by Cristin Sohm
Part of the ride was a total suffer-fest (lots of hills with extreme heat and not being able to eat). Part of the ride I thought the world was conspiring against me (flat after flat after flat). Part of the ride was scary as could be (riding alone in the pitch dark with rattle snakes rattling at me and a bobcat running in front of me). Thankfully there were other parts of the ride that were truly amazing (friends on the ride and friends volunteering for the ride). Then there was the part of the ride that was simply magical (my daughter Mellissa there with me the whole time and encouraging my crazy idea to make the ride longer than a double).
I’ve always wanted to do a quad, especially after how good I felt doing the triple in June. I knew this was my last event of the year, so this was my last chance. I figured out all the logistics, trained hard, bought extra supplies and then stressed hugely over this crazy idea. Then Mellissa offered to be my support and I knew everything would fall into place and it was my chance and I decided to go for it.
Mellissa came to pick me up on Friday for the drive up to Vacaville. She laughed when she saw that I had packed enough supplies to last a couple weeks out on the road! Later we would realize that the tons of food was useless, but we sure were thankful for the tons of tubes, extra tire and floor pump that I had packed!
We arrived in Vacaville and drove straight to the start location at Pena Adobe Park. I changed into my cycling clothes, filled bottles, loaded up the bike with supplies, got some kisses from my wonderful daughter and started riding on Friday afternoon. My plan was to ride throughout the night to finish 200 miles in about 16 hours and meet Jon Kaplan & Art Cruz at 4am and start the next 200 miles then.
My heart was racing with how nervous I was, having little confidence in my ability to actually pull this off. I just reminded myself that Mellissa was there and that was hugely comforting. Lane Parker sent me the tcx file of the Knoxville Double course, so I felt secure with the directions and Mellissa honked the car horn when I went off course. As I was riding, I came across two guys and I caught up to them. They asked if I was doing a training ride and I told them of my crazy plan. We chatted for a bit and then they dropped off. One of them caught up later and said I was too fast. Ha!
At mile 22 it was 96 degrees and my average speed was 16.3. At mile 29 I sent my mom a text message saying that Mt. George was so easy-peasy that I thought Mellissa lied that we were at the top. Average speed 15.8. At mile 37, with an average speed of 16.1, I hit my first obstacle. I heard my back tire make a big swoosh sound. I got off the bike and thanked my lucky stars for the 3 hours of trying to learn how to change a flat the night before. Mellissa said that the first rest stop was just around the corner, so I decided instead of changing it in the blasting sun on the busy street, I would carry my bike to the rest stop. I changed my first official flat tire by myself and was beaming with pride. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it quite as much if I had realized what was in store the rest of the day!
At mile 58, I had just finished the 7 mile climb up Howell Mountain. It was blasting hot and I couldn’t eat because my mouth was too dry. I was feeling shaky from the lack of food and I was feeling a bit out of it. Mellissa offered lots of different types of food that I had packed, but I didn’t want anything. I choked down a Power Bar and I happened to feel my front tire and found that it was almost flat. Several of my cycling friends have crashed lately because of a front tire flat on a descent, so I’ve been trying to get in the habit of always checking my tires before descending a hill. I changed the front tire (flat #2) with no problems and started on my way again.
At mile 70 my average speed had dropped down to 14.4 after the first 2 hills. After the Power Bar digested, I felt a lot better with some food in me on the hot ride. I stopped at the port-a-potty that would be rest stop #2 tomorrow and then I made my way to the long, long climb up Knoxville (about 31 miles).
It was now pitch dark and I was climbing Knoxville with all the wildlife. I counted no less than 8 rattle snakes, 1 bobcat and lots of other sounds that I didn’t know what they were. Knoxville in the night was like climbing on the moon with big craters. I felt fantastic the whole way during the climb now that I had the Power Bar in me. Unfortunately I hit one of those craters hard and my tube exploded on impact. I put the bike in front of the car with Mellissa’s bright lights on and I changed flat tire #3.
