My eyes can’t tell my brain about anything it reads that sounds right on the cusp of being a dumb idea, because that’s JUST the kind of thing my brain goes for.
Case in point: My eyes stumble across the words ‘double century’ somewhere - on the twitter wire maybe - and Brain plucks the fruity words off that silly tree and plants their idea seeds deep in some juicy grey matter in a corner behind a filing cabinet. There they fester and grow until one day PING! Brain says let’s do it, skin tube!
Anyhoo, yesterday, I swung my leg over the black and carbon form of Peanut Butter and rode the Solvang Autumn Double. It’s 191 miles and not 200, so I figured our mutual inability to do math would be our bond.
This is the point where I would normally dive headfirst into a 20,000 word writeup about the day. But for serious, who has time for that when they should be finishing a book? And so, I shall give you the 5 CheckPoint tour of my first ever double century that isn’t really 200 miles.
Mile 0 to Mile 32 (Checkpoint 1)
There were two start time options. 6am for if you think you’ll take longer than 14 hours, and 6:45am for if think you have no idea how long you’ll take but figure can do it in the time allotted (18 hours is the cutoff). I ummed and ahhed about that, but if you started at 6 and finished under 14, they said you’d get DQed. I had set a goal in my mind to go under 14 hours, so 6:45 it was.
We gathered in the dark out the back of the Marriot in Buellton, then shouted out our individual race numbers as we rolled single-file past the start.
As per usual, I start ok, but fizzle pretty quickly. I don’t want to go too fast too early, and I don’t feel so great. It’s quite hilly in some of the beginning parts. After crossing Highway 154, I latch onto a paceline of about 5 people, lead by a tandem. We work well for a while, then I accidently get dropped trying to fish a gel out of my pocket. Oh well. I’m more of a soloist anyway.
Foxen Canyon Road becomes becomes foggy, mysterious and a marvelous speedy funtimez all the way to the checkpoint. I had been worried I was wearing too much stuff at the start line (no one else seemed to have knee warmers on, and some didn’t even have armwarmers), but I was very grateful for all the warmth in this section. It was a heavy fog.
Rolled into the checkpoint in Sisquoc. Ate a brownie. Snagged some Heed and water. Ate a half PB&J sandwich.
Mile 32 to mile 54.7 (Checkpoint 2)
This section included the first noted climb of the ride, and I kept waiting for it to turn up. But it was one of those climbs that goes gradually, levels out, goes gradually, has a couple kicks from time to time. Nine miles of this, from memory. It was a lot of shaded riding, and quite pretty. The best part was it lead to an amazing descent. Just super fun. Not incredibly technical and an amazing view near the top. The only stop I made on this entire ride, I made near the top just because I had to. Though I took a shitty picture.
Mile 54.7 to 95.7 (Checkpoint 3)
Started to feel pretty good around the 70 mile mark. Found that rhythm I have where I can just stick in it and ride for ever. Couldn’t find any wheels to latch on to. Was picking off people for a while, and would occasionally get passed by a soloist going a tad too fast. There were some really nice stretches of road on this segment including a fast run down to a very long, curving bridge. Either side of it was broad river basin I guess. Need to look it up and see what that was. The kind of valley floor you expect to see bison on.
There is no good time to get stung by a bee. But I will say there is a very bad time during a double century. It’s when you’re looking for a little park on the left hand side of the road where lunch will be. Lunch, a very important thing. So let’s say you’re rolling down a hill and you know the park is soon, but all of a sudden, a bee flies into your open jersey and stabs you in the chest.
Argh! You look down and see the little jerk with his stinging little butt stuck in you and you’re not stopping (because that doesn’t occur to you and you’re going quite fast) and you ‘gahhh! eeek!’ and brush it quickly away with your hand. But then you’re not sure if it’s gone further into your jersey or you got it out, so you’re looking wildly down the front of your jersey, but you can’t see anything. And then you see the stinger and you try brush that off and holy hell all of a sudden it’s stinging like crazy, but the stinger is on your finger so at least that’s out.
Then you spend the next couple of minutes as you roll along wondering if if the bee is in there, before deciding it’s not.
So that happened.
I saw a guy up ahead with a double century jersey on and decided to follow him to the lunch spot. Then the town sort of ran out and I panicked a bit - had I missed the lunch spot while that bee was stinging me? The guy was riding through and I saw more town on the other side of a stretch of empty, so figured he must know where he was going.
There was much hope for a turkey sandwich and something to put on a bee sting. It never occurred to me that the guy in front had perhaps already been to lunch back at the bee sting zone. I stopped in front of a shopping center. Checked my iphone map. Crap. I missed the lunch spot and I was completely out of water. The next section had a big climb in it, and it was hot, so I did what any logical person would do: I went into Starbucks and grabbed two bottles of water and an oatmeal cookie. Their sandwich area was completely bare. Outside I googled a gas station and found one on the way out of town. Grabbed some beef jerky there (it’s always been a great pick-me-up for me).
Felt a bit discombobulated, but carried on. I still had loads of snack things in my pockets. Honey stinger waffles (LOL), some lara bars. A gu or two. Just not a turkey and swiss sandwich. :(
Mile 95.7 to mile 136.2 (Checkpoint 4)
The 5 mile climb at mile 100 of this ride is kinda poopy. Prefumo Canyon Road, if you ever wanna give it a go. It had some steep pitches in it, but also yielded some fantastic views once you got up out of the trees and to the open areas. Can do a 360 and see forever in pretty much every direction. If I weren’t trying to break 14 hours, I would have stopped to take photos. Also, when I’m on a tough climb I don’t like to stop unless absolutely necessary. There was a photographer and a volunteer at the top of one section and I pulled over. They offered water and snacks - I decided that was absolutely necessary.
Pismo Beach flew by, and the ocean looked gorgeous. Such a pretty area. At the checkpoint in Guadalupe, Peanut Butter fell over in a gust of wind while I ate a snack size Mars. I was too tired I think, to realize I’d propped her up very clumsily against the curb. First sight of delirium? Nah, just idiotic as per usual.
