Monday, May 27, 2013

2013 Memorial Day Ride day 4: San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara

Day 4 of 2013 MDR began with, for the second day in a row, a feeling I'd left something behind as I sat on my bike in the parking lot. The day before I'd lost my California International Marathon T-shirt, so surely this was just a ghost of that guilt.

The day's ride was a challenging one, each of the four segments presenting a particular challenge. The first segment: Strawberry Grade.

As part of what is likely the quietest, lowest-traffic section of Highway 1 in the whole state, the road passes strawberry fields around 7 miles south of SLO, then after a brief flat section, there's a climb of a few hundred vertical feet followed by a fast descent. Then it's a challengingly long run into Guadalupe, the first rest stop.

I was well positioned when the road turned, third behind the tandem and Kerry, and as soon as the climb began, I went hard. This established a nice gap, and I went over the top alone. But at the bottom of the descent is a traffic light, relatively new, put in sometime between 2008 and 2011. I willed, even demanded it to turn green as I approached, but it persisted in its unfortunate state of redness, and I had to brake to a stop. Freedom over. There was a full regrouping.

The rest of the way to Guadalupe was tactical. There's a second climb which follows Strawberry, but too gradual to really get a gap, so we crested that in a large group. On the descent, the tandem put in a ferocious attack and got a good gap. The gap stablilized, however, as Mike Pucci and especially John Murphy put in strong pulls. The tandem wasn't going to make it.

I was following a surprisingly savvy Lauren Wright, who was surfing wheels like an experienced racer. It turns out that's because she is an experienced racer, and rode for the US National Team back in the day, doing some major European stage races, she later said. I was surprised but hardly shocked.

The gap was slowly decreasing, and I could resist temptation no longer. I accelerated, looked back to see I had a gap, then bridged to the tandem. One other rider was there. I slotted in to catch my breath. Soon after we were joined by a fourth.

The tandem was getting impatient doing all the work, looking for help, and the main group wasn't far behind. I decided to attack instead. But that didn't amount to much, the tandem was able to follow. I pulled aside to save my strength. At least I'd managed to increase the gap to the chasers.

On the run into the finish one of the other solo bikes put in an acceleration. This gapped the tandem. I was able to follow, along with the other solo rider, and crossed the bridge marking the "finish" in third. The rest stop wasn't far past this.

The next leg featured Harris Grade. There's a right turn from Hwy 135, on whose shoulder we were riding, then a few hundred meters of flat before the climb. This is probably the best climb of the tour, with a lot of switchbacks. It goes on a lot further than one might think, new sections of climb appearing around corners, until the top.

Around the turn onto Harris Grade I was gapped with Wes. This required me to waste some energy bridging back, taking Wes with me. So I sat in a bit as Paul and Kerry set the pace.

After a few corners of the climb I pulled through and they indicated a lack of willingness to follow my pace, so I had a gap. I figured I'd run with that, trying to keep my power on the hot side of 300 watts. That's a good zone for me on short climbs, one I can't sustain, so it's good training to keep it there as long as I can.

I almost made it to the top this way but eventually I slipped back into the 280-300 watt range. This is still good for me, however, and I crested the hill with a big gap. I remembered five years ago Garrett Lau had taken photos here, but this year it was empty. The backside is a fun descent, occasionally sandy, and I had to watch for that but today the road surface was good. Then we cross a stop sign, where I was delayed by a car pulling a trailer, but I was able to hold my gap to the rest stop.

So far I'd been rather reckless in my pacing. The third section was perhaps the toughest, featuring a long, non-continuous grind up an exposed section of Hwy 1 south of Lompoq before a fast descent to the Hwy 101 rest stop at Gaviota Beach. Once the climb began, the tandem set the pace, but soon had to drop back. Wes took over, riding very strongly. We were in a rough rotating paceline. I took a pull, my usual 100 pedal strokes, and then Pucci pulled through and off with a much shorter pull. I wasn't going to get sucked into a rapidly rotating line because that's both mentally and physically more fatiguing for me, so stayed at the back a few turns before rotating back up.

The climb drags on and one: you think you might be at the top as you crest a peak only to see, after a short descent, the road rise up ahead yet again. My power in this section wasn't impressive but I could feel the tank running dry and several times I felt distressed.

At one point after I'd dropped back following a pull the tandem managed to catch back on. They do okay on gradual climbs, and can make up distance on the intermediate descents. The tandem eventually worked its way back to the front of the group.

Paul finally announced that we were on the "final grind" and I moved to the front to set an even tempo. I hoped I could discourage friskiness but then Paul put in a solid acceleration and came by on my right. I tried to follow but couldn't, then tried downshifting and spinning up and couldn't, then stared despairingly down at my rear cassette before trying a third time but once again couldn't.

