1997 > Terrible Two > KenS's Report

The Terrible Two:
June 14, 1997


Vital statistics:

200 miles
16000 feet climbing
Temperature range low 50's - high 90's
Camelbacks consumed, 4.3 per person

Quotable quotes:

"I'm having a Cytomax day!" -- Team optimist/pessimist Tom Lawrence, in one of his optimistic moods.

"Gee, I guess I needed a triple after all!" -- Morale Officer Ken Straub, after spending an indeterminate amount of time in his 32 x 26

Team Bikeaholics showed up in force at this year's Terrible Two, with participants including Double Century Specialist Craig Robertson, Team Optimist/Pessimist Tom Lawrence, Troubadour Bill Halleck, Moral & Medical Officer Ken Straub, Foreign Affairs Advisor Thomas Maslen, and Team Security Officer Marc Nix (editor's note: Marc, was that really a TNT jersey you were wearing?). This event, sponsored by the Santa Rosa Cycling Club, has a reputation as one of the tougher events on the double century circuit, promising "200 miles, 16000 ft of climbing, and 100°".

The ride includes 5 major and numerous non-major climbs. Leaving Santa Rosa, the course proceeds east over Trinity Grade, drops into the Napa Valley, heads north and climbs up & over the Geysers, descends into Cloverdale, then heads over to the coast at Stewart's Point via Skaggs Springs; it then follows Hwy 1 down to Ft. Ross and climbs back over the coast range via Ft. Ross Rd, drops into Cazadero, then finishes with a few minor rollers back to Willowside School. This is a timed event, commencing with a mass start at 5:30 AM, and a drop-dead course closure at 10:00 PM--- if you're not in by 10:00, you don't get the T-shirt, you don't get to buy the jersey, and your surname has the qualifier "DNF" (as in "John Doe, Ph.D., Dn.F.") attached to it for the next 12 months (editor's note: there have also been unconfirmed rumors that non-finishers caught wearing the jersey are subject to being branded across the forehead with the appellation "TT-DNF"). For some reason people seem to take this particular ride more seriously than the other doubles in the Triple Crown Series.

Accordingly, some 200 riders assembled at the school at 5:20 AM to receive a benediction from Ride Director Bill Oetinger. While listening to his words of wisdom, I immediately noticed one of the things about this ride that distinguishes it from other doubles--- a general edginess on the part of most participants, and an abnormal preoccupation with time. Average riders are definitely hard-pressed to complete the ride in daylight hours, and events like flat tires or minor mechanical problems that are an annoyance on other rides can mean the difference between finishing and not finishing the TT. Riders seem to be constantly aware of how long they are spending at rest stops, what their split times are, whether their watches are showing the correct time, etc. So, instead of soaking up what advice the Ride Director had to offer, most of the riders fidgeted with their cyclometer clocks and, as the time approached 5:30, began to mutter darkly that he was cutting into their riding time. The organizers seemed to sense this, as they abruptly concluded their remarks and sent us on our way, behind a motorized escort.

We headed out in a strung-out peloton, with the faster riders and potential record setters immediately dropping into hammer mode. The mere mortal riders, which included all of the Bikeaholics, assumed a more measured pace, somewhat reminiscent of a Saturday morning "D" ride to the coast. After a bunch of stop lights and 20 min or so we were in the countryside, moving through rolling hills at a fairly fast clip. The temperature was pleasantly cool, ideal for riding at a 18-20 mph pace. At about the 20 mi mark, my handle bar-mounted hill detector suddenly chirped a warning, and we found ourselves on the first major climb of the day, Trinity Grade. This also turned out to be fairly pleasant, and we continued to ride as a group while being entertained by Bill Halleck's rendition of the theme song from "The Beverly Hillbillies", but with improvised lyrics. As Bill's unique songwriting talents came into full play, I noticed other riders began to give us a lot more room. As we crested the top of the climb, I stopped briefly to take in the view, and quickly lost site of the other Bikeaholics.

The descent down to Napa was a very pleasant twisty-windy-with-corkscrew-turns affair, on a reasonable surface. At mile 32 we turned north onto Hwy 128, and headed up towards the first rest stop in Calistoga. This 18 mile stretch was relatively flat, and assisted by a moderate tail wind we formed mini-pace lines that moved along at 22-23 mph. Our particular paceline accumulated some 10 riders, including a tandem. The riding really seemed effortless under these conditions, but our enthusiasm got the better of us--- we blew into Calistoga, made a couple of turns at the painted "TT" emblems on the road, then continued up the main street headed out of town. As I traded off leads with the guy behind me, we both noticed that our paceline now had just ourselves and one other rider. Our cyclometers also showed more than the indicated mileage to the first rest stop--- sure enough, we had missed a turn and blown through the first checkpoint. We turned around and backtracked a mile or so until we found the rest stop, all the while muttering about the "Terrible 2.02", and whether this additional 6 minutes of riding would cost us the chance to be official finishers.

