I was asked to ride for Team BootyStrong by Bryan McMillan. And so I accepted the invitation.
Arriving at registration, I made a “Memory bib” for Jake the Hero Grecco and asked a volunteer to write his name on my legs. I then took my position at the front of the group as survivors were asked to come up front to lead out the Survivor Lap.
Bryan McMillan honored Jake too
There was a DJ who introduced Basil Lyberg, Executive Director of 24 Hours who gave short remarks. After the National Anthem, we were off.
Credit: Mark Ricks
I hadn’t been on this 2.1 mile loop before and had no idea where we were going but followed one or two guys in front. After 1.5 miles and a slight downhill I could see the Start/Finish which had a half mile uphill “climb,” about a 4% grade. Here I took off just enough to be the first to complete the first lap. And then I rode.
I soon started catching people — lapping them — and almost immediately I saw Kevin Barnett, one of the Team San Francisco riders. Kevin and I rode together for a while but eventually I accidentally pulled away. But then I caught my Pedal Pal, Patrick Sheridan.
Patrick or Kevin and I, rode together most of the day. I also rode with Liz Kaplan, a 2011 alum of Team Seattle.
I had decided I would do 20 mile loops, 10 laps, and keep fresh. I stopped at 20, 40, and 60 miles. At 80 miles I pulled over for dinner then turned on the front light that I had borrowed to ride at night. For the next 10 laps I rode with Kelsey Jones, a cancer survivor.
Kelsey Jones. Credit: Mark Ricks
I also surpassed the 5,000 mile mark for the year, the earliest that I have ever hit 5,000 miles. Well, it was only the second time, and that was two years ago in late November.
Credit: Mark Ricks
After 120 miles, just before midnight, the light went out and so I pulled off and went to the midnight pizza party. With no front light, I called it a night and checked into my hotel (even though it was a primarily a camping event).
Night riding at Bootyville
And I’m glad I did. A storm came through and the course was closed for safety. After a short night’s sleep and the morning storm I came back and discovered my friends had left. But I found another friend and we rode for 25 miles. Then lunch. Then another 22 miles.
Although there were few people left at 2:00 p.m. I thought it was appropriate that I ride the last lap as well as the first. And we swept up any riders on course so that eight of us finished together. In a storm.
I was first and I was last.
Just as we finished the sky opened up and it was a matter of getting to the car safely.
After the 24 Hours I got home and signed up to do it again next year — this time riding for Jake’s Snazzy Pistols.
This was the last time. Write it down. I don’t ever need to do this again.
Although I had registered (and paid) for the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb back in February, as the week got closer I just wasn’t feeling it. With a crappy weather forecast pending, on Wednesday I canceled my three hotel reservations for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
On Thursday, I reevaluated and decided I would do it after all. I traveled yesterday to New Hampshire. I found a hotel and was on the road by 8:00 a.m. It’s probably not the best way to prepare for a race — no exercise and riding in a car all day long.
The Hillclimb requires every rider to have a ride down. And I didn’t have one. But that’s part of the charm of this race. Too late to pick up my packet at the Auto Road and meet someone in line willing to give a cyclist a ride down, I depended on an online forum. I posted my request at 7:00 a.m. and hoped that someone would call or text.
This year was different than the past five years. I didn’t worry about the hillclimb when I slept. It was just another night except for the early wake up call.
I arrived at registration early. Vic and Alison Gubinski and I met and talked for a while, all along while I was delaying them from going up too early and being too deep into the parking lots. It was a last-in-first-out operation. They took my bag of warm clothes and headed up the Auto Road.
Unlike years past, I wasn’t anxious or nervous. I knew the climb. I knew it would hurt. How much — I never remember from year to year. I think the mind prevents us from remembering too much pain.
While my group, the last group, was already queued up, I was still in shorts and tennis shoes. Rather than an extended warm-up ride, I settled for a quick one-mile spin. I got in line with about 30 seconds to go and took my place at the back of the group. I was the last of the last.
My goals remained simple. Finish. Don’t stop. Don’t crash.
