Dave Cohen // Grand Epic
“Why don’t you do a shorter route today?” my wife asked. It was 5AM Easter morning and I had been tossing and turning all night, eventually getting about two hours of sleep before my alarm went off.
“It’s better to finish a shorter route than to not finish the long one,” she added.
“I don’t plan on not finishing.”
I stepped out of the car just after 6AM at the REI parking lot, trading my hoodie for a vest. I knew I’d only need it for about an hour, but it was 41 degrees out. Cold enough for a vest I figured.
I ran through the ride plan in my head:
1) Ride easy for the first 8 hours
2) Eat as much as possible
3) Rest as little as possible
A simple plan, but even simple plans can be hard to execute.
“I don’t plan on not finishing.” Those words came back to haunt me on the very first gravel section. It had rained the day before, and within seconds my tires were caked with mud. The sticky kind of mud. The kind that just gets thicker and thicker the farther you go. It clogged between the frame and the tires and I had to stop and scrape down the bike. There’s no way I was going to finish iif all the gravel was going to be like this. I decided to make a call to abandon the ride depending on how things went in Quicksilver.
I made it to Shannon Road and was pelted by mud flying off the tires for the next couple miles. I looked down; 1 hour in, 12 miles. I started to second guess my pacing strategy – this was supposed to be the fast part of the ride and I’m only averaging 12mph. This was going to be a long day.
After passing through Santa Teresa, I made a pit stop at Calero to top off my hydration pack before embarking on the first big climb of the day. The loop through Quicksilver was enjoyable, and mostly anticlimactic - some wet spots but none of the cakey mud I had encountered earlier. I made it to San Cristobal Tunnel, the first selfie stop, in high spirits and continued towards Sierra Azul Open Space. Right before the last pitch out of Quicksilver, I hit a deep mud patch – a little parting gift from the gravel gods. This time it coated my wheels and drivetrain and I had to spend a lot of time scraping it out of the derailleurs.
I didn’t plan on not finishing, but maybe the day had different plans for me.
After that, shifting was rough and my drive train sounded like it was full of rocks. Nevertheless, the Woods Trail climb went by fairly quickly. With sections hitting 20% grade It was hard to stick to the “ride easy” part of my plan, but I worked my way to the top, through the Kennedy rollers, and to the second selfie stop.
The ride down Kennedy was a nice mental break and the trail was just starting to get busy. I hit the paved section and flew down into Los Gatos, making a pit stop at Summit Cycles to pick up a small bottle of chain lube and refill my now empty hydration pack.
The drivetrain was working beautifully when I headed off towards St. Josephs and then out around Alma Bridge Road. From here it was out towards Black Road for the start of the second KOM segment. At the bottom of Black there was another cylict taking a break with enough gear & water I guessed he was also riding an Epic today. I gave a cheery hello and began the 2,300’ climb to Skyline & the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
Black Road and John Nicholas Trail weren’t too busy and passed fairly uneventfully. The weather was starting to warm up and the trails were in perfect shape.
I was stoked when I got to the top of JNT - the two biggest climbs of the day were in the bag! But my shoulders and back were starting to ache and I laid down for a few minutes to stretch.
I had decided to run 650b x 2.1” tires today and the singletrack along the Ridge Trail was supposed to be the fun part. Instead, I was picking my way through trying to rest a bit. Running low on water, I made another stop at Castle Rock parking lot and stretched a bit more.
From here the trail is mostly downhill, and once I hit Saratoga Gap I was getting a bit of a second wind. I stopped briefly at Turtle Rock for the third selfie and admired the clear view out to the Pacific Ocean.
The ride through Long Ridge was gorgeous, and I was looking forward to getting out to Montebello Open Space. The next obstacle ahead of me was Sunny Jim, which is a beast of a trail any time, but especially today with almost 12k feel of climbing in my legs.
“Sunny” implies some sort of enjoyable, light-hearted experience - pretty much the exact opposite of what it’s actually like to ride Sunny Jim. I alternated riding and walking the steeper parts passing some folks out for afternoon hikes. One of them quipped, “This would be a great ad for an e-bike!” as I grunted up the hill past him at about 2mph with sweat dripping off my face. Thanks for that.
After refilling my water again at the David C Daniels Nature Center, I made my way out to Black Mountain. My plan was to open it up when I hit Bella Vista and go as hard as I wanted, but at this point I didn’t have a lot left in the tank. I stuck with my conervative pace and tried to focus on enjoying the view.
I’m used to seeing a lot of people at the top of Black Mountain but today it was cold and deserted. I ate a bar, grabbed my selfie, and then started off on the long descent down Indian Joe & Canyon Trail. It was getting dark under the trees, but the miles flew by and I soon found myself on Stevens Canyon Road. On the paved bit I hit a pothole so hard that my saddle shifted underneath me (ouch). I stopped again at the intersection with Mt Eden to adjust it before rolling out to Fremont Older.
Fremont Older: last climb of the day. Mentally, I knew it was going to be the toughest. I had set a goal of 12 hours for this ride and with all the unexpected stops it was going to be close. I pushed hard from here on out. The park was busy with families, hikers, and dog walkers so I had to take the singletrack cautiously. As I crested the last climb, I smiled knowing it was all downhill from here.
I flew down Pierce Road and picked up the gravel along the railroad tracks. At this point my Wahoo died – 3 measly miles from the finish. I quickly pulled out my phone and started recording on Strava so I could splice the two gpx tracks together later. I couldn’t tell if I was going to make my 12 hour goal at this point - I thought I probably missed it, but I kept pushing hard on the pavement back to the parking lot.
I was super happy to get back to the car, and thrilled to have completed this ride despite my tired legs and aching back. This was the most elevation I’ve ever done in a single day, and probably one of my hardest efforts to date. Although I was surprised how easily most of it went by, which is a credit to sticking (somewhat) well to the pacing plan.
I had spent a lot of time debating wheel and tire choices before the ride. Do I go with 700c or 650b? At the end of the day I think the 650s probably slowed me down overall but, on the other hand, I rode the singletrack pretty hard and didn’t have a rim strike the entire ride. Having confidence to ride fast through the rocks and roots without the fear of flatting is nice peace of mind on big days like these.
“I don’t plan on not finishing.” I was worried I jinxed myself that morning but I made it through a long, hard day in the saddle through an epic mix of road, gravel, and singletrack. And I still had enough energy to hobble over to Red Robin for a burger and a couple beers.
Oh, and when I stitched together my GPX files that night, I had finished the ride in 11:59:04 – 56 seconds under goal. My actual moving time was under 11 hours; a good goal for next year, if I can stick to the plan.