Going Home

This past week started out mellow, progressed to boring, then sad, difficult, and back to mellow.
I had a big ride with lots of hard climbing coming up on Saturday, so Tuesday I went mellow.  A somewhat flat 30 mile ride through the valley with a few small hills thrown in.  The ride was only really notable due to the fact I ran into (not literally) my son out for a ride near Ashland.  He joined me for about 10 miles.  We haven’t ridden together for awhile so that was a little treat. 

Wednesday was a boring ride that ended up being just another simple 20 miles to Ashland and back.
Thursday, I joined several dozen other riders at the Champion Raceway for a couple memorial laps in honor of a local boy who, with a warrior’s endurance and legend-worthy grace lost his battle to a relentless and unforgiving foe.  A very sad time for the local cycling community, indeed.

Friday, I made the four hour trek to my homeland (Humboldt County) and prepared for Saturday’s big ride, The Tour of the Unknown Coast.  The so-called “California’s Toughest Century”. 
Having lived in the Eel River Valley for my first 28 years, I know that you can get just about any type of weather any time of the year.  But, 90% of the time you can count on one of two things.  Either sunny with no fog or rain, but only because the strong coastal winds have blown them away.  Or, fog and slightly less wind.  As I started the long ride from my parents house to the start/finish line (a whole half mile) there was a pretty good layer of fog.  YES!!!!  Maybe less wind on our return along the coast!  We shall see.

While the TUC is timed, it isn’t an official race.  Since I grew up in the area and have seen all there is to see from the roads we would be riding more times than I can count, I would rather race the route.  However, I chose to ride with a large contingent of Rogue Valley riding buddies from various local teams since I like these guys better than racing.  The general consensus was start a little later than the official start time, enjoy the scenery (it really is breathtaking), and have an epic adventure.  There was 17 of us in all and we set out at about 7:20 am. (Thanks to DAVE MASESSA for the photo)

With adrenaline flowing and three hills in the first 12 miles, we were strung out pretty quickly.  We decided there would be a few different groups as 4 or 5 of our initial 17 went cruising past the rest of us while we waited for them.
No biggie.  With the blessing from yet another 4 or 5 riders wanting to go a little slower, the rest of us headed back out on the road on our own.
It’s always fun riding through the towns where I grew up and as I passed through the town of Scotia I couldn’t help but tell a couple stories of my days when I worked at the big Redwood mill there that is now all but shut down.
It wasn’t long before we were riding through the Avenue of the Giants.  The old Highway 101 route that is now a scenic bypass.  It’s a pretty humbling feeling riding through groves of trees that are hundreds of feet tall and thousands of years old.  It was made even more impressive as the sun finally started breaking through the fog.  Finally!
Skipping the first 2 rest areas we plunged even deeper into the forest and were met with some of the most deplorable roads you can imagine that can still be classified as paved.  Even though those of us that have ridden here before know what to expect, it doesn’t make it any better.  We hammered through trying to avoid the worst spots. Surviving that, 37 miles into the ride we stopped at the Albee Creek feed zone and refueled before tackling the first big challenge of the day.  The climb up Panther Gap.

Panther Gap is a 7 mile climb with an average grade of 7% and a few sections reaching into the mid teens.  It’s no easy feat, but 50 minutes later we were all heading down the other side.
Oh, if only the road were in better condition.  It’s a good descent but it could be great if half one’s time wasn’t spent trying to find something resembling a smooth piece of asphalt.  The task is made even more difficult as you are rolling in and out of deep shadows the whole way down.  Luckily, we all made it down safely and it was on to the lunch stop.
Feeling good and now cruising in a group of 3 that included my oft-mentioned friend, Shawn, Oregon Triple Crown buddy, Bryan, and I we reached the lunch stop at A W Way Campground at approximately mile 65.  We had a nice 20 minute break while we shoveled some much needed calories back into our bodies.  Maybe a little too much, actually.  With a knot in my stomach, it was back on the road and pedaling through the Mattole Valley as we made our way to the “Unknown Coast”.

After a few more short but substantial climbs we made a fast descent to the coastline and back into the fog.  But, that’s ok.  Usually, this portion of the ride is spoken of in not so kindly terms.  It’s a 10 mile run up the coast usually involving a VERY strong headwind.  While sunny skies make for prettier pictures, fog, and therefore less wind, make for a better ride as you approach the most infamous feature of the entire route.  The Wall.

The Wall comes at mile 80 and it is no joke.  You immediately start a climb from sea level that takes you up 1000 feet over the next 2 miles.  That may not sound that bad, but 400 of those feet are done in the first half mile on a section with an average grade of 14%, sometimes reaching 20%.  19 minutes later that bit of suffering was over and, not only was I heading down another pothole filled descent, but I also didn’t see Shawn or Bryan again until the finish. 
I stayed within 50 yards of them for almost the whole climb.  As they reached the summit and  I realized I wouldn’t be able to stay with them a slight bit of depression set in.  It passed quickly though.  Sometimes, I just have to admit I can’t hang with my buddies.  They are stronger, lighter, and clearly faster.  That’s ok.  They push me to my limits and in this case I set new PR’s on almost every climb I did since I was trying to keep up. 
I wish I could wrap this all up here, but I wasn’t finished.  Once the vaunted Wall has been conquered, you still have the Endless Hill.  While the Wall is steep but short,   The Endless Hill is slightly less steep, yet definitely NOT short.  It’s the last major obstacle before the final descent.  However, that doesn’t com until after 7 more miles averaging 5% with occasional bumps up into the teens.  It gets it’s name due to the numerous false summits that the less experienced think are the top.  They aren’t.  It truly feels Endless.  Thankfully, it isn’t. 
After finally topping out, you are rewarded with one last fast, furious, crappy pavemented descent back into town and the finish line.
It was a great day.  The final results haven’t been posted, but despite starting 20 minutes late and stopping longer than I prefer when we did take a break, I’m pretty sure I set a new personal official time for the entire course.  Stoked!

Sunday, I would have liked to have taken a day off.  The only reason I’m mentioning the 19 mile ride I did do is because it was with one of my best friends, Jacob.  We have been on many adventures together, but he moved away several months ago.  I won’t say much, but this may just be the first of many times in the near future you will hear his name mentioned as I tell stories of doing really stupid things in the middle of nowhere on bikes. 

Welcome Home!

Next week is the Davis Double.  Double century number two!  Can’t wait!
Aaron

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