On July 24, 2010, I rode the Santa Cruz Randonneurs’ Moss Beach 200k. This ride took me through some parts of Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties that I had not seen before. It also was just a downright fun but, ultimately, was overshadowed by events of the previous day. The cue sheet for the ride is here. The ride profile is here. If you want to skip the text and just see the photos, click here or watch the slideshow below.
After a drive down from Richmond on the morning of the ride and a fine breakfast of pancakes from McDonald’s, I dropped my car near the end point of the ride and rode to the start of the ride (about 1.7 miles) with Joe, who was riding his first brevet. The start was at the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, which is the home of the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, Santa Cruz Lighthouse, so as we headed for the start, we rode past Steamer Lane and saw a group of surfers out waiting for some tasty waves. It was good to know that there were other crazies out at that time of the morning, doing their thing.
The ride had quite a turnout, probably because the weather was supposed to be great and the course was not a killer. While checking in, I ran into Steve, who I rode with for a while on the SF Randonneurs’ Davis Night 200k. About five minutes before the start, Bill gave a short introduction to the ride, providing any last-minute details. After he had finished, it was time to roll.
The parcourse is very straightforward: head north from Santa Cruz on Highway 1 along the coast, turn inland at Gazos Creek and then ride along Stage Road to avoid a nasty stretch of road from south of Pescadero to north of San Gregorio, and then return to Highway 1, where we would continue north to Moss Beach, turn around, and head back to Santa Cruz (with a little detour to La Honda and a nice ride on Pescadero Road to the outskirts of Pescadero, followed by a quick run down Cloverdale Road and Gazos Creek Road, which returned us to Highway 1).
As we rolled out of Santa Cruz, there was the normal sorting out as riders figured out who was going at their pace. Even though this wasn’t going to be a brute of a ride, it still seemed prudent to keep my pace under control at the start so that I would enjoy the last part of the ride (rather than straggling in like a whipped dog). That being said, I knew that there might be a headwind on the northward leg from San Gregorio to Moss Beach, so getting in (and staying with a group) would make life easier in the long run, too.
Heading north toward the first controle at Pescadero, a small group formed, consisting of Clyde, Kevin, Joe, Patty, and a couple of others. It was early on Saturday morning and the traffic wasn’t heavy, so it was possible to ride in not quite a single file line and chat. Joe, who was riding a very nice-looking Rivendell, told me that he had been a racer in the distant past but had recently started riding more. Kevin, who I had ridden with on the SCR 1000k, filled me in on his background as a jeweler and business owner in San Luis Obispo. Since Gail had worked at Fisher’s Custom Design Jewelry for about 20 years as a designer and sales person, he and I had a fine time talking about the joys of retail and custom jewelry sales.
Before I knew it, we rode into Pescadero. And we all know what that means, right? ARCANGLI GROCERY COMPANY!!! I grabbed two pastries out of the case, a bottle of Fruit Punch Gatorade, and went outside to chow. However, my compatriots had a different idea: they were planning to ride and eat at the same time. I wasn’t ready to go, so they rode off up Stage Road, while I sat down with Don and enjoyed my cheese pocket, which is an amazing combination of a cheese danish and a croissant. Oh my! Did I ever enjoy it.
After the first pastry was history, I was eying the second but started to feel like if I sit for too much longer, I would start to tighten up. So, I tucked my cinnamon roll into my bag and headed north on Stage Road toward San Gregorio.