The rest stop was really well-organized, with a number of special treats, including seasoned, salty broiled potatoes--- these turned out to be a mainstay of the TT. We saw several TnT'ers, including Larry, Bob, and Milos. Our stop here was rather brief, as in less than 5 minutes--- everybody seemed to be in a panic to tank up on water, grab a few potatoes, and head out as quickly as possible. I thought briefly about taking a longer rest and enjoying the ambiance, but the obsession with time was sufficiently contagious that, before I knew what had happened, there I was on my bike heading out.

The route headed north on 128 through vineyards of the Alexander Valley, then meandered over towards the towering ridgeline known as the Geysers. I rode most of the approach section alone, and began to wonder whether I was (a) lost; (b) at the very back of the pack; (c) all of the above. Just when panic began to set in, I saw that reassuring "TT" scrawled in white paint at some nameless intersection. After turning onto the Geysers Rd., I finally began to see other riders strung out along the climb. At this point I was feeling pretty good, fairly zipped up the first part of the grade, and actually began to pass other riders. The temperature started to warm up, but never really got uncomfortable--- there was even an occasional breeze to keep up one's spirits. At about 11:00 I crested the top of the climb and found the second check-in, well-stocked with those broiled potatoes. I also found fellow Bikeaholics Tom and Craig, along with Craig's wife Lorna, who was working the rest stop. I had seen Thomas on the way up, and assumed Bill was way out in front.

The pleasant temperatures, company, and view induced us to linger more than the usual 3 minutes, but eventually peer pressure got the better of us and we headed on down Sulfur Creek. This turned out to be a fairly challenging descent, as the roadbed was littered with gravel, and actually washed out in several places. A long set of rollers and flats brought us through Cloverdale, and finally along Dutcher Creek and into the lunch stop at mile 107, at about 12:30.

Lunch was a fairly relaxed affair, but again, somewhat marred by that nervous edginess about the time. Much to my surprise, my digestive system was still intact, and I actually craved real food. A turkey sandwich (custom-made by the support crew!) and a few potatoes went down with no problems, so I pushed my luck with assorted breads, cookies, melon, strawberries, bananas, & an orange, all washed down with an Ultrafuel chaser. I finally managed to achieve that bloated, somewhat sick feeling reminiscent of other doubles, and decided it was time to leave. Bikeaholic Thomas rolled in as we were leaving.

The route at this point heads up Skaggs Spring Rd towards a double summit--- there is a major loss in altitude between the two high points. The first part of the climb was on a nicely paved road (put in about 15 years ago by the Army Corps of Engineering to bypass Lake Sonoma), not too steep, but that seemed to go on for a very long time. Once again the weather was merciful--- warm but not uncomfortable, with occasional breezes. As we gained altitude we could see over to the coastal ridge, and noticed that the fog bank was definitely present.

The first summit had a yet another nicely stocked rest stop, complete with brightly colored tarps to provide some welcome shade. After a quick camelback refill, we were off again on a steep, tricky descent to the base of the canyon. After crossing a very scenic concrete bridge spanning the lower canyon, we once again began to climb. The road became noticeably narrower, and the grade seemed to be significantly steeper than "Skaggs #1". Up until this time I had been really enjoying myself, and had even entertained thoughts that maybe the TT wasn't all that terrible, and that an early finish was a distinct possibility. At one point I became so confident that I began to wonder what I would do with the rest of the evening if I got in as early as seemed likely--- possibly go out dancing?.

For whatever reason, in the space of 5-10 minutes I went from a really confident, enjoying- myself-strong-rider to a very shaky, on-the-verge-of-a-total-bonk basket case. I immediately recognized at least 3 of the 10 early warning signs of a bonk, and jammed down two tubes of Gu and some water. While waiting for the Gu to work its magic, I dropped into my super-granny (the one I swore I would never use on a real ride--- it was only there for testing purposes), and began to plug along at 3 mph. At first I thought "Hey, no problem! I can cruise at this speed for as long as it takes!", but then, on doing the math, realized that 3 mph for 65 miles wasn't going to get me in by the cut-off, or even by the next morning. I shifted back to a more reasonable climbing gear, but it just wouldn't work--- plus, my already tired lower back muscles began to twitch in a thoroughly unregulated manner, as if they were getting signals from somewhere other than my central nervous system. I struggled on towards the top of Skagg's #2, and began to think that maybe the TT was pretty terrible after all. I also began to feel sorry for myself, which helped a little.

