By Donna Stidolph
Last summer I rode with the Santa Cruz Randonneurs on one of their brevets. I was web-surfing for rides, found their site with the brevets, and signed up for the Skyline 200 km brevet on Saturday, July 24. The route was a large circuit through the Santa Cruz Mountains and along the Pacific Ocean.
The ride started at 7:30 AM at the lighthouse in Santa Cruz, and Bill (one of the organizers) had told me that I should be there by 7:15 to check in. I decided to ride over, since it's only about 3.5 miles from home. I allotted a conservative 25 minutes for the ride. Note to self: 25 minutes might work if you have your clothes on, your water bottle filled, and your tires pumped up when the clock starts. If you don't have any of those things done, 30 minutes is safer. Anyhow, I took off from the house in the fog, rode like a madwoman, and got to the start at about 7:20.
There were about 20 people waiting there, including several women, and a bunch of beautiful bikes. Some of the bikes had interesting custom touches: lots of triple chain rings on the kinds of bikes that you don't usually see them on; biiiiiggggg seat packs—like pizza sized big; lots of little light fixtures all over the bikes and helmets; quite a high percentage of Race Face cranks (I don't KNOW why!); and finally, some gearing combinations that I just loved. I think I saw 53-40-26 with a 28 x 11, for example. Ha! Anything is possible if someone could get those things to shift! There were a bunch of Steve Rex custom bikes too.
Anyhow, I found the Guy with the Clipboard (Bill) and signed in. Bill was really nice—he remembered me from e-mail. He gave me my brevet card with the checkpoints and time limits on it. The checkpoints were at 19, 67, 82, 108 and 125 miles. On the card, to prove that we were actually at each checkpoint, we had to answer a question about it: What color is the post office door? What's the name of the school? That sort of thing. The time limits were ranges between the minimum and maximum paces, and they were based on standard rules—you get so much time to cover so much distance. It doesn't matter what the terrain is like, the minimum and maximum pace is fixed for all events around the world. This was challenging because in this ride, the first 19 miles were flat, then, of the next 30 miles, 25 were climbs, one of them 10 miles long, and all of them pretty steep. And after those 50 hard miles, the next 75 were going to be painful no matter what, but they were objectively lots easier than what came before.
Anyhow. I wandered to the edge of the group and pretty soon a couple of guys and I were chatting. At 7:30 sharp Bill said, "It's time. Stay together and have fun." And we all rode off.
To the First Control
The "stay together" was obviously a suggestion, not a rule, because we broke up in about five minutes. I was at the back with about four other women. I was pretty intimidated—I was about the only one who didn't have a PBP jersey on. As it turned out, I was the WAY junior cyclist in that bunch, which, I must say was really nice for once. Everyone else knew where I was and they all worried that I would get my brevet card filled out properly, etc. So, for the first 19 miles, I just sat at the back of the beautifully organized pace-line and let the others pull me along out of town. They all knew one another, and introduced themselves to me. There were Anne, Amy, Lois (the other event organizer), and Susan. They were all Davis Bike Club members, but jokingly called themselves "Team Girlene." They have ridden together for years and it showed. I knew I was with a good group when I was the only one who got caught at a stoplight, but the whole group waited for me. Cool!
We got to the first checkpoint in about 90 minutes, a little sooner than I had thought I could, but all my planning had assumed riding alone without either the draft or the mental boost that having company provides. The control card had us taking a time of arrival at "an elementary school at 19.5 miles," and writing down the name of the school. Notice that I'm not telling the name—Bill and Lois might want to reuse this route next year! Instead of stopping there to do all that, we noted the answer and the time, and continued onward to the porta-potties at the Corralitos town square for a pit stop, about a mile up the road. When we got there, we all got off, recorded our times, adjusted clothing layers, etc.
To the Second Control
This was going to be a Long 'Un. The road angled up as we left Corralitos and got on Eureka Canyon Road. It could be characterized as rollers, but the trend was definitely upwards. At first, the road was open, and there were small farms on either side, very beautiful. A couple of miles up the road, though, the rollers ceased and the hard climbing commenced. It is actually a very nice climb in a redwood forest, if any 10- mile climb can be called "nice." There are a few pitches that are really steep, but most are only about 50 yards long, and the road is shaded for most of its length. There is also very little traffic on Eureka Canyon, so you can chat as you ride.