Mile 136.2 to Mile 170.3 (Checkpoint 5)
Here’s a weird thing - the further I rode, the better my legs felt. It actually seemed like I was getting faster. I’d do a checklist of things that hurt and found nothing too scandalous. Except for the following.
These miles, between checkpoint 4 and five, seemed to be flush with up and downs. The climbs weren’t super steep, just long, and the descents didn’t steal back the time I’d lose on the climbs. But I became aware, on one of these climbs, that the thing that ached most was my damn face. From all the grimacing. It hurt. My damn face hurt and ached like blazes. I’d keep trying to relax, to stop grimacing, but the combination of the slowly dying sun and my general gritting through things would spasm it up into a hard grimace that must have been very unattractive to passersby.
Still, it was a little funny to me. The thing that hurt most was my face.
The most I can say about this section is that I will always have the memory of the long ups and fast downs of Highway 1. With all those miles in my legs by this stage, every time I’d see a long slow uphill, I’d groan a little. Then grit it out. But I could practically sniff the finish. By the time I rolled into checkpoint 5, at the Home Depot in Lompoc, I was feeling pretty spectacular. I took a little longer at this checkpoint to eat some chicken noodle soup. It was DELICIOUS!
Mile 170.3 to Mile 191 ish (Finish)
Turning on to Santa Rosa Road, I was glad that it was pretty much a straight shot home from here. I didn’t really have a light to look at my directions while riding, and my bike computer didn’t have a light either, so I wouldn’t be able to read the miles to see when to turn. Darkness fell hard and heavy, and there was no moon. Just my bike, my headlight and I. Out in the darkness with no traffic to speak of. I hammered along in the tunnel of light and wondered how far I had to go.
About a mile from home, I made a wrong turn and ended up on a dead end road. Quickly backtracked and made the right turn, and before I knew it I was rolling back into the parking lot of the Marriott. I stuck my head in the door of the check in room. 306 hath arrived and your double not double century is slain!
After check in, I rolled off and around to the other side of the hotel, briefly contemplating finding another 9 miles to round it up to 200. But then brain came to its senses. It said to body “Room Service. Beer. Movie”.
And I thought that sounded pretty darn swell. But I added Shower to that list and proceeded to execute the plan.
12hr 34mins. Glad I didn’t opt for the 6am start.
The problem with riding with people who are FAR better than you is that they can blow up your legs on the first climb of the day. But they don’t actually blow up your legs. You do. Because you want to keep up.
That said, the awesome thing about riding with people who are FAR better than you is that many of them begin to act as sherpas and give you the moral support you need to get up dumb climbs in a poorly chosen cassette.
Which is what I did yesterday.
But I’m jumping ahead. Yesterday, I ponied up to go do The Big Easy with a bunch of people from work, including Mike S. The Big Easy is his ride. An infamous ride. I’d always wanted to know where it went, and this was my chance. Sadly for me, I turned up and found out that it was actually going to be a ‘tweaked’ Big Easy. In fact, not really the Big Easy at all. This was the Roubaix ride. A ride with plenty of road surfaces and conditions that are right up the Roubaix’s alley. So a local had worked out the route - a mix of climbing, descending, some dirt - and off we went. Everyone on the ride was riding either a Roubaix or Ruby.
It was a corker.
The first climb of the day was up Old Santa Cruz highway, turning to climb a steep bit of Mt. Charlie Road, before crossing over 17 and going down Mt. Charlie Road.
That climb up was ok, and I stuck with the group for maybe half to 3/4 of it before the pace got too much and I found myself slipping back through the group. Wehan commented “You going back to get bottles for everyone?” and we laughed. There was no SAG.
I watched everyone pull away, and lamented my fatness.
Speaking of Wehan, he stayed with me. Had said just before the start, “We’ll swap that cassette out before Levi’s GF.” and I knew by the way he was looking at it that today would be tough for me. Looking around at everyone’s cassettes, it looked like most were running something like maybe an 11-28? My 11-25 (which 50/34 at the front) was going to be a challenge if we went up any really steep grades. And face it, we’re in the Santa Cruz mountains with a bunch of people who like to climb. And so when we turned onto Mt Charlie steep bit, I just gritted my teeth and up I went, brow furrowed and sweat stinging into my eyes. Cricket had dropped back to make sure we made the turn and he and Wehan climbed together.
“It’s just a couple of steep pitches, then gets better, more manageable,” said Wehan, and off he went. I followed behind, keeping them in view.
I found everyone waiting at the top, chatting. And thus began the standard ‘last person to arrive, so least time to recover and eat anything’ routine. That’s my punishment. My legs were blown and that was only the first climb. Today was not going to go well, I could tell. I can climb all day. But not if I try to go too fast on the first climb.
Descending Mt Charlie Road was a trip. Rough as guts and fast and technical. But fun. At one point I was with Sophie twisting and turning.
“How is everyone going so fast on this!?” she yelled. I had no idea. I was being a little conservative due to poor road surface and because I had never been on that road. Couple of sharp “catch you off guard corners” on that thing. The whole time down I’m thinking “Man, this would be great to climb”, a thought confirmed by several people at the bottom. Many had never come down it before, either. Most people go up.
We rolled into Scott’s Valley and stopped at a Peets. Mike S immediately ordered up 17 espressos, I think. If not 17, 19, and we kicked around sipping at ‘em. I ended up double fisting two, as there were leftovers, and chatting with Chuck.
Legs completely caffeinated (and feeling much better), we rolled out and down Glen Canyon Road. AMAZING descending. So much fun. You can bet your ass I’ll be riding that one again. Some meandering, a bit more climbing, then stopped at a store where someone tried to fix my gear changing issue (skipping/catching a bit). Rear derailleur is slightly bent again. Need to get that fixed. Ugh. The gear changing got worse as we climbed up Soquel/San Jose and I was pretty much stuck in the granny but wanted to be one gear up from that. It just wouldn’t keep quiet, so I stayed in the lower gear. Very frustrating.
