Strawberry Fields Forever
This was a fun ride. Lisa and I decided just a few days before the ride to travel down to Santa Cruz County to do the 100 miles as a chance to see some friends we hadn't seen since last Summer. While they were pre-registered, we decided we'd ride self-supported if we needed to, since the course looked like a good one for a maintenance ride one week before the Davis Double. Lisa actually managed to take an unused paid registration spot at the last minute. I didn't pursue a spot knowing we'd both still be relying on our own supplies anyway.

The 100-mile course is a lovely route that starts and ends in Aptos, less than 10 miles due East of Santa Cruz. It travels up to the Santa Cruz Mountains via Soquel and Highland Way, then descends through the redwood canyons along Corralitos Creek. Then it figure-eights through Watsonville and Prunedale, where it becomes evident why they named this ride so: lots of strawberry crops all around that give off a sweet, almost omnipresent smell in the air. The course was so well marked on the road, that I would have had no need of a route sheet all day even if I had one.

The most notable challenges on the course are the steady climb up to the ridge line of the Santa Cruz mountains from Laurel, and the steep residential roads leading to the official lunch stop in Prunedale. We were warned that there would be a few steep, but short pitches on the way there. Sure enough, Lisa's CM434 registered a 20% max gradient. Those steep parts were never too long though.

There are long flat sections of the ride through the farm lands that I imagined more challenging since we were lucky to have less than typically brisk cross and headwinds in these areas. The winds were there, all right, but nowhere nearly as strong as I've felt them before on other rides.

We learned the reason why this ride fills up so quickly year after year is the reported decadent array of food supplies offered at the rest stops. Different rest stops evidently have their specialities, from an Espresso bar, to strawberry crepes, and even pierogi. I'm not one to snub food like this on a bike ride (after all, sushi and baklava are two good reasons why I'd do North Fork's Grizzly century again), it all felt like it was a bit too much at the time. Lisa and I skipped over more than half the rest stops the ride had anyway.

One notable flaw in the event food supplies: way too few items with sufficient sodium content. No pretzels, peanut butter, peanuts or the like at most rest stops we noticed. I felt better supported by my own cheap resources, such as the local store I stopped in Las Lomas for a bag of good 'ol corn nuts and a Pay Day bar to lend variety to the supply of Clif bars and Endurolytes I had with me.

I did succumb to indulgence when we reached the rest stop at Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville. I've heard numerous reports that the Ranch serves up some killer fresh pies. Knowing we had only about 20 miles left to ride, I gave in big time - with a huge slice of warm apple pie - a la mode. As Lisa and I inhaled this slice of heaven, mostly to prevent ice cream from totally evaporating in the afternoon heat, others looked at us like we were crazy.

Good thing we didn't crash from the sugar high before we had to negotiate the last, unexpected climb of the day, back up to the Santa Cruz Mountains via Hazel Dell and Mt. Madonna Rd. Before long, we were back at Aptos High School, in time to witness the arrival of the truly crazy bunch: a pack of big-wheel unicyclists who did one of the shorter (but still hilly) route options.

Distance: 100 miles | Elevation gain: 5,960 ft. | Ride time: 6h35m
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