Sara Malm // Grand Epic
“The Grand Epic Ride Report: Don’t Do Ordinary Things….Do Extra-Ordinary Things”
1. The Back Story
One may look at life as a series of incidental events based on coincidences and timing. It's unique how moments, things, people, etc, come in and out of our life and many times it’s all about when and how, if it has any consequential meaning to you or not. This is how I found myself doing the Grand Epic Ride. It came into my radar at the right moment for me to grasp it and have it settle into my mind that this seemed feasible and that I must do it!
A week before the Grand Epic hit my radar, I received an email from my past, titled: “PCT 2014 ~ Remembering”…
"Almost a decade ago I photographed you on the PCT. It was 2014, the trail hadn’t yet become wildly popular, the world was a different place. Recently I was contacted by the editor of a really beautiful adventure photography magazine based in France about the portraits I took on the trail. They want to run a series of them.
Going back and looking at the portraits transported me to a different phase of my life. I didn’t hike the trail… I was only dropping in from place to place to connect briefly with hikers. But just looking at the images brought back so many memories for me personally. I would like to explore this sense of remembering. If you’re willing, I’d love to hear from you about what memories surface when you think back to yourself hiking on the PCT in 2014. The portrait is attached, and I am especially curious about how looking at this image of you then brings back memories for you now.”
This email was from a photographer that captured me hiking the PCT in 2014. His work and my portrait were later featured in “Outside Magazine” transported me into a week of reflection of one of the most meaningful adventures in my life. I will share some of my reflections.
Did hiking the PCT change the trajectory of your life in some way, and if so, how?
YES, I discovered mountain biking! I bought a mountain bike as a gift to myself for hiking the trail. I competed in my first race 2 weeks after purchasing a mountain bike and never looked back. The PCT gave me mountain biking and racing XC which is now the focus of my life outside of my career. It also indirectly affects everything in my life now, my life is more complete because of it and realizing the beauty of the world that we live in. I would much rather be outside experiencing life in nature than any other place.
What is one piece of advice that present ‘you’ would give to 2014 ‘you’?
This is going to be the easiest part of your life, all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other and follow the direct path ahead.
What is one thing that you learned about yourself on the hike that forever changed you?
No dream is too big.
I hit “reply” with my reflections on Wednesday, April 20th, 2022. This is the same day I heard mention of the “Grand Bay Area Epic” and started doing my research. It only seemed reasonable, I thought, that I must do this! Taking me back to my PCT days there is nothing I would rather do than spend an entire day outside on the bike challenging myself. The other motivating factor is based on my research, it did not appear that a woman had attempted or completed the challenge yet, even more motivating for me to head out for the challenge. Four days later I found myself in the lot of the REI parking lot.
2. The Night Before
Luckily for me I didn’t feel like I needed a lot of preparation for the challenge. I have raced a handful of 8hr, 12hr, and 24hr events so I knew exactly what I needed to complete the challenge: Nutrition, a backup battery in case my garmin or phone dies, the route, water, earbuds to have some podcasts to keep me entertained and that was it!!! I downloaded the route to my Garmin and made note of the water and photo stops. Texted my coach that there was going to be a slight change of plans and gave my family an update on my next planned adventure.
3. The Ride
As a I pulled into the REI parking lot at 7am, I scanned the lot for any other potential Epic Riders and I met Craig! We chatted briefly before he headed out and I wished him well, hoping our paths would cross later in the day, though they never did, Craig was much faster than me.
I will also note, I do not have a gravel bike, so I chose to ride my Epic. I was familiar with most of the trails and thought the Epic would be a fine choice, maybe a bit slow on the road sections, but I knew I’d be happy to have it once I hit dirt.
I rolled out of the parking lot at 7:11am, much earlier than I ever start my training rides. I really enjoyed the peacefulness of the quiet crisp morning. Going through the Monte Sereno neighborhood was fun to look at all the houses. For the most part the first 18 miles were all road, minus one small dirt section coming out of Bel Gatos park. The last of the road section seemed to drag on, but I was only eager to hit the dirt. Finally, 1hr 20 into the ride I hit the dirt. I quickly rolled through Santa Teresa and Calero Parks over to Quicksilver. Around mile 31 I got slightly off course and had to backtrack as I was not familiar with the San Cristobal Tunnel, but I found my way and had a short photo session at the tunnel.
Then headed up and over to Woods for the first KOM/QOM section. I had ridden the uphill portion of Woods only once and really wanted to push the pace and ride the entirety of it. I was surprised how early in the ride that Woods suckerpunched me in the stomach. For me it was the hardest part of the entire ride. The sun was beating down on me so I was feeling the heat and the climb was still brutal regardless of whether I had fresh legs or not. I stayed focused to try to keep traction on the steep loose rock, I slipped my rear wheel, hobble a little but caught my balance. Phew! But that shot my heartrate up and immediately again I slipped a wheel, this time I wasn’t able to get the traction I needed and had to unclip for the short portion that was too loose to regain traction. Bummer, I really wanted to ride that entire section, but as soon as I could I got back on the bike and pushed the pace to the end of the segment. I stopped and snapped the photo at the Kennedy Lookout at mile 41.
