5 Canyon Challenge

Last Saturday I passed on doing the Mt Tam double to stay local. Also, I had the privilege of riding the 5 canyon challenge. It is also known as El Muertito (little death). This ride is a great concept ride with challenging climbs, but the honor comes from the people who invited me.

The concept: at the top of a hill in Malibu lies Saddle Peak. There are 5 paved roads that get you there: fernwood, las flores, tuna, piuma, and stunt. The challenge is to climb all of them in one day. Here is my route.

There are two ways to make this ride more difficult, both of which I took on.

  1. Do it fixed
  2. Ride to the climbs

The people who invited me were all geared, and they parked cars at the top filled with coolers, water, and ice. After each climb they would celebrate and chill before taking on the next. The ride started at 6am so we had a very early start.

In order to do the ride car-free, I had to leave my house by 4:30 and climb topanga and fernwood in the dark. I do topanga often but doing it at dark was a new experience. The normally challenging lower topanga climb seemed a bit less challenging. Perhaps it was the lack of stress of a car running me down, as I could see the headlights from minutes away. The grades appeared less steep and more inviting, and the stars filled the sky as I made my way to fernwood. Then I turned to do the climb. Honestly, the worst part of the climb was biking into a spider web and freaking out for the next few miles that I had spiders crawling all over me. As I approached the top, the sun started to rise. So I snapped a picture. Then I droped my cell phone.

Sunrise ... feeling bad for those who drove to the ride start

As I headed towards the group I forgot that Saddle Peak climbed before it got to th top by Stunt Road. So I climbed with anxiety of being late.Then I saw the family of dear and relaxed.

Can you see the deer?

In addition to a family of deer I also saw a coyote hanging with the deer, and a black rabbit among the normal wild rabbits.

I caught the group just as they were rolling out to do Tuna so I made a U-turn and we rode together.The descent down Tuna was steep and fast. I was hitting 155 rpm and trying to calm my breaks as we dove into the fog layer. I start fluttering my brakes but as we hit the steepest descent I have to pull over using mostly my leg brakes. The front rim had heated up so much it scalded my legs. I took advantage of the heat to warm up my palms. Once I got to the bottom, some of the riders made the u-turn and went up. Others opted to take Las Flores up twice. The way I saw it, there are few chances in life to go up Tuna with a group of people and so this was my safest chance. Tuna does not allow cars to go up hill, and perhaps that rule applies to bikes, though we and others climb it often (side note: my surgeon climbed it on his 60th birthday). It is known to be a quiet climb. Oddly enough, we saw six cars as we climbed our way back to the summit. I almost climbed most of it and have seen video of me doing the 13% grades, but when the roads pitched to 17% I opted to walk. By the time we summited I could take credit for 4000′ of climbing.

Entering the climb up Tuna

The next climb would be Las Flores. The group wanted to do the two toughest firsts. Honestly I thought Las Flores was tougher and walked more of it. Much more. The geared folk I was with climbed the whole way up and I found them relaxing at the top well above the cloud layer. The final stretch to the saddle it was getting close to 10am and the roads were starting to get crowded with cyclists coming up Piuma.

In our group there were a total of 8 people, most of whom I met at the Baldy ride two weeks ago. And these folks are fun! Steve Meichtry was the ring leader. Les McElhaney showed up and forgot to sweat. Bruno George from the brevet scene was there trying to get some pre-PBP rides in. Vic Cooper was there. Tiger Beck kept me smilling all day. And Ken Mathis kept me hydrated so that I didn’t have to ride down to Piuma to refil my two bottles. Annie was also there, but she showed up late and kept her breaks short to catch up to everyone on the way up Stunt.

The Pack

So after Las Flores we did Stunt. The order of the rides forced us to cross the saddle each time. And Stunt was a nice break from the insane 17% climbs of Las Flores and Tuna. I don’t think Stunt ever got above 7%. We climbed and stayed together. But unfortunately the clock struck 11am and I had to make my way to Northridge. So off I went after doing half of Stunt. 3.5 of 5 climbs completed in the challenge. 8000 feet done by noon! By the time I got to Northridge I was hungry and had 75+ miles under me. It was a good day!

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