questhaven Rd. The thought was enough to make me hallucinate bacon and bikini-clad dancing pixies...

The Questhaven Oasis apparitions
Oh wait, that wasn't a hallucination?

Unless you can bunny hop like a Martyn Ashton, there are two mandatory bike-hiking spots on Questhaven Rd.

Anyhow, let's just say that there was an epidemic of two-wheeled zigzagging on the narrow pavement of Questhaven Rd even by guys much fitter than me. The lovely people of San Elijo Hills cheered us battered souls on up the climb to 'Mur van Dubbelberg' where more snaky and shaky climbing broke out to some rousing roadside rock music.

I squeezed the last ounce of glycogen from my legs huffing over the dirt top of the hill before starting down the dusty descent of the Dubbelberg Twistenweg, known locally as the dirt 'Ridgeline Trail' of surprises to Twin Oaks Valley Rd. For all the suffering already endured, we had to hop rock steps, anti-erosion beams, coyote poos, and punch up a steep final dirt ramp before we were allowed back onto the pavement!

But at least the course arrow was pointing straight on La Moree at Coronado Hills Dr, so all is gratefully forgiven.

I'm not sure if the foray onto La Moree on the final stretch home was meant to be a reminder of what sadistic options were mercifully left off for the ride. I was just glad there were still plenty of food left behind the finish line for me to figuratively dive into (I would have literally dive... but my legs really didn't have anything more than a ginger walk left in them).

And I only did the Wafer...

Much kudos to everyone that finished the full Waffle. You guys are all aliens!

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Thanks for stopping by. Be safe on the roads!