Carmen and I did something that took us to our limits Saturday. We took our Jack Taylor tandem on the twice-yearly vintage ride up to Baldy Village.
It was a small but intrepid group that met in Azusa Saturday. Sterling Peters, on his custom Kvale.. Chuck Schmidt on a very cool aluminum KAS team bike. Randy Dugan on a modern bike that escapes me now.. Don Gillies on his beautiful vintage Paramount.. Dave Ductor on his 26" wheeled Rivendell..Rowena (last name got away from me). on some modern carbon...and Carmen and I. Chris Kostman joined us for part of the ride.
Weather was pleasant to start, turned cool and windy in the middle and cleared up before dark. By the time we hit Glendora Mt. Road, Carmen and I were bringing up the rear, along with Dave Ductor, and Don Gillies, who hung out with us for awhile. Thanks Dave! Thanks Don!
The climb up Glendora Mt. Road is a challenge, a 10-mile climb up a series of often-steep switchbacks leading up the ridge line of the foothills to the south of Mt. Baldy. It's desert wilderness...amid hills of shattered base-rock, very wild and beautiful, now starting to grow back from severe fire damage some years ago.
I knew that taking a touring tandem on a climb like this would be tough, and it was. But we slogged up the hill at about 4 mph in our lowest gear. We could have used some lower gears!
As you reach near the top of Glendora Mt. Road, and the open ridge line, there's a fun downhill, through some trees, and a mild left turn through a cut in the hill...and suddenly, you come gliding out onto the ridge-line, the road snaking out over the hills for a mile in front, sheer drops on both sides with no rails, and not much berm, and mountains everywhere...it's like flying! My favorite spot on the ride, I think.. Empty wilderness all around.. this first part of the road is closed to traffic currently, the road well-maintained, a bicyclist's dream...except now the climb continues as the road curls along the north side of the foothills.. At this point the road is about 5000 feet up.
We hit the North Fork *Y* and Dave decided to turn back, as he had company coming later. Don had gone on to catch up with the rest. And the weather was ominous. Big lines of cloud coming in from the south, the weather turning grey. A few rain-drops too. Carmen and I were looking at a long, tough grind for another 12 miles, through rain, to the downhill at Baldy Road..something we were trying not to think about.. We were on our own.
But..the rain held off. and held off. We rounded a turn not far beyond the North Fork, the first in a series of 11 long switchbacks hugging the tops of the foothills, and suddenly it was like being among giants. Mt. Baldy and his brothers are very close at this point, looming over the road, a green reservoir a 5000 foot drop below. The vistas are vertiginous in every direction. Baldy is over 10000 feet high, as are his brothers..it's quite a sight.
This may be the toughest part of the ride, the 12 miles of switchbacks to Baldy Village, at the base of Mt. Baldy. Because the road mostly *climbs* the whole time! Just a little, but it does climb, with a couple of downhills...one in particular of about a mile, that really is fun..but by the time you hit it you're so whacked you're just glad to be coasting for a little while.
The road is nestled in a narrow cut in the sheer sides of the hills... it's a place where man's real size is made clear.. whatever our powers may be.
We'd lost all pop in our legs, and while we'd brought food and water, we didn't bring quite enough. A bit more would have been wise.
We kept going though, and the mile-markers slowly mounted up... as we neared Baldy Village we stopped to rest and take in the incredible scene spread out before us...the fog was streaming through gaps in the foothills, the sun had come out, and was casting a glowing light on the south-slopes of the mountains to our left and behind. It was a spectacular, unearthly sight. And it is so quiet up there the loudest thing is the blood in your head... without that...the sound of the earth before man showed up..
At last! Baldy Village. We'd finished probably the toughest 12 miles we've ever done together, and we're feeling pretty good. Except, there's just one little problem. We have to descend Mt. Baldy Road, a steep, mostly straight (with a number of mild turns) road that could be in better shape. There wouldn't be much traffic today, but there was a little. Enough to make things even more interesting than they were about to become.
I've done this ride three times previously, and I remember the descent down Baldy Road as fairly straightforward. Just keep eyes front, stay steady, and don't be stupid. So, down we go. 10 miles downhill, should be fun!
Carmen is steady as a rock in back, but staying loose, going with the turns... her adrenalin is pumping. I'm quite calm, considering...because the first drop is a bit of a surprise.
We've done interesting descents before on our Taylor, but never anything like this. The bike accellerates dramatically on that first drop, like nothing I've ever experienced before. There's a significant head-wind, but it doesn't seem to slow us down. On a single, on this road, if you just sit up, the wind-resistance will slow you down. Not on the tandem. Not much anyway. We're descending like a bowling-ball in a vacuum. Damned fast. Too fast.
And, of course, we have no drag brake. Just some good cantis with oversized pads. Nice thick Velocity rims..I'm praying they don't heat up too much. I'm judicious with the brakes, which means this is a very fast descent. Very. Fast.
It is, in short, the fastest downhill I've ever experienced. It is exhilarating in its way. A real thrill. But you can't think about what will happen if something goes wrong. The rock face to our right goes by in a blur. The other side of the road is a sheer drop. A long way down. No railings.
This makes it sound like we were both insane. At the time, though, it didn't seem that way. Just another descent. If a bit on the fast side. Pavement is dry. Conditions are ideal.
The thing that made this a thrill rather than a total terror is the bike itself. The Taylor felt like it was on rails the entire way down. Even at 50+ mph I never felt the least bit nervous about the bike. I think the Rivendell Ruffy Tuffy tires helped too. The whole package felt like it was designed to go that fast with no problems. We hit a couple of nasty small potholes too, at high-speed, and the bike never even budged, just jolted us a little.
There's a spot on the downhill, toward the end, where you come out of a little cut, on a right turn, and suddenly all of the foothill flats are laid out in front of you, and you're flying down to them, out of the mountains..another one of those moments where it feels like you're flying.
Now we're just very tired. Luckily it is, almost literally, downhill all the way to our car. We coast through the sunset to the Euro-Cafe in Claremont, where we have a nice dinner (great place, btw, great food)...the rest of the group had long finished the ride and gone home....then, we coast another 12 miles or so back to azusa, in the dark, feeling tired, but smug... Escaping what was obviously a dangerous ride in a number of ways is always a good feeling.
I wouldn't call us foolhardy for doing it. People do that ride all the time. But we could have been a bit better prepared..and I'd never do that descent on a tandem again without a drag-brake..
If you live in SoCal..it's worth doing, with the group or not. We're not in our best shape right now, but we finished the ride..if we can, you can.
See you next time..