The Terrible Two
Holy crack pipe. What a ride.

Completing the Terrible Two on my first attempt presently ranks supreme in my own brief and steadily-maturing cycling retrospective. It shines, too, in terms of my own overall personal accomplishments, as it turned out to be a huge triumph for me over the claims of nay-sayers and skeptics, not the least of whom was my own self.

Those unfamiliar with this annual ritual of two-wheeled sadomasochism hosted by the Santa Rosa Cycling Club might not appreciate why I'm making such a big deal of this. The Terrible Two is named in reference to its 200 mile route traversing some of the sickest terrain in Sonoma and Napa counties. 16,000 feet of climb. The most difficult parts in sweltering summer heat. OK scratch the heat part for 2004, as my Ciclosport's temp reading registered a high of just 91F for the day, when historically the most difficult and exposed parts of the ride have been known to bake in 100F+ misery.

The ride begins at 5:30 AM. The course officially closes at 11:00 PM, but the host club provides incentive to finish the ride in 16.5 hours or less (10:00 PM): a t-shirt. Quite remarkable what noise people make about earning a t-shirt that says "I did it." But I suppose I could relate to it now as the reality of being able to collect that silly Beefy-T was all that was in my head in the final 15 miles of the ride by the last light of day.

Thirty minutes before the ride started, I was a nervous wreck wondering just what the hell I was thinking when I blew to pieces in my last double attempt a month earlier (see Eastern Sierra Double Century). 10 minutes before the ride, I confided that anxiety in a friend I saw, Charlie Jonas, to which he shrugged and plainly said: "It's just a bike ride." Granted, Charlie is the sort of Paris-Brest-Paris ancien who gets away with saying stuff like that, he did have a point. And from that point on, I did enjoy my very long day in cycling Nirvana.

I admit I'm a tad hesitant to really give a blow by blow about this ride. I feel any narrative I offer would fall miserably short of my true impressions from the ride. But fear not: Nobody gives a better analytical account of the modern day TT course anyway than Chuck Bramwell, founding godfather of the California Triple Crown. Graphical breakdown of the entire course available here:

The topographic profile charts in Chuck's analyses can be likened to an EKG of some fella experiencing cardiac arrest. But when a ride's elevation profile undulates so dramatically such as this, it also usually means there are almost no dull moments on the ride. And that could certainly be said about the TT. For more than 3/4 of the time spent in the saddle, you're either laboring up long and steep climbs, or flying down from their summits as well as your nerves may permit given the dismal state of many rural roads around here.

To say the Terrible Two is a difficult ride is a silly understatement nearly as restrained as saying it was "cool" to have completed it. Many people have asked me what its most difficult parts were and I imagine this would be a pretty common curiosity. Those who have done this ride might offer widely varying opinions in this regard, but heck: here are my own for what they're worth.
  1. The ride in its entirety and its time limit
  2. Rancheria Grade (aka "Gualala Wall"): wicked steep and unforgiving
  3. Skaggs Springs Rd: very tough, exposed double summit
  4. Fort Ross Rd / Cazadero: when you've ridden 160 ugly miles, easy to see why this is tougher than the earlier climbs
  5. Geysers: a lot like Skaggs, but it's earlier in the ride
The funny thing is that the first major climb of the day, Trinity Grade, is a whopper of a climb all on its own, but the relative "ease" (and I use that term ever so liberally) with which you negotiate this climb is so miniscule compared to the rest of the ride that it doesn't (IMHO) even register. For that matter, I thought the final rise out of Occidental at mile 180 was even tougher than Trinity.

Some might compare this ride to the Death Ride, bit it's clearly different and undeniably more challenging for key reasons that become easily apparent. A) It's 70 difficult miles longer. B) The climbs are long, all right, but they're steeper and annoying due to the frequency of double summits throughout the course (psychological jabs, to say the least). C) And if you're a slower rider like myself, you won't have the benefit if chatting it up with hundreds of commiserating suckers around you. You could be on your own a lot out here, like I was.

Luckily, I did find good company to pace with where it really mattered (e.g. Silverado Trail in the AM and Hwy 1 in the PM). But during the accumulated hours spent alone, in between brief encounters with others either passing or falling behind, I felt like I was in such favorable spirits to appreciate the days offerings. Aromatherapeutic fog on Trinity Grade. Pinging noises caused by guard rails expanding in the heat along Geysers Rd. Avocado and sea salt on a turkey sandwich masterfully prepared by ride support volunteers at Lake Sonoma. Cold wet towels to drape over yourself at the first Skaggs Springs summit. Local BMX kids who think they can outclimb you on the 18-21% slopes of Rancheria Grade (an easy win for them when you've already ridden 130 miles and climbed nearly 12K feet). The forested plunge from Kings Ridge that spits you out at Stewart's Point at the Pacific Coast, 20F cooler than one hour prior. Two helpings of chicken noodle soup at Fort Ross. Legs screaming bloody hell going up Fort Ross Rd, but mind distracted by blazing sunset above the ocean behind.

For a moment, the Terrible Two didn't sound so terrible after all, did it? There simply isn't any ride in the whole state that I know of that offers the variety of scenic splendor that this ride does. Euphoria that overcame me at the finish sweetened the experience even more, but forgetting the pain I endured all day to get there didn't last all that long. Hours and days after, pervasive aches would remind me convincingly of my ridiculous endeavor, yet tickle an urge to face the same torture again another time. And wouldn't you know: I signed up to do the LA Grand Tour double next weekend.

Distance: 200 miles | Elevation gain: 15,980' | Ride time: 14h47m
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