This was my second Terrible Two (TT) attempt and Lisa's first. We put off signing up until after we completed the Eastern Sierra double century three weeks earlier. Lisa cruised through that ride so comfortably, that it was clear to me that her form was already in place. I, on the other hand, probably got a bigger mental workout from Eastern Sierra than a physical one, crumpling under the effects of high altitude. If anything, that experience convinced me that maybe I developed some mental muscle to deal with the TT challenges, even if I were to have a tougher time with it than I did last year.
Surprisingly, my attitude about the ride in the final weeks was really loose and care-free. I figured I'd ride what I could, as best as I could, as enjoyably as possible. If my body protested enough, I'd call it quits. No shame. It's taken me a long time to reclaim this sort of spirit leading up to big events, and I still wonder what the turning point was or why it took so long to come around. Maybe it was knowing the ride from experience, or some belief that I was actually well prepared. While I hadn't done much all season to work on speed (or what coaching experts and training geeks like to call "threshold training"), I had the comfort of knowing I had a lot of miles behind me with plenty of vertical in the early season.
Lisa was uncharacteristically nervous about finishing this ride, like it was some kind of critical mission. She's usually the more relaxed and optimistic between us, but she can be stubbornly determined against unknown odds as well. Months, weeks, days before the TT -- in fluctuating intensity -- she'd obsess over the average speed she'd need to keep in order to finish within the overall time limit (in fairness, it is daunting). It worried her because she's had trouble maintaining "good enough" average speeds on much shorter hilly rides. I'd laugh and dismiss her concerns most of the time because I secretly knew better. That might sound mean, but I know she's the queen of consistency, and I also know from experience that you can totally surprise yourself with your final average speed on the TT. I told her this. There's just no easy way to convince anybody of that who hasn't done the ride before, so all I could say is "You'll see for yourself."
Last year, I recall making a point of just riding from checkpoint to checkpoint and monitoring the time of day I would arrive at each place relative to their closing time. Throughout the day, I had actually gained a bigger time cushion at each rest stop as I went. Someone who's fed Lisa tons of really detailed advice about the ride echoed the concept of simply riding to stay ahead of rest stop closure times. Seeing for myself how well Lisa was riding all season, I knew she'd probably experience the same thing I did last year.
I love it when my intuitive predictions are right. Lisa did finish the ride in extremely well calculated fashion. And realizing for herself midday that she had the ability to maintain a comfortable margin ahead the checkpoint cutoff times, she even inspired a multiple-TT veteran feeling dejected and on the verge of quitting into believing HE could finish it as well (he did). I, too, finished the ride and believe it was the best effort I've ever given on any double century.
FINALLY, AN IDEAL EVE OF RIDE
We both decided to take Friday off from work. This gave us time to enjoy a keep-the-legs-loose spin around Oakland in the morning for 1.5 hours, then eat a hearty brunch and hit the road before the dreadful Santa Rosa and San Rafael area traffic jams set in. We were warned that a NASCAR event happening in Santa Rosa would add to usual congestion.
For once, we weren't rushing around in order to try and get to bed early enough. We checked into our room at 3PM and prepped the bikes and gear upon arrival. We had a lovely dinner at an Italian cafe in the old railroad district of Santa Rosa by 5PM (and I even had wine with my meal). Back at the hotel, we just lay in bed and watched a bit of lousy telly for a lullaby. Even with a 3:30AM wake-up call, we managed a solid 7 hours of sleep. It's about time!
A BIGGER, BADDER TERRIBLE TWO?
This year, the Santa Rosa Cycling Club reprised the original Terrible Two route in commemoration of the event's 30th anniversary. The long course has not been used since 1994. Its distinguishing feature is an extra 10-mile loop through the town of Annapolis, stemming from mile 138, that adds about extra 1,000 ft. of cumulative elevation gain (to a course that already imposes 16,000 feet of climbing).
For folks who see no difficulty in finishing the modern day course before 9PM, this "classic" course was probably more favorable as it by-passed the infamous Rancheria Grade (aka "Gualala Wall"), a truly nasty, relentlessly steep climb at around mile 150. But for mortals who really have to struggle to make it in before 11PM (let alone 10PM to get that "I did it" T-shirt), the added loop definitely made the whole ride significantly more challenging. While nothing on the way to Annapolis closely resembled the Rancheria Grade, the path still threw a series of 3 challenging climbs along the way. By my estimate, it took me almost an hour longer to complete the added loop than I probably would have taken to get from the split to Stuart's Point.
