Dave Cohen // Big Epic
I step out of the car into a cold mist. It’s 7am on the dot and there are already two other cars in the parking lot. I’ve decided to ride the course today on my hardtail mountain bike optimizing for comfort over raw efficiency - it’s going to be a long day. As I pull the bike off my bike rack, I begin to realize it’s pretty cold out here and wonder if my sun covers might serve double duty as arm warmers this morning. I grab my saddle bag from the car - between a full size 29” tube, CO2 cartridges, and a multitool it weighs about a pound. Do I really want to be carrying all that extra weight today? I don’t expect any punctures on these trails but better safe than sorry; on the bike it goes. Quick stop for a selfie, and then we’re off.
About a minute into the Mayfair Ranch climb, my legs are yelling at me and I’m no longer worried about being cold. Maybe I should have warmed up a bit. As I wind my way up the trail, the grass is scattered with spider webs covered in dew and I'm guided by gnarled Valley Oaks looming in the mist. By the time I hit the first peak and begin to descend, my legs are feeling pretty good. There’s no one out here this morning so I let it rip. Bunnies hop in and out of the brush along the edge of the trail. Run, bunnies! I’m having too much fun to slow down.
Climbing again, I turn onto Longwall Canyon Trail and can’t help but smile at how appropriate the name is. I’ve never noticed that before. Pushing farther up the oaks begin to give way to manzanita, the deep red bark glistening like rubies in the fog. As I crest onto Bald Peak, I’m in the clouds. Trees overhead drip huge drops of water onto the trail and I’m forced to take off my glasses. Visibility is pretty low, so I take it easy making my way to the Cottle Trail downhill. This descent is always super fun and, although I don’t feel like I’m moving that fast, I end up PRing it by about a minute and a half.
Down in Calero, I’m back below the fog. I start to encounter a few other bikers as I make my way out of the park. I push through the cattle gate and find cows grazing lazily along the side of the trail.
When I hit McKean Road, I’m feeling pretty good. Maybe today won’t be so hard after all. I make my way up Country View Road, past gaudy mansions in varying stages of construction set atop barren brown hills. Overlooking the Calero Reservoir, the views should be amazing but it just feels sad and lonely. I wonder if the people who bought these monstrous houses are happy. At the top I pick my way over the garbage and broken glass out to the graffitied shipping container. There are empty spray paint cans on the ground - someone has been here recently. I snap a couple photos and climb the gate into Santa Teresa.
I used to really enjoy mountain biking in Santa Teresa but I get no joy out of it today. The mud-cracked trails strewn with rocks are a harsh contrast to the smooth gravel and hardpack in Calero & Canada del Oro. I make my way through the course here, across the rock gardens in Stile Ranch and up the steep pitches of Coyote Peak. At least I didn’t have to get off and walk. By the time I hit Fortini Road I’m about 3 hours in. A coyote trots across the road and into the field in search of a snack. The fog has burned off and I’m looking forward to my road spin out to Quicksilver.
I take a quick break at the Quicksilver parking lot to refuel and refill on water. About half way done with the ride and I’m feeling great. This is the start of the 3000’ climb up to the Cube and in an effort to save some weight I decide not to completely fill up. I’ll come to regret that decision later.
The Quicksilver gravel climb was fairly enjoyable in contrast to the 26% grades at Santa Teresa. I expected the paved section of the Umunhum climb to be the toughest mentally, so I throw it into granny gear and focus on keeping my legs moving. This was the 2nd KOM segment but I calculate that keeping an easier pace here was going to help me better survive the rest of the ride. I hit the singletrack and was grateful for the shade. Picking your way towards the top, you get these little peeks at the Cube through the branches and every time it’s just a little bit bigger until it looms right over you and the trail spits you out onto the pavement just below the viewpoint. Quick standing climb to the top and it’s selfie time. My feet are starting to hurt so I take my shoes off for a minute and relax in the shade. It’s here that I realize I’m almost out of water so I get moving again and try to ration it.
I fly down the paved descent and my brakes squeal into the corners. I just replaced the pads and maybe I should have used organic ones. Oh well, suck it up. I’m at the bottom in about 15 minutes and back into Quicksilver making my way to the Rotary Furnace for the 4th selfie. It’s here that my water runs out. I’ll be able to refill back at the parking lot, but that’s almost 10 miles away.
I start my loop through Quicksilver. It’s hot and the trail is sunny and exposed. I put my head down, go slow, and try to ignore how thirsty I’m getting. I wonder how many pioneers died of thirst in these hills?
After what seems like forever, I’m back at the parking lot and filling up on water. A guy on a bike with no saddle comes to talk with me about his dreams of doing the Hawaii Ironman. Riding a bike with no saddle is just like doing a plank. He Googled the world record for the longest plank and it’s 8 hours. He only needs to do 4 for the Ironman. He demonstrates how heavy his aero carbon wheels are. He tells me all about his training regimen and how he had just beat a guy up the climb who was riding a ten speed. He invites me to ride with him one day. I wait for his story to end but it doesn’t, so I hop on my bike and ride off. I’m on the clock.
15 miles to go. This should be the easy part but after 9000’ of climbing I’m beat. The temps are in the 80s and I’m happy I started the day so early. I spin through New Almaden back toward Calero. I look back half expecting to see Mr Ironman following me, but I’m alone.
The Lisa Killough Trail is one I usually love to rally, but I’m just sitting and spinning through it now. By the time I hit Oak Cove I’m starting to enjoy myself again. 5 miles later, I’m in the Calero parking lot and beginning the road ride back to the car. I was hoping to break 8 hours which means I have 18 minutes to make it. I worry that my time spent listening to Mr Ironman may cause me to miss my goal, but I make it in the end (just barely)!
My feet are killing me but otherwise I feel pretty decent. I knew nutrition was going to be a big deal so I focused on eating regularly throughout the ride and staying on top of my electrolytes. I throw on the A/C in the car and upload my ride to Strava. It was an epic day… I could really go for a cold beer right now!