Once again, Wehan stayed with me, riding behind. He said he’d fix it properly, and I stupidly said “let’s wait until we get to the top”. I didn’t want to keep everyone waiting longer than normal.
But we didn’t go all the way to the top, as it turns out, turning right onto Stetson Road and having a break. I held his bike while Wehan adjusted mine. I realize now I should’ve eaten while he was doing that. Bad day for keeping the nutrition up. So stupid. Wehen did a good job and it was reasonably smooth again, but then he left with a few other peeps to go back to the cars. They had other stuff to do.
I’d just lost my sherpa. :(
I dangled off the back as we started up the road, chatting with Rita about a crazy thing we’re contemplating doing, then began dangling further. Mike and Rita stayed just in front of me, so I tried to keep them in sight.
It got steeper. Longer. More frustrating and painful for me.
Aaron drove past and yelled out the window, “Having fun?”
I nearly died on Skyland. Legs screaming. Came to a corner to find Rita and Mike making sure I was still there I guess.
“How’s that cassette working out for you?” asked Rita, and I didn’t answer for a bit.
“Silence,” she laughed. “That’s a good answer.”
Mike asked her if that’s what the bike was spec-ed with. It’s not. It’s my field test bike. It’s what it came with and I never got it changed. Such a dork. Really regretting it now. The ache in my quads was INTENSE and burning and I could feel acid in them. Gurgling. It was soooooo hot, to boot.
For the first time in a very long time riding my bike, I felt ill. Physically ill. I kept going. The climb was never ending and I was truly angry now. Could feel the anger on my face with my eyebrows knitted and my eyes beady little balls of vitriol.
I got to the top and finally, a descent. I follow Mike down.
We pulled up next to the group on Highland way intersection. I stood next to Rita and looked at my Garmin. We’ve only gone 40 miles and today is supposed to be 85 but if I have to do one more climb in this cassette with these legs I am not going to make it.
I am not going to make it. I know this. It’s kind of crushing.
“I’m done,” I said. I had to say it. It was the smart thing to do. But I knew where I was. I knew that if I followed Highland, I’d end up on Summit, then I could just drop down Old Santa Cruz Highway and be at the reservoir, and this would be all over.
There were attempts to keep me going.
“The next bit will be beautiful!” said Mike, and he was so enthusiastic I almost cracked. The next climb would not be fun. I knew it. And the dirt was still to come.
“No, thanks Mike, but I’m done,” I said. Sad, but true.
D’Aluisio and his wife were heading back, so I latched on for what turned out to be a frickin’ glorious ride back. I felt better immediately, staying on the roll of Summit, keeping a decent pace and just enjoying the thought that today was nearly over.
The descent down Old Santa Cruz was incredibly fun. I carved corners and leaned in hard and fast. Followed Carm’s lines (if you have an opportunity to follow an ex-pro, it’s great to see the lines they take and learn from it). A short stint on 17 to Alma turn and OMG, I was so happy to be back at the Rogue.
It was incredibly hot and when I took my helmet off, I’m pretty sure my head made a noise like a pot releasing steam. I had an unopened jug of water stashed under the passenger seat, and it had amazingly remained cool in the heat of the car. Water ran out of my mouth and down my chin as a guzzled at it. The most heavenly thing ever, and I couldn’t imagine how I would’ve fared had I kept going. Had I tried to pretend I was fine and stick it out.
I drove around in the wrong direction for a bit, then ended up driving down the main drag in Los Gatos. Nice area. I turned off the 17 and drive back down Summit to turn onto Soquel San Jose. I saw Sophie by herself heading back on Summit, then a mile or so later, saw the rest of the group turning to go down Soquel themselves. No idea where they were going, but yelled out something encouraging to Rosie through the passenger window. Dunno if he heard me.
Still, it was a great awful day. Got to ride some great roads with a great group of people, and somehow managed to get some QOMs in the process. Which, upon reflection, is probably a result of gutting it out on that cassette. If you have easier gears, you use them. If you don’t, you soldier on! Actually, I’ll fess up. Two of them were for descents. :)
MEAN FEATS: IN WHICH DEATH RIDES A PALE HORSE
That’s a weird looking dog.
It was up ahead on the road, trotting down the center line of the climb at me. In the dappled shade. A weird looking dog. Or that’s what I thought. For a second or two. And then I thought this:
That’s no dog. That’s a coyote.
The thing about not knowing your woodland creatures, America, is that I don’t know your woodland creatures. But I recognized the gait. The greyish coloring. The ears. Mangy beast.
What to do? He made it easy, shyly ducking off the side of the road and disappearing. I cautiously rode past the spot looking down where he disappeared, and there he was, looking back. Waiting patiently for me to pass.
So I passed. But I kept looking back. And back. And back.
He popped out of the shade and looked once in my direction, then trotted off again in the direction he was originally going. In the middle of the road. REBEL! A bobcat last week. A coyote today. Wildlife bonanza!
Seeing ol’ Wylie is probably the highlight of my slightly insane tour of the Santa Cruz mountains. Though I saw a banana slug (or 100), and deer and such. And climbed. Oh boy, did I climb today. I didn’t think it was affecting me all that much, right up until the end (which was mostly downhill). And then I swear, Highway 9 has never seemed so long. It just WOULD NOT END. My knees were a little angry, but mostly I was just tired. Tired and slightly still cold-sick.
All-in-all, a good day. 88 miles. Just over 10,000ft in elevation gain. I hurt like a hurty thing.
Ride report and map below.
THE INSANITY OF SUFFERING
I am rolling down a fast, long stretch of wooded downhill on Smith Grade. Flying. Air, chilled by the shade and eager to flash by my ears, whistles through spokes and dries a salty sweat crust on my face.