We mostly stuck together. It was pretty funny; Susan and I were the "climbers," so we would ride at our own pace and start leaving the other three, but we'd NEVER get more than 50 yards of the front. I felt like such an idiot: I'd be riding along alone and still be able to hear the "non- climbers" chattering, a steady four seconds in back of me. As soon as the road would flatten out by a degree, they'd scoop me up and off we'd go again. (Half of the reverse happened on the flats: they left me, but I never scooped them up—they had to wait for me.)
Anyhow, the only really bad parts of Eureka Canyon are near the top—the pavement is the worst pastiche of patches I've ever seen, it's as close to riding pavé as I want to get. It was bad enough so that when we were climbing, it was actually discernibly harder than similar grades with smoother pavement (that rolling friction thing, I guess) and descending after the summit was a real crapshoot. I don't know that it was really a dangerous descent, but between running in and out of shade and having potholes filled with varying colors of asphalt, you never knew whether you were going to fall into a hole or just ride over a shadow. It kept our speed down.
Inevitably, we started climbing again, not steeply, but substantially and steadily. We turned left onto Summit Road and continued. We stopped at a small store to regroup and fuel up. We spent about 15 minutes there, then took off again, with the hot dog cart at the lonely intersection of Highways 9 & 35 as our next destination.
Step 1 was to Get Summit Road Over With! This is about a five-mile stretch of rollers, some brutal, with locals heading for town and Bay Area residents heading for the beach and all of them resenting having to slow down for bike riders. We just all kept our heads down and got it over as quickly as possible.
Fortunately, as soon as you cross the Highway 17 overpass, the traffic diminishes to near nothing—so we continued our climb, but without the automobile accompaniment.
This was a really fun part of the ride—I usually feel like the part from Highway 17 to Castle Rock Summit goes on FOREVER, but I listened to long-ride stories (not long stories; stories about doing long rides) and the time went by really quickly. I know that most of my usual riding friends can't believe that I didn't contribute many personal tales, but I was truly outclassed. Amy told about her mechanical on the Central Coast Double: her Campy brake lever/gear-shifter broke, but fortunately, she was carrying a down-tube shifter and was able to change it out and continue on the ride! The only story I told was the one where my exhausted husband Wayne lay down in the middle of the road right before the Castle Rock summit and tried to throw his bagel away, but it kept rolling back to him.
Anyhow, it was getting warm, so we were all happy to get to the top and swoosh down to the Highway 9 and Highway 35 intersection at Saratoga Gap for some food and drink, but there was NO HOT DOG CART!!! So we carried on another mile or so to the Fire Station, where there is at least a water faucet to fill our bottles. Unfortunately, just before that point, Anne's bike had started to act squirrely. When she looked at it, the problem was clearly that the weave on her front tire casing had broken loose in some way, and the tire was functionally out of true in the up/down direction. The reaction was pretty cool—within seconds, all four of the Girlenes were involved in changing the faulty tire from the front wheel to the back wheel for safety. After it was done, Lois managed to get in touch via cell phone with Bill, who was a bike mechanic for years and asked his advice—he suggested applying a boot inside the tire. We decided to give the front/back swap a try and do the boot if it didn't work out.
It didn't. The next control point was about 15 undulating miles along the ridge top, so Anne had some tough riding to check out the solution. It was clear that she was not happy, she was off the back at every descent and wasn't riding confidently. We found the next control point and took down our arrival time and secret information (this time it was the identification number of the emergency phone at the vista point), and booted Anne's rear tire. Lois had a Park boot—it was really thick flexible plastic with an adhesive on it and worked great. Again, I operated in a supernumerary capacity—the other four Girlenes just jumped all over the problem. It took us about 10 minutes to rest, get the info, repair the tire, and hit the road.
