BRUTALITY HAS ITS LIMITS
It happened because I joked about it. At the start. With Carson.
“Oh, I have a history with tram tracks! ahaha”
I told him the story of Portland. And the concussion that had removed my memory of what I did for a living for a good few minutes. And the black eye of awesomeness.
I shouldn’t have joked about it. It planted a seed in the day.
A few miles in (if that), I turned a corner, continued the shout-out of ‘tracks’ for those behind me, swerved to avoid a guy taking the corner a little tight and rode right into the money slot of the wet tram track.
BOOM. Down I went. Hip and shoulder took the brunt (and knee as I worked out later from the ache), and yes, I smacked my head briefly on the soggy tarmac.
But I jumped up pretty quick and waved off the ‘are you ok?’’ inquiries as people pedaled by.
I didn’t want to lose touch with the group. I had no idea where I was and my map reading skills aren’t that great, so to keep touch with the group was very important to me. This group was actually already disconnected - we’d got cut off at a red light of a large intersection and watched as the main group powered on ahead of us. Without us. Away.
But in the here and now, I dealt with the here and now. My chain was off, so with my fat gloves still on, I threaded it on. Kept glancing up the road as I turned it back on. Watching as the last red jacket of the last guy rolled off into the drizzly distance.
Chain back on and off I went with a grim determination to keep him in view. To turn where he turned. To hopefully gain some ground.
Rolling freely, I took the opportunity to assess my condition. Did I have any disorientation from my head? Nope. Had I injured myself? Eh, couldn’t really feel anything too drastic, but I was a bit adrenally. I knew I’d landed on my hip, but I wasn’t too bad.
How do you feel?
Fine. I feel fine. Onward!
Rolling along and Slonie passes me with a few other guys. They’re going faster than me, but I calm down a little just knowing that as long as I can keep them in view, I’ll know how to get out of this town!
It’s all a bit of a fog, literally and directionally. I lose touch, but always manage to latch on to some jacket in the distance to watch. Right now, it’s a yellow jacket. But then I lose him too. And then, there he is with two other people on the opposite side of the road riding towards me. Slonie is one of them, and waves over to me to turn and follow as evidently, I’m about to head off wrong way. I cross over and follow as best I can.
We bungle through. Streets and curves. Up a bloody big hill that has three tiers of ugh. In the granny and standing to muscle up, I ride over a paint patch on the road and my rear tire slips out in the wet, ruining my ascent. I have to walk the last little bit of that hill. Jump on and hit the next set of ups. Up, up, up.
At the end of a No Outlet road, I pass Precious over the top of a very high gate to another rider. We head off down the path and I do a dumb thing, considering I am not doing so great hanging with these guys. I stop and take a photo.
It’s raining, so I fumble around and take a really bad shot. Not really worth losing touch with the guys, but I figure I’ll just look at the map and work it out. How hard can it be? About time I took responsibility for my own fate.
All alone, I get to the top of the trail and it veers off to the left onto dirt. I say dirt, but what I mean is mud. I look down the road. It’s like 100 people on bikes have ridden through a giant slushy. All their tracks inches deep. I’m about to learn the true meaning of what it means to be almost the last person to the trail. If it was sticky when the others went down, it’s downright messy now. I stand and look at it. It’s quiet. The rain falls on my jacket with a haha pitterpatter. It’s been doing that all morning.
Another guy rolls up and stops with me.
“I’m guessing it’s this way?” I say, looking down the trail. Three more guys show up. We all head down and up and down together. Sloshing through.
At this point, I’d like to confess something. Yes, I put cyclocross tires on Precious two nights ago. 32s. And while I would say this is the best decision I could ever have made for this ride, I have never ridden cyclocross in my life, nor ridden in mud like this in my life. I don’t have the skills for this. This fact becomes obvious very quickly.
