Monday, December 29, 2008

Rough Riding Eastern San Diego County: Viejas Grade, Pine Creek, Mt. Laguna, and More

We love the whole Mt. Laguna region for cycling on- and off-road, for its beauty, its diversity, its flowers, its waterfalls, and so much more. It's truly an outdoor paradise, and it's located just 50 miles east of San Diego, along the I-8 freeway. We've ridden every road out there, and many of the trails, but we never tire of creating new ways of connecting together the various pieces we know, interspersed with some new treats along the way. Such was the ride we did on November 8, 2008, a 59.5 mile loop which started and finished at the relatively new Starbux located at 2963 Alpinie Blvd in Alpine, CA 91901. (Start location and mapping here.)

This route included the fabulous Viejas Grade ascent (pictured above), a gravel and dirt road which is a wonderful alternate to riding on I-8 just to the south (the corridor that 99% of all cyclists use out here for some reason to get between Alpine and Descanso). Viejas starts behind the Viejas Casino and climbs up to the top of the mountains immediately west of Descanso. It's a great climb, not that steep, and doable on road bikes with 23mm tyres if you're careful, though 28mm or wider is advisable. This ride then goes through Descanso, Guatay, and Pine Valley, then climbs the little known and truly EPIC Pine Creek Road (again, 99% of cyclists bypass this road and just climb Mt. Laguna on Sunrise Hwy for some unknown reason). Pine Creek is one of the very best climbs anywhere on the planet. At the top you go south on Sunrise Hwy, either directly to the summit - where you'll find a nice little Forest Service visitor's center, bathrooms, store, and rental cabins - or you can have some extra fun and a bit more dirt by cutting through the campgrounds instead (as we did, which you'll see in the slideshow and below), still ending up at the store and bathrooms.

From the summit you actually climb a bit more, then enjoy a very long descent down Sunrise Hwy back to Pine Valley. From Pine Valley there is a short amount of retracing one's steps in reverse to Guatay, but then we head south towards the I-8, instead of back to Viejas Grade. Then it gets extra interesting again where we investigate an alternate to either riding the I-8 shoulder or Viejas Grade to get back to Alpine. I had seen this third option, a clearly abandoned road, from the freeway over the years and finally checked it out on this ride. You can see what happens in the slideshow/video, but it's pretty neat. You do end up back on the freeway shoulder, but only for a downhill mile or so, before exiting back into Alpine. This was a really great ride and we highly recommend it! Post your comments about your own adventures on this route below!

Here is the route sheet. Note that not every turn is measured in. Bring a San Diego County map for reference, though if you have a good sense of direction and have plenty of time, you should be able to figure out this ride with what is below. Plan on about six to seven hours, total time.

0.0 Start at Starbux in Alpine and head east on Alpine Blvd.
Cross over I-8 at Willow Glen, then continue east on the opposite (north) side of the freeway.
Veer left shortly thereafter into the Indian Reservation.
Follow that road until it becomes Viejas Grade and turns to gravel - head uphill into Rough Rider heaven!
7.8 Summit Viejas Grade (still gravel).
8.8 Pavement resumes: Continue straight and downhill to Descanso.
Turn left at the T-intersection at the store and stop sign.
Turn left at the next T-intersection at the 79 / Old Hwy 80 stop sign.
Pass through Guatay, then drop down into Pine Valley.
17.8 Pine Valley Park (water and restroom; use these facilities!)
U-turn back a half-mile, then turn right on Pine Creek Rd (north); get ready to start climbing in a few miles.
After an extremely steep section (see the comments below), you'll cross a cattle guard, then make a hard right straight uphill (not straight onto the dirt there).
28.2 Turn right/south on Sunrise Hwy (T-intersection; stop sign).
33.0 Visitor's Center at the summit of Mt. Laguna (water and restroom); there's also a store next door.
Continue south on Sunrise Hwy, dropping down towards the I-8 and Pine Valley.
At the bottom, turn right on Old Hwy 90 to Pine Valley.
Pass through Pine Valley, including Pine Valley Java and Major's Café.
44.2 Arrive back at Pine Valley Park (water and restroom).
Continue west on Old Hwy 80 through Guatay.
Continue onto 79 - not back to the Descanso Store, unless you want or need to.
51.5 About a mile before hitting the I-8, turn right on Willow Glen.
About a mile later, there is a gate across the road and then the pavement starts to disappear: keep going!
54.0 Hike down onto I-8 and continue west on I-8 (this is a bike-legal bike lane shoulder).
Take first offramp, then left over the freeway, then right on Alpine Blvd, continuing west back to Alpine.
59.5 Finish at Alpine Starbux.

Here are some photos (click any of them to see them much bigger):
Above: On Viejas Grade, looking west; You'll see lots of "Spanish Bayonets" in this region, as featured in the Rough Riders logo!

