I went into the 2009 Central Coast Double (“CCD”) with low expectations. I wanted to finish this ride to keep alive my quest for completing the Triple Crown Stage Race. I felt that my fitness was below last year’s level, which was proven by my slower time at this year’s Devil Mountain Double (“DMD”) and greater fatigue after that ride. Work and family commitments wreaked havoc with my post-DMD training plans. The longest ride I was able to do was a hilly 70-miler, which left me tired. When I learned that the CCD course would be extended from 209 miles to 218 due to government-mandated detours, I realized that my tiring 70-miler was less than a third in length of the CCD. Daunting.
Jeff Gould and I agreed to drive to Paso Robles together on Friday afternoon the day before CCD. I drove and Jeff got us a hotel room across the street from start/finish. Couldn’t imagine a better location. The drive was uneventful. We arrived in Paso Robles a bit before 4:00 p.m. and checked into the hotel.
I changed seat posts on my bike the previous evening from a zero setback post to one with 20mm of setback and hadn’t had the chance to ride the bike with the new post and get my position dialed in. I wanted to ride 8 miles, as my bike computer was at 3,992 miles and I wanted to start the CCD exactly at 4,000. I got on the bike. The saddle felt pretty good, not perfect, but very close and I was tempted to just leave it alone. I was riding along, mulling whether I should get off the bike to adjust it further. I glanced at the road and, as fate would have it, saw a beaten up multi-tool in the middle of the street. Taking it as a sign, I got off the bike, picked up the tool, unfolded its 5mm Allen key and adjusted the saddle. Got back on – the adjusted position felt better. At this point, I needed another two miles to get to 4,000, so I turned up a 10% hill. I climbed half a block, when a dog bounded out of a yard and gave chase. I got up and sprinted. The dog gave up. The dog-inspired detour, however, caused my mileage to exceed 4,000. I returned to the room with computer reading 4,000.1. Bummer.
Jeff and I went to Basil Restaurant to meet Jason, Michael, Alfie, Lisa, Bryan, Sean, and Alexis. Had a huge and fabulous meal. So huge that after dinner I took a 30-minute walk to settle my stomach. If you’re in Paso Robles, eat at Basil. You won’t regret it.
1. Start to Top of Santa Rosa Creek Road
At 5:40, Brian Stark addressed the gathered throng of 174 cyclists, warning us to be careful descending Santa Rosa Creek Road and Nacimiento-Ferguson Road, and we were off. I started toward the front of the field. There, the pace was fast but reasonable and civil. I was riding with Jeff and Sean. Saw a number of people I’d met on previous rides. One guy was on a 70-inch fixed gear. Ouch. About five miles into the ride, as the road tilted up a bit, a gap formed in the group. Jeff and Sean made the split, but I chose to hold back and rode toward the front of the second group.
Once we left Paso Robles, we turned onto Adelaida Road and then onto Vineyard Road. These are great cycling roads, especially Vineyard: quiet, well-paved, mildly rolling, and with great views of rolling hills and pastures. We saw many happy California cows. From Vineyard, we turned sharply onto Jack Creek Road that a few minutes earlier had seen a crash in the front group, amid much brake squealing and cursing. A few more turns and we were on Santa Rosa Creek Road, first flat, then climbing. Serious climbing of grades over 10%. I passed a stopped green tandem, which had broken a chain. The climb was mercifully short, however, and at the top was the first rest stop. The tandem riders fixed the chain and reached the rest stop a few minutes after me.
2. Santa Rosa Creek to Ragged Point
I left the rest stop with the tandem. Mindful of warnings and colorful tales of broken collarbones and bicycles hanging from trees, we descended cautiously, although at the top the descent was not particularly treacherous. Within a mile, the tandem flatted and I continued alone. Soon enough I came to what I dubbed the “Oh Shit!!!” corner – a very steep, sharp, and decreasing radius turn that gave rise to many tales of woe. I managed to negotiate it safely and continued even more cautiously.
