by Barley Forsman
I’m a big fan of visualization before a big ride – I like to think through the ride the night before and image where I’ll be and how I’ll feel at certain key points in the ride. Usually I pick spots that have historically been hard for me and I try to visualize how good I’ll feel at that spot. Memory is an amazing thing – certain experiences are burned into your hard drive and those filed experiences bubble to the surface once you come upon a familiar location.
It’s been seven years since the last time I attempted the CCD and I couldn’t seem to pull any memory of the ride longer than 70 or 80 miles, even after examining the rout sheet over dinner the night before – there were big blocks that I couldn’t remember, and I couldn’t exactly remember the order of the events that I did remember. So the anxiety of the impending 218 miles, and the fact that I could only put together a small fraction of that, led me to believe this could be a very long day.
I started the morning to the sound of a harp strumming on my cell phone, and had such a vivid (completely unrelated to cycling) dream that it took a few minutes to realize where I was and more importantly what I would be doing ALL day – hotels have a way of throwing me off my game. So I do the normal scrambling around, trying to remember sunscreen, food, water, arm-warmers, sunglasses, oh, I can’t forget my drivers license for the security check – the amount of things to keep track of always amazes me!
I had carpooled to the ride and split a room with a good friend, Robert Choi, who just happens to be the defending champion for the last two years running – great!! The added stress of knowing that someone is waiting for me to finish, so we can go home! The very cool thing (or intimidating) about CCD is that you can tell who the top riders are by what number they have (for the first 10 numbers) – so Robert had the privilege of riding with number one.
We drove to the start, and after the brief annoyance of finding my number and pinning it on (I’m not a big fan of this change – but I understand), we all gather at the front of the park in the Paso Robles square and get our last minute instructions from Brian Stark – the long time organizer of this great event. He had a really bad accident several months ago where he was side-swiped by one car and hit by another – needless to say most of his mobility comes via a wheelchair, but it was really great to see him on crutches at the start of the ride. I wish him all the best as he continues to recover – he’s a great guy!
Rolling through town was mostly a blur of carbon and lycra – everybody is anxious to stay near the front. Luckily I was able to say “hi” to both Ken Emerson and Deborah Lefferts early on – it’s always comforting to see familiar faces out there. I know there were more friends out there, but it’s tough to chat when its “go time!” It is pretty common knowledge for this ride to be aware of a couple of short steep climbs, a rough winding decent, followed by about 45 miles of coastal riding on highway 1 – this section is also notorious for some pretty nasty headwinds, so it is definitely good to have friends! So basically the front half of the pack feverishly attempt to stay near the front – redlining at 6 in the morning is not always the best plan!
Along some of the early rollers, Ken Holloway and Andreas Schultz come flying by on the tandem – way to go! I love tandems! After Craig Robertson goes by (I wasn’t going to try to muscle the tandem wheel away from him) I jump on and we’re off. Unfortunately in our enthusiasm, we just overshot a gravelly right hand turn – luckily I was on the inside of the group, saw the orange arrows and was able to make the turn easily. I could hear brakes screeching and pandemonium ensue – I thought I heard a bike go down, but I didn’t see anything when I looked back, so I though we were okay. Turns out somebody did go down – I guess they endoed after locking the front brake, but from what I understand, he continued the ride (cyclists are a tough group!)
Well, remember what I said about not really remembering the ride?? In my world, there is only ONE short steep climb before the rest stop and the descent – but in reality there are TWO (separated by a couple of turns and a few rollers). This threw me for a loop, but I was able to stay in close proximity to leaders by skipping the first stop (which everybody does anyway!) I’m a pretty good descender, so in spite of a few hairpin turns I am able to get back on with the leaders – it’s good to have friends on the coast!
There is seven of us and we all trade pulls to the second rest stop at Ragged Point. Again my memory has failed me – I am quite certain that these next climbs weren’t here the last time I did this ride (is it possible some seismic activity caused these new climbs?!) Anyway, Robert and two other riders really start putting the hammer down (I find out later that this was “part of the strategy”!! – What?? To drop me?? The plan worked and I couldn’t keep the pace – I kept them in my sights for a good 10 miles. Finally, I make it to Nacimento (really the only big climb in CCD), and I believe I am in 5th place on the road.
I start the climb feeling a little spunky – this ain’t so bad, I can take it. My memory sucks! About halfway into what turns out to be a 7 mile climb I hit the proverbial “wall”. My calories are low and I’m getting dizzy – not good at all! From behind me I hear a voice: “did you loose a bottle??” It’s an inside joke – I’ve been testing a new bottle and a new cage, and did launch one at the Devil Mountain Double (for the record, the roads are far worse at the CCD, and I never came close to loosing any bottles!) So, Graham Pollock and Jim Frink (riding with the number “2” and “3” respectively) go spinning past me as easy as can be – Graham can tell from my slurred sentences that I went a little too hard at the bottom. Some lessons are never learned!