Above: Starting to climb Pine Creek Road.Above: Further up Pine Creek Road. What a view, in every direction!
Above: Near the top of the first main summit of Pine Creek Road. The previous photo was taken in the far left of this shot, looking up to where we are now. This road rules!Above: Cutting through the campgrounds, and enjoying all the fall colors, as an alternate to part of Sunrise Hwy, on the way to the Mt. Laguna Visitor's Center.Above: Ready to rumble! On Willow Glen, heading to where the pavement turns to dirt!
My Bike:
1994 Bridgestone RB-1 with 700x by 32mm Vittoria Cross XN Pro tyres and 38/28 low gear. On me: Major Taylor jersey and Moeben sleeves. (Her bike: 1974 Williams with 650B by 35mm Panaracer Col de la Vie tyres and 34/32 low gear.) Above: Willow Glen rough riding - pavement is overrated!

Below: Here's a video of the whole ride. There are 85 images, plus a soundtrack (turn up speakers), so it should be pretty fun and interesting. Let us know what you think by posting a comment below! Thanks for your support and interest!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rough Riding Northern San Diego County: Nate Harrison Grade up Palomar Mountain

The view of just the lower part of Nate Harrison Grade.
"One of the roads up Palomar Mountain has been known for five decades as 'The Highway to the Stars.' The road named after Nate Harrison might well be known as 'The Highway Back Into Time.' If you listen, besides the sound of the wind and hawks wheeling effortlessly overhead, you can hear horses straining against their leather harnesses, wooden wagon wheels creaking, and teamsters swearing and cracking the whip over the necks of the sweating beasts." So said David Ross in "Making the Grade: NATE’S ROAD HAS STORIES TO TELL" in a very lengthy and interesting article published in the Valley Roadrunner. Click here for the full story.

After two years of staring at the squiggly line on my Auto Club map of San Diego County which depicted an intriguing alternate - and unpaved - road up Palomar Mountain, we decided to go check it out in person on Thursday, November 6, 2008.

The dirt road itself, which goes literally all he way up Palomar Mountain, is 9.5 miles long and ascends about 4000 feet - from about 700' to about 4700'. Once you add in the last, paved, climb to the Boucher Fire Lookout, you've climbed 11.1 miles and ascended to 5438'. Then you have some rolling paved miles across the top of Palomar Mountain through the State Park to Mother's Kitchen, the General Store, Post Office, and bathroom. There you head over to the stop sign where you can take South Grade back down to where you started, for a total of 40 miles. Plan on five hours, to allow time to enjoy the views along the way and especially from the top, plus the water / food / bathroom stop at Mother's. Though the route can be climbed by an accomplished rough rider on a road bike with 28mm tyres, definitely I wouldn't recommend descending Nate Harrison without a full-on mountain bike. South Grade can have a lot of "crotch rocket" motorcyclists on weekends, so go on a weekday if you possibly can. This is really a phenomenal ride and we highly recommend it!
Above: Just a few miles up, you can see the road quality:
Pretty good. I could do it on 700by28mm road tyres easily.
Above: Most of the climb is very wide open, until you hit the tree line.Above and Below: Entering the forest.
Above: Near the end of the unpaved section, a lot of trees have been cut down - probably being cleared from the fires of recent years - so there is a lot of wood chips on the road, making it a little bit sketchy to ride for about 50 yards.
Above: The fabulous view from the top, looking south by southwest, from Boucher Lookout. My title for this ride and for this photo in particular is "All That You Can Leave Behind" - a reference to that idiotic casino down there, and the traffic associated with it and the other casinos which decimates the back roads of San Diego County.

Useful Links and Info:
"Nate Harrison Grade is on the southwest side of Palomar Mountain in the north end of San Diego County. Parking is best at Pauma School about 1/4 mile south of Highway 76 on Cole Grade Road. To reach this point take Highway 76 east off of Interstate Route 15 for about 15 miles, or Valley Center Road out of Escondido through Valley Center to Highway 76 in Pauma Valley and go west for about 4 miles. Thomas Guide page 1050 H4." (You can only park at the school on a weekend. We parked at the Casino Pauma which is amazing hard to find. It's at 777 Pauma Reservation Rd, Pauma Valley, CA 92061. Google Map of the location.)

"Nate Harrison Grade is on the southwest side of Palomar Mountain in the north end of San Diego County. This is one continuous climb that will certainly test your climbing strength. It has an average grade of 8% over 11.1 miles with some parts being much steeper. With almost 4700 feet of climbing this is a great workout ride with the reward of stunning views and a real sense of accomplishment at the top."

Here is Mountain Bike Bill's map of the route.
Here is Mountain Bike Bill's topo of the route
Here is Mountain Bike Bill's route description
(talk about a consistent gradient!)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rough Rider Linkages!

Greetings, fellow Rough Riders and Rough Riding fans!

Since we brought this blog online in March, 2008, we've had 10,754 Visits, resulting in 19,869 Pageviews, as of December 7, 2008. Thanks for the enthusiasm, everyone!

According to our webstats, here are the sites which link to us, in order of most number of click-throughs first. Some of them have been linking to us for a long time, which is why they rank highly here, while others are only recently pointing to us and are now providing a surprising number of click-throughs. Thanks to everyone who links to us. We sure appreciate it!

