As we prepare to head up to Humbolt County in California for our 3rd annual Tour of the Unknown Coast (TUC), it seems appropriate to post this piece that I wrote after last year’s journey. At the end of this blog I set a goal of riding the 100 mile course in 2017, and, at this moment, the ride is 4 days away and I’m still not sure which route I will choose.
His jersey read “Hill Killer”. I spotted him around mile 12 of the 100K Tour of the Unknown Coast route. I thought briefly to myself, 6’6” and 250# doesn’t scream hill killer, but who am I to judge. And so, my friend Holly and I continued on to the 100K turn around. Somewhere around mile 40 Holly and I found ourselves pushing the pace because there was a little train of people hot on our wheels. After a good push Holly acknowledged that the next 20 miles to the finish were going to be impossible if she didn’t take it down a notch. So we sat up, dropped the pace a few MHP and caught our breath. This allowed our friends in the rear to inch forward and settle in just ahead of us. After a friendly “thanks for the pull”, three delightful cyclists lined up in front of us. We dropped in behind the third in line. She was a bit off the wheel of the girl in front of her, who was positively glued just slightly to the right an rear of, yup, Hill Killer. Let me first explain the TUC 100K route in order to paint a better picture of why this is the best thing in the world that could have happened to us at that very moment.
For the past two years, Jon and I have joined our friends Holly & Greg for the Tour of the Unknown Coast. As a graduate of Humboldt State University, Greg spent his formative years racing and riding around Humboldt County in CA. This year Greg completed his 14th lap of the 100 mile route, which is tagged as the country’s hardest century. The 100 mile loop closes out at about 11,000 feet of climbing, roughly 8,000 of that in the last 40 miles. Jon rode it last year, but a slight case of the plague and some seriously long weeks getting Ellie ready for van life this winter took away his attempt at a repeat. As a result, Jon joined Holly & I for the metric century, which, while it is beautiful, makes no claims about epic amount of elevation. To clarify, Jon rode the same route, but at his own pace which left Holly & I tackling the 100K together just as we had done the year before.
A couple of things stood out to me about the ride last year. First of all, that climate is nothing but consistent: mid 50’s with daily winds ranging from some to a ton later in the day and fog. I specifically remember despising the last 20 miles of last years ride. The day was pressing on, due to my obscene amount of picture taking on the Avenue of the Giants, and as soon as we hit the 101 to head back to Ferndale, CA, the headwind set it and it never let up. Ever. As we set out for the 2016 version of TUC, I was literally dreading the return trip. There was not one part of me that wanted to head out knowing what we were going to face coming back. But, there we were and its now tradition so, we had to go. Thankfully, I got all my redwood photos last year so our time out on the road was quite a bit shorter due to my lack of paparazzing. We paused for 60 seconds when the road side props matched our 2016 Team ten20 Cycling team kits, which Holly graciously delivered to me from Boulder, and that was obviously totally worth it.
We were cooking right along. Now fast forward and there we were at mile 40, about to start cursing the inevitable wind that was about smack us in the face for 20 miles, and up rolls Hill Killer and his mates. Bless them. We stuck to them like white on rice. We made our presence known as their third rider seemed a little squirrely having us right on her wheel. Before we knew it, the hellacious 5 miles of the 101 North were over and we were flying by riders as if they were standing still. Huh? That part was supposed to be the worst. As we started to come through the town of Rio Dell we decided to be a bit more friendly with our neighbors, who were kind enough to allow us to hop on their conveyer belt to the finish. We offered to pull, but Hill Killer was a happy camper up there. As we approached the last aid station, 12 miles from the finish, we introduced ourselves and got some beta on our threesome. Hill Killer, aka Christian, was riding with his sisters, Erin & Cedar. Erin and Christian ride together a bit and she knows exactly where to be in order to maximize the vacuum that her brother creates. Cedar, on the other hand, just started riding in January and this was her longest ride. What was that now? We’ve been drafting off the wheel of a newbie for 10 miles? Poor thing must have been on the verge of heart failure. Luckily she’s an accomplished half marathon runner so her fitness was never an issue.
Just before the aid station I remember asking Holly how closely she wanted to stay to this crew. Her response, “VERY”. When we heard Hill Killer rally the troops Holly and I gave each other a knowing glance and hopped on our bikes to follow suit. At this point Hill Killer, who truly climbs well but obviously descends better, was well aware of us and declined any help up front. We CRUSHED that last 12 miles. I felt zero wind and Holly and I were giggling to each other and, on one occasion, asked if it was cheating to get in to a draft this strong. We decided that it wasn’t, since this isn’t a race. Cedar, the rookie, was starting to fade mentally in the last stretch. As a group we were educating her on where to stay, where to look, where to put her hands in order to maximize the draft. Holly and I educated her on our level of experience and that she didn’t need to worry about us, we could react to her movements, something she probably would have liked to have known when we were still strangers sucking her wheel for 10 miles.
As we pulled in to the finish area and were profusely thanking our three amigos with high fives and all the Skratch & Untapped I had in my pockets, Christian said that one of his favorite things is to look behind him and see that he’s leading a peloton. I will ride with you any day, “down” hill killer and flat land crusher.
So there you have it. Just because we were doing a ride we knew, in a climate that never changes and is 100% predictable, doesn’t mean we could predict the outcome. With a ride time of 45 minutes faster than last year, Holly and I finished the 2016 TUC feeling joyous and light, rather than haggard and beaten.
Following the TUC we camped for 2 days in Petrolia, CA. From there we rode about 20 miles of the century loop. It took us through some green rolling hills, past some zebras, along the coast and up part of the infamous Wall. That little jaunt solidified a goal of mine. The plan for 2017 is for Jon to accompany me as we tackle the 100 miler at my pace. I’ve got the gearing and the bike (Specialized Diverge with SRAM 1x set up), because holy hell the potholes are insane. I could use a cycling goal. Bring it.