The road finally flattened and I rode on alone at a mellow pace, waiting for people to catch up with me so we could work together. Soon enough a group of five caught me. I jumped on as it went by and we rolled into Cambria taking regular pulls. We reached the coast and turned north on Highway 1. A chilly north wind was blowing in our faces, but we worked well together on the flat part of the road, which ran for 22 miles to Ragged Point rest stop.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the rest stop with my group. As we rode past the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, nature placed an urgent call and, though I desperately wanted the answering machine to answer, I pee-led off the group when I spied a porta-potty by the side of the road.
My group was long gone by the time I exited the green plastic cabin and another group was about 150 yards ahead, as I mounted. I chased into the wind half-heartedly, not wanting to work too hard. They gradually pulled away, and I settled into a brisk but comfortable pace and rode to Ragged Point.
3. Ragged Point to Nacimiento-Ferguson
At Ragged Point, California Coastal Range of hills connects with the coast, leading to a dramatic change in the scenery. The road becomes, well, ragged: there are no flat stretches between Ragged Point and Nacimiento-Ferguson Road. Up for a mile, down for a mile; up for half a mile, back down to sea level; up fifty yards and back down again. I was consciously riding slower, but the scenery was gorgeous and it was cool, so I didn’t mind. At one point, as the road pitched up after a lengthy descent, the green tandem went by quickly. I weighed the options: chase and possibly work harder than I wanted but ride much faster than I could alone or continue at my own, considerably slower pace. I put my head down and quickly closed the gap. Within a minute, I heard conversation behind me and, upon glancing back, discovered a group of six riders behind me. They had been on the tandem’s wheel, but let a gap open on the descent and had to chase to get back on. With the tandem pulling I climbed faster than I had when I was alone and though I had to work a bit harder, the effort was very manageable and the draft was definitely noticeable even on uphills. And we took short flat sections and downhills much faster than I would have alone. In no time at all I found myself at Mill Creek rest stop at the foot of Nacimiento-Ferguson climb.
The Mill Creek rest stop offered only natural bathroom facilities: we had a choice of the tree and the cliff. I chose the cliff. The view was the most inspiring of any bathroom I’ve visited in my life. Thus relieved, I tackled the seven mile long Nacimiento-Ferguson climb.
4. Nacimiento-Ferguson to Lunch
Nacimiento-Ferguson zigzags up the hill from Highway 1, going seemingly north-south-north-south and so on for 2-3 miles before heading inland. So, for the first few miles of the climbs you are never more than a quarter mile from the ocean. Views up there are mind-blowingly spectacular. I rode on the wrong side of the road a bunch of time just to get a better look at the ocean and the coastline and to distract myself from the pain. This sucker is 8%+ percent before it flattens a bit when the road finally turns east.
I passed a couple of people on the lower part of the climb, then saw two guys riding together about 50 yards ahead of me and set my sights on them. As I was in my massive 34-28, it took 10 minutes to make up that measly 50 yards. When I finally got within 10 yards, I thought: “Screw it!”, shifted into 34-23, and sprinted up to them. All three of us were happy to have company. Though we reached the first flatter portions of the climb all of us were feeling the burn and, as we were leaving the coast it was getting warmer. One of the two guys fell behind and the other, Richard, and I continued together. There was much headwind and side wind and next to no tailwind, but we were comfortable with the pace and we rode side-by-side talking all the way to the lunch rest stop at Mission San Antonio.
On the way to the mission, we entered Fort Hunter Liggett army base, showed our identification to the guard, who informed us that we were about 40th riders to pass through (great news!) and that we’d have to dismount at the green metal bridge and walk across. Richard and I chatted about all the possible reasons we’d be walking and he told a story of a woman on a bike doing a face plant on the bridge, requiring 15 surgeries. We decided it was liability. Sure enough, the guard at the bridge confirmed it, made sure that we dismounted and walked across. Walking across a metal grate bridge in cleated shoes really sucks. It occurred to me to try walking barefoot, but I concluded that it would hurt more and clopped across.
5. Lunch to Harden Square-Hula Skirts Rest Stop
Lunch fare was make-your-own-sandwiches and fruit, which was fine, but most importantly, they had ice. Now, I like ice much less than the next man. In restaurants I order water without ice and if it comes with ice I scoop it out. This was different. It was 1:30, temperature was in mid-80s and rising, and last year I died in the heat at Terrible Two. One thing I learned there, though, was the sock cooling method. Bring a long sock, stuff it with ice, drape it around your neck under the jersey, and ride. An arm warmer would work just as well. At first, so much ice around my neck was painful, but I got used to it quickly and was very comfortable. Sean was at the lunch stop also, and we left together at conversational pace. We started with a tailwind that quickly became a headwind. We rode side by side for a while, but then I went ahead and pulled for a good long while into a headwind on Jolon Road, picking off riders here and there.
