To the Cliff House and Back – 88 miles

the group arrives at the Cliff House in San Francisco, I'm still in the middle of fixing a pinch flat

I pulled up to Brendan's place at 6:20 am, and loaded his bike onto the Raxter while he gathered the last bits and pieces for a long day together on the road. His giant Soulcraft was sporting a new, but recycled, Brooks saddle that had only seen limited action on his commuter. He must have caught my eyebrows on the way up because he was quick to reassure me he wasn't going to suffer because of the late substitution.

Twenty minutes later we parked the car at Lucky's supermarket on Foothill, hoping our choice of starting venue would prove auspicious. We discussed last minute kit choices, opting to discard the arm warmers and gilets we'd packed. Our destination, the aptly-named Cliff House where San Francisco meets the Pacific just South of the Golden Gate Bridge, is often chilly. Today's forecast promised 90 degree temperatures inland all the way there – if anything we were worried about overheating – ocean breezes would be a welcome relief on the 88-mile loop.

I figured this would be the litmus test for the long-distance capabilities of the Enigma Eulogy and my continuing attempts to improve my hydration/nutrition strategy. I stuffed my jersey pockets with Cup of Golds, Pro Bars, Sport Beans and tucked a couple of GUs in the leg band of my bibs. My bottles were filled with Vitalyte. I hit the start button on my pixel-challenged 305 and the two of us rolled out heading for Peets where we'd pick up TJ and Curt.

TJ was sitting out front as we rode up. Curt hadn't appeared yet, so Brendan pulled out the toolkit and used the time to adjust the position of the Brooks.

Brendan adjusts the Brooks

Curt arrived momentarily and with Brendan satisfied he had the saddle dialed in, we circled back onto Foothill for the Woodside run to rendezvous with Nicolas – the final member of the peloton. The pace rose steadily until we were cruising along in two-by-two formation at 22 mph on good pavement. We slowed on the steady climb up Sandhill but made good time finding Nicolas waiting at the intersection of 84 and Canada Road. The full team turned North on Canada and the real ride began.

The day was steadily waking and warming up. Riders in ones and twos appeared to be prepping for a TT up the road. We passed a surreal scene... two male cyclists standing over a third female lying prostrate and vulnerable in the roadside dirt. It looked like she'd bonked badly. Perhaps it was the fact it was 8 am and she had friends nearby... we shot by without a serious thought of stopping. I hate to think she might have been badly hurt.

TJ, Curt and Nicolas pushed the pace with Brendan and I a couple of hundred yards back before we regrouped for a drink and a photo in a parking lot on Skyline (Hwy 35).

Brendan adjusts the Brooks

We continued on a tree-lined Skyline paralleling 280 for the next four miles. Then we faced the decision. Legally we could have taken our chances on the highway shoulder to the next exit but wisely declined, opting for a residential maze through steep backstreets and a pretty section of the Sawyer Camp Trail that skirts the Crystal Springs Reservoir.

Exiting the trail we returned to Skyline where the pace again quickened. Nicolas and Curt were riding like they had a tee time to catch at the Presidio. I didn't think of it at the time but having them shoulder a bag of clubs would have been an effective way to slow them down.... As Skyline rolls along it gets wider and faster. Several times we topped 40 mph descending. The shoulder was generously salted with patches of loose stuff and the unusual litter that only cyclists see. At some point Brendan reminded me we'd have to climb these hills on the way back. It hadn't occurred to me yet.

I drank the Vitalyte and snacked religiously. I'd consumed a Pro Bar (380 cal), a Cup of Gold (193 cal), two GUs (200 cal) and a package of Sports Beans (100 cal) in the first two hours. I kept after Brendan to do the same, knowing we'd need plenty in the tank for the journey back.

I was really enjoying the Enigma. Its Record drive train ran like clockwork and the Pave wheels from Competitive, though a far cry from my plush Topolinos, were smooth and comfy. Every now and then I’d look down at the silver soldered wires spinning in the front wheel, it makes the wheels look fast, even when I'm not.

The groove was fun while it lasted, and of course, it didn’t. We passed Lake Merced and my rear tire punctured. I checked the Fortezza Tricomp carefully inside and out and found a small hole in the sidewall. Whatever I hit was sharp but gone. I dropped in a new tube, shot it with CO2 and we were ready to ride again.

In traffic we awkwardly wheeled around to make the Great Highway left we'd overshot for the last three miles to the Cliff House. From the top of the first rise, we could see our destination perched precariously in the distance, and though it was still warm, we got a nice cooling breeze from the Pacific. The great highway lived up to its name in the views department but a liberal dusting of sand and sketchy pavement on the final stretch required our undivided attention.

When we pedaled up to a sunny Cliff House it was under siege by a flotilla of curious tourists with cameras. My wife Juli was somewhere en-route with SAG, while we waited we emptied our bottles and began eating whatever was in our pockets. And then, with my Enigma leaning peacefully against a wall, my rear tire blew a second time, startling the tourists and the seagulls. Pinch flat, shoddy first-time repair. That explains why I’m holding my rear wheel in the opening picture.

