The Stagecoach 400 wrapped up its 4th year with 70 riders taking on the route and 34 completing it. It was a hot year, and there was an added obstacle with the ferry, but the route remained the same for the most part. Below are a few thoughts on my ride, a few keywords that stood out.

Route Briefs

Start to Borrego Springs: We took off stomping at a pretty good pace out of Idyllwild. Water bottles were flying off bikes, a few wrong turns were taken and the legs were still pretty stiff.  We popped off the singletrack and onto highway 74. Erick Lord, Aaron Johnson, Blake Bockius, Isaac Chilton and I were making fast time while the temperature quickly warmed the Earth. Coyote Canyon lead to the Willows which is one odd, yet refreshing, place where the trails turn into a creek with willow brush too tight for my rear derailleurs comfort. Erick, Blake and I dropped the rest of the crew as we rode into Borrego Springs together. Water was all I needed in Borrego Springs, as I packed food till San Diego, maybe even beyond. Borrego Spring to Alpine: As I strive to do on these rides, I quickly got back in the saddle as Blake was leaving town. We rode out together, but I pushed on past him up the road.  My goal was to get past the heat fast. I learned two things once I arrived in Fish Creek Wash. 1. There was no beating the heat that day and 2. Fish Creek Wash is not easy riding. I nearly passed out due to exhaustion – I had never been that hot in my life, internally or externally. I finally reached Agua Caliente, beat down like I have never been before. I refueled, and rested up when all of a sudden I saw some guys just zip past the store where I was struggling to pull it together. I thought it was Blake and Erick. So I hustled up, and got back on the road less than 30 minutes from my arrival. I would later learn it was Cliff Clermont and Stan Potter, apparently they crush it hard all day, then sleep in hotels every night. Crazy how fast they were going, it kept me on my heels the rest of the night. Oriflamme was my next challenge at hand, tough with my 34 tooth chain ring, but I managed. Everything else seems like a blur until the McDonalds in Alpine. Boy was that just what I needed. Lucky for me they were kind enough to serve me after dining hours.  Stagecoach 400 Alpine To Coronado: What I thought would be a simple ride to Coronado, turned out to be a very interesting evening. Pavement and dirt roads finally connected with some singletrack, and eventually the marine layer where I was instantly soaked, a little cold, and a bit pissed off. All I wanted was the city, all I was getting was fogged glasses which made it too difficult to prepare for the trail features ahead. This section was mentally draining, but I would eventually hit the city where I found the 7/11 that I had marked on the GPS. I weaved past plenty of sleeping homeless people on the way the Bayshore Bikeway. I pulled out my bivy at 5:30am on the State Park Beach. I woke up at 7:00am with people getting their early morning exercise in, running, walking and surfing. I felt out of place, and slowly packed my stuff up. I planned on getting some food and waiting for the first ferry ride of the day. I made it to the ferry, and got on it at 9:10am. It left 4 minutes later.
IMG_8718
Coronado was a pretty awesome place to ride.
Coronado to Escondido: I was happy to control the remaining part of my ride as we docked next to sky scrapers in the San Diego Bay. The ride through the busy coastal area was actually pretty awesome. It was warm and I was riding pavement. Eventually I would turn into the hills where the heat would tear me apart, again. Although it was not nearly as warm as the previous day, I was struggling to put down a solid rhythm. All that was on my mind was crossing Interstate 15 and getting to that Chevron so I could choke down some chocolate milk. I was not prepared for the heat and the rather difficult (compared to the route in its entirety) Singletrack. After crawling past Lake Hodges I finally made my way under I-15 and to the Chevron where a yummy tuna sammy and chocolate milk was calling my name. IMG_8729 Escondido to Warner Springs: The sun was getting lower, and the temperatures were cooling down. Some moderate singletrack finally lead to the dreaded HWY 78, the scariest section of my whole race. Numerous cars zipped past me as the shoulder became more and more narrow and eventually non existent. People honking, giving me the finger, and yelling at me encouraged me to climb faster and faster. The short but scary section would eventually turn off onto maybe the 2nd scariest section – the Guejito Truck Trail. Although this trail is beautiful, I had to hop a gate that was locked, and then squeeze through another gate by taking my front wheel off. Obviously some one does not want us here, and there was a section that we are technically not allowed to ride our bikes. After those gates I experience one of the most beautiful sections filled with lush hills, and large boulders as I contoured down to the Pamo Valley. The Black Canyon Road was truly amazing, the sun set and I got going at a pretty good click. Eventually I would make my way back down to HWY 76 where my lights would remain on until my finish. I arrived at Warner Springs fire station, filled up on water and quickly got on to some awesome night riding. Warner Springs to Finish: The pavement ended and the start of the climb to the notorious false summit land had begun. I must say, doing this section in the dark was a huge bonus. No real technical features, just climbing dirt roads. I really felt in my groove here, and knew at this point that finishing before sunrise was doable. My brain was starting to think that every light I saw were bikers, so the motivation to push on was real, and it hurt. I reached the top, and started the long descent into Anza. After descending the sandy Jim Truck Trail a few days prior, I knew I would have to hike a bunch of it – especially after 70 riders came through on that Friday. I reached the top, put all my layers on, and cruised to the highway. I’m not certain it was below freezing, but it was darn close. The highway ride should have been enjoyable for me, however, the inversion froze my whole body. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it to my turn off, and started the singletrack back up to Idyllwild. That moment of self gratitude snuck upon me as I finally reached the dirt road climb to the top of town. I descended paved road in Idyllwild, and finally made it to The Hub Cyclery at 5:52am, on Sunday. I finished the Stagecoach 400 in 46 hours and 52 minutes.
Stagecoach 400
Stagecoach 400 finishers sign-in
 

