September 6, 2014

Love is All Around

pep with Best Buddies Ambassador Donna Gunn and Willard
One hour into the ride, I had the opportunity to chat with a Best Buddies Ambassador, Donna Gunn, and her “pet rat” Willard. [Quite the sense of humor, eh?] During the brief opening program before the Hearst Castle Challenge century riders started rolling, she had spoken about how Best Buddies had brought “the spirit of belonging” into her life. Donna was our host at the first rest stop, and she was bobbing with excitement to meet the cyclists in all our colorful gear.

I thought last year's pace was blistering ... ha! With George Hincapie, local race champions, and a smattering of Olympians at the front, I could barely hang on. Over the first 30 minutes, I averaged 20 mph. That included the first small hill, where I lost contact with the front of the pack. They were out of sight by the time I made the turn toward Highway 1. The next group flowed past me up a rolling hill, and I heard one of the retired pros call out “C'mon, Anthony, everybody is fast going downhill.” [Anthony Shriver was riding the full century this year for the first time.] They crested the hill and relaxed ever so slightly. I attacked. It was a proud moment when I passed the lot of them, and the retired pro called out “Nice work!”

Sunlit cove against a gray sky along the Pacific Coast Highway
Mother Nature presented us with the traditional morning gloom, but the sun found a way to break through to highlight this cove before fully beating back the marine layer. I was determined not to have the specter of the broom wagon dogging me this year, which meant riding faster and being less of a tourist along the way, but how could I not stop to capture this magical moment? A passing rider shouted “Great shot!” and then called out his email address so I could send him a copy. [Right. Like I would remember that.]

Turquoise cove with kelp along the rocky California Pacific coastline.
Of course, I can't sustain a 20 mph pace to finish a century in five hours. Over the first hour, I averaged 17.8 mph—which for me is pretty darned amazing, hills or no hills.

The post-lunch climbs were lonely; the fast guys were long gone, and there was not a single slow rider walking up. (These days, they load them onto vans at the rest stop and ferry them to the top.) The second climb is slightly steeper, but the first climb breaks your spirit. The contours obscure the road ahead; you round a bend only to see the next highest point. I hammered the last 13 miles and stopped counting the cyclists I overtook. Some, I passed more than once (after pausing for the occasional photo). I rolled across the finish line in 7:05 (moving time), averaging 14 mph. I could have passed the handful of riders ahead of me in the final stretch, but that would have been rude.

I thought the “race” announcer missed me in the scrum, but he had a sharp eye. As one of the top 25 fundraisers, my bib was yellow and my number was my rank: 13. The pros have a tradition for that number, and I followed it: I wore my number upside down. “Just like Fabian Cancellara,” the announcer proclaimed. “I learned that from Fabian,” I smiled.

Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle, drained due to the historic California drought.
After celebrating at the post-ride barbecue and concert (Bruce Hornsby, this year), I finished the night as an invited guest at the intimate party up on the hill. The first time I swam in the Neptune Pool, I expected that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The next five times, I lingered as if there would never be another chance. Given the now-historic California drought, this year the pool stands empty. A good opportunity for some repairs, they say.

Next year?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, 14 mph is fast: I am duly impressed. I'm not sure if I've ever finished a century that fast, not that I've tried very hard. I've always wanted to ride the Harpoon Brewery2Brewery one in New England, but that an average of 16 mph is required. 14 mph I might be able to manage, but 16 mph, not in this lifetime! Now, assuredly, you are ready to ace the LKHC.

    The first photo is great. On my fridge I keep a snapshot of some residents of a homeless shelter to which I donated. The people you are helping are real!