Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sequoia Century 2007

112 miles travelled, 9000 feet total elevation gained, 11:15 hours total

I participated in the Sequoia Century for the first time. A century is any 100+ mile bike ride, but this is one is challenging because of the amount of hill climbing involved. Here is a record of my experience, with the total miles covered and total feet elevation gained noted at each point.

I woke up at 4:15 and started getting ready. I had gotten donuts the previous day so I did not make an early morning trip to get those. I stretched, drank coffee, made an egg sandwich, stretched, got dressed, stretched, ate half a donut, and went over my checklist of all the things to do and take with me.

I woke Vaishali at 5:20 and she only needed a few minutes to wake up and dress before dropping me. She was just going to go back to bed after going back home. Vaishali dropped me at the Palo Alto VA campus at 6:00am just like we had planned. I got everything set up and got started at 6:10. I did not have to do much at registration because I picked up my number the day before.

6:10am, 0 miles, 0 feet

Pretty soon after starting, another cyclist passed me and told me that my gloves were about to fall out of my pocket. That was the only oversight in my preparations -- I forgot to put on my gloves. It was on the cool side, but I chose not to wear my jacket. I knew I would get hot on the upcoming climb up Page Mill Road, plus I think the excitement made me more cold-resistant than usual.

The climb up Page Mill went pretty well. I had done this part of the ride so many times that I knew the road very well. It went along more easily that I was used to, probably because of my excitement and adrenaline. Several people passed me on this stretch, and I only passed a couple others. I warmed up pretty quickly. On one of the flatter sections, I switched from my full-finger gloves to my half-finger gloves while still pedaling.

I settled behind two guys somewhere before the halfway-point of the climb. Their pace was just a little slower that what I thought I could do, but I felt it was best to keep myself limited to that at this early stage.

Just past the halfway-point of the climb, we broke through the fog layer. In the morning everything looked dark and overcast. Vaishali was concerned about the visibility in the hills. But it turned out that the valley was just in a blanket of fog. Above that, it was clear and warmer.

Eventually as we approached the summit, I could no longer take the pace of the guys I was following. I increased my speed and went past them. I reached the summit at Skyline Blvd and continued across on Alpine. This is the point where the 112 and 60 mile routes diverge, so there were fewer cyclists on Alpine.

7:20am, 11 miles, 2280 feet

The downhill ride on Alpine went smoothly. There were very few cars on the road at this time. Once I got back under the fog layer, it started getting cooler. I did not want to put on my jacket because I knew I was getting close to the bottom of the hill, but my hands started getting cold. I need to get the full-finger gloves back on, but there was no way I could do that while speeding downhill. I pulled over to the side and switched them quickly.

Before long I reached the intersection with Pescadero Road. The road started uphill, but fairly quickly got to the entrance to Sam MacDonald Park where the first rest top was. I pulled in and saw that some of the guys who passed me were there. I saw the guy who told me that my gloves were in my pocket. I ate a half banana, some slices of orange and a piece of coffee cake.

8:14am, 19 miles, 2640 feet

I did not want to stay too long and cool off, so I left within 10 minutes. From the park, there was a steady, but not difficult, climb up Pescadero road. After the crest, it was a fast downhill. The fog had burned off by now and it was fairly bright, but it was still early enough that there were still few cars on the road.

Eventually the road leveled off to a more slight grade. As I was nearing the end of the stretch on Pescadero Road, I was passed by the two guys who I rode behind on Page Mill. Just before the town of Pescadero, we turned left towards Butano State Park. The road here is parallel to Highway 1, and is just a little hilly. I caught up to the two guys again once we hit the uphill section. Again, at some point their pace uphill was too slow for me so I passed them.

Before long, the road turned and ended at Highway 1. There were flagmen with the Century helping cyclists turn onto Highway 1 safely. Fairly soon after this point I reached next rest stop at the Costanoa camp ground. There was an even bigger group here than at the last one. I think it was because more people had passed me.

