The aches and pains had barely subsided from the Devil Mountain Double staff ride when I noticed that the Central Coast Double Century registration fee was about to get hiked after a quickly approaching date. This event was never really on my radar this year. It's date, as usual, conflicted with that of the Tour of the Unknown Coast up north that I've longed to do again since 2004. Honestly, given the way I felt after finishing DMD this year, I really surprised myself by giving half a moment to even consider doing another double century this soon, let alone this one.
Two things probably influenced me. The first is the fact that Central Coast was part of the California Triple Crown Stage Race this year, something that neither Lisa nor I had ever attempted to complete before. Since, in completing DMD, the first (and, no doubt, the most difficult) stage was already in the books, and since we probably had more cumulative fitness from also having done our 360k Fleche before DMD, we probably stood a better chance to do well at Central Coast anyway. Nevermind the hilarity of the fact that she and I were signing up to something called a race, all of a sudden, we had a new goal in mind.
The second decisive factor is, well, that I'm both an impulsive shopper and a cheap bastard. With an early registration discount going away, I figured I'd run it by Lisa quickly to see if she'd be interested in signing up. I should think twice before I "just check" with Lisa about stuff like this if I wanna live the easy life.
A KICK IN THE NUTS
As it is, the Central Coast double is no walk in the park. It is -- always has been -- one of the most difficult double centuries in the California Triple Crown series of events, thanks to its >14,000 ft. of elevation gain. It also has the customary distinction of being the longest of all the Triple Crown doubles due to its 209 mile course.
This year, by no fault of the event promoter's (although I'm sure Brian Stark was licking his chops with sadistic glee as he sent out the dreaded announcement), the course had to be modified and got even longer with a net addition of 10 miles. 219 miles total. Nearly the distance of a fleche, only with a whole lot of climbing and with six less hours to do it.
The first of these changes was a long way out of the Fort Hunter Liggett Army facility after the lunch stop at the San Antonio Mission. Instead of exiting the base through a gated side road, we had to exit through the main base gate, which also meant we had to climb back up a longer stretch of Monterey County's Jolon Road -- into a typically strong headwind.
The second of the route changes happened much later in the ride, when we were practically a beer can's toss away from the finishing town. Due to construction on River Road, on the East side of Hwy 101 just outside Paso Robles, the ride was detoured East towards the Paso Robles municipal airport and through the vineyards north of town. It sure felt spiteful when we got to the first turn of the detour. I remembered the junction well and had always found it a relief to get there on numerous rides that ended in Paso Robles. This time, however, we turned in the direction opposite from where we would normally go and rode, and rode, and rode, and kept riding. Uuuuuuuggh.
The ride organization did offer a 12-mile shortcut to the finish from the second to the last rest stop, essentially bypassing the interlakes region. Anybody who opted for the shortcut would have still earned Triple Crown double century credit, but would be disqualified for the CTC Stage Race. How's that for telling you to harden up, eh? Want that pretty jersey? Take that!
One other thing: in that improvised closing stretch, the closing miles could have easily been a simple jaunt on the road along the airport all the way to the county highway and a straight shot back to the finish, but noooooooo. We took the scenic back roads tour through the vineyards (which are hardly scenic when suckers like me invariably get there late at night), which happen to be littered with a handful of truly pesky steep rolling hills. It almost made me wanna strangle the event promoter, but you can't strangle a guy who's held together with pins, screws and braces, can you?
PROPS TO BRIAN STARK
In my 6-year acquaintance with the double century and ultracycling community, a handful of people shine as those genuine, tireless, and devoted champions of the sport who really channel their talent and energy to enriching the experiences of the riders who sign up for their events. Brian is one of those guys.
In November 2008, Brian was badly injured from a serious car-bike collision. His left leg required complex surgical repair, evidence of which remains obvious with an enormous contraption of external braces and internal wires and screws to hold the healing bone together. One might imagine pain and mobility to be significant issues when you're enduring a recovery like his. Nevertheless, Brian was very visible throughout the day in nearly every location of the course, from the early morning before the start, to well past midnight after the last riders had finished. He didn't complain. Rather he took his duty as the primary custodian for the event's riders to heart as exhaustively as he probably would in ideal health.
SIGNATURE CALIFORNIA IN A DAY
Central Coast is a tough double all right, but it comes with the allure of some really great, diverse, classic California scenery. It's what makes it actually easy to get excited about the ride each time ... over the layer of dread I always feel before the start, of course. What characterizes the ride so much to me is the way you travel from one distinct region to the next that's trademark Cali: vineyards, rugged coast, and arid inland lake regions.
The vineyard phase of the course naturally comes with the region immediately surrounding the start/finish city of Paso Robles, California's new international hot bed of wine making and viticulture. The vineyard roads around Paso Robles are really some of the finest riding roads in the whole state. Savagely lumpy and rough in a few stretches, most especially Santa Rosa Creek Road, but so so beautiful.
The coastal stretch of the ride starts in the charming hamlet of Cambria and heads north right up to the town limits of Lucia in the region of the world famous Big Sur. Along the way, you pass San Simeon -- home to William Randolph Hearst's ostentatious castle estate, but also to a large colony of elephant seals that thrives on a resting area on the shoreline here. This stretch of the ride, though flatter than all the others, never really offers relief because it's punctuated by high winds against your favor. It always pays handsomely to find companions with whom to share work in a paceline for the 45 miles along the coast.
The coastal phase transition to the arid inland phase comes quite brutally, first with a difficult 7-mile climb up Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, then with the sudden blast of heat upon entering the valley region of Fort Hunter Liggett, Lockwood and San Antonio Lake. Frequently in this region, afternoon heat comes with high winds - again often in your face - which last the duration of the afternoon and evening. The climb up "Nasty-Mental" this time also came with an added delight: thick swarms of flies - the kind that want to take shelter in every exposed orifice you've got. Nasty.
Lisa and I kept each other's company throughout the ride despite our respective low points that never usually coincide. Rarely did we ride with others for a prolonged period, except perhaps with the exception of Bill M., who rallied with us throughout the coastal stretch, then later on with Veronica T. most of the way from Fort Hunter Liggett to the finish.
We had friends from back home attempting the ride for the first time: Michael B., Bryan K. and Jason P., the latter of whom found it was appropriate pre-ride preparation to slip on the motel stair case and face plant on the pavement. All three did remarkably well.
The guy we had hoped to ride with the most that day, Scott H., has had a storied past with this event and we helped him overcome its curse on him the last time he attempted it. Alas, this time, the curse returned in the form of GI trouble that kept him from eating anything for hours before the toughest challenge of the day. Calorie deficient upon reaching the base of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, his situation worsened still with nausea on the climb, which was his game-ender. Remarkably, after a SAG shuttle to the lunch spot, he decided he'd get back to the finish under his own power since he was feeling a bit better, and thus experience parts of the ride he's never seen during daylight hours. That's the spirit, Scott.