On the same day I’m supposed to celebrate my birthday, Stage Four of the 2008 Tour of California was punishing the peloton with a biting headwind, rain and hypothermia. It was a day when California’s Pacific Coast Highway bared her teeth and proved that she could inspire as many curses as complements.
Saturday, under idyllic skies, we covered 100 of the same miles from Carmel to San Simeon in support of the Best Buddies mission to enrich the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. At dawn a couple of hundred cyclists tackling the century course assembled at Chateau Julien for a high-energy sendoff from Chairman Anthony Shriver and California’s first lady, Maria Shriver. Collectively we’d raised over 3.5 million dollars for the fifth annual Audi Best Buddies Challenge, now there was nothing to do but enjoy the ride with friends Brendan, Tim, Marcella and Stacey.
We sensibly hung back as the mass of riders nervously clipped and unclipped down the drive and out onto Carmel Valley Road. Brendan struck up a conversation with Andy, a young guy sporting some interesting ink, riding a cross bike in Vans and cut-off board shorts (of course he finished). We were making our own statement in matching Dark ‘Cars r Coffins’ jerseys and socks from Twin Six. We’d be asked repeatedly what it meant.
Safely out on Carmel Valley Road we enjoyed a rolling escort from the California Highway Patrol. They took us East for a mile, then looped us through an underpass that frustratingly produced flats for a couple of unlucky soldiers. We then paraded back past the winery on the way to Highway 1 and freedom.
It must have been the excitement of seeing David Hasselhoff on stage with a starter’s pistol but within the first mile riders began peeling off in ones and twos for a quick nature break behind any promising tree, bush or shrub. By the time we reached Highway 1 it seemed half the peloton had dismounted and decanted under the flashing lights and bemused grins of the CHP.Once on highway 1 we rode through a mixture of sunshine and coastal fog. The scent of eucalyptus and ocean salt filled the air and cars were few and far between. Brendan and I had lost contact with the others in all the arboreal watering confusion; we thought they were just ahead. As it turned out they were behind us after Tim stopped at his hotel to retrieve the camera he'd forgotten.
We warmed up and moved steadily through the pack, always expecting to find the others round the next bend. As planned we rolled straight through the first rest stop and over that iconic bridge.
To our right the earth teetered and fell steeply away to the dark blue waters of the Pacific. The absence of any barrier for long stretches heightened the sensation that free fall was an option if we wanted it. When the road eventually kicked up for the climb at Big Sur the sun made a grand entrance and we said goodbye to arm warmers and gilets for the duration.
Leaving the second rest stop we discovered Tim, Marcella and Stacey were behind us. Since we'd already spent 20 minutes filling bottles, refueling and airing up one of Brendan's tires we said hello/goodbye and pushed on figuring we'd eventually get in sync.
The miles ticked off steadily and soon we'd passed the half way point. The climbs were reasonable and probably averaged 6%, save a couple of short pitches on the last two hills. The descents were thrilling high-speed affairs with wide-open straightaways and little traffic to worry about in either direction. If I'd had an 11 on the back I'd have hit fifty several times. Next Year.
Brendan didn't enjoy that last hill much so to cheer him up I broke into a full-throated chorus of "The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music" only to be spontaneously joined by the rider behind us harmonizing "Fa la-la-la-la." It's a pity Julie Andrews never sang on Alpe D'Huez.
We made our third and final stop, and for the first time all day felt a breeze at our backs. That was all it took for the two of us to crank it up to 25 mph. We pacelined the next ten miles of shallow rollers into the finish at San Simeon. Thanks for a great ride partner.
The Buddies Challenge is a marvel of organization. Kudos to the hundreds of volunteers that put on a fabulous event. We picked up the bags we'd dropped off at the start that morning and made our way to the incredible mobile showers. Hot water and plenty of it washed away the miles of dirt, sweat and GU. We emerged refreshed and ravenously hungry and after grabbing a couple of drinks spotted Tim. He showered and in the true spirit of the event, took advantage of a complementary massage (pronounced MA-saj, to hear Tim say it). He glowed and grinned from ear to ear.
We sat in a row of wooden loungers for a couple of hours soaking in the late afternoon sun, listening to the ocean and recounting the day's events. Tim, Marcella and Stacey decided to stay for the Black-Eyed Peas' Concert. We said our goodbyes and then Brendan and I grabbed a front seat on the 5:30 shuttle back to the winery. We looked forward to a good night's sleep in our own beds.
The bus took highway 46 inland to 101, and that's another road to ride another day (46! not 101). We chatted with Kate, who'd flown all the way from Atlanta to ride her first century and loved it. Just after eight we rolled into Chateau Julien, tired, happy and incredibly grateful for the chance to make a small difference riding our bikes. Thanks to Best Buddies and all our sponsors. We'll be counting on you again next year.
We had an interesting time identifying our bikes in the pitch dark... BB next year a little light would make things a lot easier ;-) – but we got off easy, four hours later Tim and Marcella would discover their car had been towed ($330 thank you Carmel). Thank god for that MA-saj.
Gear Notes: The Enigma Eulogy proved that whatever its race-inspired intentions its a versatile performer over longer distances. For all it's stiffness, the frame soaked up the century so I didn't have to. Great job Mark.
At the last minute I purchased a couple of Gel-Bots, a novel bottle system that incorporates a Gel dispenser inside a water bottle. With the bite valve closed you get gel; with it open you get fluid. I thought it worked great.
It's no secret I love the Rapha Gilet. There's no more versatile piece of kit in my closet and that's why it's number one on my Top Ten Kit List. Tim, Marcella and I were all wearing it.
Finally, Brendan and I loved the Twin Six take on Cars r Coffins. Looking forward to more good stuff from Ryan and Brent this fall.