This past September, I completed a charity bike event with the California Coast Classic Bike Tour for the Arthritis Foundation. I rode my bicycle for 8 days from San Francisco, to Los Angeles California; 525 Miles, and climbed 26,278 Feet of Elevation. It was extremely challenging, rewarding, and amazing. I’ll be blogging multiple segments here about my journey.
since when is san francisco ever foggy?
California Coast Classic- Day One. San Francisco to Santa Cruz. 85 Miles. 5,859′ Of Climbing Elevation
By Zulu Delta
Let’s start this series with 3 comments that will continue through the entirety of this blog adventure;
Comment One; The California Coast Classis Bike Tour is a charity event planned, promoted, and run by the Arthritis Foundation. It was one of the most well-organized, thought out, and executed large-scale events that I have ever been a part of; on or off the bike. Shannon Marang Cox and her crew of planners, volunteers, fundraisers, ride operators, co-workers, and a slew of others; not to mention all the kind, amazing, and incredible riders I met, made this event of a lifetime so exciting, worthwhile, and satisfying to complete. I’ll be talking more about many of these people later.
Comment Two; In hindsight, I could have and should have, been in 5,000 times better conditioning shape than I was, but in reality, my conditioning could have been 300,000 times worse than it was.
Comment Three; See Comment Number Two!
You can use the below link to get in-depth information about the Day One Ride. https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37477359
Day One started out with an awesome outdoor catered breakfast (a constant every day on the tour) at Fishermans Wharf. My two smartest choices of the day were to keep my jacket handy for the wind and the drizzle, and to not lose all my limited self-control, and splurge on the massive beautiful looking French Toast smothered in syrup; as tempted as it seemed. I had my hands full with the ride ahead without not being able to breathe from over-eating.
One question I get asked often is whether I would rather know what’s to come on the ride, or not know until I do it. The answer is always to know. I can’t overstate the concept of how important or prominent mental awareness factors into all bike riding, but especially with this tour.
The first morning, there was the ride information and safety meeting usually reserved for the evening meal, given by Eli Cambell, whose group, Sentio was phenomenal. From bike mechanics to van drivers to the amazing people who shlepped all our non-bike gear from point to point every day. If for no other reason, Sentio will live on in cycling infamy as the guys who posted every yellow turn sign for 525 miles and never got us lost! Thank you Sentio. One of the first things Eli told us at the meeting was “Day One will immediately test your fitness and mental ability; It was designed that way.” I would later translate this as “Day One will come straight for your jugular vein Zulu Delta, and the memories of the wheelchair ramps you claim to be hills, that you spent the summer training on.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t train at all. Obviously, I did. I finished the Tour, and I respectfully rode every hill, every day, as well as the full mileage. I rode with the speed and endurance that seemed sporadic in the Summer and now seemed “battle-hardened.” It only got better as the week moved on. That doesn’t mean it was a breeze for me. The route itself was unlike anything I had EVER done before on a bicycle. The hills …..er, mountains were larger, and the routes were longer at the same time. The hours and days were packed; riding all day long. 3, 4, or 5 hours training became 6, 7, or 8 hours out on the bike tour; rest stops included.
Beforehand, I trained as long, and as much as I could while trying to balance my life “at the mine” (Employment), with the terrain I had available to me. At home, I trained in that Mountainous Region of New England, called Rhode Island; highest elevation-812 Feet above Sea Level. Hey, stop laughing; it’s a beautiful place! The Arthritis Foundation provided a training guide that was extremely helpful regardless of the fact that “rolling hills” in Rhode Island don’t quite match up to the “rolling hills” in California.
During the week, there were many times that my brain had to balance the shared concept of Oxygen Deprivation with Scenic Euphoria; i.e, gasping for breath, and muttering the labored words “Oh My God…..is that view gorgeous!!!”
Yes, I have cycled along the magnificent Atlantic Ocean many times, but the mountains and scenery along the Pacific Ocean were incredible. If there could be such a thing; my amazing bike rides back home in “3D” were replaced by High Definition “12D” in California!
“No Great Hill Goes Unpunished.” Zulu Delta.
