December 22, 2017
Ride Report: SLO Ride to Hell
This was the last of Murphy's gravel gauntlet rides in 2017, and the
farthest away. 400km each way just to get there, plus the ride itself.
Until about a week or so before the ride, I wasn't even sure I wanted to
try riding there and back, but then I found a nice-looking AirBnB in
Santa Margarita, which was supposed to be close to the start. I booked
it, and decided I would probably try to do the ride there and back, but
if I didn't want to I could still use the AirBnB even if I drove there,
Since the start/finish was so far, I wouldn't be able to just ride there
after work like Panoche. And since it was on a Saturday, I would have to
take the Friday before off work. Shortly after I entered the vacation day,
I received Murphy's "rider update" email. Le sigh. He had moved the
start/finish pretty far: the original location would have been about 12km
from the AirBnB, but the new location was over 25km. It might not seem
like much: after all, the whole ride was over 1000km. But that was a good
half hour of sleep, dashed before I had even left.
For this ride, I was again using my big seatpost bag with my cross bike.
I had learned how to pack it better, so I had no issues with it kinking
and rubbing on the rear tire as I rolled out at about 0405 on Friday
The first part of my route was down CA-1 to Santa Cruz, and I'm quite
familiar with the first ~60km of that. However, I had never ridden it
so early before. Traffic was very light, and the full moon was reflected
beautifully on the ocean. I'm a bit less familiar with CA-1 south of
Pescadero, but it's quite scenic and a bit rolly. As I made my way through
Santa Cruz around 0800 I decided to hit a Starbucks for some coffee and
Next up was a jaunt across the valley through Watsonville to San Juan
Batista and then Hollister. I had planned a stop in San Juan Batista to
visit a quilting shop and pick some stuff up for Christine's parents,
who are pretty much quilting fanatics. While there I hit up a cute
coffee shop (Vertigo) for some more food, water and coffee (iced this
time, as it was heating up).
After I made my way through Hollister, next up was a long ride down
CA-25, Peach Tree Road, Indian Valley Road and on to Paso Robles.
(Incidentally, a bunch of this route would feature on Murphy's spring
classic ride a few months later, but I didn't know that yet.) I had
thought from the map that there would be a few towns on the way, but the
"towns" were really just a few places with a few houses clustered
together. There wasn't even a gas station or corner store the whole
~120km until I got to Paso Robles. It was on the warmer side during this
section, and without much shade, but I did have a pretty decent
tailwind, which was much appreciated. While it was scenic, about half
way through I got a flat, and I ran out of water about 20-30km short
of Paso Robles.
As a result, I was pretty happy when I rolled in to Paso Robles and
found a strip mall where I could load up on cold drinks. The last time
I was in the area was when I did AIDS LifeCycle, which was of course
a very different experience. But one thing I did remember from that
time was that the Firestone Walker brewery is in Paso Robles, so I
decided to head there for dinner. Conveniently, it wasn't very far off
my route. The bartender was, um, surprised at the amount of food I ate :)
From Paso Robles, I didn't have much further to go to get to my AirBnB.
I made it a pretty chill and uneventful ride through Atascadero, where
I stopped for some breakfast food, on to Santa Margarita. I got there
at about 2200, and was able to have a nice shower and patch my tube
before getting a few hours of sleep.
I rolled out of the AirBnB in the morning around 0545. The ride to the
start/finish was mostly uphill and kinda sucked, to be honest. There
was a lot of traffic on CA-58. I got the start/finish with enough time
to use the bathroom, stash my big ass saddle bag and stretch a bit
before the ride itself.
This time, I had no illusions about staying with the front group, with
400km already in the legs the previous day, so I decided to take it
pretty easy and just enjoy the ride. The route was very pretty, and
uncharacteristically green due to the significant rainfall over the
winter. I flatted again at the bottom of the Black Mountain climb,
and by the time I reached the top it was definitely warm again.
I rolled in to the finish around 1530, enjoyed one beer,
grabbed some food, and started working on patching my tube so I'd have
a full complement for the ride home. PfC saw me working on it and gave
me 2 more tubes, so I could roll out sooner. I refreshed ye-olde chammy
cream and rolled out around 1700.