Down slippery, slushy slides I go. With much terror on my face, I fly down fast, slick downhills and hang on for dear life. I try not to touch my brakes too much (though I very much want to, but there’s not a whole lot of point to it), and somehow make it through. Climbing parts are better, though three quarters of the way up a few of them, I swing my leg off at the side of the mud run and have to walk those steep, slushy bits. I’m amazed the guys in front of me are doing it on road bikes. If it’s hairy for me on tires that are built for this, how scary must it be on some 25 road tires? Or even 28s?
The fast, sliding downhill sections are terrifying to me. But I don’t stack it. Close calls. But I don’t stack it. By rights, I should be face first in some shrubbery. I’m surprised I’m not.
At the top of this first section of mud, in a clearing, I find the guys are waiting for me. I am eternally grateful, though I hope I’m not ruining their day for them. One of them turns out to be a friend of Slonie’s, though I don’t know this at that time. A couple of them comment about wishing they’d brought a cyclocross bike. I think “Sadly, I have one but no skill to use it.”
“This next bit is steep.”
Oh, great. Like that wasn’t?
“And there are some switchbacks.”
I decide if it’s too steep I’m just going to walk it. I start out.
Oh, it’s a mess. Tacky on the edge, mushy on the inside. The curves are harsh and they’re no way I’m not going off the end of these. I just don’t have the skills. Even if this was dry, I’d be challenged. Steep, technical, and sloppy. Three things that I have no place being near. So I ride bits of it. And I walk bits of it. My shoes are thick with mud, and I am painted brown with flecks of slushy on my face.
Down, down, down I go, until finally I end up on a gravel road with pebbles like marbles. In some ways, it’s even more tricky than the mud.
But I have made it out alive!
Roll up to the guys in a driveway changing a tube.
After a spell, we roll off down a steepish hill and onward, the mud from my tires and bike is flinging into my eyes at speed. I slip the sunglasses that have been on my head all morning down to my face. I can barely see a thing, but it keep the dirt flying into my eyes and gritting them up. The rain on this downhill feels like needles to my cheeks, and I’m grateful when it levels out.
Up a hill, we turn left, then onto a broken trail through thick growth. It’s flows like a brown river in places, freely shepherding water downhill. I’d lost sight of the guys I was with, but found myself coming up on them again as one made another tube change.
I figure if I keep going they’ll catch me up, so ask for basic advice for up ahead. One guy (John) knows the route, and tells me to keep going until I reach a fork. To go right at the fork. It will be downhill.
From there on, I’m basically to go downhill until I reach highway 1. I feel confident that once I hit highway 1, I’ll be fine. I’ll be better. Life will return to normal. So I head off.
The trail is narrow and beat up, with shrubbery crowding in to touch me in as I go by. I roll on for a while, hoping I haven’t inadvertently gone past the fork. There is a dirt turnoff, but no bike tracks on it, so I know that’s not it. Further on, I begin to think I should maybe have asked how far to go on this trail. Climbing and climbing. I look around - it’s beautiful, even in the rain. In fact, the low fog and rain makes it eerily magestic and I stop when I see a highway over my left shoulder and behind me.
Hell, have I missed the turn? I need to be heading down there. I turn around and go about 20ft when I see my map man coming up the climb.
“Was I going the right way?”
“Yep, keep climbing,” he says, as he continues on past me.
I turn and follow.
At the top, it opens up and I see the fork. See the way down. John’s waiting there, but tells me he’s going to try make the cutoff to do the standard. I thank him and ask if he can show me which turn-by-turn we’re at. My mileage count doesn’t match the map due to some wrong turns, so I just want to be sure.
He heads off with a ‘be careful on the descent’ called over his shoulder.
I would like to thank John for basically baby-sitting me through that section. I made it to the coast, thanks to him.
The descent started out broken and interesting, but not slushy. I stopped to take a photo of the view in the light rain. If it was like this all the way down, I’d be at the coast in no time. I spoke too soon.
