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.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Evergreen Escapade Permanent # 865

     Vernon Smith and I had the pleasure of riding Andrea Koenig's Evergreen Escapade earlier this November before the snow started to fly.  In fact, two days after our ride the roads were covered in snow.  At the outset of our ride, I was simply hoping to finally finish an R-12 series after my third attempt.  Little did I know that we were to be the first to complete the Evergreen Escapade as a permanent ride, other than Andrea.
     This ride has great variety as it starts near downtown Denver, climbs to the Peak to Peak highway, passes through the gambling towns of Black Hawk and Central City, stops in Conifer, and finally returns to down town Denver via Evergreen and Golden.
     We had a nice warm up through the streets of the Highlands neighborhood of Denver and Wheat Ridge before starting the long climb up Golden Gate Canyon.  I was surprised with how this climb felt to be never-ending, with only some mild undulations for temporary relief.  Fortunately, we had great weather with favorable winds up the canyon.
     Passing through Central City, we had been warned about streets that banned cycling and worked hard to avoid these.  I even went so far as to seek directions from passers by on the street, but they were visitors from Canada and thus offered no assistance.  We avoided any citations from the local law enforcement despite the steep climbs through Central City.
     Moving on toward Evergreen involved generally rolling terrain, prior to some very steep climbs heading up to Conifer.  The road to Conifer was quiet but steep in many a section.
We were rewarded for all our work to this point with a long down hill back to Evergreen and down Bear Creek Canyon to Morrison.
     As the sun was setting, we returned through the Highlands neighborhood and finished with a celebratory dinner at Subway.
     In summary, the Evergreen Escapade is a challenging 200K with enough climbing to keep one honest, but rewards of great downhills and a central starting location.  Even before we had our bikes in the car, Vernon was questioning when we would be able to ride it again.  I guess we will have to wait for the snow to clear.
--Paul Foley

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Grand Randonnée Round-Up for 2015!

With the snow flying outside, it's time to ponder and plan!

2014 in Retrospect - 2014 was a great year for US 1200k's and Grand Randonnées in general.  We had five 1200k+ events, two of them new: the Natchez Trace 1500k and the Central California Coast 1200k (both of which got great reviews!).

The Promise of 2011 - 2011 was the first Paris-Brest-Paris year in which Randonneurs Mondiaux would sanction events.  The response: five non-PBP 1200k's worldwide - all in the US - most of them new, including the Colorado High Country.

It's a different 1200k landscape for 2015.  Only two US 1200k events are scheduled:

Sunshine 1200k (Fla.)May 14 - new!
Taste of North Carolina October 8

And none in Canada, as is their tradition in a PBP year.

Foreign non-PBP Grand Randonnées - Many folks, including myself, will be scouring the globe for new and interesting 1200k's.  There are events in Korea (third edition, I believe) and Belgium/France, for example.  As I find out more, stay tuned.  (The Randonneurs Mondiaux website should be posting a listing of events, but it is flagged by Web browsers as infected with malware, so a word to the wise.)

Being a PBP year, there is of course Paris-Brest-Paris in August.

If you are planning on Paris-Brest-Paris, is it your first time?  If so, you may want to do some extra planning, with all the riders (5,000), start time options (3), and various sleep alternatives.

If you're an ancien(ne) returning for another go, what will your goals be this go-round?  A faster time? More sleep? More daylight riding?  Notching another PBP on your belt?  Seeing old friends?  (Some of my fellow US randonneurs I only see at PBP!)

I will be posting a series of tips - here is the first (what do to in 2014) - and we'll plan a PBP/1200k seminar in the spring.

If you are riding a 1200k, some awards for extra motivation:

Finish two US 1200k's in the same year - you can still do that in 2015!

Finish four different US 1200k's - over any number of years

Finish PBP, a Super-Randonneur series, a Flèche, and other events.

And now some details on the US 1200k's ...