I stopped again in Paso Robles for dinner, this time getting some pizza
at the same strip mall I had used the day before. Now that I knew how
long I would be out of civilization, I loaded up on drinks and snacks for
the long slog up to Hollister.
Given the tailwind I had on this section the day before, I was really
worried it would be a demoralizing headwind the whole way, but it was
actually very calm, and additionally there was very little traffic.
After leaving Paso Robles I probably saw at most 10 cars all the way
up to Panoche Road, where my route became the same as the way I rode
home from the Panoche ride.
From Panoche Road to Watsonville took longer than I remember from that
previous ride, but when I did finally roll into Watsonville I was very
happy to find a 24 hour donut shop open, where I loaded up on (pretty
bad, but caffeinated) coffee and a couple donuts. I then made my way
through Santa Cruz and on to CA-1 for the final "home stretch" back to
There too, I was anticipating a headwind but fortunately it wasn't too
bad (quite calm or minor headwind the whole way). However, my enthusiasm
for the coffee in Watsonville had, at this point, developed into a rather
urgent need for a bathroom. Eventually I got to Davenport, a really cute
little town just a little bit north of Santa Cruz, and found a bakery
(Whale City Baking) that was open and had a bathroom I could use.
The final stretch up CA-1 was pretty uneventful, and with the sun rising
I felt more awake. I was definitely excited when I started to pass roads
I'm familiar with from my commutes (CA-84, Stage Road, Verde Road, etc.).
I made it home around noon and enjoyed a showerbeer before passing out
for a nap for a few hours, after which I would eat dinner and get things
ready for my ride down to work the next day.
December 23, 2017
Ride Report: Tour of the Unknown Coast
I had been hearing good things about the Tour of the Unknown
Coast for a while, and decided to check it out in 2017 since the
alternative for that weekend was an extra-long version of Murphy's Tainthammer.
I'd done the Tainthammer once as a rider and once as a support
volunteer, and kinda felt like I had gotten my fill (and it later
turned out that it wasn't going to happen in 2017 after all), so Tour
of the Unknown Coast it was.
The ride itself has its start/finish in Ferndale, near Eureka. That
would definitely be the furthest north I had ever ridden in
California. I made a route on ridewithgps and figured that the whole
thing (there and back plus the ride itself) would be about the same
as my Seven Deadly Centuries
ride, but with less climbing. Easy peasy, right? Well, except for the
part where that ride was pretty much the hardest thing I'd ever done,
Since the ride started on a Saturday, I had to take the Friday before
off in order to get there. I rolled out at around 0700 and headed
promptly to Kahnfections
to pick up my 700 mile "gas tank".
After packing up the fuel, I rolled the standard "Lurch" route out
of SF across the bridge, through Sausalito, Mill Valley, Fairfax,
Nicasio and then on to Petaluma and Santa Rosa. While this route
is familiar to me and it went smoothly, I did notice that something
weird was going on with my cranks; there was a lot of side-to-side
play in them. Definitely not the best time to notice something like
that. Fortunately, it didn't seem to be affecting things too badly
so I just kept on going.
By the time I hit Santa Rosa, it was definitely warm. I managed to
find a smoothie spot and slurped down a large berry smoothie just as
fast as I could, brain freeze being the limiting factor. I also got
a few bottles of water and lemonade for the next stretch up to Ukiah
and then Willits.
I was drinking so much that I had to stop twice again for more drinks
before hitting Willits, which was where I planned to have dinner. I
found a pub there and had a veggie burger and a ton of root beer,
which really hit the spot right about then. It was getting close to
dusk as I rolled out of Willits, and a lot of the rest of my route
would be on US-101, which is bike legal that far north.
