I seem to have this habit. Have a wussy time on a ride, take a really long time to write about it. As I write this, there's Valentine's Day 2006 decor in the shop windows. Apart from life and work catching up with me after an ambitious season of riding, there were moments of this particular ride that were not all too pleasant to recall. It made procrastination all the easier.
I should be clear about one thing though: this is a cool event. Sure like other double centuries I know, it had a couple of undesirable route sections, but all in all, it was rich in scenery and challenge. No, what made this event feel sort of anti-climactic to both Lisa and me after a season of eight double centuries was simply mishap. In Lisa's case, a crash with just 6 miles to the finish (she did continue and finish, though evidently concussed). In my case, it was an agonizing struggle to just keep going for the last 80 miles of the ride.
Both Lisa and I knew full well that we were pushing our limits by signing up to do this ride. It had been a long season for us, and we were already feeling the wear of it during any of our 70+ mile rides. In past years, I have quit the long days in the saddle as early as mid-August. Here I was three months later than usual, trying to bag another double.
For me, this ride had plenty of allure. The event trial one year prior was met with a lot of positive feedback -- and why not? It's staged by the same folks who put on the Climb to Kaiser event (really really good event support) and it's a journey through some of the most beautiful parts of Madera and Mariposa counties. This seems like a rather strange thing to say now, as we rode for many more hours in the dark on this ride than most double centuries (with Devil Mountain Double being the only exception).
But, even in the dark, and even after having to change a flat in the early hours (Lisa), there was unseen beauty to absorb, like the rambling waters of the Kings River alongside us on the way to a place named after the Choinumni natives of the area (they get a recreational park named after them, but the federal government won't recognize them as an Indian tribe). Sunrise greeted us beautifully as we rode along the rim of the Pine Flat Reservoir, on the way up a place called Hog Mountain. That burnt color typical of the California landscape was even more spectacularly golden this time of year because now I've discovered that color is cast by dense, tiny blossoms that may appear to be dead grass from a distance.
During the rest of our daylight hours, we'd be in the thick of the Sierra foothills around the geographic center of the state. North Fork, Bass Lake, Mariposa. Abundant sunshine hardly meant we'd be treated to much warmth. It was actually quite cold for most of the day and I was slightly underdressed for the occasion (the previous day boasted a high of 97 degrees).
What's more, rain spritzes arrived just as we were making our way around Bass Lake, one of the namesakes of the ride and a key feature of another event in the area, the Grizzly Century. Two Costco shrimp quesadillas served at the lunch stop would fix all that, right? Not so. I had such a hard time getting back into a rhythm when we hit the road again. It didn't help that navigating through the Bass Lake area could be dizzyingly confusing without painted route arrows.
Straight from the route sheet: R Road 222. L Road 274. L Road 434. R Road 432. L Road 222. R Road 426. R Road 223. What -- some folks were just not imaginative enough or too ambivolent with history to come up with meaningul names?
With well over 14,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain, this ride is among the most difficult double centuries in the Triple Crown series. In pure numbers, it appears to be in the same difficulty category as the Mt. Tam Double, but I struggled way more on this one. It could be for the fact that it happened so late in the year. No -- more likely, it was the foolishness of partaking in the mid-ride uphill time trial.
That's right -- a time trial climb on a 5.3 mile stretch of Powerhouse Grade with numerous 8%-12% grade sections -- at mile 70 of 200!! It's Fresno Cycling's way of adding gusto to the event -- with prizes for top three finishers in mens and women's categories. The prizes were not too shabby either: first prize being a 2-night stay at a charming Resort property on Bass Lake. Lisa didn't climb to race, but actually missed third place (a $75 gift certificate at Tri-City Sports) by less than a minute.
I know I'm no fast boy, so why I bothered to ride Powerhouse Grade like a time trial, I'll never comprehend -- especially when I knew there was still 125 miles and LOTS of hills after it to deal with. A buddy of mine witnessing me skip the third rest stop to head straight to the hill said it best: "Off to fall on your sword, eh?"
Man was he ever right. From then on, almost every prolonged uphill stretch was just hell. I think I hit my lowest point going up Hwy 49 from Oakhurst to the Mariposa county line. Not only was it the sort of climb I hate (steady grade up a highway with no turns and curves), but the highway traffic just made it all the more annoying. To top it off, cold dry air gave me recurring nose bleeds and it started raining. I really wanted to pack it in at that point. And I really don't know why -- or how -- I kept going.
But I did. And I should be thankful, because it afforded me the experience of the wonderful descent from Midpines to Mariposa, the remote grandeur of Ben Hur Road (and all its Autumn tarantulae -- only one of which I accidentally squished) -- and nevermind the thousand potholes you'd have to negotiate going downhill on the south side of that valley.
Night fell as we crossed back into Madera county in a town called Raymond, still 45 miles from the finish. From mile 85 or so, Lisa and I were taking uncharacteristically long breaks at rest stops -- my fault exclusively, I suspect. The added time off the bike meant we had to ride in the dark on some busy roadways, most notably a 2-mile stretch on Highway 41, which was downright unnerving. That short, shoulderless stretch alone would be reason for me to think twice about doing this ride again, actually.
At the last rest stop 25 miles from the finish, we were warned by support staff that there was a stretch of really bad shoulder pavement on the way to the town of Friant, where one of the fast pack riders crashed really badly earlier in the day. I was able to identify that section pretty easily, even in the dark. But what caught me off guard (probably partly due to exhaustion) was a half-foot drop off the side of the concrete pavement that dumped me into a very soft and sandy shoulder. Honestly, I don't know how I kept the bike upright, or how I even managed to get back onto the pavement. But it gave me such a jolt that kept me wide awake for the rest of the ride.
And if that wasn't enough to get the adrenalin going, seeing Lisa take a turn too tightly and hitting a painted curb (thinking it was only paint on the road) that sent her crashing to the ground really got me going. It was a really difficult thing for me to watch as it unfolded and concluded with her head (helmet on) making impact with the ground. In short time, she was curled up on the side of the road moaning in pain. NOT A HAPPY SIGHT. In three split seconds, I started imagining the worst, but she looked much better as she started picking herself up (and she did inquire about her bike -- good sign). Still, she has no recollection of most of what happened immediately after -- a sign of a mild concussion. She eventually dusted herself off and we rode the remaining 6 miles slowly to finish the ride, but she was clearly in a daze and unaware of where she was, or why she had even crashed in the first place.
All throughout the post ride meal, Lisa was still dazed and not all together. But she did possess enough awareness to assess her own memory and to instruct me to wake up in about 4 hours to do another memory test. It sort of went like this:
[3:00 AM. Alarm clock rings]
"Wake up. Where are we? Whaf huppened todeh?"
"Uh, we're in Motel 8 [Super 8, actually], and we did a really long bike ride and I had a stupid crash because I thought a curb was a painted line..."
"Oh good, OK." ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Thankfully, no serious issues ever arose nor did she need any emergency or special care afterwards. Life went on merrily at the end of a big cycling season. Two days later, Lisa was on a plane to Miami/South Beach for a work conference and I joined her there mid-week. Schvitzing like mad during our beach walks, we nearly forgot about that crash altogether as we enjoyed our RnR in a town seemingly deserted by everybody but locals too care-free to worry about Hurricane Wilma.