The new Sunshine 1200 starts in Key West, making it the southernmost start of any US 1200k so far. It then heads up the Atlantic Coast, coming back through the center and ending up in Fort Myers Beach.  The event should be very well run, as organizer Dave Thompson has also been at the helm of the Granite Anvil; that and support from the central and southern Florida regions.  Food and lodging are included, and provisions for transport to Key West are offered.

For us it is an early 1200k, about the same time as the Texas Rando Stampede is held.  It is meant to be gentle, with comfortable temperature range and minimal climbing.  The "downside" of little climbing, of course, is that it can be rough on the derrière!

The Taste of North Carolina varies its route from year to year.  2012 offered a combo of mountains, Piedmont foothills, and a jaunt to the coast.  2013 was largely a coastal route.  2014 was a Piedmont and mountain route.  We're not sure what event director Tony Goodnight has in store for 2015, but it's bound to be interesting.

Choosing and Riding a 1200k

My advice from 2014 ...

While all 1200k's aim to provide you a memorable experience, there are many styles of events, kinds of challenges, services, and what you get for your fee.  So investigate and find which ones suit your personal goals!

Scenic and Challenging, or Social ... or Both? - Every 1200k is challenging, of course, and any can be social with the right attitude and discipline.  But it can be easier to stick together as a group if the route is more moderated in its climbs, exposure, etc.  Riding with a group may be important to you.  Or you may be longing for that special, bracing experience, and willing to ride stretches alone or with a few friends who've agreed to stick together.

Stage-Oriented or Roll-Your-Own Ride Plan? - Stage-Oriented 1200k's are becoming more and more popular. They promote rider cohesiveness, and allow riders to regroup successive mornings.  They also allow the organizers to concentrate their lodging and food support at fewer points, making for upgraded lodging options and cost savings.

Roll-Your-Own events come in two flavors: many staffed controls with sleep options (some of which may be limited, but still a place to sleep), as Paris-Brest-Paris and the Rocky Mountain 1200 provide, or no event-provided lodging (VanIsle, Taste of Carolina), leaving you to make your own arrangements as suit you best. 

It can be satisfying to tune your ride to how things are going, or to your own personal way of riding.  It can also be comforting not to have to think about that, and just ride well-thought-out stages. 

Whether you're choosing your 1200k, or planning for one you've chosen, pre-visualize how you'd ride it, and how the event structure supports that, or can accommodate your needs.

Services / Lodging Provided? - Are there regular opportunities to get food (either event-supplied or in stores) and shelter / lodging (either event-supplied or motels en route)?  The Big Wild Ride in Alaska, for example, advised riders there could be stretches up to 200km where you'd need to be self-contained (except for water).  This requires more planning on your part, but the reward could be a remote, scenic trip hard to match.
Effort and Expense - Finally, while it may not affect which 1200k you choose, research the total cost of riding the event.  The entry fee may a small part, when added to transportation and lodging - and the logistics of getting to/from the start line.  International events clearly can be more trouble and expense, and some US events are easier to get to than others, too.  If it's a trade-off between economizing and the exotic, you may find the new or exotic worth the extra cost and trouble, or not.  It all depends!

An Alternative? - If you're looking for a major challenge but not dead set on a 1200k or longer distance, there are plenty of 1000k brevets out there, many of them scenic and challenging, with various levels of support.  And most 1000k's fit neatly within three days of riding.

- - - 
So, plenty to whet your appetite in 2015.  So start imagining, planning, ... and training!


Friday, September 5, 2014

Riding Cathy Cramer's Bishop Castle 207km Perm!

I'd wanted to try out Cathy Cramer's Bishop Castle 207km Perm for quite a while, and on August 23 I finally did!  It is a loop along and over the Wet Mountains north of Walsenburg, in a scenic, thinly-populated area of Southern Colorado.

Cathy provided excellent materials and write-up, with inviting photos.

I chose the Colorado City start, and a clockwise direction, a 180-mile drive from my house starting at 4am.  You can also start from Walsenburg, and ride in either direction (a choice which may make a big difference, I learned!).


