Thursday, April 25, 2013

Little Tujunga Canyon

I went on a ride the other day. Not just any ride - a canyon ride. The foremost thought on my mind for the H140 is not just the distance, but the Eureka hill. The Eureka mountain, is what it will seem like by the time I’m through with it. There are Cat 3 and Cat 5 climbs getting into Eureka. At mile 20 – the first rest stop – the starting elevation is 4827 feet. By mile 37, the elevation will be 5604 (the Cat 5). At the stop in Eureka, the elevation will be 6601 – mile 52.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is a total elevation change of 3629 feet, all done in 50 miles.

A hundred and forty miles? Pshaw.  It’s that Eureka climb that’s always on my mind.

So I planned a little bike trip up Little Tujunga Canyon. From a cycling website: “This route is difficult and advanced, only recommended for seasoned cyclists. But for those seeking excellent climbs with views, this ride is a winner. It tops out at close to 5,600 feet of elevation gain, and on a windy day, is an arduous albeit satisfying undertaking.” I’m not sure about 5600 feet, but “arduous,” “difficult,” and “advanced” are pretty much spot-on.

I made it up the first summit. That’s an elevation change of 1500 feet over six and a half miles. The whole time I was chanting, “Eureka, Eureka,” and that’s what kept me going. At one point another cyclist passed me. I saw him approaching and said to him as he drew even, “I guess you’re just going to blow past me now, right?” He smiled encouragingly and said, “It’s all relative.” The good news was that I was able to keep him in my sights for the duration of the climb. I felt good about that.

When I reached the summit, I knew I needed fuel. I hadn’t been able to hydrate for the better part of an hour since that would have required not pedaling. I was also getting tired. Did I mention that this was the first time using my new clips? Unclipping on a road bike with wobbly legs at the top of a mountain is not as easy as it is in spin class when I nonchalantly hop off my bike. I was still trying to get my at least one of my feet out of the pedals when I had to stop, because if I didn’t stop I would have started back down the other side of the mountain, and I wasn’t able to do that.

Stop I did. Fall I did. At least I wasn’t really moving when it happened. And I managed to unclip myself while I was on the ground. I wasn’t hurt, other than a tiny wound on my shin. Oh, and my pride. Two hikers saw the whole thing happen. They were appropriately concerned and could sense my embarrassment.

While on my break, I looked at my directions. It said something like, “After the first summit….” FIRST summit???” I mentally shouted. If there’s a first one, that must mean there’s a second one. I didn’t want to believe it. I had already done so much climbing, it didn’t seem possible there could be more mountain. After my short break, I remounted the bike and started downhill. That was nice. No, actually it wasn’t. It should have been, but my legs were still wobbly, so I had to ride the brakes a lot to stay in control, and it was cold.  

Then came the second climb. It wasn't as long as the first one, but it felt tougher. There were more curves and turns and steeper ups. There were times I wanted to get off the bike and just walk. Two things stopped me - I knew I wouldn't be able to go as fast and thereby be done with the torture as soon as if I just stayed on and pedaled; and I wasn't sure I'd be able to unclip.

I made it to the second summit, and kept going, secure in the knowledge that if I just kept going I'd be done soon. Again my legs were pretty wobbly, and the downhill felt precarious, so I rode the brakes.

Suddenly I heard a very loud POP. I looked quickly at the front tire and knew it was the back tire. Of course it was. It's always the back tire. I started to pull over - it's a narrow, windy canyon road, so I knew I needed a turnout where cars wouldn't run me over should one happen by. So I pulled over. So intent was I in getting to a safe spot and making sure I didn't crash before I could stop, that I stopped before remembering - again - that I needed to unclip. So I stopped and THEN crashed. From a standing position.

I did manage to get one foot unclipped before I tumbled. Unfortunately, it was the foot opposite of the side I landed on. So there I was, turtling, as I was trapped by my own body weight and the bike. I calmed down long enough to realize that I needed to go against logic and bring my body over the bike to the side where the foot was clipped in. I let myself fall against the mountainside and did just that.

Thankfully I had a spare tube with me, so I changed the flat and got back on the bike. This time I spent the next part of the flat road practicing which foot I felt more comfortable unclipping first, and making sure I could do that easily. By the time I got back to civilization, and a red light, I could successfully clip out.

All was fine and good until the bike started feeling sluggish underneath me again. I pulled over, thinking that maybe I hadn't pumped the tube up enough. This time the outer tire appeared to be the problem - it wasn't holding the tube in. When the tube was inflated all the way, it poked out of a certain spot. Deflated it would stay in there, but it's dumb to ride on a flat tire.

Somewhat deflated myself, I called C and asked for a ride home. I was exactly halfway through the 46 mile loop I initially set out to do.

When C got there and we loaded me and all the gear into her car, she said, "Not for nothing, Laura, but I think you've got some kinks to work out before June 15."

"Yes, that's exactly why I'm doing these rides before then - so I can figure all of it out."

"You know, there are lots of hills in Burbank. You could do the same loop 20 times instead of one loop one time 20 miles away from home."

I'm not counting it as a failure even though it didn't go the way I had wanted. I learned important things, and got some really great bruises and road rash from my standing crashes.

Here's a little video I put together of the climb to the first summit and a little bit of the downhill. It's all in fast motion, except for one small part. I had to speed it up so it wasn't more boring than it already is. Perhaps only other cyclists will appreciate this.


P.S. For whatever reason, I can't get it to upload or recognize it from YouTube, so click here to go watch it


  1. Oh, wow, Laura, I am so thrilled for you. Impressed, proud--you go, Girl! I love your video. Makes me wanna cry! So glad that you got a GoPro camera. Keegan bought one of those while he was here, and I had high dreams of getting one for you for the H140, but it looks like you've already taken care of that. I am so excited for you and Louise and Neva!!

    Okay, I'll stop gushing now. :-)

    1. Thanks, Ellen! It made me want to cry too! Probably for different reasons, though.

      Yes, I'm pleased with the GoPro camera. I've promised Neva that there will be another fun video of this year's ride, and that's one I'll be using. Woot!

  2. Great video. Of course, I'm a cyclist.
    Good job, no awesome job on doing that canyon ride. Yep, Eureka is the hill on my mind as well.
    And, everybody falls at least once while learning to get unclipped. It happens nearly every week on the Saturday training group rides in Salt Lake. I did it once when I had Emily and Collin in a bike trailer behind me - just fell over while they sat and watched.
    Love, Neva

    1. All these things are for our betterment, right?