Everybody, let's return the favor and check out all of these sites, because you know they're cool and have taste if they're linking to us here! ;-) (One of the coolest cycling sites on the web, featuring the "hard man" lifestyle of pro cycling in its broad sense, with a nice appreciation of cycling history, reviews of really exceptional bike shops - which are often de facto museums - plus its namesake, "Belgium Knee Warmers," which is a slang term form embrocations applied to bare knees to ward off the stinging cold of winter in Belgium and beyond.) ("Wool, Twine and All Things Fine in Cycle Touring") (We used to run some ads in their very cool magazine.) (Ritchey featured my LA Times article photo in March of 2008, as I was on their bike for the photo shoot.) Note, their blog has now moved here: (Our little 3-Speed Adventure Society website.) (A Canadian frame builder who includes a Rough Rider bike in his custom line-up.) (A 320 mile bike race on gravel and dirt roads in Iowa in May, in which I will be competing. We're also a sponsor.) (A cool, progressive Marin County bike shop. I met the owner during the 50 Mile Ride, featured here.) (Our local randonneuring club, of which we're a sponsor and a regular rider.) (Website for our Furnace Creek 508 event.) (Way cool urban LA bike club / social group / email group / participants and volunteers in our events. Alas, their blog is "dead in the water" lately.) (Presumably chatter on their forum. Anything good?) (They published a very nice article about me, which is reprinted here on this blog: "Chris Kostman: Who Needs Him?") (Our other blog.) (Frame builder Megan Dean of Swarm! is also a two-time fixed gear relay team veteran of Furnace Creek 508.) (Organizers of the Good Life Gravel Adventure in Nebraska. I want to check this event out some day soon.) (Not sure what this is about. Help?) (Ultra athlete and vegan adventurer Deanna "Aye-Aye" Adams is a veteran of our Furnace Creek 508 and CORPScamp Death Valley. We love her.) (Two of my fixed gear conversions, one for off-road, are featured on this site. Links below, however I don't see any links to our blog on their site. We recently started advertising our AdventureCORPS events on this site and are getting A TON of traffic at as a result. Highly recommended on many levels!) Here are my bikes (both of which I've subsequently sold): (George "Red-Eyed Vireo" Vargas is a three-time finisher of our Furnace Creek 508, including once on fixed gear. He will also be racing Trans-Iowa. Great athlete, guy, and coach.) ("A critical inspection of bicycling culture and marketing by a veteran bike racer (23 years)." Quote from the author" "I was never a winner, but i've always finished with a little bit extra... so i'm pursuing longer races and randonnee` rides.") (Matt "Desert Locust" Ruscigno of Swarm! is a multiple Furnace Creek 508 finisher, vegan, and honcho in the LA Cycling Scene.) (Not sure where we are mentioned on this site.) (Guitar Ted is one of the Trans-Iowa organizers, an event in which I'll compete in May.) ("Landscapes by bike and foot; topographic writing; landscape art and photography") (SoCal distance cyclist; I must know her, but am not sure as I don't see her real name on the site. NOTE: I've subsequently learned that her name is Mary Elizabeth.) ("The Prairie Peddler is a small family owned bike shop located in the heart of the Driftless Region of Southwest Wisconsin, on the Mississippi River." Note: I love that Rawland 650B rig! I want one!!!) (OK, I love this site and visit in semi-regularly - don't ask why, but it's not weird, trust me - but I don't see how, when, or why there could be a link to us there. Does Blogger sometimes think a linkage occurred if you used the same window for one site, then moved to another in that same window???) (A vegan fixed gear rider in PA.) (Jeff "Jaguar" Martin is a veteran of our Furnace Creek 508 and CORPScamp Shasta, and we featured a post of his about mountain biking in China on this blog.) (Not sure if or where he links to us, but I've been checking out this French randonneur cyclist's website for several years.)

OK, let us know if we (or our webstats system) missed anybody who links to this site! We appreciate your support!

- Chris Kostman

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Rough Riders Headbadge: A Work of Art You Can Own!

We commissioned Jennifer Green at in Philadelphia, PA to create a headbadge which features our "Rough Riders: Any Bike, Anywhere" logo. We are very pleased with the result of her efforts! Here you can see the headbadge on a 1973 custom Williams bike, which was converted to 650B and set up for Rough Riding. It's not cheap to get one-off custom headbadges made: they cost us $100 apiece, whether you get 1, 3, or 33, as they are each made one-at-a-time by hand. If you want to get one, drop us a note and we'll make it happen for you, with no mark-up, of course!