Key Words

Paved Roads: There are a lot of paved roads on this route, also a lot of graded dirt roads. While I am new to this route, I did my researched and it suggested that these roads lead to pretty awesome places. That was indeed the case, pavement lead to beautiful canyons, sweet singletrack, and some amazing vistas. It was a different kind of route for me, one where my head was on a swivel, basking in the new sights. Heat and Sand:  How lovely it was to hear that Fish Creek Wash was riding in great shape before the race. I was anticipating staying on my bike, and riding through hard pack. However, I nearly fried to death in this section, which had me on the brink of overheating the entire afternoon. The conditions were very hit or miss, when I thought I found a good line, the sand took hold and grabbed my bike. It was very similar to my experience in the Fat Pursuit this past January. Oh, and then, then there was Diablo Drop – a sandy hike-a-bike section that nearly put me over the edge. I could feel my body breaking down and over heating. I made myself stop every 10 steps to insure I would not collapse. Day two was hot as well, just not 100 degrees hot. In the middle of both days, I slowed down to a crawl or so it felt. Although I did get a few 70 and 80 degree day rides in Moab a few weeks before, there was no way I could have been prepared for those conditions. Cold: Maybe after feeling extremely hot temperatures I became cold more quickly? Either way it got downright cold in some sections, with the cool air sinking to the ground. On my way back up HWY 74 to Idyllwild, my hands went numb and I had to stop and shake the warm blood back to the tips. I was carrying/wearing arm coolers, arm and knee warmers, a cycling vest, an ultra light rain jacket. I did not anticipate getting as cold as I did, this route truly has it all. Resupply: My resupply spots were dead on. I stopped in Borrego Springs liquor store for water, the Split Mountain Store for more water, Agua Caliente, the Noble Canyon spigot, the McDonalds in Alpine, the 7/11 off Bonita Rd, Bruegger’s Bagels and Walgreens on Coronado Island, the Chevron in Escondido and the fire station at Warner Springs. I never really ran out of water but got very close. I packed plenty of food to get me to San Diego, and I resupplied on food at the 7/11. The bagel sandwich and coffee was a perfect way to start the day on Coronado, and I got ibuprofen and sunscreen at the Walgreens. I have to thank Michael Grosso for the pointers on the route.Stagecoach 400 Ferry: Not only did I have to wait for the ferry, but the ride out there was kind of a mind tease. I was riding under highways that were loaded with homeless people. It was an interesting experience not seeing a soul to being in a big city. I felt like the police were going to approach me while I was sleeping on the beach, that is why I only got an hour and a half of sleep. I arrived at the ferry launch at 9:10, just as the ferry was about to leave, I did not know at the time but I boarded the commuter ferry. After I got off, I had to weave around some bicycle prohibited areas and a lot of people. It all worked out in the end. Gearing: Plain and simple, I bit off more than I could chew. The 34 tooth worked, but there were sections where I had to get off my bike because of the incline. The XTR 9000 cassette has a range of 11-40. If I were running a 32 tooth, I would have been in perfect shape. Other than that, things worked smoothly, a bit of grinding towards the end as I ran out of lube.
Stagecoach 400
That chain ring just looks big.
Bike:  The Chumba Steel Stella was the perfect bike for the job. Paired with my Envy M60 Forty rims, the bike was the perfect balance of stiffness. The bike rolled over everything in sight, and climbed and cornered exceptionally well. This was my first long ride on the new carbon rims, I can’t believe I waited this long. I ran a Fox 32 831 100mm which was very nice to have in the rocky sections. I have been running a Sella Anatomica Saddle since the fall. It has worked great, however I did have to tension in on the trail. ESI grips, Cane Creek Bar Ends, and Shimano XTR Pedals rounded out my contact points. Lights: I was rocking an SP Dynamo hub along with a Klite system. The system worked pretty well, although the stand light was a bit dim at low speeds. As soon as I would accelerate, the light lit up the road. I also used an inexpensive USB helmet light. Look for a detailed review soon on my light system. Fitness: My training consisted of riding on snow, and doing a little bit of skiing. I rode dirt for the first time 3 weeks before the race, in doing so I believe I aggravated my patella tendon. Luckily everything worked out in the end, and my knee feels great after a week off the bike.  The beginning of the race put some hurt on my legs. the front of the pack was really pushing the pace, and I felt it in my legs. I did settle in nicely, and felt stronger as the race went on.
Stagecoach 400
Too much fun!
Tribe: The best part of the whole weekend was Idyllwild. For one reason, the people. The community of bikepackers and their families that showed up was amazing. Everyone was here for the same reason, to explore and to test the limits. I am very fortunate to have meet so many wonderful people, and I can not wait for another California bikepacking event. Huge Thanks to the Hub Cyclery, Brendan and Mary Collier. They put in a lot of hours putting together this route and if you do it, you can clearly tell. I also hung out a there a lot, whether the shop was open or closed. I can’t think of a better place to host a ride like the Hub.  