I didn’t want to end my ride with a time that was worse than last year’s time but was resigned that time didn’t matter.
The starting gun went off and someone, near the back, asked if that was our group. I laughed. Yea, we weren’t moving. Although it may have taken just 20 seconds or so to roll out, it seemed much longer.
After a couple of hundred yards of flat the climb begins. And never stops. It’s 12% out of the box and just keeps it pegged there. I soon found where I belonged. Having started last I wasn’t in danger of being overtaken by anyone. It was just a matter of passing people. Eventually, I settled in — almost all of the race was in front of me and the folks I passed were behind me. I was slowly passing some of my green group but also was catching purple (5 minutes ahead), blue (10 min.), and yellow (15 min.).
But the race isn’t about people other people – except for the top 20 or 30 who are actually racing. It’s about you. You and the mountain.
Whether it’s mile one, two, or six, or every one of my 10,172 pedal strokes — at some point the body says to quit. Or in my case, almost the entire way. And today was no different. It’s always easier when everyone is moving even at the same pace. I found it much tougher when I pass people who are stopped or even slumped over their bikes. And I heard the clunking of gears behind me and then a scream of “oh shit!” as someone fell over. Been there.
Two things kept me going. One was the thought of Jake The Hero Grecco. When I wanted to quit I thought of the fighting spirit of this little boy who kept going. I even called out for a blue butterfly but at this altitude, nothing was taking flight. And I kept thinking that this will be the last time I make this climb and I could not stop.
The weather was about 70° (21C) at the base but was quickly too hot. As I climbed, especially above the tree line, it got much cooler. At the summit, it was in the low 40s (5C) but with no wind.
As I approached the base of the last 200 yards I saw Vic and heard the rest of the family cheering for me. That was nice. Although I didn’t see it at the time they had chalked my name on the pavement at the finish.
This was the only time that I actually raced. I had felt the presence of a rider coming up behind me and I didn’t want to get caught or passed at the finish. It makes for a bad photo. I lifted the pace and climbed up the 22% grade. I saw the clock and thought it was 2:02 (which was really 1:42) but it must have been 2:07.
As soon as I finished I was met at the top by Vic and his son, Lucas. Since they had my bag of warm clothes I quickly changed out of the jersey which was as full of sweat as any I can recall. I was sweating but with the cold air the jersey and gloves weren’t wicking so well. It was great to change into dry clothes. Down at the car I was able to shed the shorts too.
At first, I thought I had a personal best on the climb but then learned I didn’t. But my best time came when I was about five pounds less which does make a difference. But it doesn’t matter. But it wasn’t my worst time either. It was exactly in the middle.
There is an immerse feeling of satisfaction of crossing the finish line. But I’m not so sure that feeling is still greater than the suffering on the way up.
But it probably is.
Photo credits: If I’m in it, Vic Gubinski. But I took the ones at the bottom of the mountain.
EPILOGUE – On February 1, 2013, I received an email from Vic informing me that Alexa, Lucas and he all signed up for this year and asked me to go along. I was so looking forward to Hillclimb retirement. But I’ll go back. This next one will be my last hillclimb.
Mount Shasta is a long way from San Francisco. Who knew?
I came here for the Mount Shasta Summit Century. Having done four centuries in four days less than two weeks ago, I wasn’t worried about my fitness. I was, however, worried about my bike. I was on a borrowed bike – a steel Trek touring bike with bar-end shifters and 32cc tires. A flat one (tire) at that.
Grand Depart – 6:30 a.m.
That was not the best bike for climbing. Heavy and sluggish, I struggled with it the first 25 miles. And those were rollers.
Spillway at Lake Siskiyou
Deron Cutright and Tamy Quiqley had set me up with the bike for which I am thankful. I never look a gift bike in the mouth. I may make fun of it in a blog for all to see but I will never look it in the mouth.
The day started cool, low 60s, and with a few rain drops but not enough to say it was raining. It would warm up considerably throughout the day.
The first rest stop was in Weed, California, always a good place for some jokes. Up until then the road was best described as rollers although there was a six-mile descent – never a good thing at the beginning of a long ride. Those are best saved as rewards at the end.
