Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Peak training ride

I wanted to do one last long ride ahead of the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow, so I picked Tuesday as a good day to forgo "work" in favor of riding my bike all day long. I know, I have it tough. With my sights set on something around eight hours, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try something I have wanted to do ever since I moved here — ride a mountain bike from my house, up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains, to (near) the sea. While playing with Google Maps last night, I realized that I could make a loop out of such a ride, and it could still feature a lot of dirt and trail. Google Maps set the route at 85 miles, which seemed a little too ambitious, but I decided to set out with my set of printed cues and see what happened.

Of course, I slept late and didn't get out the door until 10:30 a.m. I started up the steep Montebello Road feeling downtrodden. Even a couple of hits from my bag of Sour Gummy Lifesavers couldn't perk me up. I was feeling the effects of my recent heavy exercise loading — my heart felt like it was racing even though it was beating at a slower rate than normal, and my legs felt like I had lead blocks strapped to my calves. Plus, I received a flu shot yesterday, so my immune system was probably running full throttle, fighting off dead flu bugs (and then I did a 31-mile, 3,400-feet-of-climbing road ride on Monday evening.) But I reasoned that feeling rough was a good thing; getting right on the verge of overtraining and then resting usually boosts my endurance, and it's always good mental training to ride while feeling less than strong. But it didn't bode well for the 7.5 hours still in front of me.

I rode an always-fun network of singletrack off the backside of Black Mountain — Bella Vista, White Oak, Skid Trail and Alt Ridge. Rolling fun singletrack put a little spark back in my legs, and I launched down Alpine Road hungry for adventure.

Camp Pomponio Road — one of the many roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains that was once paved, decades ago, but has since been then left to deteriorate in the (admittedly mild) elements. The section shown in this picture is nice and smooth, but below the gate this "road" became a minefield of broken pavement and massive craters that actually made for somewhat technical mountain biking, or at least required focused maneuvering. I bet roadies ride these "roads" and they are crazy.

Further down in Pescadero Creek County Park — the deep, dark, disconcertingly remote redwood forest. I made a couple of wrong turns in here, and then made other turns I wasn't sure about. I began to feel nervous about committing myself to a loop that I had no real maps for, only a set of Google cues that were already off in mileage because of my trail diversions on Black Mountain. I thought of a mantra I used to repeat to myself when I felt bewildered and lost on mountains in Juneau, which is, "if all else fails, I'll just find a creek and follow it to the sea." Of course it's a ridiculous plan, especially with a bike in California, and yet it still makes me feel better.

I popped out in Loma Mar, thrilled because I knew where I was and because I was on a real adventure. I'd never been down this way before. It was mostly rolling farmland. I went by one store, which was closed. It was the only commercial business I passed on my entire route. Good thing I packed plenty of water and Sour Gummy Lifesavers.

I came within about two miles from the coast at 100 feet elevation, and I regret that I didn't turn right at the junction just for a quick view of the sea. But at the time I knew I was facing a huge climb on more potentially difficult to navigate fireroads, and it was becoming a matter of "I don't want to have to do any of that in the dark." My adventure ride was becoming a race with daylight.

And sure enough, the Gazos Creek Road, on the edge of Big Basin State Park, was devoid of signs of any kind and threaded through a bewildering network of logging roads. After the initial steep climb, the "main" road (indistinguishable as such) started rolling along a broad ridge, and the endless side roads caused me to stop at every intersection and scrutinize the one map I brought, which was a rather poorly detailed mountain bike map. Yes, next time I go adventure riding, I will buy a real topo map. But for now, I knew I had about two hours of daylight, and if I got lost on logging roads outside Big Basin, I was going to be really lost. If this wasn't bad enough, I passed a sign that said "Warning: Controlled Burn." It didn't say anything about the road being closed, so I continued climbing. I started to see small fires smoldering in the undergrowth near the road. A few still crackled with flames, smoke was billowing up everywhere, there were freakin' gas cans left unattended along the side of the road, and there wasn't a soul around. No firefighters, no trucks, no hoses hooked up to water containers, nothing. Hailing from Utah as I do, I know how dangerous it is to approach a wildfire, even if it is a "controlled" burn. However, retreating back to the coast was an extremely inconvenient option at this point, and the smoldering fires did look fairly benign among all that green. I decided to continue climbing in the direction I *guessed* I should go, promising myself that I would retreat to the sea (always my solution) at the first sign of trouble.