To the Third Control
We were all amazed, but the boot really made a difference in the handling of Anne's bike, so we were much happier cyclists as we headed down Highway 35 to the intersection with Old La Honda road. On the narrow, curvy part of Old La Honda (no guardrails!) we descended at a fairly stately pace until the road widened, then the pros took off—they dropped me like a used Kleenex in about 100 yards. Finally, the road sort of pointed up, or maybe less down, and I was able to regain my place at the back. Actually, I was in third place and Amy was pulling, and quite strongly I might add. Although we were trending downhill to the coast, it was afternoon by this time and there was a strong head wind coming off the ocean. Amy pulled us all for several miles at over 20 mph. She finally pulled off and then Susan took a monster pull herself. My turn was distinguished by (a) its shortness and (b) my willingness to piss off some drivers hauling horse trailers, who were going to a rodeo on Highway 84. Being a hauler of horse trailers myself, I just have no sympathy for them when they're in a hurry, for a bunch of reasons, but I digress. Anyhow, after a really long time of riding really fast into a headwind, we ended up at San Gregorio, which was Control #3. After we noted our arrival time on our route cards, we also had to mail a post card from the post office there and include a note as to the color of the door.
To the Fourth Control
With 82 miles done, we had lunch at the store in San Gregorio, not far from the beach, sitting on the asphalt parking lot. How can asphalt be so comfortable under some circumstances? Anyhow, we ate and took lots and lots of ibuprofen and headed up Old Stage Road. It parallels the Pacific coast highway and is very quiet. It's actually two very nice climbs, maybe a couple of miles long each, but I was in baaaaddd shape by then. I thought it would never end. After the climb, we rumbled into Pescadero, but we didn't even stop—we just continued on to Cloverdale Road, another quiet back-road to avoid the busier coast highway. At this point, Lois started to pull, up hills and into headwinds, no worries. When we turned onto Gazos Creek, toward the coast again, we had another headwind. I hid behind everyone while Lois pulled us down to Highway 1 and the coastline.
We were on Highway 1 for eight miles, then we turned up Swanton Road at its northern-most end—the direction we usually descend on our weekend rides. As we turned onto the climb, we sighted the lone tandem that had started the ride up a few turns. Lois, who had pulled all the way down Cloverdale, Gazos Creek, and Highway 1, wanted to chat with them (the Woodsides were also members of the PBP survivor club) and took off in pursuit. I tried to keep up, but just sort of faded back through the pack. Fortunately, the climb was over before I humiliated myself completely and we descended into the valley. Control #4 was at the fire station and I can't remember what the info-question was—I was just glad to stop pedaling my bike.
Lois and Amy pulled us out onto to coastal highway. Then, somehow, as we turned onto Highway 1, I got near the front along with Susan, the other "climber." I usually understand that to mean "Not Strong Anywhere Else But Going Uphill" but evidently Susan and I were not on the same page here and she started pulling like a Trojan. Anyhow, I decided to Do My Duty too, so we pulled for the last ten miles. Luckily we had a pretty nice tail wind to help us and the miles went by quickly. We rode side-by-side to create a really good draft and worked steadily on the rolling climbs. Nothing exciting happened except that, as we got near the finish in Santa Cruz, Lois started talking about where the city limit sign used to be until some vandals recently chopped it down. She was descriptive enough so that everyone could have pinpointed it. The more she talked, the faster Susan rode, so the faster I had to ride to keep up. Susan finally told me that going for the final city limits sprint is a Girlene tradition and she didn't want them, in her words, "getting any ideas." Soooo, we pulled the crew in at 27 mph so any of them would have to kill themselves to get off the front—I think what the pros call "riding tempo." I'm sure glad we had that coastal tail wind!
We finally pulled into Bill and Lois's backyard where Bill was still Master of the Clipboard, so he took our numbers, times, signed cards, etc., and gave us all juice or soda to drink and some chips and salsa to eat while we relaxed on the deck. We were also offered beer, but I still had to ride home and had to decline. That hurt worse than going up any of the hills. I called The Husband and he felt sorry enough for me to meet me at the park to walk the mutt, rather than leaving me to climb our hill. So I took off and rode another three miles to the park, for a 131-mile day (not including the dog walk).
It was a GREAT day. Great route too, but better company. I can't think of a ride where I had more fun or more confidence in the riders around me to take care of themselves and the rest of the group. I hope to do it again at the first opportunity, and recommend it to all.