06 September 2018

3CR 2018 Ride Report

Near the spot SE of Santa Maria California where Matthew O'Neill was killed by a vehicle on the 2014 3CR
Last week I joined and DNFed the California Central Coast Randonée or "3CR". Actually, I think the word "Mountain" should be added before "Randonée" since the ride does go through and over a number of mountains. Not high mountains, but many mountains.

The weather was better than for any long randonée I have ever joined. Each day I was in California, the morning was cool from a "marine layer" of clouds that eventually burned off for a sunny and warm, even hot but not humid, afternoon. But it was not an easy event, and I did not finish.

To begin with, I am just not in top cycling shape this year. Sure, I did the qualifiers of 200, 300, 400 and 600kms, but have not done regular weekend rides, far more sporadic than a few years ago. And the 400km and 600km qualifiers I chose were not such difficult events. Not easy, but not difficult. I barely finished the 600km within the time limit.

Also, the 3CR has a lot of climbing. I knew that with my extra weight this year (I am now over 100kgs!), it would be a challenge to climb quickly enough to keep up and get enough sleep at the overnight controls. The 1000km version of this event has around 9600 meters of elevation gain. Basically the climbing of an SR600 (over a longer distance), with no extra time allowed.

Third, I did not plan assiduously. I studied the route sheet and GPS carefully really only the morning of the start, while getting a bite to eat at Denny's with David Nakai, one of the California randonneurs. Micky Inagaki would have been very disappointed -- a rider who flies in from Japan and DNFs in part because of lack of careful planning!

But none of these disadvantages would have stopped me if I had just pushed forward. In the end, I just did not have the "must complete at all costs!" attitude needed to finish one of these long rides. Even in the best of conditions, trying to ride 1000kms in less than 75 hours a rider will typically hit some difficulty, somewhere, and need the right attitude to overcome it. In my case, when I hit serious difficulty, I was almost relieved that I had an excuse to stop. I knew that I could use an extra day to recover for the next part of my planned activities during this visit to the US. I needed it and, the way the schedule had worked, would not have had it had I ridden to the finish. I used the extra day to good effect, I hope. No rando-regret!

We started in the dark at 6AM from the Elks Club lodge in Santa Cruz, heading out of town through Capitola, then inland via Watsonville and eventually through the agricultural town of Aromas (which had streets closed for a pedestrian only event -- we needed to ride slowly as the streets were crowded with stalls and strolling locals).

We climbed over a lower set of hills, some of them steep in the cool of the morning, with very light traffic and some beautiful groves of trees. Nice country.
Low traffic volume, cool marine layer of clouds!
After one descent, we came out on another flat agricultural area. I had fallen behind a group on the climb, and caught and zoomed ahead on the descent (a benefit, one of the few, of being a heavier rider). I was enjoying a nice pace as the descent flattened out, and noticed a group had formed behind me.  I felt strong. ... then a rider on a Rivendell pulled up next to me. "Could you slow down, please! There is a gap as Jeff fell behind on the descent - he weighs so little!"  I almost blew up at the rider. I was just riding my ride, and these folks had zoomed past me on the climb.  I almost said "sure, and of course you will wait for me at the top of every climb, right? or better yet climb at my speed and pull me on the way up?" Instead, I said something about my being heavy and slow and this being my best chance to make good time, and pushed on.
At the first control -- a signpost with a code just off the roadway and out of the photo. No/Low traffic.
I soon got my first flat tire of the trip. It was a good chance to take a breather and eat an energy bar.
On the gradual climb from Tres Pinos to Pinnacles, looking back. Still very low traffic.