9:11am, 38 miles, 3690 feet

Here again I ate more apple and orange. But for energy this time I had some peanut M&Ms. This time at the facilities I also took off my gloves washed my hands well because they had gotten sticky from sweat and handling the fruit and candy.

Again, I did not want to cool off too much so I left within 15 minutes. As I was leaving Costanoa, I recognized one of the riders who was entering. I used to see him on Caltrain during my commute when I worked at Rearden. At first it struck me as an odd coincidence. But after thinking about it, it probably is not a very big coincidence. Both of brought our bicycles on the train, which means that we are both cyclist. And the Sequoia Century is fairly popular (over 1000 people registered), so it is not too surprising that we are both chose to ride in this event.

The 24 miles on Highway 1 is the longest flat section of the ride. The road does go up and down the sea cliffs a bit, but contain no serious inclines. The northern (first) part of this stretch was much clearer than the rest. I had a tailwind most of the way which made the pedaling on this stretch easier.

Just a few miles after Costanoa, I saw another rest top on Highway 1. This was confusing, but I quickly realized that it was for another event. There were signs on Highway 1 for the AIDS Lifecycle ride (from San Francisco to Los Angeles). That explained why I saw so many more riders on this stretch.

I passed and was passed by fewer people in this stretch since we were all generally cruising at similar speeds (not unusual for a flat stretch). Just before the town of Davenport, I was slowly passed by a woman, and I remained fairly close behind her for a mile or two.

10:15am, 51 miles, 3800 feet

We approached a place where the railroad tracks cross the road. There was a sign put up for the cyclists warning of the tracks. Having ridden on this part of the road before, I felt that the warning should have been bigger and more explicit. Most railroad crossing have the tracks perpendicular to the road. These are not too dangerous, just bumpy. But this particular crossing is treacherous because the tracks are just slightly off the angle of the road.

I slowed down and swerved to the right a little so that I could turn back left and go over the tracks an a perpendicular angle. But I saw that the woman in front of me did not change her angle. I was worried because it looked like a dangerous approach. I was correct because her front wheel got stuck in the track. She went flying and landed hard on the pavement with her bicycle falling on top of her.

I immediately got off my bike, left it by the road side, and ran over to where she was laying. I took the bicycle off her and tossed it to the side. She needed to move because she was laying on the white line that defines the boundary between the road and the shoulder. I was afraid that she may get hit by a car so I immediately began waving my arms and motioning for cars to slow down and go around her.

She was screaming in pain. I told her she needed to move out of the road, but she said she could not move. She remained in the same position as she landed--on her left side and somewhat face-down. I asked her if I could help her move but she said she was in too much pain to move. I thought about moving her myself, but was afraid she may have a fracture that I might aggravate by moving her.

I really did not know what to do next. She needed to move out of the road, but I did not know the best way to do that. Then a car pulled over and two women came by to help. One of them said she was an off-duty paramedic, and it turned out to be good timing that they had come by at that time.

She checked out the rider to see how badly injured she was. After determining that there were no major fractures, the two of us picked her up and moved her all the way to the edge of the shoulder, and by now she was able to sit up on her own.

The paramedic continued to evaluate her. Clearly the cyclist needed medical attention. She offered to call an ambulance for her to take her to Santa Cruz. The cyclist said she preferred to go back to Palo Alto because her parents live there. I told her that I could call the event organizers to see if they could send one of their support vehicles to pick her up. That is what she decided to do since her injuries were not life-threatening.

This whole time there was a decent number of cars and bicycles passing us. At this point, a group of cyclists passed on one caught his rear wheel in the tracks, which sent him crashing to the ground. The paramedic went end attended to him. He landed on his shoulder and smashed it pretty well. But he was able to walk.

It was a very unfortunate result for this guy. He is tourist from Belgium, not a participant in either of the organized rides. He was on his first day of a two week bike tour of the US. It looked like with the extent his shoulder was hurt, it was also be the last day of his trip.