This is one of my two favorite riding expressions; the other one being “TRUST NO-ONE!” which describes the safety mindset needed to ride your bike in traffic with cars and trucks, or the unpredictability of riding your bike among the erratic behavior of pedestrians or other cyclists.
For each time you ride down a hill thinking; Oh My God…….this is the greatest feeling the human race has ever known; wind in my face, oxygen in my lungs, zero muscle exertion, and the euphoria that this may be as close to flying (without airplane assist) that I will ever experience, you’ll soon find yourself climbing a hill telling and asking yourself; “this is horrible, why didn’t I just stay at home laying on the couch.”
There are two other main themes about big hills that constantly floated through my mind for 8 days. One; I have never loved the hydraulic disk brakes on my bike more than I did this week. I had them checked out with new brake pads before I left, and the overwhelming peace of mind from a safety point of view on a steep hill; especially in the wet conditions was so reassuring. Two; why does it seem every great downhill is wrecked by the placement of a STOP sign? The answer? It’s to prevent moronic men on bikes who suddenly have the ability to “almost instantly and literally” reach “break-neck” speeds on the downhill, from going over the handlebars and breaking their necks themselves.
So Zulu, are you trying to tell us that when you say “Trust No-One,” what you’re really saying is that the person you trust the least is yourself? “Ah yeah!!!” Have you ever gone from zero to 40 on a bike in the blink of an eye?” Pure bliss! I already refrained from the French Toast at breakfast; how much restraint can one man take? Peaking at 30 miles an hour on a bike takes a lot more skill, balance, and guts than rolling along at 30 mph in a car. A really lot more; not even compatible. Reaching and sustaining 40+ MPH on a downhill bike? Blinking your eyes here is as treacherous for you as it would be for a character on the EPIC BBC TV show, Dr. Who, as they encounter the Weeping Angels; “DONT BLINK!” The idea is to balance the duality of an “adrenaline junkie overload” with the prudence of the elderly person (how do you think they got to be elderly?), who knows that a mere pebble under your wheel could send you into a horrific cartwheel of unspeakable details. “Tap the brakes Zulu, tap the brakes!” Actually, Rhode Island does have some very short and steep downhills, that coincidently are also laid out with stop signs at the bottom. “Buzz Killers!!!”
Not all the challenges were up or downhill. In a rare positive note to the COVID global pandemic, the beautiful Upper Great Highway, along Ocean Beach in San Francisco was reclaimed for the use of bike riders, walkers, and roller-bladers; no cars allowed. It was here however that the strong “on the nose wind” was so prevalent on the dead flat road, that at one point I seriously looked down expecting to have one or two flat tires or a chain derailment that would explain the difficulty I was having maintaining any respectable cruising speed. Nope; just a lot of wind that “Everyone” assured me was never there before!”
“It’s all downhill from here/At least you can ride the tailwind all the way into Santa Cruz!”
It’s here where I explain what would become the running jokes for the entire tour. The first one was; “At least you can ride the tailwind all the way into Santa Cruz!” Like waiting on the prevailing Summer Southwest wind during a sailboat race on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, that never came; neither did the “promise” of a tailwind that so many veteran riders assured me would come. No, just more wind in the face. The second joke derived from the comment thrown out to several of us “first-year riders” as he sped off on the massive descent following the final “grueling uphill climb” near Pedro Peak/Devils Slide on the first day; “it’s all downhill from here” he said. Well, there were many uphill climbs the remainder of the day; just not the gargantuan hill climbs that terrorized me from the beginning of the day. I pointed out these two observations to several people later in the day, so it was not surprising that as the week went by, they would sometimes fly by me and hollow out the battle cry; “It’s all downhill from here/At least you can ride the tailwind all the way into base camp!” Hahahahahah! I would scream back in mock sorrow and despair “STOP LYING TO ME…….I JUST DON’T BELIEVE YOU GUYS ANYMORE!!!” Hahahahahah!!!
“In which we meet Lisa.”
Lisa was one of the amazing volunteers who staffed the rest areas each day. So kind and generous. Always helpful and smiling. I have been laughing about our first encounter since the day we met. I retold her this story and we were both laughing. Walking up to the snack and drink table, I surveyed the wonderful display of food and drinks. I looked up at Lisa and jokingly said “do you have any Mountain Dew?” This is what I got. Please use your “triple fast-talking voice.”