Empire Grade put that crust there, with its long slog of sun-baked grade and its home-court advantage. The ‘not-knowing-what-to-expect’ rube-ness of the first-time rider who was testing her legs on an unexplored road. A rider who did not know how far the climb stretched on for, and whose only option was to keep her head down and focused, just kept slogging. Just kept slogging.
Ice Cream Grade had been the relief. The turn. With its instant cool and comforting redwoods. Quiet and fun. And now, Smith Grade continued the downhill trend, with a freewheeling momentum run that would eventually re-connect to Empire Grade. A loop-de-loop.
I smile. Once I get to that, I’ll be on a downhill that will effortlessly—for the most part—take me all the way to Santa Cruz.
But for now, Smith is rolling, fast and furious. There is no traffic sound. Just the woodsy orchestra of snapping twigs, unidentified creatures in the undergrowth, bird sounds and the whir of thin rubber on asphalt. My hub clicks away, loudly and with glee.
I am going fast. It feels steep. I smile.
“Man,” I think. “It must really suck doing this in the other direction. “
Gently squeezing brake levers, I take an unfamiliar corner on this acne-faced road. Bumps and shimmers. On and on and down and down and now there’s the trickle of water and the sound of a car crawling up.
We bottom out, my bike and I, and I climb a little rise that stretches up slow and easy. To my right, I see the tops of giant trees as I look out across a view that I should probably stop to photograph, since it gives contexts to climb. But I’m feeling selfish. I want to keep this for myself. In my head. This time, that image is mine.
Round a curve and a slight downhill and it hits me again. How much it must suck to do Smith Grade from the Empire Grade end. Horrible. What a grind.
Some farms wave from in amongst the trees and it opens up a bit. I roll down again, then up and into thicker trees again. A foam mattress by the side of the road. A couch, with a pattern straight out of the 70s sits perched off the dirt shoulder and half stuck in a tree fork. Coach surfing in the forest?
I’m definitely climbing now, and it’s reminding my quads about Empire Grade earlier. Of how I’d kept on churning. I’d passed a guy wearing Vans on a flat-pedaled single speed and wondered how he kept his mojo going on that climb. Thought about saying, “This is hard enough with gears” as I passed, but kept that to myself. Remembered what it’s like when someone says something dumb like that and you’re just in your own little cave of hurt and that hot rush of a thought that makes you want to punch that person right in their comment-giving face. So, I’d passed him without saying a word.
Stay in your own pain cave. Focus on yourself. Just breathe and keep going.
But I’m not really in a pain cave now. I’m just climbing my way up to the Empire Grade intersection and I feel vaguely strange. Not in a bad way. Dissatisfied? Is that it?
I am actually in my granny gear, so I guess I am working reasonably hard now. This is not so easy. Not so easy. Getting close to the end of Smith though, so downhill coming up. So, there’s that.
Flash thought: It must really suck doing this the other way, with that climb at the end. That climb that was such a great downhill run. That must really be horrible to climb.
And now I’m grinding up a long stretch. There’s a pre-sign, sign indicating a STOP sign ahead. The Empire approacheth.
It must really be a torturous thing, doing Smith Grade in the other direction. I puff and squint and think about how hungry I am, and the trail mix bar in my pocket. I think about how warm it is and how happy I am to have put sunscreen on.
Smith Grade in the other direction: that must blow chunks of hate vomit out of the exhaust pipe of the ‘this was a dumb idea’ wagon.
Here comes the Empire Grade turn off. Here it comes.
I do the only logical thing a person can do when they approach the end of a climb and just need to turn right to find some lovely down hill that leads straight to Santa Cruz. I do the only sane thing. The only honorable and true thing.
I turn around. I do Smith Grade in the other direction.
Suffering is a dish best served.
Take it. Don’t forget to say thank you.
A CENTURY WITH 40 MILES OF BLOW (no, not that kind)
Though could you imagine 40 miles of blow!? Wow. Need one heck of a mirror. But I digress.
This morning I took off early. Into the North. Into the the wind. Alongside the ocean.
On Highway 1.
I figured I would be able to tolerate a headwind for 50 miles out if I knew that once I turned around it would be a tailwind for 50. This theory is now proven, but the ‘tolerate’ part was actually pretty difficult. It was fine for the first 10 miles or so, getting out of Santa Cruz and onto the highway. And then the wind picked up and it became the aforementioned ‘40 miles of blow’.
It got progressively worse and was, at times, the kind of wind that makes you second-guess your presence on a bike. Mostly when you’re on a downhill that would normally be super fast, but the wind is pushing you backwards, then crosswind gusts practically lift you at speed and it’s a fight to stay on the shoulder at all. I didn’t like those gusts very much. Sketchy-time. There were also a few sand-blast sections. Not fun either.
It was a brutal thing, that wind. I kept pulling the Garmin out of my back pocket (don’t have a mount for loaner bikes) to see how far I had to go until I could turn around. Made for a very long ride out there. Add to that some some nice climbs in the mid 40 mile section which were even more irritating with wind in my face.
But I plugged on. It took me a while at the start there to get used to the SRAM Red (first time I’ve ever used it and no-one gave me any instruction on it when I picked up the bike). Very steep learning curve and not very intuitive. But I forgive it all for the slick frickin’ gear changes once you get the hang of it. Man. *Blip* and it’s there.
With the 50 mile mark creeping closer, I can’t lie: I was feeling very very drained. Perhaps this was a bad idea? A century which includes half into the wind. I’d been eating quite a lot, and trying to drink more than I had for last weekend’s century (got very dehydrated afterwards and had a headache that could kill a brown dog), but was still not feelin’ so hot. But got no out. No one to come pick me up. No SAG. What can I do? Just keep going. I was so happy to turn around. Thought about going all the way to Half Moon Bay, but at 50.3 I was just ‘nope, turn around!’. It went quiet. I could hear the bike and myself. Zoom Zoom. Bliss. Those first few minutes felt like flying with the wind to my back.
