I’ve been really slow lately. Stuck with the slower group on Ride2Recovery, couldn’t hang with the fast kids (who actually have bad weather keeping them from training) at the Wine Country 100, was so slow on the GCI Relay that we DNF‘d and I have to go back to Florida, and you can see from the last two posts that I rolled in almost DFL on my last two rides in Kentucky and Tennessee.

So, when my GCI teammate and coach Kate of Happy Hour Body suggested I go out for the Helen’s Cycles Women-only group ride, I rsvp’d. (If you don’t want to follow the link, the only relevant detail is that I needed to be comfortable riding 18-20 mph, which hasn’t been the case for the past few weeks) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Won’t be the first time I’ve been dropped.

Saturday morning, I wake up at 5:30, so I can eat and caffeinate properly. I find parking a couple miles away so I can warm up on my way to the start.

I haven’t been on MY road bike in a month and it is a happy reunion. I cruise slowly down San Vicente, compared to my usual breakneck pace. I marvel at how right this bike feels, and think happy thoughts about the virtue of a good bike fit.

When I get to the start, the Helen’s crew is setting up. Women start arriving: older, younger, all shapes and sizes. Men stop by, intentionally and unintentionally snarky, unless they want to borrow the stand pump. Everyone else has a newish road or time trial bike. My vintage bike is an anomaly. The size of my gearing gets me, “You do know we’re going up Latigo, right?”

Right. And I’ve sucked on hills as of late, and haven’t climbed Nichols in months. The specifics of Latigo are unknown to me. I’m not even sure how far north it is. I just know it’s steep, and this is not going to be pretty.

We roll out a little after 8. I’m happy to be headed up PCH in such a large group, two abreast. I’m too focused on the wheel ahead of me to notice speed, but I’m keeping up without suffering. For now.

We make it to the Malibu Country Mart and take a rest stop. It’s determined that some will hang on as long as they can, then turn around. Not long after, we get to the bottom of Latigo, and I take a head start with two other riders while the team members leading the ride wait for the stragglers.

Up, up, at some point I’m told it’s eight miles to the top and note the mileage numbers on my Garmin. I’m not fast, but it’s not the worst day ever. The views are spectacular and the breezes helpful. The women I start with peel off. Others overtake me. The “sweeper” from the team catches up to me and insists on staying with me. Apparently, I’m not last; there’s a group behind.

“When we get to the winery, we’re almost there,” she tells me.


We get to the winery.

Top of the world, ma!




Eventually, it’s determined that no one else is coming up, and the other riders will be swept up on the descent.

I stop for photos when one of the riders loses her front brake.

Some stay behind for repairs. As a slow rider, a timid descender, and no help at all with mechanicals, I take the head start.

When I finally hit the bottom, it’s a long wait for traffic to clear on PCH. The riders ahead of me are long gone. I get my chance and start heading south, wondering if I’ll be alone all the way in. Traffic is heavier as midday approaches. I pass (and am passed by) other groups of riders.

It’s a gorgeous day, and sights and sounds and smells of the Pacific are wonderful. It’s so easy to lock yourself away in your climate-controlled car and miss all of this.

A little after the less-than-fragrant Malibu Lagoon (the bad comes with the good), the riders who had stayed behind with the brake malfunction catch up to me. We ride back in a paceline, the racers up front, the non-racers hanging on for dear life.

After we cross PCH, we have one last big climb to Ocean Avenue, and I still have the legs for it. We all regroup at the start, then go our separate ways.

The ride leaders were wonderful and generous. Looking at my Strava stats, (the Latigo descents are sad – I’m DFL on “down Latigo fast”), it’s not a day to boast about, but I left feeling exhilarated and eager for my next adventure with these women!