At one point, Mellissa asked if I minded if she stopped to get a drink out of the back of the car. I asked her if she minded if I kept going and we left each other. It seemed like forever until I saw her again. I was extremely spooked by the dark and all the wildlife sounds. My light worked great, but it was really scary knowing I was the only crazy cyclist out at night attempting to double the double century. When Mellissa finally caught up, she said she was really worried because she couldn’t find me and she worried if I went off some ditch or something. She said that she couldn’t believe how far I had gotten. I guess my fear had those pedals turning pretty quickly!
We came to the top of the long climb and saw all the signs saying Rough Road and I thought about all the emails that had gone out about water bottles flying out and water bottle cages coming loose and how really rough the descent was. I had thought I would be fine, but then I started having images of something going wrong and Mellissa having to figure out what to do in the pitch dark and in a city we didn’t know. I decided that it wasn’t worth my safety or leaving Mellissa feeling responsible and I made the difficult decision to abandon my effort for the night. It was pitch dark and I’ll tell you, I was pretty darn upset about climbing forever and ever and not getting the fun reward of the descent. It probably wouldn’t have been much fun at that time of night anyway though. I think I made the right decision.
I was disappointed that I wouldn’t have the quad that I really hoped for, but I changed 3 tires by myself, I rode in the pitch dark while everyone else was snug in bed in their hotel rooms and I ventured out far beyond what I thought I could do. I had ridden alone for an extra 101 miles the night before a double century and I was happy about that.
We drove back to Vacaville, found a last minute hotel (since I had planned on riding all night long, I had canceled my hotel) and got in bed at 1:30am. I tossed and turned going over the events and worrying about the next part of the ride and then the alarm went off at 3:30am to go meet Jon & Art.
After less than 2 hours of sleep and riding just over a hundred miles, I muddled through getting ready for the ride and filling my bottles and getting out the door. Mellissa and I arrived at the start location, but couldn’t find Jon & Art anywhere. I waited and tried calling him several times, but no luck. Thankfully I found Clyde Butt and he offered to ride with me. God sent an angel and I couldn’t have been more grateful. After one more call to Jon, we started rolling at 4:55.
Clyde and I picked up another cyclist named Laura who was doing her very first double. She was a sweetie and we enjoyed talking with her. Everything looked very familiar as I had just done the course hours earlier and I felt very comfortable with the directions – for once!
Deb & Dave Hoag came up and rode with me for a bit. They are so insanely fast and strong. Deb was the only person that I had told my full plans of what I was secretly trying for. I trusted her judgment and figured she would tell me honestly if it was out of my ability range or a crazy thing to attempt. She flew by me, but David slowed down to chat for a bit and I guess that Deb had told him what I was up to because he asked if my night worked out the way I hoped. I told him that I abandoned the ride at the top of Knoxville, but did the first 100 miles of the full course and felt proud of that. He was overly kind and supportive and he then gave me the best compliment of the day “If you do the 508 or HooDoo, I would crew for you”. Wow. You have to know Deb & Dave and their incredible ability to understand what that meant for me. I am a small peon in our cycling group and they are the stars along with Russ & Sheila Stevens, Barley & Susan Forsman, Ken Emerson and some others. To receive that kind of compliment from one of the super stars, was such a confidence boost!
At mile 121 (with the extra 100 for me) we hit the first climb of Mt. George. Thankfully, it was just as easy as the night before. We made it to the first rest stop at 7:25am, at mile 137 and I told Clyde that I was already feeling a bit tired and cold and if I didn’t keep up, to go ahead without me. He stuck with me anyway. It was weird that this part of the ride was so blasting hot the day before and now was cold. We also missed out on seeing a lot of the sights that I had seen the day before (day vs night).
At mile 150 we climbed Howell Mountain again. I had pretty much bonked on this hill the night before, but felt fine this time around. It was another easy climb. We descended into the 2nd rest stop where Jason Pierce had brought a big Sprite soda for me and it was delicious after losing so much sugar with the climbs. I thought that my front tire felt a bit odd toward the bottom of the descent and when I pulled into the rest stop, I noticed that it had gone flat. Mike Deitchman jumped in and changed flat #4 for me so that I could grab some grapes and cantaloupe from his wife, Joan Grant Deitchman and use the port-a-potty before heading out with Clyde & Laura again. I saw Steve Saeedi at this rest stop and he was the first person that I told what I had done the night before. It was pretty fun to see his smile at my crazy effort. He encouraged me and helped Mike with the flat and they got me on my way.