Introducing - the mud! While not as gluey as the other trail, this descent is steeper I think, and more straight down in the slush. Brakes are pointless, and as I descend, the rear wheel feels to be slipping more sideways than anything. I make it through section after section, until I come to one steep part that I think - nah, you’ll go down on that for sure. Right before it, there’s a slight off berm that I roll into. When you have zero skills at downhill mudlarking, I think it pays to recognize your limits. So I swing my leg off and tiptoe down this last little bit. It’s so slick, I’m pretty surprised I don’t end up on my ass. When the steepest part is done - there’s still plenty of downhill left to it, I just didn’t want to do one part - I jump on and fly down the rest, sliding to and fro and being constantly diverted to the left of the road with the slope. If I wasn’t scared out of my mind, I imagine this would be quite fun. :)
Eventually, it levels out at some trees and a house and I roll through this last section of solid dirt and out to the PCH. I made it. It was terrible and exciting and wet and frightening and eyeopening and I have never ridden anything like that before and I have never been so happy to see a highway, but I made it.
I consult the map. Stuff it in my pocket just as the two guys with the flat back up on the ridge pull up behind me.
“You made it!” says one.
“Yes! Thank God!”
There is joy in shared achievement. I pull out onto the road and experience relief at the solid wet road. I know how to ride solid wet road. It it my speciality.
It’s not that I haven’t noticed my hip hurting until this point, but there have been enough distractions and things to focus on that I’ve not paid it too much attention. But as I roll along and have some straight road and time to just contemplate the situation, I decide that even if I’m close to making the cutoff time, there’s no way in hell I’m doing the full 100 miles. I’ve had a rough day already and why suffer for suffering’s sake? There will be other chances at glory in my life. Express. Express is my friend.
I roll into the checkpoint. It’s still raining. As I prop up Precious against a pole, a girl approaches me and says:
“So, are you done?”
This catches me a little off-guard. I must look really bad. It’s mile 33 or 34 I guess, and she probably didn’t put it that bluntly, but in my rain-addled mind it felt like it.
“No, I feel fine,” I say, as I give my name to the other girl with the clipboard. The paper is soggy as she flips it over.
I don’t think they’re trying to talk me out of continuing - in fact, they’re being quite supportive - but in my underachieving ‘I really suck at riding bikes’ mind, it feels a little like it. I must look terrible. I’m told that Murphy is bringing all the bags, and apparently some of the people here - I glance over and see some shivering souls - are going to jump on the bus with him and do I want to?
I most certainly do not. And then it hits me. Oh, shit. It’s a time thing. They’re trying to get me to think of the time. I must be really, REALLY late.
“What’s the time?”
“It’s one o’clock.”
Holy shit. Man, I am soooooo slow! The cutoff for the standard route is 2pm. At the NEXT CHECKPOINT!
“Is the express route just straight down Highway 1?” I ask “I think I’ll just do that.”
I haven’t looked at the express route. Not sure where it goes. I’m hoping it’s just a straight run down Highway 1. I explain I feel fine. That I don’t want to stop riding. And that I’ve done the ride down the coast to Santa Cruz before and I know I’m well capable of doing that. Yes, it’s straight down Highway 1 apparently. Yes, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m really happy and excited to keep going. All smiley.
But first, I’m going to stuff my pie hole with some snacks, then push off into the rainy day and get a good day in the saddle. It might not be what I had planned or dreamed, but it will be something. The hip is aching, but not too restricting. This is a plan. I know my limits, and I know when time is against me. Much as I want to do the full route, the weather is terrible and there is NO WAY I would make the route in the time alloted. (I think I’d have trouble on a good weather day, to tell the truth).
Wandering over to the back of the feed station van, I look past the two riders standing there and ask about food.
“There’s nothing left,” says one.
And now I realize that not bringing food with me was a mistake. I had a banana (eaten hours ago), but thought I had some shot blocks and a gel in my pocket. Feeling around my multiple layers, I realized I’d left them in the car. All I had was the one honey stinger waffle that Carson had given me at the start with a ‘you HAVE to try one of these’.
I ripped off my soggy gloves and tore into it. Delicious.
