Monday, May 19, 2014

2014 Strawberry Fields Forever Century

100 miles total, 5000 feet total elevation, 9:20 hours total (8:30 on the bicycle)

There are many century rides in the Bay Area each year, most of them regularly recurring events.  My decision on which ones I do is based on several factors: (1) how challenging is the route (2) is the route, or part of it, new to me (3) am I available at the scheduled time (4) is it at a time when I could use the training.

I had investigated the Strawberry Fields Forever ride before but had not done it.  The route is not particularly challenging (less than 6000 feet total elevation) compared to the other centuries I do.  This year, it came at a time when I need to do more training (in preparation for the Seattle to Portland ride).  It does include some roads that are new to me, so that made it interesting.

The ride starts and ends in Watsonville, which is a one hour drive from home.  The check-in to start opened at 7:00am, so my plan was to leave home before 6:00am.  I prepared everything I needed the day before and had everything ready.  I woke up at 5:00am, got ready and left at 5:50am.  After driving for about 20 minutes, I scratched an itch on my head and immediately realized that I forgot to take my helmet with me!  I had no choice but to return home since a helmet is a strict requirement for all centuries.  Luckily this happened at a point in the road right before an exit where I could turn around.  If I had the discovery 2 minutes later, I would have started the climb over the mountains had would have had to proceed a few miles further to get to a usable turn-around point.

I returned home, ran in to get the helmet, and took off again right away.  (I texted Vaishali what I was doing so she would not be startled by hearing the garage door open and close.)  I lost 35 minutes, but was happy to have discovered my oversight well before arriving at the ride.

7:45am, 0 miles, 0 feet

I reached the starting point (at a high school), parked, and proceeded to the check-in.  There was a long line to get our rider numbers.  As soon as I got mine, I started.  There were many people doing this ride that although I was not familiar with the route, I did not have to look at my printed directions because I could just follow the pack.  I did have to pay attention at the point where the 100 mile and the 100 kilometer routes diverged a few miles from the start.

The longest climb of the route started right away.  I had ridden part of the top of the road, but never had been to the bottom, so much of it was new for me.  It was a long, but not particularly steep route.  The first rest stop was at 22 miles and at the top of the climb.  I ate some snacks there but did not rest for very long.

9:45am, 22 miles, 2100 feet

The next part of the route was from the top of the hills back towards the ocean.  That meant the next few miles were all downhill. After the descent, we were back in town and going through city streets.  The route required managing several turns at intersections.  I am not at all familiar with these roads, so I needed to navigate the route.  I could have consulted the printed route sheet, but that was too inconvenient.  Instead I chose to follow the other cyclists who seemed to be on the same ride.  This strategy worked quite well, until the small group I was following took a wrong turn.  We ended up on a frontage road next to a beach that appeared to be a dead end – clearly not part of our route.  I observed the group in front of me also look around as if searching for the actual route.  We all turned around, and returning to the previous intersection, we discovered that we needed to take a sharper turn that goes up a hill overlooking the beach.

A few miles later we reached the second rest stop near the ocean.  Although I had snacks at the first rest top, I was very hungry by this point.  I ate a lot of peanut butter jelly sandwiches and cookies.  They also had kalamata olives, an atypical rest stop treat, which I indulged in.

11:35am, 47 miles, 2500 feet

The section of the route after that rest stop is the start of the namesake of the route.  The area is a seemingly endless sea of strawberry fields.  However, farm fields just are not scenic, especially compared to the mountain roads at the start.  The route headed inland but was mostly flat.  More than two-thirds of the route was completed by the time the next rest stop was reached.

1:05pm, 71 miles, 3600 feet

This was the official lunch stop, which was set up at a local park.  The main food was sandwiches, and I made a big cheese sandwich.  There was a live band playing for our entertainment.  I sat and rested here longer than at the previous stops.

The next section of the route was again mostly more farm fields.  The next rest stop was only 12 miles, but it was the last stop before the finish.  The group I was following decided to skip it, but I decided to stop.  And I am glad I did.

2:30pm, 82 miles, 3700 feet

I did not really need the rest, but it was worth stopping for the snacks.  It was at Gizdich Ranch, which is a locally known berry farm.  They supplied an incredibly sweet fresh berry juice, and fresh apple pie.  They also had a live band here.

The final stretch of the route contained some more climbing as we headed back into the hills.  This time we did not go as high as we did in the morning, but my legs were tired and I had to go slower than I expected.  I returned to the finish and had dinner there.

4:05pm, 100 miles, 6100 feet

I changed clothes and made the hour drive home.  This route was much less challenging than my usual centuries, but it came at a good time in the calendar for it to be a useful training ride.  It is always nice to see new roads around the area.

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