Central Coast Double Century – 2007

May 15th, 2007

  • Tandemhearts' photo

The Central Coast Double is a great ride, very well supported and with gorgeous scenery. I, however, went into this ride nervous about whether or not I could complete it. At the beginning of January I wasn’t sure I even wanted to do any doubles this year. But as the weather warmed up and the rains ceased, I began to feel the urge to do something insane again. Yet I did not feel like I had trained with enough hills and distance this year. Most of my rides have been one or the other, not both. I did not even start seriously training until March. I knew I had a good fitness base, but still…The Triple Crown website gives this ride an Extremely Hard rating. At 209.7 miles, it is the longest single day of riding I have ever attempted. I counted twenty- two climbs in the very compressed elevation profile on the ride’s website. I’m pretty certain that many of the rollers were not included in that profile.

I did not sleep very well the night prior to the ride; a strange bed, jittery nerves and a hotel next to the train tracks did not make for a restful night. I got up a little after 4 AM and started prepping for the ride. I had trouble eating much of my breakfast. It was much colder than I had expected it would be, about 48 degrees, and I debated greatly about what to wear. I finally decided that my Patagonia fleece jacket would be the best thing over a sleeveless jersey and of course knee warmers. I threw all of my other warm clothes, some extra shorts and a sweater for after the ride into a bag that Thom would have in the car. He did final bike preparations, mounting my lights and GPS.

Thom drove me to the ride start just after 5AM. We passed some other riders heading out from the hotel. I was thrilled to have chauffeur service, especially since it was so cold. Scott and Jesse, organizers of Devil Mountain Double, were at the ride start. Scott was riding and Jesse was providing SAG service. This pleased me, since Scott rides very close to my pace and is so encouraging during a ride. And Jesse had gotten a case of Red Bull! True or not, I believe he did that just for me.

  • Veronica and Scott are all smiles at the start
I had arranged through the Bikejournal website to hook up with Bernie (aka Homey) and ride with him, but I had never met him. He does have a picture on BJ so I had some idea of what to look for, a big guy, riding a Colnago. Bernie is a very accomplished rider, having ridden Furnace Creek 508 and RAAM (Race Across America.) As a bonus, this route is local for him, so he was able to provide commentary on what the day would bring. I had warned him that I was not fast at climbing, or on the flat. I fibbed a little and said I wasn’t a very fast descender either. I didn’t want to come right out and say, “I’m slow as cold molasses.” But I also wanted him to know he’d be in for a LONG day.

We left at 5:40 and were not required to have lights. Bernie stayed with me the whole day. It was great to have someone to talk to and we chatted about everything from training for RAAM to bonking in Scotland. There were about 110 riders. Normally the ride gets about 150. This is a Paris-Brest-Paris year, so I suspect many of the crazies were riding or preparing for their longer brevets.

We began in Paso Robles. Once out of town, the climbs begin. The first couple of climbs weren’t too bad. The route took us over beautiful, tree lined roads. The first tilt up was York Mountain. What I really remember about this climb was the one very vocal cow. I could hear it for the longest time and I initially thought it was a burro. It bawled right as I past it and I was amazed that the sound I was hearing was in fact a cow.

The next major climb was up Santa Rosa Creek Road. Thom and I had ridden this road last year in the opposite direction so I had some idea what to expect here. This road climbs a little bit, then rolls and just before the summit there is a very steep section of 21%. I was thrilled that I was able to stay seated for the whole climb. This is the first double I have done on my new bike. The gearing is slightly taller than on my Rambouillet. My smallest gear is a 33 x 34. Bernie said that I should be able to climb trees with it. The first rest stop was at the summit of Santa Rosa Creek Road and I had my first of many Red Bulls. The descent off Santa Rosa Creek is very twisty, bumpy and long. There were some potholes that you could take a bath in. It was a blast! I passed the only people I would pass all day. Each of the four guys I passed warned me to slow down. I’m not a crazy, fast descender, but I do like speed. I also like being road rash free, so I did restrain myself a bit. I had left ahead of Bernie and I kept expecting him to catch up to me. I arrived at the bottom and started making my way through Cambria. I was out on the Pacific Coast Highway when Bernie caught me. His water bottles had fallen out while descending Santa Rosa Creek. We were also joined by Ira who rode with us for the next hundred miles or so.

Leaving Cambria, you ride up the coast for about 40 miles. This section of PCH starts off with long shallow rollers. Ira and Bernie were talking about the crazy long rides they have both done. I was happy to ride along and listen. Thom was leapfrogging us, taking pictures. At one point he chided us for not being in a paceline. I shouted back that we were enjoying the conversation. Eventually as the wind picked up, we did get into a paceline with Bernie and Ira taking turns pulling. I really don’t enjoy riding in a paceline. I ride so much by myself that I’m still learning paceline dynamics. When they dropped me on a descent, I think Bernie realized that pacelines aren’t my strong suit. Before the second descent he warned me to hang on. This time I paid better attention and as they accelerated, I did too. The further up the coast you go on PCH, the steeper the climbs and descents become. At one point I actually passed Bernie and Ira on a descent and Bernie joked that he said to hang on, not to pass them. The second rest stop was at Ragged Point at the top of one of the steeper climbs. The day was warming up and I was debating taking off my jacket, but I worried that I would freeze on the descents. Thom suggested that I keep it on until the next stop which was just before the really big climb of the ride. I ate half a banana, yakked a little with the workers (my bike and the GPS get a lot of attention), and then the three of us took off again. On one of the descents after this, we rolled through a swarm of bees. Fortunately none of us were stung.

