Monday, May 11, 2009


Central Coast Double, May 9, 2009

The Central Coast Double is one of the more prestigious events on the CalTripleCrown calendar, both because of its difficulty and its fabulous scenery. Last year, when I participated for the first time, the conditions were rather favorable, and I still needed 18 hours for the 210 miles. This year, some unavoidable route changes pushed the distance up to nearly 220 miles, and the time limit was extended to 19 hours. On the paper (i.e. on the spreadsheet I used for estimating/calculating intermediate and total times on the route sheet) I could do it. All I had to do was to increase the expected average speed in one spreadsheet cell until the arrival time got close enough to what I wanted!

Right from the start at 5:40 a.m., the route goes slightly uphill for the first eight or ten miles. This provides a good indicator of one's condition for the day. Based on my experience since the beginning of the year, I had reasons to believe that I was in better form than last year. Unfortunately, the first hour already taught me otherwise. I should not have been surprised, given my trouble from seven days ago. I wish I could have given a more detailed answer when friends and acquaintances passed me and asked "Hi Joseph - how are you?", but I was too out of breath. All I could say was " ... ahh, I am happy to be here!" - which was completely true.

Still, I didn't stop as often as last year and kept the stops shorter, and I was lucky to draft Kitty and a strong (unnamed) rider into much of the very determined headwind on the way up the coast. 

(Would be even prettier without that headwind!)

As a result, I arrived not much later than last year on the most pittoresque rest stop of the year, Mill Creek (mile 87), only 200 yards from where the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road climbs up the mountain:

The Mill Creek rest stop lies just ahead, 
and the mountain is the one we will climb up to the right!

Still in good company: Renée, Kerin, ...

A deep breath before tackling the climb

On this 7-mile climb of 2500 ft, I should have been able to do better than last year when I lost quite some time due to bonking and overheating. This year, I had consciously hedged my bets (despite the headwind) on the preceding ups and downs along Highway 1, and I stubbornly maintained my confidence even though I should have known better already.

Looking down to the Mill Creek rest stop after the first two miles of climbing

What can I say? Even though there was a cooling tailwind coming in from the Pacific, the radiation from the sun made me overheat on the upper ranges anyway, in particular because the first steep miles at the bottom had already beaten the juice out of my legs. Last year, I didn't pay attention to how much time I spent on that climb; but now I know that the two hours from this year (which include several stops) were slower. For a while, I leapfrogged another rider about my age who suddenly dismounted, grumbling "if I cannot ride faster than walking, I might as well f***ing walk this climb!" and he continued to push his bike for miles.

At the water stop on top, I agreed with the volunteers there that I had already gotten my money's worth out of this ride. The following technical descent didn't allow to drink. By the time it was safe to pull a water bottle out of its cage, I was so dried out that I drank the whole bottle within minutes. The air temperature wasn't even extreme; but the dryness was.

Compared to last year, I felt a little better at the lunch stop, which was this time at a shaded picnic area behind the San Antonio mission

I met some of the riders there again (but for the last time in the day) who had passed me on the big climb. I kept my stop much shorter than last year; but they still left a couple of minutes before me, and I didn't feel like even trying to stay with them. I was now 45 minutes behind my own spreadsheet schedule, a fact that unconsciously started eroding my confidence. At the exit from the Fort Hunter Liggett military base, I still followed my route sheet and the red arrows to the left, but noted the white arrows which indicated a suggested shortcut to the right. On the next miles, slightly uphill into the dry headwind, I kept my mind busy checking the clock and the distances and remembering from last year all the remaining difficult climbs. I probably kept my mind a little too busy; because when a SAG vehicle passed and stopped ahead of me, and I talked with the driver, I had already made up my mind: I would turn around and take the shortcut. It had become unlikely that I could finish within the time limit; and regardless of whether I could or not, I would be too exhausted to benefit from the ride.

It was the right decision. I enjoyed seeing much of the route after Bradley in daylight (last year, I did it in complete darkness); I had time to chat with the volunteers at the last "in the middle of nowhere" rest stop (Indian Valley Road) 16 miles from the finish, just when darkness fell; and I arrived at 9:20 p.m. in good spirits at the finish in Paso Robles: it was a wonderful ride, and I was completely satisfied!

Just like last year, we stayed for this Mother's Day weekend with our friend Yolande at her house in Shell Beach. Just like last year, we celebrated with an excellent lunch at the restaurant Oasis in San Luis Obispo. And just like last year, everybody was happy ...

My plate is in front ...