After nearly 13 miles, we turned off Jolon onto San Lucas-Oasis Road, climbed a quarter-mile hill, where I began to flag a bit, as my ice melted down. Once we crested, though, Sean went to the front and set an absolutely searing pace. We were riding on the flats in 25 mph crosswind from the left. I sat at 5 o’clock position in relation to Sean, as he absolutely buried himself for seven miles. I hung on for dear life. At one point when we entered a gulley we had wind at our back for about half a mile. There, Sean was pulling at close to 40! “I want his drugs!” I was thinking.
All good things come to an end. We turned into a headwind again and came to a water stop. I refilled my sock and bottles. Now both of us were feeling the strain of our efforts and we sat and up rode at conversational pace again. Something got into my eye and, as I tried to fish it out, I knocked my prescription glasses off my face. “Car back! Please, please don’t drive over my glasses!” I cringed awaiting the crunch. He didn’t. I rode back to pick them up. Both lenses popped out and I spent several minutes reinserting them. Sean waited. Glasses repaired, we rode on. Then Sean stopped for a nature break at the foot of a hill and told me to ride on. There was a rest stop at the bottom of the hill on the other side, so I rode, drinking and dousing myself generously. My sock had drained again, so did my energy stores. I plodded, so did others. I passed two people, one of whom was walking. “We are still nearly 70 miles from finish and it’s awfully early to be walking,” I thought. I crested soon after passing the walker and sped down the other side. The descent was long and straight, just perfect for a tired rider. And so, I arrived at Harden Square rest stop manned by two women in hula skirts.
6. Harden Square to Bradley
Spirits at this rest stop were fairly low. A number of people were suffering from the heat, a couple of people were sagging in, and very strong riders were talking about taking the shortcut that cut 12 miles and 1,500 feet of climbing from the route. But I was feeling rejuvenated. A banana, two cups of Coke and more ice in my sock and bottles and I was ready to go. Sean said he’d spend more time here, so we wished each a good ride and I set off. After a quarter mile of crosswinds, I turned right to find myself heading downwind and ever so slightly downhill. This felt nice. My ice was working and for a change my legs didn’t have to. I took inventory: legs were pretty good; neck was nice and cold; crotch was fine; brain was in decent shape. I concluded that so far things were going much, much better than I could have hoped. I took my hands off the bars, got out my phone, and called home. Nobody home. Called my wife’s cell – talked to my daughter – she picked up the phone because they were driving and Jessica didn’t want to talk and drive. I didn’t tell her that’s what I was doing. We had a great conversation and I continued riding hands-off at 20-21 miles an hour for nearly two miles. Very relaxing and inspiring.
A couple of guys caught up to me – it was time to get back to work. I sped up to catch up and started riding with them. We worked well together, taking pulls that lasted as long as our energy resources allowed. We rode quietly, hardly any talking. Three strangers, cooperating, but not socializing. Cycling is strange that way.
As climbs lengthened and steepened, the other guys slowed down and I found myself alone again. I was on Interlake Road somewhere between lakes Nacimiento and San Antonio. It was around 4:00, hot, and my ice was nearly gone. I tried sucking the sock, but that didn’t help, put it in my jersey then in my helmet, but that was of little use too. So, in the finest tradition of This is The Spinal Tap, I stuffed it in my shorts, and it produced a noticeable cooling effect. But my head was still hot and I was almost out of water, so I did something I’ve never done before – I took off my helmet. Oh my God! It was so much cooler to ride without a helmet! I rode bareheaded to the top of the hill, where I put the helmet back on and immediately regretted doing so. Oh well, better safe than sorry and a water stop was less than a quarter mile from the top. I refilled my bottles and sock and started dousing myself as soon as I began descending. Much cooler. Came to an intersection with Nacimiento Road (again?!) and turned left – north, away from Paso Robles. Why, oh why are we going north? Into a headwind? On a gravel-strewn road? At least Nacimiento descended for half a mile, so the cooling trend continued. When I reached the bottom it was cooler and it was also very windy. First on Nacimiento Road and then back on Jolon Road, I spent nearly 45 minutes riding alone into a 20-mph headwind. I like to say that riding into the wind builds character, well, I built a hell of a lot of character on this stretch.