The third rest stop was just before the climb up Nacimiento-Ferguson. I finally took off my jacket and buff and switched to short fingered gloves. Ira left a bit ahead of us and we didn’t see him again on the ascent. This climb was a bear. The average grade for the 7.5 miles is 7%. But the bottom is much steeper than the top. The first two miles are in the 10 -12% range, the last two miles are 5 – 6 %. As we climbed, we had an amazing view of the coast. It didn’t take us very long to get up above all the hills we had ridden so far on PCH. My knees were kind of achy on this climb and I didn’t work it nearly as hard as I could have. My average HR was only 162. I’ve been working on riding at a higher heart rate. I had set my heart rate monitor to beep if I went below 165 and above 175 and it was beeping constantly because I was too low. Maybe I wasn’t eating enough. I heard someone earlier call this climb Nasty Mental Rd. It’s true. It was nasty. I’m glad I had the gorgeous views to keep my mind occupied.

  • Tandemhearts' photo

We finally arrived at the summit, which had a water stop. It took us 90 minutes to make the climb. We had another great descent after this climb. The pavement was much better this time, but still lots of twists. At some point Bernie had asked me how I had learned to descend so well and added that I descended better than a lot of men. In general, women cyclists don’t descend well. I’m not sure how I learned. I like speed. I like to climb, which means you have to descend so I get a lot of practice. As we cruised through the rollers to the lunch stop on the Hunter-Liggett Base, Bernie commented that I had an interesting thing going on. I thought, “Oh man, he’s going to say something about my rocking shoulders.” I can’t get rid of the shoulder rock! But no, his comment was that I have good bike handling skills but clearly don’t like riding near people. I replied that I always felt like a yo-yo. I would get going too fast, need to brake, then need to scurry to catch up. Drafting is an important skill to develop because riding in someone’s draft will save you so much energy.

About this time we saw Ira in ahead of us. I decided that it was a good time to practice drafting. I accelerated, caught up to and settled in behind Ira. As part of improving my paceline skills, Bernie asked me what I was looking at. I answered, “Ira’s calves, they’re nice.” The serious answer was Ira’s left shoulder and the road beyond him. When drafting there is a tendency to just watch the wheel ahead of you. But you also need to keep an eye on the terrain so you can anticipate accelerations and slowing in the group. We rode like this for for a few miles. The base was very pretty with a scattering of trees in fields, wooded hills and no traffic. There was a tank off to one side. Fortunately, it was facing away from us. The lunch stop was on the base. As we rolled in the volunteers asked Bernie what was taking him so long. In fact, this was a constant question at the rest stops. I had a soda and half a PBJ sandwich, filled my bottles and we took off again. Ira left lunch ahead of us and we didn’t see him again. Scott and two other riders, Lisa and Alfie, arrived at lunch as we were getting ready to leave

After lunch there was another yucky little climb, mostly in the sun. The downhill after it ends with a gate across the road that you lift your bike over. We were now 120 miles into the ride. We then turned into the wind for about 7 miles. My stomach was beginning to bother me . This was the first low point of the ride for me. I was beginning to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. I rationalized that nothing really hurt, so everything would be fine. But I was no longer looking at the scenery, I was just focusing on finishing the ride. I was happy when we turned out of the wind towards San Lucas, but I was beginning to crave another Red Bull. I was considering asking Bernie if there was a store nearby. This section had a few little climbs, but was overall fairly flat. We turned a corner and I could see a truck ahead of us pulled over on the left. I thought it could be Jesse’s truck. The guy looked like he was wearing the same shirt as Jesse. Yes, it was Jesse! Woohoo! I had another Red Bull.

After my refreshing drink, we climbed up a rather narrow canyon. It was again rather wooded and peaceful. I was beginning to feel good again. There were horses off to the right of us and I wondered if there was a ranch nearby. I just about jumped out of skin when we heard a gun go off. The horses didn’t much like it either and suddenly there were swarms of birds in the sky. I briefly worried that they may be shooting at us. But we heard no other shots. We had a nice descent into the next rest stop, located in Lockwood. As we rolled in we again faced the question, “Bernie, why are you so late?” I had sent the battery for my light to this stop, so I attached it and we headed off again. It was 6:20PM. We had ridden 145 miles in a little less than 13 hours. Scott, Lisa and Alfie again arrived as we were prepping to leave.