Top of Kennedy, Mile 41
I enjoyed the reprieve of the long recovery descent of Kennedy into downtown Los Gatos. I stopped at the water fountain at the entrance of Los Gatos Creek trail at mile 48. I refilled on water, ate some rice balls, lubed the chain, and gave a quick text to the family to give an update on the ride. Unbeknownst to me there was some festival happening downtown Los Gatos and the people crowding the streets and sidewalks instantaneously overwhelmed me and which pushed me to move on rapidly.
I was anxious about climbing Black Road as I had never ridden it before. I “knew” this was the other KOM/QOM section but don’t remember trying at all for it, I don’t know if it was the distraction of Black Road or fatigue setting in but don’t remember caring. Black Road ended up not being that horrible, the first section to the school was hot, exposed and steep, but after that I just settled into the rhythm and soon saw the trailhead for JNT. I stopped and chatted with a couple that was sitting at the picnic table, again evidence I had completely neglected to think or care about the KOM/QOM section. I had told them I was 62 miles and 7hrs into my day. I remember the gentlemen telling me I looked fresh for such a long day. “Well, that’s a good sign” I thought to myself and continued on. I had this very strange euphoric, sensory sort of deprivation, climbing JNT. This was a trail I knew very well and had been many times but it all looked different and strange to me, it was an odd feeling, but eventually passed. Once I made it to Castle Rock, I searched for the water location but couldn’t find it and didn’t want to waste time looking, so I made note I would need to conserve a bit on the water. Once I hit Saratoga Gap, I started to panic a bit about the time and daylight. I wasn’t worried about finishing but I was worried if I was going to get stopped by a ranger if it was dark and they wouldn’t let me into the last park, Fremont Older. I had to tell myself to stop worrying and focus on the present moment. I didn’t know how long it would actually take so I swallowed the big chill pill and refocused onto the present moment.
Finding a resting moment at Turtle Rock
At mile 73, Turtle Rock, I took a quick stretch, photo, and food break. Sent another update and went along my way. I was dreading the Sunny Jim climb, but was actually surprised by some of the steep punchy climbs in Christmas Tree Park before even hitting Sunny Jim, so by the time Sunny Jim came around I just put my head down and powered up the climb and I didn’t implode so I was happy with that. Soon I found myself at the base of Bella Vista up to the “last” climb to Black Mountain.
Mile 85 top of Black Mountain
After Black Mountain I had a very nice long downhill reprieve, however I found 2 trees down on Steven’s Canyon that I had to stop and hop over. When I hit pavement again on Steven’s Canyon, I was instantly relieved as I knew I would have enough daylight. Smiling with the acknowledgement of this and knowing I was so close to accomplishing the ride I was completely stoked. I stopped at mile 93 in Steven’s Canyon Park for a water and bathroom stop and meandered over to the last park, Fremont Older. Where the really the last big climb was up Coyote Ridge. At the top of the Coyote Ridge, I had an interesting encounter with a bobcat who sat down about 15 ft in front of me on the trail and had no interest in moving out of the way and just had a stare down with me. I’m sure I could have proceeded and he would have run off…”bobcats don’t attack humans, right?” but an intsy bit of fear stopped me from doing so. I’m sure he had dinner nearby and didn’t want to leave it, so he was holding his ground. He eventually meandered down the trail into the grass and when I couldn’t see him any longer, I moved on. I continued on through Fremont Older, what I thought was a quick up and over through Fremont was not the case, the route took me through what seemed like ALL of the trails in Fremont. At mile 102 I popped back onto pavement and only had downhill and flat back to the car. I enjoyed the last 4 miles with a smile on my face knowing I had done it!!!! Made it back to the car at 8pm and a tinsy bit of daylight to spare.
12hr of moving time, 12hr 50min total. 106 miles and 14,235 miles. 100% solo and self-supported. Totally stoked to have this one in my back pocket. At times while riding I thought it was the hardest ride I had done, but looking back it didn’t seem so hard. As I took myself back to my PCT reflection “it’s just putting one foot in front of the other and following the direct path ahead” but in this sense, it was a pedal stroke and the trail that lay ahead of me where the Garmin directed me to go. But I must admit the 14,235 IS the most elevation I have done in one ride so it makes sense that it was one of the most difficult rides I have done. And I am stoked to report that being the only female to attempt and finish the route. I was able represent for the other 50% of the population. Again….no dream is too big.
My favorite part of accomplishing the ride, receiving a surprise flower delivery from my mom!
ENJOY THE RIDE! Don't do ordinary things, do extra-ordinary things!