Thursday, June 27, 2019

Belgian Wafer Ride 2019

It was a bit reassuring in a rather twisted way, that despite a serious bout with food poisoning in March, and two full weeks of the flu in April, I still arrived at the start of this year's Wafer ride, the shorter 72 mile option of the full 133 mile Belgian Waffle Ride, in much better shape than I did a year ago. Surely if I managed to survive last year's ride, this year's should be a given, no matter what on-bike shenanigans I'd have to pull along the way.

The BWR organizer had obviously learnt from last year's not-enoug-waffles-to-go-around glitch, and planned the catering process better. No half-a-block long breakfast line this time around, and no start time delay needed to facilitate my attempted transpeciation into a pig!

Breakfast of 'no-bonkers'.
Mariacchi music to get us into the mood.

This year's field had doubled from the previous one, and well more than a thousand riders were at the start line for the Wafer ride, which went off in one giant wave half an hour after the first of the three Waffle waves. I meant to drop off the back of the pack early in order to not run into the inevitable traffic jam on the narrow track of Lemontwistenberg, but the Wafer wave was just endless., and I ended up just toward the back of the stretched out main bunch going over the hump on Del Dios Hwy.

A big grateful thank you to all the CHP, local sheriff officers, and volunteers who were out directing traffic for us all along the route. They did a wonderful job of keeping everyone safe and were all so kind and encouraging to us riders. It just made such a taxing ride so much more enjoyable, especially toward the end when most of us were just riding on steam and could barely see straight. 

CHP-assisted U-turn on Del Dios Hwy at Calle Ambiente.

Lemontwistenberg (Eastbound Del Dios Gorge Trail)
I'm glad I pre-rode this thing the Tuesday before (in the rain and all, since that was my only day off that work week). The little shallow concrete creek crossing on the access road to Lemontwistenberg had recently been filled in with fist size gravels, and it rode quite differently from a year ago. You really can't steer thru huge gravels like that. It rides pretty much like non-sinking sand... where momentum (and the willingness to leave the brake levers alone) is your best friend. Luckily for me, never being able to stick with a diet plan means momentum is the one thing I have no lack of...

We were pretty much all strangers with unknown bike-handling abilities. I trackstood for a while waiting for the crossing to clear before riding thru. After all, I wasn't anywhere near the pointy end of the ride, and there really wasn't any point in 'racing' others thru crash-a-delic sections. A few others just plowed in right behind someone else, hoping that the person in front didn't stall.

Lemontwistenberg traffic jam.
Though, stalled we did become on the twisty low-traction singletrack of Lemontwistenberg, except for the few that were off the front and/or the back of the bunch. Once someone gets off and walks, the rest pretty much has to follow suit. There just isn't enough room.

Not to say that some didn't try to squeeze people out of their way with nary a thought of whether those people who got squeezed past would end up in the bush (or cactus) or not, kind of like the way some drivers would speed squeeze pass a long line of cars to cut in up the line right at the freeway exit.

The vast majority of riders behaved like matured adults, however, and kept up good banter to past the time waiting for the line to move along.

Hodgesmuurgate East
After a stretch back on the pavement of Del Dios Hwy, we hit the dirt again on Lake Hodges North Trail. This was one of the more fearsome sectors last year with long stretches of jutting hard rocks on the ramp to Bernardo Mtn Trail turn off, and the dreaded downhill right turn toward Felicita Creek where tires were shredded and spokes busted. The thick new layer of packed top dirt had taken most of the menace out of Hodges North, however. The downhill right hook was now smooth, loose, and still banking the wrong way away from the turn; I'm not sure if that is a safer combination for biking than the previous de-facto-speed-bump roughness was, but it probably gave Velofix fewer business than it did last year.

The now smooth downhill right turn on Hodgesmuurgate.
                                            Felicita Creek crossing.
Modest Mule (Eastbound Mule Hill Trail) and Highland Arenberg (Highland Valley Rd climb)
Rather than lingering at the Sikes' Abode pit stop at the start of Modest Mule like I did last year, I just grabbed a fresh bottle of electrolyte bottle and passed right on to the trail. You see, there's only one really rideable line through the deep sand pits of Modest Mule's mid-section, and it's on the westbound side. Last year I had to fishtail my way east on it because the lead Wafer riders were already heading back west through there as I headed east, and that rideable line wasn't available.

This time around, I had already gone through the sand pits when the first Wafer riders popped up on the opposite side of the narrow trail. From then on, I could relax a bit and take my time psyching up for the climb up the steep first mile of Highland Valley Rd climb.

Heading east on Mule Hill Trail. Battle Mtn in background.
The lower slope of wiggly Highland Valley Rd climb.
Just a couple more turns to the level out!
Wafer riders don't have to climb all of Highland Valley Rd (HVR), thanks goodness! We only climb the first wiggly mile to the Bandy Canyon Rd turn off, where we indulge in a few miles of paved descents into the San Pasqual Valley.  The sun had shedded its cloud cover by then, and I was starting to regret having on a vest.