Well-known cycling writer Jim Langley has an amazing treasure of a website which also includes a section featuring his headbadge collection which numbers 700, and counting! Jim has this to say about headbadges:

"Nameplates (also called “head badges”) are what manufacturers used to attach to the fronts of their bicycles as a classy signature, not unlike Mercedes’ hood ornaments. These plates gave the makers a nifty way to differentiate their models from others. This was important because the bikes often looked remarkably similar. But, if your model featured an amazing nameplate, you could win the sale. Imagine how a 10-year-old might be drawn to a bike with a Robin Hood emblem. And, fittingly, the nameplate often survived long after the bike was tossed because it was the main emotional attachment and easy to store. I collect nameplates because each (I have about 700) makes me imagine who might have ridden that bike."

Click here
for Jim's headbadge collection online, and be ready to be fascinated and amazed!

Click here for Jennifer Green's, home of her Revolution Cycle Jewelry website.

Click here for a Flickr group dedicated to just headbadges, with over 1300 images and counting.

If you order a Rough Riders headbadge, we will definitely want a shot of it on your bike to post here on the site!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnée (AKA D2R2 ) by Melinda Lyon

Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnée (AKA D2R2 )
The Retro Randonnée Ride
By Melinda Lyon

Photos by Melinda Lyon, John Bayley, and Ted Lapinski

Scroll down for a video of the 2008 event by Mike Bulda.

Related Links:
D2R2 Website
Photos by pro photog Ben Barnhart
Melinda at P-B-P 2007, which she completed in 56:33

August 23, 2008 marked the 4th annual Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnée Ride. I first heard about this ride early in the summer of 2005 and was intrigued from the outset. Some folks in Western Massachusetts had set up a century ride composed primarily of dirt roads.

This event, according to the website, was constructed with the early days of pro cycling in mind. The roads then were unpaved and the suffering was enormous with primitive bikes (by today’s standards) and muddy, dirt roadways. Western Massachusetts still has a network of dirt roads, loosely maintained seasonal roads and abandoned right of ways. The idea for this event was, why not run a century ride on these roads for those riders inclined to some suffering and looking for something outside the box?

To accommodate the less ambitious, the organizers offer a 100K route that is somewhat more forgiving to the less experienced cyclist. The final mileage on the 100 mile route tops out at closer to 112 miles, with 16,500 feet of climbing, so a 6AM start time is set to give riders the maximum daylight to finish the punishing route.

The brainchildren of this ride are a group of experienced and talented cyclists from the local area. Saunders Whittlesey and Don Podolski have participated in and organized cycling and ultra marathon events in New England and beyond. Don is the Berkshire Brevet Administrator and Saunders is a rider to top all riders. Twice a champion of the Boston-Montreal-Boston 750 mile randonnée ride, he smashed the course record on that ride in two consecutive years and still holds that course record. While a great rider, Saunders is an amazingly down to earth person and very supportive of “the rest of us” who only see him briefly before he rides away at the start of long distance events.

In the weeks before the ride every year there is always a lot of e-mail chatter about the proper bike and tires for such a ride. Saunders tells us that a road bike with beefed up tires (28-32cc) would be adequate if conditions were dry. I had purchased a Rivendell Rambouillet in the spring of 2005 and rode this bike for the first 2 years of D2R2. This year I had a new Redline cross bike to satiate my increased interest in this kind of ride. I had developed an enormous curiosity to find dirt roads that are fun for cycling. In fact, I developed a similarly themed, if not nearly as hard, ride in my local area that I have just started to offer as a ride to like minded folks.

The weather forecast for the 2008 ride was for perfect late summer, dry and warm conditions. New England had a very soggy summer and the condition of these dirt roads was in question. There was a wide range of bikes at the start, including full suspension mountain bikes, heavy duty touring bikes, road bikes with 28-32mm tires, and a lot of cross bikes.

The ride starts at its lowest point, the Deerfield River (150 feet), so the ride only goes up from there. The ride is listed with 11, 500 feet of climbing and 70% of the ride is on dirt roads. (As I mentioned above, the climbing is far more than the “official” amount.) It was a beautiful morning and the first dirt section with climbing came right away. I was surprised at the early pace some wanted to keep, but I wanted to relax, enjoy the scenery, and hopefully get back before dark. There were a few ups and downs before the first major climb to Poland Gate (1260 feet) at mile 12. This is followed by a short descent before a major climb to up to Hawley topping out at 1800 feet.
So far the climbs were steep but the mixture of dirt and pavement had been relatively kind and the scenery was fabulous. Old farms, older stone walls, and tunnels of old growth trees lined the roads. My Redline was performing well and the big 35 mm tires were holding the gravel and dirt well. Everyone seemed to be relishing in the early morning fresh air, knowing that the day would be become cruel before long. The descent all the way back down to the river valley in Charlemont is steep and always has some loose gravel. Several riders pinch-flatted on this section (I had done this myself a few years back).

The descent to the river valley and Rt 2 is followed by a steep and paved then dirt ascent to our first checkpoint at Heath, Massachusetts at almost 1800 feet. A breathtaking view was our reward for a tough climb. The next section is reported to be the toughest and it always lives up to that reputation. A very rough section of road continued our climb to Heath Center.
The cue sheet says “25 percent climb” at the Archambo Wall. Sure enough, it is a wall with loose dirt to boot, so I bailed out early and walked up most of the 200 yards. My low gear of 34-27 is not enough for this monster. Plenty of riders make it up this with higher and lower gears than me but I am old enough not to worry about it.