While legal, it wasn't exactly pleasant. Parts of it were quite scenic,
but there was a lot of traffic and a lot of road work that involved
closing the shoulder, forcing me to merge into the traffic lane and
dodge cones and debris, which was increasingly difficult as it got
darker. At one point I stopped briefly to refill my water bottle,
and in the dark forgot that I hadn't put the lid back on (I just put
the bottle, sans lid, in my bottle cage). The next time I went over a
bump the water splashed all over my legs and I quickly realized what
I had done, but I really didn't feel like going back for the lid. I
had a second bottle, so it wasn't dire, but I did find it kinda funny.
Eventually I made it to my exit, and got on Avenue of the Giants,
which is a way smaller and more pleasant road. The route I had made
was actually supposed to take me from there across Eel River and in
to Ferndale on a small road that runs along the river. However, when
I got to the "bridge" that was supposed to cross the river, it was,
ahem, not really there. There was a slab of very run down concrete
running part way into the river, and then nothing. The water was deep
enough, wide enough and fast enough that it really wasn't practical
to try walking across. That left me with pretty much my only option
being to get back on US-101. I was a bit worried, because I thought
that section of US-101 might not be bike legal, but I really didn't
have another choice. It turns that it is bike legal, and the
ride itself even used it as part of the route.
The rest of the ride into Ferndale was pretty uneventful, and I
made it to the start with plenty of time to spare. Being forced on
to US-101 near the end had actually made my ride a bit shorter than
I was anticipating. But that left me with a different problem: it
was now pretty cool out, and as soon as I stopped moving I started to
cool down fast. I had a hoodie with me, but nothing to cover my
legs. When I got to the start/finish, I found a little spot next to a
building and, using my spare kit as a "pillow", attempted to get a bit
of sleep. I couldn't really sleep, though, because I was shivering
too much. Eventually dawn broke and folks started stirring, and
the community hall where the registration, food and (most crucially)
coffee were located opened up. I hurried in, eager to warm up.
After getting some breakfast and coffee I noticed there was a
mechanic tent set up, and went to ask them about my wobbly crank
issue. As I feared, my bottom bracket was basically shot and they were
(unsurprisingly) not equipped to replace it or overhaul it there on the
spot. I just had to hope it would hold up long enough to get me home.
The ride itself started out pretty easy. We made our way out of town
largely the same way I had come in, and even got back on to Avenue of
the Giants for a bit. Then we hit the first major climb of the day,
which was on a scenic but rough road (Mattole), and was mostly shaded.
I flatted on the way up, but as far as things go, it was a pretty nice
spot for it. The problem was the descent; the road was so rough that
it really wasn't enjoyable at all, requiring constant vigilance to
dodge potholes, large rocks and gravel. When I finally made it down,
I was pleased to find a corner store and promptly chugged a Coke.
That brings me to my second issue with the ride: the support was
definitely what I would describe as "minimal". For example, the PB&J
sandwiches at rest stops were "do it yourself"; there was peanut
butter, jam and bread but it was up to the riders to make themselves
sandwiches. I appreciate that it's a lot of work to run a ride like
TUC and I've worked aid stations at rides myself, so of course I'm
grateful they were there. All of that said, it's a pretty expensive
ride ($100 I think, not including breakfast) so the level of
support was a bit disappointing.
Anyway, from the corner store it was a gently rolling, warm ride
to lunch, where I stopped for some food and drinks before following
the route out to the coast. The coastal section is the inspiration
for the ride's name, and it was very beautiful but the headwind was
brutal. Fortunately I was able to join up with a group of folks and
work together for the worst of it, before the main attraction of the
day: the "wall". This was a super steep climb of about 15% for half a
mile. At this point it was definitely a slog for me, but I made it up,
slow and steady.
After that, it was a quick descent followed by the much longer
"endless" climb, before descending back in to Ferndale on somewhat
better quality pavement than the previous long descent had been. I
rolled back in to the start/finish around 1500 and hung out for a
while with my friend Jacky, who lives in Humboldt and came to see me.
After chatting and eating for a bit, I rolled out around 1630, making
my way back on to Avenue of the Giants. The late afternoon light
was stunning, and it was quite an enjoyable ride, though it wasn't
long before I had to get back on US-101, which I was not particularly
excited about. For the way back, I had decided to cut over to CA-1 at
Leggett, for some variety and to reduce the amount of time on US-101.
