So, two weeks ago, this guy who finished 2nd in the two-man team in this year's RAAM (Race Across America) invited me to join him and his ultra-distance friends on a century ride from Half Moon Bay, CA to Santa Cruz and back. I'm just a weekend rider and the thought of hanging out with riders of this caliber was just thrilling.
When I got to the meeting point, the first indication that this was not going to be a business-as-usual ride was the type of vehicles this group drove to the meeting point. Usually, when I meet friends for a ride, we show in our cars with bike racks. When I rode up to the meeting point this morning, it was all vans/trucks full of bike gear and parts. One guy even had a large size trailer that he pulls around for all his bike stuff. I'm thinking my tools and spare parts fit in my saddle bag - they've got trailers full of parts ! These guys are serious bike people!
Turns out people had come from all over Northern California to join my friend's ride. I guess the ultra-distance community is a very small and close-knit one. The folks there had done just about every ultra ride you can name - RAAM, Paris-Brest-Paris, Furnace Creek 508, 24 hours of Sebring, Race Across Oregon, etc. Double centuries are warm up rides for this group. Oh, and we had a SAG guy, of course. His credentials, you ask? He's only crewed on 21 RAAM rides over the years - think he's qualified? His van was loaded with gear and could handle 6 bikes on top. He had flashing lights, external speakers and a personalized license plate that said "BikeVan". Did I mention these guys are SERIOUS?
OK, there were 11 of us, 4 on recumbents. Mean looking recumbents. We took off shortly after 8:30 in the fog. The warm up pace was about 22, 23 mph. After a few polite miles of hanging with the group, the recumbents took off. A couple of us upright riders tagged along for a few miles, but by mile 10, I knew it would not be smart to keep up that pace for 100 miles, so I dropped back. The other upright rider was faster than me, so I let him go as well. Now I was stuck behind the fast group and in front of the rest of the pack. So, it stayed this way for the whole ride down. I ended up with a nice solo ride down to Santa Cruz with a 17.4mph average all the way down.
The fog never lifted and was actually quite heavy to whole way down. My glasses were completely fogged up and I just took them off and rode half blind down the coast. What the heck, I couldn't see the scenery for the fog anyway. My socks were wet from the fog and my toes were frozen the whole way down.
We had lunch at a Pizzeria called Upper Crust Pizza (all time great name for a Pizza Joint). The racing recumbents were ready to leave as I arrived, having gotten there about 30 minutes before. I didn't feel too bad since I was the second upright to arrive. Lunch gave me an opportunity to chat with the gang and listen to some of their war stories. About riding 30 hours non-stop. About how 24 Hours of Sebring was not a big deal. About getting pulled over by cops while riding in the middle of the night. You know, everyday stuff .
The wind kicked up for the ride home, so I stayed with a pack of 4 riders. What a drag knowing that we had 50 miles of this headwind and the FOG - Ugh!. But, we moved along well and it gave me a chance to talk with some of them. At mile 70, I hit a big pothole in the road and both tires flatted! I had one spare tube and patched the second one. My front wheel was a little whacked out, but rideable. We went along for a few more miles and I got another flat - the patch hadn't held up. At this point, I didn't want to slow down the group, so I told them to go ahead and I waited for the SAG van. When he pulled up, I was cold and it was getting late, so I ended up SAG-ing back. I didn't feel too bad about it. I had done 75 miles, kept up pretty well with the group.
Had a nice conversation with the SAG guy - Lee Mitchell. Great guy. Used to ride himself, but now just crews for teams. Like I said, 21 years of RAAM. He's quite a legend in that community.
I'm still buzzing over the day. What a treat it was to hang out with that group! Even though I hadn't finished the whole ride, I was feeling really strong and was glad to know that I held up for the 75 miles. Of course, the measly 100 miles we did today was just a warmup for this group, but I can tell my grandkids about how I rode with a bunch of ultra-riders and held my own - yeah, right!
Great day today....