... and now it's empty.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Another Experiment

Santa Rosa Wine Country Century, 200 km option

This was the third time in the last two years I conducted the same experiment; and the results are always the same, and always as unpleasant. So why keep I doing it? The experiment consists of not touching (and not even looking at) the bicycle for four weeks, while indulging excessively in all kinds of unhealthy lifestyle options. And then suddenly go for a bike ride of 200 km or more.

When we came back from the 600 km brevet in Oceanside, I barely had the time to move the bike from the car to the shed - there was some pressure at work (not really a lifestyle option!) during the five days before the take-off for our SFO - JFK - NCE flight. The following two weeks in Europe included extended wedding festivities (with excessive indulging) in northern France and a family reunion (with even more excessive indulging) in Bavaria.

All in all, I gained six pounds and had to loosen my belt by two holes. When we came back home, I had reasons to worry about my ability to resist the swine flu "pandemic" (that's how it was called, for all of its 28 cases) - just reading about it made me feel sick. After all, we had been on nine different flights in two weeks, with pretty bad memories from spending hours waiting for delayed planes in overcrowded, noisy and otherwise unhealthy settings. But then again, I didn't have time to worry about it; instead, I had to benefit from the jet lag to go to work earlier in the morning - something had piled up during my absence.

It felt a little awkward on Friday evening to open the shed and find my bicycle still dirty from the 600k brevet from four weeks ago. I only put lube on the chain; it wasn't worth cleaning the bike now, because it would get dirty again in the predicted rain. The alarm for Saturday morning was set to 4 a.m.

Santa Rosa's Wine Country Century is very popular, and the 2500 entries sold out in the beginning of February. I had done the ride in 2006 and 2008 and I like the roads and the scenery.

Because of some imponderables, I got on the road shortly before 7 a.m. only - and turned around after half a mile, because I had forgotten to put plastic bags around my shoes. Even though it was dry at that time, I didn't trust the grey sky and figured that I was not robust enough to endure wet and cold feet. Of course, I must have been the only one among the 2500 riders with plastic bags as booties; I told those who questioned me about them that it was my magic to keep the rain away.

The magic didn't work: it started to drizzle after about an hour, and the drizzle turned into rain soon afterwards. But the plastic bags did work nonetheless, and I was grateful that they kept my feet dry. I also rolled out my Rainlegs; and while they are not perfect, they did keep my knees and quads dry and warm throughout the next seven hours of rain.

Beyond the rain, another memorable feature was the fog on Coleman Road, out to the coast: at times, visibility was less than 20 yards. The brake levers got quite a workout while I cautiously edged my way from one turn to the next during the hairy descent. All this, rain and fog, explains easily why I didn't take any pictures: there was nothing to see, and I was worried about letting water seep into the ziplock bag where I kept the camera.

I find the first half of the WCC route much harder than the overall fairly modest elevation gain of 4500 ft suggests. Some climbs really are extremely steep (close to 20% by my estimates), and this put more stress on knees and leg muscles than I was prepared for, this time. After about 50 miles, I felt cramps creeping up in various places around the upper and lower legs, which slowed me down substantially. There I had it: the experiment yielded the same result as previously. Note to myself: Don't stop riding the bike for four weeks! (As for the indulging: don't know about it just yet).

The route offered several opportunities to short-cut back to the finish, and volunteers who protected us at certain road crossings were eager to try to redirect us onto the bail-out routes. They wanted to prevent the SAG drivers from being overwhelmed by requests from disgruntled and disgusted riders to be sagged in. The result was that the shivering volunteers at the remaining rest stops were waiting for customers: no lines anywhere! Only deep mud on the approach to the covered tables...

Obviously, with all of the above, this was the slowest of my three participations. I even missed the cut-off time for the extra five-mile detour of the 200 km option before Geyserville and finished with only a little over 190 km on the odometer. I didn't mind: it's not a brevet; and I was happy enough about getting in 10 hours of riding on a day where otherwise I would have continued to do - nothing.

At the finish, I enjoyed the post-ride meal offered by the Santa Rosa Cycling Club; and when I came out from the big tent and looked for my bike to bring it to the car in the parking lot, workers started to clean up everything. One of them approached me and said "I want to tell you something: among all the riders I have seen arrive, this afternoon, you are the only one who seems happy, smiling and in good shape!" - I said "Thank you for a wonderful compliment," and pointed at the plastic bags around the shoes, the Rainlegs, and my wool jersey. I didn't tell him that I would have been even happier if my experiment hadn't failed so miserably; and that the cramps had been pretty bad during the day. Instead, in walking away, I made a big effort not to let appear how stiff my legs were.