We headed out to climb Knoxville – again. This time at 10:41 am at mile 170 and I remembered how very long this climb was last night and worried that it was going to be difficult in the blazing heat. Steve had filled my bottles with ice water and they lasted me throughout the climb. There were some volunteers with water midway through the climb, but I was okay with water and didn’t want to get off the bike. Clyde & Laura were somewhere behind me so I rode at my own pace and enjoyed seeing what Knoxville looked like during the day – what a difference from the pitch dark and the sounds of the wildlife! I came along a guy and stayed with him for a bit and then went around. Much later in the day I found out that his name was Sean and he was riding a FIXED gear bike. Insanely strong guy to be out on those hills with a fixed gear bike! I hadn’t used any of my granny gears yet in the almost 200 miles, but I still had an awful lot more gearing than what he was pushing up those hills! I can’t even imagine. Toward the top of the climb, when I felt like my skin was going to melt right off my body, I looked at my Garmin to see the temperature. It was 107.4 degrees! Insanely hot. Painfully hot. Melting hot. We got to the top and I saw that Mellissa was there. My world brightened. She had been back at the hotel and slept the last however long that I rode 92 miles, so it was wonderful to see my angel back. She gave me a Sprite and the volunteers at the mini-stop sprayed us down with icy cold water that felt like heaven. Clyde & Laura came in just a short bit later and we filled our water bottles again and headed out for more torture in the hot sun.
We made it to the lunch stop at mile 207 somewhere around 2:30 and I still couldn’t get any food in me. Everything tasted like a fistful of sand. Mellissa made me a sandwich of a slice of cheese and lots of lettuce and insisted that I eat it. It took me a very long time to get it down. I felt so bad for Clyde putting up with me. Others were so excited to have food and I couldn’t choke down a bite. The volunteers crowded around me trying to get me to eat this or that and this one lady was very mom like and wouldn’t let up. It was very sweet and I really tried. Clyde got a massage from a volunteer and when he was ready to go, I told him that she is very pretty and he should just relax a bit longer 😉 I finally got ½ the sandwich down without it coming back up and I had a glorious ice sock around my neck and had taken some endurolytes and we were ready to roll. I got on my bike and realized the back tire was very low. I’m thinking God hates me at this point! I decided to try to just pump it up thinking that maybe it’s just from all the extreme heat. Mellissa heard the air coming out of the tire. One of the volunteers checked the tire closely and noticed that it had a pretty good rip in the tire. Darn. I had just put the new tire on a few weeks earlier specifically for Knoxville and a brand new one on the front a couple days ago. I thought that I had done a good job in putting on new tires for this event, but when I got home and checked my spreadsheet of when I had changed the tire, I realized that even though it was only 4 weeks old, there were 940 miles of riding in those 4 weeks. Not as new as I had thought. Thankfully I had brought a spare tire. Clyde, always the gentleman, jumped in and changed the tire and tube. Unfortunately Laura had already left since she expected to be slower on the climb and since we were stuck longer with the tire issue, we never caught up with her again. Yes, that was now flat tire #5! We left the lunch stop somewhere around 3:00ish.
After the lunch stop, we only had one major climb left. The whole day had LOTS of rollers, but pretty much 4 substantial climbs (Mt. George, Howell Mtn, Knoxville, Loch Lomond). Clyde said that we would do fine since we had time for our food to digest while changing the flat tire. Always the optimistic guy! At mile 209 we made our way to the rolling hill of Siegler Canyon before getting to the Loch Lomond hill at mile 213. Loch Lomond was really tiring. It was 14% grade for 3 straight miles and another mile of rollers. I know that I was really tired and worn out, but I have to tell you that when I saw all the SAG vehicles going by with tons of bikes on them and people waving to me as they abandoned the ride, I actually cried tears. It broke my heart that they got so far and then had to stop. I completely understood because the heat was such an energy zap, but it still was terribly sad to see. At 4:16 I finished Loch Lomond. Clyde was somewhere behind so Mellissa went into a little store and bought me a fresh, cold smoothie. It was heaven. We waited quite a while for Clyde and I was starting to get worried, so she went to make sure he was okay. She came back just a short bit later and Clyde arrived at 4:27. Unfortunately Clyde was having trouble with leg cramps due to the extreme temperatures. Like Jon Kaplan though, Clyde just kept on going. Never giving up. He was amazing.