After a quiet start on local roads, you head down the ramp onto I-25, the snowy Spanish Peaks beckoning in the distance.

This sign, and the windmills on the left side of the highway, provided a hint of what the next few hours might offer.  It had been dead still for the first half-dozen miles, and then wham!  You're in the Wind Zone.

I thought, well, ha, I'm only going five miles further on I-25, not the ten miles they mention on the sign. But that was a mere delusion on my part.

Fortunately there are items of interest, such as Huerfano Butte, for which Huerfano County is named, an orphan on the plains.

Heading west on Red Rock Road, it's rolling, rollicking terrain, and straight into the cloud-fed wind pouring over the southern extremity of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.  I could gaze back and see the same windmills in the earlier photo, now down-valley, catching all the wind I was pedaling against (I felt).

Seriously, though the wind was hefty, it was a nice, invigorating day, and not miserable riding.  These are probably the same winds, I thought, that waft you over La Veta pass from the west, and help build the Great Sand Dunes.

(There is a thought that riding counterclockwise would be more favorable, and that could be.)

In places the highway would dip down to the valley, less breezy, and very green with irrigation (and yellow with sunflowers), a contrast to the sage country not far away.

This bicycle windvane may be showing the direction I should be heading in (but am not!).

Gardner, the first intermediate control, is a friendly, eclectic small down, with interesting architecture.  It is also the only spot on the entire course where I saw someone on a bike (a kid biking down Main St.)

Couldn't resist this photo calendar scene of mountains, horses, and sunflowers.

Or this nice pair.

The country opens up a bit with broad vistas.

A few miles north of Gardner, the route angles enough northward to start picking up tailwinds, giving a push up to the saddle (8,578 ft. - A on the elevation profile) between Gardner and Westcliffe.

Looking back down valley ...

... and up towards the saddle.

This country probably was always sparsely settled, and even more sparsely now?

A lone tree stands as a sentry on this high prairie.

A succession of dirt county roads head right towards the Sangre de Cristos ...

... towards passes or trailheads.  
(You can see the continuation of this road a bit to the left, as it angles into the forest.)

A pickup truck in a sea of sunflowers ...

Descending towards Westcliffe, I see a surprising caution sign for horsedrawn, Amish-style carriages ...

... It doesn't look like Eastern Pennsylvania, but you never know.

Close to Westcliffe, wide shoulders have been added to the highway, perhaps for the carriages.  I did not see any on the road, but later saw one on a flatbed trailer heading out of Westcliffe.

The Westcliffe checkpoint store is a welcome chance to refuel, and a friendly spot.  Westcliffe and Silver Cliff are several blocks of bustling activity before heading up into the Wet Mountains.

There are some rolling climbs heading east.  It is cloudy, but not rainy today.  The route turns south on Hwy. 165 for the main climbs of the route ... although it seems like the route has had some climbing already!

The Wet Mountains have a lush look - forest and meadows - so it may well rain on a regular basis here.

A delightful meadow with aspen/pine woods ... and some horses.

Bigelow Divide is the highest elevation (B on the elevation profile) on the route, reached by switchbacks on both sides.  Immersed in the San Isabel National Forest, it's hard to tell it's this high, but it's above the high point of the Peak-to-Peak Highway.

And then up a rise comes the eponymous treat of the ride, Bishop Castle, a fanciful construction augmented by more layers of fancy over time.  The gleaming metal dragon seemed welcoming and congratulatory, nearing the final climb of the route.

(This being the weekend, there were cars lining the highway and many frolicsome visitors having fun on the ramparts.)

The route dips down to sparkling Isabell Lake, sprinkled with anglers and casual picnickers - a nice day for it!

After one brief final oomph, the final climb, now it's a 16-mile descent to the finish, speedy but shallow enough you can just let the bike go.

Lower down, the route opens up to meadows and views of the eastern plains ...

... and sailing into the great finish of a quite memorable ride!

Many thanks to Cathy Cramer for this challenging, rewarding, and scenic route.  As you can tell, I enjoyed it, and I bet you will, too.