Monday, May 17, 2010

5/16 Ride Report - The Purple Monster

In life, there are physical, mental, and emotional challenges. We are constantly being tested by these life challenges, and in order to grow and mature, one needs to overcome these hurdles. Similar to life, bicycling has these physical, mental, and emotional-challenged states. The Purple Monster dropped us a major test in our smooth-operating bike machinery on this past Sunday’s ride.

This ride is simply the hardest ride I have ever ridden since I became a VeloViet. Personally, it is also the longest and hardest ride since I have ever been riding a bike! I have never spent 11 hours on a bike ride before!

For those who missed the Purple Monster, you are either thankful that you did not have to suffer through this “suffer-o-rama” of a ride, or are regretting that you have just missed the hardest ride that the VeloViet Cycling Club have ever done as a large group. This ride is one mofo of a beast!

The VeloViet’s Purple Monster Ride was touted weeks in advanced as a ride that has ALL the making of an epic ride. The route promised distance, hills, scenic views, farm lands, mountains, and multi-million dollar neighborhoods. Yes it had all this, and plus the Purple Monster surprise that we did not expected to be this difficult. The ride meanders through gorgeous farmland of North San Diego, but this exterior appearance hid a hideous monster of a route, with over 100 miles in distance and 6500 feet of climbing. Here is how it went...


My excitement level has been slowly escalating as I slowly pumped up our group to get them excited and ready for the ride. For myself, I have done as much as I can to prepare for the Purple Monster with the riding time that I had, and I briefly wonder who will be in the A1 group and who will be in the A2 group. I had bonked badly on the Palm Springs Century around the 85 mile mark, and my plan is just to cruise slowly through the million-dollar houses, enjoy the view, and let the fast guys fight out for this glory.


My excitement turned to nervousness last night, as I received e-mails from three of our top A1 members indicating that they will not be able to join us on the Purple Monster. Scott (The Animal) has relatives over the weekend, Nic (The Warrior) has a party to attend, and Cuong (IronLegs) has to work late the night before. These guys are some of the strongest guys that help move the pack along at a fast pace, and I was concern that this lack of 92-octane gas may cause the VeloViet's train to come to an abrupt halt.

Thinking forward though, I relaxed a bit as I realized we still have a lot of strong VeloViets who are coming. Cap’t, who is training for the double century, is like an energizer bunny that can go on forever. Duc, Greg, Tuan, all very strong A1 riders, will be there to help pull the pack. The A2 group will be led by strong, seasoned bike veterans like Toan, Sang, and Long. The Tri-Crew will also be there to represent, and these guys are some of the strongest riders in the OC. Okay, I thought, we are ready.

I did not realize until now how wrong this thinking was.


I woke up at 4:30 AM to get ready for the ride. I had a restless sleep as usual before a big ride, kept awake with swirling thoughts of the impending challenge. An hour later, I had the bike and bag loaded into the car and headed out to meet with Tuan and Long in Brea to carpool down to San Diego. As if it was a sign to things to come, I got lost and barely made it to Tuan’s house in time for us to depart. This was Hardship #1. We quickly loaded my bag and bike into Long’s truck and headed on the road at 6:30 AM.

We got to Mira Costa College around 7:45 AM. The drive over was fun as usual, with lots of gossip and bike discussion. Seems like Long and Tuan may be ready for new bikes, and we were discussion our most favoride bikes. At the Mesa Costa parking, most everyone was already there and was getting ready. Here are some pictures of the group at the start.

Photo #1 - Ngoc, Sang, Duc, and Toan preparing for the ride

Photo #2 - The Tri Crew: Big H and Ironman Duc flexing their muscle

Photo #3 - The Paris Couple: Tan and Nancy flexing their muscle

Our ride leader, Tim Luong, came shortly after we did. Tim was to escort us through some of his most favorite terrain. Everyone was excited and you can feel the energy in the air. I was more nervous than excited because I bonked on the Palm Springs century, and knew that this century will be a lot more difficult than that in Palm Spring. I also was apprehensive of what 100 miles and 6500 feet of climbing will do to my body. After unpacking, we line up for our usual group photo.

