September 7, 2013

Shadows and Fog

Some years ago, the time had come for my mom to downsize. The house was sold, and the utility company sent a representative to shut off the water and record a final meter reading. Looking at the name on his work order, he asked “Do you have a daughter named ... ?”

Bicycle next to ice plant on a Pacific coast cliff at Granite Canyon
Flash back to [a long time ago]. There was a student in our 8th grade class, “M,” who was old enough to drive. He had some sort of learning disability; there was no place for him in our high school, nor did he belong in the special education classroom. He was mainstreamed with us, though the age difference must have made it awkward for him.

There was another student in our class who was ... bored. Insufficiently challenged. Our teachers understood this, and so it came to pass that I tutored M. My best friend and I developed lesson plans, and part of our education was teaching M.

That same M who now stood before my mom, with a decent job and a family. I had made a difference in his life, and he remembered.

Light fog above a rocky cove along the Pacific Coast Highway
There was no organization called Best Buddies then, but that is who we tried to be. That summer, I did more tutoring and worked with special needs children. I would choose a different path for my career, but with the indulgent support of my friends I now ride each year to support the work of Best Buddies.

This year marked the tenth anniversary of the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge—the seventh ride for me. With some racers and former Olympians at the front, the century riders set off at a blistering pace. I lost contact with the lead group by mile five, despite sustaining an average speed of 18.6 mph over the first ten miles. At the one-hour mark, I had covered 17 miles and climbed some 580 feet. Only 83 miles and 5,750 feet of climbing to go ...

Distant hill pokes through the fog along the Pacifc coast
The fog toyed with us as we approached Big Sur, casting shadows as it drifted across the road. It filled the canyon at Bixby Creek, obscuring the iconic bridge. By mile 60, it hugged the coast and swallowed the view. For the last 13 miles, I regretted two things equally: the lack of a taillight and the lack of a tailwind. I hammered that stretch as best I could, averaging 15 mph and sweeping past four very tired guys. As I closed in on the fourth, he rose out of the saddle in a vain attempt to defend his position; the other three never gave chase. [You know a guy is spent when he lets a woman pass, unchallenged.]

Nighttime swimmers in the Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle
Yet, I was speedy only in my own mind—I was a full mile per hour slower than last year, and well off my best pace (14.3 mph in 2009). I managed to roll across the finish line in time to claim a quick massage before getting cleaned up and heading for the traditional barbecue at Piedra Blanca Rancho. I was fortunate again to close out the night partying on the patio behind Casa del Monte. And of course, frolicking in the Neptune Pool. One of the Castle's resident bats circled overhead before dropping down for a quick sip of the pool's fresh spring water.

There is no better way to see the California coastline than from the seat of a bicycle. Next year, I'll be back: same charity, same coast.


  1. Good work! 14 mph with 6000' of climb is quite respectable. No tracklog though? Can't view the pics as every time chromium and mozilla update (all the time, as they are rolling releases), Flash breaks again.

    1. This year, 12.8 mph; 14.3 mph in 2009. The route is the same every year - here is the track I recorded in 2010:

    2. Very respectable. 100 miles And anyone who can finish it and not die or pass out is an icon in my book. You seem to enjoy it too. 100 mi for me is something I don't want to do again. I still do metrics for charity though.

  2. Use this link for the photos with requiring flash: :)

    1. Thanks, Greg. Replaced the slideshow link in the original post with the Flash-free gallery link.