Harold Russell // Big Epic
I’m trying to recall how I got myself into this. It’s a theme that crossed my mind more than once during the ride, ...particularly on the climbs.
...It’s my friend Brian’s fault, clearly, when he said something to the effect of “I’m looking at doing this crazy long race in May that I’m not in shape for. ...I don’t expect you to want to try to do anything this ridiculous with so little time to train for it” True, at that point in February a long and hard ride for me would be 14 miles and 2000’ of climbing, but doing things that I am not trained for has kinda been my lifelong MO, so my totally rational response was something like “ok, great, what are we doing and when?” I think it was after he mentioned the 10k+ of climbing and 73 miles of distance that I had the first thoughts of “what have I done?”
I did, to my defense, try to train for this ride, but there was a lot of ground to cover both literally and figuratively. It has been many years since I’ve done a truly long ride, and I actually don’t think I’ve ever done this distance and elevation gain on a single effort mtb ride. As I ran out of May to get the miles in, I tried to check out as much of the whole course as I could on May 21st. I had now seen all of the course, but discovered that I absolutely did not have a handle on the balance of water/electrolytes/calories and effort! I started fast for me and ended barely walking with leg searing cramps. I opted not to even do the last bits of Calero since I had seen them before and I wasn’t sure I’d make it back to the road.
I resolved to try it again over Memorial Day weekend (Weather dictated that it would be Saturday the 29th) ...This time taking it easy and bringing electrolytes, with my main goal being just to finish. I had good intentions of an early start to avoid the crowds, but wasn’t able to get away earlier, so it was something of a crack-of-nine departure… I realized as I was about to head out that my front shock was super low on air and I probably erred on the side of adding a little too much since I didn’t want to carry the pump). (yes, I brought a full suspension bike to a gravel race… If I ever end up with (n minus 2) bicycles, I would love to get a gravel bike!)
I headed down Casa Loma road (I hope that weird little jaunt down the road and U-turn back up was part of the course!) and noticed a strange noise coming from my front wheel, I stopped at the bottom of Mayfair and pulled off my front wheel, figured that my pads had gotten pushed out a bit in the car and were rubbing… In hindsight, that was probably worth fixing and restarting, but it wasn’t super bad, so I threw the wheel back on and headed up Mayfair. I was trying to keep it mellow, but probably pushed it harder up Mayfair and Longwall than I really should have for the overall day. I saw turkeys, brush bunnies, quite a few young deer and at least one turkey vulture watching me closely.
Descending down into Calero was predictably busy and I had to scrub speed many times to not terrorize the folks making their way up. This section of trail is one of my new favorites in the Bay area, but you sure have to work for it! I made good time both to and up the dam hill, but Cottle was fairly congested by then. I emerged onto the pavement and zipped over to Country View drive for the slog to the top of Santa Teresa Park. My second fastest time (out of 3) up Country View Dr, but it didn’t feel terrible. I snapped my selfie at the second shipping container and this time didn’t drop my bike on its derailleur! I also took a bonus selfie on the bonus loop with the scenic overlook at the top of Coyote Peak. When I reached the main Santa Teresa parking lot I filled my Perpetuem bottle with water. In hindsight, I probably didn’t need to be carrying 3L of water plus a bottle of calories (I had read some of the accounts of running dry on this ride and I didn’t want that to happen to me!) Stiles was a bit bouncy with my slightly overfilled fork and I nearly lost my energy mix flask, but it was super fun and probably the only part of the ride where my helmet and bike made sense. I had to enjoy it! I took it easy heading back up into Santa Teresa knowing that the heinous Ohlone climb was coming. So, moderation and hydration for the win... I did not have to walk Ohlone/ Coyote Peak this day! (That bit is hands down my least favorite leg of the race! ugggggh!)
Crossing over to Calero and on to the Almaden Quicksilver’s Hacienda entrance. Here I took on more water. I’m not sure where I squandered the hour delta between my riding time and my overall time, but watching that faucet dispense water so slowly felt like a good hour each time! After reloading the ballast tanks on my pack with water and looking up at the mountains and again questioning my choices, I headed up for Uhmunhum. I moved pretty quickly though Mine hill and up to the Rotary furnace… Speaking of furnaces, it was feeling hot by this point and I snapped a selfie at the furnace as I wasn’t 100% sure if I was supposed to do it on the way up or down. I also snapped a video of a nice snake who had paused on my way. (I encouraged him to find a better offroad spot for sunning)
Umunhum itself felt pretty terrible. It felt hot in the sun, ...really hot. I feel for those who had to do this after the temps went past the 80s! It was nice in the shade, but I felt like I was cooking when exposed! The single track to the top still felt slow and difficult, but at least this time I wasn’t cramping and walking. I may have relaxed a bit too much at the summit, I probably would have been better off taking a selfie at the gate. I think I took about 8 of them at the proper summit and enjoyed sitting on the nice cool concrete for a bit too long.
The ride down was a blur but I enjoyed the view of the Pacific on the little climb around the back side. I did get stuck behind a Prius on the way down, but didn’t feel like pushing the envelope or the law by passing it. I hoisted my bike over the gate at the Wood road trail and then on towards the furnace again. There were some squirrely ruts just before going uphill again that gave me a bit of a scare, but I kept the rubber side down.
I grabbed my second selfie at the furnace and was able to stay on the bike up that last steep section before heading down the long downhill into Almaden Quicksilver. Happy that my nutrition and electrolyte balance seemed to be holding. No cramps, no walking and no nearly throwing up, so better than before! I descended a little slower than I probably could have but was feeling cautious. Tired but solid weaving through the Randol trail and soon I was back at the slow water fountain at the Hacienda parking lot again! I still had 1.5L plus of water left, so I wasn’t close to the edge at all for water supply. Refilled my Perpetuem mix bottle and off again.
By now I could tell I was eventually going to make it. My pace quickened into Calero and on those familiar trails I had either PRs or 2nd fastest times. At one point I was chased by an angry momma turkey! The last hills leaving Calero were nasty, but I didn’t plan to start walking now, so I slogged over them and out onto the pavement. I really don’t care for the road section of McKean as the shoulder is terrible and I was feeling pretty tired. I snapped a pic of the “Still Plays with Tractors” sign at the junction with Casa Loma and then rolled along back to the parking area. Super happy to be done!