September 13, 2009

Biking for Best Buddies

If you have driven in a hilly region, you are familiar with those "curvy road ahead" signs. The ones with an "S" shaped arrow and some advisory text, like Next 2 Miles. Just south of Carmel on the Pacific Coast Highway there is such a sign: Next 74 Miles.

At that point, we had completed our 9-mile warm-up on sunny Carmel Valley Road and entered the fog zone along the coast. Our starting location, the posh Quail Lodge, was a new treat this year. A truly continental breakfast: pain au chocolat and fresh strawberries.

When assembling for a mass start at a charity ride, where should you position yourself in the pack? Wisely, the pros (including Garmin-Slipstream's Lucas Euser) are at the front. Farther back than I would like, behind which of these would-be century riders should I position myself to maximize my chances of staying upright?
  1. The guy wearing tennis shoes, with platform pedals on his bike.
  2. The dude in the baggy athletic shorts, already sagging below the waistband of his designer underwear.
  3. The guy sporting an LA Triathlete Club jersey, with smooth, chiseled legs.
Once we took off, I moved up in the pack. Triathletes being somewhat allergic to hills, I pulled away from him after a few miles. I was pleasantly surprised to stay in contact with the main pack almost to the first rest stop, averaging 15.7 mph. Our cheering section directed us down a private driveway, explaining:
The food is in the garage.
I would wager that none of us had ever before seen a garage with floor-to-ceiling glass corner panels (overlooking the main house and, of course, the Pacific Ocean). Hoping to set a personal record on the ride to San Simeon, I abandoned my fantasy of moving into said garage and pedaled onward.

A new milestone for me was the realization that I could bide my time climbing behind a slower rider until traffic cleared, and then easily accelerate uphill to pass. I have the power in my legs to do this now, on a human scale not unlike the engine that rockets a shiny black car from 0 to 62 mph in 3.8 seconds. Just pull out, and go. Later, an impatient driver would floor his accelerator at his first opportunity to pass a string of riders. Oooo, I am sooo impressed by your raw display of power in that ... Kia.

The marine layer overhead kept us cool and damp as we made our way down the coast. With white-out conditions at Vista Point, the second rest stop, there was no vista to enjoy. But from the seat of a bicycle, you take your vistas wherever you find them - you are not limited to those designated roadside pull-outs. I snapped a few photos along the way.

At the third rest stop, a perky volunteer confirmed for a weary rider that there was "one more hill" ahead. Guessing that he was better off not knowing that there were really a pair of hills linked together, with the second climb being shorter but steeper, I said nothing. Ignorance is a sort of bliss, especially at mile 75 (and 80). The SAG vehicles are always busy on that stretch.

Momentum being useful for some uphill advantage, approaching the start of the second climb I flung myself aggressively (and gleefully) into the final hairpin. Grinding along, a rider caught up to admire my descending skill (wow, second time this year!). He was surprised at the speed I carried through the turns, and already understood that a big part of descending well is really about cornering. We chatted at the last rest stop; he wanted some tips. I learned from a pro rider, I explained.

Although this is the third time I have done this route, the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge, there were still surprises. Booking along the final stretch into San Simeon with the traditional tailwind, I notice a patrol car at the side of the road with flashing lights. Just ahead of it ... was that a wave breaking onto the highway? Time to slow down and study the ocean. With ample caution, I rode through the seawater during a periodic lull. Next, a knot of tourists catches my eye. What's that on the beach? Elephant seals! This is the third time I have biked this stretch, and I had never before noticed the elephant seals? Translation: I am in much better shape this year.

Crossed the finish line to set a personal record, averaging 14.3 mph over 98.7 miles with 6,290 feet of climbing. Faster than last year by 0.5 mph - not bad. Ranked as the 15th top fund-raiser for this event, another personal record. Delighted to put my fitness to such good use, and grateful for the generosity of the many friends who responded to my appeal on behalf of Best Buddies.

Massaged and cleaned up, time for the evening festivities. First, the barbecue. Women in high heels step off the bus at the Hearst Ranch, oblivious to the fresh cow pies dotting the field. Hello, it is a working ranch. First priority: Food. My plate: Salmon, corn/green pea salad, garlic bread, grilled veggies, pork rib, broccoli salad, mashed potatoes, small rib of beef, half an ear of corn. Having burned over 3,000 calories to get there, I ate every last bit of it.

For me, as a top fundraiser, the day ended with a very special treat: a party at Hearst Castle. First priority: The Neptune Pool. Much to my surprise, my legs felt better after half an hour swimming around in the pool. Was it just the cool water, or was it that magical, mystical pool? Next priority: dessert (chocolate to finish the day, of course), followed by a private tour of some of the highlights of Casa del Sol and Casa Grande.

It was after midnight when I returned to the motel; you will appreciate how tired I was when I explain that I overlooked the 19 Porsches in the parking lot until the next morning.


  1. >behind which of these would-be century riders >should I position myself to maximize my chances >of staying upright?

    In front of all of them. Do I win?

    Congrats not only on finishing, but on doing so with style.