SoCal From Three Bikes, One Cyclist, Over Three Years – Part III
Read Part II – Sycamore Canyon: On the Heels of Greats if you missed last week’s installment.
Mount Palomar: Herding the Kids
All of those training climbs and existential crises on the ascents and descents around Santa Barbara and Point Mugu paid off in full in the last year of California dreaming. My now-husband and I headed back once more, this time to tackle an unprecedented challenge: coaching a junior elite road riding camp. Two hours outside of San Diego, the city dies away into a disappointing area of scrub-filled desert that hides a few riding gems, though the roads that make for the best riding are few and far between and are pockmarked with potholes. We stayed in Ramona, but the real test for the kids and me would be Mount Palomar, the biggest and baddest climb in the area.
Map courtesy of Strava
Known as a hotspot for hot rods and Harleys, Mount Palomar rises from the fog, beckoning you with its gentle grade and prolonged climb, then laughing in the faces of riders who realize that the top isn’t coming anytime soon. There’s a reason that it’s labeled as an Hors Catégorie (HC) climb, the designation of a climb that defies all designation in stage racing. And Mt. Palomar, with over 1,000 meters of climbing and over 10 miles of pedaling, is certainly beyond the scope of what a small rider from New Jersey—or a 16-year-old from Ontario—can fathom.
The ride kicked off with the kids in a van, hurtling toward the base. It was one of those van rides that both sucks and you hope never ends, because when it does, you’re going to start climbing. For me, the pressure was both on and off at the same time, meaning my heart rate was quite confused. I just had to keep up with a couple of the kids and make sure they made it to the top, not race anyone. On the flip side, these are elite kids chosen for this camp, and keeping up with them should, in theory, be easy, but then again I quit racing seriously a few years ago and don’t have a lot to compare myself to (see: solo climbing Gibraltar, getting ditched in the Canyon).
Luckily, the objective was to ride at a moderate pace and remind the juniors to do the same, and so the first eight miles went by in a relatively fast blur. Then, in the last couple miles, signs of wear started to show on the junior’s faces as they downshifted. I pedaled next to two who seemed to be just about out of steam – slightly reveling in the fact that I was keeping up, and ignoring the nagging pain in my knee. Encouraging them to drink and eat something helped for a moment, but we needed a serious boost. I reached into my pocket – thanks to two winters of California practice, I’d finally mastered one-handed riding – and snagged my phone, shifted it to speaker mode, tucked it into my bra, and hit Play.
Ke$ha started pumping out of my jersey, and the pace instantly perked up.
Finally, I learned the secret of hill climbing.