On the SCR 1000k, we had ridden south on Stage Road, so this was my first time going north. The first bit is kind of flat and I could see small groups of riders up ahead on the flats or on the hill. However, as you hit the end of the valley, the road turns hard left and starts to climb over the first ridge. Not a tough climb at all but it was definitely the first true “climb” of the day. It felt good to get out of the saddle to stretch my legs while climbing. After cresting the first hill, I started to wind down the other side. Stage Road really twists and turn at this point. In fact, as I started up the next hill, I caught a glimpse of a road over my left shoulder that appeared to be heading off toward the ocean. Stopping for a second, I got off the bike and wondered if I had missed a turn. It seemed unlikely but I didn’t want to end up lost in the Santa Cruz mountains. As I looked back down the road, it became clear that the road “heading off to the ocean” was in fact the road I had just ridden! At that point, feeling totally turned around, I just got back on the bike and kept heading up the hill. Perhaps getting up so early to drive to Santa Cruz was having some effect on my perception. I hoped not…
After reaching San Gregorio, I caught up with Kevin. From that point to the next controle, he and I either rode together (or I could see him ahead of me up the road) all the way to Moss Beach. I had to make a couple of unplanned stops along the way (such as taking a picture of a hay bale maze on Highway 1), so he would keep riding and I would do my business and then work to catch up. The wind was blowing but not too badly, so riding alone was not a problem. Also, since the traffic was getting heavier, it was almost easier to ride alone, since I didn’t have to worry about touching wheels with another rider.
After arriving at Moss Beach, which was controle #2, I purchased my Gatorade in the Coastside Market, put my receipt into my baggie, and headed back out onto Highway 1. Before I did, I took out my other pastry, deciding that the tailwind would make it easy to eat while riding. Kevin, Clyde, and Pat had left before me, so I just started to cruise on my own with a nice tailwind toward Half Moon Bay. Along the way, I rode a bit with Joel, who is a member of the San Francisco Randonneurs. We compared notes on ride preparation strategies, with Joel being a “physical list” person and me being a “mental list” person. I could see the attraction of having physical lists (grab the items on the list and then and cross them off). I will have to put that goal on a list!
Because of the tailwind, the ride south to San Gregorio was a quick one. I linked up with Kevin for a bit as we climbed the big roller away from Tunitas Creek. Once over the top, it is a quick zip down into San Gregorio via Stage Road. In town, it was time to strip down, since the fog had lifted and we were turning east on Highway 84 and heading toward La Honda. Having never ridden Highway 84 in this direction, I couldn’t remember how much climbing this involved or how much the wind from the ocean would help, so shedding some clothes at this point would save me from a potential stop along the road.
When Kevin rolled into San Gregorio, he offered to take my picture. As he was framing the shot, he said that I should stand next to the cute woman that was fussing with her bicycle next to me. When she heard this, her head whipped around and she immediately walked away. I can’t say that I can blame her.
The road from San Gregorio to La Honda is a mixed bag. The “plus” side of the ledger: The grade is easy, the wind normally helps push you along, the scenery is nice, and there is food in La Honda. There “minus” side of the ledger was not as long but was still important: There is a good amount of fast traffic and there are some really aggressive moto riders. As a result, I tried to get up to La Honda as quickly as possible, which meant that I didn’t stop to check out the rodeo at Driscoll Ranch.
La Honda is a wide spot on Highway 84. There are a couple of bars, a gas station, and some kind of camping/lodge. Our controle was at the La Honda Country Market, which had a large banner proudly announcing that it was under new, local management! The sandwiches in the case looked good but I wasn’t that hungry, so I just had a couple of cookies, which were just great!
The downside of using this market as a controle is that they do not have a restroom for their customers. However, the bar/restaurant across the parking lot was supposed to have one, so I strolled over. My policy regarding using a restroom at a commercial establishment is that you need to buy something in exchange for using the facilities. I didn’t want food. I also didn’t think that having a beer and a bump was a good idea, since I didn’t really know what was ahead except that there was some climbing, so I asked the barkeep for a glass of chocolate milk. She looked at me like Nick the Bartender looked at Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when he asked for hot mulled wine. However, she saw that I was riding my bicycle, so she knew that I had some loose screws. I told her that I was going to use the restroom and would be right back. Well, there was only one restroom and it seemed like there was a convention in town, so it took me about 30 minutes to get in and out. I went back into the bar, where I gulped down the chocolate milk (whole milk mixed with Hershey’s syrup…YUM!) and headed out. When I had entered the bar, there had been a throng of randonneurs at the market. No more. Once again, my snail-like pace at the stops had left me in the dust.
