Living Dangerously… Big Bear

Ya know, I like to bitch about people a lot, but there are times when human beings are surprisingly generous.

I haven’t been riding much lately—I’ve had climbing partners so climbing has taken the front seat. See, here’s the thing about the sports that I love; I prefer riding with other people but I CAN ride alone and frequently ride solo—especially those EPIC rides that others are reluctant to undertake. Climbing is different—I CAN climb alone but it is way more dangerous than climbing with someone at the other end of the rope. It’s even way more dangerous than cycling alone. As with cycling, it’s also far more enjoyable to climb with someone else (there are methods to climb alone and make it relatively safe—called rope solo) and doing either sport alone makes one appreciate a partner. So, my rule for this trip is that if I have a climbing partner, I climb. If I don’t, I ride.

Last week, I had a climbing partner—my friend Deb. Deb is badass at almost everything she does and is a little intimidating when you first meet her. She is also one of few people I climb with who I absolutely trust at the belay when I’m working a route at my limit, especially on lead. (Yea, I know, you cycling people have no idea what I’m talking about—that’s OK—not important). But at the end of the week I was jonesing for a long road ride and Deb had stuff to do in Bishop over the weekend. Enter the Tour de Big Bear.


Doing my best Peter Sagan impression.

I’ve ridden other centuries around and near Big Bear, California. My favorite is Ride Around The Bear, a 103 mile ride with 9,500 feet of elevation gain for which my friends John Robertson, James Koch and I share the record (5:18@19. Mph average speed)—no wonder it’s my favorite. But Tour de Big Bear must be new so I thought it would be fun. I’d missed the registration period so I couldn’t ride it officially, but there are plenty of stores at which one can purchase the necessary items for a 100-mile slog. I say slog mostly because weather forecasts were predicting an 80% chance of thunderstorms and massive amounts of rain. Undeterred, I drove to Big Bear and as luck would have it, found a buddy, Ryan Rothacker, on the ride as well. Always nice to have company—even though 1,500 other riders would have sufficed.

I have to say that I initially thought the route was a bit contrived—some centuries are hard-pressed to come up with 100 miles so they go through some interesting (and sometimes un-interesting) shenanigans to come up with that mileage. This one, on paper, looked to be like that. But I was mistaken. The route was VERY cool—the loop around adjacent Baldwin Lake being surprisingly pretty. The highlight of the route was a 7-mile STRAVA time trial up to Onyx summit. The other highlight of the route was one not on the route sheet—that being the fact that we had to climb up the other side of Onyx summit in a full on rain storm, thunder booming and lightning flashing in the not too distant mountains.

So, I stopped at the base of the climb and waited for Ryan so that we could figure out if we wanted to risk riding up the summit, only to be soaking wet on the frigid descent back to Big Bear. While I waited, I asked some day-hikers if they had a trash bag I could use as a makeshift rain slicker; and this is where my intro will start to make sense. One of them—let’s call him John—said, “I may have something better.” After searching his trunk he came up with a silver reflective emergency blanket. I thought, ‘Hallelujah! I will not die today!’ at least not from hypothermia. When Ryan arrived he told me he had a rain jacket—smart guy, unlike yours truly, he was prepared. So, we wrapped the blanket around toga style and put my jersey on over it. The rest of the ride was therefore, anti-climactic. On the climb I was perfectly comfortable and was far more comfortable than most everyone else on the descent. I was even able to hit a top speed of 75kph on the descent!

Sometimes people are very helpful—I’ve got to always remember that. Hell, he wasn’t even a cyclist OR a climber and “John” still proved to be a wonderful human being. He made it possible for me to finish the ride without a trip to the ER. Thanks, John, wherever you are. I owe you one.

Gotta go. My belay partner is waiting—climbing a classic route in the Eastern Sierras—and I’m late.