Photo #4 - Ride leader Tim with VeloViet Cap't Thomas

Photo #5 - VeloViets looking happy and posing at the start of The Purple Monster

The first ride challenge, and Hardship #2, occurred. The Rock Racers got lost, and when they finally came, one of the riders realized he forgot a bag with his shoes and helmet. After a quick meeting, they decided to all go back home together. This is team commitment here folks… One for all, and all for one!

Cap’t then call the group meeting to instruct everyone that we will stuck together as a group for the first 9 miles. Yeah right! I know these guys with the fast twitch fibers. It’s like they are wild animals in cages, and the moment when the cage doors are open, they bolt. This is exactly what happens on Mile 2. We were cruising nicely at about 15 mph, the fast guys were dying going this slow, and so The Gear initiated the first move. This brought out Sang then the Tri Crew. Next thing you know, the pack was strung out like a thin rope.

Photo #6 - Tandem Mac and Michelle powering at the front of the pack

Photo #7 - VeloViets stretching thin on a sweeping curve as the speed picks up

Photo #8 - Tim leading the A2 group over one of the hills

Northern San Diego is down right hilly! It’s hill right at the start, and continues all throughout the ride. Our two tandem teams were working hard on every hill. A normal race bike is around 16 pounds, powered by a single engine. A tandem looked to me like it’s at least 40 pounds, and powered by two engines. This means that the workload by a tandem rider is more than that of a rider on a single bike.

Right away on the first hill, our tandem team struggled to keep pace. They were working extremely hard to maintain contact, but not hard enough yet to not keep a smile on their face. They were also getting help from the single riders around. Here are some great tandem shot.

Photo #9 - Billy P attacking the tandem on a hill

Photo #10 - Still smiling from tandem crew Co and Billy

Photo #11 - Big Minh giving tandem crew Mac and Michelle a hand

Photo #12 - Thang, Toan, Tim, and Ngoc at a stop light

After all these hills, I was in no-man’s land by myself between the front A1 riders and the back A2 riders. I was okay with not pushing too hard though because we hit some of the most gorgeous scenery I have seen on a bike. The road was called Harmony Grove, and it is an open sweeping country road filled with farmlands and forest groves. I was blown away by the natural beauty of the view. This road continued for about 5 miles with seemingly not a single car around.

What also kept me going was that Sang was right in front of me about 300 feet, and I focus on him to keep me going at a certain speed. Sang must have noticed me after a while and slowed to let me catch up. Together we made it out of the Harmony forest alive and in one piece.

Photo #13 - Beautiful scenic view with Sang in the distance

Hardship #3 hit around this time, as the route instruction from Map My Ride was wrong. We were supposed to turn right on Del Dios Highway. It happens that at this part of the Del Dios Highway is actually called Valley Parkway, and that there is also a Del Dios Road that intersect our path around this area. Sang and I turn, as instructed we thought, on Del Dios Road and got lost. After stopping and asking for help, we finally got steer back onto the correct route. We lost some time, and were caught by the A2 pack. Together, this group continued on.

Photo #14 - Viet enjoying the ride on one of the descent

We came upon Hardship #4 around the 25 mile mark. The A2 pack came upon the front A1 guys. Initially we were thinking, wow… these guys were nice enough to wait for us. What camaraderie we thought. Wrong… Thomas had a major cut on his tire and could not continue at the speed the A1 guys were riding at. Here true camaraderie occurred, as Sang offered to exchange his tire with Thomas. Sang's reasoning was that he would be going at a slower speed and should be able to manage with a cut tire. We decided to continue to the first SAG stop to exchange the tire.

Photo #15 - The Gear at work swapping Cap't and Sang's tires

During this break, we looked around for water and for a restroom. Surprisingly, in this busy of a village, there were no public water fountain or public restroom in sight. Sang was leading us into fire station, school yard, and all over to try to find a restroom. Finally the folks at a nearby inn were nice enough to let us use their facility. Here is the crew looking relieved after a much needed break.

Photo #16 - Thang, Tan, Nancy, and Chi posing in front of the nice Inn

We found out the reamaining crew were nearby, and hook up with the other half of our group who stop at a liquor store. After this short stop, we continued on.