As I got ready to go, Lois rolled in. Since I had never ridden the next bit (Pescadero Road and Pescadero Creek Road), I asked her what was in store. “Not too steep and not too long,” she said. Sounded good to me, so off I went, back down Highway 84 until the left turn onto Pescadero Road.
What Lois didn’t tell me was that, aside from the hill, the road is just fabulous! The climb isn’t too bad (a couple of miles…not more than about 600 feet of climbing). However, you are in the redwoods while climbing, so it is shady and pleasant. Once you get to the top of the hill, the fun really starts. You have a very long gradual descent toward Pescadero, first through the redwoods and then along Pescadero Creek. What a great road! I have to admit that I got a little carried away riding down here but it was just too much fun! Can you tell that I had a great time (and made great time) heading down toward Pescadero?
The route doesn’t actually take you back through Pescadero. Instead, you turn left at Butano Cut-Off, pass Pescadero High School, and then start to retrace the route from the morning along Cloverdale Road, Gazos Creek Road, and Highway 1. I could see a group of four riders up ahead on Cloverdale Road and was feeling frisky, so I put my head down and, aided by a nice tailwind, busted to catch them. There was no need to do this, since it was clear that there was going to be a great tailwind on Highway 1 into Santa Cruz. However, when you want to go, sometimes you have to, regardless of the consequences down the road.
As I caught onto the back of the group a bit before the turn onto Gazos Creek Road, I discovered that it was the remnants of my group from the morning: Clyde, Joe, and Patty. The forth rider was Art, who I had ridden with at the end of the SFR 600k. I was a little winded when I finally caught them, so I just tucked in behind and took a little break. We turned down Gazos Creek and rolled to Highway 1, where we turned south for home.
There is just about nothing nicer than having a sunny day on the coast, a nice tailwind, and a good group to ride with. We zipped along, letting the coastal highway show off its best attributes: lovely fields, hills, creeks, and beaches. One example: at one beach, there had to be about 20 people sail-surfing. These maniacs would be tearing along on broad reach when, all of the sudden, they would hit a wave and get airborne, soaring what appeared to be 30 feet into the air before landing and continuing to sail! It was quite a sight to see.
The group held together for quite a while. South of Davenport, Art started to pull off the front. I was torn: do I stay with Clyde, Joe, and Patty or do I catch Art and work together to power to the finish? After hovering in between the two groups for a while, I decided that I was feeling strong enough, picked up the pace, and latched onto Art’s wheel. We worked together, enjoying the tailwind, and suddenly we were in Santa Cruz, where we found Bill and Lois’s house, which was the final controle of the day.
The post-ride fare was excellent: chocolate milk, soda, chips, cookies. It was nice to sit for a while and chat with Bill, who was running the controle, about how one actually gets to live in Santa Cruz, which is a great beach town (FYI, many people try to live in Santa Cruz but few succeed).
Overall, it was just a great ride but, ultimately, a sad day. The ride was a joy: a fast time (for me, anyway), excellent weather (minimal headwinds riding north and sweet headwinds on the return), and fun riding company. Unfortunately, the joy of the ride got trumped when I found out that Daniel Schorr, the great radio and television journalist, had died the previous day. The rememberances that I listened to that day (with the best, in my opinion, by Scott Simon on Weekend Edition) were moving. Gail and I made listening to Mr. Schorr’s segment at 6 or 8 am an integral part of our Saturday mornings. He was a brave, principled, hard-nosed, iconic figure in the news business and he will be missed.
- Distance: 125 miles
- Climbing: 5,300 feet
- Rolling time: 8:27
- Overall time: 9:57