Whenever I stop riding for a while because of work, or life, or hurting myself (usually while sleeping, etc, etc), I obsess over these big rides that I am going to do once back on the bike. Like many of you, I can easily spend hours looking at maps trying to piece together the “perfect” route. But cycling, like most fitness-based activities, can be fickle. It doesn’t care that you used to do it a lot.
That certainly doesn’t stop a brain like mine from dreaming. So when I saw my 43rd birthday on the calendar, a group text started with some friends. In the past, we’d done some really ambitious rides for my special day, like the ‘Clouds to Cacti’ ride, for example, featured here a few years back.
For this year’s birthday booty-kicking, we decided on a one-day out-and-back to Mount Gleason. If you’ve ever ridden to Mount Gleason, I can guarantee you will not be able to forget it, especially the last few wicked steep miles to the summit. The ending feels as if you are on top of the world, with an expansive view encompassing both Palmdale and the Los Angeles National Forest. This ride is definitely pretty special.
The morning of felt a bit like this:
It’s raining. Of course, it’s raining because that’s how this stuff works. Five dummies – including myself – have committed to going. It’s cold. I am out of shape. This is going to hurt. But, my buddy Danny is in much worse shape, so that makes me feel better. My kit is tight-fitting. Like really tight. Much tighter than it should be. I refuse to buy a bigger size. Pulling the zipper reminds me of a Stretch Armstrong doll. I am in denial. This is my mid-life crisis. I start to wonder if this is how modern-day Gene Simmons feels throwing on his signature costume before jumping on stage? This poor, poor, jersey.
We decide to start a little late in hopes of letting the rain pass. It does not. Our new mechanic at The Cub House, Erik, shows up with no jacket or leg warmers. Who the fuck is this guy?! I loan him a jacket (which he still has yet to return) and we head out. The first climb up Highway 2 is cold. Drizzle turns to rain for a bit and then back to drizzle then back to rain. I can smell a mutiny coming and it will most likely be led by Danny. I am a protagonist by nature, so I pedal over to him, look Danny straight into his dreamy hazel-colored eyes, and say “we are finishing this ride today.” I say it with conviction. I speak with passion so he can see there is zero doubt in my words. To my surprise Danny replies with confidence “ Oh I know we are…this is your birthday ride.” Now, to be honest I was bluffing when I said what I said it and was halfway hoping we would turn back right there and I could blame it all on ol’ Danny. That backfired. Onward.
An hour or so later we were out of the drizzle and the sky dried up until the final big climb to Gleason. Suddenly, we are riding straight into a giant black cloud. Now it is colder. And wetter. We continue on our mediocre quest, cold and focused. Summit fever has set in. Only 10 (steep) miles of post-apocalyptic asphalt to the top. We are a well-oiled machine built for moderate-level exercise. Textbook. Visibility is poor. I see a puffy red fox twenty feet up the road from me. We both startled each other. I yell to everyone “a fox!”
I’m pretty pumped. Nobody seems to care. Their loss. We keep climbing all the way to the helipad a few miles from the top. It’s time for a snack break. It’s still wet and foggy. Then, it happened! Out of nowhere the sun bursts through. If you ride bicycles then I don’t need to tell you how good that feels because you already know it…but I will say it anyway. It felt so good! Visually amazing as well. Then Patty gave me my first Nutter Butter. Sweet Jesus those things are good. Happy Birthday to me!
We stop briefly to see the monument built for the firefighters who lost their lives protecting this place during the Station Fire in 2009, and then continue to the top. The visuals were completely off the charts. Gleason is always special. Equal parts tough and beautiful. On the way down I flatted. Of course I flatted. While changing the flat I discover two scratch labs drink mix servings. I use one and ask if anyone else wants one. Erik scoffs at me (wearing MY jacket). “Why?” Good question. I have no idea. Fine, I’ll keep it for myself. Cut to 20 minutes later and Erik is toasted. Cracked. Dunners. He needs to stop, so we stop. Erik then asks if he can have the Skratch labs. I give it to him but, of course, also remind him that just a few minutes earlier he thought it was silly to replenish your electrolytes. Egg on Erik’s face!
There really is something special about doing a really hard ride with a handful of friends. Leaving early in the morning to be isolated in nature and returning after dark somehow feels like something was accomplished. Not to take away from large gravel events or grand fondos, but getting through a really big day in the middle of nothing for no reason other than some dummy’s birthday feels pretty special. That being said, having aid stations and artisanal tacos at the finish sounds pretty fantastic too, but a Nutter Butter you weren’t expecting can be just as good! I guess the two types of experiences complement each other in a way. Oh, and at the end, there was a small surprise party waiting for me at the bike shop. We ate fancy artisanal tacos. Let’s see what we get into when I turn 44 :)
*The photos for the story were shot by me and my friend Hoffman Cortés. We both shot one roll of film each and the included gallery represents our favorites. Also if anyone at Skratch Labs or Nabisco’s Nutter Butter division want to send me any free product for the plug, please do so. You can send it to:
The Cub House
Attn: Sean…NOT ERIK
2510 Mission Street
San Marino CA