The burn, which was in fact contained to piles of mulch on the forest floor, actually smelled quite wonderful, like piney incense. And when I popped out on top of the ridge (again elated because the cratered but downhill China Grade Road was a place at least heard of and it wasn't yet dark), the smoke created a beautiful mist over the mountains, turned golden by the waning sunlight.

Sunset over the Santa Cruz Mountains as seen from Saratoga Gap. I switched on my powerful headlight and blinkie lights, pulled on a light jacket and pedaled home in the growing darkness. Amid my stress about route-finding, I didn't even really notice the physical demands of my ride. So I was almost surprised when I rounded Steven's Creek Reservoir and thought "You know, I feel more tired than I normally do at this reservoir." As it turned out my adventure route covered 75 miles with nearly 10,000 feet of climbing, in 8 hours and 15 minutes. Perfect. After the first hour I actually felt healthy and strong the entire time. I consumed one 5-ounce bag of Sour Gummy Lifesavers and two Nature Valley granola bars — about 900 calories — and just under three liters of water. These numbers may seem low but they're pretty typical for me for "only" eight hours on a cool day. It was a great time. Now I just need to triple it. Eeeep! (Ride map here.)


  1. Jill, I have been meaning to ask you - what bike saddles do you use and how do you deal with saddle sores, etc? This is my biggest bike obstacle. Oh, the pain.

  2. That sounds like a lot of fun. I have a hankering for an all-day adventure before it snows -- I may just have to plan my adventure in CA.

  3. Wow, looking at the satellite map, that IS remote. I would have been on the verge of a panic attack. You're a brave soul. Jill (head geargals), I went through no less than EIGHT saddles before I found "the right one" (a different version of "the right guy". I sat on it and I just knew. It's the selle san marco aspide glamour. I'd be happy to empty that drawer full of saddles that didn't make the cut. if you want to give 'em a sit, they're yours. They're basically brand new. My e-mail is jabrojan@gmail.com if you're interested.

  4. Jill — Jackie's right about saddles being a personal choice. I usually use Terry women's specific saddles, although I've never been too particular about my own saddle. My Element still has a men's Gobi XM saddle that my friend Keith placed on the bike when he built it up. I declared it terribly uncomfortable when I first started using it, but he implored me to give it a chance, and it's still there. I've told people before that my cycling gift is "iron butt." I've never had issues with saddle sores, don't use chamois cream, and only recently even started wearing chamois shorts on a regular basis (mostly because cycling shorts are just sold that way.) So I'm not necessarily the best person to ask for advice in this regard. But you should take Jackie up on her offer. That's a good deal.

    Danni ... yes, come to California! Early December is a great time. It's dark in Montana and I think I can find a fun 50K trail run here.

  5. I just sent Jackie an email! Wow, great offer.

    You are unbelievably lucky to never have those types of problems, Jill. My mind is really boggling! I have a terrible time. Saddle sores, rubs, pain, the whole deal. It's why I love mountain biking; you can shift around and get up out of the saddle as much as you need to. Road biking has been an exercise in utter torture!

  6. 10,000 feet gain? You animal you!!

  7. Check out another Juneau woman's ultra bike race experience. Janice Sheufelt is the lead doctor at the the Alaska Native health center in Juneau, and the mother of two beautiful girls. She is also a tough as nails cyclist!

  8. Great ride, will definitely be an inspiration for me to try to replicate it. I have done most of it several times before but never the full loop. Usually go down to Portola Redwoods SP and cross the creek in the park (there is a bridge now, used to be a water crossing, onto Old Haul Rd. On the way back up, I'd pick Butano Ridge Trail, has fantastic views and a hidden airstrip on top of a ridge then to Big Basin HQ...something like here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/42705242# Also, when passing Pescadero, fresh, warm, artichoke bread at Norm's bakery will either energize you to ride further or make you call for a car ride home.

  9. Betsy — I read about Janice's win in the Juneau Empire (yes, I still read it online regularly.) That was an awesome accomplishment, and fun to see a Juneau athlete at the top of such a punishing (and hot and dry) endurance race.

    JB — I thought about taking Butano Ridge, I should have. I definitely need to do a Big Basin fireroad loop. Next time! Maybe we'll see each other out there.

  10. Jill, the write up on Janice's ride in the Empire was good. Her own write up on the ride is even better. Hope you have time to read it. Janice is a sweet, quiet, and mostly unassuming person who turns into a total demon on the bike. We raced together on a Kluane team, and she is not someone you want to mess with. She is an inspiration!


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