Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tour of the Unknown Coast

THE TOUR OF THE UNKNOWN COAST : Riding in a postcard

I like Humboldt County out in Northern California . I’d been there twice for the 12 Hours of Humboldt and once for the Bigfoot Classic mountain bike race. Those huge redwood trees and awesome scenery—you gotta see them to understand. So when Vic from Team Bigfoot invited me to come and do a hundred mile road that people call “ California ’s toughest century,” I jumped at the chance. “Ten thousand feet of climbing?” I said, “Sounds great!”

Vic had told me to bring riding clothes for all weather conditions. “It can be foggy or sunny, wet or dry, cold or warm, all in the same day.” I understood the moment I arrived. In Florida it had been in the 80’s, but it was in the 50’s, moist and overcast when I got off the plane at the Eureka/Arcata airport. I’m not used to cold!

The day before the event was a Cannondale shop visit. The Cannondale Demo center was there and they took me for a mountain bike ride in the Arcata Community Forest . I’d ridden there at the 12 Hours of Humboldt, but on different trails they took me on. There was this hike-a-bike and since I hadn’t brought mountain bike shoes I was riding with road pedals and shoes. So there I was duck-walking up this section, trying not to fall or break my road cleats.

The next morning was the Tour of the Unknown Coast . It’s in a little farm town called Ferndale that’s right out of an old movie. Sheriff Andy Taylor and Opie would be right at home in Ferndale . It was cold and overcast and the local riders were saying it was likely to stay that way. I ate and got ready for the 7am start time, thinking that I had plenty of time, when I heard Vic on the loud speaker calling “Tinker! Tinker!” It was 7:01 and 473 other riders were on the starting line waiting on me. Woops!

The route started flat, so the lead pack was moving when we hit the first of the small climbs. Then we onto the “Avenue of the Giants,” a stretch of road where you’re riding under huge redwoods trees. Most are like 200 feet tall and they tell me that there are a few 300-footers in there.

I’d been talking with local rider John “Fuzzy” Mylne in the pack. He’s a single-speed rider that I’ve met at different endurance events where he’s been doing really well. About 45 miles out we start up a climb and Fuzzy tells me that the climb goes on for nine miles. I figured that was a good time to test myself so I stood up and powered for a while then sat down and got into a good climbing rhythm.

After a few minutes I looked back and didn’t see anybody. I felt good and was keeping a pace that I knew I could sustain. Nine miles later it was over the top and into a fun descent through some amazing scenery that looks like something you’d see on a postcard. You could see for miles. Other than a farm house here or there the only thing man-made you see is the road. At the bottom was a tiny little town and as I passed the firehouse the firemen blew a siren. The next several miles was rolling terrain and still, hardly anything out there. Just untouched hillsides with maybe a few cows or sheep.

Finally I reached the ocean and the wind. Vic had told me about the headwind there and that one really windy year Mike Pigg the triathlete could barely go 6 miles an hour. Thankfully the wind wasn’t that bad. I was able to keep 16mph. Then I saw “The Wall,” a mile long climb that has sections of 23% grade. Yeah, just what I like! I made it up the first pitch and went into a switch-back section, looked back down at the road along the coast and didn’t see anyone.

Once you get over the wall you drop back down into this little valley, and then climb back out over what they call “The Endless Hills.” They named it right. Each switchback looks like it’s going to be the top of the ridge. But once you get to it you see the next one, and the next one, and the next one. I kept up my rhythm and was practically getting a stiff neck from looking back down looking for other riders. Nope. Just me.

Finally I reached the top—and the fog piled up over the other side of the ridge. It was only eight miles to the finish and was anxious to get out of the cold. A guy pulled alongside on a motorcycle to tell me to be careful, that the fog was thick almost all the way back. Vic had warned me about the final descent, that there were decreasing radius turns, potholes and a dirt section. The locals know this section and can really haul, but I played it safe.

Finally I made it to the final flat straight to the finish line. It was a great ride for me. I’ve always admired those guys in the Tour de France or the Giro who do big, long solo breaks like that. My time was five hours and twenty-eight minutes. The record is something like 30 minutes faster, but Vic said that was set in a year that had a tailwind along the ocean.

The ride was over but not my day. I had some kids to meet. I’d been contacted by a Sacramento Police sergeant who runs a mountain bike program for high school and middle-school kids. The program’s focus is to keep kids out of gangs. That really hits home with me ‘cause a lot of kids from my school got into that kind of trouble. The sergeant had asked if I could visit the kids in Sacramento , but with my busy schedule it would have been hard to do. So Vic invited the sergeant to bring the kids to the Tour of the Unknown Coast , comped them their entries, campsite and meals.

I spent about an hour with them answering questions and signing autographs. The bikes the kids use mostly came from the police as unclaimed property. Some are donated and they’ve managed to scrounge parts from all over. I’m going to go through my garage and box up some of my old stuff for them. Seeing the excitement on their faces when they talked about riding and racing was real inspiring, so I’m glad to help them.

So it was a good day for me. I had a good ride. got to test my fitness, met some great people. That’s it for now. It’s time to focus on the rest of my season.

Thanks for reading.

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