It wasn’t a total tailwind though. Was coming NNW, so cross/tail that turned depending on how it felt. A couple of times climbing it was literally pushing me uphill, which was much appreciated. Other times, it was more fully NNW, but still helping. Hey, who am I to complain? As long as that wind wasn’t punching me in the face, I did not care.
It’s also hard to care when you have so much pretty to look at. I’ve driven this part of the PCH before, and remembered stopping at Pigeon Point lighthouse when a fog was rolling in a few years back. I tried to pull in and get close again this time, but it was SUPER gusty out there on the point. Had trouble holding the iphone still to take a photo. Did not dawdle there.
I’d run out of water, so pulled into a little gas station to stockpile. While standing at the counter, my Garmin kept beeping on and off (set for pause when stopped), so I stopped it so it wouldn’t annoy anyone. Sadly, I forgot to turn it back on when I got back out on the road and by the time I remembered, I guess I’d lost about 3 miles. Which meant that I would not have my full century on the Garmin for my Strava, and I get all narky about stuff like that. No choice but to ride a bit further when I got back to Capitola. What a drag.
Fortunately, the ride back was heaven. Just cranking along with the wind at my back or slightly from my right rear… if you know what I mean. Super fun. Good times. Everything clicking and the weather fantastic.
When I got back on Soquel, I continued on until I hit 100miles, then turned around to go home. Swung by the Taqueria on the corner near my house and snagged a Carnitas burrito, then home and shoveled that thing straight into the pie hole. It was heaven, especially with the freezing cold beer I’d stashed away for the end of this ride.
As hard as those 40 miles of blow were (and they really were), the ride back was worth the pain. I think it’s better to front load the ride with this pain - makes the return run totally worthwhile. I was averaging almost 18mph for the 40 miles back to town, compared to 11mph on the way out.
Two weekends of centuries. February has been a good month.
Yesterday, I set out to explore a bit of terrain. Thought I’d head down to Carmel - to Sea Otter actually - and make a day of it. But as is the way with first time routes, I stopped to take a lot of photos, so my ‘turn around wherever you are at noon’ plan meant I turned around earlier than planned. I actually turned around at 11.30am because I wasn’t sure where the route went at the turn to Carmel and I wanted to be back by 4pm.
Never mind, I was at 51 miles at that point and I figured a century is a century and that’s a good day in the saddle.
17 Mile Drive was very scenic, as was the recreation trail toward Monterey, but the ride to get there through miles and miles of berry, artichoke, and other assorted farms was a bit dreary. Think it would be a good training ride, but scenic-wise, it’s a bit blerg. Biggest issue was on the way back and crossing Highway 1 to get to the other side. Man, Sunday sure ramps up the traffic. There were just no breaks to get across. Was very glad there was a turn lane in the middle at my intersection so I could at least do it in two parts. The headwind/crosswind also made for a bit of a grind home. I had been expecting that, and was just grateful it wasn’t too blustery.
I made the mistake of saying the route was flat, and I guess in my mind it seemed flat in comparison to some of the rides I’ve been doing lately. Judging by how I fell asleep pretty spectacularly after eating when the ride was over, and how sore my legs are today, it was still a pretty solid day.
Smiles all round. That was my punishment for not going to the ‘hopper in Occidental. I was fine with the 3 hour drive to get there, and the ride itself, but I couldn’t bear the thought of the 3 hour drive back after a day like that. Maybe I’ll do the next one?
DO NOT FEAR THE DEER
I’ve overdressed. I realize this pretty quickly as I spin along the flat and wide avenues of Morgan Hill. Down Butterfield. Turn left on E Dunne Ave. Fly over the freeway and straight line it toward the hills.
I’ve overdressed. The beanie is too much, the long fingered gloves too claustrophobic, and the wind vest over the long sleeve jersey over the base layer, over kill! I won’t even be able to peel arm warmers off. Long sleeve was a bad idea.
It’s pretty early, about 8.45am, and already mid-40s I guess. I look down the long avenue ahead of me and toward the first climb. A little warm-up stab. Thomas Grade. It’s not long, and I think it’s one of those local tiddlers that people do for a lark. Try to get a great time on. For some reason, I think of Nannygoat Hill. A lot of towns in Australia have a hill the locals lovingly call ‘nannygoat hill’. Steep. Unofficial name. Driving instructors make you do your hill start test on it.
Perhaps Thomas Grade is Morgan Hill’s nannygoat?
I’ve looked on the map. After this climb, it’s a left onto E Dunne again for a 10 mile spin, almost 7 of which will be climbing. It will deposit me just past the entry to Henry W. Coe State park. Seven miles. That’s a lot of climbing, and I’m already hot. This is going to be horrible.
At a red light and it’s gloves off. I swap them with the short fingered gloves I’ve stashed away in my pocket. Beanie off. I look up at where the hills should be. It’s foggy still. There’s a chance I guess, that views will be obscured once I get up there if the fog hangs around. This could be a long climb for a view of water hanging in the air. But if I know anything, it’s this: Fog can be just as pretty as sunlight, and it certainly sets a certain mood stage. This might end up being a long climb for some nice shots. On an iphone.
Thomas Grade is curvy and a little howler. A little challenger, but totally manageable. I get a silly grin on it as I swoop around a switchback and past a guy taking his wheelie bin off the street. My jaunty ‘good morning!’ catches him a little off guard, but he waves and says good morning back. I’m grinning because it’s kinda fun, but also because I’ve decided to be a total tourist today. No ‘get to the top as fast as I can’ efforts. Just roll on up and stop and looky-loo out at this and go ‘oh my oh my’ at the pretties.
A glance up again. The fog. Well, if I can see any pretties.
