The happy group at the start of MDR.
This past weekend I did the "Memorial Day Ride" ("MDR"), a supported bike tour between Los Gatos and Santa Barbara organized for the past 22 years by Janine Rood. The route alternates between the original "coastal route" and a newer "inland route". The coastal route, held on odd years, follows Highway 1 through Big Sur while the odd-yeared inland route tours the parched hills of Hillister, Pacines, Bitterwater, and King City on the way to Cabria and San Simenon. From San Simeon to Santa Barabara the two routes share the same final two days.
2011 being odd, this was a coastal route year, but the same landslides which diverted the Tour of California from its planned Big Sur passage did the same to MDR this year, so inland it was for the second consecutive year. So odd and even switch: next year will be coastal, Caltrans permitting.
The inland route is 370 miles or so in four days: a long first day of 114 miles, another long day following of 100 miles, a "recovery" day of 45 miles, then a final day of 108 miles. The coastal route has a a slightly shorter first two days but not by much.
Janine practices a brilliant logistical juggling trick which she has perfected over these past decades. The brilliance of it all is it runs on a volunteer basis: three riders each segment must volunteer to drive a van or the tour stops. There's one luggage fan, two food vans. At each rest stop the "lead" food van stays until the "follow" food van arrives. It then drives to the next stop in time to provide food for the lead riders. The following van then remains until the last rider has arrived, when it leaves to relieve the lead van at the next stop. Long days have three stops, so that this actually works is nontrivial.
After missing the last two because Cara hasn't been able to ride and thus dropping from the initial invitation list, after hearing a friend was going to cancel, with Cara's encouragement I decided to put my name on the wait list. Luckily there were more cancellations this year than people on the wait list, and I was told I was in a week before the start.
My preparation this year was marginal at best. I've done no organized cycling events, no race simulation rides, no interval sessions, and no rides longer than 70 miles since last year. My new job and commute had ripped the guys out of my weekday training, which now consisted of a few morning bike commutes and a handful of lunchtime runs. Add to this that I was now three years older than the last time I did the ride and I could only hope that experience would carry me through.
I was rudely reminded of my lack of long rides on Thursday, day 1, when at mule 70, the length of my long ride so far, I felt the tank run empty. From here on I slipped into survival mode, never dipping into a red zone which was now inaccessable to me, happy for the tailwind which helped push me up the hills approaching Bitterwater. The run from Bitterwater to King City was impeded by strong cross-winds, but it included a substantial descent, so wasn't bad.
Day 2, Friday, I felt much better. I'd rested, eaten, and hydrated well after the day prior's ride, and my legs felt good. On the second leg I even got frisky, attacking on the climbs on the rolling route. The Interlaken climb, used in this year's Tour of California, was a highlight. After the third rest stop I deviated from the official route and instead of a segment which included a highway shoulder, I took to the dirt via Kau Mine Road. The dirt climb which follows Kau Mine, Cypress Mountain Drive, took me to the top of Santa Rosa Creek for the long, rough, and steep descent to Cambria. From there all I had to do was suffer the final five miles into a block headwind to San Simeon. All in all I felt good about the day, even if my "quality over quantity" short cut had reduced the distance by at least ten miles.
Saturday Day 3 was a well-earned joy. It includes a "coasting" descent contest designed by long-time participant Greg Ferry. Greg wasn't on the ride this year due to his travels, but the contest lived on. The goal is to go as far as possible with a single stomp on the pedals. Results are strongly correlated to rider mass and although I'm significantly above my racing weight right now I'll need to beef myself up considerably further to take the honors in this one next year. It's curious, actually, how little the bike seems to matter on this test. Another highlight of day 3 was our destination: San Luis Obispo is a fun town in the way made possibly only from the massive influx of money a major college provides.
Day 4, Sunday, was the final, long run down to Santa Barbara. I was hoping the rest day would invigorate me for this one, but this didn't prove true. After a huge bowl of miso, noodles, tofu and vegetables at Big Sky Cafe in SLO the night before I'd eaten a light breakfast of the 1.5 old bagels I still had in my initial food supply. The Motel 6 we'd stayed in was on the outskirts of town and nothing much was available there, so I figuring instead I'd fuel up at the first rest stop. But when my group arrived there after blasting over Strawberry Hill the van wasn't yet there. I kept moving, realizing the second 25 miles would be a challenge. But I faded even worst than I feared, and by Harris Grade Road, where the longest climb of the tour loomed, I was close to empty. Luckily, however, the food van passed me here, stopping at the side of the road ahead of its scheduled stop on the opposite side of the hill. From this point, at around mile 40, it was a constant effort to dig myself out of my hole. Thanks to Dave Hover's steady wheel as he practiced for an upcoming triathlon on his Cervelo P3, I was able to minimize the amount of work I had to do, and even started to feel strong on the final few climbs on Foothill approaching Santa Rosa (aided in part by a half-can of Coca Cola at the final rest stop).
So the tour was a personal success. I finished tired, too tired to take my pre-planned Monday morning run, but surely these long miles will be money in the bank for what follows in this cycling season.
Due to some issues with my driver's license renewal being delayed I wasn't able to drive support this year. I was far from alone: a substantial number of the participants rode the entire distance. Some riders, due to illness or fatigue, drove during several legs. However others out of obligation to the ride picked up the slack of those of us who didn't drive. I hope to make up for my freeloading ways the next time I do the tour; there's nothing stopping those who drive a segment from riding make-up miles at the end of the day, and on the last day a group of volunteers who'd missed a segment of that ride did just that, climbing Gibralter Road out of Santa Barbara, an epic climb. Sounds like a plan for next time.