4 Comments

  1. Michael Smith

    Neil great write up of a great effort on your part. I am looking forward to the write up on the lighting system, and I am curious on the details on the bits and pieces on the dynamo set up now that I saw it in person. I am waiting on new dynamo to arrive in mail, so I will be looking for all the other items to get that all figured out. Your stuff is obviously field tested, and it carries more weight from someone like yourself that has used this stuff in extreme conditions. I see options out there on chargers, switches, and storage.
    Hope the knee is good and all the best to you in biking and life in general

  2. Cliff Clermont

    Great write up! Great riding. I love these events but I’m really a fan of 6 hour minimum breaks [like the Kiwis do in similar events in New Zealand]….I just can’t imagine how that last 80 miles must feel on little sleep! ouch. ouch….this year, due to family commitments, Stan and I rode to Idy [on route from/at the Hodges Damn] from the coast on Thursday…got into the Idy Inn…did day one to Butterfield….and then day two [say 3 for us] to Downtown….nice block of fun ridding. I carried all my gear [bag and ivy included] and only the bag in the seedy like joint we got in Butterfield. Again great win!

  3. Congrats on a great win !!
    What model Sella Anatomica Saddle were you running? Was it the rails that came loose or the leather tension that needed tightening?

    For your food stops, how do you add those to your GPS? Are they just waypoints or do you set them up some other way?

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Thanks, Yak. It is the NSX Series. The Leather just needed tensioning, I should have done it before I left. It is still a rather new (for a leather) saddle.

      yes, I use BaseCamp from Garmin. I just drop waypoints on locations where I know I need to grab some food or water. I do have to do some google map research before hand to get the exact waypoint placement.

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