At the top, I turn, then roll for a bit down E Dunne. Slight-right it down into a corridor of trees. The road is wet and slick, probably from the fog settling, so I take it gentle gentle like. Up a curve, a short climb, and to my left I see a body of water down below. Anderson Lake. Stop. Take a photo. Continue on. Up a little again, then down toward a rusty bridge that spans the neck of the lake inlet. I see men in two boats and can hear them clearly talking to each other, though I’m a long way off as I stop to take a photo of the bridge.
“Which way do you want to go?”
I see one man gesture and the voices carry seconds after. A motor roars to life and they’re off, white wake streaming out behind them.
Two deer scare the absolute poop out of me by suddenly popping up out of the bushes and onto the road. It appears I’ve had to same effect on them and they jolt to a halt and give me the high-earred stink eye. But they don’t run away. Just stand and glare. I break eye contact first, because I am timid when faced with glassy-eyed creatures, and leave.
Dear deer, Have your stupid road. I don’t care. Bambi kisses, J
For a while, I ride along down beside the lake. It’s easy and pleasant and I’m frequently startled by unexplained noises coming from the undergrowth. Quick glances and I might see a bush move or leaves scatter. But never the thing that does it. Up a little further on and half the road has fallen away, creating an instant one lane. A bit further up, past an old barn or house, I turn and the climb has actually begun. A road sign has announced this via a squiggly line with an arrow pointing up up up for 6 and a smidge miles.
This is the kind of climb I like. I say this to myself several times during the next however long it takes me. It’s not super steep - just a grinder. A series of ups and respites. Switchbacks with wide guts you can arc around to smooth out the grade.
When I hit the fog ceiling, my world view becomes a little narrow. I can’t see out to my left, where I presume there’s probably a view of some sort. All I see are spooky trees, dark and ominous in the gloom. Natural fog blinders allow me to focus on the task at hand. Which is simply to keep climbing.
The road snaps, crackles and pops beneath my wheels. It’s cracked all over with moss in its wrinkles, making a natural asphalt mosaic with tiles that shift and tinkle as I roll. A strange sound to hear, but much of the road looks like this. Much of the road also looks pretty sketchy and I realize that the surface is just one more thing I’ll have to contend with on my descent. Along with the slick, wet road, and drivers who seem to cut blind corners as though blind themselves.
I reach a section with a slight downhill, then up again. A spooky tree with a dam, some cows. Must be near the top by now, surely. Roll. This mix of flat and downhill must be what diminishes the overall grade for this climb.
The fog that settled its dewy touch on me on the way up, beading on my sleeves and fogging up my glasses, is now a freeze ray. I’m just plain wet now, and the rolling sections are cutting through to the skin and chilling me. Funny. What I thought was overdressed at the bottom is now pretty essential at the top. Though not cold enough to put the beanie back on, the wind vest is proving invaluable.
The most difficult part of the climb occurs right after a cattle guard, and I see later on Strava that someone has named this segment Post Cattle Guard Wall. It is a bit wall like, but doesn’t last long either, and not long after I’m at the sign indicating the entry to Henry W. Coe State Park. The road keeps going, so I do too. Until it completely runs out. Dead end at a campground. Bear proof trash cans.
Oh. Bears. I forgot about them.
Trees trees and more trees out in front. I stand and look for a few minutes, chewing on a banana and listening. It’s quiet. Peaceful. But no time to dilly dally. Standing around just makes me colder, so I turn and begin to make my way back.
Long fingered gloves for the descent as I watch fog roll quickly over the hills. Just when I think it’s clearing, it seems to roll in again. Down I go. Deeper and deeper and finally it seems to be clearing out. I screech to a halt as I round a bend. At last, a view. The fog had kept this secret from me on the way up, so I had no idea it was here. And now, looking out, I see I’m actually a fair way up. There’s a body of water way down below and far off. California stretches out.
The road is a bit finicky in places, though it’s not a white knuckled descent and I allow myself to pick up speed in a few fun places without getting too freaked out about it. When the road buckles down and sags, I slow and avoid. Broken pavement and crumpled edges, I dodge. A cyclists rounds a bend before me and I wave to him as he ascends. A smile and a nod. Before long and I’m back to the section of road that’s half fallen away. Fun’s over. Now I just ride.
Deer in backyards. Turkeys (or turkey buzzards, I never know the difference) strut off the road in their own lazy time. A little climb and back into houses and walkers and leaf blowers.
I screaming down E. Dunne Avenue and it’s pretty much over.
Should I head over to Uvas and maybe Watsonville to get extra miles in? Nah. Gotta pick up a car in a couple of hours. Besides, I should save some miles for tomorrow. Stretch out my last few days with Ruby. She’s a good girl. I will miss her non-groaning bottom bracket when I find myself back on Baby next week.
SMELLS LIKE QUAD SPIRIT
“I was lying in bed when I woke up dead”*
Yeah. I would have loved to have a little sleep in today, but work is on my calendar tomorrow, and I think this is my last day with Ruby. Wanted to make it worthwhile.
I cleaned her up yesterday, plotted a course based on E’s route (did the first half yesterday, going for the second today, though i can’t imagine doing it all in one go like he does), and snagged some breakfast treats from the fancy hotel spread before rocking out the door at around 8.30am.
It started out pretty easy - a noodle along the flat and mellow Coyote Creek Trail - before turning toward the first climb on Metcalf at about 10 miles in. I knew the climb was gonna be terrible and hot, so I peeled off the arm warmers (which were overkill with the long sleeve jersey anyway), and debated changing to short gloves and taking off the beanie. But it was still chilly willy time. Um. Ah. Um. Left ‘em on.
As soon as I started, I knew that was a mistake. Too many layers.
The climb curled up like a cat tail around the mountain’s body and I could see the top corner, which I hoped was the last (NOTE: It wasn’t). 13% grade is the average for this climb. It goes for almost two miles. Unzip the windvest. Unzip the jersery. Baselayer, wet, yet weirdly cooling on my chest and belly. Climb on.