Next came Christian Hill, which some say is the toughest of the ride. Loose gravel and an unrelenting grade usually make this too tough for me, but all of the rain during the year have washed some gravel away and make it almost bearable. Some soft dirt, a few wheezes, and the top is mine! There were even some playful Arabian horses at the top of this hill also taking in the summit views.

We soon crossed the state line into Vermont and had a long gradual climb to the highest point on the course at Deer Park (1950 feet). A few rollers, good, hard dirt and some pavement led us into the 2nd checkpoint at the Green River covered bridge.
On such a pretty day there were lots of chances for pictures at this scenic red bridge. The idyllic lunch spot was at the river level so that meant another climb to Owl’s Head Mountain (1400 feet) and then back into Massachusetts.

The last third of the course seems to have more pavement and a net downhill so the miles go by more quickly. There is a long, paved downhill in West Leyden, Mass, and then a left onto Green River Road. This was a nice gradual descent next to the river over hard, smooth dirt. Then time for another climb up to Copeland Hill (1130 feet) and yet another spectacular view.

The last mega climb comes at 100 miles. Patten Hill is 1000 feet of climbing in just under 1.5 miles. Thankfully the steepest part is paved (20% grade) but the top is really tough. The grade is a steady 15% with a few small flattish breaks but the accumulated miles of the day plus the loose gravel make it pretty punishing.
I have been determined to make it all the way up this last big climb without walking every year and I succeeded again this year. The reward is an open summit of fields and a beautiful farm with views over to Mt Snow in Vermont. We had our last checkpoint at the top. It is nice to take a breather and admire the views, but there are still a few miles to cover.

The last 16 miles are anything but easy. There was a steep descent down to Rt 2. At the 100 mile point I try to check my “century time.” In the inaugural year of this ride we got to the century mark at 4:30PM. My friend Kris Kjellquist stated proudly that this was his “personal worst” century time of 10.5 hours. The Deerfield town line is an engaging reminder that the end is near but not quite yet. The cue sheet encourages one to ignore a road closed sign and “begin gnarly descent, large stones and washouts, next mile.”

This last section is really slow going but by now the end is near and it is just a matter of time. One wonders what other surprises the ride will throw at you with so little time left. Finally we dropped back into Deerfield for the final 2 miles, thankfully flat, smooth and paved. In the first years there wasn’t much fanfare upon finishing. Now, the ride has been combined with a local farm/music festival so the atmosphere is very festive. There is time for a cold drink and a meal and perhaps to swap war stories of the epic just completed. Every year I drive home dusty, dirty and tired. The bike is muddy and dusty. But I always have a huge smile on my face that I keep for a few days after.

Melinda has done long distance cycling-racing for 20 years. Her first ride was a 24 hour event in 1988. Since then she has done 4 PBPs (2 first female placing), 6 BMB's, many brevets, and she is the course record holder at the Saratoga 24 hour event. She commutes to work 9 months of the year and tries to limit the use of the one vehicle in her household. She works 40 hours a week as a cardiac technology specialist in invasive and non invasive procedures. She will be 46 years old in October 2008. She doesn't have a website for the current ride she's organizing (next scheduled for Oct 18th) but folks can contact her directly for information about the ride. It is 80 miles with 18% dirt, 2 major water crossings and lots of mud. Not much traffic, especially by Eastern Mass. standards! Melinda's email is melindalyon "at" verizon dot net.

Here's a recent photo of Melinda:

Friday, June 27, 2008

Rough Riding in Competitor Magazine

Chris Kostman: Who Needs Him?

Lots of Us – This Ultra-Athlete Organizer Knows How to Take You to the Limit.

By Roy Wallack, July 2008 issue of Competitor Magazine

In April 1988, for one of my first articles as a journalist, I was doing a handicap of that summer's Race Across America for the regional, now-defunct California Bicyclist magazine. None of the contenders I interviewed was a household name. Everyone pretty much said the same thing: "I've been training 400 to 700 miles a week, there's lots of competition this year, and I'm going out to win." No one's words or personality really stood out.

Except for one guy: Chris Kostman, a U.C. Berkeley junior who'd finished the race the year before as a 20-year-old, making him (then) the youngest-ever finisher and a celebrity in his hometown of Glendora. His personality was way beyond confident. Kostman said his unusual training method, which entailed riding a ridiculously low number of miles per week compared to everyone else, plus his unusual diet, composed of substances apparently only known to NASA astronauts, plus his super-secret sleeping method, known only to Himalayan monks, would make him the uncontested star of the 1988 race. His ride would not only obliterate the field, but so revolutionize RAAM and ultra-endurance cycling in general that people would be writing about it for years, studying it as if it were a guide not just to cycling, but to a new level of human consciousness.

When I put the phone down after the interview was over, I said to myself, "Well, that young guy has to be the most arrogant, self-admiring, self-congratulatory narcissist I think I've ever met." Then I thought, "He's kind of cool."