One thing that clearly offset the added challenge -- thank goodness -- was a blessedly mild weather day. The hot spots of the ride have had a history of 100F+ temps in years past (but, honestly, fewer than people might blab about). I don't think it ever got warmer than the high 80s on Skaggs Springs Rd this year. And Skaggs also happened to be the only spot where the sun shone for any prolonged period of time. It was generally overcast everywhere else. In fact, the weather was so cool in the early morning and along the coast that I was relieved to have worn my winter base layer that day.
READY... SET... GO DAMMIT GO!!!
By tradition, the first 10 miles of the ride or so are escorted by a pace car that trips all the traffic lights through downtown Santa Rosa on the way to Bennett Valley. Last year, I was rudely awakened by being near the tail end of a 230+ rider, testosterone-charged pack gunning it (OK, relative term) at 25mph from the start. I did my best to hang on, but ultimately got shelled some 5 miles later and got stalled by a few red lights with a handful of other riders. Nothing like going anaerobic in the first 15 minutes of one of the most difficult one-day bike rides anywhere. Jeezus.
I warned Lisa about this. This would turn out to be the second biggest point of paranoia she would foster for months before the ride. She worked really hard on pushing her morning pace on our Spring rides -- heck, even some of the doubles we had done. It turns out she wouldn't need to cash in those speed chips at all this time as the morning pack was definitely traveling at a more humane warm-up pace this year. Try 18-19mph for a change. What a divine relief!
Despite this year's more mellow start, I've come to appreciate the TT as a race. That's right: a race. A time-trial in fact, which makes its acronym even more appropriate. A really loooooong time trial. With intermediate splits and mini-races within itself, even. For fast and able riders, it might be a race against each other or prior personal bests. But for riders in the back of the blown-up field like me, it's a race against the clock (cut-off times). And when arriving at a checkpoint / rest stop, it's a race to get restocked and on the road again as quickly as possible to minimize time (wasted) off the bike.
It's pretty funny. Everybody rides in the same spirit of haste, but for different reasons. One guy might just want to kick Johnny Rider's ass. Another one would say she wants the t-shirt. Still more would say "I just don't wanna get SAG'd again!"
HIGHS AND LOWS
In the topographic sense, you've gotta love the ups and downs if you even think about doing this ride. Considering the fact that the ride never takes you higher than an elevation of about 2,700 feet above sea level, 16,000+ feet of vert gain can only come in the form of lots and LOTS of up and down. Steep, no less, with 13% to 21% grades all over the place. And more double summit climbs than you really wanna imagine. There are at least three notable spots where you find yourself needing to shift from your biggest gear to Great-Granny in about 2 seconds. The loss of momentum on these pesky canyon features really screws with your head, let alone your legs.
But the rewards that come with laboring up each of the ride's major climbs are wonders in themselves: such diverse and unmistakable natural beauty that makes the TT easily the most beautiful one-day ride in Northern California, as fellow clubbie Brit Harvey would suggest. I absolutely agree.
Trinity Grade, the first of the day's major climbs (mile 21), is a typically chilly and damp climb. And it's a gentle foreshadowing of what's to come for many hours ahead -- an automatic reminder for the legs that they better be up for a lot of this torture later on. It also teaches you that roadside signs for fire stations and school bus stops are reasons to rejoice since these locally tend to be on top of ridge line crests. At the point which it becomes Oakville Grade past the Napa County line, a glorious view of Napa Valley reveals itself like it was behind a cloud curtain you blasted through at 45mph.
The Geysers (mile 71) were mostly enshrouded in fog this year, so the beautiful views of Alexander Valley below were completely obscured. Past the second summit, most of the fog had already burned off, thank goodness, since the descent into Cloverdale is the most technical and potentially treacherous part of the ride, thanks in great part to three or four unrepaired gravel sections. I later heard about three people who crashed in this section, one of whom I knew: Grizzly Peak Cyclists' Sterling Hada. He had the misfortune of hitting a rock with his front wheel on the early part of the descent, which blew his tire and dumped him to the ground quickly. I saw him upon reaching the Lake Sonoma lunch stop and spoke briefly with him. He was visibly banged up in the leg and shoulder, but his spirits were pretty good. He was very lucky to have avoided greater injury.
