This is one of the best, if not the best, Bay Area organized rides, and remembering how much fun I had there last year, I eagerly registered again. This year, however, there was one wrinkle: the Saturday before the ride, the weather forecast was 60 percent chance of rain. One thing that’s not fun to do in the Santa Cruz mountains is biking in the rain, but I was determined to do the ride regardless of the weather, it was only a matter of being prepared.
I woke up at 4 a.m. and immediately went for my phone to check the radar. The projections only went to about 10:30, but it looked like it would stay clear until at least that time. I figured that if we can drop down Alpine to the lunch stop before it starts raining, the rest of the ride should be fine, even if a little wet.
There was a mass start planned with some Mission Cycling and SF2G members at 6:20, so naturally we left the parking lot at 6:30. The first few miles are flat along Foothill and a good opportunity to get the legs warmed up before the first major climb – Redwood Gulch. We all moved as one group, knowing that once we hit the climb, the group would separate into several smaller groups as people find their comfortable pace for this 200k adventure.
The selection was made rather quickly as Michael G., Bret, Andrew and I moved ahead and up the undulating road leading to the left-hand turn onto Redwood Gulch. Another rider joined our group for a little bit and at one point, before we hit RWG, came up next to me and asked, “how long is this climb?” I said, “This isn’t the climb.”
I forgot how much RWG hurt last year and I think it hurt even more this year as Strava tells me that I was actually slower this time around. I’m not surprised, as my legs were not at all fresh for the ride, still recovering from Hamilton and the 90-mile ride through Marin the day after. The two-hour hard M2 session the day before the ride didn’t help things either. Michael and Andrew went ahead of Bret and me. They were never more than 50 yards up the road and I knew that once the climb leveled off near the top, I’d make the bridge, which I did. Bret was right there on my wheel.
Once the four of us came together, we struggled for a bit to find a pace all of us were comfortable maintaining going uphill, but through trial and error and some HR ups and downs, we were able to figure it out. Our goal was not to hammer the entire ride, but rather, move at a brisk pace where we could and make as few stops as possible. With that in mind, we skipped the first rest stop at the top of the hill and continued downward, once again closer to sea level.
Luckily, no rain was in sight and the downhill was not as bad as it could have been, despite the roads being wet in parts. I was not in the mood to bomb down any downhills that day given that I’ve crashed twice in the last two weeks, so I cautiously made it down and proceeded to clip along until the next rest stop at mile 40. There were some minor separations on the descent, so the stop gave us a chance to bring our group back together, fill our bottles and make use of the facilities.
The food selection at the stop was amazing. In addition to the regular stuff you would see at centuries, there was hummus, coffee cake, bagels with cream cheese and tons of other goodness. This is probably the only ride that I know of where you could actually gain weight if you wanted to. The slices of coffee cake looked like they were 2.5x2.5x5 inches – too bad I’m not really into coffee cake. Oh, and did I mention there was more than one kind?
At this stop, Brooks and Beckett caught up to us, and we all departed together. Ahead lay our second major ascent up Highway 9 to Skyline. Now there were six of us moving together, and again after some back and forth we found our rhythm and moved uphill as a unit, going narrow and spreading out each time a car would pass. We were moving at a very good pace and soon we’d reach the part where Skyline intersects with Page Mill/Alpine and a 10-mile descent lay ahead.
Bret and I were the first to drop down and while we weren’t doing anything daredevil-like, we were making it down at a relatively quick pace. We caught some other riders, who in my opinion were using their brakes a bit too much, which made me nervous. A turn here and another there and we made our way ahead of them. A couple more miles and we were at lunch. All I will say is that the food was amazing and there was a lot of it. I won’t go into detailed descriptions because it will just make me hungry and I just ate – so that wouldn’t be very good for race weight.
It was still dry. We arrived at lunch around 11 and I was happy that we were able to come down that 10-mile descent with no water falling from the sky – it would have been miserable and potentially hazardous.
The next 30 miles would take us to the coast and along Highway 1. As we left the lunch stop, we jumped on a long train and the clip was quick to the coast. Due to the dynamics of the group, there was some slingshot and yo-yoing going on. At one point, Michael suggested the six of us break from the group and have our own train going, but I have a policy of not dropping groups on these types of rides when on flat ground and heading into the wind; unless of course the group moves really slowly. So I said we should stick together for the time being.
