Terrible Two is the last double century in the Stage Race series for this year. The ride starts out in Sebastopol and takes you through Santa Rosa, Glen Ellen, St Helena, Calistoga, Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Stewarts Point, Fort Ross, Cazadero, Monte Rio, Occidental, Graton and back. The course is 200 miles with 16,000' of steep climbing. The ride starts at 5:30 AM and ends at 10:00 PM (to qualify for the I DID IT! t-shirt) but you actually have till 11:00 PM to finish (17.5 hrs). This is a timed event with a 1:45 PM cut off at the lunch stop at mile 111 and another at 10:00 PM at the Monte Rio rest stop (RS) at mile 184. The four major climbs of the day are Trinity Rd, Geysers Rd, Skaggs Springs Rd and Fort Ross Rd.
The only goal in mind was to meet both cut off times and get in by 11 PM. Forget about getting the I DID IT! t-shirt. We plan to use up all 17.5 hours. I've been fighting off a cold since June 9th and thought I'd be over it by today but it progressed into a sinus infection. I decided to go for it anyways. Why not, right? There's always a 50/50 chance for everything and I was prepared to give it a try.
We arrive at Analy High School at 4:30 AM. Check-in was very simple. No lines. Numbered bibs with your name on it are lined up in alphabetical order and all you have to do is find your name and pick it up along with the cue sheet. We also get a free Hammer gel flask that's already filled with different flavors. I chose Espresso for the additional caffeine. Another freebie was a bottle of Hammer E-caps. They even had bagels and cream cheese, bananas and drinks for breakfast. I see Gabrielle Friedly, Tara Madsen-Steigmeyer, Jack Joseph, Mark Homrighausen, Mark Abrahams, Toshi Takeuchi and John Lutterman at the ride start. Oh yeah, for the first time ever, the men's line for the restroom was longer than the women's. This is definitely a high testosterone event.
The ride starts off with a short speech by Bill (event director) at 5:25 AM and everyone is allowed to roll out one minute early at 5:29 AM. There is a pilot car that leads the riders through Santa Rosa. No one is allowed to pass the pilot car for the first 13 miles. As soon as we turn onto Occidental Rd, everyone takes off like jack rabbits! I get greeted by Zach Kaplan as he passes me. My legs are feeling really stiff and I can't warm up fast enough. I see Michael riding ahead of me. Gabrielle is riding along with me in the back. Michael slows down for me to catch up and says “what’s going on, you're literally bringing up the rear." What can I say to that, it was true? We make the next turn onto Sanford Rd and roll into a bank of thick fog. The temp is in the low 40's. There are a few people out on the corner cheering the riders on and ringing cow bells. As we reach the city streets of Santa Rosa, the front pack of riders are no longer in sight. We hit several traffic lights and at one stop, there was a couple standing with their bikes cheering us on. I thank them and ask why they didn’t trip the lights for us too. It’s all these little things that bring a smile to my face.
The first little climb is on Bennett Valley Rd. It’s a bunch of rollers with nothing too steep. The road descends onto Warm Springs Rd towards Glen Ellen. At this point, my legs are finally warming up and I was able to pick up the pace a bit on the 3 mile climb up Trinity. Trinity is a double summit climb with gradients ranging from 10-15%. The road eases up to around 5-6% in between the climbs. I pass a few people on this road so I’m no longer the last person on the course. I guess one positive thing about being in the back is that the road is all clear and there’s no one trying to pass you and I can even pick my own line for the descents. It’s now 7:35 AM. I’m not too far behind Michael as we make the descent on Trinity/Dry Creek Rd. The next climb on Oakville Grade is fairly short. We catch up to Gabrielle and make the sweeping descent down into Napa Valley.
We cross Hwy 29/128 and turn on Oakville Cross Rd to Silverado Trail. It’s a flat 20 miles to the first rest stop in Calistoga. We ride through the picturesque vineyards and wineries along Silverado. The sun is shining and the views are gorgeous! Michael always does a great job riding through the headwinds as I tuck in behind him. We’re rolling at a pretty good pace and get passed by two guys in full racing kits as we make the turn on Brannan St. One of the guys slows down and introduces himself as “Diego” and said he recognized us from the Davis Double last month. He wished us well for the remainder of the ride. We arrive at Calistoga RS#1, mile 55 at 9:10 AM. Toshi is leaving as we enter. We refill our Camelbaks, grab some food and take off within a few minutes. Gabrielle arrives as we leave. It’s warming up and the temp has risen to the mid 60’s.