My own spiritual low came not long after I wished Sterling a speedy recovery, as I began to labor up the first of two climbs up Skaggs Springs Rd. Sure enough, the air felt at least 15 degrees warmer around here, which even on a mild day is sort of a shock to the system. The climb felt so much more miserable than I remembered, and I'm convinced I was crawling up it more slowly than I did last year. I'm supposed to be stronger this year, I thought, but quickly gave up that self-expectation and went into auto-conservation mode. Just get up the damn hill, and nevermind if the ants on the dirt shoulder are going faster than you. Get out of the saddle and stretch a bit... CRAMP! NOPE! Don't do that. Try again on the upstroke... better.
I managed to recover in time for the second climb on Skaggs. In contrast, this happened to be the low point of Lisa's ride, who herself was battling leg cramps and the most fatigue she'd feel all day. To top it off, she discovered upon reaching Camp Gualala that she had lost her arm warmers from her jersey pocket and would have to brave the cold coastal air (and the night) without them.
Rob Hawks, too, whom I had been seeing at every rest stop since Geysers, reported to have succumbed to an all-day low in this section. He very thoughtfully credited Lisa for lifting his spirits enough to continue as they worked together most of the way from Annapolis to Fort Ross.
MISERY LOVES COMPANY (AND COMPANY OBLIGES)
My thing with the Terrible Two can be summed up bluntly: This ain't no club ride. I've always maintained that, in order to finish rides like this, you must ride for yourself. If it means BY yourself, shedding partners, friends, fellow clubbies and whomever else below you on a climb, or leaving before them at a rest stop, so be it. Key to finishing comfortably is finding your rhythm early and respecting it. Others you might start the ride with should do the same -- and respect yours as well.
It would be wise to seek company and work in a paceline through Napa Valley and Alexander Valley for sure (miles 32 to 71). The same can be said of Highway 1 between Stuart's Point and Fort Ross. But in the morning, the ride typically blows up on Geysers. Once you get there, all bets are off. Make the ride your own. Chances are pretty high you'll have company down the road, but maybe not the people you started with.
I wasn't so lucky on Silverado Trail and rode in no man's land for the 13-mile stretch because I wasn't committed to joining 4 prior pacelines that past me. Lisa faired better by working with one other rider almost the whole way to Calistoga, so we actually reached the first checkpoint just a minute apart. It worked out nicely, as we then both worked with two other riders on the 18-mile lead-in to Geysers Rd.
All but the final mile of the Geysers climb, for me, was a solitary exercise, by stark contrast to last year. I didn't mind it so much, but I definitely appreciated having company again by the time I started going up Skaggs climb #1 (low point, remember?) and on the remaining climbs as well.
Ironically, in a ride where strong climbers definitely prevail, I felt as if I benefited most throughout the day from my improved flatland and descending abilities. Repeatedly, I'd be passed on climbs by the same faces and bodies for almost the entire second half of the ride. But I'd almost always descend more quickly than they would, which allowed me some time up the next hill, only to get passed by them again. But each leap frog was no insult. There was mutual appreciation for the company we kept, if even for just 10 pedal strokes side by side. If one rider grunted, the other might have sighed. And if a rider who disappeared around a bend of a switchback was heard in a muffled tone groaning "Awwwww fuuuuck", we knew what was ahead and maybe even busted out laughing. Ah, the language of pain. No dictionary needed.
GO GET THAT T-SHIRT! (OR "CHASING #2")
My only goal upon starting the ride this morning was to enjoy the ride at my rhythm and -- if my body cooperated -- finish by 11PM (17h30m), especially because of the longer route. By the time I hit the Pacific coast off Sea Ranch (mile 151), I found I was slightly ahead of the game and started toying with the thought of beating the 10PM finish. I definitely felt fresher on the rolling miles of Highway 1 than I did last year, so I felt maybe I'd have a chance. Or I had enough reason to begin doing some mental math anyway. As I did, I picked up the tempo on Hwy 1.
First, I aimed to leave the Fort Ross checkpoint (mile 169) by 6:30PM and reach the last checkpoint at Monte Rio (mile 191) 2 hours later. Take the Ft. Ross Rd climb easy and ride hard on Black Mountain and Cazadero. Well, there was no riding easy on Ft. Ross Rd -- it was tough enough just crawling up the steep hillside. I left about 5 minutes behind "schedule", then I got passed by countless riders, including GPC rider Jack Holmgren, whom I'd seen half a dozen times that same way. But I descended pretty confidently over the scraggy surface of Black Mountain and managed to hook up with Jack and 2 others by the time I reached Cazadero. The four of us then did 2 minute rotations working really well together for 9 miles.
