Ryan Hamilton // Big Epic
TL;DR That was, in fact, epic!
Wow, that was hard! :) Leaning up to the ride, I was apprehensive about being able to follow the route which included some sections I was not familiar with. On a long road ride, I can print out the turn by turn directions for a worst-case scenario. I attempted to do that with this route and discovered that it included advice like, "turn on null. continue on null". Thanks Strava! I decided that in addition to having the route on my Garmin Edge 530, I'd also carry my Wahoo Elemnt Bolt and have it record the ride and follow the route, too. This turned out to be a good decision!
A few days before the ride, the forecasted temp was a comfortable 75º. However, on the day of the ride, the forecast was a less pleasant 79º. As it turns out, even that was optimistic!, but I didn't know that yet.
When I got to the start, I pressed start on my GPSes and rolled to the start of the trail. Almost immediately, my Garmin told me to do a U-Turn. This was clearly wrong. I was obviously on the right trail going in the right direction. I probably rode for 20 minutes before the Garmin finally realized I was going the right way. But this would be a theme for the day.
The ride started out well enough. The climb to Rancho Canada del Oro was gorgeous! It was also a hard enough climb, but totally worth it! When I got to the top and was able to look down into the valley, it was covered in a thick blanket of fog. Absolutely spectacular! Perhaps ominously, the temperature had already hit 80º. Also ominously, I had been unable to ride the hairpin turns on the climb and needed to dismount and remount. There were only a few but each one burned some matches and revealed that my bike handling skills might be inadequate for the Santa Teresa section, which I knew would be tough.
The descent down into Calero was great, as always. Managed to eat and drink both bottles by the time I got to the parking lot where I refilled both with water and Nuun tablets. It felt great to get on the smooth tarmac for the ride up Country View. I'd ridden that on a road bike before and thought it was crazy steep. Having ridden it on a mountain bike, I still think it is crazy steep! :) Got to the top and discovered that there were actually two different shipping containers covered with graffiti. Hopefully, I picked the right one! The fence at the top was surprisingly tall. I wasn't quite sure if I was doing it right, but YOLO.
Riding up to Coyote Peak was beautiful as always and it was a pleasant, if punchy, ride to the start of Stiles Ranch Trail. But here was where things took a turn for the miserable. I knew Stiles Ranch was rocky and suspected that I'd end up walking it. It was, in fact, rocky and I did, in fact, end up walking. This was somewhat demoralizing but since I thought this might happen I worked to stay positive. I did notice that with all the pushing, my hamstrings felt a bit funny. More on that later. When I got to the end of the trail I was feeling pretty good! I managed to ride back to the back of the park for the final section. This killed me. Much of that trail included sections which were steep enough that I wasn't sure I could ride up them without coming off the bike so I preemptively walked the bike. This was a safe choice, but I could feel that it was really working my hamstrings. And worse, getting started riding again in a low gear going uphill was challenging. I burned all sorts of matches and wasted all kinds of time. I mostly HATED this part of the ride!
But eventually it was over and I rode back through Calero and over to Quicksilver. At this point I was feeling excited. I'd finished the parts of the ride that I was the most intimidated by and I had managed to eat and drink enough that I felt like I was in good shape. On the other hand, I knew from the course notes that there would be no more opportunities to get water for the next 25 miles. With the temperature rising steadily, I was not sure how this would turn out. I had two 750ml bottles on my bike which I drank the rest of and refilled with water and Nuun tablets. I had two more tablets which I looked forward to using when I returned on the way home.
The climb up Mine Hill Trail is one of my favorites and I enjoyed it tremendously. But it was really getting warm at this point. My Garmin was telling me it was 85ºF. Ugh! I drank about half a bottle by the time I got to the top. This was an ominous indication that hydration was going to be a real concern. The next section descending down to Mt. Um Road was unfamiliar to me, so I had to rely on the Garmin. For a while the navigation was fine, then it was confused, then I needed to do a U-Turn again. I took out the Bolt and the navigation was spot on. I'm SO glad I brought it. About half way down the descent I got a "Heat Advisory" warning on my Garmin. Well then!
I finally got to Mt Um Road and started the climb which I have ridden many times on my road bike. I was going much slower today :) I finished the rest of my first bottle before I got to the dirt. But I was relieved that the grade decreased a bit as I started to climb on the trails. But again, I couldn't ride the hair pins and burned piles of matches getting off, pushing, and getting back on. My left hamstring was really twingy at this point and I downed a 3x sodium Margarita Cliff Block. This helped immediately. But other than my remaining drink tabs, this was the last of the really salty stuff I had :/ I got to the top, well to the road closure since I was riding on a weekday, and it felt as awesome as always.
I could tell though, that I wasn't riding at 100%. At this point I was down to my last half of a bottle for the entire ride back to the Quicksilver parking lot. The Mt Um Road descent was delightful as always! Getting back on the trail, my Garmin was again flummoxed about where I was and where I needed to go. *sigh* The Bolt wasn't, thankfully, and so I pushed on. By the time I got to the furnace ruins, my Garmin told me it was 95ºF and I was completely out of water. Oh boy!
After taking the obligatory selfie, my Garmin was *completely* useless for telling me where to go. The Bolt had no problems and I got riding again. Soon, I hooked up to Quicksilver trails I was familiar with. At this point I just kept counting the miles/minutes until the descent to the lot where I could coast to some more water. I enjoyed this section even though it was a bit grim! I was thrilled to finally reach the descent! I'd finished the hard part of the course, and would get some water and cruise to the finish. However, when I got to the parking lot I was dismayed to discover that my two remaining tables must have fallen out on the trail (probably when I reached into my pocket to take out a gel). UGH! I really needed some salt. I drank an entire bottle of water and downed a couple more cliff blocks.
Entering Calero again, I was clearly tired and not able to push the pedals as hard as I had previously but I knew the rest of the route and it'd be no problem. I was feeling good. At one point on the Lisa Killough Trail, I even managed to pass two other fit looking bikers. That felt like a major win. However, once I got to the short steep ramps at the end of the Oak Cove Trail, my left hamstring camped up completely. I had to get off the bike to stretch it out and eventually rode with 1 leg for a few minutes until it calmed down. But the same thing happened on the next two ramps and I ended up doing more walking. ARGH! Sure would have liked some more salt!
But finally I got onto the road and knew I'd have no problem riding the last few miles to the finish. I've ridden this section of McKean most mornings during COVID and was looking forward to a peaceful cruise. However that was not the case. It was literally continuous traffic the entire time. I'm not sure if this is typical rush hour traffic or if there had been an accident on 101 but whatever the case, it was non-stop cars. It felt great to finally get onto Casa Loma and out of traffic. At that point I got another alert on my Garmin. This time for an "Excessive Heat Warning"
But I nonetheless made it back to the lot. It had been more than 8 hours since I left, which was about what I was targeting. That was a hell of a ride. I was looking forward to getting home and having a nice cold beer!