Friday, July 22, 2016

Stagecoach 400, 2016

I never wrote up my Stagecoach 400 (SC) race so before I move on to the Highland Trail 550 (HT) write up here is a quick summary.

My work pulled a fast one and scheduled a last minute “mandatory” meeting the week of the SC so I changed my vacation plans and ran the SC 400 as a Individual Time Trail (ITT).  This is my first ever ITT of a multi-day race vs the usual group start.  I was using the SC as a training /stepping stone for the HT and did not want to totally mess up my training plans.  Also the SC route is one of the most interesting routes I have done so along with my training schedule it was easy to convince myself to attempt my first multi-day  ITT.

In past years the route ran clock wise, this year for the first time it ran counter clock wise so my previous course knowledge/ time splits were of marginal value.  However a couple of others did ITT’s before mine so by studying their Spot dot times I had a rough plan for my hoped for time splits.  You can look up everyone’s Spot history here ( ) Turns out my planed splits worked out for some good and some not so good.

Day 1:
One nice thing about a ITT is a relaxed no-stress start.  Just pick your time and get up and go, no nervous waiting around for everyone else to assemble and be sent off in a huge wave of twitchy bike handling and over pacing.  The initial climb out of Idyllwild was a smooth, pleasant warm up. With no one pushing a race pace around me the singletrack decent down to hwy 74 was mild and relaxed. Humm, this ITT stuff aint bad……
Other than a whole series of ‘water the tree’ stops during the early hours of the day (note to self—don’t over hydrate so much the night before) the whole day was one long, firm but relaxed, pace into San Diego.  A truly beautiful day out on the bike. I started at 6am and hit the Escondido gas station 12 hours later right at 6pm.  I was right on plan for my first time split.  By 9:30pm, some rain and mud in between, I was down to the ocean.

(The SC 400 route starts in the high pine trees wanders over hill and dale down to the ocean, runs right thru all of San Diego with cool urban single track, interesting residential side roads and plush bike paths, climbs sharply up to Pacific Crest Trail altitude, drops down down down to true scorching hot desert and then finishes with a big climb back to the pines.)

By 3:30am I was 180 miles into it and pretty much out the far side of San Diego.  It had been a great day for maintaining a smooth pace and riding strong. 
However in hind sight I should have pulled up about 1-2pm as although I made my pre-conceived split distance I paid for the lost sleep on day 2.

Up with the sun after a few short hours of sleep for my 2nd day.  With the short rest it was going to be a long slow slog and if I was to enjoy it I needed to be smart and pace easy all day.
About 8am I was quickly passed by a larger group of road riders on Willow Glen road, out for their morning ride, and saw the same group a few hours later going by up in Alpine, different routes, dirt vs pave, different bikes mtn vs road, but same beautiful S Cal morning out on the bike…..
By the time I hit Alpine the sun was beating down and hydration and pacing was the order for the next few hours.  A short stop in Descanso for a taco and resupply had me refueled and feeling better.  The climb from Descanso to Sunrise Hwy took 5 hours. 
The highway pavement was a welcome rest followed by fun singletrack in the dark and a ripping rocky decent down Mason Valley truck road and out into the desert.  But first a detour to Auga Caliente for some water.  The desert sand was not to soft and I paced on till about 12:30pm.  Nothing beats drifting off to sleep under the bright desert stars after a long day pushing the pedals……

I made a tactical error by sleeping in a bit.  My thinking was I needed the rest for my last day, which I did but it cost me as the wind really caught me after the turn west on hwy 78 at Ocotillo Wells.  I have been riding bikes a long time and I swear the head wind from Ocotillo Wells to Borrego Springs was the worst I have ever experienced. 
side ways palm trees.....yha the wind was a blowing right in my face....
We are talking standing up to barely turn over a super low 24X42 gear ratio!  Had I reached that turn west just 1 or 2 hours earlier I would have saved massive effort/time.
After a huge lunch at Borrego Springs I pushed on thru the dwindling wind but still hot sun up to camp cabin in Canyon Springs.  It’s hard to put into words how strange it is to hike-a-bike in the desert thru running water and a green grotto of brush and willows.  I wrung out my wet socks at the cabin and freshened up a bit for the final push to the finish.  Leaving I was regretting my desire to ‘race’ for time as it would have been so pleasant to crash out in the cool little cabin for a few hours of sleep…..
The climb out of the canyon seemed to take forever as I was in full conserve bikepacking ‘pace mode’ with no energy reserves.  On the other hand the finish was getting closer and after a few hours I was past hwy 78 and climbing in light snow up the final few miles to the finish at Idyllwild.  I rolled up to the Hub ( at about 2:20am (2 days, 20 hours, 25 minutes) and my 3rd Stagecoach 400 was in the books.

Final thoughts on the Stagecoach 400 route.  I have had the opportunity to race the Colorado Trail (CTR) Arizona trail (AZT both 300 and 750), Great Divide (TDR) and recently the Highland Trail 500.  I can heartily recommend each and every one of these routes, each is quite different than the others.  But with regards to the SC 400 it is the most unique route I have raced.  Pine trees to ocean to true desert.  Singletrack to fire road to pavement to bike path.  Remote to reservation to suburbia to urban.  High altitude with maybe some snow, sea level and desert with sun, wind and heat.  This route is just so varied compared to the rest----well worth putting on the bucket list.