For some reason, I got it in my head that I wouldn’t stop and just ram it on up there like a pipecleaner in barrel. Something about wanting to keep my Strava time honest, or some such bullshit. But I turned on a nasty switchback and up and up, then happened to glance off over my right shoulder while standing on my pedals on a steep bit and went ‘woah, that’s a good photo’. If I learned anything from my tour, it’s this: When you see something like that you stop. Because you’ll kick yourself for the rest of the ride that you didn’t get that photo. Believe me. I’ve done it.
Halt. Snag. Post. Onward.
That little break actually gave me a bit of a breather that I probably needed and off I went again. And went. And went. Holy buckets, this climb goes on forever. Quads burning, head on fire, due to the non-removal of that beanie.
Pickups with dirt bikes in the back kept passing me as I slogged up and up, and the air would occasionally sing with the tinny sound of bike exhausts as they ripped over the dirt tracks around me. I saw a couple of guys silhouetted against the sky off, far to my right, helmets on and dirt being flung out behind them. Still, my climb went on. Right at the top, I saw the entrance to the dirt bike park and that’s when I knew it was over. The descent was mine. And it was a pretty good one. Rewards like that make climbing worthwhile.
Through farmland I rolled, past horses standing still in brown paddocks, dry and shady creek beds, and a farmer feeding cattle hay from the back of a quad bike. No Trespassing. No Hunting. A little climb then and absolutely rad decent that I wasn’t expecting so didn’t bother trying to zip my jersey until well into it. Chesticles. TMI? Probably, but hey, I’m just stating the facts.
Down down down. I couldn’t get a grip on the jersey zip as I descended, but managed to get the vest zipped up and that put things to right a little. It was the kind of descent I like - long and with gentle, flowing curves. Due to my incredible mass, I fly down these kinds of things like a runaway train, to the point where I actually caught someone today. Had no idea there was even anyone in front of me. Pretty sure he got sucked into the vortex of my slip stream as I snobbishly fly by with nary a glance. He was a very timid descender.
Down, then another climb through town, another downhill. Another climb. This one was in a park, and when I got to the top there was a No Trespass sign from the kindly folks at IBM. I was a little confused, as E’s route went straight through there. Didn’t feel like much of a lawbreaker at that moment, so turned around and plotted a way back. Thought about ripping over Willow Creek Pass for one more climb, but my legs were a bit burned out, if I’m being honest.
Math. I was doing math in my head. That’s never advisable for me, but I try anyway. The original route was 55 miles, but the ‘no trespass’ road had thrown that into disarray. I’m only counting miles because of the Rapha Festive 500, and just doing the math for how many miles I can do this week, and how many to do on Saturday to get the 500k (310 miles). It didn’t look good. I saw the turn that would’ve taken me straight to the hotel and ignored it. Figured if I kept going down toward work, then turned back and did the 4 miles back that way, I’d at least get up to 45 miles or so.
It worked out great, apart from that last 4 miles being right into a quite unnecessary headwind. That made it pretty painful.
I think Quad Spirit has a definite smell. And it’s not just cells burning. It comes at the end of a ride like this and today, it smelled like 3 tacos from Chipotle and a super cold Lagunitas. I sat on the couch watching the idiot box with my feet up and sipping the beer. About 3/4 of the way through, I decided to ‘just lie on my side on this pillow for a minute’.
Three hours later, I sat up with a terrible headache and a brain so foggy, no air traffic could depart this runway. I rubbed at my legs. Groaned a bit. Blinked slow and long.
Here we are now, entertain us. Indeed.
*name that song and you might just be Australian
Ow. That’s about the only word that adequately captures how I feel right now.
I blame Australia Post. Australia Post is the direct cause of this pain.
And here’s why. My driver’s license was posted on December 13th. Australia Post seems to have lost it, which means I cannot rent or drive a car.
No biggie, right? Wrong. Because I can’t drive a car, I can’t go look at apartments and move out of the Residence Inn. But I decided to not let that stop me from going to check out a few areas. By bike. Because I can’t drive. Because of Australia Post and my lost ‘registered mail’ letter.
Santa Cruz is on my list - specifically Capitola, since I’ve found a few nice places on Craigslist that I’d like to check out. I figured I’d check them out from the outside and see if I liked the neighborhoods.
Sounds easy. Sounds fun!
A guy at work sent me a route from Morgan Hill and over there near that Pacific Ocean thing, and I added it to my Garmin. A nice 70-80 something miles, return trip, which would also be a nice first day of the Festive 500 Strava challenge.
I was late right from the get go. While standing in the parking lot of the Residence Inn, the Garmin wouldn’t load the route and kept crashing. Wasted 15 minutes doing that, before deciding to dump the route and just consult my hastily scrawled turn-by-turn notes instead. There weren’t a lot of fiddly turns, so I figured I’d be ok.
A quick sidetrack as I dropped into work to steal a water bottle cage off Precious to put on the Ruby, and that sucked away more precious minutes. I ended up pushing off about 45 minutes behind the time I wanted to go originally.
And man, I gotta say this is the first truly chilly morning for bike riding I’ve encountered so far. Painfully cold for my fingers, even in long gloves. They actually started to ache. It only got worse when I was out on Redwood Retreat Road and in the shade under trees and near the river. Brrr. I wasn’t really dressed for that.
But hey, if there’s one thing a cyclist can count on to warm them up, it’s climbing.
Introducing Mt. Madonna Rd. A three mile climb, give or take. It mostly takes from you, truth be told. But it wasn’t too tough until I got to the dirt, and then it wasn’t really tough, just difficult and tricky. It’s had recent road work and they’ve laid down some extremely gravelly grey dirt. Lots of sharp rocks, then under it a chalk-like powder, which makes you wash out when you get caught up in it. I did my best to avoid it and ride on the edges for more traction, but I kept thinking about how bad it was going to be on the way back to descend on it. Skinny Ruby tires. Loose dirt. Fun!