We continue on Bennett Lane for a flat ride through more vineyards and wineries in Knights Valley. We then head north on Hwy 128 and encounter a traffic signal. We were warned about this during the pre-ride speech. Traffic is one lane and one way. It seemed like we were at a stand still for at least 5 minutes. The stop gave me a chance to eat and drink. Gabrielle rolls up behind us as we continue to wait. Finally, the light turns green and we’re off! Riding along this section of 128 is fairly fun; it’s a slightly rolling twisting downhill on nice pavement. Of course, Michael’s in front pulling and Gabrielle is right behind me. We encounter another traffic signal but this time we’re able to roll on through the green light. We pass Chalk Hill Rd and continue towards Alexander Valley. Vineyards and wineries line both sides of the road for as far as the eye can see. The road has been repaved recently and it’s a sweet smooth ride all the way on Pine Flat and Red Winery Rds.
We make the turn onto Geysers Rd and stop to peel off for the climbs ahead of us. It’s 10:35 AM and we’re at mile 75. It would be another 11 miles to the next rest stop. The Geysers is another double summit climb. It starts off unassuming around 7-8% and steadily increases to 10-14% up to the first summit. There are also two long gravelly sections on the first climb. I get through the first one with no problem but on the second one, I feel my back wheel slipping so I got off the bike and walked the remaining 5-6 feet. The temp is now in the mid 70’s. The views of the valley below from the top are spectacular! You see nothing but row after row of green grape vines. After cresting the summit, you get a nice descent. On the way down, I notice two painted boulders. One was white and looked like a monkey’s face; the other was a green frog. The climb up to the next summit hovers around 10-12% and eases up to around 5-6% as you reach the top. I pass a couple of guys before reaching the Geysers RS#2 at 12:10 PM, mile 86. I don’t see Michael or Gabrielle at all. We have an understanding that both of us will just keep pedaling to get to the lunch stop. All the volunteers are great, one guy fills up my Camelbak, another fills up my Malto drink while I hit the potty. I stuff food into my bento box and take off. I’m in and out within 2 minutes. Toshi and his two friends left right before me. I always forget to close my snack box and as I pedal away, two big strawberries fly off the bike.
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I catch and pass Toshi and his friends before the steep one mile drop on the backside of Geysers. I make a hard left turn for another 7 miles of downhill along Sulfur Creek Canyon. I noticed that the large potholes and cracks have been patched up which makes the descent a bit easier. I spot a fresh dead squirrel in the middle of the road, it most likely got hit by a cyclist. There are three long sections of gravelly road with some small climbs and washed out areas along the canyon. I catch up with Jack Joseph and exchanged greetings. He had lost some time repairing a flat early on. It was already 1:00 PM. The lunch cut off is at 1:45 PM. Can we make it? I pose that question to Jack and his reply was simply “I don’t know.” Fair enough. I push myself a bit harder but I’ve been having a lot of sinus pressure throughout the ride. It’s amazing the amount of fluids your body can produce. I couldn’t farmer blow it out fast enough.
I finally reach River Rd to Crocker and Asti Rds. Jack’s riding ahead of me; the winds have picked up quite a bit. No Michael, I’d been riding alone since the start of the climb up Geysers. Well, I still have to keep moving. There’s a lot of pressure to make it to the lunch stop. I’m moving along on Asti and notice a group of riders behind me. I turn around and see a GPC jersey, it’s Toshi! He passes me and calls for me to hop on, which I do. It’s another 9 miles to lunch. We make the turn onto Dutcher Creek and I could feel myself lagging on the short climb. I tell Toshi not to wait for me since I was sick and I certainly didn’t want him to miss the cut off on my account. He stayed with me and said that I had more at stake here. We all arrive at the Lake Sonoma lunch stop at 1:46 PM at mile 110. We miss the cut off by one minute. But wait, the guy in charge said we can continue on but we’d have to leave NOW! I was going to go for it. I get greeted by Kirk Hastings and he holds my bike while I run to make a pit stop. The volunteers refill my water; I grab some food and was ready to leave. I thank Kirk, he wishes me good luck and as I turn around, there’s Michael. I tell him we’re allowed to continue on and he’s all for that too! He scrambles to get ready to leave. Jack and I take off together with Michael not far behind us. Toshi and friends had already left.