I looked around at the few people at the checkpoint. There were some very shivery people under the awning at the back of the van and I realized that due to some stroke of amazing luck I’d managed to layer up just right. I was not even remotely cold, even though I knew it was pretty chilly with the rain. Dumb luck.
After filling my water bottle, I zip my wind-proof-not-rain-proof, fully waterlogged gloves into the back pocket of my Shower’s Pass jacket and pull from my rear vest pocket a brand new, second pair of gloves. These are rain-specific gloves, so thicker and heavier, with long cuffs and I’ve never worn them. My hands are wet and caked in dirt from fiddling with my jacket and water bottle, so I unzip a few more layers and try to wipe my hands off as best I can on my jersey. Get most of the grit off and shove my hands in. Fleecy. Dry. Delicious.
When I roll out and back onto the highway, just that one little act of putting on fresh fresh gloves makes me feel like a new rider. I feel much better, though I really wish there’d been food there. It also sucks knowing I’m probably the last rider through. Dreams dashed, but hope of riding to Santa Cruz springing eternal. I know of a gas station up ahead (past Pigeon Point lighthouse), where I can buy food if I’m desperate. I know where rest stops are if I need a toilet break. This road is my road. I know this frickin’ road.
It hadn’t really stopped raining all day, but swung from steady to drizzly to light. It’s steady right now, and I roll on happy and free. Get passed by the three guys who’d been at the rest stop (I’d ridden with them on the first section of mud). They have a good train going and off they go. I just bungle along. Me and my head today. Me and my smile.
I ride like this for quite a while. Up, down. Rain. My legs are a bit tight, but ok. Up a long climb, two guys are standing at a roadside yellow phone. They cheer jovially as I crank past.
“It’s not the speed,” I say, grinning. “It’s the determination.” I ask if they need anything, but they say they’re OK. I keep going.
On one uphill, a bus passes with bikes on the back and I figure that it’s Murphy. Confirmed when he pulls over to the right ahead and jumps out. As I roll past, he asks if I think I’m going to make it.
“Yep, I feel great.”
And I mean it. I’m happy and warm and feeling my usual ride feelings. Apart from the niggle of a slight injury, I don’t feel tired or miserable in the rain. Just noodling along at noodle speed. Which isn’t fast but it’s relentless. Rock with Wheels never gives up. Rock with Wheels just keeps on rollin’.
“This is your last sweep chance until the next checkpoint.”
I say I understand, even though I have no idea where the next checkpoint is. I carry on.
A bit later on and I start to think about that checkpoint. Wasn’t it supposed to be somewhere at the 50 something mile point? Maybe I rode right past it? Maybe the Express route actually went inland a bit and I was cheating by riding straight down the coast? Maybe they were wondering where I was? I have no number to text to let them know what I’m doing.
Guilt jumps on my back. A vague recollection of the map going inland. there’s supposed to be around 7,000ft of climbing with the express route, and last time I checked, there was only 2,500 on my garmin. No way I’d get near 7,000 by going straight down the coast.
So, it’s official. I’m cheating. Right here. I’m a cheat.
But strangely, I don’t care. Not right now. It’s raining and I know I can get to Santa Cruz if I stick at this route. I just want to get there. That’s all I want to do.
I see the lighthouse up ahead, and know the gas station is after that, but strangely when I get to the turn off for it I keep going. I just don’t want to stop. It will be a hassle taking gloves off and finding my money. I’m soaking wet now. The gloves have started to fail - weirdly enough, the first to start collecting water is the middle finger, which I think says something. Not sure what. Eventually, the entire lining is wet, but my hands warm it up and it’s not uncomfortable.
I vaguely need a bathroom break, but notice I keep riding past the opportunities at beachside parking lots. I know I can make it. I’d rather not stop.
As I get closer to Davenport, I roll down a hill and spy Slonie at the side of the road fixing something. It’s surprising, and confirms I have screwed up the route. There’s no way I have caught anyone. Down the hill and over the bridge and start to climb, I see John and another guy (who turns out to be @ahpook) and I say hey as I go by.
