The toughest of the organized training rides occur
in March. Done are the scenic rides through canyons or around the
bay. Every Saturday and Sunday in March are the Escondido Hill Climbs:
16 miles and one major hill out, and 16 miles and two major hills back.
(Brain Teaser: How is that possible?) The ride parallels Interstate
15 from Escondido to the San Luis Rey River valley on old highway 395.
Now its a frontage road, but it used to be the only road before Interstate
15 was built circa 1980. They say this ride is tougher than any single day
on the Ride Across California. Kids must complete the ride twice to
qualify for the week long Ride Across California.
Because of Basketball (Brad playing and Keith score
keeping) and Baseball (Brad playing and Keith coaching) and Church commitments
(Brad acolyting and working in the nursery and Keith teaching Sunday school
and deaconing), we found it very hard to find time to squeeze in the rides.
Keith could have sent Brad with another family, but there was an unspoken
agreement between all family members that Keith should go with Brad the
first time he attempted this most grueling test so far. Two weekends
went by and we began to get desperate. The third Sunday was a definite
go, as Keith got people to fill his commitments at Church. Then it
We drove to the staging area through intermittent showers.
We arrived to find no one there, and wondered if we were the only
ones dumb enough to assume it was still on. Only Brad’s friend Tony
and his dad eventually showed up, along with Brad’s teacher and Ride sponsor,
Mr. Bueker. We waited in the cars hoping the light shower would either
stop or come down in torrents to send us home. After 20 minutes of continued
drizzle, Mr. Bueker said it was time to ride or go home. Brad and I
declared we had no choice but had to ride in order for Brad to get his two
in. So off the five of us went. I couldn't quite tell whether
Mr. Bueker was delighted by such enthusiasm or disappointed he had to go
The rain came and went and came again. It was never
so hard as to be completely miserable, but I could sure imagine a more
pleasant set of circumstances. I made mental notes about what rain
gear Brad and I lacked that I should pick up before the Ride Across California.
After a mere 8 miles and at the end of a long down hill,
we stopped at the Welk Resort for our first break. Keith thought
stopping was a big mistake; he would have much rather taken his medicine
and gotten the unpleasant ride over with as quickly as possible. But
here I must, in retrospect, bow to the superior kid-knowledge of Mr. Bueker,
fifth grade teacher of untold years and veteran organizer of twelve previous
Rides Across California: the kids were not out for the thrill of the bike
ride, they were out for fun, and if we didn't generate some fun soon, it
was going to get soaked right out of us. So we stopped for half an
hour and enjoyed hot chocolate and conversation with the thoroughly under
utilized proprietor of the soda fountain. We timed it perfectly to
avoid a good 20 minute stretch of partly sunny dry weather.
No sooner were we back on our bikes than the rain started
up again. The sky cried in pathetic fallacy as we struggled up the long,
steep hill, nick named "cardiac hill" in Bike Club folklore. When
we reached the top, the group took a short side tip over to the bridge across
the Interstate at Keith's suggestion. The spectacular bridge had always
interested him, and he always thought about trying to drive to it when he
drove under it on I-15. Never did he dream he would ride his bike
to it and ride across it.
Then it was a quick ride down the next hill to our lunch
stop and turn around point, the Mobil station. On Saturday's it's
the adjacent hamburger-trailer-stand called "Nessy Burgers." On Sunday,
though, the Nessy's is closed and "lunch" is at the tiny, crowded, and
cramped Mobil Qwik Mart. Not exactly a scintillating reward after
working so hard for the last couple hours. After consuming some beef jerky
for lunch and giving lots of gas patrons directions to the nearby Indian
casino, we loaded up and began to retrace our tracks.
Brad, I must say, really displayed his learned lessons
from our training rides. He started both of the last two hills way
in the back of the group. And he finished both hills first, simply
because he was slow and steady and did not stop to rest until reaching
It's remarkable how going slow on bike rewards the careful
observer with a completely different ride on a return trip over the same
course but in a different direction (and different side of the road). On
the way back we stopped at a waterfall and a house on the west side of
the road that I had completely missed when we were riding on the east side
of the road.
The weather did finally break for us halfway back home,
with the rain stopping and the sun occasionally peeking through patchy clouds.
But the day wasn't done tormenting us yet: the partial sunshine was
accompanied by a new nemesis: a head wind.
As we rode the last down hill back to our cars, I thought
how lucky we were. Lucky to have survived, lucky to have had no accidents
on the slick roads, lucky to have been such a small close knit group. But
lucky most of all to have the opportunity to make the ride in (far) less
than ideal conditions, and to accomplish the challenge. It made us
far stronger for whatever hardships might come our way during the actual
ride across California.
Brad remarked several times near the end of the ride
and afterwards that the ride wasn't nearly as difficult as he imagined it
would be. Every time he said that, Keith heard, "Thanks, Dad, for
getting me out on all those training rides."
Related web sites:
Keith's Pictures of Bike Club rides