From Avenue of the Giants down to Leggett on US-101 wasn't particularly
pleasant, but it went smoothly. From Leggett to the coast it was a
brief climb followed by a long descent. It was dark at this point,
and the descent was definitely "cool", which left me struggling to
stay both awake and warm. I stopped a couple times on the way down
to eat, which helped a bit.
When I finally made it to the coast, I was pretty excited. All I
had to do was ride CA-1 down to Point Reyes, and I'd be practically
home! Of course, it was still a long way. The coast was quiet
and peaceful and quite beautiful, but I was really struggling to
stay awake at this point. When I finally rolled in to Fort Bragg,
I saw a Denny's that was open and decided some hot food and coffee
would be a good idea.
Fuelled up on French toast and coffee, and having warmed up, I felt
much better as I continued to make my way down CA-1. This section of
the road follows the coast very closely, meaning you're constantly
descending down into little inlets and then climbing back out. I hadn't
really anticipated how much climbing it would be, but it was scenic at
least. Unfortunately, it was around this point that my bottom bracket
chose to express its displeasure with me, making most of my attempts
to shift at the front an exercise in chain-dropping frustration. As a
result, I was mostly leaving it in the little ring and cross-chaining
and spinning out on the descents.
After about an hour of that, another problem snuck up on me. My
enthusiasm for the coffee at Denny's was catching up with me and I
would soon need a bathroom. Unfortunately, I was pretty far from any
town big enough to have a coffee shop, gas station or restaurant,
and was still a couple hours out of Jenner. Eventually I found
a port-a-potty along the side of the road, there because of some
construction project I think. Probably the happiest I've been to see
a port-a-potty in my life :P
That problem solved, I continued down CA-1 past Jenner and on to Bodega
Bay. In my mind, I hadn't realized how far it was from Bodega Bay to
Point Reyes; I thought it was just a few miles. But then I rolled
through Valley Ford and realized that my mind had sub-consciously
"edited" out a decent chunk of miles. Once I remembered them, they
were somewhat familiar, at least (often featuring on parts of the
Marin Century and such).
Between Tomales and Point Reyes I was definitely feeling pretty beat,
and remember being a bit frustrated with the narrow shoulder and super
shitty pavement. In fact, the pavement was so bad that I was making
an effort to ride on the paint line, which was way smoother than the
asphalt. Eventually, I landed in Point Reyes and promptly sat down
to stuff my face with some of my remaining Kahnfections. I was really
"almost home" now, it was hard to believe.
I rode back through Samuel P Taylor park, through Lagunitas and then
on to the familiar Fairfax/San Anselmo/Ross/Camino Alto/Mill Valley
crap miles and, finally, the bridge!
I had been trying to co-ordinate with Chris and Christine, who had
been at an afternoon tea nearby, to meet in the Presidio. I waited
for a few minutes at the Arguello gate, but decided to just keep
rolling home when I started to cool down. The call of the showerbeer
was strong at this point.
On those final few miles through the city I reflect on how, even
though I was pretty damn tired and sore, I felt so much better at this
point than I did after the Death
Ride. My butt was a bit sore, sure, but nothing like that ride. I
also didn't struggle nearly as much as I did then on the final slog
up Bernal to my house.
As I was commencing my post-ride rituals of Strava uploading, eating
and showerbeer, Christine popped in to the garage to welcome me back.
December 26, 2017
Ride Report: San Diego to San Francisco (SD2SF)
This ride was a first for me, in several ways. To start off with,
it was truly a training (aka "wanking", as Scott Crosby would put it)
ride. There's no other way to describe it, mostly because of the other
novelty: support. For this ride, I had a support car for the very
first time! Amazing! I wouldn't have to haul all my food and drinks
and spares and so on. The lap of luxury. I did feel kinda bad about
it, though, from an environmental perspective. Just have to hope my
years of commuting by bike and other car avoidance can make up for it.
