September 7, 2019

Gusty Gutsy

Could I still do it? Could I still ride 100 miles down the coast? Last year, on the alternate route, I dropped back to 100 km due to the heat. But that would not be a factor this year.

You've done it before, I told myself. This will be the eleventh time. Of course you can do it. A 25-mile ride is nothing, this is just four of those.

The start was different this year. Although it's not a race (for most of us), this year they had us line up in three groups. Group 1 would finish by 1 p.m, group 2 by 2 p.m, group 3 by 3 p.m. Where is group 4? [There was no group 4.] I normally place myself at the front, to stay with the pack as long as possible, but I dutifully found a place at the back. Once we were rolling, I was able to catch some of the group 2 stragglers, at least.

Our “neutral” 15 mph start was no such thing, as I averaged 17.1 mph for the first 30 minutes. The route was also a bit longer, with a sharp uphill turn from Rancho San Carlos onto Carmel Valley Road, because they positioned us to start in the opposite direction. I didn't need that extra mileage or elevation gain ... and there were urgent choruses of SLOWING! from the pack whenever the pace would suddenly drop and we would bunch up. At one point George Hincapie effortlessly sailed past me as if I were coasting [but I was pedaling, hard]. Maybe he got a late start, because he should have been at the front.

Group 2 was ready to depart right after I arrived at the first rest stop, and group 3 followed only a few minutes later. There were plenty of domestiques (in hot pink jerseys) to look after us; I didn't want to get caught up in a group of stragglers, so I was careful not to tarry.

The weather was, in a word, perfect. Warm enough to forgo even arm warmers, and once we slipped out from under the marine layer, the views were as spectacular as I'd ever seen on this ride. Mother Nature was, perhaps, making amends for the damage that closed the route to us the past two years.

Thirty miles in, I wondered again about whether I could still do this. Seventy miles to go? Eh, 33 miles isn't a big ride, this is just three of those.

I was prepping to leave the second rest step when I heard the ride “sweep” roll in. [Uh oh.] I don't think I'd ever been that close to the back of the ride at the halfway point. I hustled out of there and understood that I needed to stop taking photos or risk being swept into a support vehicle.

The hills slow me down. “Keep on grinding,” a voice behind me called out. [Grrr.] I'm sure he meant well, but it's times like this when I wish I was wearing my Death Ride jersey. [Respect.] I adopted he following approach:
Me:  Have you done this ride before?
Domestique:  No, this is my first time, the views are incredible!
Me:  Ah yes. I've done this route ten times, and the views today are one of the top two—if not the best—I've seen.
I'd explain that I usually finish around 4 p.m., and once they were reassured that I was smiling (not struggling), we had some nice chats and they turned their attention to the strugglers. “You'll see people walking on the pair of hills after the lunch stop,” I told them.

But not so many, this year—I only passed one walker. Until I nearly got toppled by some powerful wind gusts, and I dismounted for a short stretch (self-preservation, that). On the next climb, I rounded a sharp promontory and got blasted with sand and twigs. The gusts were so fierce and unrelenting that I nearly lost control of the bike. I had a flashback to the day my bike got slammed into the guardrail, up north. There was no guardrail here; I got off the bike and walked until the road direction shifted me out of harm's way.

I couldn't resist a few more photos. For some perspective, that line cut high into the hillside (below) is the road (CA 1).

I descended with caution, concerned about the effects of a crosswind at speed. I was anxious to get down to the flat section, where I expected the (tail)wind to boost me. I usually sweep past a few riders on the home stretch, and today was no exception. After passing a domestique shepherding a spent rider, there was another guy in my sights. I didn't expect to catch him, so I was surprised to find that I was closing the gap. (Until he noticed me and dug deeper to stay ahead.)

I crossed the line at 4:18 p.m. after 101 miles and 6,405 feet of climbing, average speed 12.6 mph, top speed 41.1 mph. Not my fastest time, but not my slowest, either. [I can, in fact, still do this.]

Enough time to catch a massage, collect my luggage, and dash off to the hotel to get cleaned up for some partying.

At the barbecue, Zack Gottsagen and the filmmakers were talking about making The Peanut Butter Falcon. If you're not clear about what folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities can achieve, well ... see the film and learn the backstory.

At the after-party, I was disappointed to learn that we would no longer enjoy the privilege of swimming in the Neptune Pool. As much as I thought, each time that I bobbed and floated in that amazing place, that I might never again have the chance, I did always hope for another opportunity.

I wrapped up the night with another brief tour of the castle, which has become more standardized each year. Gone are the days when the guide would ask what you wanted to see, and improvise. I don't recall visiting the Celestial Suite in the past, all the way into the top of one of the towers. The resident bats are gone, too; repelled by a clicking electronic device mounted in the eaves.

The first time I signed up for this event, it was the route that lured me. I didn't expect to return, again and again. I never expected that I could raise as much money as I have, over all these years.

I'm looking forward to next year, to riding and raising funds to help people like Zack be respected and achieve their full potential.

That's what we all deserve, isn't it?


  1. Great stories. I like your pictorial too. You're a wonderful and talented rider and writer!

  2. We get such a charge out of reliving these tours with you. It's been a pleasure and an honor to support your efforts all these years -- long may you ride!

  3. Congrats on your commitment to this cause and your drive to keep coming back year after year. Looks like a beautiful ride with a well worth historic landmark greeting you in the end.