Zhifang Liu // Big Epic

It's that time of year again! Last year was my first Epic ride, when I got to challenge myself and explore the trails following the designed courses. This year, different routes, a lot of trails I've never been to, exciting!

This spring, I've been doing a lot more base training, so my endurance improved a lot. After pre riding the mini epic course and exploring the woods trail on weekends, I decided to challenge myself with something bigger - Big Epic!

With two bottles, a hydration pack with 1.5L water, and loads of gels and bars, I started the ride a bit after 7am on a Monday, when trails are quiet and kids go to school :) My goal today is to finish the ride, with no crashes and injuries. No time goals!

The first part of the ride was about 18mi of road. Taking the lesson from last year when I went too hard at the beginning and considering this was gonna be a much longer ride, I set into an endurance pace, especially because any extra power would mostly be wasted in fighting the air resistance on a mountain bike.

After navigating through the morning traffic, here I was at the Quicksilver trailhead. The gravel fun began. I was worrying the trails would be too muddy, but fortunately after a sunny Sunday, the trails were in perfect condition throughout the course: a bit damp, but not at all muddy. So much better than my pre ride when it was lightly raining. I had an easy ride in Quicksilver as I know this is where an easy ride is possible for me: not too steep, and not technical at all. Took a selfie at the tunnel, which I've never visited during many times riding quicksilver (this is why I like the Epic ride!). The Woods trail climb was a long steady one. I washed out my front tire once on that gravelly steep section, so I just hiked that part today to avoid any injury so early in the ride. Then right turn to the Kennedy trail, it came the roller coaster part with a few walls. Again decided to hike one gravelly wall without attempting, just to save some gas (it's expensive!). The descent through the Kennedy trail and Kennedy road was fast, which gave me some time to relax.

Since the weather was quite cool in the morning, I didn't drink a lot. So only refilled one bottle at the Los Gatos Creek trail. Bought and enjoyed a boba tea as my lunch at Sharetea before continuing the ride. I visited Summit Bicycles to buy a quicklink in case I broke my chain on later technical sections. The last thing I'd want was to ruin an epic ride with a mechanical issue. I also started charging my Garmin 530 with a power bank. Worse than a mechanical is not to record an epic ride!

Climbing the Black Rd was mentally hard, as I was in the endurance pace, it was slow! And it certainly felt a bit harder than the Mini pre ride as I had already ridden for more than 4 hours. The JNT climb was a lot more fun compared to Black Rd. On the quiet trail, a tiny water fall attracted me and I enjoyed it for a bit. After a short descent from the top of JNT, I was at the Skyline trail. The Skyline trail and Saratoga Gap trail were the most difficult part for me in this ride. A lot of technical sections: either rock gardens or rough steep climbs right after a sharp turn. I had to hike a lot, but I've improved, compared with the two rides earlier.

After taking a selfie at the Castle Rock, several climbs led me to the top of the Black mountain. Accompanied by many poppies along the trails, it was more pleasant than I expected. The weather was also better than I expected - not too hot, and a bit of wind helped cool me down on the climbs. The Sunny Jim trail climb was a relatively tougher part, as my legs were screaming a bit on those short steep slopes one after another. Fortunately I had a 51t cog this time, which certainly saved my muscles. The final climb to the Black Mountain was easier with a mild grade where I rode at sweet spot to speed up a bit, since I know after submitting it, it was going to be a long and fast descent. I descended with a bit more caution than the pre ride, to avoid any last minute surprises.

Back on the tarmac out of dirt, I tried to be more aero by lowering my body position and putting my hands towards the center of the bar. This time, my back was screaming as I don't often ride in this position on the mountain bike. On the short climb over Mt Eden, I emptied my tank by riding at threshold. Then a fast descent and some city roads led me back to my car. I made it!

I was pretty happy with how I did. There were some tough parts, hikes, and suffering times, but in general I felt pretty well, compared to the Mini Epic ride last year, thanks to better pacing and another year of training. Can't wait for next year. Maybe I'll take the Grand challenge?

Nice trail selections by the organizer. They're diverse: fire roads, singletracks, technical sections, and simple fast descents. The Santa Cruz mountains are very scenic and rewarding, with a variety of terrains, trees, flowers and of course rocks! The majority of the trails were new to me before the pre ride, and I wouldn't have explored them without the event, the organizer and my friend master Lei. I'm now looking forward to next year, and guess which parks/trails I'll discover and explore then?