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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge - Recapping the Passion

Vince paid for this ride - in exchange for installing his front door a few months back. He chose not to ride this one himself but should have.

The SCMC is second only to the Death Ride, and a very close second, as far as organized rides go in my opinion. 100 miles, 10,000' + elevation gain, a timed climb up Jamison Creek Rd., and very well supported.

Getting ready to ride

Kevin and Milt - The guys who talked me into signing up.

But as I hinted at in the last posting, the SCMC certainly has its quirks. In all fairness, the ride suffers no more from oddness than does it's name sake city. Santa Cruz has always been a bastion for the bizarre, and has always held a curious attraction for me - but never for more than a few hours at a time. We have a favorite pizza restaurant on Pacific Ave. called Kianti's. They have a live show every Friday and Saturday night which my family found by accident several years ago, and have returned to regularly ever since. Getting my "traditional family" safely to the pizza and back again on Santa Cruz weekends is always a challenge though.

I should have expected no different from this ride. True to style, the organizers and volunteers were passionate and friendly beyond compare, and were constantly taking candid photos of the riders. Accustomed to taking photos of my rides, it was a bit odd being on the other side of the lens so much. The rest stops were very frequent and unbelievably well staffed. At one rest stop there were no less than 4 volunteers guarding the recycling. Oh did I mention the recycling?

Breakfast, each rest area, and dinner were all bestowed with a cadre of receptacles for various types of waste. Each in turn was guarded by a garbage Nazi directing the operation. I even found this particular Storm Trooper actively pulling plastic forks from the "Other trash" bins - presumably to relocate to "Recycling." I had to take the picture quick for fear of being noticed and sent to the gulag.

But all of that was well worth the ride. It seemed that most of the riders I met carried much the same eclectic passion as the organizers. The Death Ride seems to attract many who want to be seen as hard core, wearing kits with professional team names emblazoned across their bulging quadriceps. Unfortunately, they can be less than friendly at times if you happen to not have "Powerbar" or "Liquigas" somewhere on your jersey. Not to imply that the DR is less than friendly - because it is just the opposite, but in contrast, I met and rode with NO ONE on the SCMC that wasn't anxious to chat with another recreational cyclist. I actually had guys I had met only minutes or hours before, drop off their pace to "pick me back up" in a windy area so that I could benefit from their draft. The riders were passionate about cycling, because they love cycling.

The group I rode with for much of the day - on and off between losing each other on various hard climbs - set a pace which I was looking for: Just a touch faster than what I could do on my own. I settled into their group on the first hard climb having caught them while riding with a british sounding rider sporting the same 5 pass DR finisher jersey that I own. We all climbed together and picked up another fellow whom I had earlier saved from a long detour when he blew past our first left turn at the start of the ride. At the top of the hill I was feeling really good, and topped out first and began the meandering descent. When the descent became more dramatic I realized that the group was back together and was soon scorched as 2 of the faster guys jetted by. Having a line to follow now, I hammered down and slipped into third position for an awesome descent into Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The bottom came too soon and we were cutting through the bacon and eggs scented smoke from the campfires of countless bleary eyed campers. I held my breath a few times, concerned about diminished capacity resulting from the smokey inhalations. (I know, what harm could it do? - probably just a little of the Santa Cruz rubbing off on me.)

Our next rest stop was one that only the 100 mile group visited, as the 100 kilometer crowd skipped this loop. Noticing the fully stocked tables and overanxious staff, I asked how many had come through before us. 5 riders - a group of 3 and a group of 2 they said. I was jazzed. We were at the front, and it felt good.

Next was the Jamison Creek Time Trial of which I had heard brief reports as being a pretty tough climb. Sure enough. They take your bike number and time at the bottom of the hill and total your time at the top. My goal was just to ride to the top of the 3 mile hill - until I got passed the first time. It was on. I rode at between 90% and 100% the whole way up and just managed a "how's it going" to my 100k riding friend Milt as I passed him around the beginning of mile 3. You can see the results here. I managed 60th out of 470 riders.

