Words: Jeremy Dunn | Photography: Jordan Clark Haggard & Nicholas Haggard | Date:
I suddenly realize, almost comically so, that I have forgotten sunscreen. Which kind of brings a smile to my face. Yes, this is California and yes, we are about to head off on the 2013 Rapha West Coast Gentlemen’s Race but sunscreen in November is almost a delicacy for someone from the Pacific Northwest. Yet, here I am, rummaging through the back of a rental car looking for the orange tube that I bought yesterday.
It can often be all too easy to get caught up with the perceived drama of these grand adventures but a forgotten tube of sunscreen is hardly epic. Today is not one of these days. Today, the sunshine is telling another, entirely different story. It is a story to make our friends back home jealous; it is a story of California at its purest. This is the California of Steve McQueen riding motorbikes in On Any Sunday, the California of The Endless Summer, the Bruce Brown film that personified what it meant to chase the sun. It is, after all, November and we are in shorts and short sleeved jerseys. This will be a beautiful day, riding hard on desolate, mystical California roads. Right here, right in front of us and just up the road, is our chance to hold on to the summer just a bit longer. There is nothing but joy, really, in this endeavour.
Glendale is our entry to the Angeles Crest, the base of which will be our first climb of the day. We roll out past shops that are lifting up their heavy metal grates, brushing out refuse from the night before with the strong spray of a hose. A baseball team is pulling their gear, in dusty bags, towards a field. A creaky tin door on a cart swings open. The city is awakening around us.
Our team of six (as are all the others) are too nervous or excited to take much notice of these things as we roll out from the official start of the race. Just as the crescendo of this collective noise has built to a dull roar it is over. Just as suddenly as the baseball field whizzes past, we now have the empty road ahead of us. Tall green trees start to give away to the desert.
We ride intently past the 7-Eleven that has been highlighted as our last water stop before the closed gate. Our teammates on the front roll by with nary a glance, which causes CD and I to begin a mild freaking out. This exact spot has been emphasized over and over as the last possible spot for food and liquids for the day. Oh, and sunscreen. We are immediately calmed by Ben, our road captain, who informs us that he has a friend at the top of this first climb with water for our bottles and sandwiches. It’s a beautiful, calm, and very sunny climb to the summit and it passes surprisingly quickly.
The gravel road awaiting us after the summit fuel stop, just under the gate and over a quick hill, is rumored to be one of the worst that any of the Gentlemen’s Races had ever faced. The road never materializes in this way. It’s there, of course, all thirty miles of chipped, broken pavement, sand, and stretches of scree. We duck under the gate and the road blisters and peels off the top of the mountain for what feels like forever.
Somewhat surprisingly, we manage to escape the melee without so much as a scratch. We have, for lack of a better phrase, a pretty decent day in the saddle. Sure, there was a moment when we came close to running out of food and water, or the flat that Cole got and then punctured the replacement tube he was using as a fix. Those things happen. But what didn’t happen was the communication breakdown that sometimes results in real catastrophe. No one yelled at one another; no terse words were exchanged. We spent much of the first half of the ride on our own riding together or at least keeping each other in sight.
On the final climb of the day, and along with nearly every other team, we spotted the helicopter. At first it was alarming to see such an enormous cargo box dangling from below and we were all a little unclear what was happening. We’re we just so delirious that we’d begun hallucinating? Rumors of Hollywood blockbuster-style drug deals swirl until Cole and Moi reveal to us that this is how supplies are transported to the fire service stations in the canyons. Impressive nonetheless.
Climbing now done, (at last!), we steer towards the setting sun and the grand finale, a descent off of Mt. Wilson, arguably the most perfect descent in all of descending and we are delivered back to Golden Road Brewing, our start/finish line.
Every team was hunkered down among tables full of beer discussing how they had narrowly made it through that closed section of road. Each one growing the legend with every breath. One team, allegedly, had a participant lie down in the sand and tell them to “leave me for dead”, refusing to go on. Another team told of 15 flat tires. Still another experienced an asthma attack near the summit. But, they were all there at the finish by day’s end, talking about the importance of having a team on a day such as this one. All around there were the tired smiles of a day well spent.
So maybe the takeaway from all this is that the most intense stories do come from the greatest hardships? Maybe we need to push ourselves right to the end to find out what we are really made of? But, then again, maybe we should just pack enough sunscreen for everyone and enjoy what the great State of California has to offer without making too much of a big deal about it?