Juli arrived in the nick of time with water, ice, fruit, and fresh rubber. Everyone tucked in while I made the necessary repairs and used a pre glued patch on the sidewall for a little extra insurance. We didn’t waste much time, after a couple of pictures we said our goodbyes to Juli and started back along the Great Highway. Half way down the beach we passed a fire department ladder truck, fully extended. The crew in the bucket were scanning the surf for something: a surfer, a shark; cheap carbon clinchers. We rode on.

Brendan decided to avoid a rough section of highway without a shoulder. I followed him across the road to the bike path on the leeward side. TJ, Curt and Nicolas who were following us stuck to the highway and immediately gapped us. By the time we rejoined the highway, missing a couple of lights the other three were out of sight. Back on Skyline we spotted them part way up the first serious hill... we never saw them again. Funny how that happens. No matter, we settled into a good pace and forgot about where the other three were.

As we started climbing the big rollers the temperature on the road was reaching into the nineties. Six or seven miles along we stopped at a liquor store for a cold drink and topped off our bottles against a soundtrack of gangster rap shaking the windows of cars making stop-and-go liquor runs.

Brendan adjusts the Brooks

Back on the road we found our rhythm again. With me on point we steadily wound our way back, retracing our tracks. In the mid-day heat we noted the Trail was now empty of the walker and joggers we'd passed in the morning and our bottles emptied quickly to the point where we were almost out. Then to our delight we found a couple of kids who'd set up a water/lemonade stand at the Trail head. We refilled and I stuck a third water bottle in my back pocket.

At Canada Road and 92 we caught up with Juli shading herself in the open trunk of the Audi. Out came the cooler, ice water and cold towels. The others had missed this luxury. Now we were back in familiar territory and twenty short miles from the Lucky's parking lot. Refreshed we set out again, ticking off the miles. Brendan chatted with a cyclist whose 12-year old son was completing a 250-mile week on his bike. As we passed him Brendan reached out and shook his hand.

We passed through Woodside to pick up Whisky Hill Road and the high speed drop to Sand Hill. We climbed the hump and flew down and over 280 towards Foothill and the home stretch. I used the extra water bottle to fill my Rapha cap and rode a couple of miles with my helmet on the bars. I believe in helmets, but it's easy to forget as a kid I rode my bike everywhere without one. It felt good.

The parking lot at Lucky's felt even better. While Brendan sat on a curb and took on some fluids, I retired to the dairy section of the supermarket to begin my recovery with a vitamin water and a six-pack of chocolate pudding. I only ate two.

We loaded the bikes and took stock of a great day together. The Enigma had proven itself century friendly, Brendan's Brooks had kept the faith and we'd both found a way to stay sufficiently hydrated and fueled to go the distance on a scorcher of a day.

5 Responses to To the Cliff House and Back – 88 miles

  1. BR says:

    Michael – You forgot to tell us about the post ride feast that your lovely wife collected for you? Let’s hear from the gang about the 15 post ride hours. One rider managed to go on a hot date that night? I managed to eat every salty kid snack in the house between naps, the boys were very patient with their old man and we all hit the hay by 8:30pm for 11 hours of deep sleep. The much appreciated nutrition coaching from Michael made the recovery go very well on Sunday and Monday. Great riding with all of you guys and I’ll finalize the plans for Big Ride #2.

  2. Dougie says:

    I was with you all the way until we got to the chocolate pudding (2) and I had to give up Michael, too much, the drama of the ride came over and I could hear the whirring of the gears and the tyres on the hot highway.
    When you decide that cycling is too much for you, watch the nutritions bars and the like they’ll climb in your pockets anyway, and the lumps will be under the skin and not in the pockets.

    All the very best to you and your team plus the nice lady that brings the refreshment truck.


  3. Kendall says:

    Good stuff here Michael. Love the photos – did you pack a SLR with you on that ride or did the tour photographer ride along side? (mostly kidding)

    I noticed you ate some PROBAR’s on your ride. Wondering if you’ve tried the new flavors? Drop me a line and let me know and if you haven’t I’ll send a few out to you to try. Sound fair enough?

    oh yea, I’m posting a trackback to this post for our customers to read. I hope you don’t mind.

  4. Kendall,

    the PROBARs put a lot of healthy calories into a small package which makes them ideal for big rides… it doesn’t hurt that they taste great, which makes you more likely to keep eating as you ride. I think it was a Nutty Banana Boom that got me to the Cliff House and an Apple Cinnamon Crunch that helped get me home.

    My wife Juli discovered them a few months ago. Super stuff.


  5. Pingback: ProBar: The Whole Food Meal Replacement, Organic, 100% Vegan, Ideal for Endurance or Recovery » Blog Archive » Biking to the Cliff House