As it happened, my friend Chris needed to be in LA the week before the
ride, so she drove our car down with my spare bike. Then Christine and
I flew down with my other bike the day before the ride. We promptly
visited Costco (which, I later learned, was actually the very first
Costco ever!) to stock up on ride food, water, coke, etc. After that
and after assembling and checking my bike, it was off to the pub with
Crosby for a bit.
The next day I took the opportunity to sleep in a bit and we got a
good breakfast at a local joint. Ended up rolling out from San Diego
a bit before noon. It might have been nice to roll a bit earlier,
but given the overall length of the ride it probably wouldn't have
saved me any night time riding.
One of my main goals for this ride, and the main reason I was doing
it "backwards" (riding north to south is far more common) was to
get more experience with headwinds, which I had heard were fierce
in Iceland. Somewhat uncharacteristically, then, the first part of
the ride was quite calm. There might have been a slight breeze, but
nothing that bad. The weather was actually quite pleasant, not too
hot and definitely not too cold. As I made my way through La Jolla,
I passed a hotel my family had visited on vacation when I was a kid,
and it was quite odd to see it again in this context.
The first place where I had arranged to meet Chris and Christine was
just before the entrance to Camp Pendleton, and it was good that we
met there since I was running low on water. Through Camp Penndleton
itself it was a bit more breezy, but still not terrible. I met up with
Chris and Christine again just south of Laguna Beach for some iced
coffee and again in Seal Beach before a pretty dodgy section through
Long Beach (dodgy in the "bad part of town" kinda way). After that,
I made my way past LAX and had my first "kit change" stop: my plan
was to change kits and refresh chammy cream every ~200km or so.
At this point, it was starting to get dark, and I actually had a
small section of bike path through Santa Monica before getting back
on CA-1, which was a nice change. Past Santa Monica, CA-1 was also
more pleasant than it had been between San Diego and LA: smaller, and
traffic was dying down a bit due to the time of day. Unfortunately,
the pavement quality was a pretty mixed bag and after coming over
a small hill onto a quick descent, my headlight decided the crappy
pavement vibration was too much, and decided to eject itself from
my handlebar. It was actually kinda interesting: the mount mechanism
(this was a Light & Motion Urban series light) remained securely
on the handlebar, but the light has two main parts, one of which is
attached to the mount and the other one fits inside that with what
seems to be just a friction fit. The latter part (which is what holds
the LED and battery) had wiggled loose and ejected from the part
that's attached to the mount. Fortunately, I had two headlights on
my handlebar at that point, so I was able to use the second one to
go back and find the wayward part, as well as continue riding.
I met Chris and Christine again in Malibu for more food & drink,
and Christine was actually able to snap the two parts of the light
back together, and it still worked! That was good, because we only
had two front lights and one doesn't last long enough to ride through
the night, even on the lowest setting.
From there it was a bit more CA-1 and then inland towards Ojai, past
the Point Mugu naval air station. Before Ojai was a small town (Santa
Paula), followed by a bit of a climb and descent. When I rolled in to
Ojai, it was early morning (4ish or so) and they were setting up for a
marathon or some kind of running event. I found Chris and Christine,
who had parked and passed out :) Remarkably, there was a donut shop
that was open and had a bathroom, which was great because I needed one.
On the way out of Ojai, I would tackle the biggest climb of the ride
(Pine Mountain), which was quite pleasant (low traffic) and absolutely
stunning in the early morning dawn light. The descent was pretty good
too, except the landscape changed dramatically and with the sun coming
up, it got a lot hotter and drier very quickly. We stopped briefly
at Santa Barbara Pistachio before continuing on to CA-166.
This stretch was fairly unpleasant. It was warm, a decent breeze had
picked up, and the traffic was fairly heavy too. It was a long false
flat followed by a descent in to Maricopa, after which my route took me
on Petroleum Club Road. As the name might suggest, there were a lot of
oil wells along the road. Not implied by the name was the quality of
the pavement: terrible. After a while, I was delighted to see Chris
and Christine parked up ahead, and enjoyed a Coke and some food.