Climbing back to the City of Mount Shasta, the first real climb began. The scenery was gorgeous. We were in a forest with each pedal stroke climbing higher amongst the rocks and trees. Behind me was a great view of Mount Shasta which I would see on the six mile descent after we turned around.
Climb up W. A. Barr Rd
After the descent we immediately began the climb to Crystal Lake. This was a climb which took us to more than a mile high. Strangely enough, the 14 minutes down, at 30 mph, seemed longer than the hour climb up the mountain.
Mt Shasta from W.A. Barr Rd
After 72 miles the sweetest was yet to come. On the cue sheet it appeared to be a 13 mile climb up to 7800′. However, I was out of time. Having stayed on East Coast time, and knowing it would be another 2 1/2 hours to climb and descend, I knew I didn’t leave myself enough time to safely drive back to the San Francisco airport.
My legs felt good. My lungs felt good. My bike? Not so good. My body clock? Awful.
Tamy Quiqley on W.A. Barr Rd.
Had I been on my own bike I think I would have foolishly taken the time and made the climb. Foolish because Mount Shasta is a long way from San Francisco and I had a flight to catch. I briefly even had a reservation for a red eye which I would not have made.
Railroad Tracks in City of Mount Shasta
Given those circumstances, I called it a day. I had to get on the road. As it was, I did not get to my airport hotel until midnight and I had a 6:00 a.m. flight — and return the rental car at 4:00 a.m.
I am very satisfied with the 72 miles. There was a time when I first started that I had to prove myself I could finish. Today I knew I could finish, even on the “Family Truckster” borrowed bike. I just didn’t have time. I doubt that I get to try this one again but would love to — on my own bike and with more time before my flight home.
Rodrigo Garcia and I met at the Mill Valley Community Center parking lot. We rode to meet the 4K for Cancer group on the last day of their 70 day journey across the U.S. and were surprised when they went by us in the opposite direction. We turned, gave chase, and caught them – because we could.
Ever since saying goodbye to the 4K in Manassas, Va., two 1/2 months ago, I thought about finishing with them. I felt that I started with them, from Baltimore to Alexandria, and then to Manassas, and that I should finish with them.
Patrick Sheridan and Barry Sherry
On the bike path I rode first behind Kelly Schofield. Her rear tire was split and looked as though it would blow at any time. I was horrified, knowing the risks one takes on bad tires. But a number of the 4K cyclists rode on tires as bad or even worse than Kelly’s. With pride.
But one need not have bad tires to cause a crash. On an easy roll out to San Francisco, Michael Wray crashed hard in Sausalito. No one seems to know why – one second he was upright and the next second he was down on the road. He had some pretty nasty road rash on his legs and arms and a busted lip. Ouch.
Michael Wray – Sucks to crash on the last day
We rode with the 4K to their photo ops on a foggy Vista Point and into Crissy Beach in San Francisco. Briefly riding up to Vista Point I rode again with Jeff Graves, Chris Chitterling, and Lauren Schoener. It was a reunion from the first day. Along with Patrick Sheridan, the four of them had been my riding partners the first day.
4K Team San Fran
It was also a bittersweet day for me. I started and finished the 4K as a Pedal Pal. The most inspirational Pedal Pal, Jake “The Hero” Grecco, did not finish. His health took a turn for the worse around Memorial Day. While he had hoped to be in Baltimore to meet his Pedal Pal, Chey Hillsgrove, he was too weak and tired. And just three days before the 4K ended, Jake passed away.
While the riders were wearing their 4K jerseys, I wore my special one. Cyclists Combating Cancer, I have written on the back “In Loving Memory, Jacob Grecco, 2004-2012.” I felt empowered riding with the 4K wearing Jake’s name.
My Jersey for Jake
I also met a Pedal Pal from Sausalito. She told me she found out about the 4K from an article in RoadBikeRider.com. Yes! I had contacted John Marsh about running an article seeking Pedal Pals and was very happy that it paid off.
