The original plan was to do this 400k solo. My riding partner, Bruce, decided to do a different 400k, so I was on my own for this one. However, two weeks before the ride, Bruce decided to do the same ride, and we began making arrangements to get up to San Luis Obispo (SLO) together.
For any of you that know me, you know that I LOVE riding around the SLO area. It is scenic with diverse topography, including vineyards, ranches, beaches, grand climbs, soaring overlooks and thrilling descents. This ride was to be no different. The general course headed out of SLO for an early climb up the Cuesta Grade, backroads out to Paso Robles and San Miguel, followed by beautiful climbs up in the wine country above Paso Robles. We would then bomb down Highway 46 and shoot up the coast to Ragged Point and back all the way to SLO. The second loop would head south to Guadalupe and Santa Maria, and then back via Bull Canyon, Nipomo, Arroyo Grande and a short trip down Orcutt Rd back to SLO. Here is a map of the ride:
As usual, the goal was to ride by my power meter and try to keep my wattage around 120-130w. My nutrition plan was to use Perpetuem and Hammer Gel through the first 3-4 hours, and then switch to solid foods.
We started at 6am on Saturday, and the climbing began immediately after a 5 mile warm up through deserted SLO. Cuesta Grade rides along the 101 Highway, but the shoulder is very wide and there were not many cars on the road. Bruce and I settled in towards the back of the pack, and paced ourselves up to the top. Heading down the other side, though, I passed Bruce and didn't see him again for 100 miles. I cruised effortlessly through the rolling hills on the east side of the 101, with my Garmin 800 leading the way. I passed a few riders through this area, but basically rode alone. It was nice to see my riding companion from the last 600k, Shaun, chugging along. I also chatted with Roland who was riding his CA2.0 that we built up for him a couple months ago.
The first control was mobbed, so I proceeded down to the market a block down the street to get a receipt. The route then headed up into the wine country above Paso Robles.
This scenic climb takes you slowly up into the hills. On either side are horse ranches with horses, goats, llamas, and green rolling hills as far as you can see! The ride then started up the aptly named Chimney Rock Rd., a steep road that takes you 800 feet up to the plateau and rolling hills that house many of the Paso Robles wineries. As I reached the top, awed by the scenery, my left knee started hurting...not what you want to feel when you are only 60 miles into a 250 mile ride! I stopped at the secret control as we cruised through the vineyards and stretched it out. This seemed to work...the pain went away.
As I approached Highway 46, our last major climb for the ride, the pain returned. I pulled off the road to do some stretching and deep tissue massage - my ART therapist is so much better at this than I am! It's hard to massage yourself so hard that it hurts, but that's what I was trying to do. It alleviated the pain enough that I could finish the climb. Bombing down the 9 mile descent into Cambria was exhilarating - the winds are rather gusty and unpredictable up there, so I kept the speed down to 35-40mph and tried to enjoy the beautiful view of the coast. By the time I arrived in Cambria, my knee was flaring up again. My last-ditch effort was to take two Alleve and hope that the pain would go away. I hung out in Cambria for a little while to give the Alleve a chance to kick in, and then headed off to Ragged Point.
In my mental preparations for the ride, I assumed this section would be the most difficult. I had just finished a ton of climbing, and now I had a 22-mile slugfest into the wind, ending with a steep, windy climb up to Ragged Point. So, rather than worry about it, I just started pedaling. As you might expect, the scenery was fantastic looking out across the rocky shore to the beautiful Pacific Ocean. On my right, the hills rose majestically, covered in green, with an abundance of wildlife nibbling at the fresh grass from the recent rains.
The climb up to Ragged Point wasn't actually all that difficult, it was just hard! The road is quite windy and narrow...I had to frequently check behind me as I was approaching a turn in the road to assure that there were no cars coming up behind me. I made it to the top and rewarded my first 116 miles with some overly seasoned french fries and a Coke. Funny side note...I misread the route sheet and thought I had to be in Ragged Point by 16:04. I raced in and arrived at 16:00, and then realized that 16:04 was the closing time for the previous time station!
The ride back from Ragged Point was great, but rather disappointing. The wind died down, so there was no wicked tail wind. I thoroughly expected to ride from Ragged Point to Cambria in an hour, but it took an hour and twenty minutes. In Cambria, I stopped to get some night clothing on as it was starting to cool off as the sun set. Bruce caught up with me at this point and we chatted for a couple minutes, but he shooed me off so I wouldn't have to wait for him in the cold. I continued down the coast through Harmony (don't blink or you will miss it), Cayucos and Morro Bay. I then turned inland and headed up Los Osos Valley Rd. back to the start line/174 mile control.
I felt great after 174 miles! So far, I had ridden almost exclusively by myself, and decided that I wasn't such bad company. The pain in my knee was completely gone and I felt like I had plenty of energy. I changed clothes and grabbed a fresh set of batteries, ate too much Stouffer's Mac and Cheese, and headed off into the night! The next 73 mile loop was the easy part with no extended climbing and riding on roads that I was pretty familiar with.
Zoom down through Pismo Beach, Grover Beach and Oceano. An easy climb up the plateau and then a cruise into Guadalupe. We were warned about bicycle-eating dogs on the plateau, but they never materialized. It was a cool but clear night and I enjoyed recounting tales to myself of other rides I had done through this area.
The 10 miles from Guadalupe to Santa Maria became more difficult. I could see the city lights in the distance, but they didn't seem to be getting any closer. It was a bit like the Twilight Zone! The lights eventually allowed me to catch them, and I cruised through Santa Maria looking for the next control. The 7-11 was easy to spot...it was the one with bicycles parked out front!
This control was not a good one for me. Within minutes of going inside and getting some coffee and a donut, my core temperature plummeted and I got shaky. I hung out as Shaun and Matthew rolled in, and we decided to hang out for awhile, warm up, and ride the last 38 miles together. I was looking forward to riding with Shaun again...he was a great riding partner on the Big Sur 600K. He and Matthew were great companions...our paces were a bit off, but we somehow always managed to meet up again (usually because I had to stop and pee and look at the stars!).
Once we got back on the bike, I warmed up quickly (the balaclava worked wonders!). We did a quick climb up Bull Canyon and then rode the rollers through Nipomo into Arroyo Grande. As we approached the last control at Orcutt, we met up with more cyclists. We all rode together the last 12 miles, chatting a bit and enjoying the wonderful view of the lights of SLO in the distance. I pulled into the finish at 04:10 with Matt, with the others right in tow.
What a great ride! The course and scenery were spectacular. Vickie really outdid herself with this course and the support crew were always cheerful and supportive. While not the easiest 400K around (this one took 4 hours longer than my last 400K), the beauty and diversity of terrain more than made up for it. All of the PCH Randos courses this year have been outstanding, and this one was no different. Who is up for a 600K in April?