Skaggs Springs Rd is an endless series of steep climbs, false summits and descents. The gradient for the first climb up to the turn on Rockpile is around 5-7%. After the left turn, the gradient immediately kicks up to the double digits. It’s a steady grind of 10-14%. There is absolutely no shade. The temp reaches a high of 93. You climb and descend, climb and descend; it seems to go on forever! You get 30+ miles of this. At one point I turn around and catch a glimpse of Michael. Jack is still ahead of me, I lose sight of him after several turns. I finally reach the water stop at the top of Skaggs. The volunteers are packing up and I quickly refill my water and grab a few salty chips before the descent. On one of the short climb, I’m checking out the landscape and take notice of two separate mounds on the hilltop with a big rock atop of each one; they actually resembled a pair of breast. I aptly named it Boobie Ridge. Did anyone else see that? After dropping down the backside of Skaggs, the nice pavement is gone and we’re back on a rough single lane road. It’s not all downhill though; there are a few rollers here and there but at least it’s a lot shadier. By now, I’m riding alone and hear a car come up from behind and also hear Michael’s voice, huh? I turn around and Michael’s in a SAG car. He was picked up at the water stop at the top of Skaggs. He was having severe back spasms on the climbs and had to call it quits. He asked what I wanted to do and I chose to continue on to the rest stop at the Rancheria school. I’ll see him there and make my assessment then. They drive off and I get back to pedaling my bike. That burned quite a few minutes for me. Now, I really wanted to be able to finish the ride, not just for myself but for the both of us. I was doing some calculations in my head and felt I could still do it. I might be the last to come in, but who cares? I reach the Las Lomas water stop and see Jack there too. I refill my water and take a few swigs of Mug’s root beer and take off before him. It’s a fast descent riding along the Gualala River. It’s absolutely beautiful back there. I had to make a quick stop to deal with a coughing and hacking fit I was having. The sinus pressure was still there. The temp is now in the high 60’s. I pass Camp Gualala and was getting very close to the base of the 1.7 mile climb up Rancheria grade. This climb goes into the double digits and maxes out at 20%.
On the approach, I see a car coming towards me and it’s the SAG guy with Michael again. I’m thinking, what now? Didn’t I tell them I’ll meet them at the rest stop? I was actually getting a little aggravated. Meanwhile, I hear another car coming up behind me and I have to pull over to the side of the road. It was another SAG car. I’m thinking again, more minutes are being wasted here…… As I’m stopped, I start coughing. I still have it in my head that I can go on. The SAG guy is giving me a reality check. I’m still holding on to my bike. According to Jim, if I haven’t been able to maintain an average speed of 15 mph by this time, I wasn’t going to make it by 10 PM. I told him I wasn’t going for the I DID IT! T-shirt, I was going for the 11 PM time. My math was apparently different than his. Isn’t he supposed to encourage me to finish, go get it, hoorah, and hoorah? Michael was telling me that Tara was one hour ahead of me. John had to SAG because his saddle broke off. Toshi and friends were just a bit ahead of me. All the while, I’m thinking, what does that have to do with me? My coughing and sinus pressure increases as I’m standing there. My blood pressure was probably going up too. I close my eyes for a second and take a deep breath. It was time for me to make my own reality check. Throughout this whole ride, my body’s been telling me one thing and my mind was making it do something else. Okay, really, how long can I last like this? I had labored breathing on most of the climbs, especially up on Skaggs and the sinus pressure was ever so present. Do I have to go on until I keel over by the side of the road? NO. I have to go back to my motto for all rides: health & safety first. It’s only a bike ride. I’m not getting a paycheck at the finish. I relinquish my bike. It was about 5 PM and I was at mile 143.3.
