Saturday, we did the Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge. The original plan was to do the 200k, with 3 spurs (basically additional loops), which was supposed to have a total elevation gain of < 15,000 feet of climbing. However, with lack of long rides leading up to this (2 weekends prior were shot), I didn’t have too much confidence that I would last. I rode with Karen and Ramon, and we pretty much stayed together the whole ride.
Started the day leaving at 6:30 am, and on the way over, we drove through a bunch of fog, so it was still misty at the start, and a little chill in the air. I only brought a vest and arm warmers, and that should be sufficient, since we are doing a bunch of climbing.
This is one of my favorite rides (can you tell? I’ve only done it the last 4 years consecutively). The views are spectacular, with lots of tall trees, but you pay the price with steep 15-20% grades. Of course, with the fog bank, it was kinda hard to see much of a view.
Old Santa Cruz Hwy
The first spur was a loop out to Hwy 17, straddling Old Santa Cruz Highway, then up Summit Road. We seemed to be the only ones doing the spurs, until a few of them came up and passed us a bit later on in the spur. Then, we saw more come up … they must have been the 7 am starters.
There is one thing about doing the spur … the rest stop comes at mile 33 … that’s a pretty long stretch to go without a potty stop, especially at the beginning of the ride. It might have been good to include a potty stop at Old Santa Cruz Highway, after making that long descent down Bear Creek Road. It was easy for me to just pull over, but for Karen, that’s a little more of an issue. We got to the corner of Bear Creek and Skyline, and saw a porta potty there … but unfortunately, it was locked. Oh, how cruel. Guess we’ll have to hold it, but there’s another 1000 feet to climb before we descend into Saratoga Gap for rest stop 1!
First Rest Stop
After a few rollies, we finally rolled into rest stop 1. We probably spent a bit too much time at rest stop 1 … Looking back at Strava, we were there a good 20 minutes. Dang .. we should have a rest stop timer, especially since the next 10 miles or so is a downhill descent.
Fresh faces before climbing China Grade
We descent down Hwy 9, and we break off to the 2nd spur, while the rest of the group continue into Big Basin. Actually, we end up taking a different route to the same rest stop, then doing the climb up China Grade, for the 2nd spur. Karen kept urging me to do at least the 2nd spur, so I caved in, and said I would.
Once again, we were the only ones out there, until we get passed by one big guy … and I mean big. Later on, we find out he’s 250 pounds, and he was on a 58 or 62 cm frame. I end up later passing him. I was stuck trailing, and then I saw him, and that was my target. He was a good uphill climbing target, and that kinda helped me up the hill.
Ok, back down the hill, back to the same rest stop before we started the climb. However, we had a big wake up call. They were starting to tear down the rest stop! One of the support workers asked us “is there anyone behind you”? Wow, are we that slow? We started thinking about whether or not we should cut short the ride, should we do the last spur … but then I said, we still have to do Jameson!
Re-fuel, then get on the road, and do this Jameson climb. Since I had done this as a training ride about 4 weeks ago, I figured I’m prepared. It was all business, just concentrate on smooth pedaling, getting efficient power into my drivetrain. I notice the switchback that every falters on, and just power from the heels. I felt pretty good about this climb, and I was averaging around 5 mph, dipping at the lowest at 4 mph. I still didn’t beat my PR from the 2011 SCMC, but at least finishing it felt good.
Lunch came after Jameson, and by the time we were about to leave the lunch stop, it was about 2:10 pm. I noticed the sign saying lunch closes at 2:30 pm. Wow, we are really behind. Now if we went straight back on the 100k route, we would get in only 90 miles, so we decided to continue onto the 3rd spur, then finish off with the 100k once we got back to Felton. Sounds like a good plan, right?
It was a long descent down before we hung a right onto Smith Grade. I think Jameson plus lunch did me in, and my legs had no strength for Smith, which really is not that bad, if your legs are fresh … mine weren’t. I was way behind Ramon and Karen, and when I finally re-grouped with them at Bonny Doon, “I’m all spurred out”.
Still a few climbs more before we get to Ice Cream Grade. Before getting there, we cross over the charred remains of a fire from a few years ago, and the charred remains are still present. Kind of eerie coming through here … reminds me a little of Yellowstone when I toured there after their big fires.
Ice Cream Grade is the last significant climb we do before we make the descent down Felton Empire into the town of Felton. We did get the ire of a local, who didn’t like the idea of cyclist being on the road. Just can’t please everyone.
We got into Felton, and it was about 4 pm. At this point, we were at the 94 mile mark. Now if we continued on the 200k route, we would climb up Zayante (a long 18-ish mile climb), going over to Summit, loop around on Soquel San Jose Rd, before coming back to the school. That would be a hard climb, especially since my legs felt like jello, with no zip in them at all. We decided to take a more direct route, climb Mt. Hermon Road, before getting onto Scotts Valley Road. This was a direct route back to the start. However, Karen’s Garmin had 1-2 miles less than mine, and she had to get at least 100 miles (because she was advertising to everyone she’s doing the 200k). So we ended up doing a few extra miles, before I ran into some thorns, which flatted both my front and rear tires. At that point, after fixing both flats, I just told them go on ahead, and I’ll just ride back to the school. It turns out, I would end up with just over 100.
More importantly, we got back, just in time to take advantage of hand rolled burritos back at the school, and a couple scoops of ice cream too. You can’t climb Ice Cream Grade without having ice cream at the end!
It was a long, hard, painful day, but it all felt good. This is one reason why I prefer the long hard ride on a Saturday, instead of a Sunday.
Links to more pics: https://plus.google.com/photos/107775104280723216283/albums/5908256887341515889?authkey=CNvg7JbC3bXbkgE
Strava data : http://app.strava.com/activities/71996600#