Photo #17 - Candy and Toan clowning around at SAG #1, while Michelle, Mac, Viet, and Ngoc looks on

Rumor had it that the Purple Monster would reared its ugly head at mile 45. Wrong! The monster actually is the entire ride itself, and it really came out and attacked us after this SAG. Miles 30 to miles 40 was a blur for me and I honestly don’t remember anything during this part. In my attempt to mimic "IronLegs" Cuong by sprinting to the front to take pictures, then sprinting to catch back up to the pack, I had used critical energy and my legs were like lead after 30 miles. I faded badly. Yup… I bonked at Mile 30 on a 100-mile ride. Man, I sure missed IronLegs on this ride!

Luckily we hit the designated SAG #2 Carl’s Junior stop at Mile 45. Everyone also was relieved that we are stopping as we all were pretty much bonked out. Here are some pictures.

Photo #18 - Alex still okay and giving the thumbs-up at SAG #2

Photo #19 - A2 group posing at SAG #2, miles 45

After a call to the front group to try to locate them, Cap’t told us that they were 3 miles ahead at a Costco. A short time later, we found out Costco was across the street and made another call to Cap’t to tell them to come over. Cap’t said that he had just purchased a large pizza, 7 hot dogs, 2 baked chicken pockets, and they were eating. A few minutes later, we saw the A1 group high-tail out of Costco passing Carl’s Junior. The front guys knew that the A2 group were right there with them and were racing hard to keep at the front.

We anxiously made another call to Billy D to find out where they were so we can chase down the A1 group. We found out that Billy P, Billy D, Co, and another rider had stop at a Carl’s Junior at the bottom of the last hill. After a quick debate, we decided that the A2 folks should continue on, while Long and I would wait for the last group. The A2 riders moved out. 5 to 10 minutes later, the last group arrives. Long and I moved out with this crew.

This next 10 miles was real ugly. Tim had mentioned we were going to ride until we see antennas. You know where they mount antennas, and that is at the very highest spot. This is where the Purple Monster was relentless in its attack, punishing us with a long, relentless hill with a 6-8% gradient. On top of this, the weather was cooperating with the Monster, and the hot sun beat down upon our back to further sap us of our energy.

My respect for the two tandem teams grew by leaps and bound during this stretch, as I closely witness the suffering they made on this hill. Michelle's legs were shaking uncontrollably every time she got off the bike, and I can still remember the heavy breathing that Co made as she gasp for dry, hot air in the sunny weather. Mac and Billy were being steadfast, and were pushing a slow punishing pace on their pedals. We must have stopped at least 5 times for break on this stretch, as the sun and hill drained the life-force out of the tandem crew. I was passing out salt pills left and right. Here are some tell tale pictures of this gruesome stretch.

Photo #20 - Bottom of the hill, Michelle and Mac still smiling

Photo #21 - Middle of the hill, with Michelle suffering bad with leg cramp while Mac provides the emotional support

Photo #22 - Long giving a helping hand to Billy and Co

Photo #23 - Candy attacking the hill on his 28-teeth cassette

Photo #24 - Thanh "Danielson" in his environment and enjoying the vicious climb

Hardship #5 hit as we hit our first flat of the ride at around the 55 mile mark. Candy got a flat, and Long and I stay with him as the others continue on. Candy quickly changed the tube and we were off again. We chased back to the tandem crew.

Photo #25 - Candy changing a flat at mile 55 while Long looks on, with Tandem riding off in the distance

Around the 57 mile mark, I realized we lost one of the two tandems and slowed. Billy and Co were really suffering and had slowed considerably. I waited for them to catch up and together we rode to SAG #3 at the 63 mile marker. After a short rest, A2 team moved out.

The next 12 miles were also a suffer-fest as yet again the Purple Monster reared its ugly head. The hilly terrain also were some of the most scenic view of the ride. I noticed there were Blue Agave plants, the stuff that they made Tequila out of, in the distance hill. This blue sort of looked like purple in the distance and made the hills looked purple-ish. I wondered if this was why they called this ride the Purple Monster. We did a quick stop for some much needed relieve.

Photo #26 - Two VeloViets (names withhold) enjoying the open air scenery

Photo #27 - Long and Ride Leader Tim having a good laugh at the stop

This is the part of the route where we had some of the most fun descents, with steep zigzags that exercised your descending skills. Alex almost bit the dust here and barely made it out on one of the curves. We made it to the 75 mile mark and decided to wait for the tandem crew. The Tandems and The Paris Couple arrived 15 minutes later. Here you can see that most everyone had passed out on the rest area.