It took about 30 minutes for the support vehicle to arrive. He had a pickup with a bike rack and could easily take both riders back to the starting area in Palo Alto. As we were getting everything prepared on the truck, another woman got her bicycle caught in the tracks and crashed. Fortunately this one was not as serious as the others. She smashed and cut one of her knees. The first two crashes were good advertisements for bicycle helmets. Both of their helmets had large cracks in them, which spared their skulls. Although the third rider might have been able to continue, she decide to not take a chance and just go back with the others. The rack on the truck could take three bicycles, so that is what they did.

After they had left, I was finally ready to continue. I had lost close to an hour because of this episode. All the standing around in the ocean breeze had really cooled me off. So for the first time in the ride, I wore my jacket. The rest of the trip into Santa Cruz was uneventful. I did get hot eventually, but I did not want to stop to take off my jacket. I had lost enough time already, and the third rest stop (the lunch stop) was coming up in Santa Cruz.

Highway 1 enters Santa Cruz and becomes a main street with signal lights. This caused many of the riders that were spaced out to get bunched up into groups. I and the cyclists near me coalesced into a group of 25-30 riders as we got to downtown. But then we encountered a roadblock, literally. There were barriers across the street that we were supposed to ride on our route. There was no construction or emergency, so we did not understand the barriers. So we decided (as much as a mob can) to ride between the barriers and go on the street anyway.

Soon we discovered why the barriers were there -- there was a parade going on. So now we were riding in the parade. We passed a group holding a large banner. I turned back and saw that the sign said "Obama '08". Then we passed a group of men in drag, and more of them along the parade route. They cheered us on. The policemen directing the parade traffic did not seem upset by us riding on the road. I guess it was just an unanticipated scheduling conflict between the ride and the parade and there was no way to change the ride route at this point. Anyway, the overlap was just for three blocks or so. We continued to ride as a group for the remaining mile to the lunch stop.

12:00pm, 65 miles, 4700 feet

There was a large group at this stop. People were staying longer to eat lunch. There was a line to get to the food. As I was standing in line, I realized that I recognized the two women in front of me. They were also familiar faces from Caltrain, just like the guy I saw at Costanoa. I asked them if they rode Caltrain and they said yes. One of them said she vaguely recognized me too. Interestingly, all three of us have since changed jobs and no longer take Caltrain.

I ate lunch with them and we chatted for a while. Their names were Shanna and Megan. It was odd for me to see them together. I would only see Megan in the morning, and only see Shanna in the evening. I had no idea they knew each other.

Usually by this point I am fairly hungry. But since I was able to snack along the way, I ate less than I thought I would. I had a lettuce and cheese sandwich, potato salad, and lots of cookies.

Shanna and Megan left before me. I took a little time after eating to stretch, put away my jacket, and wash my face and hands. I also wanted to let the food settle a little because there was some steep climbing coming up soon. It ended up being a 40 minute break.

I met up with Shanna again at the start of Granite Creek Road. I kept her pace for a little while, but then sped up. Near the end of Granite Creek, I ran into Megan who had stopped to take off her jacket. We rode together for a little while, but I fell behind her on Glenwood. Then I got to Mountain Charlie Road, one of the more famously difficult parts of the route.

1:24pm, 73 miles, 5620 feet

The ride up Mountain Charlie started off well. I passed Megan on one of the steep sections. I was still not having problems with the steeper inclines. At one point, another rider and I kept passing each other. She would pass me on the flatter portions, and I would pass her on the steeper one. The two of us went back and forth several times.

But the sun started bearing down and the accumulated strain of the earlier part of the ride started having an effect. Eventually I started feeling very tired and light-headed. I thought about stopping and resting, but really did not want to. I decided to just slow down my pace. On the sections were the road was flat or downhill, I would just coast and try to build up my strength.