Mercifully, Jolon Road ended at its junction with Highway 101, where I entered the freeway and turned south, the wind at my back. I exited after a mile and another mile later arrived at Bradley rest stop.
7. Bradley to Finish
I ate a hot dog, gulped down a handful of Endurolytes, picked up my light, and refilled the bottles and sock. I asked a rest stop attendant how much climbing remained. He said about two miles up Hare Canyon at 3%, steepening at the top. I groaned. Oh well, 33 miles and one rest stop remained and it was time to ride again. After a couple of miles of tailwinds I turned onto Hare Canyon Road. Sure enough, it averaged about 3%, though a bit steeper for the first quarter mile. By now, the sun was below the walls of the canyon and I rode in the shade into a headwind yet again. Since I didn’t look at my computer when I turned into the canyon I was happy that the road had half mile markers. Half-mile, mile, 1.5 mile – I was close to the top as the road pitched up. Except it just kept going: 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5 – what the fuck? Well, keep going. The road was pretty enough, it was cooler, and my energy was good, so I climbed and climbed, going pretty fast. 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.5... Finally, the road pitched up, there were two guys cresting, and in another 50 yards, just like that, it was over. At last.
On the other side was a screaming steep and straight descent. Unfortunately, the road was strewn with gravel and the best place to ride was in 12-inch wide tracks that cars’ tires had made. Well, going 50 miles an hour on a foot-wide track just didn’t feel very safe, so I braked a bit and slowed to 45. At the bottom, the wind was at my back for a change, so I got low and went hard. I immediately blew past one of the guys I'd seen near the top of Hare Canyon climb, the other was about 150 yards ahead and going pretty fast. I put my head down and hammered. I caught him about five minutes later and slowed down to ride with him. He was a Lithuanian I’d met at the 2008 DMD. We rode together for a while and talked cycling and hockey. After a while, I wanted to ride faster and told him to get on my wheel. We rode in tandem for a while, but he kept falling back and I kept waiting for him to catch up. After a while I bid him farewell and rode away to catch a guy in white who’d been dangling in front of us for good 5-10 minutes. Finally, caught up and tucked behind him for a break. From behind he looked very fit with well-defined legs. After a minute, I was ready to leave him behind and pulled up next to him. I looked over and saw a guy in his 60s! Holy cow! I was riding hard, going to finish in top quarter of a 218-mile ride and here I was, catching a 68-year old just five miles from the finish. I hope I am as fast as he is when I’m 48, never mind 68 – chapeau! We rode and talked a bit, I pulled for a while, and then he told me to ride on, so I did.
Back to hammering I went, quickly passing three more people, all of whom had left me behind earlier in the ride. This was very unusual, seeing so many people on the road at such a late stage of a long ride. Passing them provided more inspiration to ride harder and I kept going and going.
I hoped to finish in daylight. And though there still was fading light in the Paso Robles sky as I approached the finish, I had to turn on my light half a mile before the finish because I simply could not read street signs and getting lost was the last thing I wanted to do at this point. Approaching the park I heard shouts of encouragement and cowbells. I pumped my fist, very happy with my ride. Jeff was there to greet me. He finished 23d of 174 starters, arriving at 7:40. I was 38th, arriving at 8:28. My riding time was 13:18, total time 14:48, average speed 16.4 mph. In the last 25 miles I raised my average speed from 16.0 to 16.4. Tailwind definitely helped, but legs had something to do with it as well.
With Mother’s Day next day, Jeff and I were in a hurry to get home. So, we did a quick clean up, stopped at Jack in the Box (or was it Carl’s Jr.?) and sped home, recapping our rides. I made it home at 1:15 a.m. Didn’t sleep well, but was surprisingly functional on Mother’s Day. When I finally went to bed that night, as I drifted off, my legs felt as if they were still pedaling – 24 hours after the finish.