Still, it was a GORGEOUS climb. The forrest was kick ass and the giant redwoods - I’m assuming they were redwoods - were magnificent. I kept stopping to snap photos (and catch a sneaky breather). It was steep, I’m not going to lie. I was in the granny, and because the dirt was loose, I couldn’t stand at all in order to keep my tremendous weight over the back wheel to keep the traction honest. Didn’t take that long to reach the top, and I saw some lovely deer down a slope. They just stood there and looked at me all docile and… deer-like.
After the summit, Mt Madonna Road switched back to asphalt. The descent was on a pretty narrow and steep road, and all I kept thinking was ‘you have to climb back up this. You have to climb back up this.” It looked way worse than the climb I’d just come even, even without the dirt.
By the time I got to the turn onto Hazel Dell, my hands were tired from gripping too hard (and probably braking too much). Hazel Dell turned into Brown’s Valley road and I found myself on some long flowy downhill through the woods. Rather than letting myself enjoy it, I started to fret. I’d forgotten to bring my lights with me - I could picture them sitting on my bed where I left them - so if I planned to explore Santa Cruz a bit, I’d have to do it lickety split so I could leave myself enough daylight to get all this climbing out of the way and make it back to Morgan Hill before dark.
I haven’t done this since the tour: riding along, doing clock-math and trying to figure out how screwed I am. It was a long long downhill toward Corralitas and by a river so super super cold. I was yearning to get out into the sun.
Swung left at Corralitas and hit a nice stretch where I could just gun it. My legs were tired, but I figured if it was all like this to the coast, I’d be golden. I could still explore.
It was not like that all the way to the coast. A right turn and I was doing slow, though not steep, climbs followed by long downhills that had me adding them to my ‘time suck’ return trip. I decided that no matter where I was at 12pm, I was going to turn around. A four-hour turn around point seemed logical, particularly since I know how early it gets dark this time of year. Add that to my dead-certain belief that the climbing would be more intense on the way back, and I was still worried.
I panicked. Rolled down a hill and saw coastal pines on the ridge ahead and another climb in front of me and I just couldn’t take the risk. I wasn’t really dressed for a late afternoon ride either, and if it got too late on the descent down Mt Madonna road in the dirt, I’d be struggling to keep it together and not have some kind of stupid Janeen crash. So I turned around. I turned around at 11:30am. A bit later and I pulled in at Corralitas Market and got a sausage sandwich - which I scoffed down in record time - and a gatorade, then pushed off again.
The slow climb up Browns Valley Road was truly scenic and lovely, but also a bit chilly. Slow and steady climbing on some achy legs if I’m going to be honest about it. But it went by more quickly than I anticipated, and there was a really nice downhill that I can’t for the life of me even remember going up earlier. But I guess I did.
Waved to some guys who must’ve just come off Mt. Madonna Road minutes before, then turned up it myself. Stopped. It was sunny and warm now, so I swapped into my fingerless gloves and took my beanie off. Started.
I’m not sure if it’s steeper or longer or what, but this side of the mountain seemed way more difficult. It was like the switchbacks weren’t as frequent, and there were long steep straights where you can see the little stabs of grade change right in front of you. And the switchbacks themselves are very acute and steep. That climb is all about choosing the outside line, while keeping your earholes open for the sound of approaching cars. I’d pick an outside line up a steep curve, listen and not hear anything, then half way ‘round a frickin’ sneaky Prius or some such small and quiet automobile would appear and I’d have to crank in to the steep inner line. Very irritating.
Also hot. I pulled into a driveway and unzipped the vest and jersey all the way, the rolled my arm warmers down to my wrists. The long sleeve base layer had to stay where it was and I ground on in sunshine, knowing I’d miss this heat on the other side.
It was a grind, but near the top it was quite lovely through the woods. I haven’t looked yet to see how long it took, but I’m not ashamed to say that I “delivered the mail” quite a few times on this side of the climb. I didn’t do that on the other side at all.
Finally, at Summit Road, I crossed over and back down on the dirt. It can’t have been later than 1.30, but it was dark and cold and a bit difficult to make out which lines to take at speed. I had to slow it down anyway, due to the loose dirt and sharp corners. The gravel was a real problem, making things very precarious on Ruby’s narrow tires and my skittish nerve. There was one particularly bad corner with grey gravel from edge to edge and it was just too dodgy so I walked it down that part. Probably just as well, as two cars actually poked up and around the corner then, showering me in dust. They were driving more cautiously than I was riding, and the woman in the second car seemed quite white-knuckled at the wheel.
You should try coming down, lady!
Even after the dirt ended and I was back on the asphalt descent, I felt very nervy. Some loose stones and steep corners have that effect on me, so I was glad when the intersection to Redwood appeared and I could noodle on back at a better pace even in the freezing shade. It turned to sun in no time and by then, I was feeling much better in the legs, so kept up an OK pace on the way back. Even after the wind picked up.
I regret but also don’t regret turning around so soon. It’s 4 o’clock now and the shadows are getting long and the wind has picked up. I imagine if I’d gone all the way I’d intended to, I’d still be out there and cold and miserable as the sun shrinks away. Much prefer sitting in this hotel, freshly showered, sipping on a cool drink and chowing down a burrito.
Now I know what Mt Madonna Rd involves, I’ll plan better next time.
David from Austin, describing me in such an awesome way that I must share it. I must say that he’s a bit hard on himself, though. We had the advantage of knowing what that climb entails, where to pace ourselves and quite frankly, how long it lasts. I used that to MY SUPREME SOUL CRUSHING ADVANTAGE! haha.
Anyway, the quote comes from a piece DandyLion wrote (hey, he sets ‘em up, I knock ‘em down) about a ride Dkcholo and I recently took him on. A standard training ride for us Noo Yawkers - GWB to Piermont via River Road. It was a lovely fall day, and a great day for riding. Go read his writeup of his Texanite impressions of it.
It’s easy to forgot how great these routes are when you do them so often. Nice to see an outsiders perspective.