Sandy Bandy (San Pasqual Valley Trail) and Bandyweg (Bandy Canyon Rd climb)
I did spend some time at the well stocked Sandy Bandy pit stop, where the kind volunteers from Olli and Tasco pumped me full of banana and electrolyte water. I'm afraid I passed on the beer, as I could barely ride straight when sober. Being able to stick to a narrow line is something necessary on a trail like Sandy Bandy, with its many unfriendly cacti hiding in the brushes lining the path.

Sandy Bandy Pit Stop
Sandy Bandy's deceptive sand singletrack
Exiting Sandy Bandy onto the cracky tarmac ramp to Bandy Canyon Rd.

Mighty Mule (Westbound Mule Hill Trail) and Hodgesmuurgate West (Westbound Lake Hodges North Trail)
I made it down the hill and onto Mighty Mule in pretty good time. The headwind wasn't too mighty, yet, and having the whole trail to myself through both of the sand pits was extremely nice. I grabbed a fresh new electrolyte drink bottle at the Sikes Abode, and took it pretty easy on the first bit of Hodgesmuurgate while getting some Bloc Shots in.

The firmer bit of Mighty Mule.
Fresh cold electrolyte drink bottles being handed out at Sikes Abode.
Wild mustard were abloom along Hodges North Trail.

Kakaboulet and Hodgendam (Lake Hodges North Trail from gravel road to Del Dios Dam)
Kakaboulet is the going Flemish word of exasperation we mutter under our dirt beards as we try to ride our way past the many rock field of various rideability on the Hodges North Trail between the access road and Hernandez's Hideaway.

I lucked out and wasn't stuck behind anyone on those crash-a-delic trouble spots, however, and rolled onto the Twistenlemonberg (westbound Del Dios Gorge Trail) at good speed. Last year the Waffle ride leaders passed me as I exited this sector. I was quite keen on getting through this narrow trail again before I'm caught this year. Gosh knows how terrible it would be to be struggling up one of its steep narrow ramps with the ride leaders stuck behind you.

As it turned out, I made it thru the sector uneventfully, had a good refueling at the pit stop, and was just about done climbing back up Del Dios Hwy to Citracada when a police cruiser came screeching to a stop in the middle of the intersection (a couple other riders and me were waiting for the left turn light to go green) and screamed at us to get out of the way. That could only mean that the Waffle leaders were hot on our heels, so we sprinted off, were passed as if we were standing still on Country Club Drive, and managed to tail the leading group through the Harmony Grove intersection before getting left in the dust, and back to riding a more humane tempo west into the Elfin Forest.

Questhavenbergen (Questhaven Trail)

The Oasis ran out of bacon before I arrived! They had cold Coke and other good stuff, and they gave you colorful pats on the bottoms... but they didn't have bacon, and that's what I'm going to blame the double quads cramps that hit me while climbing the worst of the paved Questhaven Dr ramp to Attebury Drive on. If only there weren't a bunch of overly cheery dudes hanging at the top of the climb watching and egging me on, I'd have gotten off the bike and attempt to play dead. But I was spotted before the thought struck me, and was compelled to keep up appearances one agonizing pedal stroke after another until I cleared that ungodly bit of road.

I don't think I ever got above 5 mph from that point on all the way to the top of Double Peak. Muur van Dubbelberg is nasty enough on fresh legs. With both quads going crampy even before I got onto San Elijo Rd, I just did enough work to keep the pedals going around while cramming as much gels and electrolyte drink in as I could.

I think someone I knew was yelling out encouragement half way up the climb, and a penguin tried to offer me some tasty Twizzlers as I inced my way toward the green watertank (after which the gradient would drop significantly). A few friendly locals were stationed at the last bend giving out high fives. Everybody was just so happy. They totally made up for the lack of bacon!

I had a better time descending the Twistenweg (Ridgeline Trail) back to S Twin Oaks Valley Rd than a year ago, except that I didn't make it completely up the final ramp this year. It's a weird instance where prior knowledge hurt rather than helped. Last year I only spotted the uptick as I descended down the middle of the trail, so I shot for the right side opening as I swung back uphill, and made it up to the park. This time around I knew that the clear opening is along the right side of the ramp, so I lined myself up on the right side of the trail to slingshot straight up through the gap. Alas, I didn't account for the side bumps... which bounced me back to the center where I hit the last wood berm and stalled just before the top. Oh well. Sometimes one can know too much for ones' good!

So... I finished another Wafer! It didn't feel any easier (except for the Hodges North bit, of course), but having finished last year was priceless in mentally convincing myself that I'd also finish this year. I'd be surprised if the route stays the same, even though that would probably make life a lot easier for the organizers (I bet it's quite a headache getting approval from all the different agencies that are in charged of all the trails and roads along the route to put on an event this big).

Whatever it turns out to be, I'm definitely signing up for next year's ride!

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