We started off in a mass, with almost 130 riders hitting the trail at the same time While the snake wound its way through the trails it was a bit eerie to see so many riders at once as well as so much light on the trail. Somehow I ended up in the fast group, which was both a blessing and a curse. The best comment of the day started early when we got to the main creek crossing and the rocks forced everyone to dismount and walk a short distance. “We’ve hardly started the ride and we’re already walking Walnut Creek …”
We hit the streets and started heading for Shoal Creek as a mass of bikes. The lights allowed us to regroup slightly, so the pack was tight and moving quickly. When we got down below 2222 I saw the group from Big Pig racing all on singlespeeds. They were spinning like crazy trying to keep up with a group that was moving at 15-20 MPH. When we got to the greenbelt, the first bottleneck occurred. Everyone was trying to hit the stairs and the smart people realized there were several ways down. I followed a group of them on a right flank, around the stairs, back out to the road, where we were able to rejoin with the ride at the trailhead. Taking the pressure off that bottleneck probably helped the people further back in the group.
Once we hit the main trail it was a pretty fast ride up. You could tell the out of towners/inexperienced because we kept hearing “is this the turn” at places that were clearly not part of the route (or even parts of the trail.) Clearly doing a few pre-rides would help, but not everyone can make them.
Going up Rudy’s I hit my pedal about 2/3 of the way up the first climb. That stumble had about 10 riders passing me in just a few seconds. Clearly we were still in the thick of things. When we hit the Stonewall entrance I almost missed it because I was used to taking another way down. Autopilot error; the red tape was a lifesaver. I good tip is to stop and take a leak at the creek crossing, I was able to slip out and get back in line, hardly missing any time.
Easy up was easy, but the marking for the upper section to the gravel pit was hard to see; I think this is why people hit the wrong trail and ended up on washtub. When Hoss and I made it to the gravel pit, we took our first break. It was 20+ miles in at this point and we had a quick bite and then got right back at it. Halfway down Jedi my light battery came loose and I lost Hoss, be he was kind enough to wait for me at the dam.
After crossing over we had the Hill of Life. I rode the bottom section, but when it started to get too lose and sketchy I started walking. Halfway up I ran into my neighbor who was out to cheer on some friends, that was a nice motivator. Once we hit the top by Catwalk and Dumptruck/Scenic I hopped on and rode the rest of the way to the top. As we hit the street, I said “I can’t believe I am actually happy to be on the road again.” That would be the first of many times that day that I would utter those words. What actually makes the ride bearable is that it is compartmentalized. Ride some trail. Ride some road. Once you are sick of one, the next one comes along for a change of pace.
Having done 360 many times in training rides, that was simple, with a great crepe stop in the middle. Upon hitting Courtyard we started climbing mode again. I rode 75% of it and bailed for the last 100 feet of climbing. Somehow pushing a bike was almost as much work. The burst of speed down to City Park Road was sucked up by the climb, with a switch to foot transportation about halfway up. I always forget how long City Park Road is, it’s several miles, mostly downhill to the trail. That’s the bad news, you have to climb back out.
We took our second stop at the beginning of City Park and then hit the trail hard. I found that after ~40 miles of riding a lap at CP is pretty difficult. While I had to walk a few of the climbs that I can normally nail without thinking, when it came to the total lap time, someone said we were around an hour, so that was nice. Another quick Gatorade stop on the way out and then back to City Park Road. If you have not pre-ridden this, it is demoralizing. A gradual climb that is steep, but not noticeably so. As you ride it you can’t believe how slow it feels, despite the fact that you are ~55% through with the ride. This is the first time that the ride takes its toll on you. It’s all about adrenaline until you head north.
Heading down the hill Hoss shot past me like I was standing still. My top speed was 40.2 MPH on the ride, clearly that is where I nailed it. (I think he hit 50). At the bottom we burned 5 minutes waiting for a green light. The key there is making sure that you leave some room for the cars behind you to pull on to the magnet.
On Jester I said I would climb to the first driveway past the convenience store and then walk. I managed that, walked a while, then got back on near the top as it flattens out and you don’t have a blind curve behind you. Bombing down Beauford is a bit sketchy because the pavement grating keeps you from maintaining control if you get going too fast.
When we hit 360 led us across the grass and up the southbound shoulder instead of crossing over. There were several riders waiting at the light on Lakewood to cross over and we saved time both there, and at the other end where they would need to wait again. Also, going northbound on the southbound shoulder actually felt safer as you could see the vehicles and not have to worry about someone behind you. My ass was starting to get sore.
We went up Spicewood Springs and headed up St. Ed’s. I always forget how much that trail sucks. It is a loose rocky climb that in spots we walked out of exhaustion. At the top we took the turn along the fenceline to head back. I had not taken the fenceline or the cliff line in any of my training runs, so I was taken back by how sketchy it had become. Once or twice I lost traction, there were lots of stops to get over roots and whatnot. Felt like riding Rattlesnake on the greenbelt.
From there we headed back up Spicewood Springs to Yaupon. I decided halfway up the first half of Yaupon to walk it. When I got to Duranta I hopped back on to ride the rest of it. Then we hit the rest stop at Thumper. I have only had 2 regular cokes in the last 20 years. One at the start of Thumper and one at the end. Thumper is a beast. It is the deepest darkest point on the ride. 4.7 miles, and it seems like half the ride is in the first mile. I was 58 miles into the ride when I hit the start of Thumper and decided that I was not going to risk anything stupid. I walked a lot, even the switchbacks that turn back on themselves. I could have cut over but I didn’t want to have a hollow victory if I finished, I wanted the whole thing.
When I got to the final jeep road and the last set of switchbacks I was practically walking all of it. I was wishing I could just walk the jeep road up but again, do it right or don’t do it at all.
After coming out of that hellhole I thought I had ~30 minutes to Walnut Creek. Nope, it is 45 minutes. And Parmer sucks. At this point I was all alone, I never saw another rider and I was pretty sure I was on the right path, but never 100% sure until I hit Parmer. The traffic is just as heavy as 360, but on Parmer there are no scenic views, just suburban blight and strip malls. I hammered as hard as I could to get off of that and into WC.
Earlier in the ride our average time was close to 9MPH or so, and I was hoping to finish in under 10 hours. That hope was dashed when I exited Thumper to a 7.2MPH average. So as I neared Walnut Creek I made the strategic decision. I knew I could not finish it in under 10 hours because I would have to do the whole thing is less than 40 minutes. So I said it’s time for the victory lap, just slow down and don’t kill yourself.
I hit Walnut Creek on autopilot. I was telling Hoss earlier that I have done well over 1000 laps at City Park in my life and could ride it in my sleep. Walnut Creek is similar and it suddenly felt like a Tuesday night. Casual lap around the park. I probably did a few extra sections (ending with 79.3 total miles) because I just went off muscle memory at that point.
When I headed up to the finish line, my wife and dog were waiting for me there. It was great to see them and even better to have an ice cold beer waiting for me. With as much work as the training and ride were, I’m very inclined to do it again.
I can’t say enough good things about the people that organized the ride and those that came out to volunteer. This was a HUGE undertaking and if they hadn’t given their all, we could not have. What a great day, looking forward already to Enchilada Buffet 2015.