Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tour of the Unknown Coast – The 100-Mile Slog

Before tackling my first Tour of the Unknown Coast in 2007, I trained extensively. In the months before I rode numerous 50 to 60 mile rides. One day I even pedalled from McKinleyville to Wlllow Creek and back, which is more than 80 miles and includes two mountain passes.

On the day of the 2007 tour, I felt strong and was confident that I’d finish. I completed the 100-mile course in just under 11 hours. Considering that six months prior I was in terrible shape and considered a 20-mile ride to be almost beyond my ability, I was pleased with my performance.

The next year I planned to train even more, but those plans fell through due to the demands of the business, which increased due to a number of interesting personal problems at home.

Fortunately, I was racking up lots of commuter miles and taking short evening rides. Despite a lack of distance training, I felt excellent during the 2008 tour. I was making good time and even passed a few riders going up Panther Gap. Then, halfway through at Honeydew, my rear wheel fell apart, and the race was over.

This year I didn’t train at all, unless you consider operating a martini shaker exercise.

I rode to Kneeland on Jan. 1 and Feb. 18. After those rides, I only did a couple flat 10 milers and some 17 milers.


This photo pretty much sums up my pre-tour training.

Other than having a bicycle in good working order, I felt completely unprepared for Saturday’s ride. I assumed I’d limit myself to the 100K race, but spent the extra $5 for the 100-miler just in case I changed my mind. I would assess the condition of my legs part way through the race and make a decision.

At mile 20, the prognosis wasn’t good. My legs were sore and I was tired. Clearly I wasn’t ready for the 100 miler.

As I got closer to the 100K turnaround point, I noticed cyclists heading back to Ferndale. That was probably a good idea, but I wasn’t going to have much of a sense of accomplishment if I did less than 100 miles.

The decision was irrational and ego-based, but it had to be done. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could complete the tour, regardless of my training. Male macho bullshit? Perhaps.

So at mile 30 I kept going, and soon after I was climbing Panther Gap in the blazing sun. It was slow going and I stopped often to drink water. About six or seven miles later, I was at the top with an aching arse.

Everything about my bike is great, except for the seat.

The ride down to Honeydew was full of potholes, and I saw lots of riders pull over with flat tires, probably “pinch flats” caused by skinny tires hitting potholes.


I was glad to have my big, fat 34s( See above), even though they slow me down.

I was tired. My legs were sore. My arse hurt. My hands hurt. I was halfway done.

Another 10 miles away lunch awaited me. It seemed like I’d never get there, but I did. I ate some soup and a sandwich. I felt a little queasy, but continued on.

The hills between the lunch site and the beach should have been the easy ones, but they were painful. I stopped often and began to think about the sag wagon.

“I’d much rather be spending time with Kim,” I thought to myself. “What am I doing out here?”

I tried to erase such thoughts from my head and repeated to myself “Failure is not an option.”

Ahead I rolled.

The headwind at the beach was brutal. If I used the same pedalling energy on a windless day, I probably would have moved down the road at 14 mph. But instead I was hovering around 7 mph.

People were passing me. They were smiling and looked refreshed.

Then again, sag wagons full of bicyclists began passing me up too. I could have been worse off.

It was tempting to jump onboard, but I had already gone more than 75 miles. How hard would it be to just keep going?

I found out it was hard, really hard.

The Wall, with a 10 percent grade, was difficult, but not nearly as bad as what’s called the Endless Hills. You climb and climb. Then, just when you think you’re near the summit, you climb some more.

Not only are you going up hill, but there’s a strong headwind.

I was in pain. I was tired and cranky. The landscape ceased to be pretty to me. It was just a hellish torture machine. “Damn, if only I had trained,” I thought to myself.

I chanted to myself “Keep going forward. Keep going forward.” I slogged my way over the course.

There weren’t any bursts of speed. I crawled along at 4 mph. The fog was rolling in and the wind was persistent.

Eleven hours and 54 minutes after I had started, I crossed the finish line. Sitting near the clock was a pile of finisher patches – the trophy one gets for the 100-mile challenge.


I grabbed a patch, put it in my pocket and smiled.

Damn, that was actually lots of fun, in an odd kind of way.

jacklooking goofy

When I arrived at Kim’s, she gave me the royal treatment.


Anonymous Steve said...

May 9, 7:00 am, Ferndale: I barely made the mass start, as my cyclometer was a few minutes slow and I was tootling around Ferndale warming up. Ferndale was foggy and chilly at around 43 degrees.

P and J were in the middle of the pack and didn’t see me. They took off in a fast paceline, averaging around 25 MPH. I know because I tried to catch up with them without burning too much energy, and couldn’t catch them until the first of the Three Sisters hills. I nearly crashed when, while dodging potholes about 8 miles out, some guy went whizzing past me on the left without warning. We brushed bodies. Scary. This early stage of the ride is a bit annoying with all the Lance Armstrong wannabes.

We maintained a good pace of approximately 20 MPH after the three sisters and Rio Dell. We formed a paceline in the Avenue of the Giants behind a tandem piloted by a father/daughter team. This was a fast, fun stretch. The father of the tandem team had done 26 TUC’s. I suppose you could saw that he is true glutton for punishment. We skipped the first two refreshment stations (Rio Dell and Immortal Tree in the Avenue).