I got into the SAG car. I could hear my body say THANK YOU as I sunk into the rear seat. I’m not a happy camper. I’m disappointed and mad at myself. The only other person behind me was Jack. Jim waited for him to come around and asked if he was okay, Jack was going to continue on. The car slowly made its way up Rancheria grade and stopped at the school. Toshi and his friends were there. Their plan was to make it to the Fort Ross rest stop, say “hi” to Rob Hawks, have some hot soup and SAG in from there. I took the time to eat some fruit and actually sit down for awhile. Jack came and went. The volunteers were closing up the rest stop and packing things away. They gave us plenty of Hammer gels, M&M’s, nuts and fig bars. The whole time I was sitting there, I was having a coughing fit and blowing my nose non stop. I didn’t think I coughed as much when I was on the bike. Go figure.
A volunteer at the rest stop offered to drive us straight back to the finish. Toshi’s friend Chris decided to go back with us. Michael helped Cathy load our bikes onto her car. She asks us how we feel about going on winding roads. No problem I say, as long as you don’t drive crazy. Michael and I switch seats, he didn’t want to get car sick. Cathy proceeds to tell us that she doesn’t drive her car too often and that she loves to ride her motorcycle. She was certainly driving the car like she was on a motorcycle. She was Racer X’ing it on Skaggs out to Hwy 1 and Hwy 116. When we got out on Hwy 1, we spotted Jack, Toshi and his friend, they had a tailwind! The ocean views along Hwy 1 can’t be beat! The ocean was so blue and the skies were absolutely clear. We get back to Analy High around 8’ish. Michael and I change up. I’m still mumbling about having to quit and second guessing my decision to stop. Arghhh!! I’m hungry and want to get some hot food in my stomach.
I see Rob Hawks, his son, Danylo, Mark A and Mark H as we approach the buffet line. I noticed Mark H had a sling holding up his right arm. He had an accident on the descent on Skaggs towards Stewart’s Point. A pickup truck was going uphill and taking up most of the road, leaving him with nowhere else to go but off the road and hitting the embankment. We also learned that Ernesto Montenero, another GPC member also suffered a crash on the final descent towards Cazadero on Ft Ross Rd. His rear brake locked up his rear wheel which slipped out. He was taken by ambulance to the local hospital. This is the REAL reality check. I’m glad to be back in one piece. No more whining!
The post ride dinner was great! Yes, it was a HOT meal. They had BBQ chicken, lasagna, polenta, chips & salsa and green salad. I had everything on my plate. It was also good to have a cup of hot tea. It was getting a bit cold eating outside. I went back for a piece of white cake and some ice cream. The best part of the day is at end when we all share stories of the day’s ride with Rob, Danylo, Mark H, Toshi, Zach and Mark A. The conversation is fun and as always, there’s plenty of laughter to go around. Mark H was unable to drive back home so I offered to drive him back home in his car. Michael put his bike into the van and followed us back to Berkeley. I pull into Mark’s garage and get out of the car and neglect to help him out. How quickly I forget that’s he’s injured. I’m so sorry Mark!
I guess this proverb holds true. There’s always a first time for everything. I got my first DNF and my first SAG ride. All in all, it was a very organized ride and all the volunteers were great! I had a fabulous time and the course was awesome! We’ll be back next year for the second attempt.
Much love and thanks goes to Michael for taking on this challenge. You’re the best! A big shout out of “THANKS!” goes to Toshi for pulling me 9 miles to the Lake Sonoma lunch stop and to Kirk for holding my bike. Many thanks go to everyone else who wished us success and followed our journey. It was a great run for the attempt at the Stage Races. I will celebrate the failures along with the successes! There will be more to come. We haven’t finished playing yet!
I’d also like to wish Mark and Ernesto a healthy recovery and for them to get well soon. TAKE CARE!
Avg Speed: 12.7
Ride time: 11:23:56
Total time: 11:40
Michael's Stats: Miles: 123.05 Elevation: 10,160' Avg Speed: 12.9 Ride time: 9:31:22
Weather: Sunny and breezy with starting temps in the low 40's reaching a high of 93 on Skaggs.