Lisa and I both completed our fourth Mt. Tam double century, in a year when it also happened the culmination of the 3-event California Triple Crown Stage Race series. We each earned the credit for finishing the stage race for the first time ever, after missing opportunities twice to qualify for it by one ride in previous years.
This is the first time that the event has been considered as part of the CTC stage race, which has increased the viability of earning CTC stage race credit without having to participate in a Planet Ultra event. Since, over the years, I've grown increasingly unsatisfied (appalled, even) at the manner in which Planet Ultra treats their event participants, it pleases me greatly to know that we earned our first stage race completion without depending on them.
This year's Mt. Tam Double saw 240 riders successfully finish the whole course out of starting field of 285 (84.2% completion rate). It also knocked off six riders who were vying to finish the CTC stage race, so the final tally of 2009 stage race finishers amounted to 68 riders. This represents the highest number of CTC stage race finishers in any given year, a huge jump from the last record finisher field of 41 achieved in 2002. In most years, there haven't been more than 35 riders on the stage race finisher list since its inception in 1996.
Combined with the fact that the California Triple Crown (including rides not considered a part of the stage race) series now consists of a staggering twenty-one events in one calendar year, it's fair to say that double centuries have really approached the mainstream in athletic pursuits. I haven't been riding these events very long; still, when I did begin to attempt them, there were only 14 such events that qualified. The real old timers would say: "BAH! Back in my day, there were only four!!"
Could it really be that doubles are the new century? Are they quickly becoming ... ordinary?
THEY STILL TAKE EVERYTHING I'VE GOT
No matter, I'm awestruck by the abilities of so many I encounter on these events - young and old, rookie and vet. And I'm amazed by the boost in interest that this sort of endurance riding has seen in the past few years. Within my immediate, local social scene of cycling alone, I've seen a dozen rookies enter the arena of 200+ mile events in the last 2 years. Still dozens more I know in widely varying degrees who have credited me and/or Lisa for inspiring them to give this sort of thing a shot ... then discover for themselves that they do have what it takes to endure (and truly excel) at such events.
It's comforting. It's inspiring. It's empowering. Yes, even to the guy who might have been the one who sparked the interest in others in the first place. (Yeah, that's right bietch ... remember your Miyagi sensei. Respect. Ha ha.)
But it is humbling. Having successfully completed Mt. Tam Double another time, I maintain a perfect record at the event, I now have 36 doubles under the belt, and it means that I have attempted forty double centuries since 2003. But each new one I'm lucky enough to finish becomes a monumental challenge even greater than the prior. I haven't gotten quicker. Or stronger. By contrast, many of those whome we see regularly at these events as well as most of the new ones seem to be so incredibly strong, so fast.
At the end of the day, many of these guys look like they could give it another go the next day. Meanwhile, Lisa and I often look at each other at the each finish line social congregation and, without a word, know what each of us is saying: "That took everything I had."
LAST MINUTE ROUTE CHANGES: A RECURRING STAGE RACE THEME
Just like the Central Coast Double Century this year, the Mt. Tam Double announced a late route modification prior to the event. It's still unclear to me why this became necessary, but it was an anecdotal sign of the economic times, both in the context of the international financial downturn, as well as the ongoing California state budget crisis.
Ironically, the route change eliminated the hallmark and namesake of the event: the climb to the summit of Mt. Tamalpais itself. Reason: Marin Cyclists pays through the nose each year for a permit that allows riders to enter the Mt. Tam State Park boundaries (more specifically, the stretch to the summit on Ridgecrest Road know to locals as the "seven sisters"). This year, the CA State Parks budget was in danger of being completely eliminated (and threatened closure of 220 out of California's 279 state parks, including Mt. Tam), which might have also meant that permit fees (and California Highway Patrol kiss-my-ass fee) put significantly extra burden on Marin Cyclists' means. I do recall paying a notably higher registration fee for the Mt. Tam double this year than previous times (and so did the hundreds of century and half-century participants), but this didn't matter in the planning outcome.
We didn't see that majestic view above the shoreline clouds and the mountain summit this year. But honestly, that didn't matter much to me either. The course was routed down to Bolinas, then traveled north on Highway 1 in the wind sheltered lagoon area south of Stinson Beach that looked so serenely beautiful in the morning. Then we had to tackle the 5 mile climb up Panoramic Highway to the Pan Toll ranger station to resume the traditional course with a loop around the perimeter of Muir Woods and the ragged Muir Beach coastline. On paper, the changes didn't net any significant addition in total course mileage or elevation gain, but the inclusion of another long, sustained climb certainly made the ride feel more difficult overall.
HEAD DOWN AND PEDAL, MUTHA-F
I think ... no, I know the key to having done so many double centuries to date has been the fact that I share the experiences with Lisa and take a really leisurely attitude to the events. Rarely do I ever aim to achieve personal records at these rides any more. I don't even try. That might seem weak, but if I rode myself to the red line on one double after another, I think I would have burnt myself out a long time ago and I simply wouldn't even be lining up at the start of each one.
Strangely, I had a different attitude about this one. I really wanted to do well. I'm not sure how exactly I defined that, but it came with some spontaneous decision to ride it all by myself like an ultra race: with no drafts and with minimal time off the bike. I don't know what came over me, but I'm almost certain it had something to do with my birthday being around the corner (my 40th, no less). Nevermind the 40 bit, I tend to be a cranky ass fuck on my birthday most given years anyway. Lisa, perhaps detecting the angst, was unrestricting and supportive, and told me to go right ahead ... do my thing.
