Andrew Ernst // Grand Epic
First of all, a brief background: I'm a triathlete turned roadie who's perfect gravel ride would be hard packed dirt with nothing technical. I can count on one hand the number of times I've ridden singletrack, and I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I crashed during those few MTB rides. That said, I'm always up for an adventure. So when I heard about the Grand Epic, I didn't hesitate to sign up.
I chose to ride a Specialized Diverge 9r. I had the downtube storage fully packed with tools, a frame bag full of snacks, and four bottles. I also used clip-on aerobars for comfort on Cañada. I used 40mm Continental Terra Speed tires at 40psi.
I set off at 5am and rode the first hour in the dark. I watched the sun rise over the valley as I rode through Fremont Older Preserve. I welcomed the pavement and some quicker speeds as I rounded Stevens Creek Reservoir. I reached for some homemade energy balls and realized they were sitting in the freezer, dang. Thankfully I had some cash and the Bike Hut was on the route!
Canyon Trail was my first real challenge. I opted to walk across the stream barefoot rather than soak my shoes, so that set me back a bit. I must have dismounted 10 times as I climbed up toward Page Mill, sometimes for pictures, sometimes for lack of MTB skill or lack of gearing (my lowest was a 34x34). Descending Alpine was a blast. I've climbed it a few times but never ridden down. I was thankful that most of the wet areas had dried up.
Canada was as expected: fast, smooth, and familiar. I used this section to load up on calories. Riding up over Sneath to Sweeney, the weather changed drastically. Temperatures dropped 20 degrees and the sun disappeared behind low hanging clouds. This made for beautiful pictures! The Baquiano descent was a bit technical for my skillset and I took a low speed tumble (my first and ONLY of the day). Two miles down the road, I realized my sunglasses had fallen off when I tipped over. I chose to press on and come back a different day to look for the Oakleys (I found them!).
San Pedro was awesome. I didn't have much for views since I was riding in the clouds, but it was nice to be out of the sun. The ride along the coast was cool and headwindy, but I enjoyed the lack of elevation gain through this section. The aero bars came in handy here. Again, I welcomed the smooth pavement as I turned onto Cabrillo Highway. I made a brief stop at the Bike Hut to fill two of my four bottles and buy a whole bunch of chocolatey snacks which I pounded before climbing Tunitas.
I had been dreading the singletrack of El Corte de Madera/Methuselah, and rightfully so. I dismounted countless times to walk my bike through rocky/rooty sections. I seriously wished I had ridden this section before to know what to expect. I finally emerged from the woods unsacthed and enjoyed the pavement of Skyline before turning onto the Ridge Trail. This section was absolutely gorgeous, another gem I had no idea existed so close to my home in Cupertino. I stopped way too much on this section to take pictures. Every turn seemed to have new and better views.
I was out of water and pretty fatigued for the final part of the ride through the foothill neighborhoods, but tried to keep my pace up to be home by 3:45 (an arbitrary time I had told my wife I would be home). My Garmin died just as I reached the border of Cupertino and I coasted downhill for the last 3 miles.
I can't thank the ride organizers enough for creating such a beautifully sadistic route. I'm impressed by how few stoplights there were over the course of 140 miles. This was among the most gorgeous, diverse, and challenging rides I've done. Without doubt, I'll do it again next year!