I went off the front on the Redcrest grade and didn’t see P or J again until the refreshment station at mile 38 at the base of the Panther Gap grade. Bull Creek road was just horrible with potholes and humped fill.

I went off the front again on the Panther Gap climb, averaging about 6 or 7 MPH. I felt strong. The sun melted away the fog on the ascent, and the air warmed up. There were the usual lovely views to the SW of King’s Peak.

The steep, twisting descent from Windy Nip (mile 48) to the Mattole River was the usual harrowing and gnarly experience, with seemingly even more potholes than before.

Just above the Honeydew bridge was a helicopter and several emergency vehicles and personnel. There was a big smear of blood on the road. I saw the poor rider strapped on a backboard being loaded onto the helicopter. Rumor at the lunch stop was that he did a face plant on the road and also broke at least one arm. Every time I’ve done this descent on the TUC I’ve seen big accidents.

The Mattole Valley was warm and sunny, and the rollers on the Mattole Road took me to the lunch stop at A.W. Way campground (mile 63). J and P pulled in about 10 minutes or so behind me. There were decent sandwiches and some HSU student cyclists to chat with. I cajoled P and J to get started. P was in tough shape, having suffered some cramps in one leg.

The hill after Petrolia (mile 70) wasn’t too bad. I went off the front again, trying to keep up with A, an HSU student cyclist and hill climbing specialist. She and I and two other cyclists formed a paceline at the beach (miles 73-81). The sea was alive with whitecaps, and I estimate northwesterly winds were blowing at a sustained 20+ MPH with higher gusts. Thank goodness for the paceline. We mostly held 14 MPH, but on several occasions could only hold 9 MPH. We caught the tandem just before the base of The Wall. The winds were especially strong near the base of The Wall.

I stopped at the refreshment station at the base of The Wall. I ate and drank my stomach full, unlike last year, but had no appetite. P and J pull up about 5 minutes behind me. P found someone who willingly let him ride their wheel the whole way along the beach. This was P’s dream come true. P seemed to actually be feeling better at mile 81 than back at the lunch stop. The tandem went right past the refreshment station up The Wall.

After a few more minutes I saddle up for the climb. The first part of The Wall is horrible. The northwesterly headwinds made the climb even more difficult. To give you some idea, nearly everybody ahead of me was zigzagging, which I had not seen before. I did not permit myself to zigzag for the usual dumb reasons. By the first switchback I realized that my legs were largely gone. After that I was crawling up the rest of The Wall at about 3.5 MPH, with some notable leg pain when I had to stand up on particularly steep pitches. P and J were somewhere behind me.

All too soon I descended back to sea level at Capetown Ranch. The steepest part of the whole TUC is this harrowing descent, with sustained 19%+ slopes (P and I got to know this grade as an ascent 3 weeks prior on our peak 61 mile training ride from College of the Redwoods to the base of The Wall and back).

Then I began the start of the Endless Hill at about mile 86. I was toast. Thus began about 7 miles of 3.5 MPH uphill slog, accompanied by leg, neck, and arm pain, and the ever-present headwinds. I had to make several brief 20 second stops to relieve the back and leg pain. Several people caught me on the ascent, though I actually caught a few people too.

Eventually the Endless Hill grade relented and I started to speed up, finding some new life in my legs. But I was also experiencing cramping in my left thigh. I pass the last aid station, and caught more people who passed me on the Endless Hill, including the tandem team. I was so happy to summit at mile 96 (Malfunction Junction) that I shouted with relief.

Next up was the jarring final descent on the Wildcat road, with its thousands of potholes, gravel stretches, and humped asphalt patches. I caught a few more people.

I pulled into Ferndale, took a few turns, and finished the ride at 8 hours 40 minutes of elapsed time (7 hours 31 minutes of seat time). P pulled in 15 minutes later. J arrived 45 minutes after P. By that time we were slightly worried, but he was just taking his time.

Overall this ride was harder than last year for me, even though I beat my personal best time by 10 minutes of elapsed time and 17 minutes of seat time. It was harder because of the fast start, the fast climb up Panther Gap, and the much stronger winds along the beach. This ride is extravagant masochism, and doing it more than once depends on selective rider amnesia.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Jim Thill said...

Sounds great. Congratulations on pushing through and finishing a hard ride.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Thanks for the excellent story of your ride! I'm hoping that with training I'll someday do the ride under 8 hours.

8:16 AM  
Blogger Gordon Inkeles said...


Have you tried a Brooks saddle? Good beyond hope...

11:41 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

I have an old saddle from the early 1980s that came with a Panasonic bike. It's unremarkable looking, but it never gave me any trouble. I think I'll just use that from now on...

1:15 PM  
Anonymous eric said...

Perhaps some day the ride, but for now, the scenery will be best viewed from my car. Heavy stuff for a hobbyist bicycle rider to even think about tackling.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Carson Park Ranger said...

Great story. Congratulations!
I've got a Brooks saddle. It still hurts my ass.
Why are bicycle seats shaped like that? Why aren't they "U" shaped? Instead of sitting comfortably on your butt, you get a prostate exam.

8:09 AM  
Blogger beachcomber said...

I'm amazed and impressed. But...I think I'll ride shotgun with eric.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

I think people would be surprised at how far they could ride, especially if there are good snacks along the way.

12:23 PM  

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