Then we hit Highway 1 and all things came apart. It was a bit of a hectic stretch, mainly because as last year, we intersected with the AIDS LifeCycle ride as they made their way down to Santa Cruz. On the one hand, it was awesome to see so many cyclists riding their bikes for a worthy cause, on the other hand it was not very pleasant to weave around them at the same time making sure a pickup wasn’t coming up behind. After the first couple of rollers or so, we lost the train and we also lost Andrew and Beckett. We knew that they weren’t far behind, so once we turned off 1, we slowed the pace and they very quickly caught up.
In a matter of a half a mile, the hectic pace of Highway 1 was nowhere in sight. We were now riding through nature, making our way toward Pescadero and then the final climb. We planned to stop at mile 100 at the Bike Hut to refill bottles and have some food. But ahead we had three bumps on Stage Road, each taking about five minutes to navigate.
At mile 94 or so, my Achilles tendon started to bother me. I had it taped with Rocktape and wore an Ace compression support over it. This served me well for the first 94 miles and 8500 feet of climb, but I knew that the remainder of the ride would be a bit less comfortable. We made our scheduled stop to refill our liquids and to get rid of the unnecessary ones, and after 10 minutes or so, once we were all together, we headed up Tunitas Creek. It’s a beautiful climb that winds through shaded woods and ends at the intersection of Skyline and Kings Mt. Rd.
The first three miles of the climb are very mellow and we all hung together. Then, as the pitches got steeper for the middle miles of the climb, I told Michael that I’ll fall back and spin it easy. With less than 25 miles to go in the ride, I didn’t want to aggravate my tendon any further, so I went between a 34x24 and a 34x28 (there’s nothing in between) and spun it until the pitch leveled off and I could pick up some speed. I caught Beckett about a mile and a half from the summit and we finished up the climb together. Luckily, the whole group was still at the top.
I asked for a Coke, but all they had was Diet Coke. I don’t know why at mile 109 of a 124-mile ride anyone in their mind would want a Diet Coke, but that’s what they had. I was just craving a Coke, so I took what they had, drank about two-thirds and was ready for the 4.5-mile descent and last flat miles to the finish.
We all split up on the descent and once I hit the bottom, I felt full of energy and started the push toward the finish. I caught Bret and another guy who joined our group near Bike Hut, I think his name was Jesse(?) (let me know if I’m wrong). I was feeling great and figured I’d pull them along for a while. At one point, I was going about 30 mph, then I looked behind me and they weren’t there. A moment later, I was stopped at a red light and Bret caught me (thank you!) to inform me that I missed a turn.
Last year, this ride was very well marked with arrows, but the rains on Saturday made the marking more difficult, as some of the stickers pealed off or perhaps never stuck. Once we figured out where we were, Bret quickly came up with a quick way for us to get back on course. I don’t think this cut any miles or made our ride any longer or harder, so this can be filed in the no-harm-no-foul category. Then something weird happened.
My sugar dropped in a matter of seconds. One moment, I’m feeling great; the next, I’m bonking. As I felt it dropping, I quickly ate whatever Powerbar Gels I had left, but I knew I was too late. Bret and Jesse pulled ahead as I could barely turn my pedals. I caught them at the next light and explained my predicament. Bret offered a Hammer gel that I sucked down, but I knew it would be a matter of minutes, not seconds, before I felt normal. I told them to go ahead and that I would be fine in a bit. I proceeded to turn the pedals waiting for my sugar to get to normal levels. A couple miles from the finish, it finally happened, and I was able to finish strong despite the little mini-bonk.
I was glad I was able to recover before I finished because if I hadn’t, I probably would have eaten way more food than was necessary, despite having burned around 6k calories that day (or at least that’s what my Garmin told me). Once again, I won’t go into detail about the great quality or variety of food that was at the finish, but I will say that they had two types of ice cream and chili, and it only got better from there.
I saw everyone from our group at the finish. We exchanged handshakes, congratulations and feasted on some deliciousness. A good day, a great ride, greater company and awesome luck – not a drop of rain all day! Looking forward to riding it again next year.