Breathing and Agonizing…

Let me start with just two words: Great ride.

If that’s all you need to know, you can stop reading now. If you want texture, a bit of flavor, and some weird commentary, then plow onward.

Breathless Agony, which sells out very fast in advance, is a fabulous ride. It’s got some beautiful roads, plenty of climbing (12,000 feet officially), and a personable host in Chuck Bramwell (love the guy).  

Onyx Summit — the ride’s highest point — is at 8,443, according to the sign on the side of the road. You’ll smile when you reach it. Take a photo with the grim reaper, who seems even more grim because he’s at least 6-feet-8-inches, no kidding. Party with friends made along the way after you plop your bike down on special mats.

The timer turns off the second you get there.

My total pedal time per Garmin was right on 6:05 (it was beyond 7:00 counting for rest stations, but more on that later).

So, Onyx Summit is above the snow line? A grim reaper nearly the height of SHAQ? Breathless and Agony together?

What the h#&%!

It’s not as bad as you think.

I swear to you on my white Fizik Arione saddle and a stack of freshly laundered and folded DeFeet Levitator socks.

Here’s the deal: Yes, there is 12,000 total feet of climbing, and nearly 98% of it you’ll tackle in fewer than 80 miles. But the majority of the climbing is on managable grades. You will not encounter sustained 10%+ stretches that turn your legs to dead stone and your back to shattered glass. You will be in the saddle for long stretches as you make your way upward, but you won’t be blowing chunks on the side of the road (a la Mullholland Challenge in 2008 and 100-degree heat, according to hardcore locals).

Just climb.

Oh, and be sure to stay topped off with fluids and your food of choice. Very important.

Warning: There was no Hammer Nutrition at feed stations for this ride.

I focused so much on preparations for rain (that never materialized), I didn’t take a few Ziplock bags of my own stash of Perpetuem (prefer not to eat on hefty climbs; it disagrees with my stomach).

Combine that blunder with a meager dinner of a low-cal veggie burrito the night before, and less than 3 hours of sleep (worrying about the no-show rain), and you get less ride enjoyment, more work and a few leg cramps to boot.


What a damn minute here. I had more than 2,700 miles and 225,000 feet of climbing in my legs for calendar year 2009 before Breathless Agony. I was out of breath and in agony on Palomar Mountain many times already to ensure the ride would be a smooth, uneventful cruise.

Such is the cruel and unusual nature of cycling and the beauty of learning.

This time, I got a lesson in humility. Maybe this blog post was a precursor.

A sharp cramp in my left inside quad greeted me at mile 50. That put a giant kabosh on plans to rip the ride in the saddle the entire way up. I alternated saddle time with odd standing intervals to the top. On less than severe grades, standing just doesn’t feel right unless you’re putting it down in the big ring and trying to drill it.

Instead, I was the one being drilled — by the moutain. 

Regardless, an experienced cyclist should know better than to:

(a) Show up without his own Perpetuem

(b) Try to expect something special on less than 3 hours sleep

(c) Eat a low-calorie veggie burrito the night before as “fuel” a serious effort

Despite my goofs, the ride remains a great one. I harbor no ill will toward it, the veggie burrito that I ate or the friendly people at the feed stations. I powered a few PB&J sandwiches before the top and turned on my low-RPM diesel engine. A fellow rider gave me his stash of Perpetuem, and two others handed me Endurolyte tablets from elaborate plastic cases pulled from their jersey pockets. These nice folks saved me from my own stupidity. And to them, I am indebted.

Here are my ratings for the 2009 Breathless Agony ride:

Overall: 9/10 

Scenery: 8/10 (don’t miss the snowcaps in front of you between miles 80 and 90)

People: 9/10 (very nice long-distance riding type crowd; no attitudes)

Pros: Climb from Angeles Oaks to Onyx Summit is quality; Jack Rabbit Trail just rough enough to give you fantasies of Paris-Roubaix (without the Belgian flags and frites).

Cons: A 2-mile piece on Highway 60 with semi-trucks; the last 10 miles backdoor Redlands after a glorious descent.

Pics below at mile 45, mile 74 and mile 82 (approx).

Note: elevation profile is missing 4 miles where I failed to turn on Garmin after stuffing face with said PB&J sandwiches.

Mile 45

Mile 45

At the top

At the top

Mile 82 (approx) on descent

Mile 82 (approx) on descent

Profile minus 4 miles after Angeles Oaks Feed Station

Profile minus 4 miles after Angeles Oaks Feed Station


2 thoughts on “Breathing and Agonizing…

  1. Nice report. I’m the opposite of you. I use to bring Heed with me and gels, etc. Now, I eat real food. I just get to where I can’t stomach the chemicals (and Malodextringualatinesucrose). I’ve never ridden Breathless but I may (may) attempt it next year. Thanks for the ratings! I’m glad you guys didn’t get rained on.

  2. Hah, that is classic. And tells me that cyclists are as unique as people. That means very. Can you imagine just what conversations could be on nutrition alone? BikeCrave. Be safe, and ride on!

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