Saturday, February 28, 2015

Riding the Kohala - Kona Konundrum 201km Perm!

In December, 2014, my wife Pat and I enjoyed a week exploring the island of Hawai'i, a new locale for us.  It was rewarding on and off the bike!

The Kohala Kona Konundrum 201k Permanent is based out of Kamuela Waimea, which sits at 2,500 ft. on the ridge between the wet (windward) and dry (leeward) sides of the island.  So you get a sampling of verdant, sprinkly conditions and dry, sunny climates, and everything from big climbs to fairly flat terrain.

Waimea is a good base for exploring the north end of the island, neither too rainy nor too desert-like.  There are places to stay but no big tourist resorts, and it's easy to get to Mauna Kea, Pololu Lookout and other places worth seeing.

A more detailed view:

Starting in Waimea shortens the climb to the Kohala Mountain Road highpoint, but makes for a stiff climb at the end of the ride.  

One could also start from Kailua Kona, where many tourists stay, with the big climb all in one go.

At 6:30am, it's a pleasant, tradewinds-fueled climb at dawn on the Kohala Mountain Road, the sun rising over the Mauna Kea volcano.  Surfaces wet from overnight and morning showers.

Looking southwest, you can see the drier Kona coast of the island.

Topping out at 3,564 ft., you get to enjoy the altitude and vistas for a while before the Kohala Mountain Road descends.  These tall ironwood trees were planted in the 20th century, and provide great shelter from the blustery winds and showers.

This is ranching country, one of the early big industries on Hawai'i, and home of the largest ranch in the US at one time, the historic Parker Ranch, which is still huge.  I had to slow down for Parker Ranch staff where cattle were being herded across the road to another pasture.

Here you can see the dividing line between wet and dry sides, with showers slopping over to the west flank to nourish verdant meadows.  (This looking south, so rightward is west.)

Looking west down to the bay, it's a sunnier but more arid terrain!

In case you hadn't guessed, I found the Kohala Mountain Road one of the most beautiful and scenic on the island.

The north end of the road dives down into Hawi, a small, traditional Hawaiian village with storefronts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  As usual on rides like this, there are many pictures I wish I'd taken.  So imagine a photo of the Hawi main street, with coffee, tourist, and other small shops.  Hawi is also the turnaround point for the Hawaii Ironman bike segment.  

You can also imagine a dramatic photo of Haleakala on Maui, the next island up in the chain, looming to the north as I descended into Kawi. At first I thought it was a somehow unaccounted-for peak on Hawai'i.

The first intermediate checkpoint is an info control at the northernmost point of the island, at the Upolo airport.  There's a wind farm here, as the channel between Hawai'i and Maui is a windy spot.  The other wind farm is at South Point, at the southern end of the island (and southernmost point in the US).  The island and its volcanoes divide the winds to those north and south points.

I loved the one-lane road, where I had to make room for the occasional local car or jogger.  It was, of course, uphill on the way back.

Heading southwestward on the quiet highway to the Kona coast, I have now peeled off the layers donned in preparation for the early morning showery jaunt up to 3,600 ft., and am now down to shorts and shortsleeved jersey.

The prevailing tailwinds are great, but I wonder how much I'll have to pay on the way back.

Over the course of half a dozen miles, we leave the lush meadows for the arid prairie grassland of the leeward side.  This view looks southward towards Kailua Kona.

The Kona coastal highway (Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway) is lightly rolling with a huge shoulder.  This is the southern end of the Ironman route.  It has moderate traffic, increasing as you near Kailua Kona, which was a checkpoint.  (I used the MacDonald's at the north end of town.)

Insert photo of triathletes biking up and down the highway, and tourists who are staying at the Kona-side resorts. 

While not as inherently scenic as some other roads on Hawai'i, it is a good road to bike on (unless the winds come up, which is not unusual), and the limited vegetation means you can see some distance.

Of the many non-native species on Hawaii, the donkeys are probably of limited impact.  (I didn't see any but it was not dawn or dusk at the time.)

The highway is built right through lava fields, which surround you on much of this coast.  This is also true on parts of the windward side, but the dense vegetation on that side makes this less apparent.

The Kona coast has little pockets of green where resorts have been built, such as this one where I chose to place a control.  (I stopped at a Starbucks.)