Next objective: depart Monte Rio by 8:30PM. With an hour and a half, I knew I could finish off the last 17 miles by 10PM. But despite working well with the trio coming in to the checkpoint, we got there at 8:47PM. Ft. Ross really took its toll on me time-wise and I just thought "Uh uh, that's it then." But in a what-the-hell moment, I topped off my bottles, inhaled a fistful of peanut M&Ms, grabbed my bike and took off after just 3 minutes at the checkpoint.
I gave it all I had in those last 17 miles. I couldn't climb Bohemian Highway into Occidental nor Graton Rd much faster than 11 or 12mph -- I just didn't have the legs. But I had my Schmidt light to blaze the flats and descents confidently in the thick of night, which allowed me to latch on to another trio of riders who had passed me earlier. At the last traffic light we hit on Graton Rd, about 6 miles from the finish, we all mused about making the 10PM cut and -- in syncopated chorus -- sighed "I dunno" or "It's gonna be tight". It was 9:45PM. I was thinking "No way."
But just as that thought surfaced, we began moving past the intersection -- at a pace that seemed almost urgent. I guess we were giving it a go. What the hell. A guy donning a Paris-Brest-Paris windshell (can't remember his name) took the front and just started hammering. The three of us jumped on, and I was on the back of this line just hanging on for dear life. Glancing down at my computer when we past a streetlight, I saw 24mph on the display and thought "Dear god, I'm hurting myself like this for a t-shirt???" Such is the Terrible Two.
The second to the last turn onto Willowside Rd, just 1 mile from the finish, came so much sooner than I remembered and I yelled with utmost delight. Were it not for this, our team time trial leader might have even missed the turn. Onto Willowside now, where the road surface is really bad, I took the front to shine the way and pick a safe path. Dig dig dig! I'm leading the paceline in the middle of the lane and two cars pass us with Santa Rosa-brand pissed off horn honking. A little love, please? We're racing for some threads!
Last left turn, then another quick left into the school, quick to the finish line, I called in my arrival, "Number 57!" After parking my bike, I made my way to the t-shirt table and sheepishly asked "Did I make it?". Lady behind the t-shirt pile verified the check-in time and winced. I shrunk.
"What time?" I whimpered.
Two minutes? I missed it by two effen minutes?? AAAAUUUUGGGHHHH!!
On the outside, the four of us all did well restraining our disappointment though. Jack Holmgren showed up some minutes later and asks if I made it. I told him. He cracked, "Oh man, I'm so glad I didn't take off with you guys."
Despite the close cut, I felt great about my finish. I gave a great effort and never thought I could ride so hard at the end of something like this. And missing the cut by 2 minutes definitely makes a more memorable story.
As I Hoovered 2 helpings of lasagna, some polenta and 2 cans of root beer, I waited for Lisa's arrival. The checkpoint log showed she departed Monte Rio at 9:21PM. Ah, no problem. I was assured she'd finish in time. And she did -- 2 minutes before the stroke of 11PM. Some navigational doubt in the dark slowed her down, even forced her to back-track a bit on Graton Rd. But she got in looking so happy, relieved and in complete awe of the ride we just did.
Two minutes. That magic and that damned margin. Must be symbolic. A premonition, even? Ya, it took exactly 2 minutes to pass out for the night upon hitting the sack.
Lisa and I had trouble with simple motions like stepping off sidewalks the next day. We both agreed we probably would feel more comfortable pedaling a bike than walking, but there was just no way our asses were gonna touch a saddle on Sunday. Of course, on the way home, we couldn't help but dive into a comparison between Terrible Two and Devil Mountain Double. NOW, which do you think is tougher? Oh the endless debate that people I know are evenly split on.
Add two conflicting scores to the pile. Lisa votes for TT as the tougher ride (mainly because of cutoffs, like most people say). I say DMD takes the cigar.
Thanks and thumbs up to friends and fellow warriors we saw out there at different times of the day: Dan Hertlein, Doug Goodwin, Rob Hawks, Jack Holmgren, Robert Welsh, Randy Roten, Sterling Hada, David Lipsky (SAG), Emily Kenyon (SAG), and of course all the SRCC volunteers who made it all happen.