After all, nothing Kostman said was offensive, really. He was pretty interesting and actually quite respectful of the other riders. He just thought that he was really good and really smart – and he had the resume to back it up. Who doesn't want that kind of self-image?

Four years later, while I was editing the national, now-defunct Bicycle Guide magazine, (see a pattern here?) Kostman called me up to pitch a story idea. When I mentioned that I was writing a big 16-page review and feature article about the explosion of affordable front-suspension mountain bikes – a big deal in 1992 – he scoffed.

“Mountain bikes are the most over-hyped, overbuilt piece of equipment ever created,” he said. “I dust every mountain biker I see on the trails, and I ride a road bike!”

There it was again, the arrogance – the weirdly intriguing, over-the-top, strangely compelling arrogance. But again, he was more interesting than offensive, and could always back it up. Although he hadn't finished the 1988 RAAM due to a pinched nerve in his neck, the next year he set the world's first 24-hour mountain-biking record of 242 miles. And, as proof of his off-road prowess, he came down to L.A. a couple days later and took me out on the trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. He rode a Bridgestone XO-1 road bike with odd, S-shaped “mustache” handlebars.

“Hey,” I said, “Why don't you write me a story about how your skills are so honed that you can beat any mountain biker on your road bike? I'll run it next to my mountain bike story just to mess with people.”

Kostman's story, Mountain Bikes: Who Needs Them? drew 268 letters and faxes. That's more than the total number of letters the magazine had received all year. They came from average weekend warriors and bike industry titans. Everyone basically called Kostman the most egomaniacal jerk they had ever run across. One fax, addressed “Kostman sucks” was simply a drawing of a large hand with the middle finger extended. The last letter summed it up thusly: “Kostman makes some good points. Too bad he's such an A-hole.”

He loved it. I loved it. I ran the most scathing letters in the next issue, calling them an article on their own. At bike industry gatherings months later, everyone was still talking about Mountain Bikes: Who Needs Them? And everyone was reading the magazine.

I figured I'd better get to know this guy. And over the 20 years since I first interviewed him, I've seen Chris Kostman carve out a multi-faceted niche that is unique in cycling and endurance sports. He's a record-setting athlete with a penchant for crazy events like the Iditabike and the Triple Ironman; a trend-spotter and coach who rode the L.A. personal-trainer wave like John Travolta in the movie Perfect, and helped turn a local trend called Spinning into a world-wide phenomenon; and an entrepreneur who's built endurance events that are among some of the most sought-after by athletes from all around the globe, including the Badwater Ultramarathon and the Furnace Creek 508.

Kostman is not a celebrity like Lance, and he's largely unknown to general public, but he's one of many crucial behind-the-scenes links in a chain that makes the endurance sports scene thrive. And best of all, he hasn't lost the attitude, that oddly ingratiating arrogance that he exhibited in a ten-minute phone call two decades ago. In fact, it's clear that he's succeeded because of it.

“We're Out There,” is the slogan of Kostman's events company, AdventureCORPS. It fits, because even as a kid, he was out there.

At 13, on a yearlong driving trip around Europe and North Africa with his adventurous parents (both teachers on sabbatical), he dipped a toe in the Arctic Ocean and climbed one of the great pyramids at Giza. The trip left him with more than a nice photo album. “It made me realize that I don't want to wait to engage the world until I'm 70,” he says. When he got home, he started engaging it by bicycle.

At 14, in 1982, he caught the ultra-bug that would ultimately define him when he saw the Great American Bike Race (soon to be known as RAAM) on ABC's Wide World of Sports. Inspired, he biked from his Glendora home to Mt. Baldy and back, a 50-mile trip. “That day changed me,” he says. “I discovered that in a few hours or more you could have a really meaningful experience that's exciting, interesting, engaging and enlightening. I didn't want it to stop.”

Soon, while other kids were hanging out at the beach, he was pedaling there on a bike – a 100-mile round trip.

Columbus Day in 1983 was a pivotal day for Kostman. At a bike race, he spotted his idol, the guy he'd seen on TV: John Marino, the two-time transcontinental record holder and founder of RAAM. “I walked up to him and told him my dream, to set a record riding a bike from San Francisco to L.A. People were setting all kinds of ultra-cycling records then, and I found out that there was no record for that.”

Marino was tickled that a 16-year-old kid had such big dreams. "He said, 'Really?'" recalls Kostman. “Then he wrote his home phone number on a business card and said, 'Call me.'”

It was the beginning of a long, successful relationship. Marino got young Kostman into the industry bike show in Long Beach and gave him lots of contacts and promotional ideas. “I was blown away," says Kostman. “It'd be like a high school basketball player meeting Kobe Bryant, and Kobe taking him under his wing.”

A year later, Marino made Kostman an honorary lifetime member of the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association after the 17-year-old set a world record by riding a bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 31 hours and 13 minutes.