The final jaunt is the stiff climb from the coast near Kawaihae Harbor back up to Waimea.  We are reminded that the island is served by container ships, whose containers are then trucked to destinations throughout the island in a constant stream.  This one could be heading to Waimea or continuing on to the east coast.

So now we're back in the cool, moist terrain of the Waimea district.  (It's about 10ºF cooler up here, at 2,500 ft., than on the coast - 50's to 70's rather than 60's to low 80's down there.)

And on to the old-style (but nicely appointed) inn where we were staying.  The strings of lights and stars festooning this entry reflect that, just as in the rest of the country, Christmas is a big deal here.  The annual Waimea Christmas parade was only a couple days away.

I really enjoyed this 200k, scenic variety and a real workout!

Hawai'i is one of the better of the islands for biking (perhaps the best) - because it is more expansive (all the other islands combined aren't as large as Hawai'i), and has more roads with shoulders.  That, and some districts are more sparsely populated.  Those who live there will tell you it is qualitatively different from the other islands, which seemed to be true.  (But the others are nice, too!)

We explored much of the island - including the entire coast except for the coastal part of the Puna district in the SE - and enjoyed the now deluxe highway straddling the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  There are quite a few possibilities for other perm and perm populaire routes, and just biking fun.  Here are two:

The Pololu Lookout Longspear (100km) from Waimea over the Kohala Mountain Road to dramatic Pololu Lookout, on the windward coast.

Cliffs from Pololu Lookout

The Mauna Kea Meander (120km) from Waimea up an old, picturesque section of the Saddle Road, topped off by the strenuous seven-mile climb to the Mauna Kea visitors' center (at 9,100 ft.).

Above the clouds, near Mauna Kea visitor's center - looking across the saddle towards Mauna Loa, the tallest mountain on Earth.

Here's hoping you will get a chance to explore Hawai'i and its sibling islands!


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

3CR - The Inaugural California Central Coast 1200k!

August 7-10, 2014 I rode the inaugural California Central Coast 1200k.  RUSA members #7 and #8 - Bill Bryant and Lois Springsteen - created this event, so I knew it would be well-designed, smoothly executed ... and memorable!

This was one of the two new North American Grand Randonnées this year, and some new territory for me.

While it's Bill's and Lois' first 1200k to organize, it is based on their very successful 1000k from 2010.  That event helped set a new standard for 1000k's that were 1200k-quality in terms of support and organization.

Roland Bevan, Lois Springsteen and Mark Thomas look on as Bill Bryant explains a metric at inspection.
Along with most riders, I decided to ride the four suggested stages, which provided for max support and max enjoyment of the scenery.

 Day 1 - Old La Honda - Halfmoon Bay - Pinnacles - King City - 232 Miles

This day will offer lots of variety, from an urban (but quiet) start, and an urban (but unstressful) transit of Santa Cruz, to coastal segments, and a nice finish up Hwy. 25, the "Airline Highway," with a visit to Pinnacles National Park.

We head out from San Jose at 5:30am, with dawn at 6:15, but dimmed by the marine layer overcast which delays true daylight conditions in these coastal areas.  It's a measured pace as a succession of traffic lights distribute the ridership into smaller groups.

Turning left onto Old La Honda Road, we're into serious serpentine climbing through redwoods and rustic single-lane conditions.  It's real work but some of the nicest miles on the route!  We are passed - gingerly - by drivers lucky enough to live up here, on their way to work.

After the summit, we descend towards the coast in cooler air, and reach the first of ten info controls.  Then it's a dive through chilly fog - glad I didn't remove any layers after the climb! 

On the coast, we're below the cloud layer, and it's time for another info control, this like most of them featuring an SCR three-character code.  These info controls are nice pauses to regroup, yet without costing much time.  

Mark Thomas indicates the first of the SCR character code info controls.
We immediately start pondering what the pattern might be in these characters, to see if, by later on in the ride we can predict the next sequence and save some time getting off the bike.  (Just kidding, Bill!)

From La Honda to the run up to Moss Beach and Halfmoon Bay, and down the coast to Santa Cruz, we are reprising the only part of the route I'm familiar with: from riding Bill's and Lois' Moss Beach Ramble 200k Permanent. You can see more photos of this stretch in my Moss Beach report.