I never got fully exhausted. I did slow down quite a bit. Megan passed me and I did not see her again. From Mountain Charlie, the route went on Summit Dr and Bear Creek. At the intersection of Bear Creek and Skyline Blvd, I found an unmarked rest stop. It was not on the route map. I think it was meant to be a pleasant surprise for the bikers. It was very much needed by me. They had cold soft drinks there. I quickly drank a Sprite. I needed the liquid, the sugar, and the coolness of it. I lingered for 12 minutes to build up my energy.

2:33pm, 81 miles, 7210 feet

I felt a lot better after that. I still had to climb 1000 feet in the next section, but it was over 10 miles, so not a very steep incline. Shanna arrived at the stop just as I was leaving. I started out slowly, but recovered all of my strength on this section of the route, even though it was uphill. Just when I reached the high point of the ride (3100 feet), I had all my energy back.

Of course, this is the point in time when my butt was getting sore. After having spent several hours in the saddle, it hurting from the continuous compression. I kept having to lift myself up while pedaling every few minutes to let it recover for a short time.

Just past the intersection with Highway 9, we had the final rest stop at the fire station. Here again I had banana, orange, and cookies. Since this was the last rest stop and I had had the period of tiredness and also my butt was sore, I rested longer than I normally would have. But now all the big climbs were done, with only two short ones remaining.

On my last training ride when I did this whole route, those last two climbs (Mountain Winery and Mt. Eden Road) were pretty difficult. Normally those are not too hard for me. In fact, I do that route when I do not want too much of a challenge. But I wanted to be sure to have rested up enough by the time I got to them. Again, I saw Shanna as I was leaving the stop.

3:50pm, 92 miles, 8410 feet

The ride down Highway 9 was the fastest part of the route. Since I had been on that road so many times before, I knew it pretty well and could confidently ride fast on it. I passed several other riders, which I rarely do on downhills.

At the bottom of Highway 9 there was the turnoff for Pierce Road and the short climb up to the Mountain Winery. Near the top, there was a camera set up to take pictures of each rider (that is where the picture below was taken). I descended and approached the climb on Mt Eden Road. I started at a slow pace to make sure I could make it over without struggling. This section is steep, but in reality it is not as steep as some of the sections of Page Mill, Summit, and Mountain Charlie. It is just that I was fairly drained at this point. But I actually had no problem -- I did not even have to stand for more power. Probably all the resting and eating is why I was stronger at this point than when I did the training ride.

The rest of the route was the mostly flat return to the Palo Alto VA. I pulled off at Fremont Ave to call Vaishali to schedule my pickup. I had called her a couple times before so she knew I had not had any problems. Shanna passed me about two miles before the VA.

I pulled in back to the registration area around 5:20, which is over 11 hours from when I started that morning. Subtracting all the breaks, it was 8.5 hours on the bicycle. There was an upbeat mood at the finish. They had more food there so I ate pasta salad, potato salad, more pasta salad, and cookies. The ice cream sandwiches were very popular, but I did not have any.

A couple guys congratulated me on the strong finish. They said they were behind me for much of the last stretch. I felt embarrassed that I did not recognize or remember them. Of course, I probably stood out a little more than most since there were very few non-whites and non-East-Asians. I was also identifiable because I wore cargo short over my biking shorts. I talked more with one of the guys who said he was with me. I then recognized him by his bicycle. We chatted for a bit then I chatted with Shanna.

5:25pm, 112 miles, 9020 feet

Vaishali and Rucha then came by so we loaded up the bike, I changed into a clean shirt, and we left. We picked up pizza on the way home. Usually after a ride I am famished and eat like a glutton. But because I had the chance to eat so much along the way and at the finish, I did not eat that much at home.

I felt pretty good that evening considering the exertion I had endured. But by 8:00 I could no longer keep myself awake. I had a long sleep. The next day I had a headache and a stiff neck, but no serious problems. Then I started thinking about some of the other centuries that are scheduled for later this summer ...

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