Eventually we came out on a long flat stretch of agricultural land (the sweet smell of strawberries as we passed strawberry fields ... forever), tacking into a light wind to east and south. After a stop at a mini-store/gasoline stand, I think in Tres Pinos, we entered a long stretch with a gradual climb up to Pinnacles national park where the organizers had set up a control that included water, snacks, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a bench / picnic table for sittin. Even though this was at or near the high point of this section of the ride, we had continuous up and down over the following 10+ kms, then a nice descent into King City.
Bad stretch of road SE of King City ... but note the solar PV to the right hand side.
After King City, we continued on one of the roughest and hottest patches of road to the East and into the next climb. After a first climb and descent, I finally made it into an area of shade where I could rest. Then it was relatively easy going -- a slight tailwind -- to the next PC, set up by the roadside. I fell into a cloth folding chair -- the kind one can buy at a home center in the US that has a cup holder on the right armrest. I was taking it easy, falling back in the pack, but Bill Bryant arrived in his SAG pickup and reported there were 7 riders behind me (out of the 45-50 total).  One of them, Alaor Porcher from Brazil, arrived. Also, as I was about to leave, Henrik Shroeder from Florida. The other five, including a recumbent, were much further back.
Finally, shade!
As I slowed on the climb up Indian Valley Road (tired, and with some stomach issues and "hot feet", stopping pretty regularly), first Alaor and then finally Henrik passed me. There were a couple crazy steep sections near the top, and I could see Henrik dismount and walk up one. I did the same, and we were trading places on the descent. The sunset was very nice, Venus was bright in the sky, eventually joined by a full panoply of stars, then the rise of a full moon. It was a nice ride into Paso Robles, and I pretty much ended riding with Henrik as a pair or at least close by. For whatever reason, I was always faster or slower, not quite the right match, for others on 3CR.
From the top of Indian Valley Road
We had decided to get real food at Paso Robles but it was already getting late (near 11PM?), and so nothing was open in the middle of town except for a bar having a VERY LOUD karaoke contest. I could not stand the jarring noise. I suggested we head for a Denny's (the closest equivalent to the Japanese "Gusto" restaurants). I found it on Google Maps ... but I led us South instead of North toward the wrong end of town, wasting a few precious minutes and some energy. We finally made it to Denny's, which was maybe 1.5-2.0 kms off course. The food was awful and service was slow. I wanted pasta, and the ONLY pasta item on their menu was spaghetti with meatballs. The spaghetti tasted like overcooked processed crap and the meatballs tasted gamey. I ate only 1 of 3 meatballs and maybe 1/2 of the pasta. Henrik ate even less of his order.

Now we had one more climb over the coastal mountains, on Route 46, then a descent and section along Route 1 to the overnight control at Morro Bay. My stomach problems were worse, and so as the climb got steeper I told Henrik to go ahead and pulled off. I had dry heaves, five or six times. At least this proved that I must have digested whatever I had eaten, and I felt much better afterward. It was dense fog and cold near the top, adding time to hunt for the special sign whose code I would write down to prove my passage. I had not brought any really warm clothes, just a very light and thin "water resistant" wind/rain shell, and my lighest pair of arm warmers. Nothing for the legs, shoes, head or hands. I feared I would get very cold on the descent ... but within a kilometer or two I was below the fog, and it was warm enough. Perfect weather, actually. Near the bottom of the hill I passed a rider seated, resting off the road, facing away. I guess it was Alaor. In any event, I made good time to the checkpoint, around 3AM, and Henrik and Alaor arrived a few minutes after me. 370kms, including the Paso Robles detour.

After a very short but deep sleep, day 2 started at around 620AM, just before the control's "closing" time. Many riders who had arrived earlier and gotten a bit more sleep were leaving the control after 5AM. I made it to the first control in Pismo Beach an hour ahead of the closing time. I hoped to make up even more time on the next stretch to Santa Maria, except it looked as if we had LESS time to go MORE distance. And there were climbs on the first half of the segment, followed by heavy agricultural traffic on the second part. This area was not pleasant to look at. Rather it was industrial, heavy agriculture. And there was a lot of crap on the road shoulders. Finally, I figured out that there reason we had LESS time for MORE distance was that on all the info from the organizers (brevet card, list of controls, list of services), the segment was shown as 49.9 kms, whereas on the cue sheet Santa Maria was shown as 43 kms from the prior control. 49.9 kms was just a turn off a road in the middle of nowhere.

Going into Santa Maria, I was still riding with (or trading places with) Alaor and Henrik, and we caught the randonneur who had requested that I slowdown the prior day and his riding partner Jeff -- both on Rivendells. We were in a line going through the city of Santa Maria on crappy road shoulders as I hit a rock that I had not seen because of the two Rivendells ahead. My rear tire immediately flatted and I pulled off. They went ahead without asking.

It was slow going east and south of Santa Maria. There was a wind, and relatively heavy trafffic, and in many places not much of a shoulder.  The Rivendells passed me -- they had stopped for food in Santa Maria whereas I just got a snickers and some water for my receipt proving passage. Instead, I stopped at a general store/cafe in the hamlet of Garey, California. It was a delightful stop with good, fresh food, two women working there who might have been mother and daughter, and locals coming in one-by-one for their made-to-order lunch sandwiches.
Local cattle ranch "brands" in Garey California

Delightful sandwiches, local customers
Finally the road (Foxen Canyon Road) started to climb, a long climb up a valley between two rows of hills, very steep at the top, then descent into Solvang, with another almost 100m steep climb over a bump in the middle. As soon as we were off the valley floor, a vineyard with nice gate, signage, tasting room. There were more, and as Solvang approached they got more dense. It looked like a nice place to come back and stay in a nice resort and

As I started to look for the Solvang control ... I flatted again. This time it was a sharp burr, like a "goathead" but smaller than the ones I had seen in Eastern Washington before. Only one more spare tube in the daily kit.
On the way to Solvang, Foxen Canyon Road

Far Above Solvang
As seen in the movie "Sideways"!  The Blackjack vineyards.
After a nice rest at a burrito place (I ate half a HUGE burrito and took the rest for later snacks), I started the climb back over Foxen Canyon. Henrik and Alaor went ahead, I could not keep up, and i was alone. I needed a cat nap ... but the entire section I could not find anyplace to rest off of the roadway that looked comfortable. I eventually lay down on a driveway outside a closed gate of a vineyard, but the lack of any parks, benches, or other public infrastructure was notable. Private property only.