That record established a pattern for Kostman, of setting records at things no one had ever thought of before. A week later, his S.F.-L.A. record was broken, so Kostman set a new one of 22:38 in 1985. A month later, that mark was also broken by Michael Shermer, another RAAM founding father. “I was so honored – another one of my idols, beating me at an event I came up with,” said Kostman, who still owns one world record: the 24-hour tandem off-record of 245.23 miles, set with Bay Area bike shop owner Ed Levinson in 1990.

With RAAM riders as heroes, it was just a matter of time before Kostman geared up for the big one himself. At age 20, while other college kids were chugging beer and partying all night long, Kostman was riding all night long, setting a new “Trans-California” speed record from the Huntington Beach pier to the Colorado River. Months later, backed by a promotional campaign with a local bank that is still legendary in ultra-cycling circles, he become the youngest RAAMster, finishing the grueling 3,127-mile route from San Francisco to Washington D.C., the longest and most mountainous ever, in 10 and 1/2 days, good for ninth place.

Hoping to "traverse land more home to moose than man," the certified scuba-diving instructor and Berkeley Master's degree holder (in Arabian Gulf Archeology – he speaks fluent French and passable Hindi) headed for Alaska, racing the snowbound 200-mile Iditasport mountain bike race in the winters of 1988, 1989, and 1991. He then opted for the 100-mile snowshoe division, finishing three races from '93 to '96. Two 11-hour Ironman triathlon finishes in the early 90s naturally led to extreme events few sane people dare: the 1993 Triple Ironman in France (53 hours, 27 minutes), and the Vermont Earth Journey (a 5.5-mile swim/263-mile bike/51-mile run).

Although Kostman was diving for wreckage in the Red Sea and pursuing his Ph.D. during the early 90s, he was never serious about an academic career. “For me, life is all about exploration and learning and getting out there. I purely was interested in college for the adventure, intellectual challenge, and for any possible contribution I could make – not for a career,” he says. “The chance of getting a teaching position in archeology is slim. I never thought I could make a living doing that. And I didn't want to take a job in some little backwoods college town.”

Plus, he was already starting to earn a living from cycling by then. “I was producing races while I was in college,” he says.

In the fall of 1990, while working on his Master's, Kostman organized the Furnace Creek 508, a 508-mile qualifier for RAAM once known as the John Marino Open. A crazy-hard challenge that blitzes northeast to southeast, from Santa Clarita to Death Valley and the Mojave Desert, the 508 has grown from a RAAM qualifier with 25 soloists to an independent event with 100 soloists and 150 relay racers. Based on his 508 success, Kostman created Team RAAM in the summer of 1992; it grew exponentially for five years until RAAM organizers, noting its success, reabsorbed it and squeezed him out.

From 1993 to 1995, an old friendship with fellow RAAM competitor Johnny G made Kostman part of the team that developed Spinning, the now-ubiquitous indoor cycling class. Hired to organize the first Los Angeles Marathon Bike Tour in 1995, he spent the next few years teaching Spinning classes at Sports Club L.A., creating and managing a cycling program for the Bodies in Motion chain, and traveling the world training instructors.

Kostman began transitioning out of the gym when his reputation for well-organized races in Death Valley led to requests for him to take ownership of marquee events like the Badwater Ultramarathon (in 2000) and the biannual Death Valley Century and Double Century in 2001. That year the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) also asked him to manage its Death Valley-based Ride to Cure Diabetes. His events have raised large sums for the Challenged Athletes Foundation as well.

His successes have given Kostman the time and resources to indulge in some of the quirky events he enjoys. He's kept up his triathlon bona fides with frequent participation in the standard-distance, 140.6-mile Ironman Revisited race on Oahu in the last few years. In May, he arrived home from a week with his girlfriend at the Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour, in which all the participants cruise the environs of this quaint Mississippi River lake in Minnesota on old, English three-speed bikes. The next day, after finalizing some details on his new weeklong CORPS Camps (extreme cycling and snowshoe vacations in Mt. Shasta, Death Valley, and Paso Robles), he was off to Worcester, Massachusetts to join Greg LeMond, John Howard, and Edwin Moses for the unveiling of a statue of Major Tayor – the African-American rider who won the 1899 world cycling championship.

Something of an elder statesman due to his early start on the endurance scene, Kostman was given a lifetime achievement award from RAAM and inducted as a Fellow at the prestigious Explorers Club at age 30. “Even now, at 41, it still seems like I'm younger than most of the participants in my events,” he says with amusement.

As for his personality, and the unvarnished, opinionated pontification that used to cause people to call him an egomaniac, Kostman insists he hasn't mellowed with age – “but I have certainly learned how to package my message and present myself in a more constructive manner,” he says, carefully.

Still, he tells it like it is. “I severed my ties with RAAM because I don't like what they're doing to the race and the sport, and I use my website to promote my environmental agenda and the national parks," he says. “The world needs more outspoken people, and I've got a good platform with these events that sell out so quickly. The 508 is bigger than ever. That gives me confidence that we're doing the right thing.” On his agenda for the future someday: a book and a magazine.