You cynics out there can perish the impression that I always assume to be the stronger rider than Lisa. That point has been proven to the contrary many times.
I make this all sound like I was some stoic badass taking no prisoners on the bucolic backroads of Marin County. I assure you, on the road I was a nobody and the ratio of riders who passed me on course relative to those that I passed was something like a Gajillion-to-one. One such rider who passed me, and who characteristically greeted me with great jolliness, was one of my favorite ride companions of all time, Tim H. Our encounter occurred right around the 100-mile mark, and I'm certain Tim started the ride nearly an hour after I did. When he passed me, he was there and gone in, well, no time. He said something about being hungry for the burritos at lunch ahead, then vanished. Days later, I realized he was celebrating his 60th birthday during the ride.
So there. I could never pass that I'm too old excuse ... now or ever. A geezer (and I mean that with great jest and affection, Tim) who just turned sixty and had a jonesing for a burrito unceremoniously smoked my ass (and could ride yours to the ground, too).
Nevertheless, I got my game on. I was business. I limited my time off the bike throughout the entire day to around 35 minutes. The result was a new personal record for me on this event that shaved a mighty 1hr 10min off my previous best (elapsed total) time; a 7% time improvement. It was not, however, a personal best in measured rolling time and average speed.
THE PRICE I PAID
The latter fact I'm only slightly dissappointed by, since I did manage to feel better overall throughout the ride, during the ride - and even after the ride. Historically, my nemesis on this event has been the steep kick of a climb from the coast on Coleman Valley Road, at mile 123 in the northernmost leg of the course. That actually went pretty well for me this year.
So, too, did the fueling technique that was a throwback to some of my earliest double centuries (back when I was a wee bit faster rider as well). Basically, my fuel throughout the day came in the form of liquid or gel - exclusively - with the exception of a half of that burrito that Tim was talking about for lunch (oddly, too hard to pass up - it was good).
After completing the northern Valley Ford-Coleman Valley loop, and upon approaching the 150-mile mark, I felt pretty content by how comfortable I was feeling and began to wonder when the other shoe would drop. And, as if I had instantly jinxed myself, it happened. The shoe dropped. The low point commenced. And it manifested itself in a sudden and merciless wave of sleepiness that lasted for almost two hours. It was so bad, I caught myself nodding off while riding. The fact that I was completely isolated and hadn't seen another rider in over 20 miles certainly didn't help.
It flips me out to think what could have happened if I didn't manage to re-awaken each time I found myself falling asleep. This sort of thing has happened to me before, but never so severely and never for such a long period of time. I instinctually started singing to myself to keep my mind occupied. Then, since that was turning out to be an ineffective solution (or perhaps as a punishment for my deplorable vocal abilities), I resorted to slapping myself in the face instead. Hard.
It's a good thing I arrived in Petaluma's town limits and the next rest stop when I did. It not only helped put an end to the sleepy spell, but conveniently put an end to the need for my self-inflicted thwacking.
A MATTER OF COURTESY AND SIMPLE SELF-PRESERVATION
The popularity of road cycling has, no doubt, skyrockted since the early nineties and continues to markedly increase, judging by the way so many cycling events sell out despite generous participant limits. The Mt. Tam Double Century is run concurrently with the Marin Cyclists' centuries and metric century. They had an expected turnout of 2,400 riders on the roads of Marin County.
This was good cause for California Highway Patrol to maintain a conspicuous presence during the event (hence ass kissing fee in untold amount to which I referred earlier). So, too, did the Marin County Bicycle Coalition make their presence known in the form of two Burma Shave style signs in two differen parts of the course.
The first I encountered was on Point Reyes Petaluma Road, on the way to Nicasio (a rough re-creation follows):
The next were a series of signs that, in succession and strategically posted on a steep climb for prolonged exposure, read:
Riders and Drivers ... Same Roads ... Same Rights ... Same Rules.
Way to go MCBC. However it (sadly) didn't surprise me one bit to observe that there were still countless instances of rider stupidity exhibited on the road that really angered me. It pisses me off to no end when riders needlessly crowd a lane and ride 2-up just so they can have a chit-chat with each other; either oblivious or -- worse -- completely nonchalant about the large pickup truck behind that could plow their asses straight to the morgue.
That shit is moronic and arrogant at best. It makes me and my fellow cyclists the object of deeper ire from the motoring public on any other day. It endangers our brothers and sisters on two wheels (or any vehicle, for that matter) on the opposite side of the road since it forces passers to swing much more widely in order to get past you safely. It benefits nobody, even if you may think it's nice, comfy and dandy.
The worst instance I encountered were a pair of riders who pathologically blocked the way of cars on the road so frequently that, in a single, 3-mile stretch of road, they were honked at belligerently by four different motorists. And still they persisted with this behavior. I did give them a piece of my mind, but really exercised restraint and tact in my choice of words.
Here's the thing, folks. Unless you're riding in a completely car-free environment, think of your conversation like a cell phone while you're driving. Hang the fucking thing up, talk later, and just pedal your bad self.
EPILOGUE: "YO MAMA SO SLOW..."
To put my mad bike abilities in perspective, here's a fact that illustrates how ridiculously far out of contention for a top-ten finish in the Triple Crown stage race final standings I was (not that I was even trying, puh-lease). Given the time spread, the top three winners could have added the time it took them to get cleaned up, go to bed AND get a deluxe amount of sleep the night after to their recorded finish on EACH of the three events that comprised the stage race ... and I still wouldn't have made up enough time to beat them in the end.
On that humbling but chipper note, happy trails my friends.