After what seemed like an eternity, an unscheduled water/coke stop appeared just below the summit. I pulled in and indulged myself in a cold, non-diet Classic Coke, and shoved down yet another tube of Gu. The miracle of a rising blood sugar level finally began to work its magic, and after 10 min I felt good enough to push on. The road headed along the ridge top, then began a steep descent as it followed Gualala Creek down to the ocean. The next check-in was at Camp Gualala, just 9 mi from the coast highway. The time at this point was 4:00, which seemed to leave me with lots of room, so I parked myself on some cabin steps and decided to take a real rest. Bikeaholic Tom was still there, but Craig was long gone. I studied the route map, and decided that the next push out to Ft. Ross looked easy, since 4 of the 5 major climbs were done with, and the fifth climb wasn't until after Ft. Ross. Some amusement was provided by another rider, a TT veteran, who was experiencing leg cramps--- we watched with a kind of grim fascination as his leg muscles twitched & rippled with what seemed to have a mind of their own. After a few peanut butter creme cookies we once again rolled out, this time feeling reasonably fit and fairly confident.

The route map showed it, and the ride description talked about it, but I didn't really believe it when it happened. There, in the middle of nowhere, was a no-name, very long, close-to-endless uphill grind, with a 11-12% average grade. My hill detector went off-scale, and that steepness indicator of last resort--- front wheel lift-off--- verified that we were indeed on yet another significant climb. I dropped back into super-granny mode and stabilized at that now-familiar 3 mph, and indulged in a not-unpleasant mixture of self-pity, anger at the ride organizers, and real anger at the highway engineers who had constructed a road that followed natural contours rather than just blasting an even, 2% downhill grade straight out to the coast. My mental state was so far off-balance that I briefly considered some sort of class action lawsuit against the road engineers, to be filed as soon as I got back home.

This miserable climb was followed by a quick downhill that finally brought us out to Hwy 1 at Stewart's Point, but also to what felt like sub-arctic conditions with cold, wet, blowing fog. Naturally I had neither arm warmers nor jacket, since it was common knowledge that the TT featured hot, sun-baked climbs. I joined up with Bikeaholic Tom and two other riders in a ragged paceline, as we fought hypothermia, gusty sidewinds, and occasional headwinds for the next 15 miles. We passed numerous seaside inns, all advertising hot tubs, saunas, warm beds, fireplaces, and sporting neon "Vacancy" signs. Despite these temptations, we rolled on, and reached the Ft. Ross Rd turnoff a little after 6:00.

The support crew was ready for even this kind of weather, and served up steaming Cup-of-Soups via a small camp stove. The time pressure of finishing the ride before 10:00 finally started to lift, as we realized we were less than 40 mi from the end and still had well over 3 hours. Ft. Ross Rd was indeed steep--- probably 11%--- but it was also really pretty as it climbed through fog-enshrouded redwoods. I continued to plug along in super-granny mode, not wishing to send what remained of my leg & lower back muscles into the uncontrolled twitching that I had witnessed at Camp Gualala. The descent off of the backside of the ridge--- Cazadero Rd--- was for me the hardest part of the ride, as the road surface was very uneven, steep & twisting, and I was starting to lose my judgment about how to set the bike up for a turn. At one point I was doing close to 40 mph, and decided that this was crazy, so I backed way off before the next series of turns. This next set turned out to include a beautiful, sweeping banked turn, inviting speeds of 40+, but which ended at a banked, fog-wet, crumbling metal cattle guard crossing. I decided that being conservative was now the fashion of the day.

The last rest stop at Monte Rio was pretty much of a denouement, since it was only 18 mi from the end and prefaced no major climbs. I rolled in at 7:50 or so, and decided that today's goal was to finish the TT without having to use the lights that had been delivered here. I paused just long enough to change to clear lenses, strap on the battery and down a few more potatoes, and headed down the last stretch. Much to my surprise, I started to feel pretty good, the stabbing back pains went away, and I dropped into a sort of Special Olympics Hammer Mode--- perhaps 20 mph, except that any sort of hill would cause me to start reaching for the now-forbidden granny gears.

While technically still daylight, it was actually pretty dark in this section, as the road wound its way through heavily wooded stretches, with a low overcast from the coastal fog. My final turn from Willowside Rd onto Hall Rd was made at 8:53, without lights. Official greeters included a cheering support crew, who directed me into the check-in area. Unfortunately I was sufficiently brain-dead that I couldn't follow their directions, and did a few extra loops around the parking lot, until I finally stumbled into the check-in line for an official time of 8:55 (I guess this extra detour, together with the earlier overshoot of rest stop #1, makes it the "Terrible 2.025"). Tom had come in about 20 min earlier, while Craig (8:12) and Bill (7:23!) had blitzed the course ("blitzed" is of course a relative term--- the ride leaders turned in astonishing finishing times of less than 12 hours). Thomas showed up somewhat later, but well before the 10:00 course closing. A group picture verified that while significant brain death had set in, Team Bikeaholics still retained a sense of humor.


The Bikeaholics official position on the TT is: Try it, you'll like it!

The scenery is great, the roads are traffic-free, and the support is first rate, probably the best of any double you'll experience. Plus, you get to wear the jersey without risking forehead-branding!


Ken Straub
Morale Officer, Team Bikeaholics

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