Photo #28 - Toan and Thang looks like they are "dead" tire.

Photo #29 - Co passing out at Mile 75 while the A2 group recovered

In speaking with Nancy when she first arrive, we discovered the first serious casualty, and Hardship #6, of the ride. Big Minh had cramp on both legs and could no longer pedal. First he cramped on one leg, and he tried to ease up on the cramp leg by working harder with the working leg. This causes the working leg to cramp up so he switches back to the first leg which caused this leg to re-cramp. This went on until both leg cramped, and further rest could not change this painful condition. Big Minh abandoned at the 67 mile mark. Luckily Ana, his wife, came down with him and was nearby to come and pick him up. Viet volunteered to abandon to stay with Big Minh while the rest of the riders continued on.

From miles 75 to miles 88, there were three more serious hills. The A2 group struggled through these monsters, spending whatever reserves they have left. Also recap news came from the front that our Rock Racers managed to return after retrieving their gears at home, and they hooked up with the A1 front group at around the 80 mile mark to help drove the pace of the front group. Greg’s friend, George, and Tri crew Big H were giving Cap’t a run for it as they attacked every hill on the course. Duc T suffered badly from cramps and Iroman Duc helped him out with some cramp blocker pills. The A2 group finally reached the final SAG stop, around where Rock Racers hook up with the A1, to load up on drinks for the last time. The final assault begins...

The rest and a cooling weather brought on additional energy and confidence. Around Mile 95, we encountered cooling sea breezes. This change of weather seemed to kick me out of my senses, and my predator instinct returned as I increased the speed to search out for A1 prey. Sang and Thanh also felt similar strength and the three of us drove hard the final miles. We rolled into Mira Costa College at 7 PM, approximately 11 hours after we started. Total miles were 108 miles as we had encountered extra miles while we were lost. The tandem rolled in 15 minutes later, while the remaining folks rolled in ½ hour later as they got lost in the final stretch.

Speaking to some of the A1 team who stayed behind to wait for us, the front group rolled in at 5 PM, or 9 hours after the ride start. This was about 2 hour more than the A1 time on the Palm Springs Century!

Photo #30 - The Tandem Crew celebrated their huge ride accomplishment

Photo #31 - A very tired VeloViet group posing for the final time at the end of the Purple Monster Ride

The Purple Monster was a hell of a ride, and it punished the VeloViet riders on its scenic terrain. The VeloViet Cycling Club was NOT successful as a team, as we had left behind one of our own as Big Minh suffered badly and did not finished the ride. He had sacrified his own chances to help other members on the route.

Out of this failure there rose a glimmer of a positive future, as our three VeloViet ladies displayed a tenacity, rival to that of "Big Time" riders on other club, to finished this challenging ride. Their respective escorts displayed enduring strength and patience to guide and help them along to accomplished these individual successes.

The A1 team showed us why they are the cheetahs of the bunch, finishing a whole 2 hours in front. The A2 team, large in size and big in heart, displayed teamwork and camaraderie as they helped each other to survive on this route.

There were significant amount of pain and suffering on the ride. It is now time to let the body heal and the mind to forget. It will be a very long time, if ever, will the VeloViets return to the Purple Monster. Too many sacrifices were made and too many hardships encountered throughout the route.

There are too those members who missed the experience riding with the club as a pack on this amazing route. They are anticipating the return of the VeloViets to this rural assault, but now the pain are too fresh, and the wounds are too deep. There have been scars etched inside each member who was on this ride. Only time will tell if the VeloViets will tackle the Purple Monster again.

Until next time,



  1. WOW good recap Phong this is the only way we can share VV story with every body. i can't believe the tandem crew did this ride. Congrad Michelle, Co and Nancy. when i show VV group photo to my friend and point out you 3 lady did over 100 miles they just open thier big eye look at me and said WOW...

  2. Reading this recap makes me feel like I was there seeing A2 in action for entire ride. although it was challenging, you guys had a great time bonding.

    More rest stop, more breaks please is what I can hear from the group. Nice job to our OCVV Ladies. You girls Rock!!!

    Keep riding and hills will be easier. I have another group ride organized in 2 wks. It's called the "ReUnion" ride.

    Look for it in a couple weeks. More hills. hehe. Just in case you are worrying, there's no other hill more difficult than what you just accomplished.

    Congrats to all who made it through the long day.