King of the Ridge II: The Occidental Tourist

4 10 2011

The sense of foreboding at the Schoolhouse Beach rest stop was palpable. The King Ridge veterans knew what was coming next and their dread filled the salty air. They looked towards the brown hills rising from the road and filled their pockets with as much Gu as they could hold.

The descent of Meyers Grade to the Pacific from King Ridge had been breathtaking. In a good way, not like the lung-sucking ascent that had gotten us there. Emerging from the clouds and rain through a canopy of trees, the ocean stretched out before us. A twisting series of switchbacks would get us there. Condors circled on the air currents above, no doubt waiting for someone to wash out and become their lunch.

The early slopes of Meyers Grade

It was a roller coaster thrill ride on 23mm tires, leaning through the turns, trying not to hit the brakes too much to diminish the experience. Tiny colored dots lined the grade far below like Weebles on a conveyor.

It’s only when we hit the bottom, past the waystation of Jenner, that the wind became apparent, a constant whistling past the ears, a formidable elastic slowing you on the rolling highway 1.

At Schoolhouse Beach, some riders were giving up, waiting for a lift from the SAG wagon, or calling their own personal pit crew to retrieve them, their pleading voices on the edge of desperation.

A sign at Schoolhouse Beach states the obvious.

I salted up with nuts and pretzels to ease the nausea that had been dogging me for about 10 kms. I fueled up with watermelon and strawberries.

On the internet, the Fondo vets called Coleman Valley Road “the wall.”

It rose almost immediately. And kept on rising. The Garmin peeped its protest, going into pause mode when it thought I was no longer moving. Some riders weaved their own personal switchbacks back and forth across the road just to stay upright. Some gave up and climbed off their bikes, maybe to stretch cramped legs, maybe to concede defeat. The condors seemed to circle closer. I longed for a familiar, smiling face.

Last year, when I rode the Whistler Fondo, Katie volunteered at the feed station just beyond Squamish, where the climbing really started to get grueling. Her encouragement got me to the finish line.

My motivation!

This time, I’d only see her smile at the finish line. I had to get there. On the bike.

The water station at the Ocean Song summit provided a brief respite. For one rider, lying on a cot wrapped in a foil blanket, resignation and relief etched on his face, it was the end of the line.

A wet twisting descent, another brief ascent and we were into the home stretch, back through the redwoods at Occidental, and the vineyards outside Santa Rosa. But Levi had one more cruel trick to pull from his jersey pockets, a 7 km stretch of bike path that was pure mental anguish. Oh sure, the pavement was flat and fast, but without the distraction of passing traffic, all that was left to think about was the pain. In my legs. In my back. In my feet.

My spirits lifted when I heard cheering just on the other side of a stand of trees; the finish line had to be near. But no, it was just a soccer game.

I crossed the finish line so fast, Katie couldn't keep me in focus!

Then, we were under a bridge, around a tight hairpin that I overshot a bit into the grass, and under the big inflatable finish arch. Just on the other side was Katie’s beaming face, cheering, trying to take a photo. Heaven!

• My Garmin time, which doesn’t include the time I spent in the rest/feed zones, for the 164.13 km distance was 7:07:55, for an average speed of  23 kmh

• My unofficial Fondo time, which doesn’t eliminate the time spent at the stops, was 8:13:55, placing me 1918 of 4500 riders registered for the Gran Fondo. In my age category, I placed 310th of about 600 riders 45-49 years old. Literally middle of the pack. But it seems that second half was my undoing, as I was 944th overall when I reached the lunch stop at Ritchey Ranch, and 161st in my age division.

As for Patrick Dempsey; I was dismayed to see him already showered and relaxed up on the stage in the post-ride festival as I slogged to the beer line. I had passed him early on, so how could he be finished already???? Well, it turns out he only did the 100km Medio.