September 8, 2018

Baked Buddies

For my 12th ride in the annual Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge, I considered opting for the 60-mile route instead of my traditional 100. Although repairs to the Pacific Coast Highway were completed ahead of schedule [when does that ever happen?], the organizers couldn't gamble that the road would be open before the big day. We would trace the same route we followed last year.

We made the long trek to San Simeon and visited some of the local sights after checking in. For the first time, I spotted the resident zebras grazing in the fields below the castle—I've long known about them, but not clearly seen them till now.

Zebras grazing in tall grass, San Simeon, California
We drove a few miles north to observe the resident elephant seals. The colony was spread around the largest bull I've seen. No doubts about who's in charge.

Elephant seals lounging on the beach, San Simeon, California
I wasn't enthused about reprising last year's route, and I imagined that climbing Old Creek Road would be more scenic than Highway 41. I mean, the highway was sort of scenic—this is California, after all—but the back roads are more enticing. I had been similarly tempted last year, but stayed the course.

When I thanked my donors last year, I invited any of them to join me (and expected no takers). Surprise! One of my friends signed up, excited to be tackling her first century. The die was cast.

As the day drew near, I kept a close eye on the forecast. The predicted inland high temperature for Saturday kept creeping up. As we drove to San Simeon, I checked the current conditions in Paso Robles: 107°F. (Yikes.) Neither of us could handle that kind of heat. I nearly bonked at mile 60, last year—and that was not a triple-digit day.

And so it was, with some regrets, that we traded down to the 60-mile route.

View of the Pacific Ocean near Cayucas, California
There are some stunning views as we head south along Highway 1, but with riders moving fast in a pack there are few opportunities to pull aside for a photo stop.

View of Whale Rock Reservoir and the Pacific Ocean from Old Creek Road above Cayucas, California
We climbed Old Creek Road from one end to the other. Along the way, there was a great view of Whale Rock Reservoir with the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Ghost bike in memory of Jose Martel, killed on Old Creek Road above Cayucas, California on 3 December 2016
There was more traffic than I expected, with a motorcycle officer from the CHP patrolling up and down. When I saw the ghost bike, I understood.

By 10:30 a.m., it was already uncomfortably hot. Toward the top, I pedaled from one patch of shade to the next (when I could find some). I passed a cyclist immobilized with leg cramps, and others who were walking.

pep's bike at the summit, elevation 1762 feet, along Highway 46 above Cambria, California
This year, I had no intention of climbing the wall on Santa Rosa Creek Road. The organizers heeded our pleas for mercy and offered Highway 46 as an official bypass option. [Which I would have taken, anyway.]

Misty view of Morro Rock and the Pacific Ocean from Highway 46 above Cambria, California
Highway 46 offers expansive views of secluded canyons, the Pacific, and Morro Rock at the mouth of the bay. My descent was especially carefree: during yesterday's drive, we witnessed Caltrans sweeping the shoulder(!). A few pockets of warm air crossed the road, and by the time I reached Highway 1 the cool headwind was welcome. A tailwind would have been even more welcome, but ... dream on.

Pelicans diving into the Pacific for their meal, William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, San Simeon, California
After crossing the finish line, I enjoyed a late lunch at the beach—watching the pelicans compete for their lunch.

The shorter route (58 miles, 3,220 feet of climbing) gave us ample time to arrive at the barbecue in time for all the speeches and award presentations. And, of course, the band!

Soulville California Band performing at the barbecue, Hearst Ranch, San Simeon, California
Every year we meet new Buddy Ambassadors and are inspired by their achievements: meaningful jobs, sincere friendships, and the confidence to live full lives.

Poster for rest stop host Best Buddies Ambassador Caley Versfelt, quote: Inclusion IS possible. Together, if we can dream it, we can achieve it!, Santa Rosa Creek Road above Cambria, California
Every year I am humbled by the donations I'm able to collect, and awed by the top fundraisers.

William Randolph Hearst's office, Casa Grande (Hearst Castle), San Simeon, California
We took a short tour of Casa Grande at the after-party, where I was thrilled to get a close-up view of the resident bats in addition to the usual sights (like Mr. Hearst's office, above). Others in our party were, shall we say ... not so thrilled?

Best Buddies logo projected next to stairs leading to the Best Buddies VIP party at Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
My ride buddy and I made the right call; Atascadero topped out at 101°F. Mother Nature willing, I'll return to the traditional coastal route in 2019—all 100 miles of it.

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