September 8, 2012

The Coast is Clear

Four out of five runs down the coast have been foggy. For my sixth return to the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge, my reward was a crystal-blue-sky day. Oh, the splendor of the central California coast!

Strategically positioned at the front of the pack, I did my best to hang with the group for as long as I possibly could. On this "neutral" roll-out from Carmel Valley to the coast, I averaged slightly over 19 mph for the first 10 miles. Surprise!

Ostensibly, I am a member of a small team of co-workers for this event; we managed to assemble for a group photo at the first rest stop before they sped south. I am in less of a hurry to get to the finish line, especially on such a picture-perfect day. [Not that I could match their pace.]

Shortly after the second rest stop, a few large birds circled overhead. Turkey vultures are a common sight, though usually not along this stretch of the coast. There was something different about these birds. After I spotted a photographer with a very big lens, a fellow cyclist excitedly confirmed my hunch: California Condors!

This being my first ride since last week's big wipe out, I was feeling a little tentative on the bike. I was not trying for a personal best this year, but still managed a faster pace than last year's jet-lagged excursion.

Nonetheless, the late climbs seemed particularly interminable this year. For the first time, there were no cyclists walking up. At the third rest stop, SAG vehicles were running at capacity: many riders know what is ahead and are not shy about hitching a ride over the top.

At the finish line, an announcer provides a running commentary to entertain the crowd. Straggling solo across the line, he nabbed me. "Here is one of our top fund-raisers!" he called out, thrusting a microphone in front of me.
What time did you leave? [With everyone else.]
Do you know what time it is now?
"Yes, I have been sitting on the saddle for 7 hours and 24 minutes," I explained.

I scored a much-needed massage this year, but was still feeling stressed by the time I got cleaned up for the evening. For the slow, there is no margin for down time: head straight to the barbecue and concert (Blues Traveler, this year). Unexpectedly, I ran into a friend who apologized for not donating this year. "Get a picture with one of those hunky lifeguards at the pool," she teased, "and I'll double my donation next year."

Thanks to the generous friends who supported my fund-raising, I enjoyed the special post-barbecue party again this year. For some, this is an opportunity to mix with celebrities and movers-and-shakers. For me, it is a glorious night under the stars in a legendary pool. I chatted with an amiable fellow swimmer/cyclist who recognized me from the road. He introduced himself, modestly responding that he worked for the legislature when I asked.

Later, I looked him up. Legislature, indeed: a State Senator. Movers and shakers, in the Neptune Pool. And me.

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