After leaving Lockwood we had a fairly flat, fast section and then some big rollers. We saw some wild pigs on the side of the road. Bernie warned me to be careful as they can be mean if they feel threatened. I gave them a wide berth. Within minutes of the pig sighting we saw some wild turkeys. Bernie commented that this was the wildlife portion of the ride. It concluded with a “wild” cow sighting.

This section was hard and I was again beginning to feel somewhat dismal. The headwind had picked up and the climbs got difficult again. Scott and his group caught up to us. We were the last riders on the road. Jesse was leapfrogging us in his truck. As it got dark, he pulled over to give Scott his lights. As I rolled by, Jesse asked if I would like him to leave me a Red Bull at the summit of the last climb. Oh yeah, that would give me something to look forward to. Lisa, Scott and Alfie pulled away from us on this climb. They stopped a bit before the summit to put on jackets. I was NOT stopping until I saw that Red Bull. Jesse had left two Red Bulls and some other drinks at the very top, in a stack by the side of the road. I drank one. I was up to three Red Bulls at this point. Bernie offered to carry the second Red Bull since no one else in the group wanted it. I think I should be in a Red Bull ad. I don’t know if they give me wings, but they certainly are refreshing during a ride.

I turned on my front and rear lights and put on my bolero and reflective vest. I got really cold on this big descent, shivering uncontrollably. At the stop sign at the bottom I put on my jacket and my buff. That helped a lot to cut the wind. It was getting dark. I now discovered that we had mounted the GPS and light so that the light could not be rotated up enough to be very effective. In addition the flap on my handlebar bag kept flying up and blocking the light. We descended a really big, steep hill and I just flew down it. I could tell the pavement was good and the corners were all sweepers, rather than twisty and tight. Still I knew I was being a bit reckless riding so fast. Bernie asked me at the bottom if I had good night vision, because my light was totally worthless on that descent. I was cold, a little miserable and I just wanted to get done.

My flying descent had caught us up with Scott’s group though. The five of us stayed together as we then headed across a mesa towards Route 101. It was so windy up there. I thought I was going to lose a contact lens. I got into Bernie’s draft, holding the flap of my bag with one hand so my light was being at least a little useful. I could see his wheel and stayed there until the next rest stop at Bradley.

Just as we were about to roll into Bradley, my headlight conked out. We were at mile 179, just 30 more miles to go. Thom was there to check up on me and it crossed my mind, that gee with no light I couldn’t go on. It was promptly followed by the thought that there were only 30 more miles, don’t be a wuss. I had two people offer me a light. Thom checked mine and it was just that the connector was loose. It was 9:30 PM. It had taken us more than 3 hours to go 34 miles. The wind was howling. I was freezing. This rest stop was at a school, so we could at least get in out of the cold. I had a cup of soup and the Red Bull that Bernie had carried. Thom got my balaclava from the car. He had been there for a couple of hours and was freezing himself. He had on all of the warm clothes I had put in the car, except my cashmere sweater. I kept that balaclava pulled up over my nose for a few miles when we rolled out.

  • What 179 miles does to you
There was another rider at the Bradley stop, so the six of us left as a group. We were now faced with a five mile climb with a 2 – 3% grade. I have no idea why this road was here. I couldn’t see any houses on it. It seemed really remote. As climbs go, this wasn’t too bad. There were signs on the side of the road ticking off the half miles. They seemed to go pretty quickly. The six of us regrouped after the descent. We now had twenty miles of downward tending rollers to the finish. I don’t know if it was the last Red Bull I drank, the tailwind we now had, or just wanting to be done, but I was hammering through this section. Bernie and Alfie stayed with me to the next rest stop, which was 13 miles from the finish. Neither Bernie nor I needed to stop, so we continued on while Alfie got water and waited for the others. We continued to hammer on to the finish, arriving at 11:59 PM. It was great to finish feeling strong, especially since I had felt kind of icky for so long.

Total ride time was 18 hours and 40 minutes. My average moving speed was 12.9 mph. Jesse gave me my fifth Red Bull at the finish. The pasta meal after the ride was pretty tasty, but it usually takes me a few hours to really feel like eating, so I only picked at it. We returned to the hotel. Thom says there were trains again Saturday night, but I didn’t hear them. Sunday found me with a cramp in the muscle near my left knee and craving salty foods. As I think about what I ate during the ride, I realize I wasn’t getting nearly enough electrolytes. I usually eat 8 to 10 sport beans or two Clif Bloks every 30 minutes. My long fingered gloves made it difficult for me to get at my food, so I was eating less than half my normal amount. I’m sure the lack of calories played a role in my feeling crummy as well. It’s an issue I’ll need to work out for my next ride. On the plus side, I had no back pain. I don’t know if it’s because I have been better about doing ab and back muscle work outs or because the Legolas has a 1 cm shorter reach.

During the ride there were several times when I wondered if I would actually do another double. Who was I kidding? Next up is the Eastern Sierra Double in June.

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