One of the nicest roads is Cloverdale, which narrows almost to one wooded lane.  Old La Honda looks like this, except that it also has redwoods.

Cloverdale Road
We sail down the coast, pushed by northwesterly tailwinds.  The transit of Santa Cruz, as noted in Bill's course narrative, is slower going with a succession of traffic lights.  It takes back the time we gained pushed by coastal winds.  But we stop for a useful bite at Safeway.  After a climb up scenic, wooded Hazel Dell Road, we're out into windy, open agricultural landscape.

From there it's on to open, quiet, inland landscape.

Remarkably, I have no pictures of the fine segment up Hwy. 25, "Airport Highway," leading to Pinnacles National Park.  I really liked this segment, buoyed by tailwinds up a lightly-traveled road of grassland and woods.  People told us this was a look into "old California," the quiet ranchland and small towns.  The 3CR staff support at Pinnacles campground was welcome, as we reached it nearing sunset, and cheerily downed a Cup-o-Soup and other treats.

I had assumed that Pinnacles would be, well, the pinnacle of this climb, but you actually descend to get to it, then climb on to the highest point on the 3CR.  What follows is a nice, shallow descent where you can make good time in the hours of dusk.  Lois had said she'd seen riders making this descent in daylight on the 1000k in 2010, and that was good predictive encouragement.  It was dusk for us.

Tim Sullivan and I climbed over the ridge separating this valley from King City and the Salinas Valley, and sailed into King City around 10pm.

Here is Lois looking cheery as riders sign in at King City, one using his helmet light for extra clarity.

Day 2 - Big Sur - San Luis Obispo - 207 Miles

Today, after tracing the Salinas Valley to Carmel, we'll have a long, scenic trek down the coast, highlighted by Big Sur.

We head out just after 5am down the Salinas Valley.  This second stage is supposed to be the toughest, because of the protracted climbing along Big Sur.  We've also been warned that upvalley winds can build in the Salinas Valley - which we'll be going down - the later you get going.  So we get going soon!

After a stop at Starbucks in Carmel, it's 72 miles of Big Sur coastline on Highway 1.  Big Sur is a fascinating region with some interesting background - historically one of the most remote and inaccessible areas in California according to this Wikipedia article.  This will be the most spectacular scenery of the trip, which means of course are sharing it with a fair amount of tourist traffic.

Coastal fog can roll in even midday.

Pelagic and other sea-oriented birds have places to perch on offshore rocks.

After a number of climbs and curves, we descend into the heart of Big Sur, where the resorts, campgrounds and cafes are nestled in deep woods.

Todd Teachout - San Francisco's first RBA - stops for a snack.

RAAM veteran and hardy randonneuse Kitty Goursolle recounts her scuba days off this area of the California coast.

After this stop, we have an extended but shady climb back up to "altitude" above the Pacific.

Mark Thomas heads towards a gallery built fairly recently to protect against rockslides.

We summit the second of two big climbs to Ragged Point.

The Pacific shimmers in the late-afternoon sun.

After a stop for a snack at Ragged Point, Mark, Tim and I descend to the coastal plain, bidding Big Sur adieu.  The prevailing winds sweep us along for this final 100k segment past San Simeon, Hearst Castle, through the beachfront town of Cajucos, past Moro Rock - looking to me like a whale snout in the evening haze - and a shallow climb up into San Luis Obispo.

We pull in about 8:40pm, to be greeted by Julie Walker (wife of a 3CR rider), my friend Kerin Huber just back from the Colorado High Country 1200, and Lois.

 Day 3 - Gaviota Pass - Foxen Canyon - 185 Miles

Today ventures from San Luis Obispo south into Santa Barbara County with climbs up Gaviota Pass and Foxen Canyon Road.  This could be a toastier day with the inland segments.

After some agricultural warm-up miles under the marine layer, we have a combo postal-and-info control at Casmalia.

Will Danicek in front of Casmalia P.O.
You could mail the postcard outside as Tim is doing or walk inside and hand it to the cordial postal clerk.

We visit the wooded terrain near Vandenburg AFB (home of space launches), and then stop for burrito and other snacks in Lompoc, the marine layer still keeping us cool.