4K on Crissy Beach, San Francisco
The riders enjoyed a closing ceremony — I said goodbye to my Pedal Pal, Patrick, and Rodrigo and I rolled back to Mill Valley.
Barry Sherry, Peter Bai, Rodrigo Garcia
Riding partners the day before
In Washington, D.C., I have to be mindful that many people on bikes are tourists and to be careful when riding near them. But Rodrigo and I both agreed that perhaps the single largest location for tourists to rent bikes is in San Francisco to ride over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Approaching the bridge I had a tourist stop in the bike path and turn his bike width-wise and block 3/4 of the lane. I put my foot down to avoid a crash. And on the bridge itself, Rodrigo had a tourist step back (taking a picture) into his path. When he swerved it was in my path and I hit him. How neither of us crashed hard on the bridge I’ll never know. Somehow we stayed up.
It was good to see the 4K finish. While their bicycle journey across the U.S. ended today, it is my hope that their journeys as cancer fighters never end.
Rodrigo Garcia and I met at the Mill Valley Community Center parking lot and rode up to Scout Hall where the 4K for Cancer group was staying. Upon arriving we asked if anyone wanted to go for a 40 mile tour of Marin Co. Only Peter Bai was willing to go with us.
It was cool if not cold. I wasn’t prepared for it expecting to ride in 90 degree weather each day. I should have remembered Mark Twain stating “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Thankfully, I had brought along my base layer jacket which I would wear.
We rolled through the communities of Mill Valley, Corte Madera, Ross, and Fairfax; Rodrigo being the perfect host pointing out tidbits of information. When we turned to ride up to Alpine Dam we all stopped and removed the outer wear we had on. Just a few miles north made all the difference in temperature. Thankfully, Peter had a bag on the back of his bike where he could stow my jacket.
I had rented a Trek 1.2 from Summit Bikes in San Rafael. It wasn’t set
up for climbing, at least for my climbing, and I soon knew it. I followed
Rodrigo’s wheel and at times it seems he was pedaling twice as fast
although we were going the same speed. He was spinning. I was mashing.
It was a very relaxing climb. The weather was perfect. The views were
gorgeous. And the company was superb! And we stopped to take pictures.
It really was a great day on the bike.
Peter Bai, Photographer
After having ridden about 25 miles Peter asked how far we were planning to ride. I told him 40 miles and he said “I thought you said four miles.” We laughed at him. A lot. He explained that he thought it would be four that turned into 10 so he never said a word. Now he was on the hook for 40.
The Pacific Ocean is under all that fog
After Alpine Dam we climbed up to Mt. Tam (Tamalpais) and that wasn’t so bad. Until we reached the summit or plateau. Then began a stretch known as the “Seven Sisters” and even Rodrigo thought there were more hills than seven. It was gorgeous here but the road dropped in maniac undulations, each climb taking a bigger toll on me.
To our right was the Pacific Ocean but all we could see were clouds of
fog below us. It was like flying above the clouds. Reaching the main intersection we could
continue to Mt. Tam State Park or start our descent. Here Peter would extract
his revenge. When Rodrigo asked if we should descend or go to the
State Park, Peter said “let’s ride.”
I was hoping the road was simply a summit road but it wasn’t. More climbing. It featured some crazy sections of 18% grade. We were rewarded with a view of San Francisco – covered by fog. Couldn’t see a thing other than the tower on Pacific Heights sticking through the clouds.
We turned and headed back, mindful that we also had some screaming descents on the way to the park. We had to climb out of here before descending.
Once back to the intersection where it was still warm, we stopped and followed Rodrigo’s direction to put our warm clothes back on. That was backwards in that usually most mountains are cool and the valleys are warm, Mt. Tam was warm because it was above the clouds and fog. Once we started the descent it got cold. The closer we got to Mill Valley the colder it got. The winds blew in from off the ocean making handling the bikes tricky.
Overlooking Mill Valley
I was disappointed I couldn’t go faster on that Trek – but I made it. Back at Scout Hall, we celebrated by going to In-N-Out Burger – a perfect way to end the day.