The first time I scouted Kanan Dume was in the summer of 2003. I drove up and thought it was an incredible climb. It was long and looked hard, but it seemed feasible. Then I turned right on Mulholland and descended down some of the tightest and sharp turns I had ever driven. It was inspiring and frightening at the same time. I knew that one day I would climb Kanan Dume and take on those turns on Mulholland on my bike. It was only a matter of time.
Time passes, plans change, riding partners leave and Kanan Dume was still not conquered, until today. I met Beth a little while ago and she was an avid rider who couldn’t turn down a good climb any day. I told about the ride and she was in.
The proposed route was incredibly simple. We would park somewhere near Malibu Canyon/Las Virgenes and Mulholland, ride down Las Virgenes to PCH, head west on PCH to Kanan Dume, climb to the top, turn right on Mulholland and head back to the car. It was a square course covering 27 miles and almost 5000 feet of climbing. A casual weekend ride for some.
We hit the road early and were parked at Malibu Creek State Park and on our bikes by 8:15am. The descent down Las Virgenes was disconcerting to me. I had driven it in both directions and knew that the road was narrow with barely a shoulder for bikes. I also knew that most cars drove it too fast and that there was a very narrow tunnel. So it was good that we were starting early. And to much my surprise, the first leg of the trip was fun and uneventful—the cars behaved themselves and the road was clean. It was a joyous descent overall.
PCH was as expected. There were crowds of bikes and cars but otherwise peaceful. I have always enjoyed PCH north of Pepperdine, the southern route back to Santa Monica has lost its appeal to me ever since Tara and Felix were hit by the rear view mirror of an RV. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it was a frightening experience nonetheless. That was nearly a year ago.
But once you get the Pepperdine, PCH is a joy. The shoulder is large and the views are spectacular. We were only on PCH for 5 miles, but it was wonderful.
Kanan Dume was much steeper than I expected. It was the distance, 8.5 miles to Mulholland, that bothered me, but rather the grade. Suddenly my wonderful compact gearing on my bike seemed insufficient. I hit the lowest gear within the first few hundred yards. By the end of the first mile, I knew it was going to be a long slow climb.
Beth, on the hand, had plenty of climbing miles under her legs and cruised up the hill in a graceful fashion. I was the slow but steady mule, she was steady as well, but hardly slow. Fortunately, she was patient enough to wait out my climb, which felt like forever at times. I knocked the climb out one mile at a time, taking a short rest to catch my breath. I knew that once I hit the tunnel, the worst of the ride would be over. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a little voice was trying to tell me to give up, but I would not have it. I was reaching the top. I had waited too long for this ride and was not letting anything stop me.
After some time, I saw the tunnel and was filled with joy. The tunnel was cool, well lit, and surprisingly enough, had a bike lane. There were still a few climbs after the tunnel, but they were gradual and comfortable. Once I saw the turnoff for Latigo Canyon, I knew Mulholland was around the corner.
Mulholland was spectacular. I hit every turn as hard as I could and took up the entire lane. There were no cars behind me and just an empty road in front of me. Beth was far more cautious than I was and so I returned the favor and waited at certain intervals to make sure she came down ok. The initial descent of Mulholland was well worth the climb. But I have to admit that the remainder portion of Mulholland, while beautiful, somehow was not as fulfilling. There was something about struggling up Kanan Dume that gave the ride some deeper meaning. The descents were fun and challenging, but it was more a question of technique and willingness to push the edge of your bike.
The hills, on the other hand, where tests of strength, determination, and patience. They are the reason we ride.
There was one final push up Mulholland before reaching Las Virgenes. As soon as I crossed the intersection at Cornell, I knew I was done. My heart rate would not go down, my legs were burning, and the heat on this side of the canyon was relentless. It has been a long time since I have felt the furnace that California can create. I tapped into every last bit of strength and determination I had within to finish the final climb, and laughed all the way down the hill to the car.
The ride tried to break. It came very close. But like I said, this is why we ride; we want that experience. Every climb that tries to break us and fails is just one more experience we can tap into when life gets touch. Riding a bike and living through life have a lot in common.
How we face the challenges defines who we are.
I stopped 6 times on the way up Kanan Dume.
But I made it to the top.
I know next time I go up, I will only stop 3 times.
Or maybe I won’t stop.
I’m not going to lie. By the end of 2008, I had given up. Not just on triathlon and Ironman, but on myself as well. It’s not something that is easy to admit, but it must be accepted. The months leading up to the race were difficult for me. There were too many conflicting interests, not enough time, and I felt my own willpower diminish every day. I did the miles, I made the time, and I completed the training program. But each workout was an effort. I wasn’t getting the right amount of sleep, I wasn’t resting, and I was emotionally drained.
I found it almost ironic that in spite of my best efforts, I entered each Ironman with a handicap. I started the 2005 and 2006 races one week after recovering from a cold. And while I was physically healthy for 2008, my mind and spirit were not. Without a strong mind and spirit, the body is just an empty shell, moving forward because that’s what it is being told to do. But without the fire from within, the body finds no reason to keep on moving once the pain begins.
The weeks after the race were difficult for me. I convinced myself that by completing the race, everything else in my life would fall into place again. Now I was faced with another DNF (did not finish) and my life was still out of alignment.
Those who were there understand and know what led to this collapse. For you others, let me just say to be careful with the energies you surround yourself with. Sometimes the ones that glow the brightest only do so because they are pulling energy from you. Lessons learned.
I began 2009 in a state of disarray; all that was familiar was suddenly gone. And while the prospect was frightening at first, I realized it was an opportunity to rebuild and grow once again. I got together with friends that first weekend of January and rode my bike. It wasn’t a training ride and there were no goals. I just rode my bike. And it was fun once again.
In April, I convinced two others to participate in a sprint Adventure Race to celebrate my birthday. It was intoxicating to be out on the course again. My brain was short, my body strong, and my spirit full of fire. Thoughts of triathlon returned, but was I ready. Was my mind ready to deal with what was up ahead?
I focused on building a base from March through May. I lifted weights, monitored my heart rate, changed my eating and sleeping habits, and trained. But even with a training plan, motivation is difficult when you have nothing to apply it to. At the adventure race, I took home a flyer announcing the Magic Man Triathlon in October. It was a half-Ironman, only 20 miles from home. But was I ready.
And then about a month ago I rode my bike to work. I rode fast, I rode hard. Every time I started feeling tired I told myself I would rest at the next stoplight. But I just kept pushing. I felt the fire within me burn brighter than I can ever remember. I set new records for myself in both directions. The endorphin rush was so strong that I couldn’t fall asleep that night. A few days later I went trail running and the same thing happened. Later that week I swam 1500 yards like it was a short swim.
Three weeks ago I rode 56 miles. I was tired. But I had fun. It was the same kind of joy I used to experience in high school when my friends and I would ride 40 miles with one water bottle in the middle of summer. We were explorers, adventures, pushing the limits of what others and we thought we were capable of.
And so after much reflection, I realized that I have grown since January. I have restored myself to the person I once knew. I was stronger inside and out. And I was no longer afraid. I mailed the check to Renegade Racing last week to secure a slot for the Magic Mountain Man triathlon on October 10th.
As for the Ironman, I have yet to decide. However, if October 10th goes extremely well, then maybe I’ll be driving out to Arizona in November to secure a slot for 2010.
Anyone care to join me on a road trip?
I know a place that has the best hot and sour soup this side of the Rockies.