As we climb to Gaviota Pass, though, the sun comes out and it quickly turns warm.

Rob Hawks, SF RBA, answers SCR info question at summit of Gaviota Pass.
On the way to Solvang, it really starts to heat up.  A local observer looks on as we answer an info control on Santa Rosa Road.

Danish-flavored Solvang attracts a lot of tourists, so it's pretty congested.  We pull into a (non-Danish-themed) Subway for sandwiches and tank up with some hot climbs in prospect.

While today is fairly warm, it's not as hot as it sometimes get here, and we summit the smaller of two climbs up Foxen Canyon Road with a cooling cross-breeze.

Foxen Canyon Road is a quiet country road bordered by grassland, woods, and vineyards.  A trickle of limos plies the road taking folks to and from prominent vineyards such as the Fess Parker Winery.

On the descent, we are aiming to reach the Garey store before it closes at 5pm, and succeed.  Quite the rustic store, but with the essentials, including Cheetos and jugs of water.

From there we head into the coastal wind and skirt Santa Maria, a reference I recognize from certain detective novels set in Santa Barbara County.

Yes, it's time to pause and greet other riders at an info control before descending to the coast.

The next bit is perhaps the most serene of the entire ride, late afternoon and early evening descending along the coast to Pismo Beach.  It's downhill with a tailwind and very tranquil.  

In Pismo Beach, I was thinking we'd climb to San Luis Obispo via the shallow canyon we'd started out on in the morning, but perhaps in a thirst for variety, our route takes us up a much climbier route.  Still nice and scenic, though!

After a few final bracing miles into the chilly sea breeze, we get in about 8:20pm, greeted by Davis RBA and Gold Rush Randonnée director Dan Shadoan and his wife Ann Lincoln.

 Day 4 - Old Creek Road - San Miguel - Cayucos - 124 Miles

Today is the extra 200k beyond the original 1000k route.  It will feature the stiff climb up Old Creek Road and a visit to San Miguel abbey.

After a shallow but swift descent to Cayucos in the dark, given our by now ingrained 5:15am start time, we make a pleasant climb out of town on Old Creek Road.  This, however, is a mere warm-up, followed by a descent and info control at the base of it, to be succeeded by what is billed as as tough a climb as Old La Honda on the first day.

It's a wooded country road, soothing and quiet, a good counterpoise to the strenuosity of the grade.  To me, it seems like a tougher, more extended climb than Old La Honda, but maybe that's because it's Day 4.  At the top we plow into dense, wet fog, which cools us - with a few sunny outbreaks - all the way to Paso Robles.  

It's the one time I consider putting on a shell (a rain jacket, to be specific).  That's how temperate and dry this ride has been.

Tim and I pull into a bakery plus coffee house in Paso Robles as an excuse for warming up and getting some calories.  We regroup and head down the quiet agricultural roads to San Miguel.

What a nice spot!  Apparently it's unusual to get use of this venue, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tim Sullivan, JLE, and Mark Thomas languishing in the shade at San Miguel.
Ken Knutson did the 3CR pre-ride, which he said was much toastier.  He certainly appreciated taking a break here on day 4.

Ken Knutson and JLE  -  Jonathan Gray photo
Kitty is looking calm and collected getting ready for the home stretch.

It's a moderate, cool climb out of Paso Robles, to the second highest point on the route.

And on towards the coast.

The characteristic dry hillsides overlooking the sea, but even drier in California's current drought.

Dan Shadoan and finish-line colleagues welcome us as we roll in at midday.

Mark, Tim, and I pose at the finish with Lois.
I really enjoyed the camaraderie of this ride.

A big thanks to Lois and Bill for a memorable, scenic experience!

I certainly found the 3CR bracing and evocative, riding in the air-conditioned comfort of the Pacific breezes looking out at whales, sea lions, and birdlife ... punctuated by those attention-grabbing inland climbs.  I hope that Bill and Lois will offer the 3CR again, perhaps in 2017.


A Postscript - On Day 3, on the stretch of Foxen Canyon Road we'd ridden not that long before, fellow rider Matthew O'Neill was hit by a truck towing a trailer and passed away.  We are so sorry for Matthew - a well-liked cyclist known to many - and for his friends and family, as well as the organizers of the 3CR.  Matthew will be missed.