Continuing on CA-33, it was more of the same for a while: warm, dry,
breezy, bumpy and ugly. At one point I actually saw a little mini dust
twister form and dissipate a couple hundred meters in front of me, which
was definitely a new one for me.
Eventually the false flat turned in to a proper climb, which was actually
kinda nice because it was less breezy, and at least on a proper climb I
feel like my effort is producing some noticeable results (as opposed to
feeling slow for no good reason on a false flat).
After the warm climb was a brief descent, followed by a long, flat
traverse through some farm land. And then, I was starting to get a bit
excited, because after some rollers my route would actually take me past
the start/finish of the SLO ride,
from which I had ridden home a few months earlier.
It was so strange, though: when I did finally roll past Lazy Arrow
Adventures, it looked completely different from what I remembered. The
whole area was now completely dry and brown, while it had been quite
green and lush for SLO.
Anyway, having passed that mental landmark, I now had my thoughts
focused on Paso Robles. From the Lazy Arrow place to Paso was a bit of a
slog, with a breeze and some busy roads, but I made it to the Starbucks
where I had agreed to meet Chris and Christine without issue. They had
fetched some Thai food, and along with some coffee it really hit the
After a kit change, it was on to Indian Valley, Peach Tree and CA-25 for
the long slog up to the intersection with Panoche Road, linking up with
the routes from several of my rides over the past few months. Unlike the
previous time when I had ridden this on the way home from SLO, this time
it was breezy. I had kind of been hoping for more favourable conditions,
of course, but I tried to remind myself that the whole point of this
exercise was to ride some breezy conditions, and that was exactly what I
Dusk, and then dark, came on Indian Valley, and a little bit before
the climb I saw a wild boar, just hanging out in the middle of the
road! It didn't bother me much as I rode past and made my way up the
climb and then down the descent on to Peach Tree.
After Peach Tree was a long stretch (~80km I think) on CA-25, and it was
definitely a struggle to stay awake at this point. It was dark and
almost completely quiet. At one point I stopped for some food and
caffeine, and we definitely heard "something" in the bushes (best guess
was a mountain lion; it was kind of screechy). Then on the final leg
before the intersection with Panoche Road, an owl swooped down and it
got so close to me, I thought it was going to slam into my face. I
distinctly remember locking eyes with it for a moment.
With that brief moment of excitement behind me, I made it, at last, to
the now familiar-to-me intersection with Panoche Road where I met Chris
and Christine for my last kit change and quick refuelling. From here it
was "only" 200km to home, and my plan was to stop at the donut shop in
Watsonville, then Whale City Baking in Davenport, much as I had done on
the ride home from SLO.
Unfortunately, the ride to Watsonville seemed to take far longer than
I remember it taking the previous few times. Traffic was also starting
to pick up, as some folks were starting to head to work in the pre-dawn
hours. I found Chris and Christine at the donut shop, passed out, but
didn't really feel like a donut or the mediocre (at best) coffee, so just
decided to keep going and meet up with them again in Davenport.
The ride through Aptos, Capitola, Soquel and Santa Cruz was fine. I took
it pretty chill through that section, since there's a bunch of lights
and stuff so it doesn't exactly make a lot of sense to push hard.
Eventually I popped back on to CA-1 for the "home stretch" up to SF, and
made my way up to Davenport without issue.
After some caffeine and carbs at the bakery, it was back on to CA-1. The
morning light was definitely helping me stay awake, but a decent breeze
and some damp conditions had accompanied it, slowing my progress
significantly. On the plus side, I was possibly, maybe, getting a small
taste of what awaited me in Iceland.
After what seemed like far too long, I made it to the stretches of
CA-1 more familiar to me from my commuting career. I had agreed to meet
Chris and Christine again at the Starbucks in Half Moon Bay, and took
the opportunity to get a hot chocolate before the last chunk of CA-1
up to Pacifica.
Skyline Drive up to Gateway was definitely a slog at this point, but
other than that the rest of the ride home was uneventful. I rolled in
just after 1400, plenty of time to showerbeer, nap, eat and get ready
for my commute the next day.