Ryan Mullen // Grand Epic

Time heals all wounds. Took me a few weeks to recover from this over-the-top ride and relive the highs and lows to memorialize the ride for the ride report. So let’s go back under the knife.

Since I know the man behind the route, I know firsthand what kind of pain he is capable of. Just stitching together a few Strava segments together to make the epic bigger and grander sounds easy. It’s not. The routes are designed to show you the best of the South Bay, while pushing your mental fortitude.

Last year I did the Big Epic, required to be solo, which made the event tough. This year, with friends allowed to join, I was looking forward to partnering misery with company. I had a few friends lined up to join me, however the April rain required me to reschedule and do the Epic solo again. I was also planning to ride the Big Epic but was bated into doing the Grand Epic.

I got a bit of a late start, departed civilization at 7:40 AM on a Monday. I celebrated a friend’s 40th a little too late into the night two nights prior, so my sleep routine was off heading into the event. Not great, but I would be suffering regardless of my choice to fist bump late into the night (giving me a clinically diagnosed sore neck). No more prefacing with the state of my body. . .back to the ride. I’ve been on most of these trails, so I had a nervous and knowing energy going into the ride. The first climb of Harwood Road is a perfect introduction to the toughness that would lie ahead. A short but very steep hill that dumps you onto a cul-de-sac and back down a serpentine gravel trail into Santa Rosa Open Space, part of a trio of Open Spaces (adjoining Heintz and Shannon Valley) that separates the Los Gatos neighborhoods from the wilderness of the Santa Cruz Mountains (and the so-called albino mutants that live there).

Onto Calero and my third bottle of water.

Next up, Quicksilver. The mercury began to rise. I thought to myself that I should get through this section keeping a good tempo. Passing through Quicksilver and circling Mt. Umunhum is a challenge. The Woods trail is great for gravel bikes just until it isn’t. The section approaching Mt. El Sombroso is not meant to be traversed using anything but hiking shoes. I lost energy each time I dismounted the bike to push it up the trail covered in loose chert and cinnabar. The decent along the Kennedy Trail is tough. Another Grand Epic rider, Craig, put it best: it’s just like holding onto a jack hammer for hours. Like all the other segments on this route, they are all doable when part of a smaller ride, but when combined with the other segments, it is punishing.

After circumventing Lexington Reservoir (and a logical person’s route to get to the next climb), I started ascending Black Road. I made it to Lake Ranch and took my first meal break. Probably should not have stopped as long as I did. I looked up the other Bay Area Epic routes to see if I could “change my mind” and do the Mini Epic instead. Calmer minds prevailed and I talked myself back into finishing what I started. The John Nicholas Trail, affectionally known as the JNT to locals, was the last time I would see a human being for hours. Making it to Skyline Blvd. feels like a great feat. Time to just roll along the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Well it had been too long since I last road the Skyline Trail as it is much more technical than I remember. The West side of the ridge through Long Ridge and Skyline Ridge felt isolated. What was I doing out here on my day off torturing myself?

The views were amazing but not much of a distraction from the mental game that was setting in. Least memorable was the Sunny Jim climb out of Horseshoe Lake. Really? It took me longer to get to Black Mountain in the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve than I anticipated. I began to get nervous that I was going to get cold riding through the canyon along the origination of Stevens Creek as the sun disappeared. I was getting tired, cold, and thirsty. Out of water since Black Mountain, I refilled once back on the pavement near Mt. Eden. This would be my 12th bottle of water.

Fremont Older Open Space was completely in the dark. My mental state was ebbing, but finally I got a surge as I hit the home stretch back to parking lot that I started the day over 12 hours earlier.