“YOU WANT A MOUNTAIN DEW? I LOVE MOUNTAIN DEW!!!! DO YOU LIKE MOUNTAIN DEW!!!??? I LOVE IT SO MUCH! I DON’T DRINK TEA OR COFFEE AT ALL. I ONLY DRINK MOUNTAIN DEW! I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW IF I COULD GET MOUNTAIN DEW OUT HERE, SO I BOUGHT A CASE AND BROUGHT IT WITH ME. HEY, IT’S IN MY CAR! I’LL GET IT NOW. (She starts to run toward her car and then runs back). I LOVE MOUNTAIN DEW. WOULD YOU LIKE SOME MOUNTAIN DEW???
Whoa, Whoa, Whoa……………..put down the Mountain Dew and step away from the edge. “For the love of God, you’re about a 2-Liter Bottle away from a 12-Step program!” “Hi everybody; I’m Lisa and I love Mountain Dew!” “Hi, Lisa!”
“In which we meet “Jean Genie” and the Wonder Twins.”
Jean was from Pittsburg. The Wonder twins from California; Cathy and Theresa were not really twins at all, but sisters. I “wandered up” on them near the last 25 miles of day one. They were all funny and kind, and had that “special gift of gab.” I was not surprised to find out several days later, that they all had Irish Heritage; like me. I should have suspected sooner when they weren’t turned away by my non-stop “questionably valid” stories, and smart-ass remarks. Jean and I rode over the first-day finish line together. We surmised that it was pointless to be the first one to finish the day as there would be nobody there to see you finish, so the next best thing would be to finish dead last, which we apparently were not, but laughingly decided to throw “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to see who could be the final person to cross the finish and get the “sympathy approval!!” Hahahahah!
Cathy rode an electric-assist bike, and she was awesome! She still had to pedal, and watching how far she rode every day cements the idea that someday I will have an electric assist bike; whether I need one or not. From their “bike ID tags” and similar looks, I knew Cathy and Theresa were sisters so as I pedaled up another “rolling hill” on the first day next to Thresa, who was riding a traditional bike, I would use my best greeting. As I looked up the hill to see Cathy stopped at the crest eating Hostess Twinkies and mocking us from above, my first words jokingly to Theresa were; “Everyone who hates your sister, raise your hand!” Theresa may have had one of the toughest rides of the week; trying to keep up with Cathy, but she did it with style and grace. OK, OK…. I may have used some “poetic license” about the Twinkies, but most of the other stuff is true! Sort of….kind of.
With 25 miles to go, I got a cramp in my hamstring. It scared me. The first thought was how my brother-in-law Mike; “The Hill Meister,” told me to get this stuff at CVS that could stop a severe cramp in its tracks. With so much running around getting ready, I didn’t get the stuff. I was scared this would be the end of the day for me. Back in the summer of training, sometimes 25 miles was a full day’s ride. Having just ridden 60 miles with a ton of elevation, 25 miles seemed like a quick glide around the park, and I just couldn’t face being stopped here. It wasn’t the thought of having to ride the support van into “base-camp” that disturbed me the most; it was the entire crux of my mental attack plan for the week that was in peril. I had the idea in my head that if I could just survive the first day physically and mentally, I could survive all the additional days, despite not knowing what to expect. I really needed this day on my side.
“Home is where your bike is.”
Low and behold, I shook the cramp, and a wave of relief washed over me. Something else happened. I came to yet another rolling hill. Small in comparison to the hills I had climbed earlier in the day, the remaining hills were more than double in size and distance to my “normal” training route back home, and back home that would have been a “trying” workout; mentally and physically. No longer; “Oh, isn’t that cute,” I laughed; “another delicious rolling hill for me to climb on my way home from work (as this tour was my “job” for the week!).” Gears down, head down, left, right, left………..and up the hill I went! Presto!
Despite the lack of a tailwind, (Wink, Wink) I rolled into Santa Cruz. The sun was shining, the neighborhood was beautiful, and with minutes to spare, I parked my bike in the rack for the night, grabbed a soda, and walked over to the crowd of assembled riders just in time to hear my name called to win the nightly raffle.
California Coast Classic? I got “this!”