September 12, 2010

Nothing to See Here

The fog was so thick that droplets condensed and fell from the visor on my helmet. Another rider pointed out that he might as well be riding the rollers and staring at the gray wall in his garage, the view was the same. Mother Nature didn't get the memo to turn off the fog machine on Saturday, when packs of cyclists headed down the coast in the seventh annual Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge.

Repeating this ride for the fourth year in a row, I fully appreciate what a fluke it was to have clear weather on my first ride in 2007. But it is a great cause and a challenging, well-supported ride, so I keep returning. Maybe we will get to enjoy the view next year ...

We start the century by heading east on Carmel Valley Road, making a u-turn through the tunnel at Robinson Canyon Road to head west to the coast. Our pace car this year was a white Audi R8 convertible, which led some of my fellow cyclists to speculate whether it was possible for that vehicle to run at a mere 15 miles per hour. When the driver reached the tunnel, he knew what was required. The incomparable sound of a 10-cylinder Lamborghini engine at play is a fine way to start the day.

At the first rest stop, a tall cyclist was blocking access to the food as he distractedly munched away. Eventually, he realized that he should move—and lo and behold, it was Anthony Shriver himself, founder and chairman of Best Buddies International.

At the second rest stop, a chatty guy on an ElliptiGO raced to a stop. His legs were amazing, nothing but skin stretched taut over a perfect musculature. Was this the power of the ElliptiGO? Uh, not entirely. I would later discover that he was no ordinary athlete, but none other than Ultramarathonman himself, Dean Karnazes.

My next brush with celebrity was a chance to pace for awhile with another respected Bay Area athlete, the weather anchor for the San Francisco CBS affiliate, Roberta Gonzales. She was completely charming, just another cyclist for the day, repeating the ride for the fifth time.

The new twist for me this year was the uncommon privilege to test ride a fabulous S-Works Amira bicycle for the entire length of the course. Thank you, Specialized!

I thought it would be fun to broadcast my location in real time on Saturday, but abandoned that idea when I realized that there would be no cell phone coverage south of Big Sur until we reached the outskirts of San Simeon. I did bring along a spare battery for my Android phone, though, which allowed me to run MyTracks long enough to capture the entire route. Unlike a woeful fellow cyclist, whose iPhone battery ran out of juice in less than five hours. Since he can't swap out the battery on an iPhone, I told him the solution was obvious. Ride faster. He thanked me with a playful slap on the shoulder.

The evening festivities included a bountiful barbecue and an engaging concert by Natasha Bedingfield. Fundraising is becoming a competitive sport in and of itself, which is all good news for this charitable cause. Seventeen riders raised more funds than I did, which earned me the yellow number "18" as one of the top 25 fundraisers this year. Following the concert, I was shuttled up to Hearst Castle to enjoy the final celebration of the day.

Above the marine layer on the Enchanted Hill, the skies were clear for stargazing as I soothed my tired muscles in the chilly spring water of the Neptune Pool. For that, I willingly traded my wool sweater and jacket for a bathing suit. There is nothing like the privilege to swim in that pool.

Thanks to the many friends who supported my ride for Best Buddies in 2010!

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