I know, I know - the Big Sur Ride isn't a triathlon, but it was a great, grueling ride, everybody else is submitting reports, and I want to get in on the fun. (Plus, I feel guilty for not being at the stadium cleanup, but hey, I figure the doing this ride was a decent excuse.)
For those of you who aren't familiar with the ride, it is a 2-day, 170 mile, 11,000+ ft. group ride starting at Carmel Valley, going down the coast through Big Sur, and then looping in over the Nacimiento Road, past Fort Hunter Liggett, along the Salinas Valley, then back to Carmel Valley. It's not a race, but it's still an absolute blast. The support volunteers drive your camping gear to the Saturday night camp site, so all you need to lug on your bike is emergency repair gear, water, and some snacks.
On Friday night, I made the 3 hour drive down to Carmel. Ahh, to get away from it all - a two day vacation from phone calls, email, traffic, and all the bustle of Berkeley. On Friday night myself and 6 friends stayed with one of their families, in the most bizarre house I've ever been in. The house was designed to have no corners in it - everything in the house (literally everything) was designed to be a section of a sphere. The host was a Danish gynecologist, and either because of his house, his job, or just general circumstances, he was the friendliest, wackiest guy I've met in ages. ("Oh noooo, don't worree aboot ze ferrets...zhe'yre our friends...").
After a very rude awakening at 5:30am, it was off to the registration. I looked in my ride packet, and was saddened to see only a tee-shirt and a bike number - you kinda get used to those useless Endurox pills being in there after a while, even if they just take up shelf space. We started off at around 8:00am for our first day of riding. 90 miles and 7,700 feet to go. The first part of the ride was the most memorable - past Carmel down to highway 1, and then 50 miles of coastal scenery, the smell of the ocean, and the sounds of sea-critters down below. And, it was hot - as the morning waned on, the temperature rose to what had to be the mid-90's - lots of fluids is the key. The seven of us doing the ride stuck together, and didn't push too hard. We had our first rest stop 30 miles into the ride (time to refill the water bottles, pack down some PB&J bagels, and grab a handfull of powerbar lookalike products), and our second rest stop another 20 or so miles into the ride. Just before the second rest stop, my bike decided to pout a little bit - first, I get a flat. (No problem, right? I have 3 spares and a patch kit.) I replace the flat, start pumping up the replacement, and realize that the replacement isn't holding any pressure. Grumble...snakebite...put in my second of 3 spares, and start riding again. 10 minutes later, there's a nice sloping downhill, and I shift into my big ring. Or at least, I try, and get rewarded with a "sproing!" sound. I look down, and see that my derailleur cable has snapped. GRRR....so I wrap loose cable around my water bottle cage (without stopping, of course, because I earned this downhill dangit!) and keep going to the second stop. The roving bike repair guys fixed up my derailleur cable in a couple of minutes.
The next stage was the killer one - a 7 mile, 3000+ foot climb up Nacimiento Road. That's an average of about a 6% grade, but really the first 3 miles are 11% and the last 4 are 4%. Man, did I want a bigger ring on my rear wheel. 5 minutes into it and I was already standing on my pedals, swearing under my breath in rhythm with my pedal strokes. At mile 2, I had sweated clear through my bandana, and sweat started pouring into my eyes. Of course, I wasn't willing to splash water on my forehead - I needed it for the hydration. At mile 3, I look down at my computer and see my speed is 6. (That's kph, folks, not mph.) This is gonna be a long, long climb. People and their bikes are littered along the side of the road for the duration of the climb, and once in a while a volunteer appears to egg me on and spray me down with water. Finally, after about 70 minutes of solid grunt-work, I make it to the top of the climb and collapse into the 3rd rest stop of the day, happy and exhausted.
I wolf down about 3 popsicles, a liter of gatorade and water, melon, and rest up for about 10-15 minutes. I look down at my watch, and notice it's about 2 in the afternoon - I've been going for 6 hours now, and am starting to feel the exposure. Fortunately, it's a long 20 mile downhill stretch into the camp for the night. Of course, it was not uneventfull. 5 miles down my rear wheel starts sloshing around, and I notice I have another!! flat - that's all 3 spares gone now. After a quick repair (I'm getting really good at that), I'm back on my way. Another 5 miles into it, my side bursts into agony - I look down, and see a bee buzzing around, caught up in a turbulent wind eddy, I guess. I shoo it off, grunt a couple of times, and then decide to use the endorphin rush to my advantage and fly for the last 10 miles of the ride. I pull in at around 3:45pm, ready for a very cold shower and a bucket of food. Happily, I got both, but sadly, I noticed my bee sting has turned black and has swelled to about half the size of an egg - oh well - I'll live. We pitched our tents for the night, socialized for a couple of hours, patched 2 out of my three flat tubes (I turfed the third as I noticed there were 4 separate leaks in it...man, I must suck at replacing tubes) and got to sleep at around 9:30pm. The people who go on this ride are fantastic - at least as supportive and sociable as at triathlons.
The next morning, we wake up at 6:00am and limp around for about 1/2 hour before going for breakfast. Pancakes and maple syrup...yummy... The ride begins again at 8:00am. Today is a bit of an easier ride. 80 miles, 45 miles of which is flat through the Salinas and Carmel valleys, a 15 mile easy climb over a 2000 ft. pass, and then a 20 mile very gentle downhill to the finish. This day was largely uneventful, and extremely scenic. The only mishap of the day was at the 2nd rest stop. Specifically, the organizers set it up so that the rest stop was a 1/2 mile past a fork in the road, and then the ride continues back up the other fork in the road. Stupid me, I take the wrong for and miss the rest stop, and even worse, it's the one just before the 2000 ft. climb. It turned out for the better, however - I just stuck to my rhythm and actually managed to hammer up the hill in about an hour and a quarter (not bad for ~15 miles of uphill), and once again porked out on popsicles and gatorade. The 3 strong riders in my group coasted into the rest stop about 10 minutes later... :)
The last stage of the ride was sheer magic. It was an extremely gentle downhill for 25 miles (about a 1-2% grade, I imagine) with a slight headwind. The 4 of us quickly fell into a really awesome pace line, averaging around 30-32 mph. Pace lines are pure joy - of course we don't get to do them in triathlons, but the feeling is exhilerating. You're zipping along significantly faster than you could on your own, hugging a few inches behind the wheel of the guy in front of you, and then every now and then it's your turn at front and you just go ballistic until your calves explode. We quickly finished the ride, and wolfed down our reward: a barbeque chicken lunch. (It was around 2:30pm at this time..) I'm absolutely exhausted from the two days of riding - 170 miles in total. My muscles are starting to stiffen, a food coma is setting in, and my body is dehydrated from the 15+ hours of exposure to the baking sun. I couldn't possible imagine a happier state of being - and to boot, there's a nice shady, breezy spot in the grass for me to take an hour's nap in before I drive home.
All in all, an extremely enjoyable ride. I heartily recommend it, for the challenge, for the people, and for the amazing scenery. I plan on doing it next year - hopefully some of you will join me.