On the way back to Santa Maria, I passed the spot where Matthew O'Neill was struck by a truck pulling a horse trailer in 2014. There were some forlorn flowers planted in the dusty soil just off the shoulder at one point -- I think that must have been it. It was a flat, straight stretch of road. The shoulder was not rideable, and the sun was in my eyes and those of the drivers, so I was a bit nervous and di not feel safe until I made it to a turn that pointed more to the north ... into the wind.

I finally made it into Santa Maria again ... and immediately flatted on the crap in the roadway. My last spare tube gone. These shoulders ... you might be okay if you ride 10 or 20 or even 30 kms. But ride 100 or 200 or 1000kms, and you will get flats, lots of flats. I will not do this kind of ride again without some serious puncture resistant tires, even if they are less comfortable.

After replacing the tube ... I was getting slower and slower at it ... I continued until I reached a levy along a dry river that went under Route 101. The instructions were for me to go under Route 101, then along a path that paralled the highway. I went under the highway and tried to find the path. My GPS route failed me and the cue sheet was not very specific ... and i wandered all the way across the dry river ... a path partly rideable hard packed dirt/gravel and partly sand.

In the end, I finally found some locals walking their dogs in the dark along the levy who pointed me the right way.

While I had been hunting around in the dark, Henrik and Alaor had eaten dinner. They caught me at a stoplight, and we rode through Arroyo Grande together in the dark. I stopped at a "deli" that had nothing but snacks at night, then continued to along Canyon Creek Road. I missed the checkpoint sign and had to double back 2kms (and a few big up and down dips). As I approached San Luis Obispo from the south, I was hailed by Henrik. Alaor was sleeping in front of another winery gate, and he was also ready to lie down. I joined them and said I would rest 10 minutes. We needed to press on. And if Alaor slept any longer, he would not be able to wake up easily. Just after I lay down, I heard a rumble. It grew louder and louder. Like nothing I had felt before. I almost needed to duck as a jet aircraft passed overhead. ... and landed on a runway for the SLO airport just across the highway! Wow. Forget any idea of sleep. I woke Alaor and we started to saddle up. ... I went ahead, knowing they would catch me eventually. ... and a little further on, I got another flat tire.

It seemed as if it took forever to get a patch to work properly ... I was down to only one more remaining patch. In fact, I went through several false starts. One van drove by one direction then, minutes later, came back the other way. The driver stopped across the street, rolled down his window and asked if I was okay. Yes. Awhile later, a police car drove by. The cop asked if I had enough light. "Yes, almost done".  Anyway, it was getting very late. If I kept going, and did not have any more flats, I would make the overnight control after one more big climb ... with only an hour or two to spare. But could I really ride the next day? And enjoy it?

I went as far as Morro Bay, then checked into a motel, the Harbor House. 290 kms for the day.

It was really so much nicer than the previous night's Motel 6, for only a few extra dollars. I slept until 8AM, arranged to go BACK to SLO and take a train in the afternoon to Salinas, where one of the volunteers could meet me for a short drive back to Santa Cruz.
From Kitty's Kitchen in Morro Bay

I had a lovely breakfast at Kitty's Kitchen in Morro Bay, got a book at the small independent bookshop across the street, and rode via the Morro Bay State Park toward SLO. In SLO, I bought some spare clothes, saw the nice historic center of town (that our ride the day before had bypassed), and hopped the train to Salinas where Sharon, one of the dedicated volunteers, met me and gave me a lift to the Elks Club.
The old mission at SLO

Bears playing sculpture in front of the old mission.

A smoothie bowl for lunch, outside, in SLO.
I got a decent night of sleep, and as I ate breakfast at the motel lobby the next morning, in came a tired randonneur -- he had DNFed -- as had quite a few others -- but made it back to Santa Cruz under his own power. He said the very steep short ramps at the top of the climbs had done him in. Yes, they took a lot out of me, both Indian Valley and Foxen Canyon Roads ... and many more if I had ridden the third day.

660kms in two days was really all I needed to feel that I had gotten in a good long ride. And I was glad to see some of the nicer side of Morro Bay and SLO. But I have got my work cut out for me to be ready for PBP next year!

Thanks to Lois, Bill and all the other volunteers -- especially Sharon who gave me a lift from the Salinas train station back over the hills to Santa Cruz!

Day one route.

Day two route.  (... I stopped at km 285 or so, plus my side trips).

Day three route.  (...  instead I just rode back to SLO (San Luis Obispo).