I thought we were done with Loch Lomond at that point, but we actually had to cross the highway and continue for some more climbing, but not nearly as bad as Loch Lomond. Clyde thought he was feeling better, but his leg cramps were still bothering him and he told me he was going to walk up the hill. I continued on at my own pace. At one point I hit some gravel and came very close to losing control of my bike. There was no one else around and that scared me, but I was able to straighten out and get my bike back under control. I guess God didn’t hate me quite as much as I had thought with all those flat tires! I was now at about mile 229 and my cell phone battery was almost dead, so I stopped sending messages to my family. Thankfully Mellissa had been sending texts without me knowing so they weren’t as worried as I expected.
At rest stop #4 we were at mile 234 and Jason Pierce met me with another Sprite soda. Absolutely delicious. These sodas really saved the day for me! Everything got easier after the ½ sandwich at the lunch stop. We got to see Steve Saeedi at this stop too and Clyde and I sat down for a bit here. I was able to get down some corn chips for salt. We also met up with Sean on the fixie bike again.
We then rode out Butts Canyon and Pope Valley and we were riding faster to make the cut-off before rest stop #5 closed at 8:15. I was feeling fine and ready to go and finish up the day. We were at mile 260 and I could start to envision the finish line. Clyde stopped for some Cup of Noodle soup and I think the salt helped along with the setting sun and lower temperatures. I had a hot cocoa to help recover my muscles and prepare for the night riding.
With all the issues of the day, we had to watch our time because we were now barely making the cut-offs for the rest stop end times. We were now in the full dark as we made our way to the last rest stop at mile 287. Clyde and I got separated again and I descended a hill in the dark and came upon a gal named Denise that had gotten a flat tire in the pitch dark. It scared me to think of her out in the dark alone. I pulled over to help her and Mellissa was right behind me with her bright lights. Mellissa was able to help her with the flat tire and help to get her on her way.
We pulled into the last rest stop and had another hot cocoa. I think Clyde had another soup. Mellissa brought out the cookies I had made and gave them out to the all the volunteers and the cyclists. That was fun to be able to thank them for all they had done for us. We had 14 miles to go and it was in the pitch dark so we buddied up in a bigger group. We started out with 4 of us, me and Clyde, Sean (fixie) and a tall guy named Mike. Mike was trying to pull on his arm warmers and ended up crashing right in front of Mellissa. She handled it like a charm and poor Mike kept apologizing thinking he probably scared her. Everyone was fine and it wasn’t a problem. We seemed to take on more people in our group. I think at one point we had 9 of us together. Some were slower than others and Mellissa was struggling with figuring out who to shine lights for since we weren’t able to stay together as well as planned. I think she ended up going around the others that were dropping back and she stayed up front with me and Sean and Clyde & Mike. There were more rollers straight out of the rest stop, but nothing was hurting or tired at that point. I think we all just saw the finish line coming.
We ended very strong riding in at 18+ mph. I later found out that Mellissa sent a text to all my family saying that she couldn’t believe I was pulling all the guys in those last several miles at that speed. That felt good to know my daughter was proud. It was a rough day for sure, but it was great to finish it feeling great. 301 miles with 21,053 feet of climbing. I had hoped for 400 miles, but I’m proud of the way it worked out. I’m especially proud of Mellissa helping SO many people. She was there for me, but ended up touching so many other lives in the process. She was a super star for sure! Thanks to everyone that sent the text messages encouraging me during the long day and night. I loved the one from hubby saying “Are you really having any fun? Just come home!” J oh.
- Miles – 301
- Climb – 21,053 feet
- Avg speed – 13.2
- Time in saddle – 22 hours, 54 minutes
- Max heart rate – 176
- Max temperature – 109.4
- Flat tires – FIVE flats and one wrecked new tire
- I’ve found you find strength in your moments of weakness.
And by the way… I earned the California Triple Crown!