The Time Trial ended just a couple miles before the lunch stop, but since it was only 10:30am, I was content with a brief rest including a Coke and a handful of other offerings and back on my way. The following miles were a little lonely, but very fast. This was the descent down to the Coast Highway. At the bottom I overtook 2 riders, a guy and a gal, with whom I shared the labor of riding north into the incessant sea breeze. But the views...

The fog line is still over the sea at this point

The "Gestapo"
As they eyed a confused cyclist deciding where to drop his muffin paper, I joked that they must have a trap door which chutes erring victims into the ocean if they choose the wrong bin. I was a little alarmed at how well they took to the idea.

A Gestapo member at the Highway 1 rest area said this gal was the first female out that far, but we soon learned that she had skipped Big Basin to make an early assault on the Time Trial. The recent 10 mile loop and return trip on the same stretch of Highway 1 makes this stretch look like a lollipop on the map. Riding back on the lollipop stick was morale boosting for 2 reasons. 1, the tail wind plus the opportunity to draft with the fellow whose detour I had interrupted early in the morning made for rapid progress. And 2, we were passing groups of dozens of riders going the other way still fighting the wind we now had behind us - literally.

Even with a tail wind, this fellow's draft was a bonus.
We were climbing hills at well over 20mph and descending in the 40's.
I pulled my share, but it set me up for a rough solo climb.

The wind wasn't going to help us climb back up into those mountains though, and was more a bane than a boon by effectively eliminating any breeze on the LONG slow climb up what is referred to with reverence among cyclists as simply - Bonny Doon. I was passed by 3 riders on the way up, but those were the only ones I saw after falling behind my friend on that lonely climb. The only riders I saw going up anyway. Having also descended this same stretch on our way to the sea, I was now dazzled by the spinning and whirring kaleidoscope of riders flashing by at often 10 times the speed I was now traveling. I took some measure of pleasure in noting that they were at least an hour back, and I was shut of the increasing winds they had yet to encounter.

The final 25 miles went fast. After Bonny Doon, the road leveled enough to notice, but still rolled rather viciously at times. It was in this stretch that my local friends Kipp and Mardi, whom I had seen at check in, had some trouble. Evidently the rough road - which I distinctly remember in that section - had Mardi's number and she went OTB (over the bars) with the aid of a large bump and a twitchy front brake. Fortunately the bike is said to be in good condition. And, (Now that I have that off your mind), Mardi suffered road rash and bruises but avoided broken bones so far as I know. They would have finished the ride too, but chose to SAG back to the start rather than risk further harm.

Santa Cruz Beach - From W. Cliff Dr.

The finishing miles took us past Natural Bridges State Beach , along beautiful W. Cliff Dr., and through the heart of Santa Cruz before climbing the final 300' back to Scott's Valley and the awaiting Super Burritos at the finish. The ride through Santa Cruz again rung true to the bizarre theme. The organizers had stationed flaggers in the heart of town to help direct riders through the dicey sections. We were literally riding in traffic, but then would suddenly be directed onto a section of boardwalk, and then a sidewalk for a quarter mile. I've never before had to employ my urban cycling skills during an organized ride like this. But again, as nuts as it was, I could see the passion for cycling oozing up even through the sidewalk cracks. This was cycling in Santa Cruz, and they wanted us to experience a piece of it. I'm just glad it didn't experience a piece of me. I enjoyed the last 15 miles with a fellow from that first group I had ridden with. We met up near Natural Bridges and guided each other through the city. He, like I, was hoping to ride in with company, and so we chatted like old friends for the last hour.

I will ride this again. I finished in under 7 hours on the bike and under 8 hours total. My average speed was 14.5 mph and average facial expression was a childlike grin.
I say thanks to the SCCCC for an awesome ride.