I’ve eaten, I’m just waiting for the “juice” to kick in – one foot in front of the other… I’ve known both Jim and Graham for a long time, and have ridden a lot of miles with them both. I know they will be good allies if I can just make it over this climb. Slowly I start to feel better and I slowly start to reel them in – I catch them right as we roll over the top. Graham stops for water and Jim and I cruise on down – he’ll catch us. At the bottom, he still hasn’t caught back up so we start soft-pedaling. Eventually, he shows up – him, his bike, and a slow leak. We stop and fix the flat at the gate to the military base (that’s why we needed an ID). After a few minutes, we’re off.
Lunch was one of the more convoluted experiences I’ve had! There were no signs and only one orange cone to denote the stop. After a little investigation and a little yelling, we discovered lunch behind the mission, down a dirt hill, around some trees – got to test out our cyclo-cross skills! We were at lunch a little longer than I would have liked, but it was good to be off the bike, and I really didn’t want to solo the second half. Every time I’ve done this ride, I’ve soloed the second half – it is no fun! After a crowd starts to accumulate, we get the hint that it’s time to go (one rider came in a left while we were eating).
We head out on our first detour of the day (about 5 extra miles) – unfortunately, much of it is into a direct headwind. Did I mention that it’s good to have friends? We take turns pulling and muscle through it. We actually catch back up to the lone rider just before the water stop at an underpass. Both Graham and Jim are starting to feel it, and our pace is starting to slow – I’m not sure what Jim’s training has been, but I do know that Graham has been putting on waaay too many miles (he did the Davis 12/24 the weekend before). They indicate that they are both switching over to “survival mode” and that it’s not necessary to wait – am I really going to do this ride solo again??
There is a decent climb through a canyon (I can’t remember the name), but this is probably the hottest point in the ride (I heard some people say that it was at or near 100 degrees – all I know is that it was pretty warm!) I inch away from Jim and Graham and now I’m solo! I know there is a long slow grind for the next 75+ miles, but again, I can’t remember the details – it’s one thing to imagine details, it’s another to have to live them. Trust me, this section is pretty boring! I keep the other solo rider in my sights and make an attempt to catch him, and I do catch him at the next stop, but it is pretty obvious he is more interested in beating me than working with me – he is out of there before I can finish filling a bottle. Oh well, solo it is…
I do manage to catch one other rider – strangely enough it is one of the guys who rode away with Robert on hwy 1. He was really hurting – slumped over the handlebars, doing everything he could to keep the bike upright. I hope he made it okay.
I pull into the Bradley school rest stop – it’s about 35+ miles from the finish, so I’m pretty sure this will be my last stop (there’s one more stop, but I don’t stop unless I have to!) Just because I’m feeling too good about myself, I inquire about the first riders – turns out they checked in almost an hour before me! Wow! Thanks for the de-motivation! After that, there’s about 10+ miles into a cross/head wind and I’m not enjoying my decision to do the ride – this is dumb! Why do I do these things?
Eventually I recover – ironically, at about the same time I get a tailwind. Hmmm, what a coincidence! I suck it up, get in the big ring, put my head down and go. This is one of the more twisty, turny roads I’ve been on – it just keeps going. The good news is that I actually DO remember this part, and I have a different strategy: I leave my computer on miles and force myself to do periodic “reality checks” as I ride – can’t get too excited with an hour and a half to go. Still have to stay on top of the fluids and food. This section isn’t too bad – not even the second detour that adds almost 4 extra miles (this comes right after you pass a sign that says 8 miles to Paso Robles, the finish).
As is protocol for this ride, you keep riding until you magically appear in Paso Robles – it always has a way of sneaking up on you and this year was no different. I pull into the park to the sound of a cow bell and clapping – there is absolutely nothing like finishing a double! Actually, I think that’s why I continue to do them – for a fraction of a second, you feel absolutely invincible, like you could do anything if you really wanted it bad enough. It’s quite liberating.
And then reality sinks in – Robert came in first (again!) and managed to beat me by an hour (unofficially). I guess being in “shape” is all relative. Diner was good, but as usually, the company was even better. There’s nothing more fun than sharing “war” stories of a shared “battle” – everybody suffers, that’s the common thread!!
So, if you’ve made it through the story – you too have made it through an endurance event!! But seriously, hats off to all the great support, the organizers (especially Brian Stark who still manages to show up in spite of everything), and all the brave soldiers that made the 218 mile trek – more power to you!!