It’s so nice to see people. I feel like I’m back in an event and not totally by myself out here. I see the checkpoint up ahead at the berry farm. The berry farm with the bike in jam tasting sign I like so much - who wouldn’t want to ride their bike around in jam! Oh, wait. I did that earlier today. It was brown jam on a mountain.
I pull in and get my name checked in, and am delighted to find cookies and sandwiches. The oatmeal cookie is amazing. I have another, and a pb&j. Say hey to a few people, then tear off again. Get this thing over and done with!
Through Davenport and on and on and on and pretty soon back in Santa Cruz and over a railway track and down the road and back at the finish. I say back at the finish because I’d picked Carson up from the finish at 6.30am that morning to drive to San Francisco. Point to point where the end point is where you live but your car is back the start. Oh, the hilarity.
Anyway, I roll in and park the bike and get my name signed off and get changed and I swear, the towel, the dry clothes, the sensation of not being wet - man, alive, what a joy!
Over to the buffet and salmon and couscous and roast beef and potatoes and pasta and food and food and food and beer and can’t talk I’m stuffing it in my face hole. I’m signed up for the 6.30pm bus. This has worked out great.
Now to wait for Carson. I technically don’t have to wait for Carson, and part of me thinks that I should catch the bus, pick up the car, and come back here with Carson’s gear. He’s obviously doing the full course. But I’m not sure how long he’ll be. I’m torn. I let the bus leave - it arrived and left early - and sign on for the 8pm. No skin off my nose, and I want to see the glory of Carson rolling up the ramp after such a huge achievement.
The weather looks to be getting considerably worse. Rain more steady. Temperature dropping into the late afternoon. I eat some more. Have another beer. Talk to some people as we all congregate around the gas heater.
The first couple of guys who’ve done the full 100 roll in. They are shivering and frozen. One stands near the heater and puts his fingers incredibly close to the burner, presumably because he can’t feel them. I let him know about the shower and he heads off.
Before the bus had left and the building was full of people, I’d checked if Carson had been there by texting him. Thought maybe I just couldn’t see him in the crowd. There’d been no reply, so full route it was. At 7.40pm a text came in from him saying he was at the ranger station and in-route. This was worrying to me, and I was really concerned for him. It was getting pretty dark, and I didn’t realize that by ‘in-route’, he’d meant that he was among the guys who’d been huddling at the ranger station and had been picked up.
The 8pm bus came and went, and I was left with a handful of people waiting for the last guys to come in. I ate some soup. Kept looking out the doorway into the fast descending night, wondering when the guys were gonna show. For every soldier who turned up, a cheer, but we were past soldier time. Just get your asses here!
With a sigh of relief, the car pulls up and guys pile out, including Carson. I snag a picture of him, looking relieved and damp. He seems fine and totally relaxed. After getting changed, he eats a truckload of food, drinks a beer and we all share in some bourbon. It’s perfect.
Board a bus, travel back to San Fran, and Carson and I jump in the rogue and drive right back again. The rain is constant and sleep inducing, but I steer us back to safety as Carson snoozes in the passenger seat. There had been talk of him going to a party after this, and I told him that sounded very … young.
I don’t think he went in the end.
Later, when I pull into my driveway, I don’t even give the muddy bike a second glance as he drips in the back of my car. Just wearily climb the stairs to my apartment, jump in the shower to get the mud off me, then crawl in between the most glorious sheets and blankets in the world. There is no nicer thing than your own warm bed at 1am after a long day in the saddle.
Hat tip to Murphy and the gang for what was an epic day, even if I bailed on a large chunk of the experience. The taste I got of the mud was enough for me, I think, and as much as part of me feels guilty for skipping parts of the route, I think I rode within my limits for that day and those conditions. Usually I’m a stubborn asshole who doesn’t think sensibly. For the 2012 Spring Classic, I was a stubborn asshole who knew when to cut bait and run.
Now, to plan my revenge…