I was between Paul and the others, but they overtook me soon after. Paul was going to take this one. I later learned he had the Strava KOM from last year. His time was going to be fairly close today, but I think he fell around 30 seconds short.

The descent is fast: close to 50 mph. Wes was leading but started having shimmy problems. When I saw this I clamped my top tube between my legs to discourage them in my own bike. When I did this I noticed I started gaining on Wes: interesting! I've got to keep this in mind next road race I do. With my increased speed I passed Wes and led it out to the bottom of the descent.

Here we rode an exit ramp to 101. The road initially turns north, which can be confusing for a southbound route, but then it curves around and tracks the coast southward. The rest stop is soon after this curve.

Wes was riding to the left of the rumble strips, at the edge of the vehicle lane, while I stuck to the right. He moved ahead this way. I had to avoid various roadkill and shredded rubber from tires, while he faced clearer pavement, but I didn't like the idea of being that far out. We weren't passed by any vehicles, however, before joining 101.

The stop basically marked the end of the lead group. I was eating and chatting with Jorge, who'd been dropped on the long climb, about optimal cadence when Kerry announced she was going to leave with Paul to "ride easy". I didn't think much of this until I saw Pucci silently rolling out. Whoops. The whole lead group was gone, fractured on the road.

There's an initial climb out of the rest stop which would have been a good opportunity to bridge up, but I had absolutely nothing left. I retreated into something less than an endurance pace, more of a death march, pushing myself along the 101 shoulder. This continued until I stopped at a viewpoint and took a photo of the coast with the rail line which is shared by freight with Amtrak passenger service. Then not long after setting out again I flatted, victim of a wire through my front tire.

Fixing this gave me a bit of a break. It was a slow fix, I choosing to patch the obvious hole rather than swapping my tube. After pumping my tire with my small Lezyne road pump and starting again I was feeling a bit better, but kept the pace down until the exit for Cathedral Oaks Road, my preferred route into Santa Barbara and now the official, if not universal, way to the hotel. Others ride a bike path through UCSB, others perhaps still ride down State Street with its countless traffic lights.

Cathedral Oaks is very nice riding. My spirits, and my power, both increased considerably. First I stopped at a roadside cherry stand for some cherries which I stuffed in my jersey pocket (I like my Strava Castelli jerseys with their decently sized pockets). Then come a series of short climbs, and I was able to push my power again into the 300-400 watt range on these. I was riding closer to 100-150 watts on 101.

Approaching the finish, I made the mistake of taking San Roque Rd instead of Avalon, a long-running typo on the route sheet. But after recatching my bearings I did the final few blocks along State Street and I was at Lemon Tree Hotel.

Janine was there and gave me my room key. I was done: another successful Memorial Day ride!

The downside, though, was when I unpacked my bags and realized I'd lost my Kindle, probably left at the Travel Lodge I'd vacated that morning. My moment of paranoia that morning hadn't been paranoia after all. I realized I'd probably left the black Kindle on the floor next to my bed where I'd put it the night before. I tend to be really hard on myself when this sort of thing happens, but I recognize at this advanced age I am what I am and I'm prone to brain-fades and there's nothing I can do about it other than to be more careful next time. Keep my stuff together, don't spread it out. Putting the Kindle on the floor had been a mistake. I called the hotel without luck: no Kindle was found or reported lost. So maybe it was even somewhere else. Or maybe the cleaning staff kept it. In the scheme of things it's unimportant. After changing my password and de-registering the old Kindle I ended up ordering another, more updated model.

That night I risked being antisocial and skipped the banquet at its meat-focused restaurant and instead walked out to the pier at the end of State Street. This was nice, a 6.4 mile walk total. It felt good to be walking after all the riding. I got a simple dinner at the Natural Cafe on State Street. It was nice to hang out a bit in Santa Barbara after the previous years on the tour where all we'd typically do is stay in the hotel, then leave the next morning.

Overall I was pleased with how I rode. I would have liked to have been able to last the full day, rather than running out of gas at the end of each of the three long days. But I'd not done any real intensity before the Berkeley Hills Road Race just 1.5 weeks before the tour, so it's natural the hard efforts would take a toll. That's how to get stronger: push yourself harder than you can handle, then adapt. Had I ridden at an endurance pace for the full day I would have just been reinforcing what was already a strength. Instead I recklessly threw myself at the climbs and beyond and was stronger there than I expected, even at the expense of suffering through the end of the days.

But despite these weak points, I recovered well. I drank a protein drink after each ride, rubbed my legs with my massage stick, then ate more carbohydrates after, elevating my legs against the wall. I was tired in the mornings but once I got some tea (mixed with more protein powder) and started riding I felt strong each day.

Next year is the 25th anniversary ride. Hopefully I'll be there. It will be the coastal route, a bit of a dice toss on the weather, but with a bit of luck I didn't have my one time doing that route a spectacular ride through Big Sur.

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