Kostman admits that he is still obsessed with a certain incendiary topic that I am familiar with: over-teched, over-hyped bikes – especially mountain bikes. Kostman recently started a new blog, Rough Riders (, just to extol the simple joy of using one bike to cover all kinds of surfaces. “Rough Riders is actually the evolution of that article, Mountain Bikes: Who Needs Them?” he says. “My biggest gripe is that cycling is fixated on racing and technology. But they don't go any faster at the Tour de France every year. Nothing has made anyone faster except aerobars.”

“Funny thing, after 15 years, I still get emails about that story,” he says proudly. “People have told me that it changed their lives. It said that the bike is secondary to the experience; that less can be more; that you can have a better experience getting more in touch with the landscape in a more real and authentic way. It's easy – I just swap out the 700C wheels on my Ritchey Break-Away (fold-up road bike) to 650B wheels with a 32-diameter tire, and it opens up the possibilities of what you can do – road, dirt, rocks, sand, anything.

“After all, short of a big rocky drop-off, who needs a mountain bike?”

Roy M. Wallack is the co-author of Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100.

Click here for Roy's article at

Click here for "Mountain Bikes: Who Needs Them?"

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mt. Laguna: Beauty and Curiousities Abound

Truly one of California's best kept secrets of the outdoor world is the area on and around Mt. Laguna, the 6,000' peak in eastern San Diego County. The cycling there, on and off road, as well as hiking, bird watching, flower-spotting, animal-seeking, camping, and much more, are just unparalleled. Encompassing Anza-Borrego State Park and the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area of the Cleveland National Forest, it's a beautiful, gorgeous, wondrous place to explore, enjoy life, and get way out there - all the while just 50 miles east of San Diego! Here are a few shots and a video from this past weekend. That's right, all this beauty was captured on just one day, while road cycling on Kitchen Creek Road and Sunrise Highway and hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. ("Rough riding" plans were waylaid by "private property" and "park closed" signs. But stay tuned for some rough riding pix from other adventures out there!)

The odd first pic depicts a critter ignoring the "no spaceships" sign painted on the lower Kitchen Creek Road gate. Some of the other photos depict the "Spanish Bayonette" which is featured in the Rough Riders logo. As for the beautiful flowers and plants in the other photo, perhaps some expert out there can illuminate us as to their identity? (Click "Comments" below to enlighten us, please!)

All photos and videos ©Chris Kostman

Kitchen Creek Falls:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Any Way You Slice It

Any Way You Slice It
By Audrey Adler

How I yearn to go back to the pared down basics of real cycling, to cleanse my soul of worldly titanium temptations. Averting my eyes from the evils of accessories while innocently cruising through aisles of the devilishly chic local bike retailer, I sing the psalm of cycling over and over: “cycle strong and be free.”

My old tires have worn themselves to a pulp. I must seek out a sensible solution. Upon completion of his 15 minute dissertation on the 'classification and function of racing tires,' the young, erudite, tattooed, and pierced salesperson all but leaves me no choice to replace them with an enormously upgraded version of my old tires (which were clearly not suited for the type of riding I do.) Funny, they seemed to work pretty well. Once again, I succumb. K-CHING! goes the register as I produce that little magic golden card, the key to my success in hopes that this upgrade will secretly reflect a nuance of improvement in my cycling skills if not openly my latent air of component snobbery.

Two weeks later. I'm cycling on the road with my best friend. As we begin our ascent up a larger than life-threatening mountain I remind myself that it's all a mind game. "Stay calm, relaxed, even out the pedal stroke, go somewhere else, and just ride", I mutter. Surely this climb will be smooth as Kevlar on my spanking new pro tires.

Two hours later. Fatigue level equal to that of previous rides on the inferior set of tires. The Gospel preached to me month after month, year after year by my riding mentor, “It's not about what you have, it's how you use what you've got,” finally rings out loud and clear.

A light comes on: I'm reborn! Free at last of the binds of high-tech gizmos and gadgets. Lustlessly confident and content to merely admire others' colossal carbon concoctions glinting in the sun as they glide by me on my perfect fitting retro beauty.

Later. Here I am once again back again at the local cycling depot innocently weaving among the potpourri of parts simply for a refill on chain lube, a couple of spare tubes, a few tire levers. Dazzling displays of the coolest threads abound, the must-haves in trend-setting women’s technical wear, the hottest new shocks that put a charge through your wallet, that pair of shades with the perfect lens tint, an all new super duper aerodynamic helmet putting its Jurassic predecessor of six months ago to shame, oh, and let's not forget the latest and greatest reinvention of the bicycle weighing in at eleven pounds claiming to be the next best thing to sliced bread. Tempted no more by glitz and glamour, I near the exit triumphantly unswayed by temptation. Free at last.

OOOHHHHH, those shoes...did they just come in?

Above: Audrey crusing past Malibou Lake,
a well kept secret of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Above" How "The Rock Store" got its name: on Mulholland Hwy.